PHO705 Week 5: The Social Photo

I much enjoyed Nathan Jurgenson’s Guest Lecture in Week 4 (Jurgenson 2021) and have gone on to buy and read his book, The Social Photo (Jurgenson 2019).

This has changed my understanding of photography and social media, much for the better. I now see what drives it: that the image can be regarded as a kind of emoji and the smartphone as an eye in our pocket. On social media, we communicate in a visual language of forms. We are in the world of signs and symbols. Mythologies (Barthes 2009) was prescient.

As Jurgenson points out, this is very different from a traditional arts-based appreciation of photography with its emphasis on rules and tradition. ‘As a visual discourse, social photos are a means to express feelings, ideas and experiences in the moment, a means sometimes more important than the specific ends of a particular image’ (Jurgenson 2019: 18).

I particularly liked Jurgenson’s coverage of the interplay between permanent and ephemeral in the social photo and his examination of the use of augmented reality (such as photo filters) to create a nostalgia for the present that reifies experience and thereby makes it shareable. We cannot simply say something: we first have to dress it in clothes of spurious significance. The slightly alarming consequence is that we have turned ourselves into tourists of our own experience. In documenting our lives we turn our experiences into consumer items, available one by one on our media streams.

Jurgenson’s attempts to justify this new online world in the middle part of the book fall flat, in my reading. He defends social media and the internet generally against critics who either fail to understand that online is also a form of ‘real’ life or whose criticism conceals an agenda of regulation to suit political or commercial interests. The problem here is that while it is hard to disagree with Jurgenson, his book has been overtaken by the events of 2020. These have shown very clearly that social media is a beast that needs to be tamed. Two examples: the alarming rise in generalized anxiety disorder among young people during the pandemic (Co-Space 2021) and the shocking attempt to overthrow the results of the US presidential election. Social media and its empire of lies have propelled both.

The latter part of The Social Photo is a welcome updating of the pioneering work on photography of Barthes and Sontag. Notable is Jurgenson’s evisceration of Silicon Valley’s Big Data movement, ‘This long-held positivist fantasy of the complete account of the universe that is always just around the corner’, which is cynically used as ‘a moral mandate for ever more intrusive data collection’ (Jurgenson 2019: 108).

The most interesting part of The Social Photo for my own practice is what Jurgenson has to say about truth and knowledge: ‘If the history of the medium were boiled down to a single debate, it would be the constant insecurity around the “truth” of a photograph’ (Jurgenson 2019: 95). Photography’s slippery relationship with truth leads us on to the gap between knowing and not knowing that the best photographs inhabit. Jurgenson points out that Barthes said of the punctum, ‘what I can name cannot really prick me’ (Jurgenson 2019: 99). Facts alone cannot describe reality. Documentation is never all it seems. Following Georges Bataille and Jean Baudrillard, Jurgenson points us to ‘the essential and productive tension between visibility and invisibility, what is known and what is not’, that every instance of knowledge ‘is also an instance of nonknowledge, its opposite, what is unknown. … Nonknowledge, then, is the seductive and magical aspect of knowledge’ (Jurgenson 2019: 101-102).

This interplay is exactly what currently propels my own practice. I am photographing human presence largely in the form of its absence, and thus what the image knows is constantly undercut by what it does not know and cannot show.

The Social Photo has proved a welcome tonic to my studies. It will help me to improve the way I present myself and my work on social media.


BARTHES, Roland and Annette LAVERS. 2009. Mythologies. Revised ed. London: Vintage.

CO-SPACE. ‘Co-Space Study’. Co-Space [online]. Available at: [accessed 20 Feb 2021].

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2019. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media. London: Verso Books.

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2021. ‘Guest Lecture: Nathan Jurgenson’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: [accessed 18 Feb 2021].

PHO705 Week 4: Output and Audience

Writing up my Final Major Project ProposaI for Entropias has made me think more carefully about how I could publish my project and connect with an audience. At the moment I am thinking of these:

A photobook, perhaps 10” x 8” or so in portrait format. The staff of Self Publish, Be Happy said at a workshop last year that a regular size in portrait format is a good and popular one, easy to sell and not too costly to produce (Self Publish, Be Happy 2020). They considered it superior to a landscape-format book. Looking at the lists of companies like Hoxton Mini-Press or Setanta, I agree.

