Provisional Assessment Results

I received the email with the provisional results yesterday and was delighted to have been given a mark of 78%. The feedback was very positive, comprehensive and helpful too.  The highest scores were for Quality of Outcome and Context partly in recognition of the various types of collaborative work I’ve been involved in and how I engaged with the subject and medium.

There was a gentle warning about an aspect I’ve already identified which is how I can get too involved in research which can become complex so I can, “…. often get lost in this process which doesn’t aid your rationalisation of the photographic work”.  I need to manage this ‘more strategically’.  I think I was improving by the end of the Module but I need to sustain this and make changes in the way I approach research.

So, Level 3 here I come but I’m going to wait a week or so before applying as I want to rest on my laurels for a while and enjoy the feeling.


Creative Pieces in G-Drive Assessment Folder

Catherine Banks – 507005

Creative Pieces – Description


  1. Assignment 2 : “Basingstoke Canal “– final Version

Folder containing 9 jpegs of the final series.

  1. Assignment 3 – “The Silent Pool“ (Final Version)

The blog post can be found at

This folder contains:- six of the chosen jpegs and three contact sheets re final selection.

  1. Assignment 3 – Unbound book

This folder contains 7 jpegs showing the book cover and contents.

  1. Assignment 5 – “Horsell Common: Exploring a Liminal Landscape Blurb book

The full book preview can be accessed at

In case of problems with blurb a PDF is also located on blog post



Catherine Banks

19 June 2020

Evidence for Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

 LO1 demonstrate detailed knowledge of visual and conceptual strategies in landscape photography, the representation of place and be able to explore your own critical photographic projects

1.1 Expanding response to Exercise 1.6: “The Contemporary Abyss”:

1.2 Response to Brighton Photo Biennial Tour 27th October 2018:

1.3 Response to tutor feedback Ass. 1:


LO2 demonstrate an awareness of the wider social and cultural contexts that surround the representation of place, and be able to discuss relevant ethical perspectives in relation to your own practice

2.1 Thoughts on David Campanay “Safety in Numbness”:

2.2. The work of Daniel Blaufuks:

2.3 Extended reading re The British Landscape during World War II – at the time I was already thinking about the concept of ‘home’:


LO3 explore and realise a range of ideas and creative starting points, and exercise judgement in the production of visual material


3.1 Regarding the submission of the draft Assignment for Spaces to Places. Discussing my approach and editing choices:

3.2 A sequence of editing decisions in respect of Assignment 5:

3.3 Submission document for Assignment 6:


LO4 manage learning resources, conduct self-directed contextual and visual research, and be able to appraise your progress with increasing confidence

4.1 Reflection on Assignment 3:

4.2 Reflection on The Draft Assignment 4: Critical Review :

NB The Final Edition of the Review is now in its separate folder on my G-Drive. The title being “Home as Psychological Construct: Can its meaning be captured with Photography”.

4.3 Further reflection on Assignment 5:


LO5 demonstrate increasing autonomy and a developing personal voice, and exercise your communication skills confidently and interact effectively within a learning group

5.1 Open Art Collective Exhibition at Lightbox Gallery:

5.2 Mini-experiment at Thames Valley Group Meeting. To ascertain if my concept for Assignment 3 “The Silent Pool” was valid:

5.3 My role on Edge-zine editorial team:


Catherine Banks



19th June 2020

The Silent Pool – final Version of Assignment 3

I revisited tutor feedback and created A3 contact sheets of original choices and tutor suggested alternatives to compare.

I took on board comments from tutor with regard to technical choices and noted reasons for exclusion of certain ones such as composition, what was in the frame, and similar images.

I also excluded the ones my tutor thought were over exposed others where the tones did not fit, such as image 6463, a tranquil image but it stood out with the heavier tones.  I also excluded the tree roots, 3442 which didn’t fit with the other images. This left me with 12 images. Contact sheet below:-

I reviewed my idea of an Unbound book  (as seen before on Shona Grant’s website) alongside a photobook by Sandra Kantanen, “More Landscapes” – a beautiful book of japanese style large photographs with a pale blue cover and an inset glossy photograph with a gold embossed title.  I decided the idea of an unbound book would definitely fit as my intention with Assignment 3 was to evoke an atmosphere – the liminal space of the Pool (see my notes on Liminal Spaces here  where I compare the concept with the space of the Silent Pool.    . Neither page numbers nor captions seemed necessary, therefore a loose collection  would allow the viewer to create their own impression of the Pool. I would need book covers and spine roughly the size and shape of a box to hold around 14 A4 photographs

I printed trial images on different papers at small sizes for economy – Hahnemuhle rice paper, permajet platininum etching, Ilford Galerie pearl . The rice paper had a lovely, delicate texture but it was too thin to be loose and handled.  The platinum etching paper was much more substantial but seemed to absorb too much ink. The Ilford Galerie paper held the ink well on the surface, a slight sheen well suited to a ‘watery’ subject and enough thickness for handling.

