Portfolio reviews

Eighth Review:

As an experiment, my tutor suggested that another OCA tutor who has had experience working in UK prisons, could look at my work and see what she could suggest. As a result, Creative Writing tutor gerry Ryan asked to read Ian’s letters and then commented on my body of work which emanated from them. I was very pleased because not only could she look at my images, but she could also comment on the poem I wrote as part of the project.

The tutor report can be read here.

Fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh reviews:

Format 19 : 16th March 2019: Derby

It was early February when I took the plunge and signed up for formal, professional portfolio reviews at Format 19.  This time, the reviewers were going to be those who volunteered to do the Format reviews in Derby. The closer I got to the day, the more tense and anxious I became and the more I was convinced that I was not prepared for so much rejection. I only signed up for 4 reviews instead of the 8 or 16+ which were the other options available. It was so expensive with 4 that I couldn’t imaging how masochistic / desperate those who signed up for the 16+ must have been.

The first professional review of my current body of work took place in Bradford in November 2018 and I was totally unprepared for it in emotional and logistical terms. It went by in a mesmerising blur and I emerged from it not really knowing how my work had been received: did they really say good things about the work? It was clear that they did not like the blobs on tracing paper over the images, but what else did they not like? Did I interpret their body language correctly?

When I went for the second review on this body of work, there was much more time which allowed me to grasp what was being said, mine was the only work being reviewed, and I had been told that I would really get on well with Steve Burke, the reviewer. I could, therefore, approach this review much more positively than I had the previous one.

Having had those two experiences, for Format 19, I decided to ask a friend who had not had the review experience to be a second pair of ears at the reviews. Karen Gregory, a L3 SYP OCA photography student, agreed and could combine it with the OCA study days at Format.

When I got to the venue and saw the enormity of the event, I was convinced I had done the wrong thing, that I was going to fall flat on my face and I was going to waste Karen’s precious time.


BLOW Photo Book Programme: FUSE

February 2019

Since last May when I came across the work of book designing company Read That Image, I have subscribed to their newsletter. I enquired about the costs of having a book designed for my work and the fees start at £800+. I went no further. When the opportunity came to enter a competition to win a book designing package, I jumped at it. I paid my £35 (student rate) to enter and heard some 3 weeks later that I had not made it to the shortlist of candidates.

It was a huge disappointment to be rejected so close to the Format 19 reviews. This rejection fuelled my growing anxiety over whether or not I should ever have considered putting my work forward for Format.

Still, you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start walking again.




Third Review

Paradise, Birmingham.

21st January, 2019.

Yesterday saw me in Birmingham, at their new library, to meet Steve Burke from GRAIN, who was going to review my L3 Body of Work. 

Birmingham Library in Paradise, reflected in the HSBC building.

Way back in November, I flew to Manchester and then went by train to Bradford to the OCA study day to see an exhibition and have a portfolio review organised by OCA photography student, Andrew Fitzgibbon. I was pleasantly surprised to meet up again with another photography student Allan O’Neill who had attended one of our OCA SW meetings and who had participated in our “Work in Progress” exhibition in 2017. 

In our discussions in Bradford, Allan had said that he had worked with GRAIN curator Steve Burke and said that, if I wanted to, he could introduce us so that we could organise a review of my work. Allan had said how easy it was to work with Steve and how he thought we would get on well discussing my work.

Despite Allan’s wonderful reassurances, I approached the meeting with trepidation because I know how subjective photography is, and how defensive I can be if people cannot see what I am trying to say with my work.

Westward view from the balcony of the library.

I need not have stressed at all because it was the best and most constructive experience I have had with my photography work. So much so that I tried to book on FORMAT for another set of reviews more to do with getting ‘my work out there’, as Steve said, than to hear more views about my work. As always with me and technology, there was a glitch in the system and I could not complete the booking. I shall persevere and hope that Seb will sort it out!

The summary of the review and my action from it is here: 


Second Review:

24th November 2018

Bradford portfolio review and exhibition study day:

It must have been the busiest week of my year so far:

19th November, put up the OCA SW exhibition in Bristol – leave home at 7am & get back at 11pm.

21st November, 3 – 6pm: go back to the exhibition to steward, replace the projector showing Sue’s work and see how it’s going, fix things that don’t work, make sure the stewards are ok.

