Final Major Project: Nights Out

Last week I attended a talk at the Museum of London, an event accompanying the current London Nights exhibition there. The evening involved a panel of practitioners discussing how the night time feeds into their creativity. 

Obviously, this topic was right up my street and I was glad to be able to attend. The panel consisted of Vanessa Loera, a Central St Martins graduate and cross-genre practitioner, Damien Frost a photographer and Inua Ellams, a writer and founder of The Midnight Run, an arts-filled night time cultural journey. The evening was chaired by Amy Lamé, who is London’s ‘night Czar’ and a significant and renowned figure in her own right.

The panel comprised of Amy Lamé, Vanessa Loera, Damien Frost and Inua Ellams

The panel comprised of Amy Lamé, Vanessa Loera, Damien Frost and Inua Ellams

After an introduction by Lamé, each practitioner delivered a talk about their own practice relating how their work is influenced by the night. It was notable that despite having widely varying approaches to their work, or even how they go about navigating and utilising the opportunities the night time creates, they were each able to articulate specific and tangible benefits that accrued to their work from practicing at night, which they are not able to garner during the day time.

Loera, in particular, made a profound comment about how her practice of wandering the streets alone at night as a young woman was not only a cultural comment about the role and agency that women have traditionally been afforded in art history, but also directly linked to her own sense of self-worth, that to walk alone was an expression of her own personality that allowed her to know herself better, to be more connected to herself. This really resonated with me at the time, and continues to do so, connected as it is to the idea of solitude as a necessary part of self-knowledge and self-development. This is something I feel to be true personally, and as my research continues, seems to be a very important strand to represent in this project. 

The work will benefit from an equality of voices representing both the positive and negative aspects of solitary living. This is certainly an evolution from the original concept which would have been that of quite a bleak tale of isolation and loneliness with little positive to say. 

I’m aiming to produce work that suggests narrative without being explicit either way. I hope there’ll be enough space in the work for the viewer to see a range of possible experiences arising from being alone. The idea is to achieve this using combinations of images that suggest multiple interpretations and allow me to introduce people into the work. We’ll see how this actually works once I have a selection of images that I’m happy enough with to start playing about with some combinations. More to come on this shortly.

Sustainable Prospects: Week 2 Reflection

"For me, I think the heart of making art is about trying to make some sense of a world that is so utterly chaotic and inexplicable. I'm not necessarily coming up with answers, but I'm looking. There's a kind of freedom in relying on our imagination to try and make something out of the chaos. But I don't think it's the job of art to entertain or offer reassurance. There are hard truths without easy answers. Maybe discomfort, in some way, can actually lead to illumination."

Katy Grannan, 2017

I'm not necessarily coming up with answers, but I'm looking.

Continuing the theme this week, we’ve been looking at the practicalities of getting a photography business off the ground – business plans, accountants and taxes, handling the realities of life as a freelancer etc. This is all new information to me and it’s been really valuable hearing the insights of working professionals in their respective fields.

This ongoing focus on professional practice has coincided with my own struggle to eke out a routine that accommodates my current photographic activities whilst also allowing room to develop them further, both creatively and professionally. One of my key personal objectives for this module is developing a method of approaching my work that isn’t hampered by the demands of my full-time job or other life events that may occur. I feel that developing a certain dogged relentlessness is a vital ingredient to becoming a better photographer and gives me the best chance of being a professional practitioner moving forward.

To this end, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about where the pressure points are in my weekly schedule that have made it so difficult for me to switch between my day job and the night photography in the past. Heading out on a shoot this week, I was struck by an incredible fatigue that didn’t allow me to stay focused or be creative at all. After being out an hour or so I returned home with a valuable lesson learned, about the importance of preparing the shoot properly, the importance of preparation of myself and my equipment etc. This isn’t a revelatory idea, but it’s more about the importance of standardising this into a routine that optimises the limited time I have and maximises the chances of me being productive when I’m out and about. I’m looking forward to taking the lessons forward into this week. One of my main frustrations with doing this MA while working full-time is the feeling that I could be doing so much better if I had more time and more energy to focus exclusively on the course. I often feel like my day job takes so much out of me that I have very little left to give to studying and shooting. Emily Stein’s quote from this week’s reading certainly resonated with me in this regard:

"After I finished college I worked part-time in a photo studio and assisting various photographers to make enough money. I think it’s really important that whatever work you get to support you, it will benefit or inspire your own work in some way. It is really easy to take on too much other work to make money, but this can end up taking up so much time that our own practice drops further and further into the background. So, I guess it’s about finding a balance between making money and making your own work so you can build a portfolio and start getting it out there."

Emily Stein, 2017

I’ve always struggled with the fact that my work overshadows my practice, sometimes just because of how involved and time-demanding it is. But as Stein states, it’s about finding a balance and that’s an absolutely key objective for me in this module. 

As the research continues, I’ve been repeatedly fascinated by the experiences of various practitioners. As well as an underlying passion that fuels the pursuit of creative objectives (which I discussed last week) it’s been interesting to hear about other elements that are deemed to be vital to success. I’d say there’s an essential doggedness that’s required, to keep pursuing your dreams regardless of the repeated setbacks and rejections that one may encounter. This determination has to be allied to a self-confidence that you have something worthwhile and interesting to say with your work, that justifies the battle to ensure that others can see, and hopefully appreciate, it. This quote by Sister Arrow captures that idea for me, of believing in yourself and working to prove your point:

"Tell yourself how great you are, and how great you are going to be. Even if the evidence doesn’t quite match up yet. It will ;-)"

Sister Arrow, 2017

In the following week I will continue working on the development of this resilient and productive professional mindset that will allow me a chance at a sustainable practice moving forward.


