A 5: Preparation

Assignment five

Brief: Look back at the themes we’ve examined relating to place and our presence within it. What areas inspired you most?

The culmination of this course is a self-directed assignment where you have free rein to choose a subject that relates to any of the material discussed in the course. You may have gathered skills and insights through the projects that you want to revisit or you may have been inspired by other ideas.

The only stipulation is that the final outcome must represent a notion of identity and place that you are personally inspired by. Make sure that your work is visually consistent, relevant to the subject matter you choose and holds together well as a set, both visually and conceptually.

Think carefully about your editing decisions.

  • Which images need to be there?
  • Which ones repeat other images?
  • Are you holding on to a favourite that is no longer required?

Do you need to re-shoot anything?

Aim for a coherent set of no more than 15 pictures, accompanied by a reflective commentary of no more than 500 words.

Preparation for A 5: Removing the figure

1. Initial thoughts

4th August, 2016

There were two starting points for this assignment. First, I had been thinking about how to show the experiences of people with cancer and their families (Assignment 1). Second, I had been writing a review of Bruce Gilden’s work by Eric Kim who suggested that like Gilden our work should express our personality; he might be assertive and aggressive is his approach to street photography but I am more gentle, engaging etc.

How does this launch me into this assignment? I have decided to show and talk about my own experience of having a daughter who has cancer. I will do it my way but influenced by photographers and work that I have done in this module.

I decided this on the 4th of August, 2016 sitting while standing on the patio of my daughters garden. It is an English summer and my daughter is in hospital for five weeks having treatment for aggressive Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I saw this the unfurled sun shade and wondered how many barbecue’s we might have this year with her present. The sun-shade was a metaphor for what future hopes and expectations that may be dashed. I photographed the scene and some of those images are bowl. I decided then that the best person to speak about the impact of cancer in the family was me. I had already started to shoot images.

GARDEN AUGST 4TH-6 selected print

There are issues with this image; I would have preferred a wider angle to show more of the sunshade but only had a 50mm lens with me, the time of day was noon and there is an overexposed sky at the top of the frame. It does however, say something powerful about loss of barbeque’s, summer, expectations, normality, and perhaps even life.

I am think I am planning a photo documentary. I am reminded of ‘The Dad Project’ by Briony Campbell which I looked at about a year ago, but in this case my daughter is not willing to be photographed and perhaps it will be less about our relationship and more about my responses as a father. We will see, because there is an organic nature to this project where cancer is experienced second hand – maybe ‘Second-hand Cancer.’ I will look at that in my preparation but I want to keep some ‘edge’ to it as was suggested in Bruce Gidlen’s work – is that possible?

It is the 6th of August today and I have almost completed A 1. It will be interesting to see how my shooting evolves as my knowledge, skills and experience grows. I have also decided to shoot lots of images and keep a flexible camera with me all the time.

2. Moving forward

27th August

Normally I would have done some research at this stage but have elected to shoot over the next three months and do my research when it feels right to do it. It is a more iterative approach than many of my shoots but as I don’t really understand my feelings about this project and where I am going to arrive with my output it is the right thing to do. I have been keeping a diary of my thoughts and feelings some of which I will share now.

2.1 The ‘Happy’ thought and shoot

It was my grandson’s 4th birthday recently but the ‘Happy’ form th e’Happy Birthday’ sign still remains strung across the living room door. It speaks to me of two things; the incomplete birthday that we had while my daughter was in hospital and paradoxically the fact that there is always some happiness when there is tribulation. This idea is the first in my diary.

Diary 3 (1 of 1)

10th August 2016, ‘Happy’

I have been looking at the work of Bruce  Gilden  and learnt at few things that I decided to put into practice here.

‘Create unusual compositions’ – this is one of the most striking features of his street compositions. I think that this is a lesson I need to learn having just completed assignment No 1. I think having variety of framing and distance (Gilden normally uses a 28mm lens) would add variety to my work. I will experiment with this; I am thinking now about Assignment 5 which is going to be about the impact of cancer on families where the impact is variable and so should be the framing. Perhaps making unsettling compositions would illustrate the dislocation of ‘cancer’ in people’s lives well?

‘Create mystery’ – by unconventional selections and sometimes by shooting less. I am already thinking about how I might apply that in my assignments.

