Category Archives: Part 4 – Digital Identities

Working on prints for assignment 5

I have previously said that I needed to do some more work on the images for assignment 5, as I was not happy with their quality. So yesterday, along with Kate, I went along to our local darkroom/studio guru’s place to see if my images could be improved. Howard, who runs the place, is a long term photographer and analogue printer, who runs a darkroom and studio in Devizes, and he has been very helpful to both Kate and I over the last couple of years.

We spent the day taking photos of my A5 pieces in a little setup he had arranged with a 45 degree angled light to bring out the shadows, lumps and bumps on the albums and old photographs.I had hoped that the results could be more or less used as they came out of camera, but sadly this is not the case, and this whole exercise is proving to be much more of a technical challenge than I had anticipated. The objects themselves are not the problem – it is getting the background a uniform white that is causing the difficulty.

For my previous iteration of this series, I had made the images in natural light and then Selected and Masked the relevant bits in Photoshop, before adding a background Fill Layer of 100% white. The Selection process was not straightforward, as I wanted to keep the shadows made by the objects, and several of them contained elements of white which I had to manually remove afterwards. With the last lot, I had also shot the images on as dull a day as possible to minimise any light gradient and to cope with the relative shininess of some of the objects. I do not recall with them that light flare was much of an issue.

This time, the results also have a number of issues about which I am unhappy, but they are not the same ones as before. Firstly, with the lighting coming from the upper left quadrant, even with a reflector on the other side, there is a considerable drop-off in light across the images. Next, they all have a blue tinge and are underexposed, despite having tried various different white balances. Even having bumped up the exposure and done spot checks on white balance, they are printing with a definite blue tinge. Thirdly, and this is entirely my fault, there are a lot of spots on the images. (reminder to self – make sure you clean the lens before starting to shoot). They can be removed, but are an annoying extra which I had not anticipated. Another problem is the light flare on the shinier covers. We tried a variety of depths of diffusion, but it remains even with several layers in place, albeit not as bad as before.

Finally, having done a set of first test prints on matt A4 paper, the results are terribly flat, and show almost none of the texture I was looking for. I suspect this is possibly a result of too much contrast and wll need to have another go at editing them. I must also write up my notes from the Thames Valley Group’s workshop on printing, which may give some other solutions. And in case anyone is wondering, yes, I did calibrate my screen right before making these prints.


After the SWOCA September meeting

On Saturday, SWOCA held a workshop with Matt White as tutor. He have a fascinating talk about the genesis and history of the moving image in art (as opposed to film). Perhaps I will write another post about that later, but this one is about the student work  session that was held afterwards. During it, he gave a masterclass on editing a series, when he showed us how he would decide on what one student should submit for her assignment by ruthlessly and rapidly dividing her images into three piles – yes, no and maybe. It all took less than a couple of minutes and the result was a series that worked together and had added punctums (puncta?) at points along the way. We were all mightily impressed.

When it came to my own work, I was slightly put on the spot as I was asked to go first and hadn’t had time to sort out what I wanted to say and the order I wanted to show my images in. This I spent quite a bit of time sifting through the images looking for specific images. (Note to self: always have work absolutely ready to show. You never know when you will be asked to begin the crit session.) Anyway, the air of unpreparedness I portrayed was perhaps a reflection of my own confusion about where the work is going. Feedback was that I wasn’t yet quite at the point of a clearly defined series, and that there are some things I can do to push things forward. Suggestions included:

  • the project is still way too broad with not enough clarity.
  • put them into groups that go together and then write some words that describe each group. This should help me decide which one is the one I should go with.
  • pick out the definite images and set the others aside. There’s too many trees and not enough wood at present.
  • keep on experimenting. Matt said that as my way of working seems to be to play and experiment, then I should go with that – make work that feels right and resonates and then see how it all fits together.

I am very aware that the clock is ticking now and I need to keep the project moving forward and ideally to send it off to my tutor by the end of this month, and am feeling a bit panicky about whether it will be ready in time. With two further assignments to go, admittedly on the same project, it is going to be a push to complete it all before my module deadline of the end of January. The background research is almost complete so the next fortnight will be spent on the images.