Sustainable Prospects: Week 1 Reflection

This week the word that I can’t seem to escape is ‘passion’. It’s the thing that got this all started, the unquenchable desire to take photos, to keep striving to capture something interesting, to challenge myself to be more creative, more technically competent, just better!

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Surfaces and Strategies: Week 7 Reflection

Week 7 focused on challenging us to consider how we would put together a publication to accompany the project exhibition. This task follows on closely from the mini-project we were set between module one and two, which ended up with me putting together a rubbish little book.

As I’ve intimated in entries about other aspects of the work, I feel like my ideas about any publication arising from this project will evolve as the work does. My ideas about the project and the work I want to produce have already shifted significantly since the beginning of this module and my views about publication have developed accordingly. Prior to commencing this module I had pictured a bound hardback photobook as the pinnacle of my ambitions. I had visions of a selection of my images being presented, along with some writing by myself and possibly a selection of quotes from my interview subjects. This would have been a very monovisual book, with only my perspective presented. This no longer seems like an appropriate way to present the work that I aim to produce during this project, mainly because I’ve accepted and increasingly encourage the input of others into the creation of the work. As such, I hope to present more of their work alongside mine, either unfiltered or in some way composited with my work or that of other project participants.

One of the other questions posed this week is whether the publication will contain non-photographic content. As stated, I always envisaged my publication containing text, and have already started experimenting with how this might work best.
Having bought a selection of blank books of different sizes to try putting together a mock up, as the submissions came in from my contributors I changed tack. At this stage of the project, particularly considering the provisional nature of the ‘Searching for Meaning’ exhibition, I am working on a small, almost disposable zine format. The emphasis at the moment needs to be more on the essence of the project to this point, with a significant component of work from the contributors as well as a sample of the charity and organisational contacts that are pertinent to the project. One of the key aspects of this project for me is that it offers some way to open a dialogue on the issues covered and also hopefully provides some clues to where support might be available. The format has to be such that the content provided by my contributors has sufficient prominence alongside my own work, to demonstrate that the idea of solitude can be subverted by a more collegiate attitude. Something that, again, is developing in my own practice as I proceed with this project. 

This week’s reading, from Parr and Badger (2006) emphasised that the photobook has a long and illustrious history. I also couldn’t help thinking that to contribute to this heritage one should strive to produce something that is not a generic repetition of what has gone before, but is rather a sincere object that faithfully represents the individuality of the project it accompanies. Ideally too, the book adds something to the other strands of the output of the work and I can only hope to eventually arrive at this destination in my case.

Parr, M. and Badger, G. (2006) The Photobook: A History, Volume II. London: Phaidon.

Photo Elicitation

A key aspect of my project proposal was identifying and interviewing people about their personal experiences and perspectives of urban solitude. Quite early in this module however, I was challenged to review the way I’d proposed to engage others with my project to avoid unduly influencing subject’s responses and so narrowing the potential scope of the responses I might receive. Initially I planned to use my own images and set questions to provoke dialogue about the topic, aiming then to feed the interview responses back into the ongoing work. It didn’t take long to realise this approach would be too directive and could hinder freedom of response to the theme.

Image by Rupa Dawar

Image by Rupa Dawar

I was keen to ensure that the interviews didn’t simply end up as my own views being reflected back to me via someone else and so I needed to loosen my approach.

I therefore switched from the idea of straight interviews to a more flexible approach to capturing responses to the theme. I decided to offer various strands to respondents to express how they felt about solitude in the hope that a less structured approach would allow people to choose the method that suited them best, encourage people to be more honest and allow them to more easily access their own feelings on the issue. Aside from the questionnaire, which remains a part of the process, I also offered people the opportunity to submit images that they felt were relevant to the idea of solitude or in some way reminded them of times when they had felt this way. 

It’s been really interesting to see how varied these submitted images are. Of course this was to be expected, but it has highlighted how a wide avenue of investigation would have been lost if I hadn’t chosen to open out the offer to respondents in this way. 

My own response to the submitted images has been interesting too, both in terms of an instinctive reaction to dismissing images that don’t immediately resonate with my own perception of the theme but also how, in reacting in this way, I’ve validated the absolute importance of having sought out perspectives that diverge from my own and how I'm obliged to honour those perspectives and not allow my own individual bias to dominate, as this would ultimately be to the detriment of the project’s aims. 

Image by Leanne McMahon

Image by Leanne McMahon

When all is said and done, I of course retain a curatorial role and I’ve chosen to represent the submitted images in different ways, guided by no particularly criteria. Some images have been used to accompany text or quotes from the respondents, others have been used as projected images to be re-photographed while others have been composited to create entirely new images (allowing me to improve my processing skills too). 

Composite of two images by Leanne McMahon

Composite of two images by Leanne McMahon

When deciding to ask for images I hadn’t thought about what I would do with them or how they might be useful to the work. I suppose I imagined them being inspiration in some way to the ongoing creation of my work, simply feeding into my own vision. I did not envisage that they might ‘become’ the work themselves. This has been an unexpected but very welcome discovery in the project so far. As I collect more images there’s much scope for developing this further.


One of the techniques I’ve wanted to experiment with is repeat photography, to see if there’s a role for this practice in articulating and exploring the themes of my project. In an effort to break out of a creative and motivational lull I figured I’d start at home and give this process a try.

