Assignment 4

Response to Tutor Feedback on Assignment 4

 I received feedback very quickly (through a video meet, with written confirmation afterwards) which was much appreciated as I need to get on with Assignments 5 and 6 and complete before the end of February.

Summary of feedback:-

The Art of Bonsai

My tutor thought that the Bonsai idea has lots of potential – ‘…looking as it does at the idea of the hybrid – “….. as you say, the bonsai are ‘miniature replica …..but one very much controlled by its creator’”. Her suggestion was to go a step further, “perhaps intervening in the images in some way as I think you’re on to something interesting here and I can see why you’re enjoying doing this, which is really important too”. She also suggested I might want to experiment with re-shooting the images using studio lighting.

My tutor recommended looking at the work of both the Polish photographer Bownik and also Ruth Van Beek as well as buying the current issue of Foam magazine, Back to the Future. The 19th Century in the 21st Century which looks at the ways in which the artists appearing there are using contemporary, digital techniques whilst interpreting techniques, ideas etc from the 19th Century.

This further research and the further Bonsai images will be additional work for Assignment 4 – to be completed before formal Assessment

Exploring Second Life

My tutor wrote:-

You’ve also done lots of interesting research into Second Life and the motivations of those who visit this and similar sites. What I found most moving here was the ways in which you said that the behaviours you saw from yourself in Second Life was actually very similar to the behaviours you noted in the real world. I thought that this was very interesting and wondered if it might be interesting for you to condense this idea into a piece of writing – to make a script – possible in a diaristic voice -that you might read over your (lonely) travels around the various digital landscapes of Second Life? Again, lots of good research here that can be further developed as you move through your OCA studies beyond this course.

I’m very glad to hear that you’re enjoying the course and the pleasure that you’re taking in the research is evident Catherine. Your exercises are all relevant, thorough and well executed throughout.

Reflection on Feedback

I feel clearer now regarding the difference between Assignment 4 and Assignment 5 – in that Assignment 4 can be an entity in itself even though it leads towards Assignment 5.

I like the idea of developing the Bonsai project further before formal Assessment especially as, by that time, they will be in their Spring foliage. In addition to the Polaroids I also photographed them indoors with my Canon DSLR, using continuous lighting but will repeat this with flash. I also now have a flash bar which will fit both my polaroid cameras so will experiment there as well. I had been thinking that this is the type of work that I can continue in my next Module (Landscape) and feel encouraged that Wendy thinks this too – which is something we also discussed in the video meet. I have ordered the latest issue of Foam magazine and am looking forward to its arrival. I intend to make notes on artists whose ideas I find the most interesting (and maybe the least interesting), including Ruth Van Beek whose work I looked at earlier in the Module.

Regarding Second Life, I had a suspicion that Wendy might focus in on my comments around how I behave there and in the real world plus I had already set up a WordPress blog site in readiness for some form of visual diary after discussion with Wendy. I’m finding my exploration there fascinating and feeling relieved as well that I have already done a preparatory mind-map for Assignment 5 which I can now adjust following our discussion. I’ll write more fully, separately, on initial planning for Assignment 5.





Reflection on Assignment 4: Digital Identities 1


The initial plan is here, for this Assignment and the exploratory themes agreed with my tutor were:

Exploring how I relate to ‘landscape’
Creating photographs of Bonsai trees
Exploring the landscapes in ‘Second Life’.


I was concerned that the themes were too diverse but, in retrospect, working on a few smaller projects rather than one large one helped me to make links I would not otherwise have made as one thought led to another whilst working on them concurrently .

I enjoyed creating new and different photography with the Bonsai trees  and having no other thought in mind except the photography itself.  Afterwards, when pondering why I chose to re-photograph with a polaroid camera, I realised several links – firstly with my earlier research on the art of Hokusai then, thinking about natural /replicas, indexicality and originality brought Jean Baudrillard  into my mind. I have to admit that I didn’t feel sanguine regarding the prospect of gaining a greater sense of his rather difficult writing style but my curiosity and inclination to disagree with Baudrillard motivated me to persevere.  I even had a look at him as a photographer to see how his photography reflected his views (to be written-up) and if extend my explorations of Second Life for Assignment 5 I think I may need to reflect further on how his theories link with Plato’s Cave.

Regarding Landscape   , I was pleased to be reminded that, along the way of this Module, I had actually still been out there taking photographs and experimenting with video. More importantly, thinking along the lines of “Landscape as a failed record” I realised I have been constantly attempting to capture the feelings evoked by being in the landscape and that is something that will continue into my next Module. I was also aware whilst exploring Second Life that I was seeking places where I could be alone in those created landscapes and also recognise how far they had been modelled on actual landscapes. If I decide to continue exploring Second Life I will look further into contemporary artists/photographers who are using virtual reality techniques and other technologies to portray landscape.

Avatars and the Uncanny Valley

Thoughts of dolls, robots and Avatars lead me there.  I haven’t yet seen enough Avatars in Second Life to form a view on where they might stand on the scale of ‘reality’. Second Life itself is no longer in the forefront, although I see that Linden Lab, its creator, is developing other programs such as Blocksworldf (for iPad) and Sansar a new platform for creating social VR experiences.  I have hardly set foot in the latest technologies but family members have and I experienced some different forms when I recently visited the Roya Academy Exhibition From Life .