A quick tour through Surrealism after seeing a Maggie Taylor exhibition

Flicking through my emails recently, I chanced upon the information that Maggie Taylor was currently exhibiting at the Fox Talbot museum in Lacock, and was intrigued enough by the advert to pop over to have a look. Am so glad I did. It was amazing! I hadn’t come across her work before, but it was just the right thing to clarify some ideas I have for my own work just now.

Taylor first came to prominence as a pupil, and subsequently (for a time) wife of Jerry Uelsmann, who was a doyen of the 1960s and 70s surrealist wave in photography. She began in black and white, using collaged groups of objects, but it was the arrival of Photoshop that allowed her to really spread her wings. She has always been interested in the surreal, but Photoshop allowed her to seamlessly integrate her chosen objects into her images in a way that appears painted, but is in fact all a result of Photoshop layering, and she is acknowledged as a pioneer in Photoshopmontage. She and Uelsmann had an artistic partnership which is explained in this long but fascinating documentary and I was particularly interested to see how much overlap there is between them, both in ideas and presentation, even though their methodologies are completely different. He remains firmly wedded to analogue processes, which she has gone the digital route.

The images on show were from a series called Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, which follows on from her previous series Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Lewis Carroll’s work is an ideal subject for Taylor’s whimsical, dreamy approach and the works on show were stunning. A selection is shown below, made on my iPad.

Fig. 1 Three iPad images of Maggie Taylor works at Lacock Abbey (2019)

They are built up using a mixture of elements from old daguerrotypes, found photographs and illustrations from antique books and each finished image may contain hundreds of layers to give her characteristic fully integrated look. To a certain extent, there are elements of the ‘creative’ style of camera club offerings, but these are much more complex and historically grounded and it was fascinating to identify background landscapes, carpets, floors and clothes which all came from different origins, but which worked together seamlessly. It was particularly interesting to see them in the context of Lacock Abbey, which has its own history of rooms and pictures which might have been used as elements in the photographs, and at her subsequent artist’s event (sadly all too brief as she was recovering from food poisoning), she acknowledged that parts of Lacock were indeed included in the series. One of the things which fascinates me about her work is the complexity of thought that has gone into each image, including icons and elements of the Lewis Carroll books, Carroll’s enthusiastic early embracing of photography (I am sure he must have known Fox Talbot as they moved in the same circles), the history of photography and subtle themes of suspected paedophilia on his part.

All this wonderfulness made me want to rush home and get back to work on my assignment, as it has become apparent that the experiments I am currently working on for the assignment have a dreamlike basis coming from surrealism/magical realism/hyperrealism, and I now want to make this a formal part of my approach to the assignment. Therefore a short diversion into the history of these movements in photography is required.

The Surrealist movement in art began in the early 1920s, starting with Andre Breton’s ‘Surrealist Manifesto’ and is exemplified by the work of artists and writers such as Picasso, Magritte, Dali etc. It was a conscious move away from pictorial art to focus on the imagination, the unconscious and the conscious and was a way of depicting dreams and ideas outside of rational control. It was a deliberate reaction against the ideas of the Enlightenment, with its focus on reason, reality and a scientific, fact based approach to life. Surrealism ran alongside Dadaism, although that had a strongly political undertone which was absent from surrealism. However, both movements used the concept of juxtaposition of several disparate elements within a piece to force bizarre connections and absurdities.

Photographers who were in the first wave of surrealism included Atget, Alvarez Bravo, Bellmar, Tabard and Man Ray, but to my surprise I discovered that women photographers also featured strongly in the early days, including Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Claude Cahun and Florence Henrí. More recent names in the movement include Maia Flore, Erik Johansson, Stephen Criscolo and Christopher McKenny (New York Film Academy, 2014).