One of the things I’ve considered is how to use an image to change the character of a scene and/or to help tell the story of solitude or absence in a space. I’ve also become interested in how I might use light to enhance or alter how a scene reads. This image is my first attempt at some of the above, using a previously taken image as the basis for this shot, but translocating it elsewhere to see how this changes the meaning of the image. There was also a smidgen of light painting going on in this photo, something I have never tried before but would possibly like to experiment with again in future. Using light creatively is something I’m always concerned with and hope to be using projected images shortly as well.
Overall, I feel that rephotography can be a useful tool to tell the story in my project and will hope to develop this idea further.

Surfaces and Strategies: Week 4 Reflection

"If nothing else, the advent of post-photography is an uncomfortable reminder that the present we all embody, the photographic presence that is the very guarantee of our being, is no more than one ephemeral effect within history's own ongoing and inexorable processes of reproduction and erasure." 
Geoffrey Batchen, 2002: 127 (1)

"The task of a philosophy of photography is to reflect upon this possibility of freedom - and thus its significance - in a world dominated by apparatuses; to reflect upon the way in which, despite everything, it is possible for human beings to give significance to their lives in face of the chance necessity of death."
Vilém Flusser, 2004: 82 (2)



This massive topic seems to have arrived at a bad time for me. It’s too big, the implications seem too profound. I’m trying to follow the light, but it only seems to lead to new cul de sacs of blinding confusion, with each turn confounded by a shroud of abstruse theory cast in language that leaves the deepest, blackest shadows on either side.
We are asked to challenge the very practice of photography, to seek to question the physical form of the image, how its representation comments on the medium or opens new horizons for further exploration. But, in a weird way, all I can think about is death and how photography predicts, reports and simultaneously defers this final state.
Maybe the death is that of the idea of human as autonomous photographer with a singular vision. Maybe the death is of the idea of someone seeing something they find interesting, deciding therefore to take a photograph of it, and being satisfied simply with having done so. Or possibly we should just accept that photography as we know it is dead (or soon will be) and so we should all just move along and find something else to do.
And what are we supposed to be free from?
A simple Google search of ‘freedom’ brings up two definitions:

  1. The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.
  2. The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

I’ve never felt enslaved by my camera, nor have I ever felt my rights to act as I wish impinged upon by the apparatus of photography. Yet this week, I’m repeatedly reminded how tightly chained I actually am to the apparatus and it’s a thoroughly demoralising idea.
I understand the reason for a general anxiety to reframe the position and pre-eminence of photography and the physical photograph itself in the rising daylight of the digital age. I support this effort, while feeling somewhat removed from it, existing in a parallel place where the conflict feels a lot less pivotal.
For me, right now, the real struggle lies in simply clinging on to the thing that brought me here in the first place…the unaltered, naïve joy derived from taking photographs. I’ve lost it at the moment. I hope it’s buried underneath all this stuff and not gone for good.


  1. Batchen, G. (2002) Each wild idea; writing, photography, history, Cambridge, Mass, London: MIT.
  2. Flusser, V. (2004) Towards a Philosophy of Photography, London: Reaktion.

Surfaces and Strategies: Week 1 Reflection

The opening of module two introduced the practice of repeat photography – ‘rephotography’. This practice of carefully reproducing previously captured images opens up new avenues of investigation that are not available to a single, isolated image. Repeat photography places both images in a different context and invites the viewer to consider what might exist in the space between them, an uncharted region of time and cultural shift to which the pair of images can possibly provide some clues, but often little more. The potential applications for rephotography are numerous, ranging from quantitative scientific examination to sociological commentary, while others simply find it an enjoyable thing to compare images from past and present for its own sake.
The work this week challenged me to consider how rephotography might be relevant to me and my own practice, and looking forward, whether there might be an application for it in the project I’m working towards in this MA. It’s a difficult question to answer comprehensively at this point, particularly as I have no personal experience of repeat photography. There are however aspects of the practice that may be of relevance to the work I hope to produce or the way in which I hope to examine the experience of urban solitude.
The act of repeating a photograph seems to me to take the image beyond its original boundaries and opens up possibilities for communicating context and information and provoking inquiry that is simply not possible with a single image. One of the challenges I have been continuously concerned with when plotting the course of my project, is how to articulate the vast and varied differences in the way people experience being alone in the urban environment. Instinctively it felt that straight photographs were not going to be adequate to do this subject real justice and my concession to this in my proposal was the addition of creative writing to allow myself and other people involved in the project (e.g. interviewees) to find different ways to articulate aspects of their experience which would later inform the process of image-making.
Repeat photography potentially offers another tool to explore this subject, offering as it does a manageable way to comment on large periods of time and on big issues that might be too much of a mouthful for one photograph to declare. It would, for example, certainly lend itself to telling a story of absence in the urban environment (if that were the story I was trying to tell). There is also the potential to use the single frame of reference to tell the story in a different way. If I shoot one place repeatedly, rather than lots of different places only once (as currently), how does that change the angle from which the story of urban solitude might be told?

