Context & Narrative

Rob Townsend

Assignment 2: Photographer’s Block


Photographing the unseen: Photographer’s Block


Click on the first image to start a full-screen slideshow.

About the work

Note: my original intention on this assignment was the second option ‘Using Props’, and I was working on the ‘white shirt’ theme. However, I experienced the most severe photographer’s block in the preparation stage, and over time I decided to investigate this as the theme of the assignment instead. What follows is a series of images aiming to evoke the sensations I experienced when I examined my own creative block – what images came to my mind and how they made me feel.

My intention here was to examine my own creative block in an almost meditative manner, examining the sensations from all angles and aiming to depict visually the thoughts and feelings going through my head.

In interrogating the feelings in an objective way, I began to form metaphors and internal images that illustrated the sensations:

  • I visualise my creative block as a blank piece of paper or a blank canvas… it’s a white, empty space
  • My mind is never completely blank; what I refer to as my creative block is actually much more a feeling of ideas starting to form but not getting far enough… they drift in and out of my mind, they form but then they fade
  • It’s a feeling of not being able to grasp something rather than a feeling of complete ‘blankness’
  • The harder I try to bring the idea into life, the more likely it is to fade – trying too hard, need to relax the mind

Metaphors sprang to mind; only some of these directly informed my choice of subjects, others just helped me get into the right state of visualisation:

  • A seed that plants itself but doesn’t take root
  • Clouds that won’t clear to show me the blue sky behind
  • A pencil sketch that rubs itself out before my eyes
  • Developing a photograph that you realise is overexposed

I assume that something such as a creative block is a very personal experience, and to that point I remain slightly concerned as to whether the images will evoke in the viewer the sensations that I am attempting to convey here.

I was also keen to build in some form of loose narrative so that the set had a sense of a journey through creative block rather than simply being disconnected sensory images. The more literal opening and closing images helped me create the framing narrative that I sought.

Finally, this is the first assignment in my photography studies where I consider the captions to be of crucial importance; the text is very much needed in order to help the viewer make sense of the images. To this end, I considered making the text part of the images themselves, but in the end reverted to regular captions. For printing I may revisit this.


Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
    • Technically, I am mostly happy with the quality of the images
    • There’s a risk with the minimalist theme that the images could just end up pale and uninteresting abstracts; I tried to ensure that the images had merit in their own right, from a composition and aesthetic point of view, in addition to supporting my concept
    • I made some attempts to equalise the white balance to give the set more of a consistent look, but when I applied this very strictly I began to lose some textural detail in some of the more ‘delicate’ images, so I pulled back from this a little and allowed the images to retain more of their natural tones
    • Whilst under normal circumstances I wouldn’t mix b/w and colour, in this instance I felt that the shift to full colour for the final image was wholly in keeping with the narrative (note: images 1-9 are actually a mix of genuine b/w and slightly desaturated colour of (off-)white objects, in keeping with the ‘blankness’ concept)
  • Quality of Outcome:
    • In the main I am pleased with how the set turned out, with regard to my own pre-visualisations
    • A couple of the images (4 and 5) didn’t turn out exactly how I’d visualised and I did try to first of all reshoot and then replace with different images, but in the end I kept them in as I felt they depicted the sensations better than the alternative shots
    • As this is my first attempt at what I could consider to be more experimental/conceptual photography I am unsure of what a viewer (to be blunt, a tutor or an assessor!) will make of it; it concerns me that this subject is very personal to me, and that an unrelated viewer might not connect with it
  • Demonstration of Creativity:
    • This is the first assignment where I have pushed myself so far outside of my comfort zone with regards to experimentation, conceptual approach and such personal subject matter – and yes, it feels uncomfortable!
    • My concern is that the idea is suitably creative but my execution might let it down – it feels so subjective
    • I do however feel very glad that I pushed myself creatively on this, even if the end result doesn’t go over as I intended – it was good to stretch my creative muscles
    • Whether this informs my developing photographic voice or exists as an interesting diversion remains to be seen
  • Context:
    • I read or re-read the relevant chapters in a number of books that covered conceptual approaches to narrative, including Wells’ Photography: A Critical Introduction [1], Bate’s Photography: The Key Concepts [2], Short’s Context and Narrative [3] and Berger’s Understanding a Photograph [4]
    • I reviewed my notes, exercises and research for this section of the course and considered how to apply the concepts raised to this body of work – in particular the juxtaposition of text and image
    • I wrote up a blog post outlining my thought process and preparation, including how and why I switched from the original idea of the white short prop to this ‘unseen’ brief
    • I took inspiration from some of the more abstract work of photographers such as Edward Weston (still life), Lee Friedlander (trees, desert landscapes), Saul Leiter (street scenes) and more contemporary minimalist practitioners such as Jan Staller and Michael Kenna

  1. Wells, L. (2009) Photography: a critical introduction (4th ed). Abingdon: Routledge
  2. Bate, D (2009) Photography: the key concepts. Oxford: Berg
  3. Short, M (2011) Context and narrative. Lausanne: AVA
  4. Berger, J (2013) Understanding a photograph. London: Penguin


3 thoughts on “Assignment 2: Photographer’s Block

  1. Pingback: Assignment 2: tutor feedback | Context & Narrative

  2. Pingback: Assignment 3: Surface Tension | Context & Narrative

  3. Pingback: Assignment 5: thought process and proposal | Context & Narrative

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