I emailed local bookbinder Meg Green of  having worked with her before – lessons and private work; and gave her the approximate size of the structure I was thinking of and some jpegs of the images.  Options were for her to provide the materials so that I could create a handmade structure or for her to do this for me.  We arranged a time to meet in her garden (so we could remain socially distant) to discuss.  I took print samples with me so that we could colour match book cover material with colours in photographs – green of vegetations and the changing colours of the pool –  also some hand-made paper embedded with plant material that I thought might be appropriate for the inner holding flap at the right size.

Meg showed me samples of bookcloths, silk, bookcloth, broadcloth similar to buckrum but with mark resistant coating. We looked at the textures and colours – various shades of green, blue, deep yellow, violet.  Eventually I chose a cerulean buckram-like cloth. Meg had some lightweight off-white/unbleached lokta paper, which is semi-transparent and with a delicate appearance whilst holding some stiffness, and slightly more beige material which could suit as the inner ‘holding’ flap for the photographs.  I chose the lokta paper as it worked really well against the cerulean blue of the cloth, provided a contrast of textures and also complemented the ethereal nature of Silent Pool. Due to  transparency of the lokta paper an extra white inner lining would be needed to prevent the grey of the book-board showing through as the photographs were removed from the covers.


I’m pleased that I was able to see this project through to a final presentation.




Final version of Assignment 5 – Horsell Common: Exploring a Liminal Landscape

The whole process of this Assignment can be accessed here 

My further work followed on from my discussion with my tutor following feedback on the draft (see here ).   Since then I have reconsidered the design of the book in light of discussion with my tutor and also the reading on liminal landscape .  In my notes on the reading I included a brief commentary on the concept of liminal places as applied to my experience of Horsell Common and my conclusion was that this space is indeed a liminal place.  (see here )

The title of the book is now “Horsell Common: Exploring a Liminal Landscape”. I retained the Cover image from the draft because it has the lightest tones that will carry a title.  I have also included additional images as discussed with my tutor and experimented with different sized images within the book as well as allowing larger margins.

I wrote a draft Introduction to the book seeking feedback from two student colleagues, Anna and Dawn, and incorporated their suggestions.  Many thanks to them for their feedback and advice .

The Introduction is below:-




The book has been created in the Blurb large landscape size and I have ordered it for myself as a Layflat book as discussed with my tutor. Disappointingly, the preview on Blurb is not ‘lay flat’ so a crease does show between the two double spreads.  A full preview of can be accessed below

but, just in case I attach a PDF of the book below


(NB this PDF will need to be downloaded as a PDF and then read in two page view).



This has been an absorbing self-directed project and I feel quite satisfied that I have carried it through to completion;  from initial idea to printed book.




Final Version of Assignment 1: Seeing the Unseen

Assignment 1: Seeing the Unseen

My previous experiments (see here) showed me that, taking everything into account,  an online presentation would be the most appropriate way forward, so I created a PowerPoint presentation and then converted this to video.  I asked Sarah-Jane for feedback on this and she reported back that the first part went too quickly for her to be able to read the words and she also wanted to hear a voice read them out even with the words. She also queried whether this presentation is a description of my work or actual work – if the former then audio was needed.

The problem with a PowerPoint video is that it doesn’t have separate frames which makes it tricky to extend or cut parts of it.  I went back and created another video with even longer transitions on the text slides and also lengthened some of the other slides to allow for adding a short voiceover. The major problem was that the transitions didn’t really transfer properly so I ended up still having to manipulate the video in Filmora.  Having added a voiceover I then asked Anna for feedback, who noticed interruption In the soundtrack. Back to Filmora and smoothing the audio which improved it, but I really don’t like my voice on the voiceover so I’m not embedding the video here.  In all it took most of a day but at least I know how to create a PowerPoint presentation!

Instead, I’m putting my final choice below as images on a white background, as suggested by Sue at TVGroup, with written text . It can be looked through as a slideshow where the viewer can pause to read text.






