Tag Archives: identity

Final Thoughts on Identity & Place

So here I am. The third module of the degree finished and sent off for assessment, and it is time to review this module and where I plan to go to next.

Identity & Place has taken me nearly two years to complete, and I really struggled over the early assignments. Portrait photography is not my genre of choice, and I doubt I had taken a single deliberate portrait before I started this unit, which was why I signed up for it. However, once I had grasped the nettle and pulled, I began to enjoy some, if not all, of the potential for learning that I&P offered. As I was packing my images for posting, it is blindingly obvious that my technical and printing skills have improved significantly, although I would argue that there is still a long way to go, particularly with composition and lighting.

I would say I am happier with the quality of assignments 4 and 5 than the previous ones, and have been thinking about why that is. Assignment 4 had no people in it, being an exploration of a derelict building, while in assignment 5 the figure is only shown in silhouette, and so remains faceless, so neither get up close and personal with their subjects.

Two events were pivotal in stimulating a move forward in my work. The first was a bookmaking course I attended at the SW OCA group, and which was led by OCA tutor Polly Harvey. I have felt much more creative since taking that course, and have expanded my work beyond straight vanilla photographs towards something which explores the physical reality and materiality of the image and how it is presented. The second was the result of a chance post on Facebook that I happened to see, and which led to me to the POZERS Camera Club, a local group of women photographers who meet at a member’s studio and explore the potential of studio photography. Many hours of fun and learning have taken place there, and most of my personal favourite images of 2017. I had never previously considered that I might enjoy studio photography, with its connotations of ‘art nude’ (female, of course) and family portraits. However, this group is full of creativity and we are led by Alley, the studio owner, who has a background as a make-up artist and costume designer, and no end of whacky ideas, and I love it. Together these events have enabled me to step away from straight photography and to explore the medium in a more craft-based way.

Alongside the coursework, I have visited a variety of exhibitions ranging from Grayson Perry at the Arnolfini in Bristol to Joel Sternfeld, William Eggleston and Thomas Ruff in London, amongst others. Of particular interest has been those exhibitions such as Perry’s and Jane Corbett’s in Marlborough, which use media other than photography. The overlap of ideas and the potentially different ways in which those ideas can be made into artwork is myriad, and very inspiring.

At the end of the module,  I feel much more comfortable about finding my voice. That voice is almost certainly going to come from exploring the ways in which the image can be manipulated physically and digitally, and how different art forms can be brought together to make objects that have elements of each, and crucially, which are unique, as in one-off. Producing something material that is not easily replicable is the almost inevitable result of mixing photography with bookmaking, sewing, knitting, patchwork etc. and it seems to provide a fairly clear pathway forward for me, especially when womens’ arts and feminism are added to the mix. The other area I would like to explore further is the archive, and how it can be set up to provide a pool of primary research material into which I can dip a toe here and there to consider why we make photographs. So the obvious next module for me to do is Digital Image and Culture, which I will be starting very shortly. The new blog can be found here: https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/ .

In the meantime, I am involved in two OCA related collaborative projects:-

  • the Thames Valley group exhibition on the theme of Time, which will be shown in February 2019
  • a notebooks project to provide ideas and inspiration with the South West OCA group

I have also contributed to MA student Mathew Arnold’s project Grey Matters and forged some interesting links with local artists through the Marlborough open Studios event. Overall, I am very pleased with how much I have progressed during this module and look forward to seeing where the next one will take me.


Jason Evans “Strictly”

This series provides an opportunity for me to sort out some of my thoughts on identity, following listening and reading a couple of OU OpenLearn courses, namely Understanding Identity and Identity in Question.

The courses posit that our identities are partly formed from the inside (how we perceive ourselves) and partly from the outside (how society sees us). Much of each of these is unconscious and we have little control over it, but a portion (they mention 10%) is something we are aware of and have agency over. Identity is about both belonging and differentiation, and we show both through actions and symbols which have meaning to others. Think of teen groups, such as punks and emos as examples.

How we prioritise the elements of our identity depends on the situation (place) we inhabit at any one time, and also where we are in our lives. Two personal examples are shown below, where I have listed some of the more important elements of my own identity in that time and place, in order of their priority at the time.

Some of these elements of identity are externally applied, such as manager, or woman, but others, which may be more important on a personal level, are internal parts of that identity (pregnant, in a relationship).

When applied to Jason Evans’ work Strictly, which was published in the journal I-D in 1991, things get very complicated. Evans was working at the time as a fashion photographer with Simon Foxton and took the typological series for a fashion magazine. The subject is black urban dandies, which is a very particular niche identity, where symbols (eclectic and daring clothing ensembles) are used to express a particular sense of style. I have no idea as to Evans’ ethnicity, but whether or not he is black, it seems highly likely that he has appropriated black dandyism as a means of fashion advertising. The images mix fashion photography with documentary photography in a topological style which has a (false) air of authenticity. Here, we have advertising using identity to both create and sell a certain style, which will apparently make one part of an exclusive group. A great marketing ploy. Fashion, big business and marketing are intrinsically linked in a way that makes people feel both individual and part of a group at the same time.








