Exercise 3.5 Photographs from text – background tests

Choose a text that has meaning for you. It can be anything from a poem to a newspaper report, a biblical passage or a scene in a novel. It can be a long text, but it would probably be best if it was reasonably short.

Try to generalise visual ideas that communicate something about the text. Discuss the text with other people and find out what images spring to mind for them. Write down any ideas you get from the text. They can be visual ideas or thoughts about the subject.

Turn your idea into a photograph or a series of photographs.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course folder pg107

This is going to be difficult, I have so many favourite quotes – from songs especially, because of this I am going to stay away from song quotes and think of some of my all time favourite quotes from other sources. I will begin by listing my favourite quotes and then see how I can choose and develop the idea from the list.

“It’s bows and arrows against the lightening, anyhow,” said the artilleryman

Chapter 12: The War of the Worlds H.G. Wells

But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

You can change your world by changing your words… Remember, death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Joel Osteen

For words, like Nature, half reveal 
And half conceal the Soul within. 


Chaos was my philosophy. Oh, yeah. Have no rules. If people start to build fences around you, break out and do something else. You should never, ever be understood completely. That’s like the kiss of death, isn’t it? It’s a full stop. I don’t ever think you should put full stops on thoughts. They change.

― John Lydon, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King

I have decided to choose the Martin Luther King quote as my text. The reason I have chose this is because this text will mean different things to different people. I feel this text tells us to fight for our beliefs and our thoughts, our loves in life and for everything that means something to us personally. In not believing and fighting for things then we are not achieving all we should in life, we get one life so we should live for the important things and fight for them what ever they may be to us as individuals. Remember what one person finds important and is passionate about another may not.

The quote therefore speaks to me in many ways, but in each of them it tells me to stop hiding which I have done all my life. I have hidden from people and activities because inside me there is a tiny scared child that lives on, over cautious and not trusting of the world around it and of the people that reside within it. I live anxiously and closed away and I am still trying to grow up now.

The text especially resonates with me on the subject of the abuse I have suffered throughout my life from childhood and in every area of my life. I have never been able to say no and I have never stood up for myself whether in my home, at school or in the workplace. I let people bully me and the more I let them do this the worse it got and I actually became lost in a cycle of seeking the wrong people to befriend because I didn’t know any better. Finally on August 11th 2018 I said no more, I suffered big consequences at that specific time for saying it but once the police had been called and I had stepped out of hiding from within, I began to live and grow.

Domestic abuse, bullying at school and in the workplace should not be hidden. In my silence I had sentenced myself to shame and the feeling of worthlessness, all I could see in myself was something to hate and to be physically, emotionally and verbally manipulated and abused. By saying no and speaking out my life wasn’t ending but it began again, a new me and funny enough a new Dawn.

I asked other people what they thought about this piece of text. I didn’t tell them that it was a quote from Martin Luther King because I didn’t want to influence their thinking in any way. The responses that I received are below:

  • Anna-Marie: Dawn, to me it Means about all the struggles i’ve been through in the past 30 odd years, before i finally admitted i was trans. I kept this hidden for a long time because of the shame i felt. I could not live a lie any longer and in 2005 i “came out” fully. finally i could be who i wanted to be, little did i know about the hatred and abuse that i’d face ( and still do even now). Despite all that, i’ve not regretted the decision at all ❤️
  • Rose: Our personalities cease to exist when we start to conform. You stop living if you’re not yourself. Momento Mori – the realisation that death is always here and as such it is all the more reason to live now.
  • Kinsey: For me it’s about standing up for what’s right and fighting for equality
  • Paul: For me it says I should have stood up for myself at work, said how I felt until it was too late.
  • Poppy: To me it’s like science. It’s about the people who are taking science and using it to shape the world again, into a better place.
  • Christine: To me this means that I should have spoken to the person who mattered to me, instead of fleeing, if I had done this then, I probably would still be with this person. Never believe what a nasty narcissistic person says, they are jealous of what you have, and wish that they had what you have/had. My heart was broken by this c..t xx
Image from Selene as a response to the quote

Self-portrait: Why?

I want this shoot to be natural and to represent real life.

Resources used: Lumix GH5 and Lumix 14-42mm lens with timer, Godox flash on manual 1/1 setting.

Setting: I didn’t want to set the scene so that it was staged and tidy and looking cool. I wanted the scene to represent me and where I live. So what ever state my working environment was in, that is where I would take my self-portraits. Book – Lundy Bancroft, Why Does he Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (2002). New York, Penguin Books Inc.

Subject: Myself as I am, which at the moment means my grey hair growing through quite rapidly and in need of a cut and wearing my everyday slouchy clothes.

The following images are the first set that I have created for this exercise. Some of the photographs have the text within them and the final one shows a collage of photographs of me reading in different positions. Within these photographs I am showing different states that I often go through when reading about what had happened and why it happened. The book within this series is one that I have to read as part of my recovery and work within the counselling sessions. It is quite a daunting read and there are some sections where I have been triggered into remembering and reliving some of the abuse that I have been through. I go from reading the book and feeling myself, too feeling despair, frightened again and/ or depressed.

