In Conversation With: Shona Waldron

Shona Waldron

Shona Waldron is an interdisciplinary artist based between East Sussex and Cornwall, UK. Working across a diverse range of media including photography, painting, moving image and installation, she articulates a world of uncertainty, frequently using a combination of digital and analogue techniques to manipulate the periphery of fact and fiction. The blurring of these demarcations plays a crucial role in exploring ideas centred around time, space and the nature of existence, presenting life as a source of wonder and infinite possibility. Investigating states of change or metamorphosis is also a recurrent theme as she uses her work to illustrate the transition into a future which is impossible to predict or control. 

Follow Shona Waldron on instagram

Primordial Loop from Shona Waldron on Vimeo.

Shona Waldron Sensorium

24th – 28th June 2021

The Fish Factory, Penryn, Cornwall

Private View: 24th June 2021: 6pm – 9pm 

BtL: Your upcoming exhibition Sensorium opens on the 24th June 2021. It brings together works from several of your recent projects. Can you sum up any overall themes in your practice?

SW: Sensorium is a collection of work that encompasses moving image, photography, painting and installation. The title draws inspiration from the sensory apparatus of the human body which is responsible for receiving and interpreting external stimuli. Intended to be viewed as part of an immersive experience, each exhibited piece explores themes surrounding the intersection of art, science and technology, evoking the idea of new realities that are activated by our perceptual encounters with the space.

Although my work often makes reference to scientific language and taxonomical systems, there is equally a free-flowing element that induces feelings of fluidity and life in a constant cycle of evolution. There are also parallels made between the organic and the technical, with a blending together of analogue and digital media to allow the subject matter to exist in a transformed state that surpasses the limits of its original definition.

BtL: You seem to be interested in visually exploring the relationship between the technological world and the natural world. Why is it important for you to incorporate a range of media into your practice?

SW: The incorporation of a variety of media and processes is definitely very important. I find that moving beyond the boundaries of a purely photographic practice allows the work to function in a universal context which is useful when dealing with these expansive and broad themes. This mixed media approach makes it easier for my work to emphasise connections on multiple levels, whether it be visual, auditory or as an entire sensorial experience. I think this way of working is helpful in creating a sense of dynamism, something that is of particular interest in light of my ideas surrounding the mutable relationship between technological and biological forms.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

BtL: The title of your video work Primordial Loop seems to both juxtapose and connect the idea of new possibilities / the inter-connectedness of man and machine; the technical and the organic…

SW: Primordial Loop is an experimental video piece that incorporates 3D modelling and animation. Its title draws inspiration from ‘primordial soup’, a term often used to refer to the blend of biological conditions that first enabled life on our planet. In addition to looking back towards these early beginnings, the work explores our immersion in the digital world by reinterpreting natural environments through the screen-based society we inhabit. The study of evolutionary processes is also of great importance as this ultimately evokes a transcendental journey through the past, present and future as well as a fusion of the organic and the technical.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

Emphasis is placed upon these themes from the very onset of the piece which opens with an animation of cells dividing, a sequence that delineates a point of origin and the genesis of new life. The cells then fade out of view to be replaced by jellyfish that float across the scene, gelatinous in form with iridescent hues of purple and blue. Although included due to their    their correspondence with the cells, the jellyfish are notable in presence since they are one of the oldest species to exist on our planet, residing in our oceans for more than 500 million years. This remarkable timescale predates the dinosaurs and is fascinating in light of my ideas surrounding primal states.


Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

Following this, the video transitions into a haze of violet light which dissipates to reveal the shapes and structures of tree branches, rocks and mountains as scenes of a digital jungle emerge. Moving deeper into the landscape and through the undergrowth, circular patterns begin to appear with organic matter converging into the centre point where the panels of the video meet, creating a hypnotic effect that is reminiscent of a kaleidoscope.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

BtL: Do you think your process of digitally constructing the work is important as a way of situating these primitive visual landscapes within the conditions of the 21st Century?

SW: Absolutely. The digital process allows nature to exist in a computational form and suggests that it is not estranged from technology in the way that we might initially imagine. In the text Novacene – The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, (2019) the scientist James Lovelock reiterates this view. He proposes that ‘computers work purely in zeros and ones; from   that they can construct entire worlds … information may indeed be the basis of the cosmos’ (2019: 88). It is this description of the cosmos being made up of information, that is referenced in a literal sense within my work.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

This environment visually resembles many of teamLab’s installations such as The Infinite Crystal Universe. Presented as immersive experiences, teamLab encourages us to reach infinity and oneness by seeking to ‘transcend boundaries in the relationship between the self and the world, and of the continuity of time’ (Pace Gallery 2014). Computer programmes and algorithms are widely used in the creation of these works, engendering the belief in a computational universe in the same way that my work intends to.

teamLab (2015-2018) The Infinite Crystal Universe

BtL: You seems to situate your visual practice across a variety of thresholds. Can you give us a few examples?