Magical realism is a sister to surrealism which evolved at very much the same time (1930s) but it came from Latin America. Like Dadaism, it had political undertones, to enable its proponents to comment in a symbolic way about situations which could lead to trouble if they were addressed head on. The essential difference between the two is that magical realism retains some link with potential reality (the events could possibly happen) while surrealism moves definitively into the realm of the impossible. (Tendreams, n.d.) There is a lot of crossover between the two though, and both are very much involved in visualising the confused state of dreaming, with its weird juxtapositions and that internal reality which afterwards make no sense. Photographers who specifically claim to be magical realists include Kate Moser, Susan Kae Grant, Tom Chambers and the mother/daughter duo Emma Powell and Kirsten Hoving, about whom I have written before, here. (Woodward, 2018)

Hyperrealism is another term reflecting how the real and not real can be alternated in art and literature. Hyperrealism is normally thought of as an art movement where pictures are produced which look photographic in their extreme detail, such as the work of Robin Eley and Diego Fazio, but in this instance I am talking about hyperreality as discussed in Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, where it is particularly associated with the liminal spaces between reality and simulation/AI. Where does one stop and the other begin and is either a true reflection of reality? (Oberly, 2003)

There is considerable overlap between these three terms when it comes to artwork, and artists frequently skip from one to the other without really differentiating between them. However, for the purposes of this work, the overall points I have taken on board are:

  • images don’t have to realistic to have meaning
  • dreams and detachment from reality are valid subjects for image making
  • the world is your lobster – let your imagination take you where it will, or anything goes as long as there is some overall understanding of what it all means personally.

As it happens, I also went to Harry Potter World this week with my stepdaughter, C. While there, we marveled at the imagination and creativity shown in making all the elements of the films, from the details of the costumes, to the set designs and props. Everything had been meticulously researched, and then the production team were allowed an almost free rein in letting their imagination run wild. The outcome was a joyous explosion of mixed genres, but every tiny detail had a researched and fully integrated background which held them all together.

The overall moral of these disparate thoughts is that within art it is ok to play with our imaginations, despite most photography work being visually realistic. It does not need to be so, and this is where my assignment is going. All three movements seem to be associated with post-modernist ideas of what is real/truth and whether anything can be taken at face value. This area of study fits perfectly into where I am going with my assignment, i.e. the place that the internet has/seems to have in relationship to the individual and how the two interact.


Fig. 1 Woodward, H. (2019) Three iPad images of Maggie Taylor works at Lacock Abbey. [3 photographs] In possession of : the author.


Jerry and Maggie: This is not photography (2013) [Online video] At: (Accessed 18/06/2020).

New York Film Academy, student resources (2014) Surrealist Photography. At: (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Oberly, N. (2003) ‘reality, hyperreality (1)‘. In: The University of Chicago: Theories of Media: Keywords Glossary At: (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Plus One Gallery (2015) The difference between photorealism and hyperrealism. At: (Accessed 18/06/2020). (n.d.) Surrealism vs. Magic Realism. At:  (Accessed 18/06/2020).
Woodward, H. (2018) ‘Tribes’ exhibition, Lacock Abbey. At: (Accessed 18/06/2020).


Assignment 4 – Refining the brief, and a title!

I have now shared yesterday’s post with a couple of fellow students and asked for their opinions. The general feeling was that there were plenty of ideas there, but that I had not yet refined it all down to a specific train of thought and that I needed to do that before submitting it. Yesterday afternoon was spent in the Slough of Despond, but as often happens I began thinking about it in the middle of the night and wrote down some free verse scribblings on where I am heading. This is what I wrote, and it came to mind with a readymade title for the series, which was helpful.

One little button
The key to everything under the sun and even far beyond.

With no restraint, there are no boundaries.
So where to go when no one else is looking?
Your wildest dreams, darkest perversions, deepest nightmares.

All are one; the same. Without a filter.
Play, surf! Do whatever you desire.
Lose yourself in exploration and never mind the cost.

It’s all the same to them. Every click includes their financial cut.
No morals, no rules, anything goes.
Nothing is forbidden.


What came to mind after I had written this was Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights. Although the piece was made in the 16th century, and its exact meaning remains unclear, it obviously considers some of the same concepts about the consequences of total freedom that I have been mulling over. On that basis, I have decided to explore the idea held within this image below further, using transparent overlays to think about our relationship with the internet. The idea will be for the viewer to be able to look at each part of the image separately or together, effectively producing three image options in one – a triptych.


