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A3 C&N – trial rework

In the feedback I received on assignment 3 (see here), there was a suggestion that I should try the coloured images in a high contrast black and white format. In this post, I discuss the output of that trial.

I’d retained the layered photoshop files in case of rework, so chose my preferred image and added additional layers for the black and white conversion – these were B&W tone, curves, dodge, burn layers. And, disabled the finishing layers for the coloured image. In addition, I added some blur to the impression of the passport covering my face – in retrospect it was perhaps a little too sharp for a tattoo-like mask. I also did this for the colour version of the image shown below.

While the black and white image offers improved contrast (ruddy complexion of my face is toned down) and dodging brings the eyes out more, the complexity and intrigue in the backdrop is lost somewhat – in particular the branded elements (eg Facebook) are not readily identified without the colour that makes up part of the brand identity.

In the end, I’ve decided to stick with the images as presented. I also checked the colour version of the image in the original submission against the adjusted image here and, in fact, prefer the original.

A3 C&N – tutor feedback

This post addresses my tutor’s feedback on assignment 3 (see here for assignment), with a pdf of the full feedback referenced below.

The feedback was positive and some points to consider were highlighted:

  • Access to the locked diary – I thought I’d given this but will check and revert.
  • Try out monochrome versions of the images (with additional contrast) (see here)
  • Research – look to embed some images into the text and comment on impact on own practice
  • Additional reading suggested (full references provided in pdf of feedback) around concepts on identity/memory for consideration in upcoming work:
    • Hirsch, M. 2012. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. (see here)
    • Gibbons, J. 2007. Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance. (see here)
    • Bate, D. 2010. The Memory of Photography. (see here)
    • Livingston, D. & Dyer, P. 2010. A View From The Window: Photography, Recording Family Memories. (see here)
    • Douglas Huebler, specifically the Variable Piece #101 (see here)

Useful feedback, which I’ll deal with and provide further links in this post.


Tutor feedback pdf – http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Andrew-Fitzgibbon-Assignment-03-Feedback-Report.pdf

A3 C&N – submission to tutor

Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit. You may choose to explore your identity or masquerade as someone else, or use empty locations or objects to speak of your experiences. However you choose to approach it, use yourself – directly or indirectly – as subject matter.

(OCA C&N, p89)


The genre of self-portraiture was not something I’d explored prior to part three of the course. As well as the research and exercises recommended in part three, Susan Bright’s book Auto Focus (see here) and her tour of sub-genres in self-portraiture brought the subject to life for me. Bright’s book included the work of Aneta Grzeszykowska, who it is explained, uses self-portraiture as a tool for realising wider ideas, a kind of sketch pad or story-board.

The idea for this assignment came directly from the diary I kept for this part of the course. The diary is included in a separate post (password protected) here, and an analysis of my thoughts on diary is included in the post that details the preparation for the assignment here.  Through this work I intend to show a feeling of struggle to maintain a sense of self-identity in the tangible world when spending significant amounts of time represented virtually and as a ‘travelling man’. The work is at once auto-biographical and a masquerade. In the images, I show a sequence of acceptance, denial, and despair.

All images were shot using a Fuji X-T1, with a Fujinon 35mm (efl 53mm) / f1.4 and a home-studio set-up. The backgrounds are composites based on scanned documents and screen-dumps from my computer. Photoshop was used for processing. Details are also in the separate post detailing my preparation.


I enjoyed this exploration of my own emotions through self-portraiture and think that it is a genre I will return to in my personal work.

Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:

  • Demonstration of technical skills – I effectively used a home-studio set-up to capture the head-shots and demonstrated some new post-production techniques in Photoshop, which I’d been working on during this chapter.
  • Quality of outcome – I’m happy that the outcome achieves what I aimed for in the images. I worked through a number of different approaches to arrive at the final processing treatment for the images.
  • Demonstration of creativity – I believe I have used a creative approach to illustrating the personal frustrations sometimes experienced of working in a virtual world as a ‘travelling man’.
  • Context – I have been active in recording context in my learning log and it is linked from this assignment..

Bright S (2010). Auto Focus – the self-portrait in contemporary photography. London, Thames & Hudson.

A3 C&N – contact sheets

A write-up of my approach to preparation and making the final images is posted separately (see here). This post contains contact sheets of the final selects I used in making the Photoshop composites, and separate contact sheets for the picks from the over 350 pictures I made of myself for this assignment (I am a very poor actor indeed – but perhaps would finder it easier next time!).  All photographs are unadjusted RAW images.