My social media profile portrait

For this reflection point, we are asked to write a paragraph about our social media profile portrait and to consider which aspects of ourselves remain hidden. We are also asked to produce a more honest portrait, which I will do as an addendum to this post. (I need to think through what is missing first)

I found this to be an interesting exercise. Looking at my Facebook profile, I seem to have put up 50+ self portraits in the 9 years I have belonged to the site. There are flowers, holidays and special events there, but also a lot of close-up images of me, usually smiling in a slightly jokey situation. Other people who feature include my parents, my husband and one or two friends. In three, I am drinking wine, and several are old images of myself from my younger days. The Me they show looks sociable and fun –  a person who enjoys life. In only one, do I look serious (the one with the single eye) but even then I am not giving much away. Together, the images probably don’t give an honest representation of who I am, truth be told. They are probably more representative of who I would like to be.

.Profile pix 1Profile pix 2

I then watched the first of Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 documentaries on making portraits of people, linked here , which made me reconsider what Identity might actually mean. Perry interviews four different people at length, all of whom are going through a period of great personal change, and tries to pick out some of their unique, individual qualities. It was fascinating to watch, and the end results were beautiful. In three cases, he made objects that the sitter felt expressed them clearly. In one, he admitted that he found it impossible to crack through the carapace the person had constructed around themselves, but nonetheless produced a very fine piece of work to represent the difficulties he had. I’ll say no more about it in case others want to watch the programme themselves. I will write a separate post about my thoughts on the programme’s messages.

A fellow student has suggested I read Goffmann’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, so that has been added to my reading list, but my initial thoughts are that one’s public persona probably has little to do with a) who we think we are, and b) how others perceive us to be.

Edited to add, after a few days contemplation:

I did think about putting up the image of my desk as a self portrait, but felt it was a bit of a cop-out in the end. Instead, I took the image below, which is from a series  of experiments I am doing for the OCA project What does a student look like? I think it shows a more honest version of me – the serious person I usually am when I am not smiling for the camera, and also wearing the glasses I find myself using more and more these days.


Is this the person other people see though, or how I perceive myself as being seen by them?


Grayson Perry: Who Are You? Episode 1 [television programme online] Pres. Perry. Channel 4 (2014) 48 mins. At: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/grayson-perry-who-are-you/on-demand/55337-001 (Accessed on 20 May 2016)



Grayson Perry’s Who Are You?

The two most interesting things I took from this programme were:

  • your home often says more about you than you realise , and
  • that a portrait is a caricature of yourself, and emphasises some traits over others.

I was fascinated to see the homes of the various people he interviewed. They revealed a great deal about the subjects. Chris Huhne’s home was traditionally and beautifully furnished, but there was no sense in it of who he was. Subsequent interviews with him took place outside his home, making it appear that he didn’t feel comfortable revealing himself there. Jazz, the transgender sitter, was mainly shown outside his home in various social situations, and it was clear that his mother felt unhappy about his choices, meaning that he did not feel “at home” there. Perry said himself that the possessions we surround ourselves with are symbols for where we sit, culturally, and symbolise who we are. Each person’s possessions tell a story about them, which may or may not be what they show the outside world. (I am reminded of photos of, for example, the Camerons at home, and what could be gleaned from the bookshelves behind them. Did their image-makers decide what was in those shelves, or were they not considered until after the images went public and people started commenting. And how tidy is that room? Especially as the Camerons have three children.


Michelle Obama & Samantha Cameron at home

Below is an image of my work desk, taken 10 minutes ago. It could not be more different from the image shown above, but it is entirely realistic, and a fair representation of how my desk usually looks. I spend a considerable amount of time each day sitting at it, so there are all sorts of elements of myself there, should one care to look.


For an understanding of the pressure points in my significant relationship, and for fun, here is a picture of my husband’s desk at the other end of the same room. We both work from home. Enough said!



Grayson Perry: Who Are You? Episode 1 [television programme online] Pres. Perry. Channel 4 (2014) 48 mins. At: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/grayson-perry-who-are-you/on-demand/55337-001 (Accessed on 20 May 2016)

Identity: a fluid idea?

The first reflection point of this module invites us to consider the concept of identity, and how it may cause clashes or change over time. This is not a new idea to me, as my own external identity has changed on numerous occasions over my life. Examples of personas I have occupied include Expat Wife, Business Manager, Student (in various guises), Smallholder, Librarian… the list goes on. I admit to enjoying changing who I am and how I am perceived every few years.

I don’t believe identity is fixed. It morphs with experience, and occasionally changes abruptly in response to sudden life changes. Who we are also depends on who we are with. It’s a common perception of the British that we hate giving parties because all our friends would meet up, and then everyone would find out who we really are. There’s more than a grain of truth in this, in my own case and I tend to keep different parts of my identity  separate from one another.

What is identity though? Is it the external perception that other people see, or something internal that makes you who you are? The two may be quite different, but which has more validity? These are some of the questions I hope to answer during this module.