‘Keep going over the same ground’ – there is always something to see in your own backyard. I have been thinking about that for a future assignment and it dawned on me that rather than trying to recruit people to share their experiences of cancer it might be better to me to create a photographic narrative over the next 3 months. It takes away lots of issues about recruitment, consent, consultation etc and I think I can handle the intensity of reflection. https://drgsiandp.wordpress.com/photographers/bruce-gilden-street-photographer/

At first I started taking conventional images of the ‘Happy’ sign then from more unusual angles, then from the reverse of the sign then partial images. I think I am searching for to illustrate the feeling of displacement that cancer brings. I am here in their home, in between travelling to nursery and hospital, not in my normal routine, and feeling in limbo. Perhaps my daughter and son in low feel like that? Our lives are ‘cancer responsive’ until we have a breathing space of remission or something else.

Here are a selection of some of the images that are in my short list collection. I shot over a 100 images and I think that this was helpful; I did some shooting, looked at the images, thought about taking images of the reverse of the sign, did more angular views and introduced some balloons. I think I like the simplicity of the earlier images.

Happy contact

2.1 ‘Gallagher Gourmet Grub’

I have created a food ordering service for my daughter is isolation. It is called Gallagher Gourmet Grub. I let her know when the company is providing in her area and what is on offer. This customer can be very demanding. For me it is an act of love as I make her lunch and tea and take it in when I visit with or without other visitors.

Diary (2 of 2)

Diary 12th August ‘Gallagher Gourmet Grub’

I think food can be a proxy for love. My parents were not very affectionate but one day after visiting with my wife to be she made me trout with white wine, which was sherry although she dis not realise that. For a boy brought up in a working class household on a ‘rough’ social housing estate that was a surprise, but I understood what it was about.

These are the only images shot. I like the idea of using some of her texts and maybe even constructing a physical menu to go with one of these meals. Maybe something simpler is enough; increasingly I am learning something simpler maybe enough.

2.1 ‘Isolation’ – in hospital

I don’t have a diary entry for this as I have for other subjects but I have started to take images in her room and in the surrounding area such as the hospital care park. I am thinking now about the over-arching story and series of images. I think that this may lend itself to a ‘journey’ metaphor but maybe that is too conventional. It is too early to decide and I need to be flexible about what to shoot, but really I am shooting what is near to me. I took some images in the car of the journey to the hospital, they are very ordinary but then that is the nature of that journey, but back to the hospital. How to take images that are not cliched and that do not have my daughter in them; she does not want to be photographed particularly as she has lost all her hair. She knows now what I am doing and understands why I am doing it. A friend of mine asked me last week “Do you think that your photography helps you to deal with the situation?” I am not sure, but I often express personal things within my photography and maybe photography at it’s best is ‘Life.’

I have been shooting images of car parking meters for the last 4 months (Assignment 1) and the hospital car park surreptitiously as photography is not permitted on NHS property. The staff don’t mind photography in my daughters room although the specialists (apart from one) and nurses have declined to be photographed “at this time.”

I am now taking my camera everywhere. I have three and it depends what I can get away with. I am using flash much of the time now too as it seems to work best for these interior shots. Moving to a 24mm lens works better for me too for close work and inside those claustrophobic rooms.


I am travelling between Gateshead and Birmingham weekly and stop off at a service station for a snack. At Tibshelf the bridge across the motorway is wet and dark with condensation on the windows. It is bleak and reminds me of the vverses in the Psalm 23 “the valley of the shadow of death.” I realise that there is another absence photographic reference too. It is that coldness an absence which sums up some of my feeling where we are now. The time of end of life is coming soon as problems stack up – distant from the intitial bad news and closer to the end. There is no comfort there.


10th December 2016

I think I know where my daughter is heading in these next few weeks but I did not expect her to deteriorate as quickly. I think that uncertainty has been one of the most difficult things to deal with. You hope that treatment will work but you don’t really know. How will the end unfold? I am writing this beside my daughters bed where she is having assistance to her breathing – without that she would not be alive. She has a clot in her arm. When will it end? Do I really want to know what that will be like?


One of my favourite verses in the bible recently has been Romans Chapter 12 verse 1 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and constant in prayer.” Despite our knowledge of how things are.