24th November, wake up 3.30am, catch a 6.40 flight to Manchester and then several trains to Bradford (dealing with the Northern Rail strikes) for a portfolio review = it’s a Photography SYP requirement to have a portfolio review.  Get a train back to Bristol to stay with fellow student, Dorothy, so that I can steward Sunday afternoon and take down the exhibition, fill in the holes, repaint the affected areas, wait for my husband to get back from Algeria so that he can take me and all the paraphernalia back home – fetch the car at Exeter airport & get back home at 11pm.

26th November, pack up projector & OCA banner and arrange for a courier to collect them at some point; write up a blog for the portfolio review!

Of course, that is the objective, factual account of what happened.  The lived reality was quite different but to relive it by writing about it would be too stressful and counter-productive.  What is far more pleasant is to write about the portfolio review and then about the exhibition.

It was great that Andrew Fitzgibbon had sent us text, video links and lots of other useful information beforehand.  There had been a lot of preparation work by Andrew which ensured that the day went smoothly.

What I got out of the day:

It was great meeting another OCA tutor, Garry Clarkson, and 3 other OCA photography students whose work was so different and so fascinating.  Everybody was really encouraging and at no time did anybody make me feel that I did not belong there or that my work was irrelevant or lacking.  I loved the fact that those present felt that they could handle the images:

It was a privilege to meet and hear Anne McNeill, who has been the director there since 2000, and Dr Pippa Oldfield who has been there since 2003 and who is Head of Programme.  I wanted to hear all about their way of curating because not only am I really interested in curating, but also because I am in the process of writing an essay on it for assignment 3.  Anne and Pippa work together as curators with several others who constitute their team.

  • From a curatorial standpoint, I was intrigued to see how the two separate strands of Dewe-Matthews’ work: the Alpine landscape and the nuclear bunkers, were put together.  This is because I too have several strands of my project to curate into a meaningful whole for my July exhibition.  Had I not seen the exhibition, I would have thought that having one strand in a painted wooden frame & behind glass while printing the other on aluminium in a deep, aluminium frame, would have marked too severe a distinction between the 2 strands of work.
  • Feedback from Anne & Pippa: I think that this is what they said or intimated: a)  they liked most of it.    b)  They thought that there were many layers to it and that I should cut out the tracing paper element over the images as that confused the message.  Initially I hated the idea of the cut because I love my place-in-time splodges and really feel that they should play a part in the exhibition, but I have come to terms with it because I value A’s and P’s  experience and judgement.   c)  I really appreciated Garry’s thumbs-up on my quilt cyanotypes on which A & P didn’t comment much if at all.  When they saw the layout of my proposed gallery curation with a place for the quilt, I think they saw the justification for having it.   The quilt is a major part of my exhibition because it exemplifies one of the two conceptual strands of my project – see my reworked Assignment 2regarding the 2 conceptual strands.  d) they suggested that I develop the splodge idea for another exhibition.  At this point I said that I am putting all this material into this exhibition because I don’t think I will have another exhibition because I don’t think anybody would be interested.  As it is, I have a captive audience in the current OCA students with whom I work.
  • I found it very difficult to listen to the comments and remember them after having looked at other students’ work and participated in the discussions around them.   It makes me question whether or not my conclusions about the reactions to the work are correct???  It was so difficult to isolate that objective response to my subjective attachment to my work.

What I have taken from the exhibition  In search of Frankensteinwhich relates to my work:

First impressions of the Impressions gallery: superb space, clean, lots of physical space for visitors to dance around the images thereby getting involved with them; a good mix of small and large images.  Excellent use of wall space giving a balanced, cohesive visual; lots of space around the items in the vitrines; as a demonstration of the ‘interpretation’ of the exhibition, the minimal signage and explanations invite the viewer to ‘read’ the items for themselves to a large extent.   This is an optimal space which is often difficult to find.

I can present my work differently:

I can go ahead and present my paper submissions using bulldog clips to encourage people to handle them.

I could present my place-in-time tracing paper print images behind glass in wooden frames to indicate the separation of the 2 concepts informing my work.

The Interpretation or the framework which presents the project, needs to be minimal in order to allow the viewers to interpret the work themselves.  As in D-M’s project, there would be only the synopsis of the exhibition at the entrance.  For my exhibition, the recordings of the extracts  of the letters are there if people want to listen to them.

They clarified the difference between a display and an exhibition;  they emphasised that the accumulation of all the details in the exhibition is important; that the space becomes the artist’s place; that there should be different points of entry for different viewers coming to the exhibition.

