NCFE Level2 Photography

DREAMS AND REALITIES –  Assignment 3, Unit 2, Tasks 1 & 2, 1.1, 1.2, , 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4



(research and personal images – part 3)

I’ve been thinking about this project. A lot. Like, really a lot.

Visible Invisible f5.6 1/80s 45mm ISO250


I’ve been looking after my brother, who’s had a hip replacement, but in between time, I’ve done some more research. I’ve found another inspiring photographer who speaks to me. Not literally of course, but you know what I mean.


(It appears I have an affinity with Mexican photographers! Perhaps it’s the Latin blood?)

Martina Lopez uses photographic images to create new photographic works by assembling and manipulating existing images and incorporating photographs from her family albums.

Her work shows anguish, trauma, divorce, family battles and death. Cheery, eh? But her work is full of interest. Every time you look at one of her images, you find a new thing to look at in that same image. Often the background comes from a found image and is then used out of context with family photographs.

Dripping with meaning, heavily doomed backgrounds are juxtaposed (yep, I know..it’s that ‘art-school’ word, again) with happy family images.

“By extracting people from their original context and then placing them into fabricated landscapes, I hope to retell a story of their being, one which allows the images to acquire a life of their own. While the pieces from photographs verify an actual lived experience, the landscape stands as my metaphor for life, demarcating its quality, where the horizon suggests an endless time.”
artina Lopez

I can also see parallels of her work with that of some of my favourite artists, contemporary illustrators, and twin sisters, Anna and Elena Balbusso. Their work is simply beautiful; surrealist, painterly, with an ethereal, dream like quality, and that same ability to make you observe more and more each time you look. I could happily post dozens of images of their work but will stick to just one image… Have a Google yourself if you like it. 🙂

Image found on Google


So, you may be wondering how exactly do Martina Lopez and the Balbusso twins speak to you, Carmela? Well, Martina Lopez began working with her family’s photographs as a way of reconstructing memories and exploring feelings of loss and change.  You may already know that I write journals. They are filled with photo’s, notes and scraps, drawings and little memories. In a way I too, am creating a way of reconstructing  memories and I use my journals to explore the same feelings. The reality is that, sometimes, of course, they’re just reminders of Dr’s appointments, but I when I started writing them, in the back of my mind was that they should be beautiful, as well as personal and I thought that, one day…. maybe a long way off in the future, my Grandchildren might wonder what Nanna was really like?

My own family history can be a little ‘chequered’ at best (…don’t even ask…) and so over the years I have become the honourary keeper of records and information.  I have taken photo’s nearly all my life. Maybe not with quite the same level of competence that I have now, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered to me was that I kept them. There are more than 50 albums now, and lots of journals too. A life documented. The albums are stuffed full to bursting. I can barely shut this year’s one already! (…help!) They’re mostly decorated with photo’s but there are tucked away; pressed flowers from my garden, notes from my children when they were small: A letter to The Queen, that I just couldn’t bear to part with, A plan to run away from home (Ohh, my heart 😦 )  A baby scan of my first Grandson, my second too and now a third, this time a girl….<3 ) Nathan’s squiggly little drawings, and Max’s paint-y handprints. There are silly doodles and secret messages of love and…Well…. They. make. me. happy.

Image from my Samsung S6


They are also a refuge from the World, and a quiet place where I can be honest about how I feel about things. Especially my health issues. I don’t really want to bother my family by going on about it but I am often fearful. Sometimes, I am afraid of the path it’s leading me down. Although none of what I have is life threatening, it is life limiting. I am no longer the person that I was.  I have several conditions in fact, all of which are not really visible to an outsider.  I think I may have said in last week’s post that I have what are now called ‘invisible illnesses’. Well, not to me they aren’t. If you look closely enough, you can see how it has changed my life. I don’t mean to be all ‘Oh, woe is me..’ I’ve probably talked more about my illness here than I ever do outside of this blog!

…Some things have changed for the better.  I am softer, I have greater compassion, I have more time for people.  Okay, so there are things I can’t do now, I can’t exercise the way I used to, I don’t have the dynamism and energy that I once had and I can’t work now, (and trust me, that upsets me far more than it does you, dear reader) but I certainly have more time to myself than other people in my life do. I have time to do some of the things I love. Creating, mostly. Photography is part of that creating.