Selects for composites (including scanned documents and screenshots)


Final selects

Picks from images of head



A3 C&N – preparation and diary review

Assignment 3 is an open brief, ‘Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit.’ (OCA C&N, p89). Part Three, ‘putting yourself in the picture’, was not an area to which I was particularly looking forward, but I have very much enjoyed it and gained an insight into a genre which is new to me.


The journey began with my diary. The full diary is in a separate password protected post (see here) – OCA people should contact me separately for the password. Keeping the diary helped me to reflect on the things I do each day and on my identity – for the most part we are made by what we do and how we pass our time in the world.

A strong feeling I had while writing and on reflecting was how much the use of my time is dictated by my work and how restricted time and energy can be for other, often more enjoyable things. A large part of my work involves international travel and, when not travelling, planning for future journeys, or communicating with colleagues in distance countries by phone or email. While I have a rewarding job, I have a sense of my identity being taken over by travel and virtual communication – there is little time to put roots in a real community or develop local connections, hobbies or friendships.

In my world of international travel and communication, my identity is often projected virtually, through the computer – even ‘phone calls’ are over a computer network. As well as being anchored to a digital identity, I am tied to my passport, which validates my identity when travelling.

Concept development

I wanted my self-portrait to illustrate an identity crises – my real identity subsumed in the digital and travelling world – as Morris Gallagher (fellow student) was later to describe it, ‘the travelling-man’.

I had been experimenting with contextualising my own face as an exercise (see here) and for this assignment decide to attempt to combine a realistic photographic representation of myself with a virtual representation of my self, as a passport. For the backdrop to the image, I wanted to represent other digital aspects of my identity as a wall behind me – a replacement for the blank background of the photo booth used for ID photographs.


Susan Bright’s book Autofocus (for review see here) brought the self-portrait genre to life for me. I drew on influences as the self-portrait as auto-biography and the self-portrait as masquerade. I would act out the auto-biographical emotions (somehow!) and use a composite masquerade in my work. The book features the work of Aneta Grzeszykowska, who explains how she uses self-portrait as a tool for realising wider ideas, a kind of sketch pad or story-board.

The use of composites in fantasy-style self-portraits was a technical inspiration – I didn’t want to create an image in that genre, but something applying the techniques to create an image that could be perceived as real, even if a little unlikely. A degree of ambiguity that would raise curiosity in the viewer. I’d undertaken a couple of pieces of research in this area –  (links to separate posts) Natalie Dybisz’s book, self-portrait photography and web-based research on photographers working with self-portrait.


I had two sets of images to capture, one for my own face and a second for the background composite and the superimposition of a passport on my face.

For my own face, I set up a white-screen backdrop, a soft-box (over flash light) for a key-light, and a bounced flash with reflector for a fill-light. I set my camera (Fuji X-T1) to automatically shoot a series of 10 shots, with a 2 second gap in between, sat on a stool and posed. I checked the outcome at the end of each series and experimented with my pose and expression. In all, I took over 350 shots and I realised that I will never have a career as an actor! My original intention was to find one image for the self-portrait, but while photographing myself I came up with the idea of a sequence of three showing a progression between, acceptance, denial and despair.

For the passport images (front cover, inside cover and a visa page), I used a 300 dpi colour photocopies and resized the images in Photoshop. For the images of digital ID (Facebook, Email, Twitter), I used high-resolution screen shots from my retina Macbook Pro, also resized in Photoshop.

The images used on the composite are included in a separate ‘contacts’ post – see here.

I made the composites in Photoshop. Key steps noted here:

  • Background – collage using layers of images and masks to reveal certain elements of the inside of my passport (background image). The ‘normal’ overlay mode was used for each layer but with reduced opacity.
  • Passport/tattoo-like effect. Crown Coat of Arms was isolated using a colour range selection and a fresh layer created with the coat of arms (CoA). CoA was transformed to fit the front of the face, spherised within a selection of the face outline, and then a dispersion filter applied (based on an image created from the front of the face). After some experimentation, I found the most effective over-lay type was ‘linear-burn’ – this created a tattoo-like effect and the possibility of being considered realistic.
  • Finishing – I used levels adjustments to align the tonality across the layers, a white opaque over-lay to unify the layers, and a separate empty layer to add shadow to the background where my head would have cast shadow.