I have chosen to use black and white images for this particular set of photographs and to make them quite harsh by exploiting their contrast within photoshop. I wanted to do this to represent the harshness, hardness and the rawness of such a subject and also to be in line with the text which is also quite harsh and hard hitting.

Two of the images have the text written within the picture plane as I was experimenting to see what it would look like. The first image where I am shown twice, represents me when I am dissociating. I achieved this simply by applying the mirror effect to the photograph within photoshop express. The largest image seen below with the text running sideways does not work as well as I hoped it would. It reminds me of an engraving on a tomb which relates to the feeling of dying inside but the way it is positioned sideways is distracting to our eyes.

The above images still do not work for me. So I have decided to move the text so that the viewers eyes flow from the image on the left to the quote. The other problem, for me, is the white areas caused by the flash. They are quite evident on the hand and arm. I will fix this by adjusting the tone by using the burn tool and I will also slightly lighten the face up using the dodge tool in Photoshop CC. The results will be shown below.

As we can see from the illustrative image on the left, the eyes now look downwards to the books title and then across to the quote. This therefore give a natural flow for the viewers eyes to follow. I have also lightened and darkened areas of the flesh and this also looks far more natural than the contrast look that the image had before.

The composition below uses a collage of self-portraits all taken of me reading the same book. It shows different viewpoints and different facial expressions connected with the different feelings I get when having to revisit the abuse that happened to me from the X.

I do like the this composition as I feel it has a narrative to it and it works having the quote beside it as well because it becomes a storyline with a character.

Self-portrait: Risen

The following two images are again self-portraits but this time they take on a different meaning. Still connected with the subject of abuse they take a step out of the abuse box and into the next realm of recovery.

In the first image I have thought about the word recovery and related it to the Christian theme of resurrection. This symbolic event takes on many meanings and for me it represents the cross that we all have to bear – each one of us, our individual burdens. It is a reference to the Bible story of Jesus having to carry (bear) his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and beyond its gates to the place of execution at Calvary, and for me, my cross that I bear is the memories and scars of abuse.

I made myself quite dark and harsh compared to the washed out ghostly Jesus and cross. The concept is that of darkness of abuse and the lightness of being ‘saved’ and healing. I actually like the concept but not the completed image. I am going to alter the colour to a slight sepia one so it warms up slightly and looses some of the harshness.

The adjusted colour gives a slightly more delicate feel to the overall completed image, one which I prefer as the softness juxtaposes with the black of the text. This enables both, in this instance, to work together as well as being eye catching.

Self-portrait: Break the Silence

The image below is the second to step out of the theme of abuse into one of recovery. It is a time of self preservation, it is a time when you are ready to say ‘No!’

The self portrait is constructed from the phrase, ‘BREAK THE SILENCE’ which is the only way to get your life back.

Photograph Set: The Whole World Speaks

Within the following set of images I have looked at the text from different viewpoints.

The twenty first Century has seen the rights of many being recognised. It has also seen that those in the minority that have spoken out have moved forwards in the rights for equal opportunities. Their lives didn’t end as second class citizens, because they spoke out on the things that matter and kept speaking out.

I found a sign last year in ASDA on their toilet door. Here those that have hidden disabilities are able to use the disabled toilets as well. I know those with anxiety and mental health disabilities and a friend who has OCD like to use a secure and private toilet where they feel safe. This wouldn’t be possible if people hadn’t spoken out on this aspect of a human need – things that matter.

I didn’t like the colours in the original photograph so I converted it to black and white which I prefer but it doesn’t look positive enough for the concept behind the image.

‘Together we stand, behind wires of hope. Speak out now, there is strength in numbers.’ Dawn Tomlin (2020)

The photograph which is used below is one from a theme that I continue to add too. The theme is feet at a gig, the waiting and watching feet. I love the colours and shadows and also how feet just look with the different shoes and stances.

In this instance I have used the image to represent being trapped, caught and silent behind a wired fencing. Freedom and liberation is beyond within the colour but one needs to speak out to gain that freedom.

The image below, when coupled with the quote is very self evident. The mouth is shouting out, screaming to be heard and then the text informs the viewer of the message. It is a strong and simple image which captures the viewers eye and automatically gives a feeling of urgency.

The last image that I worked on is below. I wanted to produce something that was distorted and questioned the quote.

This is an image of printed text which I blurred by moving the camera as I took the photograph. The abstract nature is enhanced by cropping the image and adjusting the colour. I wanted this image to have a feel to it that did not have an answer, or meaning, when a viewer looks at this image and reads the text it is up to them to invent the narrative that goes with it. What does it make them feel? What does it make them think of?

The contact sheets for this exercise:

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