Category Archives: University Life

Exhibitions are over. What now?

It was great to exhibit my work at the degree show and then at the Truman Brewery as part of their Free Range series of graduate exhibitions, where we were exhibiting alongside six other universities’ photography graduates. Thank you to all who came along to either exhibition. I had some interesting conversations with a few folk about my project, including several suggestions that I should look into publishing the book properly – including one that came up with a couple of suggestions about who to approach.

I’ve been looking for online reviews of the Free Range show, but it’s early days yet; photography Week 2 opened last night. (I may go along to have a look – there was some really great stuff on display during week 1.) At least one blogger has picked my work out as among their favourites from the show, which is rather nice. I wonder if anyone else ‘spotted’ me?


The end of the exhibitions really does mean that university is all over (bar the graduation ceremony, but that’s not until September). It’s been an amazing experience to dive into student life in my (relative) maturity, and I’m hugely chuffed to have come out the other end with a Photography Degree with First Class Honours*. I’ve had in mind for ages to write something about what it’s like to be a mature student inhabiting world of mostly 20 year-olds, but that’s never really appeared. Lets just say it’s been a positive experience and has (mostly) made me feel young. Hoorah!

And so… what now?

Well my property photography business is up and running, but undeniably slow and as things stand isn’t going to make me a living. I’m hoping to develop this further as a starter, taking other commissions as and when they come my way. Let me know of any opportunities that you hear of.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 12.49.39

(* Disclaimer. We don’t officially know our degree classifications until the end of July, but I’ve had all my grades back for every module and if it doesn’t average out as a first they’re using a previously unknown type of mathematics.)

Phase One 645 DF

Following a tutorial today, I’ve borrowed the Phase One 645 DF camera system from my university loan store, just to see if I should be using it for a particular project rather than my usual camera.

For purely practical reasons, I’m unlikely to use it for the whole project, but I may use it occasionally. It can be a bit fiddly to use, but boy when you get it right the detail is astonishing. Take a look at this:



Now I’m sure most of you know how big a LEGO® Minifigure is. That’s a pretty sharp image that is. But is it any better than I can get with my Canon 650D? Well, no, perhaps not. Or at least, not when you look at this crop. But whilst you may assume this was taken with some sort of macro lens, no. This is the remarkable thing – the photograph above is actually a crop from this one:



…and look how much detail is still showing. Zoom in that far on one of the files produced with my camera and it’ll be a lot less sharp than this. In fact, let’s go further in; here’s an even closer crop, again from that very same file.




Only trouble is, this camera system cost more than my car.

It’s an essay. Whoop-de-doo!

I wasn’t planning to publish my latest (and indeed last!) essay as part of my degree, but I just got my feedback, which was mostly positive and came with a surprisingly good grade, and a few of you seem to be interested enough, so here it is. Until today no-one else had read it, not even my wife. Click on the image to read it, if you want to. But not if you don’t.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 16.50.28

This was the feedback from th two marking tutors:


You have chosen a fundamental subject to explore and do so with flair and imagination and most importantly with some critical skill, showing that the rise of the selfie is very much a contested area.

Though you state that as a new subject finding academic sources are more of a challenge, you managed however to marshal a range of relevant academic sources to really back up your statements, crucially showing some important areas of debate. Indeed – contrary to your feedback, your lack of a firm conclusion is appropriate here. I feel you do manage to explore a key idea in the difference between the idea of photograph as record and communication.
I didn’t mind the way that you strayed a little into the realms of social science in researching some reasons of why people made selfies, indeed an interdisciplinary approach can be fruitful, especially if other academic research on the area is not forthcoming. There are ethical considerations in interviewing in this way and you should really have shown how you adhered to UH guidelines on this kind of research– I feel some form of ethics statement and method should have been in your appendices, however by keeping everything anonymous you have avoided a major issue here. Good that you are aware of the anecdotal nature of this research and its limitations.

One area you could have explored in more detail was the relation of the selfie to self-portrait in terms of art and its auratic nature. Walter Benjamin’s analysis might have been fruitful here in unpicking the Cornelius image from the modern selfie. It could also have thrown light on the ‘statue selfies’ and the Samsung advert.

Overall a mature and informative piece of work that I enjoyed reading very much.


You have produced an excellent essay exploring the phenomenon of the ‘selfie’. Although admittedly this is not a study prompted by a thesis to be proven or disproven through research, there is no sense of ‘aimless meander’ in the way in which you have framed your research questions (loose and exploratory as they are), and pursued them through research and argument.

Your research questions are clear and stated from the outset. They are then explored through competent research using a wide range of sources (scholarly papers, newspaper articles, even personal conversations). That research is deployed mostly in a judicious manner throughout the essay. A criticism would be to your use of conversations and unstructured interviews, which produced results that even you acknowledge as ‘anecdotal’. If the testimonials have only anecdotal value, then why use them? I ask this question because any material included in an essay will have the effect of contributing to possible meanings and reception of that essay, despite any disclaimers or warnings that such material needs to be bracketed.

That criticism aside, this is, I repeat, an excellent essay that shows you engaging with research, criticism, and evaluation in a very mature and considered way.”



Things to do…

Procrastination time.


You see, this is year three of a photography degree, but I seem to be doing very little photography. No, what I’m supposed to be doing right now while I’m writing this instead is working on an essay, and writing up some stuff about portfolios, and working on a “mission statement” about my own portfolio-to-be. It’s all words, words, words, and thinking*.