Next Week, May 12th, to be exact is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Later on in the year, there will be an awareness week for all invisible illnesses. Sometimes, I wonder why it’s called an ‘invisible Illness’ when so many millions of people have it? That started me thinking…

I don’t dream the way I did, because I do not sleep much, and the reality is I cannot do so many of the things that I used to, but the hardest thing about having an invisible illness…? It makes me feel invisible. Lessened, somehow.

DREAMS AND REALITIES – IMAGES (2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4)

Anyway, the reality strikes that this is really a blog post for my college course, so here are some more of my images that I’ve taken this week on the continuing theme of Dreams and Realities.

Using letters I often use in my journals, cut from magazines, I spelled out the word “Invisible”  and overlaid it with tissue paper to diffuse it. Then placed my hand on top to make a physical connection.  I knew that I wanted to have a very diffused, misty look to this image. In post editing I progressively lightened the image and removed almost all the colour then added a vignette.

I wanted to add more layers to the image, so using an image John took of me in class, and the images of the letters and my hand, I manipulated the image using Photoshop (with the help of Tripod Carrier) to lay the photo of me over the top of the wording to portray the way illness makes me think… and to some degree the way the medical profession sees me.

In these images I wanted to give a sense of emotion to the image. To show how my illness makes me feel. I think I have acheived that with htis image. If I were to do anything different with the image, I would perhaps lighten the image to bleach it out and give that ethereal effect – “not at full strength” implying a weaker feeling or less bold, dynamic self.

In class it was suggested that perhaps if the image of me was moved to one side, there might be space for some text if it were advertising copy. I disagree with this, because it was a personal, stand alone image in it’s own right. Art and photography are subjective subjects by definition, so I am happy with the outcome of this image.

Visible invisible (carmela v3)
Visible invisible f.13 1/100s 55mm ISO100

Using an image John took of me in class, and the photo of letters, I took earlier, I’ve manipulated the image using Photoshop (with the help of Tripod Carrier) to overlay the image on the top of the wording, to portray how my illness makes me feel.

Then I lightened the image by taking out the shadows and highlights, but that wasn’t really working for me.. it’s a bit too obvious. So using different layers, I re-adjusted the colour balance on the letters and kept the layer of myself rather washed out, by removing the tones and colours.


Here’s the final image:

f.13 1/100s 55mm ISO100
Visible invisible (carmela v.4) f.13 1/100 55mm ISO100


DREAMS AND REALITIES – Assignment 3, Unit 2, Tasks 1 & 2, 1.1, 1.2, , 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4


(research and personal images – part 2)

Mirror, Mirror (1.1,1.2, 2.1, 2.2)

Loosely inspired by some of these images found on Pinterest. I shot this, last week:


Mirror, mirror

However, I was frustrated by not knowing how to set up, let alone how to take the shot I wanted! 😦  Tripod Carrier and I discussed it at length earlier this evening, and we agreed…. I am much better at seeing a scene than creating one.  But ..not one to be easily defeated,  I tried again, in a different way. Off to the conservatory then, where there’s lots of light (not quite enough as it turned out…) and room to set up my tripod and some props…

I decided to play with mirrors, light and oil. I used vegetable oil to write the same word on a mirror, and lit by natural light I took these shots using a remote shutter and a shallow depth of field at f.5.5. I have post edited by lightening and highlighting, I was also shown how to use Photoshop to get rid of the niggly bit of beading on the mirror in the bottom left hand corner and the tiny bit of plastic that I hadn’t noticed on the mirror itself. I like the shiny almost retro metallic feel to the script. “Ooh shiny” – that’s me. Easily distracted.

And finally; Mirror, mirror.

This image is kind of inspired by Time passing…. reflection, collection and recollection. Connection… all of those things.

The images with my face in the round mirror were lit by the ever useful anglepoise lamp, and have cast a slightly vintage-y hue to the image. I quite like these images but in post editing, I noticed a hair on the mirror that hadn’t been visible on the lens, or screen, So I’m not likely to use it. These are really just some experimentation shots. I think there’s more to do on this project yet…..