Additional Research and Reading

Mindful of my tutor’s reminder ‘to have some fun’ I tried hard to keep the reading down as much as possible and the reading and research recorded in this post were in addition to that done for other areas of this Assignment (see the PDF of my Bibliography for this Assignment) . I do think that I have investigated several new areas, made links with previous reading and work, and discovered artists/photographers who are thinking and working around the dimensions between technology creativity, philosophy and theory;

Exploring Second Life

Beginning exploring here has been both enjoyable and frustrating. The greatest realisation (which I should have expected) is that, so far, I have behaved the same there as I do in ‘real’ life in terms of not wanting to get too involved in any form of social networking and being happy with my own company whilst realising that, even there, I am lacking in the skills needed to get the most out of it – by which I mean more advanced  technical skills.  I have been trying out new skills though in using Snagit software for screen grabs and videos and Filmora Software for processing the videos. I’m more used to using iMovie for video creation but this doesn’t have the facility for dual screens whereas there are several options in Filmora which I want to try out. I have downloaded Adobe Premiere Pro but it looks complicated as yet and I hope to get some training on it in due course.

The landscapes vary in Second Life – some recognisable and comforting in a way – such as herds of cows; waterfalls and peaceful gardens. Others, such as on New Caerleon Island, are more futuristic and I was reminded of the Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore – tree shaped yet alien in their unchanging aspect.

Where to next?

Of course, this will depend on feedback from my tutor, but at the moment I’m thinking there’s something about the polaroid Bonsai that makes me think this will be it for now as those small polaroids seem complete in themselves.  I will have to think of how I present them at Assessment though and I will continue to use a polaroid camera to photograph them as new bonsai are acquired and worked with, and also as the current trees grow into the seasons.

I talked about this Assignment at the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting last week and both the Bonsai polaroids and the contact sheet from Second Life received positive and interested comments. There seemed general agreement as well that the polaroids seem to be complete in themselves (plus some concern expressed at my ‘mishandling’ them by pinning them to a whiteboard using magnetic buttons). There was also interest in my self-assessment of how I was behaving in Second Life as I do in real life. One of my fellow students compared that with how her ten year old daughter builds amazing structures in Minecraft with no limit to her imagination.  There’s something there around how ‘self’ , ‘self-image’ and character traits become more fixed as we become older I think. Obviously, that’s a psychological aspect but there’s could be some narrative in that.

If I continue in Second Life I have already identified that I would like to learn more of the Adobe programs available to create animated characters; find the best way to present the snapshots and videos I have created with the Snagit program, and also think more regarding the links with Plato’s Cave. I intend to jot down some more ideas before I discuss with my tutor.

Overall Bibliography for Assignment – see PDF below. 

Bibliography Ass 4


Links below for all sections of my Assignment write-up

Project and Exercise Part 4.1:

Initial Plan for Assignment 4:

The Art of Bonsai:

Jean Baudrillard:

Thoughts on Landscape :

The Uncanny Valley:

Exploring Second Life:



Exploring Second Life

First steps – October 2017 to January 2018

I’ve never actually wished I was another person, although have occasionally wondered, “what if?” so the idea of Second Life website has always interested me, even though I hadn’t looked at it before reading Project/Exercise 4:1.  See my post here  where I summarise my initial reading and research. My tutor approved my suggestion that I have a deeper look into the experience of a virtual second life and so, now armed with what I though was sufficient information,  I joined Second Life, deciding to limit myself to no more than one hour a day.  After choosing an avatar I wasn’t quite sure about, I left the orientation area too soon probably because I was so excited at learning to fly! I did choose somewhere on the map to teleport to but ended up wandering around and feeling lost although I did take my first snapshot.

“Time to go back to my ‘real’ home”, I thought.

Once back in my real life I looked at You Tube videos showing how to change Avatar and decided to take out a premium subscription so that I would have an SL Linden ‘home’ – where I could go to use my inventory items in private and have my own space to return to.  You can buy land there, build your own house, even buy an island from private owners.

In addition to a ‘home’ the subscription includes a monthly amount of Linden dollars to spend on shops on the Island so off I went back there; changed my Avatar and went shopping. At first it seemed a wonderful idea – being able to decorate and furnish exactly how I wanted without having to compromise with someone else’s choices. I could buy furniture, clothes, even a new more sophisticated Avatar. It didn’t turn out like that though because I got so confused at the extent of choice not to mention feeling very nervous at the technology involved in ‘unpacking’ purchases.  I actually ended up with a lamp stuck to my hand and it took ages to find out how to unstick it. My house was still empty!

I only found one book to begin with, Second Life: The Official Guide (2008) which I  found quite hard to make sense of at first with words like ‘prims’. ‘sims’ and ‘rezzing”. ’Prims’ are objects of all kinds that have been created from solids (3D geometric shapes) which can be linked together and then made to do things by a script written in LSL – Second Life’s scripting language – for example a dog that runs and barks (2008:08). When you create a ‘prim’ you ‘rezz’ it (not slang but an official term in Second Life. Second Life is also divided into areas that can include any number of regions governed by a given set of rules which can vary by region (often referred to by residents as ‘sims’ – short for simulators). What this means in practice is that when you teleport to any region you have to look at the information about it to see what you can and cannot do – important as well if you want to take snapshots or create video (‘machinima’). You are allowed to take snapshots and film on land you actually own and in public areas of the site owned by Linden Labs, but not private areas unless a particular region grants general permission or you have requested and been given it. The Second Life site provides a list of privately owned regions where machinima are allowed; I have attempted to teleport to most of those but, unfortunately, only a few are still in existence.