The parameters which affect what  they select to go in the work are determined by the triangle of audience, gallery and photography.  Their question of how I extend my work and therefore present it in the future gave me the impression that my work is worth exhibiting – or did they assume that I would be exhibiting more work without any inferences that I would be making good work?.

The value, difficulty and challenges of portfolio/exhibition visit days such as this.

Value of portfolio reviews:

At this point, it’s difficult to assess the ramifications of what I have learned from the day. What Anne & Pippa described as their work of curation, will affect how I choose to present my work in future because it made a lot of sense and it comes from years of curating 10 shows per year in their early years but now only 4 per year as funding is reduced year-on-year.

Difficulties of portfolio reviews

I found myself questioning if what I thought they said was in fact what they had said.  What would be good is if another person not involved in my project, could take notes for me & I could do it for someone else.

Challenges of portfolio reviews:

Is what I have selected a good representation of my work?  How will I present it – in terms of size and paper  – will it be as it will be presented in my exhibition?

How will I handle the criticism / the praise  and how will I know which is which because those presenting their findings will know how to couch their sentiments in words which won’t offend.

We were all there for different reasons and this had its problems and advantages.  Problems for me: I had the impression that the others had high expectations of my work and I was afraid of disappointing them; I thought that they thought that because I am at the end of my studies,  they felt they had to say positive things about my work.  Advantages: it was refreshing to see such different work which was no better and no worse than mine; I felt that A & P gave very encouraging, critical-friend reviews.

What are the value, difficulties and challenges of exhibition study days?

Seeing an exhibition ‘in the flesh’ is very different from seeing a virtual one which you look at from one position and only as it is viewed by the person filming and framing it, so I prefer a live exhibition in which we can exchange ideas about it in terms of contents and hanging.

As I have attended many exhibition study days along my OCA journey, I know how intimidating it is to think that everybody else knows so much more about the work than you do & to feel that what you have observed / thought is going to sound puerile/irrelevant.  I have also found, however, that if the tutor leading the group has allowed for a discussion time, that the experience is very positive.

You also get to meet other students and sometimes swap blog sites and get to know and trust other students really well. There is a book I would like to get on curating: Adrian George: The curator’s handbook which looks very dry in comparison with H.U.Obrist’s Ways of curating.


First Review:

Received 17th August, 2018

My LensCulture review:

Way back in July, because I need to submit my work to industry professionals for critique as part of the SYP module, I submitted some experimental work I was doing with fault lines – rational and organic – to the LensCulture competition.    I submitted it as a body of work and the question I wanted the reviewer to answer was: Is it a cohesive submission?

They notified me some days ago that I had not won and today I received this review of this body of work:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 19.55.04.png

Contemporary Photography

Hi Anna. It’s a pleasure to review your submission. You are using a very distinct and intriguing aesthetic in this body of work that does a wonderful job of urging me to explore your ideas further. I find this project engaging and enigmatic; and it is undoubtedly different than everything else I have reviewed for this contest (which is a lot of work!)

In answer to your request for feedback, I feel there is some cohesion on different levels within this work. In other words, once I have looked through your entire submission, I can find the aesthetic and conceptual lines that are drawing the work together. However, I feel the key to a submission like this, as distinguished from other submissions for smaller contests, is that you can’t lose the jurors anywhere in the process of looking at your work. In other words, they can’t get too confused, or else they may give up on the project.

So, one thing I would try to do is to start off with images that include tangible aspects that we can understand. In other words, start with photographs that include the rocks. Then you can slowly move into the more abstract pieces that eventually turn into what appear to be pure digital line drawings/paintings. This way, your audience has an index and can refer to that index in their mind when moving toward the more challenging pieces.

I also would recommend working on your statement a little more. I find the language and ideas to be quite beautiful. However, especially toward the last sentence, it is difficult to really grasp onto the core ideas in this work and how that relates to the visuals. The key to a successful statement for conceptual work like this is providing the audience SOME tangible ideas and references to hold onto so that they can move from the ideas to the visuals and back and forth and develop an integrated knowledge of the work on their own. It’s hard when creating such conceptually driven work, but I personally feel it is essential.

Again Anna, I feel like you are exploring some very interesting ideas and aesthetics in this work. Once you are able to bring the two together in a duet or unison, I think this work will be much easier to understand. Wishing you the best of luck!