12th December.

My daughter’s condition was ‘critical’ yesterday and ‘less critical’ today with some improvement in her breathing.


18th December


18th December

My daughter died 3 days ago. I am relieved that it is over although her deterioration over 10 days was difficult as she struggled for breath. As a doctor I have witnessed those last gasps of breath many time before but it was surreal to see her last breaths; there is an element of disbelief about this whole thing.

I had intended to take pictures of a salvage yard and visited it today – the last time I had left my camera at home. I was struck by the razor wire and security fencing around the salvage yard and took several images with very small depth of focus which speak to me about pain. I have taken other images today and am concious that many of them are negative or bleak or difficult; the antithesis of joy. I will not be submitting this assignment until next year so I will have time to reflect on what I have produced or identify gaps that I can fill.


My grandson knows that his mum has ‘died and become an angel.’ I was thinking about that and the Christmas tree in the lounge. I know that my daughter is going to have her ashes scattered at ‘The Angel of the North’ which is within walking distance from my home. I have always seen ‘The Angel’ as a metaphor for ‘other-wordliness and hope. I took some images of my daughter’s angel on her Christmas tree. I was going for an overexposed blurred image that people can recognise as an angel, maybe on a tree, without other elements to make it too specific.

I like the body of work especially of anatomical drawings on the body and they remind me of the political statements of the body painting of …… I like the background of black which reminded me of unoxygenated venous blood with is almost black and the red foreground which signifies the colour of arterial blood. In the image above there is mirroring of the open pages of he book but I thought the other book and medical paraphanalia were overkill and not needed in the image.



I like the body of work especially of anatomical drawings on the body and they remind me of the political statements of the body painting of …… I like the background of black which reminded me of unoxygenated venous blood with is almost black and the red foreground which signifies the colour of arterial blood. In the image above there is mirroring of the open pages of he book but I thought the other book and medical paraphanalia were overkill and not needed in the image.

I stopped writing on 18th December and my daughter died on 15th July, 2016. I continued to write in my diary and take pictures sporadically.

2. Research

17th April, 2017

I have been thinking about what I want to photograph and include in my final series which is going to form a book. Since my daughter’s death I have submitted A3 and A4 is just about to be submitted.

2.1 Image research

I was drawn back to the OCA and my own learning blog research completed during A4 about integrating image and text and telling a story.  Several photographers figure large  in my mind such as  Sophie Calle and her Take Care of Yourself’ (Calle, 2009). It is the juxtaposition of a variety of textual material with images that I like. I have reviewed her work in a previous OCA module but on this occasion I note the simplicity and clarity of the images, which is something I am starting to learn – ‘visual clutter’ detracts. An example of a cluttered image might be my photograph of my daughters food for ‘Gallagher Gourmet Grub’ where other images in the background intrude. I may shoot that again.

Screenshot 2017-04-17 16.18.03

Sophie Calle ‘Take Care of Yourself.’

I have also been looking at the OCA notes and looking at photo books such as Redhead Peckerwood by Christian Patterson (Patterson, 2011; Patterson, 2012) and the work of David Favrod such as the Hikari series (Favrod, 2014). Patterson shows what is possible in a photo book.

From a technical perspective, the photographs incorporate and reference the techniques of photojournalism, forensic photography, image appropriation, reenactment and documentary landscape photography. On a conceptual level, they deal with a charged landscape and play with a photographic representation and truth as the work deconstructs a pre-existing narrative. (Patterson, 2011).

I was thinking about incorporating hospital letters and other illness ephemera in my series but I am yet to review the image imported in to Lightroom, many of which have not been discussed do far in this blog post.

Favrod’s series is based on memories of conversations he had with his Japanese grandparents. I like the use of text to punctuate the pictures. Sometimes the titles anchor the pictures and at other times they relay a range of ideas. I will  have to guard that my labels do not restrict the interpretation to literally and strongly. For example, I have a ver powerful image of some razor wire to illustrate pain but maybe it should be untitled because the whole piece informs the interpretation.

2.1 Tutor feedback

This came at this stage of my preparation as we talked about options for presentation.

We discussed hand-made books – to contain the work. A handmade book will keep it personal. A handmade book after moving image is a lovely step – continued interest in sequencing of images.