It proved similarly difficult to travel to sites mentioned in academic papers. For example, I found a transcript of a presentation Where in Plato’s Cave is Second Life (Janick /Zabel 2009)  which combined a lecture, open discussion and ‘field trip’ to a 3D virtual representation created by Gary Zabel (Avatar) and his team at one of the Caerleon sims on Second Life owned by Georg Janick  (aka Gary Zabel)  I wanted to visit this Cave so I could stand there and think about Plato’s work and how it relates to Second Life which of course, it does – Second Life itself appears to have a reality when you’re there but it’s a shadow a reflection of ordinary experience for the most extent. I was disappointed though as there is no longer a representation of Plato’s Cave.

How am I doing now?

I feel a little more confident exploring Second Life even though I still haven’t worked out how to ‘unpack’ furniture.  I will though.


I bought another book Second Life for Dummies (Robbins & Bell 2008) which I’m finding easier to understand. I’ve taken more snapshots and videos using Snagit Screen Capture Software and have  just begun to process videos with Filmora video editing software which seems to offer more tools than iMovie yet is less complicated than Adobe Premiere Pro which I have yet to learn. I also think I have more of an understanding of 3D character animation and have downloaded some more Adobe programs.  When I looked at my improved version of my Second Life avatar I realised that she reminded me of a more grown-up version of the doll I used for a project in my first OCA Module so I must have been chanelling her for all this time!


My ambition would be to build a 3D character myself that would resemble both the doll and my current Avatar.

Below is a contact sheet of some of my  Second Life snapshots plus two short videos I have processed so far.


<p><a href=”″>Cows – so good to see you.</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


<p><a href=”″>Should I say hello?</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The videos are short and I know I need a lot more practice, particularly with the transitions which are less smooth than I would have wished; in fact less smooth than on iMovie. I’ve added music for now as I didn’t want them to be silent.

I have also kept a brief diary of visits and thoughts and, if I decide to extend this project into Assignment 5, I will utilise this into some kind of pictorial account. At present I’m playing around with the idea of a grid-based blog.





Robbins, S & Bell, M (2008) Second Life for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Inc.
Rymaszewski, M. et al (2008) Second Life: The Official Guide (2nd ed). Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Inc



Notes on recent research and reading

Suggested by my tutor during Discussion on Planning

Alan Warburton

Since 2010 Warburton has worked both as an independent artist and as an animation freelancer and his CGI films have been exhibited widely. I have already written about his video Goodbye Uncanny Valley which includes work from several artists.

His blog, which he began in 2008 as a repository for thoughts, can be found here. He makes an interesting comment, ‘so further back you go, the more naive it gets’, and I appreciated that comment because it gives me some hope that I might improve too in time. If you go way back to an entry on 15 July 2015 Warburton writes on, How I got into CGI (and why the arts needs it).  He writes on the effect on him of feeling slightly different within his group; the discomfort of participating, “in a culture that privileges and normalises problematic images of gender” and being expected to decide between the two options of whether he wanted to work in commercials or film when he thought he was there to discover that. That particular blog post is well-worth a read because he has a lot more to say on the different effects of a new technology, plus

There’s a strange hypocrisy that new technology alienates us from the truth yet technology has been part of who we are for tens of thousands of years. We all feel this hypocrisy in our seemingly objective preference for marginally more primitive technologies.

That’s something I’ve been continually reminding myself on.

For relaxation I very much enjoyed his video interpretation of some of the music of composer Johann Sebastian Bach which can be found here

John Gerrard

He creates large scale works in the form of computer simulations which, “ … frequently refer to structures of power and networks of energy that have made possible the expansion of human endeavour in the past century”. He uses sophisticated computer software and algorithms to create virtual landscapes that simulate authentic sites as time passes. This video explains some of his techniques.

this is far beyond my capabilities and what I’ve seen on Second Life so far.

Artists represented by Carroll Fletcher Gallery

The two partners, Jonathon Carroll and Steve Fletcher have now restructured into two independent entities – Carroll to set up a new commercial business and Fletcher to run a non-profit named the Artists’ development Agency.  The original website  is extant though and this led me to the work of Richard Walker  who creates videos, photographs, text works, his own music, and performances to portray an obsessive relationship with landscape, “I think, or I hope, that the viewer becomes simultaneously pushed away and pulled towards the landscape”.   He used two channel video for sometimes I like you more than othertimes, 2008  and this is something I have wanted to experiment with for quite a while – different places, the same person at different times. I want to remember his work for when I begin the Landscape module.

Some other Artists

David Claerbout

I think it was my fellow student Sarah-Jane who pointed me towards this artist a while ago. Claerbout works in photography, video, sound, drawing and digital arts. In one work he creates a new film the Pure Necessity which transforms Disney’s 1967 animated movie of Jungle Book into a completely different film which dispenses with “all ‘humanization’ of the animals, even the human Mowgli, so that the animals ‘behave instead in a manner befitting their species’. Basically he ‘takes the life (animation) out of the Jungle Book animals.

He  wrote an article here  which is very relevant for me and also takes me back to Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard.  Claerbout compares the transformation of photography to that of the music industry over the last fifteen years – moving from what appears purely technical to “seeing the world the way it wants to be seen by us”.  He refers to “the radical conservatism of 3-D” – were “so many sciences would come together to form a mighty bastion of pictorial, “realistic” conservatism” – for example the way in which new techniques led to his studio resembling an animation studio which, itself, began to resemble a painting studio and so there was an ‘intense overlap between Western historical painting and cinematic techniques”. (I’m thinking perhaps of Jeff Wall here and other contemporary photograpehrs who work in a similar fashion). Claerbout points out the decisions which have to be made when working in pictorial 3-D – often created from memory, after the fact, based on documents – what season, what geographical area – pretty much like tableau painting (I also recalled Second Life when reading this).

