Final Major Project: Reaching Out Into The Dark Exhibition, November 2018

The ROITD FMP exhibition took place this week, November 27th and 28th, at studio1.1 gallery on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, London. The decision to actually hold an exhibition was only taken earlier this month, so pulling it together from conception to opening occurred in the space of 19 days.

studio1.1 London gallery

studio1.1 London gallery

The progress of the work during this FMP period has been slow and hindered by outside factors, such that I initially felt that trying to hold an exhibition would prevent me from focusing enough time and energy on actually having enough work to submit by the December deadline. I was also discouraged by preliminary enquiries into potential exhibition spaces. Space hire seemed so prohibitively expensive and difficult to arrange that I figured I should concentrate on putting the work together for online presentation in the form of a project website, which I’d always envisaged as the main repository of the finished work.

I had wanted to present the images in triptychs, aiming to suggest quite open-ended narratives, and had decided that each triptych would be anchored by a portrait. After completing a couple of portrait shoots in the last six weeks or so, I saw this vision finally begin to take shape in a way that made an exhibition now seem possible.



Additionally I was encouraged by a conversation with tutor Wendy McMurdo, an incredibly accomplished artist in her own right, who seemed to confirm that the work was heading in the right direction and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. She perfectly understood the internal conflict that I was having – ‘that’s the artistic process Justin’ – and this reassured me that I wasn’t going crazy and that I could possibly pull it off after all. 

I also realised that without an exhibition I’d be missing a great opportunity to engage with the audience, to ‘reach out’ as I had always been aiming to do with the work. Reflecting on this aspect of the exhibition is something that I’ll discuss further in another CRJ post.

So, once decided upon, it was key to find a space to show the work. I was really fortunate that studio1.1 were able to accommodate me for two days at the end of November at a discounted rate that was within my budget. I had enough time to pull everything else together and also make more work, which at the time of deciding to have an exhibition was still necessary.

The initial plan was to show 12 to 15 images, but it quickly became clear that to do so would not allow me to articulate the idea well enough and would also not fill the space that the gallery afforded. The final exhibition consisted of 18 images presented with accompanying text panels taken from the project research, as well as some additional contextual information about the issue of urban solitude and loneliness. 

Following on from my recent experience with the Shutter Hub Open, I explored the possibility of using newspaper for the printing and made enquiries with Newspaper Club about the papers and sizes available. The price to print on newspaper was certainly very attractive compared to my usual printer Digitalarte (approximately 10 times cheaper!) but once I was clear about which images I wanted to show and considering the subtlety of tonal variations and deep shadow in many of them, I ended up going for the tried and trusted, and much more expensive fine art method. 

Once the space was secured I started promoting the exhibition via Instagram and Twitter and received a number of tentative responses suggesting that people were interested and planning to attend. The private view was held on the evening of Tuesday 27th and I’m really happy to say that it was well-attended.

Visitors at the Private View on 27th November 2018

Visitors at the Private View on 27th November 2018

The show ran for two days, 11am to 6pm on both days, with the private view from 7 to 9pm on the first day. I would have ideally held the exhibition for longer, but the gallery only had two free days available and it was difficult enough getting time off work for this period as it was. All in all it worked well, allowing those who expressed an interest in attending to do so. I was really gratified that people travelled from outside of London to see the exhibition and the feedback was generally really positive, which validated the expense and effort that had gone into putting the show on. 

Overall, I’m really glad that I made the effort to arrange an exhibition. It was an incredibly valuable learning experience, both in practical and organisational terms, but also in terms of helping to better understand how to present work to attract and engage an audience, what considerations are important when planning what one hopes will be a successful show, as well as helping me to gain a better understanding of how different outputs can connect differently with audiences and thus how to more strategically present one’s work in order for it to have the maximum reach and impact. 

I will write more about my reflections in this regard in a subsequent post. 

Informing Contexts: What's the Narrative 2

I have continued to ruminate about the theme of narrative and how this is created photographically throughout this module, as well as trying to find answers in the work of other practitioners. Aside, from the challenges that have presented themselves over the last three months away from the course, this subject has been the most difficult for me to grasp and then relate to my own work. 

I have found myself increasingly uninterested in the work I’ve been making, at least in the way that I’ve previously produced it. I realised that I’d become frustrated with a sense of repetition and of being in a visual rut. Towards the end of the previous module I started to realise that it would not be possible to elevate my work without a closer focus on the intention behind the work and the way this was then translated into the image itself.

