SYP: Anatomy of a competition entry (AOP student competition 2022)

SYP: Anatomy of a competition entry (AOP student competition 2022)

Note for Examiner

This post examines my critical thinking and practical choices in preparing work for the AOP Student competition 2022.

Learning Objectives

LO2 coherently present a body of work, making creative presentation decisions that complement your subject and/or your artistic strategies 

Criteria: Understanding 

Selecting, testing and interpreting relevant and detailed research, and applying fluent critical thinking and creativity to produce highly effective and individual ideas and outcomes. 

90–100:  Selecting, testing and interpreting an extensive range of relevant and detailed research, and applying outstanding fluent critical thinking and creativity to produce exceptional highly effective and increasingly individual ideas and outcomes. 

80–89: Selecting, testing and interpreting an in depth range of relevant and detailed research, and applying accomplished fluent critical thinking and creativity to produce outstanding highly effective and increasingly individual ideas and outcomes. 

70–79: Selecting, testing and interpreting a comprehensive range of relevant and detailed research, and applying confident fluent critical thinking and creativity to produce excellent highly effective and increasingly individual ideas and outcomes. 

My learning against these LOs and criteria

This preparation shows an awareness of the subject matter that may impact examiners (working from home) and what might not (Covid); this perspective has been gleaned from discussing my work with several reviewers. I have Colberg’s principles about matching images by form and not by meaning in mind in my selections. I am happy with this work and the accompanying text but also aware of some weaknesses which I cannot resolve today.


13th May 2022

I have applied for several competitions so, but AOP for students seems to be the ‘Big One.’ Perhaps that’s because several AOP alumni have won or been runners up in recent years: I attended the 2021 student awards last year on line and was struck by the variety of the image content, but not the style which is uncluttered and clean.

What will I submit?

I noticed that you can submit more than one entry and if that is possible I will do that. Originally I intended to submit images from my assemblage series, which today is called ‘Following the Science.’ I’ve had seven portfolio reviews which has helped to resolve the appearance, content and selection from images. The issue about this series is that covid is ‘over’ in photographic competitions and ‘things have moved on.’ That was the opinion of three curators that examined my work. There is a timeless element to my assemblages which as political in nature and their time might come if there is a covid retrospective.  This brings us to other work in my portfolio.

The other work that I have been resolving is the ‘Room’ series which today I am calling ‘HomeRoomWork.’ This work is about working at home during the Pandemic. This work has had a re-shooting of these printed images as three dimensional objects. This was suggested by two of my reviewers and feedback from my photographic peers on Instagram has been complementary. The new series of images, originally photographed in February 2021 heightens the spatial elements of the image contents and of the room itself. 

I have been working up this series for a book and during that process I have included images from my ethnography to help tell a new story. That story is less about my psychological adjustment to work from home during covid to a new issue which is about the continuing issue of working from home. I have not seen as many images about that issue and unlike covid as a subject, with the right presentation might be a good submission. 

What do I need to submit for the AOP Series competition?

Images – a series of up to FOUR – completed after Oct 2020: these were made in Feb 2021

Project Title (required): Enter up to 200 characters.

Project Description (required): What would you like to tell us about your work? Enter up to 2000 characters.

I will revisit my bio and other things used in the ‘Open’ AOP Competition submission. I think I need to be ‘selling myself’ perhaps as a doctor, the use of domestic objects and the feeling engendered in the images. There is a new dimension here which is the role of folding and re-photographing the images and what that mean. For me that creates a new dimension to the work emphasised by the shadows and folding. I need to pin the theoretical implications down. 

What about the quality of the images?

I have edited the new images in LR only. I have framed the images, altered the shadows and highlights and sharpened the images. I am not sure about consistency of colour, tone and light between the four images and have imported them into PS to manage this so they all look the same. One of the problems with that is that I may want one of those images to be darker and have more shadows – we will see what we can do.

Selecting images for my series

In this current series for my book I have 15 images. The story here is about WFH and not covid so one of my most commented images of a coronavirus folded up has to be ditched. Some images, such as one of Peter Rabbit are not as strong as the others, and some are too strong in impact such as the destroyed computer – maybe. For this competition poetic ambiguity and oblique approach and subtlety seems to be the what is needed.

My instinct is to have images of my room door, of a phone, a constructed one of the chair and straps and the room filled with smoke. Maybe the chair and straps is too complicated compared to the other simpler images but maybe not. I have decided to process all 15 images because they are needed for my book and because when I print them out I can experiment with putting them in order and seeing what works. I think that is a more considered and reflective approach.

Why am I doing this?

Fundamentally it is because I want people to see my work. I have won a few national competitions for my work as a doctor and it is very exciting when you and the research team are recognised. Its also good for team moral and ‘Team Gallagher’ could do with a boost this year. 

A long time ago I thought that I could ‘wow’ the artworld, at least for a moment. I was soon disabused of that by seeing the stellar work that other students and others present. I know that it is also not possible to control what develops traction in visual media. I had a go at promoting some images of me dressed as Jeremy Hunt but FB and Twitter did not deliver enough likes.

I know that being a photographic artist is an expression of who I am as a person; playful, serious, experimental…so I can’t do anything else but try and express myself and maybe even make a difference as in the charity book with ‘Doctor’s in Distress.’

One of the problems with entering competitions is that they are time consuming. I have ‘base’ material to hand but it needs reworking and the submission needs re-framing in order for it to communicated a clear message. I think that that is just the nature of competition entries. 