None of which I’m feeling all that good at just now.

And so I wander, and I meander, and my brain tries to vaguely stay on track, but fails miserably. I just read a brilliant piece of writing (yes, while I should have been working) about this very thing. A friend wrote this piece about her own procrastination and it’s so unnervingly accurate about the state of mind that I find myself in. Except that at least most of my friend’s distraction seem productive in their own way. Mine are mostly mindless. You know that “internet” thing? You may have heard of it? It’s an amazing thing, a blessing in so many ways and makes so much of modern life easier that before. But jeepers it’s also the biggest time-waster going. Egads, the time that flies by while I ‘just catch up” on this or that. Or the other. Why did I watch that video? Why did I read that article? Why am I checking yet again to see if anything’s been updated since I last looked? Oh, and then a quick coffee. Or a snack. Oh, wait – that means even more time has passed since I checked this or that; better check again.

Deadlines are approaching fast, with much work before I’m ready. I have had loads of time to work on these modules. Loads. So why so I still have so much to do on them? And why am I even here, writing this?

Well, I think that’s got that off my mind. Now to get on with some work. Oh, hang on – just need to pop out to post a letter first…

Lego City Advent Calendar 2014: Day one, Boy posting Christmas card

If you didn’t spot the link to my friend’s writing, do click here to read it. It’s so well written.

(* Oh, and also compiling a mini-portfolio that should include some photographs taken this semester. Except I’ve not really been taking any this semester. At least, not directly connected with the course.)

Working with professionals

I promised a new post on here soon; my first for a few months. An uncharacteristic period of blog silence. Well, this is it, and it’s part of a university assignment. Following our work experience placement we were originally going to be doing a ten-minute presentation, but out tutor changed this and replaced it with this: a 400-word report via ‘the social media network of your choice’. What follows is that report. (David, you may ignore this paragraph; your 400 words – in green – start below.)

As part of my degree course, we were required to complete a period of work experience. I was delighted to discover, though a mutual contact, a commercial studio based just a fifteen minute walk from my house. Surbey Photographers is a father and son business of some 45 years standing, which shoots advertising photography for a wide range of commercial clients including pharmaceutical companies, cosmetics, and fitness – a major client being Virgin Active. 

A nondescript industrial unit in suburban stevenage...

A nondescript industrial unit in suburban stevenage…

...the professional commercial photography within

…the professional commercial photography within 

When I contacted them they were very happy to offer a student placement on an ad-hoc basis, and I have assisted them so far on two very different shoots, one in the studio and one on location. 

The studio session was a food shoot, photographing new menu items for David Lloyd Leisure’s in-house restaurants, and was quite an eye-opener. I’d read about the care and attention that goes into professional food photography, but to see it in action was amazing. For one thing, I was surprised how many people were involved; in the studio we had:

  • the photographer
  • and assistant (me)
  • the creative director from the agency
  • four reps from the client
  • the food buyer
  • a food stylist.
Photographer Jon Surbey at work

Photographer Jon Surbey at work

Food stylist making tiny adjustments

Food stylist making tiny adjustments

Yes, that’s eight people all day in the studio – with the expectation that they’d complete about six photographs in the day. For each shot, the food stylist would prepare the item, while the photographer and I set up the lighting. We’d shoot a few test images, then all the reps would crowd round the screen offering suggestions for changes and we’d keep shooting till they were happy. The food stylist would be asked to move tiny details like the angle of a piece of cress, or a few grains of black pepper, between shots. 

Sample shot from the day in the studio (© Surbey Photographers)

Sample shot from the day in the studio (© Surbey Photographers)

The location shoot was photographing the correct use of a piece of exercise equipment at the Virgin Active Gym in Twickenham. Fewer people involved for this one, I was left alone to set up the lights while the photographer liaised with the clients about what they were hoping to achieve, then making adjustments as required and packing up at the end. 

Photographer Phil Surbey at work

Photographer Phil Surbey at work

Finished shot from the location shoot (© Surbey Photographers)

Finished shot from the location shoot (© Surbey Photographers)

The studio seem to have been pretty pleased with what I did with them, and appreciated my attitude as indicated in the very positive ‘report’ they completed for my tutor. Even better, they’ve said they’ll have me back to assist again and I’ll get to see a wider range of shoots. 

So there you have it: exactly 400 words, which isn’t really enough to tell you about my experience, but them’s the rules.

Being back on here makes me realise I have a couple more posts brewing. I’ll not leave it so long next time.


Portraits of (not) a stranger.

My previous post showed a couple of Portraits of Strangers. We were also set a task to take a portrait of “someone we know well”. Now, I’m not actually going to claim to know Gill really well but I have known her for a long time and in a variety of different circumstances: I first met her in an amateur dramatics group I did a few musicals with, then found she had children in the school where my wife works so saw her at PTA events and the like, and now see her occasionally as she’s part of the church at which my best friend is the vicar. (Note to self: Did they need to know all that? Probably not.)

Anyhow, to business. One thing I do know about Gill is she loves to be outdoors, so rather than do a portrait in her house we went for a stroll to a local park and had a little photoshoot there. It’s not what I’m really comfortable doing, and certainly not what she’s used to either, but I think we got some okay results.

Gill 12

Gill 4

Gill 9

Thanks, Gill, for being a willing guinea pig model, and not minding me publishing a few on here.