SW: Further influential research includes the concept of the technological singularity, a term first popularised in 1993 with Vernor Vinge’s essay The Coming Technological Singularity. In physics, a singularity is defined as a point of infinity, such as the centre of a black hole, where matter becomes endlessly dense and physical  laws break down, resulting in the merging of space and time. In relation to this scientific definition, the theory of the technological singularity hypothesises that we will soon cross a threshold where machine intelligence will surpass biological intelligence, an advancement that will lead to irreversible changes to civilisation.

Ray Kurzweil, futurist and author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, suggests that ‘machine intelligence could become indistinguishable from that of its human progenitors within the first half of the twenty-first century’ (2005: 3). What this will look like for humanity is unclear as both a dystopian and utopian scenario would be possible. Either way, it is the notion of transcending current limitations that is most intriguing. It is also speculated that the universe began by such an event, meaning that there was a singularity in our past as well as one potentially in our future, demonstrating the way history repeats itself in a loop.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

This notion of the singularity manifests in Primordial Loop when the screen becomes increasingly pixelated and the motion accelerates, referencing the exponential rate that we are approaching what is often referred to as the ‘event horizon’ (Kurzweil 2005: 7). Once this is reached, the centre of the screen unfolds to reveal a passage into a new space-time dimension.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

The final scene reveals the culmination of this journey into a post-singularity state. The video fragments, breaking apart from its original structure and transforming into multiple screens floating within a dark void. The plurality of the work opens up new ways for it to exist, with the panels constantly moving across the X, Y and Z axes. The music also shifts from its electronic sound to something choral and celestial. At this point in the video, space is perceived in a more fluid way, it bends and stretches, becoming something that we develop a heightened awareness of.

Yayoi Kusama (2019) Infinity Mirrored Room: Dancing Lights that Flew Up to the Universe

This exploration of a boundless existence relates strongly to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms, another key inspiration for my practice. The installation, Dancing Lights that Flew Up to the Universe, is described as a perceptual experience that functions as ‘a harmonious and quiet place for visitors to contemplate their existence, reflect on the passage of time, and think about their relationship to the outer world’ (Hirshhorn 2017). The title of Kusama’s piece acts as an expression of hope and resonates with my own feelings of reverence for the infinite. A sense of spirituality is embodied within the ending of my work, suggesting that it has indeed transcended in the same way that it is predicted that we, as humans, will one day transcend our own experience of reality.

BtL: The photographic strand of your practice, titled Merge/Melt, seems to explore similar notions to Primordial Loop through amalgamating technological and natural elements to create something that exists in a transformed state.

SW: Merge/Melt experiments with the use of digital tools to build new forms and structures, revealing warped patterns and textures that suggest  the physical world is melting into an electronic one. During the production of the series, photographs of jungles and cityscapes were fed into an algorithm and then merged together to generate new entities.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

The Deep Dream algorithm was used specifically for this purpose as it was able to draw out interesting shapes within the depths of the images. Deep Dream is described as a convolutional neural network and was originally developed in 2015 as a means of providing AI researchers with an insight into what an algorithm sees when it analyses an image. Since its inception, however, it has primarily been used as an artistic tool with results that are psychedelic in appearance. The artist Mario Klingemann is one of the pioneers of working with neural networks in this way. The works Archimedes Principle and Parting From You Now, draw attention to the pareidolic details that can emerge from an image, in the same way that humans are able to observe random shapes in passing clouds. The ability of Deep Dream to provide an algorithmic vision of our environments relates to the computational form of nature seen in Primordial Loop, epitomising the suggestion that ‘computation is existence’ (Lloyd and Ng cited in Kurzweil 2005: 342).

Mario Klingemann (2016) Archimedes’ Principle
Mario Klingemann (2016) Parting From You Now

BtL: There is appears both a visual and conceptual fluidity to your practice, yet also a sense of chaos and the unexpected.

Artist and theorist Joanna Zylinska’s text AI Art: Machine Visions and Warped Dreams also feels especially relevant. Zylinska refers to algorithmic art as ‘an ouroboros-like circle of random variations’ (2020: 72), a description that encapsulates the chaotic nature of my work but equally observes the connectivity that is so integral to its construction. The effect of this merging process is the predominant feature.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt
Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

In some images, it becomes difficult to distinguish city lights from stars as the sky dissolves into the architecture and structures blend together like coloured inks, a liquid yet luminous appearance that could almost be the result of street lights reflected in a pool of water. Due to the alteration and enhancement of certain hues, some of the images look more industrial and synthetic whilst others, with jewel bright shades of green and blue, are more jungle-like, allowing each composition to exist on a continuum between metropolis and nature. It is this fluctuation that I find most inspiring as it underscores my interest in the creation of multiplicities.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

To clearly communicate a sense of things evolving, I present my images as animated video sequences on screens and opted for a circular format in order to create a stronger comparison to the concepts explored in Primordial Loop. These circular shaped pieces embody a more pronounced mutability and link back to Zylinska’s reference to the loop of the ‘ouroboros’, reflecting wholeness and infinity. They additionally have the look of portals, perhaps acting in a similar way to black holes. This creates a further parallel with my video piece which also leads us through into a new dimension.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

BtL: You are a graduate of the BA Photography course at Falmouth University. Any tips or advice for current / prospective students?