There are varying binding techniques that you could experiment with – concertina, Chicago, staple, spiral…. etc. We discussed medical notes and a paper surface. If you consider this approach (and I’m very much encouraging you), please do your research. The best way to do this is to look at artists/photographer’s books. I suggest a visit to:


 These books will also help – they are full of photobook inspiration.

Parr, M. and Badger, G, (2004) The Photobook: A History Volume I

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

Parr, M. and Badger, G, (2014) The Photobook: A History Volume III

In addition to the binding of the book please also think about its size and the paper surface. The materiality of the book will aid the reader.

I showed you Anna Fox’s My Mothers Cupboards, My Father’s Words (small staple bound)

Ori Gersht’s books (3 perfect bound and 1 staple bound all contained in a box)

Jo Longhurst’s book on perfection, which contains notes, research, work in situ etc.

I recommend looking at Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood

There was also a comment about A4 not fitting into contemporary practice. I looked at Breda Beban’s series ‘The Miracle of Death 2000’ in the chapter Intimate Life in The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Beban’s husband, Hrovje Horvatic died in 1997, which caused Beban to produce a series of images of the  box with his ashes in the different rooms of their home, which still held her husbands possessions.

Charlotte Cotton describes Beban as unable to give the box of ashes a fixed place, “thus indicating her inability to reconcile herself to her loss. Beban’s photographs epitomize the capacity of intimate photography to describe a detail of life simple and without obvious elaboration, and to invest it with the profundity of human emotion.”

This is a simple yet powerful idea; perhaps I am making things too complicated?

Cotton, C. (2014). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London, Thames and Hudson.

2.3 An experiment, more research and an insight

My diary talks about negative feeling during sleep and on waking. I decided to photograph myself during sleep using interval photography (to create a video) as well as some stills. The interval was set for 10 minutes with flash from on camera and a low shutter speed. Here are a few of the 84 images.


I did some early images with the lights on and I think I will re-shoot with the lights on and further back to give a wider picture to crop. There is no respite from hearing bad news when you sleep a restless sleep and I wanted to capture some of that restlessness in my video although I am not sure how well that comes across. I can see a block of several images of me asleep in my photo-book.

I have been looking at photo-books and the Parr and Badger volumes (more about them in my learning blog section) which drew me to “Facies dolorosa”,the countenance of pain,” by Killian and first published in 1934 with later editions (Parr, Badger, 2004; Luger et al 2016). They communicate suffering and illness, at least to me.

Screenshot 2017-06-01 17.22.41

Screenshot 2017-06-01 17.22.52

Increasingly this project is about communicating my feelings. My daughter might have been ill but the rest of the family were suffering and I think this is what I should be doing. Perhaps my book, made up to look like some medical records, should be called “Dr G is unwell,” or something like that.

I realise now that some of the images I have shot communicate uncertainty, pain, banality and loss but some are simply snapshots and I am not sure where they will lie in a future photo-book.

I have also been thinking about including found images of my own life and that with my daughter and this would be legitimate to include in my photo-book if they are cohesive, add interest and just ‘work.’ I have thought about including my blood pressure readings and ECG printouts etc to illustrate the health or lack of it within my overall theme.

2.4 More experiments: marrying research, shooting and production

I have just finished reading five books, all of which are recommended by my tutor. The one that make the biggest impact was the third Martin Parr and Gerry Badger book as it confirmed to me what I was aspiring to in this assignment which was to produce a contemporary photographic series as a photobook (Parr, Badger, 2014). This involved ‘leaving’ behind old ways of taking and presenting photographs which I have held on to; that images should be literal, crisp and have a connection with the person in the frame. To summarise what I now think my series should look be;

  • Ambiguous
  • Nuanced
  • Function as a ‘concise world’ and not necessarily as an ‘objective reality’ – (quote from John Gossage in Parr and Badger, 2014). This means leaving some my personal time-line behind and creating new images to express what I want to express with objects that are not related to me or my daughter.
  • The design will complement what is being dealt with’ (quote from John Gossage in Parr and Badger, 2014). Currently my idea is to have a phonebook constructed as a set of medical records or ‘shared care’ record that you might have for maternity care. My current thinking is that grief is not an illness (unless it is severe after 6 months)
  • ‘Layered’ or a collaged photobook. I can see the photobook having pages with images, as guide to understanding the background and inserts
  • Be ‘about something;’ it will be.