A likely printer is ExWhyZed. I had not heard of them until the estimable Sean Tucker said that ExWhyZed are the printer he uses (Tucker 2021). Certainly their website and other work seem pretty good. I will need to research this complex field properly but I can put ExWhyZed towards the top of a provisional list.

Cost is a dominant factor here, and as former career book publisher I know than ‘vanity publishing’ is a huge trap and one to be very careful of. I do not want to go there and suspect that if the whole thing becomes a cash-fuelled ego-trip then the quality of the final book will suffer a lot. I am thinking of only a very short initial print run, although I should be able to place a few copies in local bookshops such as Blackwells in Oxford.

A Video
YouTube/Vimeo: video- and sound-scapes overlaid with still images. I am attracted to this format because it takes still images into a more fluid audio-visual and experimental field. It is also a way of avoiding the traditional static website whose day is waning, I suspect. The action now is on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo and others. The idea is not mine but comes from an essay by Grant Scott, ‘What is the Future for the Photographic Exhibition?’ (Scott 2020). The pandemic has made people start to think far beyond simply replicating a formal gallery show as a static gallery on a website. Instead, why not turn the experience into a film?

The reach of sites like YouTube and Instagram is truly vast, so with careful marketing it is possible that a ‘show’ on these platforms will attract more visitors than a static website could manage.

A Website with an Online Gallery
This is the traditional default option. I don’t think this format is particularly interesting or original but it is likely necessary as a project anchor. Other formats can refer back to the website which can provide contact details, an artist’s statement, online sales, a fuller portfolio and so on. A website, if well made, is a way of demonstrating professionalism and bona fides. The trick is to structure it so that it looks fresh and interesting but does not require frequent updating (updates being on one’s image stream on Instagram and other platforms).

A Conventional Gallery Exhibition
This would be lovely but for now this is more likely in 2022 than in 2021. I suspect the pandemic will have to be well and truly over for a full range of venues to unlock and visitors to start appearing.

There is a fairly difficult cost factor here, at least for me. Venues in Oxford are few and normally costly, long a bugbear for all local photographers, and quality prints and frames are costly too. It is possible that a joint exhibition will be more feasible. Again, I am just not very interested in an ego-trip and I am sceptical of the cost-benefit effect of a solo exhibition.

Oxfordshire Artweeks 2021
I can show my work in progress during Oxfordshire Artweeks in May 2021, albeit the festival this year is online. For several years now I have done this jointly with the local cooperative I belong to, Oxford Photographers. In 2022 we will very probably be able to return to a proper venue and a much more ambitious exhibition.

Marketing Campaign
Easy to leave out but I think this part is very important. I need to list goals, appropriate media to approach (locally and nationally) and costs, and then form a plan of action and budget in order to publicize my project. If left until the last minute the result would be haphazard and ineffective, so an early start is important. Besides, some media have long lead times.

A part of this will be entering my images in open calls, competitions and so forth. This will build confidence, put my project around a bit and generally establish myself. If I can say I have been doing this then I will look more credible to editors and commissioners.

Local Business
There is the possibility of persuading local businesses to offer my work (for example, Manor Farm at Hampton Gay and Willowbrook Farm run online shops and both are on my patch).

Social Media
I would use social media – Instagram, Facebook, Flickr – as a feeder and marketing tool for all of the above.

Cards, Gifts and Print Sales
I enjoy being openly commercial. I think it is an important discipline. I will look at photocards and similar gift items which could have a sale in local shops and in bookshops such as Blackwells in Oxford. I will also look at product applications such as printed cushion covers, T-shirts, mugs and so forth. Print sales can be offered from a website. One contender here is an online shop on Society6.

I would not do most of this under my own name but under the branding of White Bridge Arts (I have registered the domain name). I think it is perfectly possible to keep a more formal Fine Arts practice separate from a commercial one providing one keeps the ‘brands’ distinct and resists the temptation to mix things up.


SCOTT, Grant. 2020. ‘What Is the Future for the Photographic Exhibition?’ The United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: [accessed 14 Nov 2020].

