Exercise 10: Newspapers and magazines

For this exercise we were asked to scan newspapers, magazines, current affairs TV programmes and documentaries for three ideas, make unlikely connections between them and create a story out of them.

Looking through the online pages of RTE News, The Huffington Post and NBC News, I found the following three ideas:

‘Good Weather Sees Surge in Wild Fires Across Country’

At least 15 wildfires have been recorded across the country by the Irish Wildlife Trust since Friday 24 March. The conservation body said the surge saw fire service crews battle blazes in counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Donegal and Louth. The fires coincided with a period of relatively warm, dry weather across the country. Eight of the fires occurred in areas that are protected for nature conservation. (1)

‘Woman Blames Car Crash On Bigfoot’

An Idaho motorist told the local sheriff’s department that a Bigfoot sighting caused her to crash her car last Wednesday night. According to Pullman Radio, the woman, who was not identified, told the Latah County Sheriff’s Office that she saw a Sasquatch chasing a deer on a stretch of US-95 outside of Potlatch. She said the creature was “shaggy” and between 7 and 8 feet tall, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported. The woman checked her mirrors to see the Bigfoot, but as her eyes re-adjusted to the road she hit the deer with her Subaru Forester, the newspaper said. Pullman Radio reported that the woman continued driving, picked up her husband from work then drove to the sheriff’s office to report the incident. Officers did not find any evidence of Bigfoot at the scene of the crash. The radio station reported that the 50-year-old driver suffered a “minor neck injury.” (2)

‘Secret Service Agent’s Laptop Stolen in New York’

A Secret Service agent’s work laptop was stolen in New York City, but officials said it did not contain classified information. The computer — taken Thursday in Brooklyn, according to one law enforcement source — has “multiple layers of security including full disk encryption,” according to a Secret Service statement. Law enforcement sources told NBC News that in addition to the encryption, the computer wipes itself clean after multiple unsuccessful login attempts. It can also be remotely disabled. Officials did not provide details of what information was on the laptop or the level of sensitivity. “An investigation is ongoing and the Secret Service is withholding additional comment until the facts are gathered,” the Secret Service statement said. (3)

Connecting these three ideas together, I came up with the following story premise.


Story Premise

A police investigation into the unlikely events surrounding a motorist claiming to have seen a Sasquatch running from trees and into the road, causing her to crash her car, leads a local sherif into the national park where firefighters tackling a wild fire discover the body of a missing secret service agent.




Dienst, J., & Winter, T. (2017) ‘Secret Service Agent’s Laptop Stolen in New York.’ In: NBC News [online] At: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/secret-service-agent-s-laptop-stolen-new-york-city-n734981 (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

Mazza, E. (2017) ‘Woman blames car crash on Bigfoot.’ In: The Huffington Post, US Edition [online] At:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/idaho-driver-blames-bigfoot_us_58d887dae4b03787d359ad1b? (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

RTE News (2017) ‘Good weather sees surge in wild fires across country.’ In: RTE News [online] At: http://www.rte.ie/news/regional/2017/0328/863146-wildfires/ (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)




Exercise 7: Visual research and visual phenomena

Brief: Carry out some visual research by developing the ideas gathered in previous exercises, using either a stills or video camera to make images of a significant place, person or activity.

In preparation for this exercise, I looked at Paul Graham’s Television Portraits, Jonas Mekas’ As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Paradise and extracts from films by Nina Menkes. They offer three very different approaches to using still and moving images to visualise a person, place, situation or journey within their work.


Television Portraits (1986-90)

The images in Paul Graham’s Television Portraits (1986-90) depict children and young people watching TV. Photographed over a five year period, each image focuses on a single person, either sitting or lying down. In each portrait, the subject is in profile looking from left to right within the frame. As a whole, the short series of seven photographs can be seen as a subtle study in behaviour.

Paul Graham’s approach, within the context of visual research, shows how artists gather material on a theme over a period of time, before assembling it into a final piece of work. In this case a series of photographic portraits that visualise a group of individual people taking part in the daily activity of watching television.