Edge-zine: A magazine for students, graduates and tutors of the Open College of the Arts

Edge-zine is a non-profit student-led publication which supports cross-disciplinary work of an international collective of present and past students of OCA and tutors. The original idea of the zine was to bring together the work of students who live and work at physical distance from each other.

The first zine (in December 2016) was put together, by hand, by the editor, Angela Johnson, who collaged pieces of work into a booklet meant to be seen in paper format offline only and photocopied on a sale basis. Support was offered by OCA for production of a pre-Christmas limited edition of zine No. 2 and 100 copies, were printed and distributed by OCA.  When a new editor, Holly Yates, took over the zine became a predominantly digital production on a free Issuu platform, although No. 5 was again printed in a limited edition of 100 and distributed by OCA.

Competing workload demands led to a hiatus in production of the zine until November 2018 when there was a call for additional members, including people who would be interested in being part of the curating team.  I was very interested in being involved so volunteered and we eventually settled into an editorial team of four who work collaboratively on zine production whilst also having specific responsibilities which further our personal and creative developments. We are editor Stefan Schaffeld, Fine Arts Student;  zine designer Amy-Sarah Opitz, Creative Arts student; funding, myself and communications Michael Green, Photography students.

See here

After much discussion we agreed our commitment to making edge-zine a sustainable and collaborative platform with impact and visibility and defined our Mission as being:

“To show work and to provide insight into a process of contemporary art practices as research across medium specificity in our visual culture.  We consider edge-zine as an evolving and developing publication and platform for creative approaches, the form and the content will continue to be fluid as water”.

We shared ideas on layout design and sought initial input and advice from Dr James Pyman, OCA Programme Leader for Illustration, Graphic Design and Visual communications.  James encouraged us to experiment with more varied approaches to design, making content more visual whilst utilising the coherence of a theme.

I took on the role of writing a detailed finance application to OCA/OCASA which included costs for the setting-up of a dedicated Wix website, capable of extension and which could support embedded videos, in addition to the free Issuu platform, and also a potential print run.  For this I compared the costs of a paid-for Issuu site, which would be ad-free, with that of a subscription to Wix which offered more scope for extension at a similar cost.  I also obtained sample papers and printing costs from three UK printing firms for runs from 50 to 200 prints.  We were pleased to be informed that the application had been successful

The zine was re-designed and re-launched by the new editorial team in July 2018, with Issue 7 “Water”, which included “Tutor Thoughts” from Dr Pyman.  Some of my images from Assignment 3 “the Silent Pool” appear on pages 18 to 22 (access to edition via this link .  The theme for Issue 8 in November 2019 was “Time” and our latest edition No. 9 “Inside” was published at the beginning of April this year.  We had chosen the theme before the end of 2019 and the title seemed so prophetic given that many of us were spending time indoors due to the Lockdown measures during the Coronavirus Pandemic.   Stefan suggested I write the Editor’s note for this issue.  I’ve never done anything like that before so felt anxious at the thought, whilst reassuring myself that if Stefan thought I could do it then I could; so I did and it’s on page 4 (access via this link)

It’s been quite a learning curve, with more to come as, after the end of June, Amy is going to be offering each of us some tuition on the use of InDesign software and website building.  We had planned to discuss a print-run once we thought the new design had consolidated but the events of this year have put all that on hold and, given the growth of student-run events financed by OCA/OCASA now, we might not be able to take advantage of the finance we had available.  Something to discuss when we next meet.

Even so, I ’ve gained a lot from my involvement in production of the zine; the sense of satisfaction that can be gained from working as a team and producing something to be proud of as well as the stimulation and challenge of tackling something new especially with a multi-disciplinary base.  It’s been quite a learning curve, but I feel proud of being associated with such a vibrant production and continually amazed at the diversity and quality of the work that gets submitted.



23rd May 2020 – An OCA South West Day with Dr Michele Whiting


An online day divided into two parts – A Workshop Style session focused on drawing as both subject and method followed by work crits. As much of the content of the day was copyright to Dr Whiting I won’t be including any of her material from the day here in my blog.

Her aim for the day was, “Celebrating us together as makers” which was an inspiring thought.

To begin with Michele told us a little about herself. She has been with the OCA as a tutor and assessor for eleven years and, for 26 years across Schools of Art & Design teaching historical and critical studies, including at PhD level. Very interested in experiential doing and experimental drawing, using fast and furious exercises to bring us back to practice. The session would be a talk first and then drawing ‘provocations’ with no pressure to share.