SELF PUBLISH, BE HAPPY. 2020. ‘Education – SPBH Editions’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: [accessed 4 Dec 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2021. ‘How I Self-Publish My Photography Zines/Books (Printing, Selling, Sequencing and Design)’. YouTube video [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jan 2021].


PHO705 Week 3: Work in Progress

I have been progessing my new project Entropias. At the moment, much of this consists of simply walking the land and gradually taking it in. I need a feel for what I am doing, intellectually, emotionally and creatively. Thus to a degree I am making images I am not sure of and I don’t exactly know where this may lead. However, at this stage I think I need to follow my gut instinct and see what my subconscious is trying to tell me. Themes will emerge from the portfolio, I believe, if I resist the impulse to control outcomes and let things go, at least for now.

What I am trying to keep in mind when I raise the camera is the way in which photography itself introduces themes and complexities to the image. I am not making postcards or snapshots but trying for a richer and more complex story. Among the ideas the act of photography introduces are these:

  • ‘Landscape photography’ exists only as a concept, a cultural artefact.
  • Photography is an act of seeing that in itself alters our relationship to nature and our ideas of what ‘nature’ actually means (see the superb Natural Order,  Burtynsky 2020).
  • Photography alters our experience through visual and temporal manipulations (whether the that-has-been of Barthes or the rephotography of Mark Klett).
  • A man-made landscape is a place that cannot be politically neutral, an image of it thus also being a political statement (Bright 1992).
  • The photographer is part of the story and in the landscape. Ecological concerns are now too pressing to indulge the fantasy of the photographer as an objective observer who merely records and reports (see Monsanto, Asselin 2021).
  • Photography involves a complex relationship between truth and the photographer’s ‘For me, what makes photography such an exciting and troubling artform in general is the deception and tension hard-wired into it, the difficulty of defining its slippery relationship to truth’ (Gregory Halpern, in Bourgeios-Vignon 2018).

I am also reading Todd Hido on landscape photography (Hido 2014) and he adds yet more ideas to the mix. I think I need to write down the most relevant ideas and keep them in my pocket as a reference when I go out to shoot. They are all ways of encouraging me to pause and consider why I am choosing to make a particular image. Without that, there is really no intent at all.

Figs 1–8: Mark Crean 2020. Entropias. Various images of work in progress from around the land on my patch. Click on an image for a larger, lightbox view.


ASSELIN, Mathieu. 2021. ‘Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation’. Mathieu Asselin [online]. Available at: [accessed 2 Feb 2021].

BOURGEOIS-VIGNON, Anne. 2018. ‘Power and the Camera: Gregory Halpern Talks Intuition, Reflection and Representation’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www. [accessed 26 Oct 2020].

BRIGHT, Deborah. 1992. ‘The Machine in the Garden Revisited: American Environmentalism and Photographic Aesthetics’. Art Journal (New York. 1960) 51(2), 60–71.

BURTYNSKY, Edward. 2020. Natural Order. Göttingen: Steidl.

HIDO, Todd and Greg HALPERN. 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York, N.Y.: Aperture Foundation.


Figures 1–8. Mark CREAN. 2021. From: Entropias. Work in Progress. Collection of the author.

PHO705 Week 2: Research and Influences

Since my Final Major Project Entropias is a brand-new one I have much research still to do. I plan to break it down as follows:

I intend to tell my story by dividing this project into the following subject areas, mainly to allow a shooting schedule that will cover the whole area and its many activities. I will approach land and place as

  • Culture: the picturesque, the patriarchal gaze
  • Liminal, edgeland
  • Disposable, a dumping ground
  • Commodity, agribusiness
  • Workplace
  • Community and ownership
  • Heritage and Tourism
  • Sustainable resource
  • Eerie, weird and poetic places

This division would be a trap if adhered to rigidly. A different methodology will emerge naturally. For example, William Ewing (Ewing 2014) offers as themes Artefacts, Rupture, Playground, Scar, Control, Enigma, Hallucination and Reverie. There are many, more creative typologies than my initial choice.

The History of Land and Place
I will need to study landscape historians and writers such as W. G. Hoskins, Oliver Rackham, John Lewis-Stempel and Robert Macfarlane, and whatever is available from historical records online such as the The Victoria History of the County of Oxford (Page et al 1907) which itemizes my patch in minute detail for a thousand years.