Museo del Prado. Bosch, Hieronymus (1450-1516) The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych. [online] At: (Accessed on 11 September 2019)

Assignment 4 – hangout discussion


Last night I took part in a DI&C hangout with three other students who are doing this course. We tend to meet online roughly monthly to discuss current work and general areas with which we need another opinion. (By the way, it is open to all DI&C students, and if you haven’t attended a Hangout before, they are both relatively easy to join, albeit I find I need to use the Chrome browser as Edge doesn’t work with it, and a good way of thrashing out some of the detail in your current work. I highly recommend them.)

These are some of the notes I took regarding people’s thoughts on where I am going with my experiments for A4, and comments are based on the ongoing series of images in this post, which constitutes my long list of ideas.

These were the suggestions that the other members of the group made, in bullet format. It quite quickly became apparent that the mirrors and the cut images were where we all found the most to discuss. As we talked I became aware that the mirror cube concept was the one I am really enjoying  and that I

ought to follow that line of enquiry for now. Below, in bullet format, are some of the considerations discussed.

  • three themes – ambiguity, contrast and surrealism
  • try the mirror cube in the city, especially at night
  • try different lighting effects
  • add in photographs of people as collage, either inside the mirror cube or outside
  • look at adding mirrored cut-outs into the landscape. I was thinking about mirrored silhouettes of objects for this, and will try it out today.
  • does it all need to happen inside the mirror cube, or could the surroundings be incorporated too.
  • potentially collage over the images (another thing to try as well).

Photographers whose work was suggested for ideas were Guillaume Amat, Daniel Kukla and I subsequently also recalled Ville Kansensen and Murray Fredericks. However, all of these use the mirror in the landscape and are quite minimalist in approach, whereas my current project looks as if it is going the psychedelic dream way. It was also suggested I try making some short video pieces in the style of Helen Sears (and I may do this in the style of Plato’s Cave)

I’m also thinking about titles that might explain what I am doing, and have so far come up with these options, which I will add to as the process continues. These titles help me pin down what I am trying to say.

  • Identity, interrupted
  • We are all electrons

So, today is going to involve more cutting and experiments with bits of mirror tile in various situations.


Foucault’s Panopticism and the Digital Gaze

© Tod Seelie

We are asked to read Foucault’s Panopticism and to comment on its relevance to theory of digital culture.

In this article, Fouceault reflects on Jeremy Benthan’s concept of the Panopticon – a Machiavellian architectural premise that enabled one person to supervise a multitude of others from a central tower, around which were a rayed a circle of backlit cells. From their position in the centre, and hidden by shutters, a supervisor can instantly check what every one of the prisoners is doing (for they are prisoners within the system, whether or not they are in fact incarcerated). Foucault points out that through the methodology of making the individual feel watched all the time, while the observer is hidden, the need to have real observers becomes optional as the prisoners become self-regulating. Although they realise they are not being observed 24/7, their concern that any single moment might be the one where the gaze falls squarely on them is enough to maintain order. In short, effective power ‘should be both visible and unverifiable’. (Bentham’s writings are not easy to find, and Foucault seems to have appropriated ownership of the idea of the Panopticon lately, but some of his letters can be found in the reference below for (Bentham,1996).

It is easy enough to think of ways that this concept is applied in the real world, quite apart from actual examples of Panoptic prisons around the world. (See the image above, which is from Cuba). In the UK, CCTV cameras monitor our every move, in cities at least. Numerous examples of police being able to trace the exact movements of persons of interest prove this. In British villages, towns and cities, we are subliminally aware that we may be being watched at any one time, and it is only in the countryside where we are free from observation. We British are world leaders in CCTV surveillance and there is concern in organisations such as the Information Commission as to its proliferation in both government agencies and on the personal level. (Weaver, 2015) Information is being stored in enormous quantities and big data techniques and superfast computing are allowing that data to be mined for all sort of activities which were never originally intended. While the mantra ’If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide’ is still very pervasive, and while public support for CCTV in public places remains overwhelming, new technologies are constantly pushing the boundaries. Big Brother’s power is increasing daily and we are blindly unaware of the downside. What if this information is used for negative purposes, such as theft, blackmail and stalking, or for larger scale population manipulation and control?