I think I have a clearer idea of what visual narrative is now, particularly having reflected on how other practitioners manage to capture your attention and challenge your imagination with their work. 

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the work of Gregory Crewdson recently, the Twilight and Cathedral of the Pines projects in particular. 

The work of Gregory Crewdson, from    Twilight

The work of Gregory Crewdson, from Twilight

Aside from the beauty and elaborate complexity of his images, the thing that strikes me most about his work is the fact that each image provokes a question (often many). What happened here? Where are her clothes? How could that have gotten there? There is always a sense of transience, being invited into the space between events that have just occurred and those that are about to take place.

These questions oblige you to stay with the image, searching for the answer. When, as is almost always the case, the answer isn’t immediately apparent in the photograph you are transported to your imagination or to speculation to look for it. Either way the image has captivated you and taken you beyond the immediate fact of looking at a two-dimensional representation on a screen or in a book. These unanswered questions are everywhere in Crewdson’s work, often provoked by the simplest of small details. When I saw his work at The Photographer’s Gallery last year I was intrigued by how almost all his interior shots included a half empty glass of water somewhere in the frame. It’s a motif that is too consistent to be a coincidence, and it fascinates me even now…

The half empty glass of water on the bedside intriguing element of many of Crewdson's images. This, from    Cathedral of the Pines

The half empty glass of water on the bedside intriguing element of many of Crewdson's images. This, from Cathedral of the Pines

Why are they there? What do they mean? 

The ability to provoke these questions in the viewer is key to creating narrative I think.

The ability to provoke questions is also seen in the work of Lynne Cohen, who achieves this despite almost exclusively shooting empty interior spaces. Her work asks you to consider the actions of people on their environment and surroundings, to consider their activities and behaviours and how they connect to our own, in spaces that we all inhabit. 

The work of   Lynne Cohen

The work of Lynne Cohen

Similarly, the work of Lynn Saville in the US (primarily New York City) and Rut Blees Luxemburg (most notably in London) asks us to consider how we respond to our urban spaces and how these environments reflect our behaviours and our concerns. The fact that they both use the night as a key part of their visual toolbox is of course particularly interesting to me. Again, without including people in much of their work, they invite questions about the world we inhabit and thus require the viewer to engage with their work and with themselves.

Aplomb St Pauls by Rut Blees Luxemburg,

Aplomb St Pauls by Rut Blees Luxemburg,

A further lesson about narrative has occurred to me following a recent visit to the Gursky exhibition currently showing at the Hayward Gallery. I was not very familiar with Andreas Gursky’s work prior to visiting this show, but seeing his work you can’t help but be confronted by his vision and the consistency of that vision throughout his career. His work, to me at least, seems to repeatedly explore the behaviour of humans, their interaction with space, and the way we see. It struck me that he has adhered to a set of technical and conceptual ideas throughout his career, and in doing so the underlying motivation of the work becomes clearer. 

The Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery

The Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery

By this I mean that one who devotes their career to exploring a particular subject compiles a body of work that in total communicates much more clearly than someone who makes a small project on the same topic. This consistency of thought is one way that narrative is created I think, by the repetitive consideration of an idea from various angles and perspectives, showing it in different forms and contexts…this ultimately builds into an eloquent story. 

Again, relating this back to my own work, I feel that my interest in solitude and urban life is not exhausted by any means. There are so many facets of this issue that remain to be explored and this allows me to envisage how my work will develop beyond the MA. The consistency of vision is not something to be underestimated or devalued, but will hopefully become a key pillar in my work that ultimately results in a more articulate whole, regardless of what other work I also go on to produce. Along with the idea of trying to create questions with my work and leaving enough space for imagination to expand the scope of the image, I think I have enough to be moving forward with.


THIS IS LOCAL LONDON. 2015. ‘London Dust exhibition featuring Rut Blees Luxemburg photos opens at Museum of London’. This is Local London [online]. Available at:[accessed 19 April 2018].

Sustainable Prospects: Work It, Work It For Me Baby!

Ok, so I might just have had some kind of P-Funk/Rick James moment there, but that’s only because I’m suddenly enthused and totally convinced of the utility of networking (work it!!).

Last night I attended the launch of MAYNa creative photography and video agency out of Falmouth University. The event, helpfully, took place ten minutes down the road from my house, in Shoreditch (as they’d obviously realised at MAYN HQ that it would be too much of a stretch for me to make it to Falmouth after work on a Thursday!) at the achingly cool headquarters of the advertising agency Mother.