Michele’s Presentation was on “What is Drawing”, its history and then her own methodology which involves embodied walking without camera or sketchbook then carrying her impressions into the studio for drawings and sketches.  The materials she uses are important to her and she spent a long time investigating mediums to understand what they could do before she developed her methodology.

An important point; we can’t look at something all the time therefore drawing carries seen and unseen – something we were going to think about today.

Then followed a series of ‘provocations’ specific exercises alone and then coming back together to de-brief. During the course of them I re-confirmed what I already know; that I tend to begin to draw larger than the space I’ve allowed so that the rest has to be crammed in somehow (is this connected with the balance between exploring and focusing?) – and I don’t enjoy doing the same thing over and over again (which also applies to re-doing essays and assignments). By the last exercise I had improved slightly more proportions and worked on my block about repeating drawings. Just the first starter drawing below –


In the second session we spent some time talking through concerns about the forthcoming digital assessment against new learning outcomes with some advice to think in sections rather than paragraphs, ensuring clarity on where evidence can be located in blogs and always turn back to your practice.

We have been given a handout on how to go about crits which was very helpful – the approach being to consider what the student needs at that moment in time; consider your own biases and respectfully bring your own knowledge and experience ‘into the room’. The process being introduction of the work then feedback comprising questions, suggestions about the qualities that make up the work such as techniques, methods, subject, mediums and contextualisation in relation to movement, styles and practitioners.

The work presented was inspiring – etchings based on astrophysics; photographs and paintings of beans and the dance between the energy of the painting and the still life; illustrations for a book and paintings of water.

It was a long tiring yet exhilarating day and I very much enjoyed the experiential aspect as I had on the day with Hayley Lock.

Michele Whiting’s website is here which welcomes you with a perfect quote from Yi Fu Tuan on of my favourite writers on “Space and Place”, “…to experience in the active sense requires that one ventures forth into the unfamiliar and experiment with the elusive and the uncertain” (1977).  I see that she is also involved in an academic artists’ research collective “Space Place Practice”  and also a collaborative practice,  “Quilos and the Windmill”   with Dr Linda Khatir


Further thoughts


Thinking about embodied walking this reminded me of the different sensations I feel when wearing ‘barefoot shoes’ for my walks – the ground feels so different under my feet and I feel more connected with it. Being a beginner at drawing and art I have acquired lots of different media – paper, types of pencils and paints etc.  I have felt guilty about this but am thinking now that, perhaps, this is all a part of understanding how materials work as well as thinking myself into a creative space.  I started with all this as a way to orientate my practice towards being an artist who uses a camera as my main medium whilst using others too. It’s now a matter of integrating this slowly as I’m at an early stage.

Thinking about gaps in ‘seeing’ reminded me of photography and absence – what’s missing is just as important as what’s there.

At the moment my head is full of getting ready for assessment so it was good for me to get into some drawing instead if only for a while.













Notes on the concept of liminality and the adjective ‘liminal’ as applied to spaces and places 

The words have always appealed to me and I did consider exploring them for the Critical Review.  I remember, at the time, my tutor said this would be a large topic to handle and I think she was right.  However, this came up again in the feedback discussion on Assignment 5 and my tutor suggested I do some reading and a blog post about it.


From the Latin limin, limen threshold

  • Intermediate between two states, conditions, or regions; transitional or indeterminate .
  • Relating to the point (or threshold) beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.
  • The term can be applied to rites of passage; religion (sacred space, time and knowledge); particular individuals/groups (e.g. various minority groups, magicians, shapeshifters, shamans) places; folklore; ethnographic research; popular culture.

My first thought was how far the sound of the word matches the notions of transitional or indeterminate – the up and down-ness of the letters with the softness of the consonants brought up by the short sound of the vowels similar to the undulations of the caterpillar as it moves along in its own liminal state.  It seems to me that the word contains much elasticity, in that it can be applied to many situations and places so long as it occurs from the same point which is that it involves transition.  Immediately I reflect upon this so many examples spring to mind, from the universal to the personal.