This week’s work has once again challenged me to consider more carefully how the work might eventually be presented to an audience. In The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods(2011: 130) one of the most prominent advocates and exponents of rephotography, Mark Klett, wrote:  

‘Interactive approaches using digital technologies enable seemingly incompatible types and formats of data to be collected and used together. Organizing this material presents a new challenge that accentuates content over media type, and emphasizes the experience of the work as a way to discover the work’s content. If done well the results can add layers of meaning and accessibility to photographs, extending their audience and reaching across disciplines. Then the old problem that photographs alone cannot explain their histories has found a new solution.‘

Klett raises the tantalising possibility of offering an ‘experience’ to the viewer that adds meaning and potentially appeals to a wider audience. There’s obviously much to unpack there, but the desire for the work to be experienced rather than just seen certainly resonates with me and rephotography may offer a way to engage in a wider dialogue with others about how they experience solitude in the urban environment, in a way that I’d originally proposed to do using workshops and questionnaires. I hope to test this on a small scale with a mini-project, to see if there might be a wider application moving forward and will report back with my progress in due course. 

Klett, M. (2011) 'Repeat Photography in Landscape Research', in Margolis, EM. and Pauwels, L. (ed.) The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, London: SAGE.

Rubbish & Recycling: Reflection on a Mini-Project

The end of module 1 sees us facing a blank abyss of teaching-free time, time that I’d secretly hoped to fill with back to back Mad Men episodes.

Don Draper thinking about lying down on his sofa in   Mad Men

Don Draper thinking about lying down on his sofa in Mad Men

Now this was possibly just because I’d forgotten how appealing it was to imagine a world where I could spend the majority of my working day lying down on a sofa, but it was mainly because I’d found the process of preparing the end of module assignments really gruelling. So I was looking forward to the mental break. 

The week 13 work was mercifully light, with a teaser for module 2 and an introduction to the photographic work of Ed Ruscha, an artist I’ve been inspired by since visiting his retrospective at the Hayward Gallery back in 2009.

The week ended with a challenge, a mini project to produce a series of images as a small book in response to Ruscha’s books.

Ed Ruscha, shot by   Hedi Slimane, 2009

Ed Ruscha, shot by Hedi Slimane, 2009

This activity instantly fired my imagination...I love the literality of Ruscha’s photographs, how lacking in self-consciousness they appear.

He seems to take an almost disinterested look at his subject, presenting it simply as it is, with no additional photographic angle added.

He’s not trying to romanticise or polemicise, he’s just showing stuff and the rest is up to the viewer. 

His various interviews over the years seem to support this idea, of photography as something he uses simply as a tool to do a job. 

But I remember seeing some big prints of his aerial car park images at the Constructing Worlds exhibition a few years back and being really astonished by the beauty and visual interest he’d managed to extract from such an apparently mundane subject. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’m totally buying his total nonchalance about photography, but whatever the case I was looking forward to getting into this activity.

I considered a few different ideas, initially planning to shoot car parks (I’ve always been interested in them), then thought about shooting old cars. 

Around about this time we received our assignment feedback, which I found pretty deflating, so with the words of Don Draper ringing in my ears I decided I really needed to do something different for this project, just to mix things up and shake it off. 


I ended up shooting rubbish! 

As I walked around my neighbourhood I was struck by how much stuff people just dump on the streets. I’d never quite appreciated this before and having left my house in search of old bangers I turned to shooting bins and urban debris.

I’d already decided I was going to be shooting exclusively during the day as a departure from my usual practice. In response to Ruscha’s work I wanted to shoot in a nimble, ‘artless’ manner. This also seemed appropriate for the subject matter. So all images would be made using my phone. 

I’d been wanting to experiment with making a book and had in fact included this in my project proposal. I’d only recently realised I could make books via Lightroom, so decided this would be a good chance to get my head around that as well. So the brief was set, I was going to shoot rubbish on the streets with my phone and create a book using Lightroom. 

This process was really interesting and enjoyable. I enjoyed just walking round my local area, something I never usually do, and my wandering took me to places I’ve not seen before. I enjoyed the process of just being observant during the daytime, really taking in my environment. Maybe everything interesting doesn’t happen at night after all! 

Justin_Carey_Photography_Rubbish 2_175kb.jpg

Contrary to my usual practice, I walked around listening to music, casually snapping away whenever I came across something that was interesting. I was much less concerned with line, light or composition and just made photos in each case and moved on. I found this quite liberating too, with less ‘riding’ on each shot.
In keeping with the subject matter, final image selection was not especially discerning and the edits in Lightroom were minimal (again, in contrast to my usual practice) and then I moved on to putting the book together. One of the unavoidable conclusions from walking around shooting was that we’ve got too much stuff. There’s so much stuff just discarded, unceremoniously chucked out, its fate unknown – nobody seems to care that we’re polluting our own neighbourhoods just to get rid of the things we don’t want any more. It’s nuts! 

Justin_Carey_Photography_Rubbish 1_234kb.jpg

This conclusion influenced the way I approached the book. I’d taken these simple iPhone photographs of rubbish. It seemed nonsensical to produce a glossy archival hardback book of these photos. Equally, I can’t ignore the fact that whatever I produce is likely to end up contributing to the pile of crap on the pavement at some point in the future, so I felt that a small simple book with images on basic paper, with soft cover, would be the way forward.

Rubbish & Recycling in East London
Rubbish & ...
By Justin Carey
Photo book

Since producing the book, I’ve thought about how these images might be better displayed in a more congruent way. On one hand there’s the ironic angle where the book is presented with lots of packaging in a big cardboard box filled with crepe paper and an accompanying essay about the evils of modern capitalism and consumer culture. Almost like rubbish as a collectible. On the other hand, it seems wrong to produce a book at all. A book of rubbish photos about rubbish is destined for only one place…so why do it?

