Preparation for the Module Informing Contexts : Human Choices

When I started the MA I was unclear about my intent as a photographer. I enjoyed the process of planning and taking photographs of landscapes and places and got satisfaction from aesthetically pleasing results. I enjoyed the process of capturing the image when in place almost more than the produced end result.

In Positions and Practice I understood that my photography to date had been insignificant and essentially derivative of what had been done before. It was not adding to the subject of photography or offering a unique perspective on the matter presented. A further insight on what might be possible arose when Cemre Yesil asked me if I had any pain in my life. I did then and, with my wife due to die next week in Switzerland to end her suffering from chronic multiple sclerosis, I have a lot now. As I write we are 4 days from travelling to Switzerland.

I am now able to be clearer about my intent. It is ambitious and it excites me as a challenge

My INTENT is to create work that establishes a unique and distinctive visual narrative of the subject I choose to make images of. I want my work to have an impact on the emotions of my audience and to challenge the way they look at the world. If I make them stop and think and enter a dialogue with my work I will have achieved my goal.

My project The Truth and Beauty of Me has been an exploration of my state of being living with my wife as she became chronically ill with Multiple Sclerosis. At first it was too difficult to photograph her experience so I had to stop. The pain I was suffering seeing her decline and not being able to do anything to help her was made worse as I pointed the camera at her. Instead I turned the camera on myself to explore what was happening to me as I experienced difficult emotional states. If I felt an extreme emotion I reached for my camera to try to capture my experience.

I realised at one point that the process of taking these images was having a therapeutic effect on me. Inside me there was blackness and for a while I could not see any of the intensity of that feeling in my images. I saw images of a fully functioning person, often smiling on the surface of the image I saw. The sadder ones did not capture the sadness I felt. I began to wonder if the whole being was not as wrecked as my cognitive and emotional internal world was telling me I was.

Laura Hynd inspired some really enjoyable work. I said I was struggling to represent what I felt so she suggested I stop trying. Instead of working hard to represent focus on emotions and sensations and see what emerges.

I began to realise that I am always a complex mix of happy and sad, angry and content and strong and weak. The same day I cry I can also laugh. I am aware of this deeply now in the final days of Karen’s life.

I have made many human choices to this point and have many more to make before completing the FMP. I have gone in close and visceral.

I have started to bring other people in to the idea of me and my state.

I have played with black and white, colour, multiple exposure, different levels of manipulation. In taking this work forward I have been fascinated by some ideas put forward by Alan Watts. He is well known for articulating Eastern and Gestalt philosophies to Western audiences. Central to this for my project is his notion of oneness or the whole rather than separateness. In his words ‘the nub of the problem is the self contradictory definition of man himself as a separate and independent being in the world as distinct from a special action of the world.’ (Watts, 2011. In a photographic sense I want to play with this and explore who am I, where do I end and in this very profound moment of my life what does existence mean to me?

Another influence has been Cristina Nuñez and her ‘self portrait experience’ work. In this approach she scripts situations for subjects to act out and take self portraits while alone in her studio.

Combining Watts and Nuñez I propose to both explore me, me and other and me and the world overlaid with the idea there in truth no separation of me from the world. I don’t yet know how I am going to do this but will enjoy the process of trying!

The three photographers I have chosen to contextualise my future work are David Jimenez, Kimsooja and Jack Davison.

David Jimenez

Jimenez exhibition Universos at the PhotoEspaña in Madrid in June last year had a big impact on me. The exhibition was set in the most impressive location La Sala Canal de Isabel II a preserved architectural gem in Madrid that was an old water tower. It was dark and a superb setting for the images.

For my own work I want to have an impact on the emotions of the viewer. Jimenez work moved me and many of his images gave a sense of the essence of existence itself. In my own images I am seeking to not only show a surface but also some idea of what is going on inside the subject. This image kept me looking and looking at the multiple narratives it sparked in my mind. His images have a surreal feeling to them.

The horse’s eye so simple with lots of negative space powerfully evokes for me that the horse is real, is contemplating something deep and maybe shedding a tear.

This diptych blends a face with such subtle lighting with what might be the representation of a thought taking place in the head.

I agree with him when he says ‘reality is nothing but a made up construction.’ (PhotoEspaña, 2019). He goes on to say ‘Photography appears to be something easy and immediate and in a way it is. But in order to accomplish a serious and profound body of work ten years is just the beginning.’

His work revolves around the idea that ‘real life, where everything seems balanced and stable, is also a great illusion. All we think we know is nothing but a projection in our minds.’ (PhotoEspaña, 2019) ‘My work is some sort of poetic translation of this reflection about the interconnection between echoes and the resonance I experience.’

In 2015 at the F295 Symposium in Pittsburgh he says ‘everything can inspire you if you look at it in the right way.’ He talks of choices as he says ‘black and white images, compared with colour, are a step further from reality. That makes my work stay in the place that I need it to be, between the real and the unreal.’