SW: My advice would be to view university as a time to experiment with photography, to try out new ways of working and push the boundaries of the medium. Over the course of my three years at Falmouth, I feel fortunate to have been able to expand my practical image making skills, both with analogue and digital processes. Although it can be strange to do something unfamiliar, I would completely recommend it as it will enable you to develop new areas of interest and gain a broader experience of the arts. And, it goes without saying, to make the most of the university facilities and technical workshops in addition to opportunities for collaborative working whilst you are a student as this provides invaluable support.

BtL: What can we expect from you next?

SW: I am planning to develop more work that expands upon the themes seen Sensorium and incorporates a variety of techniques, I will be continuing to practice in other visual disciplines alongside my photography. In addition to lens-based media, i will be continuing to branch out into other areas such as painting, sculpture and installation – and continuing to experiment. Who knows?

Routledge Award Winner: Summer 2021

Communicate / Consume

Encoding & Decoding: A World of Signs

‘Semiotics is in principle, the discipline of studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used “to tell” at all’. (Eco, 1976, p.7)
René Magritte (1929) The Treachery of Images

This session introduces participants to the language of semiotics, stemming from the Greek sēma (sign) and the ways in which we might understand the photograph as a ‘code’. It draws from the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Pierce and Roland Barthes, in considering a ‘language’ of photography / visual culture in an advertising context.


‘It is not the person ignorant of writing, but ignorant of photography, as somebody said,  who will be the illiterate of the future, But mustn’t the photographer who is unable to read his own pictures be no less deemed an illiterate?’ (Moholy-Nagy in Benjamin, 1931, p.294)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Braun Advert (2008)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To become familiar with the language of semiotics
  • To explore the role of text within adverts to convey / support the message
  • To consider dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings of adverts
  • Participant Outcome: 1 x A3 print advert
Sheba Advert (2008)
Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign. A sign is everything that can be taken as significantly substituting for something else. This something else does not necessarily have to exist or actually be somewhere at the moment that the sign stands in for it. (Eco, 1976, p.7)

suggested Session Outline:

  • Give / modify the Presentation below. Concentrate on the language used by de Saussure (signifier / signified) Pierce (icon / index / symbol) and Barthes (denotation / connotation / lingusitic message / cultural paradigms). Daniel Chandler offers an excellent overview available here. Throughout:
  • Think about and compare the use of written / verbal language and visual language. What (seems to) make a photograph different from painted or illustrated representations? How might the use of text within an sign / advert ‘guide’ our interpretation of it? Are there synergies between the messages conveyed by written text and the images?
‘it is perhaps only when encountering a different language that this experience of a gap between language and the world of objects (the objects language designates) actually begins to reveal itself as “unnatural”. Suddenly, the way language names things in the world comes upon a different system’ (Bate, 2016, p.19)
Elliott Erwitt (1974) New York
  • Dog
  • Chein
  • Hund
  • Perro
  • كلب





‘The caption permits me to focus not only my gaze, but also my understanding’ (Barthes, 1977, p.39)
Tommy Hilfiger Advert (2000)
Calvin Klein Advert (1995)
Yves Saint Laurent Advert (1995)
  • Think about how these messages may reproduce dominant ideologies / cultural paradigms. Are these speciifc to shared understandings?
  • What ideaologies are promoted by the images below? Do they become ‘invisible’ through shared understandings?
  • Select an advert / image and make a large print out / projection of it. Using post it notes, participants should work in a group to identify each dennotational aspect of the image to and deconstruct what it connotes.
  • Compare Roland Barthes (1972) essay ‘The World of Wrestling‘ in Mythologies to the visual language used in The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King (1994) Walt Disney Feature Animation: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Messages are socially produced in particular circumstances and made culturally available as shared explanations of how the world works. In other words, they are ‘ideologies’, explanatory systems of belief’ (Goodwin & Whannel, 2005, p.60)
Panzani Advert (c.1970)


‘An Italian would barely perceive the connotation of the name, no more probably than he would the Italianicity, [it is] based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes’ (Barthes, 1977, p.34)

Think About: What are the dennotative and connotative aspects of the Pazani advert Barthes discusses? Does it have any synergies with the Dolmio advert below? Does the Dolmio advert introduce any ofher ideologies (family / gender roles etc)?