Fig. 1 Paul Graham (1986)


As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)

Jonas Mekas’ film As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000) offers a very different approach to the use of source material within an art work. In this case, the moving images themselves were the starting point for a five hour experimental documentary film in which the filmmaker re-constructs the previous 30 years of his life from home movie footage. Mekas’ voice-over in the film provides a commentary on and insights into what the viewer is seeing.

Fig. 2 Jonas Mekas (2000)


Nine images

Using photography as a way of visualising a significant place, I gathered a series of images showing the human and the natural along the bank of a nearby river. Having attempted this exercise, I can see the value in gathering visual data in the early stages of working on an idea.


See Fig. 3

However, although the images could be used as the starting point for an idea, I’m not entirely satisfied with the results. While the images record some of the things I saw while walking along the river, I don’t feel they engage sufficiently with the idea of the everyday having a natural narrative; with the ‘poetry of the everyday’ I found in Jonas Mekas’ film  As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)The next step might be to use the still images as the starting point in generating story ideas relating to character and place. Alternatively, the next step might be to return to the river with a video camera to gather some footage that could be used in a moving image.



Television Portaits (1986-90) Graham, Paul. At: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/television.html (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Paradise (2000) Menkas, Jonas. At:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOwescpyMqQ (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Graham, Paul (1986) Television Portraits At: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/television.html (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

Figure 2. Mekas, Jonas (2000) As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Paradise At:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOwescpyMqQ (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

Figure 3. Salisbury, P (2017) Nine images of the Owendoher river [Photographs] In possession of: The author: Dublin

Exercise 3: Conceptual and thematic ideas

In this exercise I made notes on two ideas to see how far they could be pushed in a conceptual way.

In preparation for this, I looked at two very different short films, Matt White’s Weightless (2008) and Helen Rosemier’s Getting Up (2014).

Weightless takes as its theme the artist’s own shifting state of mind through self-hypnosis. Filmed in one continuous shot, we see his facial expression change along with his state of mind, as he gazes through a window.

Getting Up adopts a more narrative approach in its depiction of domestic life for a man with a wheelchair. Filmed in a linear sequence of shots, we see the artist’s husband as he wakes, showers, dresses and leaves the house in the morning.

Both films take an idea and develop it conceptually through very different cinematic techniques.

One approach I would like to try is using some of the techniques of abstract and associational form outlined in Film Art (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017). However, taking an abstract, poetic approach to filmmaking is not something I have thought about or even attempted to do until starting this course.

I found Matt White’s approach to developing ideas for abstract and conceptual films particularly useful. His ideas ‘start with or evolve into seemingly simple and apparently pointless goals’ and lead on to the ‘collection of data (video, photographs, audio recordings, figures, documents) that are further developed into art works’ (White, 2017:28).



The idea of starting from an ‘apparently pointless’ goal and then going on to collect data was quite liberating for me. I took the idea about the colour blue from the previous exercise and came up with the ‘apparently pointless’ goal of wanting to know how blue the sky is, in the hope that it would raise questions I could go on to experiment with through the moving image. My initial notes included ideas about how we perceive colour, the physics behind our understanding of the earth’s atmosphere and how the ‘heavens’ have been perceived throughout history.

Rather than creating a film that presents a plot, I would create a film that follows a conceptual journey, in which it presents a series of images that will have an effect on the viewer. In a similar way to John Smith’s approach in his film Horizon (2012), in which each shot is a literal representation of the sea at the moment at which it was filmed.  To the viewer, John Smith’s Horizon (2012) could be seen as a documentary presenting the Margate seascape as it changes over a three month period, or it could be seen in terms of colour, composition, light and contrast.



Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2017) Film Art: An Introduction, 11th edition. New York: McGraw Hill

Moving Image 1: Setting the Scene (2017). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

John Smith on Horizon (2012) Mark Castro & Max Philo. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLjRk_EHI6k (Accessed on: 27 March 2017)

Exercise 2: Analysis

This exercise asked us to take an idea and fill out the basic details in the form of a mind map, first by looking for obvious relationships and common situations, and then going on to find a narrative that emerges from that idea.