I recommend his book Universos which is a retrospective of his work.


Kimsooja’s work also caught my eye at PhotoEspaña in Madrid last year. I was captivated by her idea of ‘bottari’. Bottari is a South Korean word for a bundle wrapped in fabric which she identifies as a ‘self contained world, but one in which, like a vessel, can contain everything materially and conceptually.’ (Yorkshire Sculpture International, 2019) This has got me thinking about how I can do this with my own practice of photography but also ask the question if other forms of artistic expression can be involved too.

She has extended her work from sewing and weaving to larger spaces and architecture, meaning whole buildings could also be wrapped to alter, contain and reshape what was within.’ As I explore taking my project in to wholeness, broken down in to me, me and other and me and the world she inspires some enquiry in to how to recombine to show the deeper meaning within.

‘In addition to the physical act of sewing and its various cultural associations she sees the body as a needle that weaves together the fabric of lives, cultures and cities, celebrating a shared humanity regardless of geographical borders.’

Her video work ‘a needle woman’ in which she stands still in a busy city centre, holds her space as people pass by around her, and creates a place of intense calm.

A needle woman

She then takes the idea created from this to built a 14 metre high A Needle Woman sited in open air.

In an interview with Gerald Matt in 2002 she said ‘whether I live in Korea or in New York, I live in my own world which is isolated from outer world, and that is the way I keep distance from the other.’ Wholeness as an idea further comes across as she says ‘computer mouse is already part of our body and I know how the tool can replace our body through my own process of needle work.’

As my wife’s life ends next week I have given much thought to what life is. I am comfortable with death for myself as I was with not existing before. Or put another way I always exist but in different forms. Kimsooja says ‘I really wish to disappear at some point with my own decision and I’ve been planing “A Disappearing Woman” piece since last year, although we have to some day.’

Jack Davison

I have been following Jack Davison over the last year. His use of natural light and powerful compositions are an inspiration. His images are simple, with lots of contrast and really speak. I believe one of the reasons he is so distinctive is that he is self taught, is only now approaching the theory of photography and is not one of the sheep.

The comment that captures my attention most from him is from the Vogue interview (below) in which he says ‘For me, a photograph should be able to hold its own, without context, and draw the viewer in – but, in all honesty, there’s no fixed rules as to what makes a photograph great.’

His images here of Glenda Jackson are a great example of just that.

Again here his images for the great performers New York Times series in 2019. The light makes them painterly and for me to look again and see more each time.

Jack Davison – an interview from the BJP archives
Written by Tom Seymour
Published on 12 December 2016

I think it helps that I also never got ‘taught’ in an official sense,” he says. “I was never told how to do things, and never given any set boundaries, so I’ve never had a problem with experimenting.”

After university Davison set off on a six-month tour of the US, but rather than taking time out, he decided to create “a body of work that encapsulated my philosophy as a photographer”. “We did 10,000 miles on the road,” he says. “I’d head out and wander through the streets looking for people to speak to and photograph. I’m reliant on moments of spontaneity with my subjects.”

“I consider myself a documentary photographer but I am more interested in the beauty or strangeness of a moment than I am with finding facts, or trying to make an argument,

values spontaneity, the unplanned moment”

He suddenly breaks off and looks up, and stares intently at a middle-aged guy smoking a cigarette and nursing a drink on the other side of the window. He picks up his camera, walks outside, and takes the man’s portrait. What did he see there, I ask when he comes back inside.
“It was the way the light was catching him, I guess,” he says. “A look in his eyes, the intricacies of the face.”

As soon as I meet someone, I start to work out how I would portray them,” he says. “I can’t help it. I do it without thinking. And the way someone reacts in front of the lens, the pressure to get it right in the time you have with them – I never fail to find that exciting, I live for that.”

Photographer Jack Davison On His Distinctive Style And Greatest Inspirations

25 MAY 2019

I was drawn towards surreal and fantastical things. All of the books I enjoyed as a kid included odd bizarre worlds and grand flights of imagination. I’ve always tried to recreate those leaps of fancy and a sense of playfulness in my work.

I don’t bring out a camera for a while. I just talk to the subject first. Even if I’m doing a quick street portrait I try and embarrass myself really quickly so that they understand that I’m a human being. A lot of it is just being polite and respectful. If you expect someone to work with you, you also need to be willing to give something of yourself to them. Photography should be a conversation.

For me, a photograph should be able to hold its own, without context, and draw the viewer in – but, in all honesty, there’s no fixed rules as to what makes a photograph great.

Photographer Jack Davison On His Distinctive Style And Greatest Inspirations

25 MAY 2019

Time to get in to action again as David Jiminez suggests ten years is just the beginning and I only have 12 months to make the FMP something special.

Categories: Coursework IC, Informing Contexts


I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.