I have thus resolved to create a digital display of the images with an accompanying statement that hopefully explains the rationale behind the decision to display them in this way and the idea underpinning the project.

I feel like there’s more in this project and will have more to say in due course.

Positions and Practice: Week 10 Reflection

Week 10 was for me more like week 12 or 13! As I mentioned previously, I’d gotten into a study deficit due to the dual demands of the MA and my actual job, which meant I got round to the work for week 10 a little late. As always, it’s only a couple of weeks after the fact that I seem able to properly contextualise what I learnt during that week, as the dust settles and the information gradually seeps into the cracks in my mind where the weeds of new thought will no doubt eventually grow.
I write this having just recently finished reading Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes.

Barthes photographed by   Henri Cartier-Bresson  , 1963.

Barthes photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1963.

Here we have a writer, who starts his critical appraisal by admitting that he doesn’t really take photographs, setting out to identify what Photography is ‘in itself’. He argues at length for the particular qualities that make certain images stand out above others, the aspects that attract and retain his attention and provoke an emotional reaction. He seems to conclude that without these special qualities (the ‘punctum’) the image can only ever be appreciated on a technical or cultural level (the ‘studium’) but will not be truly memorable. 

A large part of his thesis is based on an image of his late mother in her childhood. He talks about this photograph at length, returning to it and its qualities often. The book contains a number of photographs that he uses for illustrative purposes, but Barthes chooses not to include the image of his mother that he refers to repeatedly, arguing that it cannot possibly have the same significance to the reader as it does to him so there’s no point including it. 

For me this book encapsulated a lot of what annoys me about critical theory and how almost intentionally opaque it can be. Photographs are everywhere. Their reach is limitless. Their potential audience is absolutely global, transcending geographical, cultural, ethnic and economic boundaries. Yet, the discourse in which these images are discussed is often conducted amongst somewhat self-satisfied academics who are almost exclusively Western, wealthy, male and white. The language used is almost designed to obfuscate, to exclude people who aren’t in the club from being able to have an opinion. Because if you can’t speak in terms that the academics will understand, or if you lack the intellectual arrogance to simply invent language to support your argument, you do not have a voice in this debate and your contribution is invalid. 

Of course, Barthes’ work is considered a seminal text in the study of photographic practice, and I don’t wish to dismiss it entirely. It seems to me though, that the intrinsically democratic nature of photography obliges those who partake in critical appraisal of the medium to reflect that in their analysis. They should seek to elucidate, opening doors of understanding, rather than obscure the art and make the practice of photography seem like a more mysterious and less attainable thing. This is something that is increasingly getting on my nerves.
One of the tasks for this week’s reflection was to consider the relevance of critical theory to my own practice. I’m afraid to say that I don’t see any significant link between some of the high-minded elitist claptrap masquerading as photographic theory and the reasons why I take photographs. I appreciate there may be irony for some in the very fact that I am writing, critically, about this book and critical theory in general, in a way that many may find in itself inaccessible. For that I can only apologise.
I believe strongly that photography is a versatile art form. I believe that the analysis of this practice is important and can be beneficial for those who undertake it (hence me doing an MA). But I also strongly believe that those ‘in the know’ should strive to be as inclusive as possible in their analysis, to widen access to this beautiful practice and to enhance the enjoyment of it for those who are interested in spending more time to understand it. This can be achieved in many ways, both in the production and distribution of the analysis, and I think we all have a responsibility to consider how we can contribute to a more inclusive debate around photography.

So, taking that idea further, I have to consider how I will personally rise to that challenge. What will I do to help to demystify things? 

Some of my views & reviews via   Shutter Hub

Some of my views & reviews via Shutter Hub

I enjoy considering these questions and writing about photography. I'd certainly like to write more, either as a companion to my own work or as a contribution to the discourse of photography that examines the context of images related to each other and in relation to general themes.

So ultimately I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is. Can I contribute to photographic debate and critical theory in an interesting, accessible and no-nonsense style? Or shall I just make a groveling apology to Barthes’ memory and slink off into the distance with my tail between my legs!

Reflections on a Collaboration

Earlier in this module I took part in a collaboration with my classmate Chris Chucas whose work I’ve increasingly come to admire throughout the first weeks of this course. We had both missed the chance to collaborate during the scheduled activities but agreed to try a little side project after discussing it in the webinar that accompanied the work in week 3.
I’d been really impressed by the work produced by the other collaborators. I felt that given the constraints of time and distance separating people, everyone had produced interesting and thought-provoking images. Chris and I decided to do something together and set about deciding on the parameters of our own project.

At the outset, I have to admit that I’ve never considered myself to be a collaborative photographer, AT ALL! One of the things I value most about photography is the ability to preserve my own individual vision. In fact, it’s one of the few areas where I feel that I can express myself entirely, without having to defer to external standards or expectations. I approach all aspects of making images in a very protective way, from the way I shoot to the way I process the work.
One of the reasons to write this reflection now though, rather than a few weeks ago when it was more contemporaneous, is that one of the real revelations of this first module has been the realisation of how much of what we all do involves collaboration on some level. It’s something that I have had reason to reflect on repeatedly throughout this module and not just specifically during the work with Chris. Even in my own practice, I’ve had a long and fruitful collaboration with my printer George at Digitalarte who I have been working with for more than three years now. Not only has he taught me a lot about printing but also many other things that have fed directly into my practice and improved my work and workflow. I have had a similarly fruitful association with my framers Oaksmith Studio. I've also benefitted from the collaborative environment that my photography group members have created. 