A specific example of organisations collecting data  without making it clear what it will be used for is the current enthusiasm for Faceapp, an app that can realistically alter one’s features to make you look older, younger, male or female, and which to date has over 100 Million installers. While I admit I have used it myself, I am also aware that this information may be being used by companies behind the scenes to form a database of individuals at different times in their lives, leading to potential uses in photofitting, creating digital humans who don’t actually exist (Stewart, 2019) and also deep fake visualisations. These are where a person’s features are overlaid with those of someone else, so that one can quite literally put words in their mouths. In this example below, Trump and Obama have been given new words to say, courtesy of the Jimmy Fallon Show.  (Parkin, 2019) We are now at a point in time where proving the truth of any visualisation on the Net is both highly necessary and very problematic, and where the general public can easily be manipulated via false stories which play to their fears and use confirmation bias to extend them.

Another aspect of panopticism which interests me personally are the mechanisms by which a process of surveillance and control begins and under whose auspices it functions. I am watching the current TV drama, The Handmaid’s Tale, and wonder how Gilead came into being. We know that it was a consequence of catastrophic falls in fertility and that a program to ensure that fertile women had children was set up, but someone or some group of people must have taken command of the process. In the same way, who has command over the supervisor in the Panopticon, and who controls digital information? Is this assumption of control deliberately organised or does it occur organically? And is anyone actually in charge of the internet? We have been taught of think of the Net as the Wild West of human activities, lawless and unregulated, but even the Wild West had sheriffs. Unregulation means people can do whatever they want outside the system and the dark seamy side of human nature is allowed more or less free rein in the internet’s response to efforts of control through the Dark Web, albeit that it is not so easily accessible as the main Web.


Bentham, J.(1996)  ‘Panopticon, or, the Inspection-House, & C.’ In: Muncie, J., McLaughlin, E. & Langan, M. (ed.) Criminological Perspectives: A Reader. London: Sage Publications. pp. 16-22. (2019) FaceApp – AI Face Editor (3.4.11) [Mobile application software].

Foucault, M. (2008). ‘Panopticism” from” Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ In: Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 2 (1) pp. 1-12.

Parkin, S. (2019) ‘Politicians fear this like fire: The rise of the deep fake and the threat to democracy.’ In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 3 August 2019)

Stewart, J. (2019) ‘This Website Uses AI Technology to Generate Faces That Aren’t Real.’ In: My Modern Met [online] At: (Accessed on 3 August 2019)

Weaver, M (2015) ‘UK public must wake up to risks of CCTV, says surveillance commissioner.’ In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 3 August 2019)

Photo ideas for A4

What is reality?


First thoughts for assignment 4

I’ve been pondering on subjects for A4 which is about digital identity. There is so much to choose from that it is a little difficult to know where to start. So, as suggested in the coursebook, I made a brainstorming page for the subject in my notebook. It is getting a little full, so may have to expand onto a bigger piece of paper before it is done.

The first idea that I had was a very overcomplicated plan to involve random collections of words from an infographic I found which shows our relationship as individuals with what algorithms and internet marketing companies and how they interpret what we search for into making personalised adverts. It was too complicated though and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to make interesting art from the word selections.

Next up was a plan to make a series of alternative Instagram profiles of people I might have been if my life had gone a different route at various crunch points of choice. Although the idea was sound, I lacked the enthusiasm to turn the idea into reality.

Then the brainstorming set in and some themes began to appear which had some promise.

  • what is reality, and more particularly does our internet presence reflect our actual lives?
  • my ongoing interest in gaps and how they might be used in materialist ways to signify both memory loss and alternative meaning.
  • the work I did in A2 on what lies beneath the surface of the digital image, and how this relates to the theory of digital versus analogue photography.
  • An ongoing and underlying concern that our lives are being manipulated in ways we do not see by political and commercial forces whose agenda is about themselves, not humanity as a whole.