The term ‘liminality’ was coined and developed in social anthropology by Arnold van Gennep when, in Rites of Passage (1908) he identified categories of rites – those resulting in changes of status for individual/group and those marking transitions in the passage of time. He emphasises those rites which he believed shared a specific three-fold structure – ‘pre-liminal’ , a metaphorical ‘death’ through leaving something behind; ‘liminal’ a transition rite following a known, prescribed sequence under authority of a ‘master of ceremonies’; ‘post-liminal’ rites of incorporation into society as a new being with a new identity.

Beyond this, Van Gennep suggested four categories of rites emerging across cultures and societies – passage from one status, place, situation to another and the passage of time – becoming aware that these states of in-betweenness are destructive as well as constructive.  (See here)

In 1967, the British anthropologist Victor Turner extended the concept towards non-tribal societies and the effect of this state of transition on individuals as everything one believes about self and others falls apart.  Turner believed that this intense state of being cannot exist too long without some sort of stabilization of structure  – the individual returning to the surrounding structure or else liminal communities develop their own internal social structure, “normative communitas”. (See here  )  Thinking of the work of photographers reminded me of Hrair Sarkissian; the way he both embodied and performed his grief at loss of home through a videoed destruction of a model of the apartment building where his parents still lived; thus linking with the pre-liminal and liminal states in rites of passage described by both Van Gennep and Turner.

In essence, the concept of liminality provides an analytical tool through which political and social scientists can explore the intersections between anthropology and social and political environments (Horvath et al, 2017). An ideal subject at the moment would be the individual and social response to the Coronavirus Pandemic and its effect upon public institutions, commercial and social life; including the Thursday evening ritual for clapping for the NHS which both shows support for a beleaguered NHS and provides an opportunity for socially distanced interaction.

Liminal Spaces and Places

Liminal places can range from borders and frontiers to disputed territories and the no man’s lands of space and place in, for example, identity recognition, and homeland between Israel and Palestine. As I write I’m also thinking of Refugee Camps built in the limbo of belonging nowhere and the purgatory of Concentration and Death Camps; reminding me intensely of the reading I did around Terezin Camp in Czechoslovakia   for Assignment 4 and my exploration of the psychological concept of ‘home’  (see here)

Liminal places are also found in mythology and religion. They are often in-between places – culturally, geographically or metaphorically -which can be ‘on the edge’ as in edgelands, or serve as a melting pot for different peoples and cultures or on the boundary between two elements such as between land and sky, water and sky, or water and land. Celtic spirituality looks to place where the boundary between heaven and earth, or the divine and human, is especially ‘thin’. There is also the concept of Ley lines which are said to crisscross around the globe.  These hypothetical lines are dotted with monuments and natural landforms and carry energy lines along with them which are concentrated at intersection points and can be accessed by certain people. In the brief video below Patricia Klinck refers to ley lines and liminal spaces as she talks about her walk along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

In her subsequent book Klinck writes of trying to make sense of a strange experience which had occurred whilst walking in the early morning when her paint horse, Indio, and Prince, the first horse she owned appeared to walk on either side of her. She wondered why the deep anxiety she felt the night before had evaporated in this euphoric morning then remembered reading years before about liminal space, ‘[… ] a space that is neither up nor down, in nor out, real nor imagined. It was the space beyond the world we knew.  That was what I was experiencing – something beyond the world I knew’ (2016 loc 1352 of 3159).

The concept has also been applied to spaces like Niagara Falls, “… to which pilgrimages are made and where rites of passage occur” (Winchester et al  2003:151) and Brighton as it changed its identity from being a resort town in the Regency era to one associated with pleasure, carnival and the liminal, with the beach as a physical threshold. (ibid p. 151)

Applying liminal and liminality to my Assignments

I’m interested now to have a look at my Assignments in the Landscape Module in relation to these words – remembering too that ‘liminal’ is in danger of being an empty signifier if applied too widely – just as the word ‘iconic’ has been.

Assignment 1 Seeing the Unseen: Using infra-red photographs as a metaphor for the unseen in the landscape – events, histories. In the sense of limen/threshold and ‘Relating to the point (or threshold) beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced’,  this could apply to near infra-red light itself which cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Assignment 2The Basingstoke Canal: Liminal spaces –  ‘Intermediate between two states, conditions, or regions; transitional or indeterminate’. The canal bounds the edge of Woking town centre and divides it from much of its housing. It could be said that its bridges and side paths act as portals to different spaces.

Assignment 3The Silent Pool: This pool is definitely a liminal space to me in respect of geological, cultural, economic and social history.  A spring fed pool originally complete in itself, near to the earlier Pilgrims Way on the North Downs. Its water has a blue opalescent colour which has a calming, still effect and the combination of the low branches of its shrouding trees and the clearness of the water create both a window to the fish beneath and a reflective surface which drawn the visitor into its depths.