When you look at things more closely you realise that all image making is to some degree a collaboration. With your subject, with your equipment, with your audience. For me personally this has been a useful realisation, liberating me as it has to some degree from the narrow myopic viewpoint that refused to allow external light to illuminate new and better ways forward.
The project with Chris was framed simply. We would both shoot two images, in landscape format, that would ultimately be combined in some way. Our general theme was ‘loss’ or ‘being alone’ and we briefly talked about some shared inspirations. Chris had posted some lyrics up on the class forum that had got me thinking, from the song Church Street in Ruins, by Bangers:

Hearing the Beach Boys playing on this rainy high-street
Makes me chuckle at the amount of surf shops here.
I've tried, there's just no waves in this town.
Just more coffee shops that we could ever hope to drink in
And I don't care how cheap their drinks are,
I'm better off at home.
I kind of find it offensive that everything's for sale,
Coupled with the realisation that there's nothing here I need.
It's strange, I don't hate my job and I'm not living on the breadline,
But spending money still seems strange to me.
On the plus side when I'm outside I repeat mantra-like
"The last thing I need is any more things".

We spoke a bit about how we interpreted some of these thoughts and I managed to slip in a Tribe reference, because frankly there’s always room for A Tribe Called Quest!

One of the pleasures of this project for me was finding shared perspectives with someone whom I didn’t know beforehand and whose work was so different to mine. Also, the fact that by being open to others it’s possible to derive inspiration from places I wouldn’t usually find it (my knowledge of Punk is zero!). In speaking with Chris and sharing ideas I not only found affirmation of some of my own feelings but also was challenged to broaden my views and think beyond my previously perceived boundaries. Reflecting on this experience and on the output of the rest of the group, as well as the various practitioner interviews provided where people discussed how they had entered into their own collaborative relationships, I would say this is one of the real benefits of collaborative working.
We agreed on a loose deadline by which we planned to have shot our images, and I went out on the streets of East London one night after work. I was feeling really uninspired, and usually in these circumstances I would have given things up and headed home just accepting that it wasn’t my night. Having a responsibility to someone else though prevented me from doing that. Now, it wasn’t about me and my own selfish view point. I had a responsibility outside of myself, to the shared objective of our collaboration. 

Justin_Carey_Photography_Street Cinema_750kb.jpg
Images for collaboration - shot February 2017

Images for collaboration - shot February 2017

At this point, Chris had already sent me his images (I hadn’t looked at them though), so I was even more aware of a sense of not wanting to let the side down. I think there’s a lot to be said for deriving external methods of inspiring work and a work ethic, particularly if one wishes to pursue a professional path in photography. ‘Not feeling it’ can’t be an absolute obstacle to producing work, there has to be a way to keep shooting through it, and developing a productive routine that is almost independent of notions of inspiration, is one of the benefits that collaboration might also offer. In general, that is certainly something I must do better at as the course progresses.

nother element to our collaboration was that we would process each other’s photographs. For me this was a massive step. I am super obsessive about processing, always have been, and so the act of sending my RAW files into the ether and just allowing someone else to take charge of the final presentation of my images was both incredibly daunting, but also very liberating because ultimately, no one died! And that’s a lesson in itself, that sometimes by loosening the tight grip on the reigns you might be allowing magic to happen. Another lesson for me.

Image for collaboration -   Chris Chucas

Image for collaboration - Chris Chucas

Image for collaboration -   Chris Chucas

Image for collaboration - Chris Chucas

The final images were put together by Chris and I was blown away by them. I’ve never presented work in a diptych before, so again that was another way in which my practice was challenged and broadened by this collaboration. Both composite and diptych have caused me to consider different ways in which I can sequence and present my work in future and I’m grateful to Chris in this regard.

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Overall, both in this exercise and on reflection throughout this module, I feel that collaboration is something that is not only unavoidable, but is also a positive force that can be harnessed both to produce work that transcends individual practice but can also strengthen and develop individual perspectives. I’d certainly be open to collaborating with Chris, or other practitioners, in future. As this module draws nearly to a close, I feel I have a better idea of where I want to go with my practice and significant parts of that will involve collaborative working, whether it be in producing images or in developing work to accompany, support or discuss photographic practice.
You can see what Chris thought about our collaboration here.

Positions and Practice: Week 9 Reflection

This week’s focus was on critical theory and how we view, analyse and discuss images. I would admit that my initial stance was one of scepticism about the merits of critical theory, as it seemed to be a discipline that largely served to exclude the uninitiated from being able to participate in the discourse surrounding works of art. While I still believe this to be true in some cases, I would say that on reflection there certainly is a role for critical theory in photography. The breadth of potential contributions to the debate around the practice of photography, as well as the analysis of individual or related images, allows for many people to access or contribute to some form of discussion around photographic work. It's also possible to argue that critical theory serves to legitimise and elevate the practice of photography from merely a leisure pursuit to something that does merit consideration and discussion as an art form. 