I asked for feedback from fellow students through the OCA Facebook page (see separate post here), which was generally positive. However, I made a few refinements to the images after letting the images rest for a few days – I noticed that the ‘tattoos’ were not consistently aligned on the faces; mattered once I’d decided to make three images instead of one. Also the original background did not show clearly enough all components of the collage.


Culture.PL [website]. Aneta Grzeszykowska. Available from: http://culture.pl/en/artist/aneta-grzeszykowska#dziela [accessed 13.3.16]

A3 C&N – student feedback

I posted some working drafts of my images to the OCA 1 Facebook page  to ask for comments on how the images were read. The discussion is replicated below. Of particular interest were the readings not in my original intention – comments on Britishness and Brexit; strangely, given the current political climate, I did not think of these readings. The next time I post a similar question, it would be interesting to attempt to anticipate readings that are not within my original intention!

Facebook discussion

Feedback please good people. Attached are the images I’m planning to use for my C&N self-portrait assignment. I won’t share my intention in advance, but would be interested to hear how you read them as well as any comments on the images themselves. Thank you!

Andrew Fitzgibbon's photo.





20 CommentsSeen by 70

Peter Walker I really like these, I’m sensing trying show sence of frustration perhaps the difficulties of travel.
One point I would bring up is photocopy of passport – there used to copyright issues colour copying then even recording Id when opening banking accounts, double check you not doing anything untoward by mistake.

Peter Walker Or the frustration of being British, which is a daily struggle as an expat.

Andrew Fitzgibbon Thanks for raising the copyright question – I’ve looked into it and the sensitive area seems to be around using the Crown coat of arms, though more in a commercial context or passing-off as royalty. Though even for commercial purposes the Queen has apparently waived the need for permission in the run up to her 90th birthday celebrations!

Rob Townsend Good shots. I read it as either a straightforward ‘identity crisis’ smile emoticon or maybe more specifically a comment on government surveillance.

Steve Davis I thought frustration related to travel. Maybe you feel you’d like to travel more. Then I thought about the british passport and wondered if the frustration was more to do with nationality not travel.

Chas Bedford My first thought was Number Six’s rant, “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!”

Catherine Banks “I’m British through and through – I think”. Or – “My face is my passport to …”

Holly Woodward A life ruled by travel, or alternatively identity crisis.

Simon Chirgwin A couple of possibles: frustration at being defined by the Lion and the Unicorn that are there on your face like a Maori tattoo; tiredness with too much international travel; and from my experience of time spent in the FSU and the Russian visa in the bSee more

Jayne Arksey I thought it was frustration due to something to do with bring British. Felt like you were trying to get the passport, therefore being British off your face.

Kat Kyriakides Wow!! These are fantastic. Great job ? I get a feeling of not being able to escape the lack of freedom these days. I see a visa in the background. Travelling used to be something that was freeing. But these days we are watched where ever we go.

Lynda Wearn I really like these. Trying to make a point about identity, nationality or frustration with red tape – I see there is a visa in the background all in all brilliant though

Kate Aston Trapped in an airport lounge or the security queue?

Lee Hard Very good idea I also get the travel/frustration/freedom thing…

Paul Storer Or maybe the feeling you don’t exist unless you have a passport – I haven’t got one and it’s becoming so hard to prove my identity without it

Dawn Langley It made me wonder about choice and whether you were being sent places because of work or some other commitment rather than choosing too. The anguish of being torn between travel and home maybe…

Kate Aston Trying to separate yourself from your digital identity?

Morris Gallagher I read it that your true identity has been overcome by ‘Travelling man’ which is very frustrating

Andrew Fitzgibbon You are spot on with my intention! And there are a few layers to the meaning that I don’t think it’s possible to see without context.

Lynda Kuit #2 almost seems like you are trying to take off your “mask of Britishness”. Great images!

Nuala Mahon “In bits due to being on the road”. BTW there is a great video in Digital Photography about breakign up bits of an image which might add even more punch – Poor you…..

Kate Aston Brexit? Should I stay or should I go…

Andrew Fitzgibbon Thanks everyone – there’s an element of most of your readings in my intention (apart from the Britishness angle). I’ll post the full write-up when done in case anyone would like to read.