The drive for economic expansion in the mid-17th Century led to the extension of the pool into a new pond, joining a tributary of the Tillingbourne river whilst  watering Albury estate and then giving power to flour mills. In 1858 Martin Farquhar Tucker wrote a book called Stephen Langton: A Romance of the Silent Pool which included a tale of a woodcutter’s daughter who drowned in the pool trying to escape from the attentions of the then Prince John.  The book added realism by including real historic characters and Tupper’s aim was to attract people to the area. Subsequently, early photographers used Silent Pool as a subject for the new postcards which were becoming popular.  Even though the tale is known to be untrue, people comment that they wish it was. The aura of the pool itself plus the story encourage the imagination and so puts people into a different realm.  Water from the pool is now used to make Gin in a distillery on site and so the story continues. Looked at in a different way, the pool itself has remained constant whilst time travels around it.

Assignment 4Can the meaning of ‘Home’ be captured through Photography:  I think that the concept of liminality as identified by Van Gennep and Turner is strong here as I have mentioned above already and it adds more structure  to my theme – individuals and groups in transition, having to leave the remnants of their old life behind, find new ways of living and question their identity.

Assignment 5Horsell Common as Liminal Space: This protected space both delineates the edge/boundary of Woking whilst being a place apart through its history and geological features, which seems to me to plant it more firmly in the far past than the present.  Perhaps its protected space speaks to that too whilst not being overtly recognised. There are Bronze age barrows in one part, unusually for this area.  The Common’s Sand Pits are a small part of the Bagshot Sands which were formed in the Upper Eocene era of the Paleogene Period around 33 to 56 million years ago. The “Great Bagshot River” flowed from the South West through a very large part of southern England to Essex where it flowed into the North Sea. It’s almost surreal to be on the Sand Pits knowing of this, whilst modern Woking life carries on outside it – a strange kind of sea-less beach. This feeling of being in a place apart is also amplified by the twisted tree roots, the gnarled barks of silver birch trees, tall, waving pines and feathery grasses and pale clumps of heather. This is a space and place that lends itself to leaps of imagination and story-telling.

Assignment 6Ether Hill: I think there’s a looser connection here, if at all. I’m not sure. There are the Seasonal transitions of course, and I’ve become more aware of their subtle quality, despite the fact that we have always had rites/celebrations of changes in the Earth’s journey around the Sun, however we have named them. They used to be marked by lunar cycles whilst, now, we mark them by date. I actually think the old ways were better; more ‘natural’. They are certainly transitions in time though and additionally the memorial benches, trees and flowers I’ve noted have marked someone’s passing.

I feel as if I’ve only just begun to explore these concepts so these are definitely ‘notes’.  Doing this has firmed up my ideas around Assignments 3, 4 and 5 though, so has been very useful as I’m considering ‘final’ versions. I think there’s work here for the future.



Horvath, A; Thomassen, B and Wydra H. (2017) Breaking Boundaries: Varieties of Liminality.,Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Klinck, P. (2013) Each Step Is the Journey: The Call of the Camino. Keylinks International

Winchester, H.P.M., Kong, L., & Dunn, K. (2003) Landscapes: Ways of imagining the world, London: Routledge.


 Summary Notes from Susan Bright – Online Lecture 28th May and Conversation Arpita Shah and Dan Robinson 2 June 2020

 Summary Notes from Susan Bright – Online Lecture 28th May and Conversation Arpita Shah and Dan Robinson 2 June 2020

Susan Bright “Collaboration and Creative Practice” – Online Lecture

Summary notes from a longer version I have on file. Susan Bright’s website also provides a lot of information about her.

Bright was a curator at the National Portrait Gallery before deciding to work independently in 2002. Four years concentrated work on one project, during her PhD, meant it was hard to find her place back in the world. She became an ‘acclaimed curator” without her seemingly doing anything, following her curation of the 2013 Exhibition at the Photographers Gallery – Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity   )  I wrote about this here  

Interview below:

Her aim with the Home Truths Exhibition was to generate empathy rather than rallying protest at a time when there was increased visibility of celebrity mothers, with private thoughts becoming public.

Major political reassessments in the Art World are important to consider throughout professional lives, e.g. 2019 backlash against the amount of male shows being an open letter to the then Director of Recontres d’Arles asking where the women are; So much going online during the Coronavirus pandemic; Changes in the “Me Too” movement.