As we saw Francis Hodgson arguing this week, it's important to establish a common measure of photographic ‘quality’ as we seek to identify images that ‘matter’. I felt this to be an immediately challenging and somewhat troublesome idea (eg. who judges quality?). Of course, the concept of quality in photographic imagery could be considered to be largely dependent on the intended purpose of the image and also the audience to whom it's targeted. The family snapshot, the advertising image and the documentary project are all aspiring to different standards of aesthetics and efficacy and different measures of their ‘success’. That being said though, I don’t think this renders the pursuit of quality entirely futile. It still seems to me to be an ideal worth pursuing at least at the level of the individual practitioner. It surely behooves each of us to seek to produce ‘quality’ work, aspiring to reach as closely as possible the mark that one sets for oneself at the very least, even if I personally believe that a universal and standardised measure of quality is probably an unattainable goal.
Of course, on the other side of this argument is the risk that those who are assigned the role of adjudicators of quality end up being such a homogenous group that there's an implicit and unconscious elitism both in selection of images of merit and provision of access to them. One could already argue that the ‘art world’ is not the most inclusive or welcoming environment and by seeking to establish a visual hierarchy there is certainly a concern that it is possible for inequality to become further entrenched.

Save Your Own Damn Self

Save Your Own Damn Self

Another interesting question posed this week was whether we approached our work in a predominantly emotional or cognitive way. Reflecting on this I feel that since starting to take photographs I have largely proceeded in an emotionally-driven manner and put very little thought into things at all. One of the main drivers for pursing an MA in photography was the hope of changing this and finding a more informed basis on which to continue creating imagery that was hopefully improved by being better informed. I suppose as much as I don’t feel that my approach has yet shown much sign of this, the very act of writing this CRJ is a step towards a more considered cognitive approach.

Finally, I recently read a book by David Campany – Photography and Cinema as part of my research into the link between photography and cinema and how this might help to contextualize my own practice and help me understand how I see scenes and create images. While I can’t say that after having read this book I have a clear idea of how my own work can be considered ‘cinematic’, one thought from the book has stuck with me, that being that ‘an image could simply be narrative without belonging to a narrative’. I really like this and hope to work towards producing images with more narrative content moving forward.

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.

Positions and Practice: Week 5 Reflection

The ethics of photography is not something that I’ve previously considered in much detail, just assuming that it didn't really apply to me. After all, I typically shoot empty spaces, at night, with no-one else involved. I've certainly felt unease on occasion when seeing photographs of homeless or otherwise disadvantaged people presented in a way that seems to place their plight below the photographer's desire for self-promotion, but apart from that it's not an issue that's been at the forefront of my thoughts.
Unsurprisingly though, I find myself writing yet another reflection where one of the key realisations is that I have much to learn and much to incorporate into my own thinking, particularly with regard to my own practice. The work of the photographer Jeff Mitchell  was in sharp focus this week, as his image of refugees travelling from Croatia into Slovenia taken in 2015 was famously used by UKIP in their Brexit campaign last year. 

I found Mitchell's own response to the use of this image rather interesting, as instead of being outraged, he seemed to take a much more sanguine view of things:

"Photographers are there to record stories, as they happen and when they happen, in the best way we can. But what happens after that, how our images are used, can be out of our control…
My job – telling the story of the migrants – had been done. It’s just unfortunate how it’s been picked up.
It’s difficult for any agency – Getty, Reuters, AP – that circulates photographers’ images. They’re out there. And it’s not just Ukip. Newspapers also use shots in the wrong context. It depends on the political slant of any organisation.
You have to remain impartial. I’m there to record what happens. I know it sounds simplistic, but you shoot what’s in front of you."

Jeff Mitchell's best photograph: ‘These people have been betrayed by Ukip’. The Guardian, 22nd June 2016

In Mitchell's view, his work was done. What happened next was out of his hands and thus, by implication, not really his problem. The buck seems to have been decisively passed! The discussion around this topic on the forum this week suggested a range of views in response to this view. From my initially neutral stance where it seemed to me that, as the image was obtained and used in a legal manner, there was no real blame to be apportioned, I think I've been convinced to consider that as image makers there may be at least some responsibility for where the images ultimately end up.

This is of course a complex challenge particularly, as Mitchell highlights, in the 'digital age', but it is one I increasingly feel we are obliged to engage with in some way. If nothing else, I think it’s important to strive to protect the clarity of one's own voice and if the images are going to be used in a manner that seems contrary or incongruent with the motivation that underpinned the creation of the image, as artists we should seek to defend ourselves. Of course, this is a context-dependent argument, with the reason the images were created in the first place needing to be considered.
This is an extension of the idea of 'authorship' that we explored in week 3. In the case of Mitchell's work, he seems to have a less rigid view of 'authorship' and is seemingly less concerned that his photograph has been appropriated to promote a message that he may not personally agree with. Accordingly, I feel that the 'ethics' of photography is an individual and context-dependent thing and depends on a number of factors, including the sort of photography one engages in and the intended use of the images created. I can only really comment on my own motivations and respond to a personal ethical challenge. Reflecting on my own motivations for taking photographs, I would have to say that there's an element of selfishness there. A desire to express something internal, almost regardless of how, or by whom, it is received. It's like self-analysis. As such, it’s important to me that I represent the impulse that has inspired the photograph as honestly as possible. Admittedly I don’t always understand that impulse - which partly explains why I find myself studying an MA in photography - but if I have an ethic it’s the idea that I have to be as faithful to this internal impulse as possible. My hope is that the work might connect with others out there who share or are able to identify with the same impulse (I’m already hating the word ‘impulse’!)…if my work was able to connect with, or initiate communication or dialogue with others in some way, I’d be very gratified.
It’s also very important to me to support other artists as far as possible, particularly those who’ve had a role in supporting or inspiring my work. Sometimes just a few encouraging words is enough, but of course purchasing and promoting their work is even better.
As outlined here, my ethics strike even me as rather limited in scope and poorly-formed. I don’t yet feel fully-equipped to address the deeper questions of why I shoot what I do and why anyone should care. These questions seem to hang ominously over me at present, prodding me for a response. I'll need one...soon!