After an abortive attempt at looking at the idea of family life from the previous exercise, I decided to carry out a thematic analysis of the second of the two ideas: the colour blue at 40,000 feet.

The initial ideas about individual characters and common situations were fairly straightforward. The first character that came to mind was a young child. Then, asking myself who some of the most important people in a young child’s life are revealed the mother and the teacher. It was obvious straightaway that the main protagonist would be the child. But then, as the initial idea was the sky, I also decided to be bold and make the second main character the sky itself. Sometimes the presence of a specific environment can be so influential to a protagonist’s journey within a film, that it too becomes a character within the narrative.

Moving on to look at the various settings for this idea, I asked myself where a young child spends most of their time. The obvious settings were the classroom, kitchen, bedroom and outdoors. From there I looked for ways in which all these indoor and outdoor locations relate to the child’s fascination with the sky.

Then, having arrived at the obvious relationships and common situations for the idea, I moved on to defining the central theme and identifying the causes of conflict within the idea. This was by far the most challenging part of the process, as it was not apparent what these could be on first looking at the details in the mind map. Also, in order for this to work properly, I felt it was necessary to define the theme first and then identity the causes of conflict that might arise from this.

It quickly became apparent that the theme was ‘Imagination’.

From there it was obvious that the conflict had to be based upon the way in which we ‘nurture’ a child’s imagination. As this is something a parent is often very sensitive to, I realised that the cause of conflict within the film should be between the child’s mother and the school. In this case, the school’s strict ethos, that crushes rather than nurtures the child.

Story premise I came up with for this idea was: If you nurture a child’s imagination, she will grow up to do wonderful things.

The narrative that emerged from within this idea:

  1. The protagonist – an introverted child in a single-parent family
  2. The situation – a rigid school system
  3. The source of conflict – between the mother’s desire for her child and the school’s crushing ethos

Developing on from this narrative, I assembled the following shot list:

FADE IN: Girl sits at a table in a primary school classroom. She is daydreaming, staring out of the window at the sky. It is a perfect blue sky. All around her are her classmates, busy with their tasks and talking loudly to each other, to all of which she is oblivious. We hear the teacher shout an instruction calling the students to order, the students stop what they are doing and the class falls silent, as everyone turns their attention to the teacher who is standing at the front of the room. The girl continues staring through the window. The teacher calls her name, snapping her out of her daydream and back into the real world of the school.

FADE IN: It is now afternoon. Girl sits strapped into the back seat of a car. She is daydreaming, staring out of the window at the blue sky. Her mother is driving and her older teenage brother is in the front passenger seat. Her mother is talking to her brother, who is more interested in his mobile phone and only afters the occasional grunt in response her questions about his day. The girl, still staring through the window at the sky, is oblivious to their conversation.

FADE IN: It is now evening and the family is about to have dinner. The girl is sitting at the kitchen table drawing a picture of a landscape. Her mother is preparing the meal. Her brother is reluctantly helping to set the table for dinner. The girl, oblivious to the activity going on around her, is busy adding one final colour to her picture: blue.





Complex representations: Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977-80)

Fig. 1. Untitled Film Still #21 (1978)
Fig. 2. Untitled Film Still #3 (1977)









I first encountered Cindy Sherman’s work in the Tate Gallery, London, in the 1980s. It was a colour photograph of a young woman sitting in front of a mirror. The title of which I can’t remember. My first impression of the photograph was of its cinematic qualities. Although clearly staged, the image could easily have been a still from a movie or tv drama. The young woman’s body language and facial expression was such, that you felt you had walked into a scene mid-action. Who was she? Where was she? What had just happened before I arrived? I knew there was something unique about this image, but couldn’t put my finger on it. It left me guessing. I had to fill in the blanks for myself, in an experience that has remained with me ever since.

Now, thirty years later, I feel more able to understand what Cindy Sherman is doing in that image I discovered in the Tate Gallery, and her inspiring black and white series ‘Untitled Film Stills’ from the late 1970s.