26TH May

There are 6 days to the closing date and then I am abroad for my first holiday for over two years! The brief is four images and some accompanying text. The images need to be coherent and match in form and look and message, which means discarding some of my favourites for this competition to tell a complete story about working from home. I have been developing them further using curves and sharpening and some cleaning of the image in PS. I have decided not to label the image itself – that does not look to be the right thing for this exhibitor. I have chosen an image of two doors but an niggle is playing on my mind, which is that the handle and lock are covered in biohazard tape. They were taken during the pandemic when my theme was about covid. I don’t have time to re-print and re-shoot that image and may need to keep it as ‘the door’ is important in this four image story which is called WFH.

Accompanying text

I recently uploaded my work to Shutter Hub which made me change my text about this work to include this new dimension of folding the photographs. There is a separate post about the theoretical ideas in this area. Here is my text today, but I will change this over the weekend as I make it sparkle – well maybe!

Shutter Hub Project Statement

As a family doctor working in the northeast of England, I spent much of 2020 consulting from a home bedroom, listening to patient stories online, ‘Amazon’ deliveries, and sleepless nights. In February 2021 I emptied and reshaped my workspace to explore my feelings about working from home (WFH). I also connected to other shielding GPs on Zoom.

This work explores my psychological reactions to WFH through staged dioramas of my emptied consulting space. It is a reflexive investigation, using vernacular, medical, and other objects ordered from ‘Amazon.’ A year after taking the original images (April 2022) I photographed folded 3-D printed images of my work. The folding and shaping emphasises the material and immaterial aspects of my work by the multiplication and layering of space, objects, shadows and meaning. They reference Freudian and Jungian psychoanalytic theories about the unconscious, such as displacement and isolation, and contemporary adaptation theories. They are also informed by the staged room work of Sarah Hobbs.

My experiences connect my story to wider social and cultural understandings about the pandemic and WFH during ‘Lockdown.’ There has been a surge in mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and domestic abuse presenting to health care providers, in response to pandemic restrictions. That emotional ‘fallout’ continues to be seen daily, face to face and online, in my NHS work, and continues to be expressed and resolved behind the closed doors of many homes where the are ‘Worker from Home.’

Let’s stop here for the moment…

30th May 2022

I’ve spent most of the time since my last post shaping the introductory text and the text for each image. I am not clear what is needed for the information for each image so I have concentrated on giving some context for the image.

AOP Student Final Text – For the series ‘Remotely’

As a family doctor in the northeast of England, I spent much of 2020 consulting from a home bedroom, listening to patient stories online, attending ‘Amazon’ deliveries, and having sleepless nights. It was an uncertain and stressful time. In February 2021 I emptied and reshaped that room to explore my feelings about working from home. I also interviewed other GPs on Zoom and found that their experiences of change and adaptation were much the same as mine.  

This work is part of a larger series that explores my psychological reactions and adaptive responses to working from home, expressed in staged dioramas of my home consulting space. It is a reflexive investigation, using vernacular, medical, and other objects. 

A year after taking the original images, in April 2022, I revisited my experiences of remote working by photographing folded or cut printed images of my original work. The folding and shaping emphasise the material and immaterial aspects of my work through the multiplication, distortion and layering of image, space, objects, and meaning. They are not passive ‘snapshots’ of a moment in time, but transformative constructions that flex our thinking about my workspace. I reference psychoanalytic and other theories about grief, anxiety, displacement, and isolation, as well as adaptation and ‘fold’ theory. They are also informed by the staged room work of Sarah Hobbs.

My experiences connect my story to wider social and cultural understandings of working from home. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a dramatic shift to remote working which continues today at a higher level than pre-pandemic. Most people, like me, adapted to this change in workplace but for some that adjustment has been marred by mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and ‘burnout.’ ’This emotional fallout continues to be expressed behind the closed doors of many homes where people ‘Work from Home.’

The Room

This is the door to my bedroom and home consulting room. In the early days of the pandemic, I had some very difficult consultations with patients on the phone. The most difficult one was helping someone in a nursing home to die from covid; it was all done by WhatsApp video. That wasn’t how it should be: it’s the one thing that made me cry. 

I also never thought I was doing quite enough from my room as the other doctors in the surgery who were on the ‘frontline.’ I avoided looking at this door which for a period was a portal to stress associated with new ways of doing things. The biohazard stickers on the room furniture are part of the room’s legacy.

The Fog

When I appraised my emptied consulting space, I realised that it was not empty but brim-full of emotions and uncertainties about my work, myself, and patients. I filled the room with ‘fog’ from a smoke machine to show something of what I had felt; the smoke made the room much darker. The folding and shadow emphasise the geometry and confines of the room’s space.

The Strains

In March 2022 ‘The Guardian’ reported that 84% of GPs have had anxiety, stress or depression over the past year linked to their job. I am one of those doctors. I recognise that I have always been an anxious person, but that increased substantially for a period while I adjusted to working from home. Sometimes I would spend 12 or more hours of the day working in this space. My predominant feeling of that time was of tension, insomnia, and a lot of working. In this image, I have chosen grey, black, and yellow bands that constrain the chair that I sit in. Colour theory suggests that yellow is the colour of anxiety.

The Sledgehammer

One of the first phases of grief is anger. Why did it happen? Why me? Who is to blame? I was angry that I had to work from home because of illness and quickly became isolated from the rest of the team, despite joining their online coffee breaks. It was not fair. I was missing everyone. I bought several defunct computers online and a sledgehammer with a blue handle. I used it to smash them in my garage and then in my consulting room. I felt much better.