“This total fabrication implies that we are ‘observing from memory’ and brings with it a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of loss, of having given up on a naïve perception that supposedly happened spontaneously, without thinking”. A scan, for example, ‘literally moves like a mole in the dark” without needing the daylight that is an essential condition in photography. Now I don’t entirely agree with that because a scan uses light, albeit artificial,  and, of course, some photography uses artificial light. There’s more though and I know I’ll return to this article.

Olaf Otto Becker

Becker’s project Reading the Landscape (2008-2014)  documents the changes over time in the primary forests of Indonesia and Malaysia – showing “intact nature, ravaged nature, and artificial nature”. The ravaging of methods such as deforestation and slash and burn looks so brutal.  In view of my current assignment I was particularly interested in ‘artificial nature’ –a landscape such as Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore (10/12) which looks so unreal like something out of science fiction – towering columns with vegetation growing up the column, inside a painted metallic scaffold that, itself, branches out at the top; nature trails skyscrapers containing gardens. In fact here’s a short video I found on YouTube

This is what we do – we destroy parts of nature and then re-build it in our own image.

Trevor Paglen

Paglen is an artist and geographer. He describes himself as a landscape artist – he is, but with a difference! He aims to photograph ‘the unseen political geography of our times’. – not by utilising Google images but using special lenses aimed in the sky or far off military bases.  An article in the Guardian (Tim Adams, 2017) informs me that he intends to launch his own satellite in April this year and with it, the world’s first “space sculpture” – a man-made star that should be visible for a few months. He was named one of the 2017 recipients of the MacArthur ‘genius grant’ with a stipend of £470,00 over five years, so he won’t be short of money to realise his dream and pay for his assistants.

I’m always interested in the way in which an artist’s background shapes how they see and portray the world bearing in mind that the photograph is often viewed as a self-portrait of the photographer –and Tim Adams refers to Paglen’s background in his article.  Born on an air force base where his father was an ophthalmologist; the family moving around air bases in the US when Paglen was young until they settled at an airfield in Wiesbaden, Germany. As a student Paglen studied the philosophy of religion; fine art; then a PhD in geography; also playing bass in a punk band at one point and being into the Californian surf culture. That’s a rich mix of diverse influences.

Paglen has photographed secret prisons; worked to document classified satellites and also explored the ocean floor to photograph underwater fiber optic cables. He talks his work on “The Atlas of Invisible Images” below – it’s fascinating.



I certainly couldn’t approach his depth of talent but some of his work reminded me that you don’t necessarily have to have sophisticated equipment to explore the unseen and represent what  ‘must not be represented’. His work Symbology for instance, looks at the uniform and insignia in military culture and how these depict, “one’s affiliation with what defense-industry insiders call the “black world”” of deeply-held secrets.

Ruud van Empel

My fellow student Jonathon suggested I have a look at this artist who combines collages of self-made photographs using Photoshop to create idealized representations of people and landscape. To me these are approaching on the Uncanny and Uncanny Valley both – with wide-eyed children placed in hyper realistic landscapes that give rise to a slightly uneasy feeling, at least for me. Some such as here  and here  have a look of naif art whilst others are reminiscent of Dutch still-life. The novel and film the Miniaturist came into my head as well – those tiny dolls house figures/replicas that act as alter egos.

Sophia, the Robot

Staying with the Uncanny/Uncanny Valley theme. Sarah-Jane also sent me a link to a video on the Hanson Robotics website and their latest and most advanced robot which is, apparently, a media darling and sought-after speaker in business. The company believes that their genius machines can evolve to solve world problems too complex for humans to solve themselves. Sophia reminded me of some of the Avatars in Second Life which is why I’m noting her here.






The “Uncanny Valley” and Avatars

The word Avatar comes from Sanskrit avatāra a passing down, equivalent to ava down + -tāra a passing over. In Hindu mythology this is the deliberate descent by a god into the land of mortals, usually for the purpose of destroying evil or leading the righteous down the right path. Most often associated with the Hindu god Vishnu, though the concept has been applied to other deities. Similar concepts are found in other religions – one thinks of the Angel Gabriel for example. The word then came to be used for a computer representation of a user and this dates back to at least 1985 when it was used for a character in the Ultima series of computer games. To begin with the goal was to become ‘the avatar” but later games assumed you were an avatar. There are many types of ‘avatar” varying from a small square-shaped area close to the user’s forum post where the avatar is placed to a much larger representation of a person/creature which can be customized. These avatars can be realistic representations of who the person is and what they are doing (helped by motion-capture technologies that mirror every movement) or they can be strategically altered to show only what you want them to.

I first came across the concept of the “Uncanny Valley” when looking at the work of Alan Warburton, following one of my tutor’s recommendations.   In his video work Goodbye Uncanny Valley (2017) , Warburton looks at the background and current state of  of photoreal CGI. In his introductory statement he writes – “computer graphics have conquered the Uncanny Valley, that strange place where things are almost real. .….but not quite”

Subsequently, whilst searching for links to the history of dolls, avatars and robots to gain more background context for my assignment, I came across this concept again and discovered there is more to it. Information was gained to begin with from a comprehensive a Wikipedia entry and I then did further research. This concept was proposed by Masahiro Mori, a robotics professor and translated from Japanese to “uncanny valley” in the book Robots; Fact, Fiction, and Prediction, written by Jasia Reichardt (1978). This is linked with the concept of the ‘uncanny’-  Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud (see an earlier post here). The hypothesis is that observers’ emotional response to a robot becomes increasingly positive as the appearance of a robot is made more human until it reaches a point beyond which the response becomes revulsion. This reaction reverses as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from a human being.  The ‘uncanny valley” is thus that in between stage. Presumably it varies between individuals. Technologies have advanced greatly since the late 1970s, with more sophisticated robots and lifelike Avatars but the “Uncanny Valley” still needs to be considered and overcome. This YouTube video from Mashable explains further