‘By the word reading we mean not only the capacity to identify and decode a certain number of signs, but also the subjective capacity to put them into a creative relation between themselves and with other signs’ (Hall, 1999, p.514)
‘Understanding photography as a body of practices and aesthetic values which follows a paradigmatic structure is helpful in understanding its representational role, for it focuses our attention on how the interactions between the intentions of photographers and the uses to which thier photographs are put’ (Hall, 1999, p.80)
The Spy Who Loved Me Film Poster (1977) Lewis Gilbert
American Heroes Postage Stamp (2001)
‘Advertising forms a system of meaning… The viewer sees all advertisements as one, or rather sees their rules as applicable to one another and thus part of an interchangeable system’ (Williamson, 1978, p.13)
  • Or is it? Think about how these messages may be misconcieved. Consider dominant readings / negotiated readings / oppositional readings.
  • Revisit the previous large image / post it notes and consider how the image / advert might be understood in different ways, by whom and why.
  • Consider adverts which have attracted controversy. Evaluate some examples of The Advertising Standards Authority decisions available here
  • How would you evaluate the John Lewis (2015) Man on the Moon Christmas campaign? Why do you think it attracted oppositional readings? How do you feel about the morality of supermarkets etc offering ‘charity’ christmas campaigns? Is this practice sincere or disingenuous?
‘It’s unclear why the old man is on the moon, though he looks a lot like one of those desiccated Nazis who fled Germany after the war and built an Aryan paradise in Patagonia. Lily sends Heinrich a telescope, delivered by party balloons, with which he can spy on the child in her bedroom. How is that good?’ (Pearson, 2015)
‘As soon as a photograph leaves Eden and enters into circulation, it becomes culturally coded, transforming the image and putting it into the realm of connotation’ (Elkins, 2007, p.15)

Presentation ideas: Encoding & Decoding: A World of Signs

to follow

  • Ask participants to create an advertising (campaign) of thier own. This might be themed (e.g. Christmas) or it might be within a certain product context (e.g. a mystery scent – they might create an advert based on smell alone).
  • They should conduct a semiotic analysis of thier final consturcted image. What does it denote / connote? Why did they make the visual choices they did? Does it conform to any cultural paraadigms? What is it’s linguistic messge? How might it be (mis) read? By whom and why?
  • Print / project and critique
‘There is one lesson we can learn from photographs: images exist not to be believed, but to be interrogated’ (Grundberg, 1999, p.273)


Showcase Portfolio: Shona Waldron

Shona waldron

Strangers (2019) The term ‘stranger’ conveys a sense of distance, anonymity and perhaps even a slight uneasiness. These images explore the way we construct internal barriers to shield ourselves from others, a physical separation which is epitomised by the blurred areas of the work. The notion that ‘photography only depicts the surface of things’ (Ruff cited in Rehberg 2017) encapsulates the way we might perceive a conversation from an outsider’s perspective, blind to the personalities of the subjects as well as the original context of the exchange. Although concealment is the primary intention, some images paradoxically reveal pieces of faces as each stranger was asked to hold and position the rips and scratches in any way they felt inspired to do so. This idea of enabling the subject to be an active participant in their own depiction reflects the way we constantly adjust which facets of ourselves we reveal to others.


Light of the Mind (2018) turns to nature to externalise inner psychologies, creating a world where warped patterns and textures begin to emerge. This intends to replicate the landscape of an unsettled mind, capturing strange resonances which exist somewhere on the margin of our everyday reality. Through burning the negatives, the construction of each image is a two-fold process as, even though the original print is destroyed, it is reconfigured into something entirely new. This transformative effect relates to the power of the human subconscious to build a place home to both material and immaterial forms.

Organic Body (2019) Through the use of bold combinations of colour and shape,Organic Body conveys anthropomorphic presence within the natural world in an abstract, less defined way, blurring the definition of what we are able to identify as human. The physical manipulation and transformative quality of the work encapsulates the notion of life in an ‘alien everyday reality’ (Debord 1994: 153) as the subject matter becomes estranged from its original context. By creating something unfamiliar and alien-like, the images intend to evoke a futuristic vision – a contemporary renaissance in a sense – which questions what it means to live in a world on the constant brink of evolution.

Follow Shona Waldron on instagram

In Focus: Alex Prager

The constructed worlds of Alex Prager

by Teresa Williams (9th december 2019)
Alex Prager (2013) Face in the Crowd

This session encourages participants to consider the place of memory and fiction in their images and the relationship between personal memory and constructed memory or narrative. They are encouraged to conduct in depth independent research into the work of Alex Prager


Prager’s distinctive works cross the worlds of art, fashion, photography and film…each of her images is packed with a multitude of emotional layers and narrative possibilities. Her early photographs were predominantly shot on sets of Los Angeles, with carefully staged scenes, further heightened by hyper-styled costumes, makeup, lighting and the use of a richly saturated colour palette, lending the images a particular dramatic intensity.’ (The Photographers Gallery 2018)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

  • Places with a Past
  • Something Old Something New – post to come
  • Tell Me a Story – post to come

aims & Outcomes:

  • Participants will explore the place of memory and fiction in their images
  • They will research the work of Masumi Hayashi, Alex Prager, Sophie Calle and Trish Morrissey, and apply some of the concepts to their own work      
  • They will use old photographs as ‘aide memoirs’
  • Participant Outcome: 1 x 10 x 8 digital photograph
Alex Prager (2013) Welcome Home
‘Prager does for photography what James Ellroy did for crime fiction, inventing a neo-noir L.A. vernacular that creates a feeling of the past without the limitations of historical accuracy’ (Witt, 2019)

You will need:

  • Photo album(s) or digital photos from your childhood
  • Appropriate props / models
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops) and imaging software
  • Tripods
  • Notebooks for participants to log research and sketch ideas
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
Alex Prager (2008) from Silver Lake Drive
‘Prager’s oeuvre consists of heavily staged, large format images using rich colours. Her photographs can be seen as ‘single frame narratives’ that capture enigmatic stories within the edges of the frame. Both her photographs and films are characterised by the absence of a linear narrative; each of the works recounts a bizarre, perpetual unreality’ (foam, 2019)

preparation work:

  • Preparation Brief: Locate a memory from your childhood, and see how you can endorse and elaborate it with the help of family members / friends who share your memory, as well as photo albums / digital photos which may have recorded it. It’s important to have a strong sense of place as you will need to be able to visualise it. Make a note of any dominant colours there. Draw a sketch of how you remember the place. Your imagination will be necessary if you are unable to gather enough factual detail.
  • Ask participants to prepare for the session by conducting Independent research – talking to family / friends, finding photo albums / digital photos.
  • Ask participants to watch Alan Roth (2007) Re/collecting Memory, about the highly personal work of photographer Masumi Hayashi available here: Part 1 and Part 2
  • Ask paricipants to consider the relationship between personal memory and constructed memory or narrative by:

presentation ideas: Contextualising Alex Prager

suggested Session Outline:

  • Show participants the Presentation above / a selection of images by Prager, Hayashi, Calle and Morrissey and discuss their concept / staging / construction.
  • Referring to the Preparation Work sketch, decide where to stage a photograph which represents the memory. You may wish to restrict it to to a place although preferably you will have participants to stage a performance under your direction.  Decide how the ‘actors’ will be dressed, and what expressions or gestures them should perform.  Choose and source any props required.
  • What impact does the use of colour in Hayashi’s Gila River Relocation Camp have?
  • Research the colour theories of Wassily Kandinsky and Johannes Itten.  Consider how the choice of colour in background and costumes could have particular associations with mood or emotions.
  • Arrange the shoot and complete a risk assessment. If working in groups you can be mutual participants. Shoot in RAW format to allow for exposure and light balance tweaks later.
  • All participants to show their work for critique by tutor and peers.

Acting the Part

Out of Character / Into Character: Photographic Chameleons

‘the mask offers a powerful disguise that gives photographers the chance ot redefine themselves, and to challenge the ways in which identities have commonly been represented and understood’ (bright, 2010, p.101)
Claude Cahun (1928) Self-Portrait

This session encourages participants to consider the nature of the performed portrait, and the construction of the self into a ‘disguised’ personae. This use of masquerade transforms the photograph into a stage. Lighting, props, costume, styling and location are also important considerations,


It is a theatrical reminder that identity is a construct, a mask we wear. ‘Under this mask, another mask’ Cahun wrote. We could even think of her work as a comment on race, as she frequently inverts colours and plays with contrast in one photograph. With her head shaved, holding her collar as if to hide from our gaze, seemingly tanned or edited to seem so, with her image duplicated by the mirror next to her – reinforcing the duality or multiplicity of identity, and the roles we play. (Emelife, 2016)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Hippolyte Bayard (1840_ Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man
‘A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows they’re being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he’s wearing or how he looks’ (Avedon in Fuqua & Bivar, 2010, p.149)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to explore the nature of a performed’ and disguised self. Is is all a mask?
  • For participants to respond photographically to identified personal / political issues though the act of masqerade
  • For participants to consider the different ways in which the self might be represented. Do we have multiple selves? Are we stereotyped?
  • Participant Outcome: 1 10 x 8 digital print
Man Ray (1920) Rrose Selavy (Marcel Duchamp)
‘i pose, i know i am posing, i want you to know i am posing, but…this additional message must in no way alter the precious essence of my individuality’ (Barthes, 1981, p.12)

You will need:

  • Participants may identify and define thier own ‘characters’ / disguises /scenarios or you could use a list of Vladimir Propps characters as a prompt:The Hero / The Helper / The Villain / The False Hero / The Donor / The Dispatcher / The Princess / The Princess’s Father
  • Any props you might need
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • Flashguns (or a Studio) to practice lighting techniques
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
Shigeyuki Kihara (2013) from Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
‘Portraits are representations, not documents’ (West, 1997, p. 53)

Preparation Work:

  • Ask Participants to read Sean O’ Hagan (2010) ‘Self Portraits as an Art Form’ in The Observer 8th August 2010 available here
  • Ask participants to explore the Tate resources and select one feature of thier choice to read available here
  • Ask participants to independently research the work of Cindy Sherman and watch Hal Foster (2016) Under the Gaze: The Art of Cindy Sherman available here
  • Ask participants to identify bring a selection of props they might need
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • Decide whether you will introduce location / studio lighting
  • If you are printing it make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors
Aneta Grzeszykowska (2006) from Untitled Film Stills

Research: The work of Cindy Sherman

‘The desire to ‘become someone else in front of the camera, if only for a moment, is often irresistable. masqerade in self-portraiture may allow an artist to vicariously act out fantasies or address a political issue through someone else’s voice, which is both liberating and transgressive. Such tactics can also be used for fun or to indulge personal vanity’ (bright, 2010, p.101

