Independent Reflection – Week 1 Shape Shifter

This has been the most profound week of my life as my wife, Karen, passed away peacefully and beautifully on Monday 27th January. She has been ill with Multiple Sclerosis for a long time and chronically ill for the last ten years. She chose to end her life with dignity with an assisted suicide at Dignitas in Switzerland. I am relieved she is no longer suffering but devastated at the loss of my soulmate for the last forty years.

A couple of months before going to Switzerland Cemre asked me if I would be taking my camera. My initial reaction was that it was not appropriate. As I thought about it some more I challenged my own assumptions and considered the value of taking my camera with me. Could it be helpful to make me see more and fully experience the moment? Could it be helpful to all of us in the future to give us something more solid than our own memories to remember the moment. By the time we went on Sunday I had moved on from just taking my iphone to taking my camera with the intent of making some images. It was not an issue with my family as they are now very used to me taking out the camera at what would previously have been seen as inappropriate moments.

I include some here as it has relevance to this weeks work on context. From a Sarkowski perspective the above image breaks down in to the thing itself ‘blue house’, some detail ‘lights windows a patch of grass, a chair….’, the frame ‘chosen by me’, the time ‘chosen by me and the night before my wife died’ and the vantage point ‘there were many choices but this is the one I chose.’ Valuable as it is to follow Sarkowski’s breaking up of a photograph in to component parts it doesn’t really get at the context of this image.

Shore perhaps adds something with the mental level but still his classifications do not get to the essence of these images. I need to find the quote but this week in the reading the idea that a good photograph is one that shows what is not there within the material chosen in the frame. The images of my wife and children are a good example of this idea as it is clear something is going on beyond just their presence in the image. The blue house is more complex and needs input. This could be provided as context if the images of my wife and children are included in the set.

This bed shown on its own could be banal, uninteresting and initiate little discussion. Put with the images above it might raise further questions. Knowing it is the bed I slept in the night before my wife died and is in the second room in the blue house in which assisted suicides happen gives this bed a different context. The photograph alone may initiate little discussion. Given the context then a lot more happens.

Context can be critical and there is a choice to give it before the images, with the images, after the images or not at all. Each choice will have different impacts on the viewer and the question for the curator is what experience does she want the viewer to have with the material presented.


There is a lot of discussion about whether a photograph and photography represent reality. I am struggling a little with this. Photography, philosophy, reality and ontology all have one thing in common. They are all words. Words are a very poor mechanism for explaining to ourselves what existence is all about. No human discipline has yet succeeded in addressing reality in a meaningful way. Philosophers and linguists have failed, they handed it to scientists who have failed. It remains a holy grail for all and so important to all of us who are ‘real’ and ‘exist’.

Does photography or a photograph represent reality is really asking does it represent something we do not yet understand or can explain. As a mathematician I used to like the process of presenting a hypothesis which can then be tested to see if a proof is possible to make it a theory. My hypothesis for photography is that it is the closest representation of reality human beings have created yet. It is a great hypothesis to test and a starting point is I don’t believe anybody else can present a better hypothesis in relation to photography. Is this right? Further exploration to follow.


Szarkowski, J. The Photographer’s Eye. Secker and Warburg.

Shore, S. The Nature of Photographs Center for American Places (Harrisonburg, Va) (1998) Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore.

Watts, A. The book on the taboo against knowing who you are. (2009) Souvenir Press. London.

Categories: Coursework IC, Informing ContextsTags:


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.