Positions and Practice: Week 2 Reflection

This week’s focus has been on the interdisciplinary nature of photography. It only takes a moment to be overwhelmed by the many areas of personal, professional and intellectual life that are in some way influenced or interacted with by the photographic image or some derivation of it. Photography in an obviously recognisable form is ubiquitous of course, but this week challenged me to consider how it has also seeped into the core of so many other areas of life, and been changed, misrepresented or exploited in both positive and more questionable applications. From medical imaging and its central role in diagnostic and subsequent clinical care, to photo-composites aiming to arrive at a visual mean or archetype of a proclivity or ethnicity, the image has been unwittingly recruited into many roles.
The challenge this week was to consider where these links might particularly relate to one’s own practice. I have been intrigued by the link between photography and memory for some time. I have often felt a subconscious impulse to shoot a particular scene that then seems to gently tug at a thread deep in my memory, unravelling it enough for me to realise that something has been disturbed, without being able to grasp it solidly enough to recall details. Images suggest emotions and imply connections that are sometimes quite unsettling. This link with our psychology is something I want to explore further and is likely to be an ongoing component of my research on this MA.
Some introductory reading in this area threw up some interesting introductory ideas. For example, in Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour, Linda Henkel (Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 396–402) was able to demonstrate that the act of taking photographs on a museum visit impaired the ability to be able to recall details of the exhibits seen, compared to those who simply observed the exhibits without taking photographs. While Schacter et al. (Psychology and Aging 1997, Vol. 12, No. 2, 203-215) demonstrated that review of photographs could induce false recollections in older people. In Looking at Pictures but Remembering Scenes (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 1992. Vol 18. No 1. 180-191), Intraub et al. discuss how ‘boundary extension’ occurs when we recollect images, leading us to perceive and recollect ‘more’ of a scene than was actually presented in a photograph.
All of these ideas challenged my original notion of photographs triggering memories for me. I’m forced to acknowledge that photographs are not always ‘truthful’ either intrinsically, or in our recollection of them, and the idea that images can induce false memories, which can then become incorporated into our personal histories is intriguing. Another unavoidable conclusion is that the idea of the photograph as ‘evidence’, as being by definition an accurate representation of what was seen, or was present, is not as indisputable as it may first appear. This is an interesting way to consider some recent controversies such as the furore surrounding President Trump’s inauguration photographs.
Another strong interdisciplinary connection for me is with photography and music. Music often triggers my ideas, it helps to clear my mind, inspire a creative attitude and helps me connect with the mood of the places I photograph.

An example - This song:

Inspired this image, that I shot back in 2015:

Our Love Comes Back In The Middle Of The Night

Our Love Comes Back In The Middle Of The Night

There’s a continuum between memory, emotion, imagery and music for me that I aim to understand more as the course progresses, and this week feels like the first step on that journey.
This week I've also learnt that photography has so many potential applications beyond the immediately obvious. There are endless opportunities for collaboration with non-photographic practitioners and across photographic disciplines as long as one is open enough to see the possible connections.

Positions and Practice: Week 1 Reflection

An interesting and challenging start to the course. I’ve never previously considered, in any detail, the idea of photography in a truly global context. Once the thought is introduced however, it’s difficult not to be somewhat intimated by the potential breadth of the argument and its implications. Photography is an incredibly pervasive practice, that everyone save for those in the most isolated cultures interacts with multiple times per day, often subliminally. The influence of imagery is undoubted, yet how much of the imagery we consume is done so willingly? And how much do we consider the unseen agendas that have selected and presented these images for our attention? If we were privy to these agendas would we be more discerning about what we allowed ourselves to see? Would we try and take a more mindful role in guiding the images that ourselves, and others, create?
The internet is a powerful pathway by which images can quickly reach billions of retinas worldwide. It’s not possible to imagine that an image may not have global reach once uploaded. So, is there a responsibility to consider the impact and meaning the image carries when it arrives somewhere you may never see and is read by people whose perspective you may never understand? If so, how much responsibility? There’s no universally acceptable image that appeals to everyone and offends no-one, no image can be truly universal, so is this an unfair expectation of the photographer (or any maker of images)? And surely we have to retain the right to freedom of expression even if this offends? A thorny issue for sure, with previously tragic consequences ( for those who have crossed a line drawn by others.
This week I’ve been challenged to consider the homegenisation of images that occurs as a result of corporate and political imperatives, and the threat this poses to expression and recognition of individuals and cultures that fall outside of the approved categories. As Bate wrote with regard to stock photography:
"the more a global stock image-world becomes a homogenous image-bank, the less easy it is to acknowledge or accept different views of the world."

Photography: The Key Concepts. 2nd ed. David Bate, p. 207

The awareness of this increasing homegenisation of images makes me more determined to remain open to as many sources as possible, and to seek them out if possible. It also challenges me to seek out common image tropes in my own work so that I can actively decide if they belong there, and remove them if they don’t.
This week also introduced me to the idea of photography as a window and mirror. Not an entirely novel idea I suppose, but it’s been interesting to consider whether my work is more mirror or window. I think it’s been more a reflection of internal states and conflicts so far. Gazing into my mirror has certainly allowed me to examine certain things about myself in more detail, even if it’s kinda foggy sometimes!