…and for my friends and family who are concerned that life for me is all doom and gloom… please don’t worry, I find plenty of beautiful, happy, life affirming things to photograph too …. x




Images found on Google and Pinterest, Martina Lopez Photo






DREAMS AND REALITIES – Assignment 3, Unit 2, Tasks 1 & 2, 1.1, 1.2, , 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4


‘The fear is the reality…’ (1.1, 1.2, )


(Research and personal images – part 1)

…The Fear is the Reality.

Here I am, not so much with dreams, but somewhat stuck in a nightmare. I have a big fear.  A fear of being allowed to be what and who I want to be, or even to voice what I think. Possibly because I’m not even sure what I like, or want to do. Does that sound too personal? Too honest?  Hmm ..maybe, but it is true. The fear is the reality. ‘Good but not good enough.’

I have been in this position once before, when doing an Access course to Art & Design, way back in 2000, the final term of year 2 when we were told we could paint whatever we wanted….. Arrrghhh! I had no idea, and I almost gave up the course.  I can take direction, because I want to please, but I struggle to please myself.  If I could do that term again, I know now exactly what I would have chosen… flowers. Huge canvases of parts of flowers. They’re so sensual. I can completely understand where Georgia O’Keeffe was coming from, despite the guffaws of Tripod Carrier’s friends last year, when we went to see “a load of fannies” at The Tate Modern. I think her work is beautiful, it speaks to me in volumes, and I  found a kindred spirit (albeit a dead one). Now here I am again, without direction, being given another project to do whatever I please, and I am almost paralysed with fear. What if I get it wrong?

Is it Personal? Yes. This blog has become an extension of my journals. It’s easy to sit here cossetted in my nest, safe and warm and pour out my thoughts to you. I might not find it as easy to tell you them in person.  Honest? Yes. The reality for me is that I spend too much time in my own head. I live with pain daily. Wouldn’t it be a nightmare for you too,  living with pain? Every. Single. Day. For. Ever.  I also live with it’s twin spectres; insomnia and depression. Time. I have nothing but time, endless time…. hours of wakefulness and sometimes, fear.

So I have a nightmare that is how to approach this project, without direction, and with the daunting thought that I can do anything I want to interpret it.

“Dreams and Realities.” Where they once were filled with fantasy and colours, my dreams are not really in colour these days, perhaps a reflection of how limited life can feel at times, but probably more likely as a result of never getting stage 4 REM sleep, because of my condition.  Those old dreams were of colour and dancing, soaring like a bird, swimming in tropical seas, Richard Gere and Elvis (Oh, sorry Ria… you didn’t mention fantasy, did you?) Ahem… Right… where was I? Oh Yes…. Dreams… Running men made of Marmite (yes really!) and laughing Trolls that would eat my family (make of that what you will!!). And the reality that is the nightmare, of a life lived with pain. Of the reality of what the medical profession now call ‘invisible illness.’ (…just like fairies, it’s only invisible to those who don’t believe.)

RESEARCH (1.1, 1.2)


“You cannot see me from where I look at myself” francesca woodman

Francesca Woodman, is best known for her beautiful, haunting photo’s of herself, and her models. Her haunting images showing obscured faces, blurred bodies merging into backgrounds, walls, furniture and even wallpaper.  She often portrayed herself as a ghostly image, or an angel. I feel her work shows such intensity, and extraordinary vulnerability. To me, personally, she quite clearly says, ‘I’m here, but I’m not here.’ There’s a lack of distinction between herself, the World, and the world around her. A sense of self-displacement.

“You cannot see me from where I look at myself” She once said of her own work, which was largely rejected in her lifetime. Tragically, this talented girl killed herself in 1981, aged just 22.  I think her work is beautifully sensitive. It’s entirely relevant and contemporary, today.  In today’s world of ‘the selfie’ it seems girls are obsessed with themselves, but are they obsessed with an image of themselves? A mask? ‘…Here but not here?’  I am grateful that growing up, I did not feel that pressure, and with a new Grandaughter due fairly imminently, I fear for her that constant pressure, and demand to fit in or fall out.


“I never painted dreams. I Painted my own reality.” frida kahlo

I came to discover Frida Kahlo when I first saw the film Frida, played by Salma Hayek. I was captivated by this colourful and vibrant female, who painted her pain, anguish, fears and realities. She depicted on canvas a life filled with painful and tragedy, her physical and emotional pain.