The second question that I have been thinking about, after my tutor’s comments in A4, is where do my images fit in contemporary photography? I think my work is in the following traditions.

  • Diarist
  • Documentary
  • Personal

John Szarkowski marked the advent of this change in photographic direction in 1967 when he said

“In the past decade a new generation of documentary photographers has directed the documentary approach towards more personal ends. Their aim has not been to reform life but to know it. Their work betrays a sympathy – almost an affection  – for the imperfections and frailties of society. They like the real world, in spite of its terrors, as a source of all wonder and fascination and values – no less precious for being irrational.”

John Szarkowski, wall label to New Documents, Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition ran from 28th February to May 1967. The exhibition featured the work of Dianne Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand.

2.4.1 Creating a photobook

I decided to pull together what I already have in Lightroom as a photobook using the feature in the programme. This would allow me to see what it might look like, what was missing and as a way of communicating my images and ideas to my tutor by exporting these trial books as PDFs.

Here is my first book trial as a PDF (Click on the link to open).

Book 1 test

I learnt a number of things;

  1. Doing this allowed me to see what I had and what was needed. Images that I liked formed the backbone of the series; the unfurled sunshade, the salvage yard and barbed wire and the motorway service station view and gantry. I needed to shoot or select new images to illustrate my theme of loss; this leg to photographing the monkey toy alone on a settee. I had the idea for this after looking at the photographic archive of my daughter’s childhood after seeing an image of monkey with her. For me that was moving as monkey is still living in my home. I found a number of old images of me with Rosie, such as walking across the beach, and inserted them into the book as contrast to the bleaker theme – a contrast of a positive memory.
  2. The photobook draft is confused. I think now that it is about a ‘psychological state’ and so images of the hospital and car park may not fit here although my intention was to show the up and down of feelings with grief. I deliberately tried not to state early in the series who was ‘in trouble’ but later it becomes clear that it is a woman and not me. Back to those rules above – I have decided to make a new version of the book which was concise, more ambiguous, more about feeling than about representing ‘what happened.’ This new version will be desaturated and darker in look because currently this first trial is bright, although that was the reality of many of the days in this period. I realised this after looking at Robin Maddock’s phonebook ‘god forgotten face’ where the images breast a mood about a town and the people (Parr, Badger, 2014; Page 135). The mood of my series and book is important. Maybe I should shoot more images to convey this; I am planning to photograph a small tree (bush) where my daughter’s ashes are scattered, it is just a tree, but it has something hopeful about it that led to our choice.
  3. I am really not clear about my diary entries and including them in the photo series or separately. I like the integration of text and image in the work of Sophie Calle which I commented earlier in this blog. I have included one example  in this trial which does direct the viewer towards something ‘bad’ but does not detail it. Who hasn’t had a sleepless night of worry?
  4. I have been thinking about place, again stimulated by the Parr and Badger book. There are several ‘places’ in this draft book which looks more like a ‘travel album’ through my contact and feelings about an illness rather than an exploration of grief. An option would be to produce two stories – one about grief and the other about memories of illness and the childhood.
  5. I have been thinking about blurred images; almost all these images are crisp, some with very narrow depth of field to blur the background, but not as through water. I am not sure how water would fit into this but under water photography is on my radar.

Here is that 2nd book trial of a unitary idea of grief with a dark mood. Most of the images are desaturated by a good 40 points or more compared with the first trial book – click on the link to open.

A5 Dark Book 2

I think that the desaturated look works much better in setting the tone of the series. I was reading yesterday in volume 3 of Parr and Badgers book about ‘The Photographic book and memory’ where they talk about the risk of a book becoming  “self-indulgent, the confessional, the complaining and the sentimental” and  “therefore of limited interest. This is a help in my editing because they point to potential solutions to allow the images to say something more interesting. One of these things is to create a switch between the far past (images from 30 years ago) and the near past (image in the last 6 months or weeks) and the memories associated  with them (Page 245); the example they give is ‘From Back Home’ by Engstrom and Peterson (Page 268). I think my instinct was right to include some childhood images but perhaps not my daughter with her monkey soft toy as that is too specific. The other helpful point they make is that the best photobooks say something about personal and cultural memories. Perhaps the hospital and other scenes are about health care, environment and attitudes today and not anachronistic cliched images, say of the hospital environment.