Presentation ideas: Acting the Part

suggested Session Outline:

The Wisemen Saw (or did they?)

for full session see: All I want for Christmas…

session overview:
  • Participants will examine / analyse a range of Christmas adverts
  • Using a selection of objects, participants will shoot thier own Christmas advert. Who is it for? What is it’s message?
  • Use Photoshop to add text / logo’s *collage could also be used here
  • Print and critique
suggested output: christmas advert (still or stop motion / moving image)
Additional activity ideas:
  • A (Moving) Merry Christmas: Make a stop motion GIF (telling a story through multiple photographs of objects / quick succession photographs of a narrative). Some instructions on making GIF’s in Photoshop can be found here
  • Once Upon a Time (at Christmas); Devise a Christmas story / use christmas carol lyrics and illustrate this narrative in 6 photographs (individually or as a group) to create a narrative. Make a handmade book and add text.
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:

Tell Me A Story (Again)

Knowing Narratives: Into a Sea of Stories

Intertextuality: The accumulation and generation of meaning across texts, where all meanings depend on other meanings. The self conscious citation of one text within another as an expression of enlarged cultural self consciousness’ (Barker, 2008, p.482)
Paula Rego (1989) Baa Baa Black Sheep


In this session, participants will explore themes of intertextuality and originality in thier images by constructing images in direct response to another (visual / written) ‘text’. They will consider the levels of ambiguity (or not) of such images and thay are encouraged to undertake in-depth independent research into Tom Hunter’s practice and its positioning within wider ideas regarding the nature of photographic representation and narrative within the constructed image.

‘Practitioners of staged photography invent their motifs, freely combining the real and the invented, photography and painting, photography and stage design, weaving historical and mythological references into their works, and do not hestiate for a moment to manipulate reality’ (Kohler, 1995, p.8)
Oscar Rejlander (1857) The Two Ways of Life

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Anna Gaskell (1998) Hide
‘A text is… a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations’ (Barthes 1977, p.146)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to visually explore the loading of narrative into the single image
  • For participants to understand the difference between literal and ambigous imagery (and thier consequences)
  • For participants to respond photographically to recast / recreate another ‘text’
  • For participants to investigate the relationship between ‘texts’ and consider the notion of originality
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: 1 exhibition quality 10 x 8 print
‘Movies can shape a layer of memory, leading us into a shared past, sometimes false, dreamlike childlike, but a past we’ve all agreed to inhabit’ (Don De Lillo in Lewis, 2014)

You will need:

  • A selection of paintings, fairy stories, photographs, films, nursery rhymes, music video’s etc (a mix of visual and written ‘texts’)
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • Flashguns (or a Studio) to practice lighting techniques
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments

Research: the work of tom Hunter

Preparation Work:

  • Ask participants to read Helen Simpson (2007) ‘Femme fatale: Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber’ in The Guardian, 24th June 2006 available here
  • Ask participants to read / watch interview with Richard Tuschman on Hopper Meditations available via Lens Culture (2013) here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors
Martina Sauter (2011) Treppenhaus

Presentation Ideas: into a sea of stories

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Show participants the trailer for Shrek the Third (2007) (above). Ask them to count and write down every intertextual reference they can see in the clip. Does it matter if we don’t recognise all of them? How does it recast its reference points into a new narrative?
  • Give the Presentation (above). Invite participants to compare the intertextual work with its ‘original’ text. What are the similarities and differences? Is it a straight ‘copy’ or something new and original? How does the new work change or play with this ot create new meanings and narratives? Is it merely a literal / descriptive ‘copy / illustration’ or a more ambiguous image. Do we need to recognise the original source ‘text’?
  • Provide participants with a list of visual / written ‘texts’ (or they can think of thier own). Identify the key elements of the ‘text’: narrative, people, objects, places and motifs etc.
  • Identify how these might be translated in new ways (e.g. a ‘cauldron’ could become a microwave / a ‘princess in distress’ might be female / a ‘forest’ might be a playground / park or garden. How might the ‘text’ be translated in more ambigous ways? (e.g. the absence of people / the ‘feeling’ of the original text / a modern update)
  • Sketch out / brainstorm initial ideas (thinking of props, locations, characters etc)
  • Location lighting or studio induction. How does light colour / black and white / aesthetics influence the scene?
  • Shoot the image individually / in groups
  • Print / Project and critique the images with the original ‘text’ in mind /  on view and considering aspects of originality / description v’s ambiguiy / the construction narrative within the single image / audience respsonse
Thomas Demand (1999) Tunnel (video)


So Many Books, So Little Time

Storytelling, selecting & sequencing: The hand-made book

‘The camera may be thought of as comparable to the eye. The difference is that the camera is not more than an eye. It does not think. Any connection with judging, choosing, arranging, including, excluding, and snapping has to be with the photographer’ (Price, 1994, p.4)
Duane Michals (1973) The Bogeyman


In this session, participants will explore the sequencing of photographs to create a narrative. They will consider the ambiguity (or not) of images to create a story, as well as it’s relationship with accompanying text. They will produce a simple hand-made book to display the images.