“She is hailed as a hero by so many because she is someone to validate their own struggle to find their own voice and their own public personalities” – Edward Sullivan

Co-incidentally, Frida Kahlo once met Georgia O’Keeffe and was, according to a friend, “…very irritated by O’Keeffe.” – possibly provoked by competitive feelings but I see some parallels in their work.  I am a little fascinated by the fact that evidently “She kept mirrors in every room of her house, her patio included, as if she needed constant reassurance of her very existence.” (I too, have mirrors in every room except the kitchen – unless you count the mirrored oven door 😉 ) The garden has several… what does that say about me, I wonder?

Her work drew from personal experience, including marriage, miscarriage, and many operations. Her paintings are characterized by a stark portrayal of pain, incorporating symbolism of both physical and psychological wounds. Neither realism nor surrealism, her work is threaded together with ribbons and hair, roots and vines, bones and corsets. There is meaning in every part. Interconnected.

image found on Google
The Broken Column, 1944 Frida Kahlo http://www.fridakahlo.org


If I had to choose one word to describe what I love about Kahlo’s work, it would be defiance. Kahlo defies her broken body, her physical discomfort, and pain. There is hope amid the despair, but there is often, optimism and humour.  I have that same hope.  I have moments when I have a life that is not touched by pain, anxiety, or sadness, and insomnia. The moments where I am my ‘old’ self are more fleeting, these days though.

Woodmans’ work is intense, and beguiling. It is honest, and sometimes humorous. I would like to hope that some people might find some of those qualities in me.

Okay, so where am I going with all this?  Well….I’m not entirely sure yet. I have done some research, as you can see. I have wrestled this way and that with what I want to do… Which part of me am I wanting to expose to you exactly? I may end up ‘publicly displaying a vulnerability that I may not want to on days when I feel better. There is a happy, cheeky, creative, family orientated, Carmela, but also a quiet, lost person wrapped in pain and sometimes sadness. A side that many never see.  I had hoped to try and maybe integrate my craft somehow into this project, not as a direct image, more as er… decoration… but so far, it’s not really coming together.  Today, I spent some time cutting and weaving photos of family members, I thought about stitching a photographic family tree, but even that has it’s difficulties: How do I present them as an image? What does it say? Does it have a voice? Only to me, perhaps. And in today’s world of data protection, would I be protecting them if I put them here? Probably not.

Loosely inspired by these images from Pinterest

IMAGES (2.1,2.2,1 2.3, 2.4)

So, I looked to the other side. The darker side. ( …perhaps some might say the dramatic side 😉 ) I spent a few days taking shots, but even now, I’m not sure if this is the direction I really want to take. Maybe they are a little too obvious? I used a simple polythene dust sheet to create this ghostly effect. I stood outside and pressed my hands against the window to make them more prominent in the shot.  Using GIMP as an editing tool, I then converted the images to black and white, then raised the contrast and shadow levels, over and over, on the same image  to see what effects I could get Then added a vignette to darken the edges.

Evaluation:  They are indeed pretty spooky, dreamlike/or nightmare-ish (as you prefer to see it), but I think what I am looking to achieve is something a bit less creepy? I think I may re-visit these at some point as I feel that for the purposes of this project I want the feeling of being trapped in ones own skin rather than haunted.


These final few shots, give something of what I want to say… that in some way I am lessened by this so called ‘invisible’ illness… it scratches away at me, and makes life blurred and less colourful. I have often been heard to say I just want my old life back. It feels unfair….A stolen life. Stolen is too strong a word.. but I do feel cheated.

(Yes, I know it’s not a flattering shot!)  A slightly  okay, very, dodgy selfie! Using GIMP (you’re right, Ria… it is clunky compared to Photoshop!)  as the editing suite, I converted to B&W, then overlaid the same image twice, then raised the contrast and highlights, and blurred the image. The final image is almost unrecognisable as the the former but using the same method, I continued to raise the contrast and highlights and then to draw over the image…. I think I need to find something between the two…


Long-term, chronic illness changes you. In some ways, it changes who you thought you were, and what you thought you knew about yourself.  My foundations are somewhat shaken. I think I’m fairly happy with this as a starting point for my assignment.

lots more to come….






  1. Such an interesting post my friend, I love the techniques you’ve used. Keep up the good work x


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