Charles Darwin noticed a similar effect when looking at a particular snake, referring to the relative shapes and positions of the pupil of the eye, jaws and nose . the writer Jamais Cascio also noted a similar effect that occurs with body modifications beyond what would normally be possible. Examples are also given from several films using computer-generated imagery (CGI). This made me think as well of the film Avatar.  It took me quite a while to get used to the faces of the Na’vi beings. It just occurred to me though that, maybe, it’s that when a robot’s face most resembles a snake’s head that this revulsion occurs and is due to a primal recognition of danger in a snake shape – maybe even the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden connects here.

Mori’s theory was examined more closely in a paper by E. V. Pujals and N. Buffington, Secrets of The Cabbage Patch: Pediophobia and The Fear of The Inanimate (2007 . their view is that Mori’s hypothesis can relate to all inanimate objects that, in one form or another, become or seem to be animate. This is linked to a perennial human desire for playthings to become truly alive. Examples are given of the myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue he sculpted and the goddess Aphrodite brought it to life in response to his prayers. This fantasy can also be found in Hoffman’s the Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816); Pixar’s Toy Story.

This fantasy of toys becoming alive is rooted in the child’s emotional attachment to playthings and the way in which their ways of relating thus ‘prove particular to their respective individual needs’, which I would say are also influenced by social/cultural reinforcement, given that the authors provide the examples of baby dolls in the early 1900’s promoting nurturing and companionship tendencies connected with ‘mothering’  whilst in the early 1960’s Barbie dolls were seen as a symbol of freedom from future responsibilities of motherhood. Also, ‘Star Wars figurines allowed boys to play God in orchestrating miniature worlds of high tech adventures’. Pujals and Buffington go on to contend that, despite this strong attachment to playthings, literature and films ‘perverted the toy and created disquieting versions of the same lovable characters that inspire fantasy’, even in Toy Story with its reanimation of dismembered toys in one particular scene – the threshold of horror for Sid (the sadistic boy) being when Woody speaks to him using facial expressions.

However, Pujals and Buffington perceive limitations in Mori’s hypothesis in that adults and children’s fears are not necessarily linked; they have different perspectives on life. The fear that Mori’s hypothesis explains, could suggest that it is due to the great awareness of adulthood, that adults are more afraid, afraid of the unknown because their knowledge does not extend to the areas that concern the respective unknown or afraid of the already known because they understand the full gravity of its implications.  Adults have a need for order and search out boundaries. They provide evidence for this, e.g. Andy, the child, is unfazed by Chuckie coming to life.

Design guidelines have been written including attention to the proportion of facial features skin texture detail and changing features to a more cartoon-like style also eliminated the uncanny (Tinwell et al  2010:05). As more and more characters now appear in animation and video games factors such as form of motion, sound features, timing and facial animation (particularly in the upper part of the face) also contribute to an uncanny valley effect. Tinwell et all reported that  “The uncanny may be related to the importance of being able to swiftly and accurately detect the emotion being expressed by another as it helps us to predict their likely behaviour……” the results of the current study also provide fairly compelling evidence that perception of the uncanny in virtual characters displaying inadequate facial animation is greatly influenced by the type of emotion the character is portraying ( 2010 :25) they concluded, “Overall, the results indicate that attempts to embed truly authentic and convincing human-like affective signals in video game characters still has some way to go”.

The study referred to above focussed on video games. Below is a video looking at the way in which film-makers work to find ways around the uncanny valley effect.



Pujals, E.V. and Buffington (2007) PWR 2; Rhetoric of the Monstrous accessed at
Tinwell, A et al (2011) Facial Expression of Emotion and Perception of the Uncanny Valley in Virtual Characters, Accessed through )

Further thoughts on Landscape

What does Landscape mean to me?

In one of my earlier posts I wrote that I’m most attracted to small wooded areas, within walking distance from home. These are places where nature has more or less been allowed some freedom to be itself. The air is always clearer there amongst the trees and I’m aware I’m breathing more deeply. I’ve been exploring and portraying ‘landscape’ almost since I began studying with OCA. To begin with I photographed what I saw then, in Context & Narrative, with the encouragement of my tutor, I began to interact more directly with nature – see here  and here . It seemed that, through landscape, I was ‘finding my voice’.

During this current Module I focussed my first assignment around a poppy field   but subsequently became absorbed in my personal archives and got somewhat lost in reading and research, although I did create some ‘personal’ projects around my local Copse, including videos. Holga photographs  and a project in July last year which I called Interrupted Landscape: Weftwood where I documented, in image and videos, the progress of my creation of an installation  in part of the Copse – to be the covering of a dilapidated garden seat with woven red wool. This project terminated rather oddly at the beginning of September 2017 when I discovered that other/s had dismantled that part of the copse, including the garden seat.  I concluded that I had, somehow, been seeking a response from other people who use the Copse (in the way I had previously by hanging some of my photographs on tree branches) but the response had been unsettling as a different kind of installation had replaced mine! I intended to do something with leftover wool but it still awaits me.

So where does that leave me with my relationship with landscape at the moment? I still photograph what interests me in environment using Instagram as a posting site. The poppy field, changed markedly in Autumn last year and I have videos of the changes over time there which I intend to put together before formal Assessment as an addition to my first Assignment.