‘Duane Michals has continually rebelled against and expanded the documentary and fine art traditions. At the onset, he baffled critics who knew not what to say of his work, rejecting the notion of the “decisive movement,” the supremacy of the sensational singular image, and the glorification of the perfect print. As an expressionist, rather than going out into the world to collect impressions of the eye, he looked inward to construct the images of his mind, exploring the unseeable themes of life, death, sensuality, and innocence’ (Reznik, 2014)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

  • Tell Me a Story – (narrative in the single image) post to come (Jeff Wall / Gregory Crewdson)
  • (Don’t) Stop the Frame – (panorama’s) – post to come (Sam Taylor Wood / Fred Cray)
  • On this Site – post to come (Joel Sternfeld / Paul Seawright / Tom Hunter)
  • Tell Me A Story (Again)
  • Fake News?
Jeff Wall (1998-2000) The Flooded Grave
‘Like a poem, which is made up from ‘lines that resemble sentences’ but exceeds the normal way we read sentences, the poetic quality of an image transgresses the indexical truthfulness of a representation’ (Wall & Galassi, 2007, p.337)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to visually explore the nature of constructing images and sequencing them to portray a narrative through 6 images
  • For participants to understand the difference between literal and ambigous imagery (and thier consequences)
  • For participants to explore the relationship between image and text.
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: A handmade book with 6 sequenced images
Tom Hunter (2000) The Way Home from Life and Death in Hackney

You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • A3 / A4 card or paper *Make sure you print the photograhs at the appropriate size to fit each page
  • Scissors, Bone Folder etc
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • Some song lyrics, poems, stories *Participants can also write thier own stories e.g. remembering a dream etc
  • *If there are time constraints – you could also work in groups (with Image 1 and Image 6 being provided in pre-made books – what is the narrative in the middle? (produce 4 images to ‘complete’ the story). Here, still demonstrate how to make the book (particularly useful with younger participants)
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector (powerpoint with text) or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
‘The caption permits me to focus not only my gaze, but also my understanding’ (Barthes, 1977, p.39)

Preparation Work:

  • Practice making books yourself and decide which size you will print the photographs
  • Ask participants to read David Seidner (1987) ‘Intverview with Duane Micheals’ in BOMB Magazine, 1st July 1987 available here
  • Ask participants to watch the video Presenting The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by Kaylynn Deveney (2011) available here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers (or projectors if you are concentrating on sequencing a narrative only – create a powerpoint and include the text with each photograph)
Christopher Stewart (2002) from Insecurity

Suggested Session Outline: see Teresa williams’s website here


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Photo + Graphy = Light + Writing

/fəʊtəˌGrɑːf/: drawing with light

Sir John Herschel phrased the term ‘photo-graphy’ in 1839 in his Royal Society paper on photography (1839),  it is based on the Greek φῶς (phos), meaning ‘light’ and γραφή (graphê), meaning ‘drawing / writing’ – together meaning ‘drawing with light’ (in Schaaf, 2013)
Pablo Picasso / Gjon Mili (1949) from Light Drawings


In this session participants will produce images using light painting techniques / artifical light sources in order to explore the idea of the constructed image, the dependence of the photographic process on light and time, as well as further consolidating learning of photographic exposure / shutter speeds and the representation of time and motion





‘if I should ever seriously photograph, it would be…the flux of things. I wanted then, and still do, to express the ‘thing’ as part of total flow’ (Morgan in Morgan & margolis, 1980)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Barbara Morgan (1940) Pure Energy and Neurotic Man

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to visually explore the nature of photographic seeing and constructing images using light
  • For participants to understand how exposure and shutter speeds can influence the image
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: At least 3 different light writing photographs
Matthew Murray (2012-2018) from Saddleworth

You will need:

  • Digital Camera with a manual exposure setting
  • Tripods
  • A darkened room / studio or shoot outside at dusk / night
  • A selection of movable light sources (e.g. torches, phones, glo-sticks, maglights, fairy lights, flashguns, bicycle lights etc) *if you are outside, car headlights can also illuminate a space
  • Shutter release (for self portraits etc)
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessment
Man Ray (1935) Self Portrait from Space Writing


While the signature was of course apparent to [Man Ray], the photograph remained for many years an “abstract image” to others. The discovery of this inscription is both a revelation and a resolution. Now, seven decades after he made his own game of Hide-and-Seek, we can finally look back at Man Ray and say: “There you are!” (Carey, 2011)

preparation Work:

  • Plan at least 5 different approaches to drawing with light and make sure you have all materials. Think about;
    • Light Drawing: The light source can be seen by the camera, during a long exposure the artist uses this light source to draw, write or create a design within the frame
    • Kinetic Light Painting; The lights in the scene generally remain stationary while the camera itself is moved about during a long exposure to create color and design within the frame.
    • Light Painting; The artist uses handheld light sources to selectively illuminate parts of a scene during a long exposure photograph.
  • Ask participants to read A History of Light Painting Photography available here
  • Ask participants to think of and draw out some initial ideas for constructing images using light. There are a number of introductory videos to be found online but a good example for beginners is here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it (6×4) make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space in the session to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to a darkened room, printers or projectors
Dean Chamberlain (1977) Two Polyesthene Bags and a Chaiselonge
‘The viewer is instantly confronted with how frequently we take for granted the light in our everyday lives, not to mention its role in traditional photography. After all, how else would one make a photograph without at least a minimal amount of available light in the environment? One look at [Chamberlains] works and it becomes clear–there are other ways. While Chamberlain paints with light through time and space, the light itself becomes the primary subject matter, shifting the focus from the subject/object to the very element through which the work (and our lives) are revealed’ (Meta Gallery, Toronto, 2008)

presentation ideas: drawing with light

‘Light used in its own right, as in light pictures, gives to photography the wonderful plasticity that paint gives to painting without loss of the unmatched reality of straight photography’ Wynn Bullock (in bullock Family 2019)

lightwriting: activity ideas

You might:
  • Draw a picture
  • Outline a person / object
  • Spin some fairy lights to create an orb
  • Do a double exposure
  • Use flash / torches to light certain aspects of an internal / external scene
  • Write a message / your name
  • Use glo-sticks to create abstractions
  • Use movement (either object or camera) to create abstractions

Suggested Session Outline:





Into the Deep Blue Yonder

The Light (and Delight) of the cyanotype

In her preface to Photographs of British Algae, Atkins argued that the ‘beautiful process of cyanotype’ did away with the difficulties involved in making accurate drawings of natural objects, particularly objects as ‘minute as […] the algae and conferva’. However skilled, no draughtsman could hope to match the unprecedented reality-effects produced when images derived from ‘impressions of the plants themselves’ (Castle, 2015)
Anna Atkins (1843) Cyanotypes of British Algae

In this session participants will make cyanotype images from photograms and from acetate negatives in order to consolidate learning of the basics of analogue processes. It also serves as an introduction to the idea of constructed images, the dependence of the photographic process on light and time, as well as basic analogue development principles.

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Barbara Kasten (1974) Photogenic Painting
‘My work often begins with an exploration of materials, and my initial attraction to photography stemmed from an interest in how the photographic process could provide innovative means to create paintings. The photogram, free from technical restraints and training, offered a direct way to merge a painterly technique with light-sensitive emulsions…The interdependency of shadow and light is the essence of photographic exploration and an inescapable part of the photographic process. I see the play between these two phenomena as basic components of photographic abstraction, with their exchanging roles of solidity and transparency. In my work, shadow transforms the three-dimensional space of my constructions into the two-dimensional surface of the photograph’ (Kasten in tate, 2018)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to discuss and visually explore the nature of photographic seeing
  • For participants to experience and understand the nature of cyanotype processing
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: At least 3 cyanotypes
Barnaby Irish (2019) from Light Senstitive
‘I find these forms both beautiful and disturbing; they resonate as something familiar, but closer inspection makes them feel false – the depth and shade created by software instead of photons…My work imagines realities and dimensions we can’t yet sense, or only get glimpses of through meditation or psychedelics. I’m aiming for the resonance of something you recognise with the mystery of not knowing what it is.’ (Irish in Elliott Halls, 2019)

You will need:

  • A selection of small objects / materials to make cyanotypes with (participants can also bring / find objects / materials)
  • Some watercolour paper
  • If you are using the sun to expose your cyanotype – a normal photo frame (mask off the glass with electricians tape) / perspex, cardboard, elephant clips will suffice.
  • A Foam brush / measuring materials / trays / gloves / glasses / aprons *re Health & Safety requirements
  • Cyanotype chemicals *available from Silverprint
  • An Introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
  • See also the BBC GSCE Revision Guide here

Preparation Work:

  • Make sure you have all of the required materials (including some objects / acetate negatives)
  • Make sure you have booked the darkrooms if you are working on campus / have chemicals, lights, trays, perspex, etc if off campus and are adhering to Health and Safety requirements
  • Are you going to prepare your cyanotype mix / coated watercolour paper in advance?
  • If you are working with Primary School participants you could ask them to make a montage with some / the objects you have chosen on A4 paper and draw or photograph it. In the sesison / in advance, younger children can also cut out shapes and images from magazines (and mount onto card) as ‘objects’ to make storytelling photograms with.
  • Are you going to produce / ask participants for a negative scan to invert and print onto acetate in advance? *More contrast works better in an acetate negative

Cyanotypes: ideas for Photograms

Angela Chalmers (2018) The Kiss of Peace

Cyanotypes: ideas for making Acetate Negatives

Boris Mikhailov (2006) from At Dusk
How accurate can a picture of the world be, one’s inner village-idiot wonders, if everything we see in it — not just yellowy-greeny-goldy-maroonish-brown seawrack — is recast in alchemical shades of blue? From one angle, the all-blue world of cyanotype is as hallucinatory a domain as the one Alice encounters when she wanders through the looking glass…So, whose algae is more realistic: the photographer’s or the painter’s? (Castle, 2015)

Suggested Session Outline: see josie purcell’s website here

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