I am still not clear about how much of my diary to use – my thinking is still to keep it for a separate pull out booklet with images of the diary, translations below (my writing is poor) and explanatory text about time illness feeling and person identity and place. You will have to use this to understand fully what is in the book.

More shooting

I did some shooting just before doing the “dark”  version of the book which was of the place my daughters ashes were scattered. It was a windy day and lots of bunches of flowers for a couple killed at the bomb attack in 2017 in Manchester were being blown away by the wind. The flowers were decaying and the there were a number of candles there against the iron of the Angel of the North. Here are some shots taken. I did not want the Angel of the North to necessarily be the image here as it is too specific and lacks ambiguity.


There were two images that struck a chord with me – the very first image of the blurred broom which is where my daughters ashes are scattered or the bunch of decaying flowers in the rivulets below the Angel.  The former has personal associations about life after death and the wind of the Holy Spirit but the latter speaks about decay and erosion of life and it is that one I will use.

Explanatory pull out book

I decided to produce some content for an explanatory book (to accompany my photobook) to see how it might look. It covers the images at the start of the photobook only.

Content for pull out book

“This book is about me and my daughter. My daughter Rosie was diagnosed with a lymphoma cancer in July 2015. She died on 15th December 2017.

Initially I thought she might be cured as did she but she relapsed in July 2016. I started to take photographs in July 2016, and keep a diary of my feelings about me and her, when she was having ‘salvage’ chemotherapy. I also started to grieve then – five months before she died.

She was happy for me to take pictures but stipulated that she should not appear in them.

Guide to photographs

Note 1 (Pages 2,3)

‘Waking up’

I wake on a bright and sunny day, and that’s the first though that comes into my mind, it’s going to be a good day. The there is another darker thought, like a malevolent presence, that says ‘No, it’s not alright that Rosie has cancer’ and that stays. The sunny disposition lasts a second or two but the dark thought evaporates the sunshine.

That’s been the pattern the three times when we have heard the bad news, on diagnosis, when treatment had failed and when salvage treatment had failed. It’s very intense in the first few weeks after bad news and that dark colour of thought is dark grey but it becomes lighter and eventually that second thought is not there. Is this adaptation? Is the the ‘new normal’ that you need to keep going?

NOTE: I wrote *’Photograph’ in my diary entry in September 2016 as an idea for a photograph which I took much later on as 86 interval images taken every 10 minutes while I was sleeping.

Note 2 (Pages 4,5,6)


Up and down the motorway. Up and down. Sometimes with worry, fatigue, hope, tears and sandwiches. It’s winter-time and the windows of the walkway are lined with condensations because it’s cold outside. There is a ‘foggy’ view of the cars and parking. I am not sure what tomorrow or next week with bring for me or us. I feel flat and low and burst into tears if I really thought about a future that lies around the corner.

NOTE: We travelled between Gateshead and Birmingham every week for 4 months. The images were taken on the walkway of the Woodhall Services on the M1.

Note 3 (Pages 8,9)


10 AUGUST ‘Happy’

Thomas’s birthday was 3 weeks ago but the balloons and ‘Happy’ sign remain. There are always moments of happiness and joy in this ‘Cancer Marathon.’ Rosie has been in hospital for 6 weeks now with some nights at home every week recently before her wave 2 of chemo.

The ‘Happy’ sign reminds me of those moments that been, Thomas’s birthday, isolation in hospital in hospital. When I look at it from the reverse side it still show Happy but you have to work at it.

NOTE: The image of the unfurled sunshade was the first photograph I took for my series in June or July when I thought ‘This is the end of summer’ and ‘Will we have a barbecue in her garden this year?


Thinking about photobook form and construction

I have seen a number of photobook including those shown to me by my tutor. I still like the idea of constructing a set of hospital notes. A trigger for this ideal was the shock of seeing my daughter’s medical records when I admitted her to hospital for the final time. Someone brought her records to the bed-side table, they were half a metre high. I still find that image which I photographed disturbing.