Why do I photograph the same scenes over and over again?

Well, firstly, the landscape changes as the seasons change so there is always something new to see and photograph. Landscape can act as both metaphor and alter ego – I’ve certainly used it as both in the past – to combine with poems I’ve written or read. Trees always seem to have had deep meanings for us human beings – The tree of llfe in so many different World mythologies; the apple tree in the Garden of Eden; the tree of knowledge; the sacred groves which probably preceded the building of Churches with their soaring domes directing our eyes towards the heavens and the family tree of genealogy. I also got to thinking of the way in which we anthromorphize trees, see faces in them, give them human attributes.

I know there are psychological explanations for why this happens, but could there be another connection?

There are so many different motivations for photographing trees, but I still couldnot find the words to explain why I kept photographing the same places almost compulsively.  I recently found a photographer who provided an explanation I could identify with.  In a video here photographer Sean McFarland talks about Landscape as a failed recordHe talks of the way in which photographers have separated themselves from the landscape (in the USA, but I think it applies in the UK as well) through being ‘complicit in a lot of empty formalism’ and participating in a tradition of the history and destruction of the Western United States’. All that has causued us to ‘deeply other’ the landscape and to separate ourselves from being able to emotionally experience it. He describes viewing the splendour of a landscape such as Yosemite Falls, taking a photograph of it which is physical yet is a failure in terms of representing how it felt, especially if you’re showing it to someone else and trying to convince them that it was a magical experience. One of his strategies was to photograph the Falls multiple times to make it more than it was, and then creating a cynatope . – using photography as a ‘failed record’.  He has also created psrismatic images where the visual spectrum of red blue and green starts to reveal itself and be seen separately so maybe the photograph ‘can maybe turn into a synesthetic object’, allowing access to a world maybe beyond the visual. His visual blog is here .

What do I want to say about Landscape with new work?

I realised that constantly photographing the same scene was also my own attempt to find a way of emotional capture, without words and perhaps why I have used different camera techniques and other strategies such as cyanotypes.  I had certainly thought that cyanotypes wouldn’t be the way to go for this Assignment, even though I do enjoy creating those deep blue images. Sean McFarland’s prismatic images looked pretty much like 3D to me when I viewed them with my 3D glasses, so I created one initially of a branch structure in the woodland, and then had a go with one of the bonsai trees as, currently, the bonsai tree is representing landscape for me – the way we mould nature to our own image and also as a a reflection of Jean Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra and simulation. 3D glass needed to view these onscreen.



This might be a way to expand my Assignment 4 into Assignment 5 – I’ll wait and see what my tutor thinks.

In a later post I will write about my research into artists suggested by my tutor; some I have discovered myself and literature about the nature of trees. Alongside my photography of bonsai and reading/research, I have also been exploring Second Life and looking at how landscape is represented there.


Jean Baudrillard Part I

My ongoing understanding of Jean Baudrillard

 The beginning of my attempts to make sense of Jean Baudrillard’s writings so that I may eventually explore how they relate to my journey into Second Life.

Whilst Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan were inspired by movies and television, Jean Baudrillard (who was influenced by McLuhan) described those using the computer as being lost in their own terminals. Cynthia Freeland describes this as “[….] a ‘terminal’ philosophy embracing millennial disillusionment.” (C. Freeland 2001:130).

Jean Baudrillard was born in Reims, France in 1929 at the beginning of what was termed ’The Great Depression” in America – an economic crisis that also affected Europe. He was the first of his working-class family to go to University, the Sorbonne, where he studied German language and literature before working as a teacher (from 1960 until 1966) alongside publishing literature reviews and translations of German authors. Whilst teaching German he began studying sociology, publishing his doctoral thesis in 1968, and went on to teach sociology at the University of Paris X Nanterre, where he eventually became a professor before moving to teach at the Universite de Paris-IX Dauphine in 1986, from which point he began to move away from sociology as a discipline although retaining his links with the academic world. In 1970 Baudrillard began making trips to the United States and also to Japan (where he was given his first camera in 1981). He became an intellectual celebrity, writing books and attending conferences. He appears to have had many intellectual influences from a variety of disciplines, including Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Roland Barthes and Marshall McLuhan. I’m not going to go into further detail here but summary information on Baudrillard’s life and ideas can be found here on the website of the European Graduate School, Switzerland, where he taught from its early beginnings in 1994 to his death in March 2007

Baudrillard is said to have been influenced by the concept of pataphysics, introduced to him through a philosophy professor, whilst at high school.  This concept is a literary trope invented by the French writer and playwright Alfred Jarry in the book Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, where Jarry plays around with conventional concepts and interpretations of reality and the ‘neo-science of imaginary solutions’ expounded by his characters. “From pataphysics Baudrillard learned to mock science, write cryptically and allusively and seek politically inutility” (G. Genosko, p. 150 in R.G. Smith (Ed) 2010). Well that certainly provides an explanation for my difficulty in understanding Baudrillard’s concepts.

His essay Simulacra and Simulation was written in 1981 – the year he was given his first camera.   Simulation is one of his key concepts. Its Latin root means ‘to copy’ but the word itself has come to have slightly different meanings/ connotations all of which are present In Bauadrillard’s usage of the word. In modern English it came to have the connotation of falseness and pretence and has now come to mean creating an analogue or mathematical model of something, “ …  in order to study how it operates  via artificially or abstractly producing its effects.  With the advent of ‘realistic’ media …… it has also come to refer to an audio-visual experience that artfully mimics but otherwise has no connection with the reality it presents as in a flight simulator used in pilot training….” (Wernick, A in R.G. Smith 2010:1980). This kind of experience may both heighten the senses and be more real than real – i.e. hyper-real. I began to think here about the artist Matt Collishaw’s recent virtual reality Exhibition Thresholds (2017)  where he created a digitally reconstructed room to re-stage the 1839 Exhibition where William Henry Talbot Fox first presented his photographic prints to the public.