The Land as Art and Culture
Cultural, aesthetic and photographic history from writers such as Simon Schama, David Campany, J. A. P. Alexander, Robert Adams, John Taylor, W. J. T. Mitchell and Liz Wells, and whatever these volumes lead me towards. Growing familiarity with the history of the painting of place will be as important as that of photography.

I can only start with those I know and work outwards. This means the practice of photographers such as Robert Adams (and his New Topographics peers), Richard Misrach, Mark Power, Paul Seawright, Nadav Kander, Michael Kenna, Paul Graham, Chrystel Lebas, Mathieu Asselin, Gregory Halpern, Matt Black, Fay Godwin, Edward Burtynksy, Thomas Struth and more.

I have been able to secure new or second-hand copies of books by some of the above and I am now reading them.


EWING, William A. 2014. Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography. London: Thames & Hudson.

PAGE, William, L. F. SALZMAN, H. E. SALTER, M. D. LOBEL, Alan CROSSLEY and Simon TOWNLEY. 1907. The Victoria History of the County of Oxford. London: Archibald Constable: Published for University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press. Available at:–oxon [accessed: 16 Jan 2021].

PHO705 Week 1: Entropias

I am starting a new project for my FMP. My old project Silent City – Oxford after dark – has served me well for a year but current lockdown restrictions make it impossible to pursue. I will take it up again later when the pandemic has abated, but for now, time for a change.

Entropias is about the impact of man on the land, specifically on the small parcel of nine or ten square miles in Oxfordshire where I live (see Fig. 1 below).

My project is a blend of geography, autobiography and metaphor in the terms used by the photographer Robert Adams (Adams 1981: 14). An analogue would be landscape, longing and desire (Bate 2016: 134).

This area has a long history. The Romano-British built a villa here. All four settlements on my patch were already established agricultural communities at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. Hampton Gay had a much larger population two hundred years ago than it does today (Page et al 1907: vol. 6, 152–159). Medieval village fields of ridge-and-furrow strips are still in evidence, as is their pasture. Sanfoin, for fodder, was grown here hundreds of years ago. The same fields today are home to an organic, grass-fed beef farm, although many hedgerows date from the enclosures of 1750–1850.

Google Maps Screenshot
Fig. 1: Google Maps 2021. Kidlington, Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gay and Thrupp, Oxfordshire. The area is about three miles across and is bisected by the River Cherwell and (on the left) the Oxford Canal

However, the centuries have come with huge differences all of which mean that the land here is under pressure as never before. The primary causes are the vast growth in human population and in the waste and detritus this produces, the introduction of chemically dependent ‘agribusiness’ farming which depletes the soil and drives out wildlife, invasive pests like ash dieback and Dutch elm diseases, and a sea change in our cultural lenses.

We no longer see land as home and part of a whole of which we are only one element. What we see is a commodity, a consumable, a scene. We are all tourists and consumers now.

The essential contrast and tension here is between the culturally conditioned conceptions about place and nature we all have and the sometimes tough day-to-day reality of lived life in a man-made environment. A good recent example in book form is Small Town Inertia (Mortram 2017), though that is portraiture whereas my focus is environment. It is the difference between what we actually experience and nature as spectacle in an Attenborough TV programme or the ‘Automotive Sublime’ beloved of the advertising industry.

I am at an early, experimental stage with this project and still feeling my way into it. But I am excited!


ADAMS, Robert. 1981. Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. New York, NY: Aperture.

BATE, David. 2016. Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

MORTRAM, J. A. 2017. Small Town Inertia. Liverpool, UK: Bluecoat Press.

PAGE, William, L. F. SALZMAN, H. E. SALTER, M. D. LOBEL, Alan CROSSLEY and Simon TOWNLEY. 1907. The Victoria History of the County of Oxford. London: Archibald Constable: Published for University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press. Available at:–oxon [accessed: 16 Jan 2021].


Figure 1. GOOGLE MAPS. 2021. Kidlington, Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gay and Thrupp, Oxfordshire. The area is about three miles across and is bisected by the River Cherwell and (on the left) the Oxford Canal. From: Google Maps. 2021. Avaialble at: maps/@51.836753,-1.2927486,2431m/data=!3m1!1e3 [accessed 16 Jan 2021].