Cool people milling about in a cool place!

Cool people milling about in a cool place!

It was a genuine pleasure to meet artists represented by the agency, such as Alex Flemingwhose work was also on display at the event, as well as the person running the show Lynn Chambers who was just incredibly friendly and passionate about the new agency and what they are hoping to achieve moving forward. 

Aside from feeling honoured to be there, it was also great to be able to put human form to people who had previously only existed to me in the form of a small thumbnail on my screen, fellow students on the course, as well as Jesse Alexander (our MA course leader) and Anna-Maria Pfab, who is our module leader for Sustainable Prospects as well as the founder of another hot photo agency, Kiosk.

Having the chance to meet and speak to these people really cemented something that I have heard a lot during this module…the importance of networking and making genuine human connections in the creative industries. I felt like I learnt more in one evening than I have during most of the rest of the time on my course, simply by absorbing the wisdom of those in the room, and having left a sterile hospital environment immediately before I found being amongst like-minded passionate creatives to be really inspiring. Aside from the possible career benefits of networking, I can see that it’s also a way to stay connected to the energy and passion that got everything started.

For me, there’s a natural caution about these events, usually because I feel that I have little to contribute. I’m sure most people have an innate dread of being placed in a room of strangers and having to make conversation, but it just needs to be done. And it’s a lot less scary than we make it seem in our heads before we’ve actually dived in.

A key lesson from this module, aside from the relentless push to emerge into the  professional arena, is the importance of differentiating yourself in a saturated marketplace. It seems to me that this first starts with your work, having a visual approach that connects with viewers and stands you apart from other image makers. Second to that though is the ability to make genuine connections with others, either as potential clients or other artists who may become collaborators, work referrers, or ‘brand advocates’ almost…

All of these things require some personal connection and interaction and so networking is the lifeblood of any successful photographic practice, particularly in the early stages.

During this module I have made closer links with some of my class mates, discussing further collaborations with Chris Chucas for example, as well as arranging a meetup and exhibition visit for some of us who are local to London. It will be great to spend more time with my MA peers in person rather than in the virtual space of Canvas. 


Positions and Practice: Weeks 7 & 8 Reflection

Weeks 7 and 8 coincided with the first real challenge of the course as I prepared for the first MA assignment, a presentation exploring my current practice, while at the same time also trying to complete a comprehensive mortality audit at work, the data for which had to be collected, analysed and presented for a deadline that fell 3 days before that of the MA assignment. To make matters worse I was also working nights over the weekend when both presentations were due.
Till now I’ve largely managed to balance the demands of the course with those of my job, but this was the first time where the combined demands of both seemed unmanageable. I was able to meet both deadlines successfully but there was certainly a toll: the quality of work suffering in both cases as well as me being largely absent from the course in that period. Reflecting on things, I’m satisfied that I was at least able to complete both tasks this time, as at one stage it didn’t seem practically possible, but I have to review whether there’s a better way to balance things in future to reduce the stress when things kick off again.
One positive and unexpected outcome was that I was able to closely combine creative output with medical work under high pressure, for pretty much the first time. Previously I’ve always felt unable to be creative when the demands of my job are high, which has frequently led to prolonged photographic fallow periods where I don’t shoot much or even think much about shooting. Here though, I was able to switch from one task to the other, under duress, and still find some useful creative insights. 

his is a skill that I will have to hone further moving forward.

The focus quickly moves now to the project proposal, which is due in four weeks. Preparing the presentation has helped to consolidate my thoughts a little about what I want my project to focus on, and I’m looking forward to a bit more research and having more time to shoot over the next couple of weeks before settling down to finally put the proposal together. 

I’m working my way through a pile of books that will inform my proposal as well as the project itself. I’m currently reading a book by David Company as I try to drill down into the idea that my imagery is ‘cinematic’ – something I’ve heard often (and also thought about the work of other photographers) but never really understood. 

Following the psychogeographical thread that was handed to me by Gary McLeod and Matthew Beaumont in his thoroughly engaging book ‘Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London’ I’m also looking forward to piling into some more books on/around this subject:

I’ve really enjoyed how this course has stimulated me to read and research and opened my perspective in many ways, a massively unexpected bonus in addition to the opportunity to talk to interesting and talented people about photography.