What Baudrillard was pointing towards was the idea of a copy which is not only indistinguishable from the original but such that the distinction between the two disappears. A simulacrum (a term borrowed from Plato) is a simulated representation which has no original, so bears no relation to any reality and is a means of concealing the absence of a reality.

To begin with Baudrillard provided three orders of simulacra (J. Baudrillard 1981:121)

  1. An individual artefact – e.g. handmade copy of a painting –naturalist, founded on the imager, imitation and counterfeit. Would this apply to the art of Bonsai?
  2. A mechanically produced copy such as a photograph or sound-recording where all copies are identical to each other – founded on energy force, its materialization by the machine and in the whole system of production
  3. Production of a mechanically reproducible copy which has no original outside the composite process of its studio production – founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game. This could fit with Second Life, perhaps also Matt Collishaw’s work, although ….

In 1987, Baudrillard also conceptualised a fourth stage

4.  ‘The fractal stage’ – the mechanically reproducible product is not a unique series but an infinite array of possibilities generated by models.

Daniel Chandler (2007:81) translates the four stages/phases of the image as:-

  1. It is the reflection of a basic reality
  2. It masks and perverts a basic reality
  3. It masks the absence of a basic reality
  4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever; it is its own simulacrum

I can’t find a description of what Baudrillard considers to be the Real – yet everything he writes appears to be based on that notion. Daniel Chandler recognizes this criticism, “the semiotic stance which problematizes reality and emphasizes mediation and convention is sometimes criticised as extreme ‘cultural relativism’ by realists – such critics often object to an apparent sidelining of referential concerns such as ‘accuracy’ (ibid)

I do agree with Chandler that we certainly experience much of our world through the media of television, films and newspapers etc.  Actually we used to experience the world outside our immediate environment through the Church, village gossip and ‘news’ from strangers who were passing through, I’m thinking, but I’m imagining that it might have been less contradictory. In the present we are bombarded daily with competing versions of ‘truth’, accusations of fake news etc and I don’t, at this stage,  want to dive into a more expanded exploration of Baudrillard’s concepts, although I have researched some counter- viewpoints.  In the meantime I’m going to rest with Chandler’s view that,  “Semiotics helps us to not take representations for granted as reflections of reality, enabling us to take them apart and consider whose realities they represent” (ibid 2007:82).



Baudrillard, J (1994) Simulcra and Simulation. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press
Chandler, D (2007) Semiotics: the Basics (2nd Edition) Abingdon: Routledge
Freeland, C (2001  )  Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction Oxford,. Oxford University Press
Smith, R.G. (Ed) (2010) The Baudrillard Dictionary: Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press



The Art of Bonsai

The object is not to make the tree look like a bonsai, but to make the bonsai look like a tree

The quote above is from John Yoshio Naka (1914-2004) master bonsai cultivator. Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees and shrubs in decorative pots and a good bonsai is one that represents a real tree. Some people describe bonsai as the haiku of the tree world. The two words bon-sai mean a potted tree but bonsai are not just that as a bonsai is an exact replica of a natural tree in miniature form. Size and age are less important than the visual impact on the person looking at the tree, “but it is important to remember that in bonsai one is creating an image or an illusion” (P. Chan 1999:11). The art of bonsai has its origins in China – the Chinese being the first to practise the cultivation of trees and shrubs in ceramic flower pots. In relating the historical origins of Bonsai, Peter Chan (1999) refers to the fact that the Chinese have a very long tradition of gardening, the earliest of them being traced back to the Shang Dynasty (sixteenth to eleventh centuries BC). The gardens of the emperors were intended to be symbols of the empire in microcosm and designed in such a way that their miniature hills, mountains (having particular symbolic significance), streams and lakes symbolized their real counterparts. The mountains provided inspiration for scholars, who included poets and artists and these scholars, who were known as ‘literati’, exerted a profound influence on Chinese art and bonsai in particular (P. Chan 1999:21). The literati were essentially calligraphers, being literary scholars first and foremost, and their style of depicting trees quickly influenced the development of bonsai that bore little resemblance to trees seen in real life. “They are artistic impressions of trees, illusions if you like! This is precisely what bonsai is about” (ibid p. 22).

The miniature trees depicted in Chinese scroll paintings dating back to around AD600 were very similar to Chinese bonsai grown today. Bonsai gradually spread to other parts of the Orient and had gained a foothold in Japan by the 11th or 12th Century, being introduced by Chinese Buddhist monks.

(Katsushika Hokusai, ‘The Talisman’ (Mayoke), a colour woodblock print. © the Trustees of the British Museum)

Hokusai Bonsai Grower (1803) Woodblock Print

There is quite a difference between Chinese and Japanese styles of bonsai, the Japanese style being more naturalistic and with greater attention being paid to detail and overall presentation.

I lay no claim to knowledge of the art of Bonsai but I have been intrigued by the miniature perfection of these ‘natural’ sculptural replicas. for a long time.  Information on types of Bonsai trees can be found here   There’s a part of me that thinks it’s cruel to stunt their growth in this way; yet we prune trees and plants don’t we, and Peter Chan also points out that the fact that bonsai live to a great old age suggests they receive better treatment and care than their counterparts in the wild. At the beginning of Autumn last year my husband took up an interest in Bonsai as a hobby and I kept thinking I should photograph some of them which is why they suddenly came into my mind when talking with my tutor about Assignment 4. At the beginning of November last year I set up lights indoors and photographed some.