I have been dipping into the Parr and Badger book and looking a specialist photobook site. This is an amazing book (and video) especially the construction and colour. It makes the point that anything is possible and even though it is colourful it is layered and coherent.


I have been looking at Sophie Calle again, but this time ‘Rachel Monique’ which is a catalogue (understatement) for an installation in a dusty basement in Paris in 2012 (Calle, 2012). It is about her mother and her memory and as Parr and Badger say (Page 267) it is “a book about death that is very much about life.” I have a copy of this beautiful book.

I wonder now about interlacing diary entries with images in my book and other things such as steroid cards, CT scans, hospital parking stubs, ECGs and letters as she has done, rather than a few family images from her childhood which I have done. While my daughter was dying my other daughter had a baby – life and death – I have lots of baby scans and other memorabilia.

Some action:

I managed to find some old paper and card medical records in my surgery to explore. I also have some NHS card covers and paper inserts but not other coloured papers and sections that  have seen. I took the opportunity to photograph a pile of records that was the same height of those of my daughter – the original image was lost but this is still poignant for me as I realised how intense her treatment had been. I and wondering why that is – it probably is related to as a father you want to help and protect your children but sometimes there are things that are out of control and lie in the helping hands of others.

Constructing the mock-up

I have had more ideas about the book. One was to include images of my daughters pile of notes as a liner to the book. It also needed more images of my daughter’s life but not obvious.

I printed out low quality images of different sizes to put into my medical folder. I ran out of ink but continued nevertheless.

This is a video of my constructed book and what I think about it

What I learnt from this experience?

A. Construction

  1. The images are large – I am not sure if more white space would help some of them stand out – and framing of the photographs with a margin rather than full size
  2. All the images will need a runner of about 2 cms because the picture is hidden in the fold of the record
  3. There needs to be accuracy in putting the glued back to back images in
  4. The inside folder area is big enough to help Notes which I think will be on cards in a coloured envelope –  not a mini book

B. Content

  1. I like the order, although this may change. I wanted to start with an idea ‘Something is not right’ which with the records and my sleeping images suggests this is my illness. Later on the clues are that this is about a woman and my daughter.
  2. The images of childhood and growth and immunisation records add contrast to the ‘medical’ images.
  3. To tell the story I do need those hospital images otherwise it would be too bleak
  4. The most enigmatic images work well as single or double pages; some are not understandable without looking at the notes.

C. Aesthetic

  1. The folder is thick enough with the weight of photo paper to look like a medical record
  2. My biggest concern is that it is stretching it to make my memories and grief into an NHS grief record. I am interested what my tutor thinks and it goes to her next.
  3. I am disconcerted by the out cover of the record and the contrast with what is inside – it is that doctor thing, this is incongruous and subverting the format and content I am familiar with.
  4. Back to criteria that I like for a ‘good’ photobook
    • Ambiguous – in part
    • Nuanced – in part
    • Function as a ‘concise world’ and not necessarily as an ‘objective reality’ – (quote from John Gossage in Parr and Badger, 2014). I think that works.
    • The design will complement what is being dealt with’ – Yes
    • ‘Layered’ or a collaged photobook. I can see the photobook having pages with images, as guide to understanding the background and inserts.
    • Be ‘about something;’ it is.
  5. Back to  do my images fit in contemporary photography? I think my work is in the following traditions.
    • Diarist
    • Documentary
    • Personal

I am ready for some tutor comments as I have lots of questions about what to do next.


Calle, S. (2009). Take Care of Yourself. https://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself/installation-views, Paul Cooper Gallery.

Patterson, C. (2011). Redheaded Peckerwood. https://www.lensculture.com/articles/christian-patterson-redheaded-peckerwood#slideshow.

Patterson, C. (2012). Redheaded Peckerwood. London, MACK.

Favrod, D. (2014). Hikari. http://www.davidfavrod.com/HIKARI.html.

Parr, M, Badger G (2004). The Photobook: A History Volume I. London, Phaidon.

Veronika Luger, F. F., Gerhard Feistle, and Jörg Feistle and Dustri-Verlag (2016). “Killian’s photographs: “Facies dolorosa”,the countenance of pain.” International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Vol. 54 – No. 7/2016 (502-504) 54: 502-504.

Calle, S. (2012). Rachel. Monique… Paris, Xavier Barral.