When seen as a whole, you quickly become aware that in these images Sherman has assembled a series of cliches, in which the fictional ‘blonde bombshell’ enacts a range of cultural roles, such as the housewife, the career girl, the chic starlet, the sophisticated woman. What’s particularly significant about the way in which Sherman renders these roles within the images is that, rather than simply using them as raw material or subject matter, she draws upon ‘a whole artistic vocabulary, ready-made’  (MoMA, exhibition notes). That’s what fascinates me most about Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’. The way in which she uses a ready-made artistic vocabulary drawn from popular film culture to communicate something quite profound about female identity within a still image.

While the pictures can be appreciated individually, much of their significance comes in the endless variation of identities from one photograph to the next. As a group they explore the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images, and refer to the cultural filter of images (moving and still) through which we see the world.” (MoMA, interactive exhibition guide)

The first thing I saw when looking at Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ were the cinematic techniques employed within the images: the lighting, framing, camera angle, etc. All of which make up a relevant component of the images, but not the main one. It wasn’t until after carrying out further research into the series that I realised how complex these images really were (both collectively and individually) and that, in making the artist the subject of these images, each of Sherman’s stills embody and represent much more than the replication of a promotional still for a movie.

Reseach Journal


‘Untitled Film Still’ #21

As with all good filmmaking, what you see inside the frame has been put there for a reason. Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ are no different. In ‘Untitled Film Still’ #21 we have a frame which could easily pass for a transitional shot in a 1960s movie. In the foreground, a woman in suit and hat is separated from the background, a Manhattan-style skyline, through the controlled use of shallow depth of field. A low, slightly tilted camera angle places her in the centre of the image, looking at something beyond the frame in what might be fear, anxiety or disgust, we’re not quite sure. The head and shoulders shot, a close up, also reveals enough of the background to set the context and tone of the image. However, although we have character and setting within the image, that’s as far as it goes. There are no more narrative signs within the sparsely composed image, other than the sophisticated woman standing on what could be a Manhattan street.

‘Untitled Film Still’ #3

‘Untitled Film Still’ #3 offers a similarly sparse, but controlled composition, also in the style of a 1960s movie still. In a carefully constructed wide shot, in which the various visual elements within the composition are placed in a banal domestic setting in accordance with the rule of thirds, we see a woman wearing an apron standing at a kitchen sink. Surrounded by household items (a dish washing bottle, drying rack and a spice jar on a shelf) she looks back over her shoulder at someone or something out of frame, while holding a hand to her stomach. A shallow depth of field throws a pan handle and small container in the foreground out of focus. Again, the character’s gaze suggests an unknown narrative.

Both images raise questions around the issue of female identity. Particularly around the question of whether female identity is culturally imposed or freely chosen. Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ challenges the way in which we view the role of being a woman. Through the act of turning the camera on herself, and directing and photographing the images through a vocabulary of popular film culture, she shows that being a women is a masquerade, a performance, something that you can freely choose and construct for yourself.

Looking at Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ in this way has shown me that both still and moving images are highly complex representations. It has shown me that rather than using the moving image as a way of merely representing issues on screen, I can actually engage with and define my own view of those issues through the moving image. It has also opened up the potential of creating meaningful non-narrative, poetic films within my own filmmaking practice.



Museum of Modern Art (1997) The Complete Untitled Film Stills Cindy Sherman. At:  https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1997/sherman/ (Accessed on: 24 March 2017)

Museum of Modern Art (2012) Interactive exhibition guide. At: https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/cindysherman/gallery/2/mobile.php (Accessed on: 24 March 2017)

Museum of Modern Art Learning (s.d.) Untitled Film Still #21. At: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/cindy-sherman-untitled-film-stills-1977-80 (Accessed on: 24 March 2017)


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Untitled Film Still #21 (1978) Cindy Sherman. [Film still] Museum of Modern Art, New York

Figure 2. Untitled Film Still #3 (1977) Cindy Sherman. [Film still] Museum of Modern Art, New York