I certainly captured their shapes but didn’t feel entirely satisfied with them. The lighting could certainly be improved in another session. I had to spend quite a while ensuring the background sheet edited as an overall white – I was surprised how many YouTube videos there are explaining how to achieve this. Apart from that the aesthetic didn’t seem right – they looked more like catalogue images. The sun came out the next day and, as there was little wind, I decided to install the white backdrop outdoors and use my Polaroid 600 camera.

There was something about these that very much appealed to me even though they looked slightly wonky and less ‘real’. I decided to handwrite captions in pencil, with just the name of the tree and date photographed; scanned them and then posted one a day on my Instagram account. They gained some very positive comments which was pleasing. My handwriting of captions can certainly be improved – it’s hard to keep it straight when there isn’t a line to write on. I could use a ruler but I’ve found in the past that that cuts off the bottom of strokes and the joining by hand looks somehow artificial. I’ve now booked myself onto a half day workshop on Calligraphy later this month.


I began to puzzle “Why Bonsai, why polaroid (which is a revived older form of analogue yet instant photography), how does this fit into not only landscape but as a concurrent project with that of the virtual reality of Second Life”?    All of these questions given that the brief for Assignment 4 is to develop a project around the theme of identity within the current digital climate.

  • Why Bonsai? Their form, structure and miniature perfection have engaged artists for Centuries. The art is enduring so I’m part of a long line.
  • Why Polaroid? Firstly, having looked through the books I have on Hokusai I’ve now realised that, in many respects, Polaroid prints remind me of wood block prints – both have depth despite their flatness – the one through etching and the other through the way the emulsion works. I wrote about this earlier in this Module here   when looking again at Jeff Wall’s work and comparing it with that of Hokusai. Secondly, a bonsai tree is both a miniature replica and a living tree itself whilst being unique in that it shows the mark of an individual creator and that links it with a polaroid image which is also,  …a unique object, a tiny ‘sculpture’, an intersection between photography and fine art; not ephemeral but real and tangible. In contrast to the thousands of digital pictures taken each minute, a Polaroid remains special, each one exuding an innate sense of trust and intimacy. (R. Adam (2017:07)
  • The link with Landscape? A bonsai is a living tree, albeit a miniature one and a part of the natural environment. It has been shaped by the hand of man, as has the ‘landscape’ we inhabit and mould for our own purposes. I’ll be writing more about my relationship with landscape in a separate post.
  • The link with ‘virtual reality’? I’ve given considerable thought to this. For me this is connected with photography, indexicality, replication and, I had to admit, with Jean Baudrillard’s theory regarding Simulacra and Simulation’. I could no longer avoid having to think more deeply on this. I had been avoiding it because I kept wanting to argue with Baudrillard yet the thought of writing about this was exhausting in prospect. Again, I’ll be writing on this.



Adam, R (2017) Polaroid: The Missing Manual. London: Thames & Hudson
Chan, P (1999) Bonsai: The Art of Growing and Keeping Miniature Trees. London: Chancellor Press
Cark, T (Ed) (2017 Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave London: Thames & Hudson

Assignment 4: Initial Planning on 26th October 2017


Assignment 4 : Digital Identities 1

 Brief – Develop a project around the theme of identity within the current digital climate.  This could be an autobiographical exploration examining how you relate to digital culture, or it could be a more critical examination of an aspect of digital culture.

Initial planning

Most of my Skype tutor feedback session on Assignment 3 had been spent discussing preparation for Assignment 4. Below is an extract from my own notes which also comprised the bulk of the written feedback report.

…… although I had experimented further with layering past and present images, I had probably moved on from exploring my father’s letters any further. I realised a while ago that I’d hardly been doing any new photography and that I was missing landscape and Wendy encouraged me to explore this.

  • What is ‘landscape’?
  • How do I experience, negotiate with and relate to it?
  • Are we losing landscape’s language/words in this digital world?
  • Are we losing our connection with the natural world now that we spend more time indoors, on the computer, watching TV?
  • What do I want to say about it with this piece of work?

I mentioned that I had been thinking of miniature landscapes such as Bonsai trees and had also been having a look at the ‘Second Life’ website which I find fascinating but am afraid I might get too obsessed with it. Wendy emphasised that Assignment 4 is intended to be more of a work in progress.  It doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ and I should try to do it quickly. We agreed:-

  • I will brainstorm some ideas and create a mind map to send to Wendy.
  • I will spend half a day a week on photographing the Bonsai trees – set up a background and lights for them; see what happens.
  • Explore the landscapes in ‘Second Life’, as if I am taking a walk, and create a visual diary by experimenting with screen grab sketches and some form of narration

Some practitioners to research to begin with:-

John Gerrard and his CGI work using politicised filters:
Alan Warburton:
Carroll/Fletcher Gallery and artists represented there:
Theories of Jean Baudrillard:

Dystopian Landscapes – e.g. ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Avatar’, ‘Mad Max’ films
Idealised Landscapes –  ‘Avatar’.

 I emailed my initial plan as a mind-map, together with an initial screen grab taken in “Second Life”

Assignment 4 Initial ideas

First shot from Second Life

and this was approved with the comment “Remember Catherine, to be as playful as you can be at this stage.  Don’t over analyse(your research is always extremely thorough. No need to worry there.) Rather use the next couple of assignments to have fun and experiment with different ideas.  There’s no reason why you can’t keep two smaller projects running in parallel. ”