Additional Recommendations

Recommendations for Gaining Exposure

Other Resources

Books (monographs)

Books (fine art philosophy & criticism)

Photo Competitions (general & other)

Photo Festivals & Events (Europe)

Workshops (Europe)

Outlets for Exposure

Books (business & practice of art & photography)

In my feedback to the reviewer, I thanked him (there are hints in the style of the writing which makes me assume it is  a man reviewing the work – I am probably wrong!) for being so encouraging and diplomatic but still leaving me in no uncertain terms with strong indications on how to improve.

Reflections on the feedback:

There are superb reading materials and pointers on how to proceed with professional feedback on my work in the review.  I shan’t, of course be presenting this work for assessment but that is immaterial.  What is important is getting that guidance and those pointers.

The tact and diplomacy of the review is exemplary and a very good intro to the world of professional critique of my work – it could not have been gentler, in my view.

Some positives:

I have good & original  ideas.

The work invites the viewer to investigate further.

There are cohesive elements in the work.

Some pointers to improve:

I should have asked someone to proof read my statement.

The work should have been submitted in a more logical order to allow a viewer an in into the ideas.  But I did not realise that they would take order into account – should I have?

The statement needs to give the viewer tangible ideas – I thought my statement does that – so that the viewer can link the ideas with the visuals.

Strangely, there is some correspondence between what is said here and what is said in the OCA assessment feed forward.  Which means that what I think I have explained fully, I haven’t.

I would reorder the images like this:

Blood stone Schism 2 1500px DSCF2782
Algae Schism 2 1500px DSCF1187
Effex line and schism 1500px DSCF1184
Schism 3 1500px DSCF1362
Sirens calling Line  schism 1500px DSCF2728.png
Muted greys under stretched pixels BW lighter
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 21.34.48
Large head 2 lines 7155
grad mixers 1500px .png
Acid green on 0607 background 72dpi

The statement written in the submission reads:

The soil which nourishes us is made up of material which has withstood, as we have, clashes and crashes of opposing forces.  We can see evidence of this interaction in the fault lines in rocks but we try to hide what makes us who we are.  There are two types of lines involved natural / intuitive, and rational, constructed lines.

I would rewrite it like this:

The soil which nourishes us is made up of material which has withstood, as we have, clashes and crashes of opposing forces and it is only the time scale which makes our fault lines different.

We can see evidence of this interaction in the fault lines in rocks but we try to hide our own fault lines, or what makes us who we are, either physically by dressing to please others for example, or emotionally by pretending we are what we are not, by putting on a brave face, for example.   Both these processes create their own pressures which will, in time, create more fault lines which we will again try to hide.

In the images, there are two types of lines: the organic and the constructed.  They each have their own beauty.

In Jennifer Schwartz’s paper (Schwartz), she emphasises 3 main parts of the statement:

  1. What are you trying to say with your work?  What is the story you are telling?
  2. Why are you making this work?  What inspired the project?
  3. Why should the viewer care?   Why is what you are saying significant or valuable?  How are you making me see something in a way I wouldn’t see it otherwise?  How are you making me feel something unique or important?  What are you making me think about that deserves attention? Why is your voice the best one to transmit this information?

Having read that, this is how I would restructure and re-write my statement for this body of work:

We are flawed human beings but we try to hide those flaws by pretending that we are what we are not.  If we look at rocks we admire their colours,  lines, shapes and, if we are interested, we look into their history into why they are the shape, colour and size that they are.  But, as humans, we try to hide all that by being the non-person that we have become by doing what everybody else does, by looking like everybody else does.  We have a symbiotic relationship with them: in crumbling and changing they feed us; in dining and changing, we feed them.  We, like rocks, are shaped by the forces of nature around us which make us unique beings – why can’t we accept that?

I love rocks to the point that when I go to Rome, my birth place, I stand against the ancient wall that surrounds it and I feel part of it.  Living in Devon, UK, I am privileged in that its geology is studied by universities all around the world.  Unlike the well-known Jurassic coast of Dorset, Devon has its own Devonian Age which lasted from about 395 to 345 million years ago.  I have loved exploring and photographing the different rock formations all around Torbay and soon found the fault lines which defined them.

Going from something beautiful and extracting that beauty which, in a different setting is perceived as ugly, is important.  Adding rational lines to organic ones extends and enhances that concept emphasising that lines, however they are formed, are markers of a life lived and cannot be taken away.


Schwartz,J.: 2014. Crusade for art: The Artist Statement. (PDF)


  1.  http://www.torquay.com/tour-the-geology-of-torbay/