This feels right, and I have been spurred into making some test ideas to see how it might be turned into a series. Two different ideas are shown below and one or both concepts might appear in the eventual series.

In this first example (and I have made a whole load of different versions of this), I used a crystal ball in a box lined with mirror tiles to see what would happen with the reflections in different locations around my home. A lot of duds and very obvious images appeared but amongst them were some that I felt had something more, and this is one of them.
P1730906v2The second idea has involved cutting up the mirror tiles and inserting them into images, so that one sees two separate scenarios in the same image. In the one below, the initial image of the girl has had strips of mirror tile added and a second scenario can be glimpsed behind. The girl herself is a covering for the real world behind. I rather like it as a metaphor for Plato’s Cave, and there are hints of The Matrix about it too and of imprisonment. Therefore the rest of this week will be spent playing around with this concept some more to see what else comes up.


Just as a footnote, there is also something to think about in relation to how the first image, which appears to be created digitally is in fact what really showed up in front of the camera, while the second looks as if it might have been done in Photoshop, but was in fact made physically by cutting and layering. This sensory confusion is also part of what I want to achieve in the series. The methodology will be to use mirrors and reflections to disrupt the photographic image.

Exercise 4.1 – False Identities – Amalia Ulman

From Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections

For this exercise, we are asked to write about the creation of false or alternative identities online, and I have chosen to discuss Amalia Ulman’s Excellences and Perfections, of which I am lucky enough to own a copy. An Argentinian who currently lives in Los Angeles, Ulman’s work caused a storm when it was revealed in 2014 and was heralded as the first social media performance project, as it considered the then unexplored world of Instagram personae and their fundamentally fictitious nature. As a result of it, Ulman quickly joined the pantheon of well-regaded female photographers and her work was shown alongside that of Cindy Herman at the Tate Modern in 2016.

The premise of the work was that over a period of several months, Ulman created an Instagram account which slowly unveiled a story about a naïve girl (herself) arriving in the big city, becoming involved in the seedy side of city life and then her ultimate redemption, through selfies, quotes, videos, etc. which purported to show her going about her life during this time. Being young, female and pretty, Ulman soon collected nearly 90,000 followers during this time, who became engaged by her situation and started to offer advice and support, but who we re absolutely furious when she revealed that the whole account was an elaborate fiction.

The work is fascinating on a number of levels, as it reveals some aspects of our digital presence which people often do not directly consider, and I have listed some of these below.

  • a social media (SMA) account is an advertising tool for the individual, whether they realise it or not.
  • it is also a communication tool, where one implicitly asks for feedback on whatever one posts about. One hopes that the feedback will be positive, but this is not always the case.
  • what the author of a post thinks they are projecting might, and often is, not what the audience understands. The frequency of cryptic ‘vaguebooking’ posts, which are often passive-aggressive digs at particular people are a case in point, with the person concerned often being completely unaware of it and everyone else just being confused.
  • An audience implicitly believes that what they read on someone else’s SMA is true, or at least that the author thinks it is true. There is a corollary between these largely visual accounts and the historical belief in the truthfulness of photography, but it more complicated than that. Alongside the images, there is a subliminal belief that the SMA is a form of personal diary, in which an author writes their real thoughts (Freud’s Id), not the ones they reveal publicly (Ego and Superego).
  • audiences often become emotionally involved in other people’s online lives, and if they feels that they have been duped or lied to, they can turn very nasty very quickly. Much more so than in real life, as the internet removes the filter of politeness that face to face engagement requires.
  • whole careers are now being made out of becoming an internet lifestyle ‘influencer’, where one spends one’s life creating a specific vibe online which is a selling tool for advertisers.
  • and finally, people often have more than one SMA account on any platform with specific limited audiences for each. For example, I myself have two Instagram accounts, one for my specific degree work, and another for personal images such as travel photos, which has an entirely different character.

I can recommend Rob Horning’s essay in Excellences and Perfections (2018, 23-25), which discusses these concepts in more academic terms and It is also worth recalling that this whole SMA phenomenon is only about 15 years old, and that my own generation’s relationships with our family and peers was quite different, and probably much less revealing.