She thinks the notion of ‘collaboration’ needs unpacking and remarked on Daniel Palmer’s book  Photography and Collaboration: From Conceptual Art to Crowdsourcing (2017) where he claims that photography as a solo activity is a very paradoxical idea as there are many phases to photography, all of which involve other people.  Bright thinks this is very interesting especially when looking at documentary which involves community – involving the community doesn’t mean it’s an uncontroversial and simple action.

When it comes to vision she can’t work on her own and there’s a whole eco system around curatorial practice.  Bright illustrated this by going into detail about some of her projects, particularly ones involving Elina Brotherus who she first came to know in 2000 whilst an assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery. When she was starting to work on the book and Exhibition on motherhood, Elina Brotherus sent her a picture from her work on Annunciation which was a private project.  Bright was so taken with this and Elina’s story that she persuaded her to show the work but on the basis that Elina would never talk about the Annunciation project.  This put Bright into the more traditional role of a curator – looking after and keeping control of the work. However, Elina Brotherus now does talk about that project because she is in a different place in her life.

Photo Espana  looks to have been a very interesting project. Clare Strand, in collaboration with her husband, in the Discrete Channel with Noise involving a kind of remote painting by numbers and about photography’s inability to communicate. Sharon Core and Laura Letinsky in Double Take created eleven images between them that demonstrate a sophisticated questioning about photographic reproduction and Still Life as a genre.  Delio Jasse, using archives of Portugese families who had gone to live in Angola where you couldn’t tell they were living in Africa with Jasse layering up the idea of identity, like a palimpsest. Patrick Pound holding his Exhibition in a museum having gone through the collection there and pulling out anything to do with air.

Bright referred to the way in which a curator becomes a member of a team where each take on different roles and hierarchy is stripped away. Also referred to the re-consideration of traditional models and how collaborative approaches demand reconsidering.

Dan Robinson asked for advance questions for Susan in their ‘Conversation’ – I asked, how Susan became a curator in the first place and what made her decide eventually to become independent. I’m also interested in curator roles – she talked about looking after work; also about being a member of a team, each with different roles and in collaboration, but not about the power of the curator in terms of who gets seen and who doesn’t. Could she also say more about the challenges of being an independent curator, including where she gets her own support from.

Susan Bright in conversation with tutors Arpita Shah and Dan Robinson 2nd June 2020

 Condensed Notes from the Zoom Meeting:-

The traditional role has been research, manage collections and acquisitions – being a ‘keeper’. Usually via an Art History degree and then an MA.  (Nowadays it’s through an MA then, possibly a PhD). Susan started in her late 20s via a BA and MA. taught for financial security.

Q.How does Susan work differently given that there are many types of curators and artists are curating too now?
A.Slowly; she is ideas-led rather than artist-led and thinks that needs an academic background. Hers was Art History & Design BA. Final lecture was on feminism – no one had contextualised for her the aspect of women in art. An MA at Goldsmiths followed – all theory – and her dissertation was on accessibility which was ‘thrown’ to the Curating Dept as no one knew how to mark it. At the PhD point she wanted to do this on motherhood.

Q.The artist and curator relationship.
A.Even though not providing feedback, has a good memory for it and will pass on to others. Elina Brotherus was the first contact she had outside NPG.

Q.Collaborations and blurring of boundaries.
A.There comes a time when you need to separate, give each other space. Curator/artist relationship is different from critic/artist relationship. A curator is more of a sounding board, an editor – working together and she gives her opinion and teases things out. Most of curation is admin so it’s good to work with artists.

Q.Artist contact with curator – tips?
A.Contact in person; be coherent, don’t be defensive, have a thick skin and be polite. Do the research about Susan and her interests. Contact people you think will be interested in your work. Don’t be drunk or stoned and ‘have a shower’. If you email give a link to your website.  She always responds even though not necessarily providing feedback.

Q.How did the “Home Truths” Exhibition evolve and how did it reflect the work.
A.Stemmed from auto/biography. Susan had moved to New York during PhD (?) and scrabbling for reading. Had just discovered she was pregnant and with a mix of emotions. She read Moira Davey’s Mother Reader (2001) which helped so much. Janine Antoni’s work seems to have been pivotal for her – portraying the ambivalence of motherhood; endurance’ having to hold everything together. She didn’t want the ‘Madonna’ mother. In the work of Elina Brotherus – the quest for pregnancy. Re hanging the Exhibition – looking at abundance and loss – wanting to carry this through into the hanging of the Exhibition, with the need to be simple, subtle with a sense of passing through and noticing.

Q.Self-curating tips for solo and group shows.
A.Don’t be sloppy, detail is important. It’s not just about the aesthetic but the detail behind it. Make a scale maquette using graph paper. Susan does use software (but not Sketchup). Think of yourself as an audience member.  Perhaps a portrait at the beginning as a welcome.  Think about the flow.  Text is tricky – you will need it at the beginning for a hook but don’t necessarily need captions on the photographs. Susan keeps a note of piles and piles of installations that she likes.

Q.Power distribution, the lack of female perspectives and changes that need to be made.
A.Susan had noted the ‘black square’ galleries posting (#Black Matters) that haven’t shown black artists.  The artist talks during the Covid 19 lockdown have mainly been by men.  Susan doesn’t like all female shows (NB said Motherhood although I recall only two male photographers).  Most photography students are women but most competitions are mostly men.  There’s a need for small project spaces for women – e.g. Whitechapel Gallery perhaps.

Student Questions – through Zoom ‘Chat’

Q.Does She ‘censor’?
A’“No’ but organisations do, e.g. no nudity in China. ‘Explicit work in Home Truths seems really explicit on screen but small on a gallery wall. You need to be secure in your choices.

Q.How different is curating of books?
A.Susan sometimes wants to write but in other cases decides an Exhibition is best. Has now written seven books and this entails a different ‘brain space’.

Q.Next project?
A.Two on hold at present and re-assessing for a while. She enjoys radio broadcasting and always has a ‘bright’ BA student in mind.

Q.Age cut-offs in Exhibitions?
A.Infuriate her

Q.Thoughts on exhibiting on-line?
A.She has never seen a good on-line Exhibition. It needs a good IT support system. Thinks Google Arts & Culture is interesting to look at for ideas.

My Thoughts

I think Susan Bright was in the right place at the right time and chose her topic for Home Truths well. Definitely a different way of looking at Motherhood, although I think some of the photographers were in the path of some of the 1970s photographers and artist as seen in the Photographers Gallery  Exhibition Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970  – not about motherhood but in being more explicit about women’s bodies.  I certainly don’t think she became an ‘acclaimed’ curator without her seemingly doing anything; An enormous amount of effort must have gone into the organisation of it all and the networking involved. I’m guessing that the early collaboration with Elina Brotherus might have enabled her to engage with a wider network too and the success of ‘Home Truths” would mean her name became known amongst photographers who would be keen to work with her. I like the idea of being ideas-led rather than artist-led and her description of the way she works does sound very collaborative whilst putting her in a mentoring role too.  Also, the very careful attention given to how the work is presented in relation to its concept, although having a bright BA student in mind as the visitor to an Exhibition might not work as well to attract those who are neither artists themselves nor experienced at visiting Exhibitions.

The advance questions I sent to Dan did get answered in general except for the one about the power of the curator in terms of who gets seen and who doesn’t so I’ll keep my eyes open for some reading on that and I’ve ordered the Daniel Palmer book.

I was very interested in Bright’s reference to auto/biography.  I do remember reading somewhere about her being pregnant at the time of the Home Truths Exhibition.  Once again, we have the evidence about the importance of personal experience in art and how it permeates through one way or another.   Good advice about artist contacts with curators and concerning portfolio reviews too I guess (a pity that Bright doesn’t do them), on reading up about the reviewers and their interests.

Her mention of small project spaces for women photographers was interesting; within a larger gallery of course but could also be a good idea for places outside London.  I also found a 2019 video on YouTube (reasonable length) with Aly Grimes who is a young independent curator and between 2012 and 2015 was co-found director and curator at Stryx – a female led artist-run project space and studios in Birmingham    . She talks near the beginning of the video of training with the School for Curatorial Studies in Venice. (See here )


Lastly re on-line Exhibitions – I think it would be good if Arpita and Dan could have shown Susan how Graduate work is being presented at the moment by OCA students.  I’ve seen three excellent ones so far, presented in different ways that fit their themes.



Davey, M (2001) Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood: Essential Literature on Motherhood. Seven Stories Press.

Palmer, D. (2017) Photography and Collaboration: From Conceptual Art to Crowdsourcing. UK. Routledge.