Portfolio Review Reflections

For the recent round of portfolio reviews I was able to talk with Clare Bottomley, Ant Prothero and Michal Iwanowski. Feedback from pretty much all of the reviewers was focused quite a bit on the way that my images are interacting with the words. In particular, with the way that the intro text is leading the audience into the whole project and how that might actually be giving away too much information about the project too soon. I have also not been giving the audience credit to work out aspects of the work for themselves as well as putting faith in existing knowledge to make connections within the work. I am effectively over explaining and making redundant statements. This is actually a timely reminder to not try and shoehorn too many ideas into it and over indulging the exposition. According to Iwanowski, audiences like to solve these puzzles for themselves, which is a core part of my project. I may end up frustrating them by giving too much away. Prothero concurred with this, suggesting that because the story started before me I could consider placing my own version of events in the middle somewhere. Iwanoski also suggested the opening text should really be the question that started the work and I work to build the answer throughout the sequence.

Another point that Prothero made was the way that at the moment the work feels as though I am telling someone else’s story, asking where do I fit into this work. This starts to take nto account feedback that I have received from my peers and also a conversation that I had with Cemre with the way that my initial image captions were being read as too fixed and impersonal. The way that I create image descriptors akin to how a museum might log an item The challenge with this however, is they interfere with the narrative of the story. During the recent Geoff Dyer talk, he noted the way that images and text work together and potential for redundancy with words illustrating images and images illustrating words (2021). The fixed nature of my descriptive captions also started to create judgement on the images and the way that they were being read, for example I noted that my brother just finished a shift collecting rubbish in his portrait when it is clear to see in the image he was wearing work clothing. When I showed the work to Ross from my cohort, he noted that the caption felt derogatory, which was also supported by Cemre’s reading of the work. To work on this, I have been aiming to use the ambiguity of the quotes that I have been collecting t see how they work with the images and support the narrative arc of the work. This actually works much better within the concept of the Unreliable Narrator.

That said, later editors of the work presented to the reviewers, it was unclear who was ‘narrating,’ which could create intrigue in the work through it’s ambiguity but also continue t frustrate the audience. This might end up becoming too loose, the opposite of the completely fixed version with the descriptive captions. There is a fine line to make here. My aim is to show somehow the answer to the question that I pose at the start and not obfuscate the narrative for the reader of the work in showing the revelations that I have found.   Up to quite recently, I had no answer to this question so no real reason to consider this part – some clearing of the ambiguity would be useful. I could also identify all of the characters in this narrative a bit more so that the reader knows who they are. Clare Bottomley was really insightful in providing some further areas of research to explore, including reminding me that Dinu Li has experience with the family archive and produced a book on the topic, so I will aim to attend one of his crits for further developments.

Narrative editing – Audio to the written word

My plan following all of the feedback that I received is to produce a text, which is based on my own experiences of the journey that I have undergone but also to place everything within this narrative in a chronological order of discovery. Even If I go back and edit the text and change the order, I think that it is vital that I get a sense of the overall story as it is now before playing with its sequence. A key takeaway from my feedback was the strength of the way that I tell the story so I will aim to use this as a central core in which to sequence the photographs.

This actually is something that I considered early on, albeit using a different medium, linking back to ideas I had initially around the edited audio elements.  It is an idea that still interests me but the learning curve in creating and putting together an edited serial podcast style of audio that I suggested in my proposal. Although I have collected some audio as part of my process, I overestimated the amount of work putting this kind of production would have alongside the other aspects of the project I proposed. However, part of the process of creating a kind of serial audio documentary would require me to write the narrative for either my own narration, or to work out the sequence and edit of the production. This would be similar to how podcast ‘Serial’ is structured, which is described as ‘narrative non-fiction story’ (Koenig, 2014). This format of building and slowly revealing elements of the story for the audience to discover is actually a useful framework for me to write my own narrative for Unreliable Narrator. The way that I write the story provides the opportunity to address much of the feedback that I have received on the project with regards to elements such as the introduction of the characters and the significance of some of the places. It also works to place me into the work as part of the family presented.

The text that I produce would be short, potentially around 1500 to 2000 words, which would be considered a ‘Flash Fiction’ if it were a novel, or novella. A key difference is my story is based in fact and connects to Vanessa Winship’s notion that photography is somewhere between chronicle and fiction.


Dyer, G., 2021. Coversation with Geoff Dyer – Falmouth Flexible [Interview] (8 July 2021).

Koenig, S., 2014. Serial. [Sound Recording] (This American Life).

Peer feedback & Reflections 19/06 – 29/06

The past few weeks have been quite tumultuous for the project. Many ups and downs. It has been a good time to reflect on the progress and consider ways in which I can move forward to a resolution.

I have collected together a great deal of material for the project, which creates the problem of editing. When I see that lots of the images are important, the job of sequencing and pairing down becomes a real challenge. I sought some feedback from my peers and also Cemre who have been very useful is getting me to think about the work in preparation to sequence it.

Ross pointed out the way that the still life objects suggest that I am in the process of unpacking everything as I ‘discover it,’ which is not something that I though of myself but makes sense in the way that I have been approaching these objects. He also noted that some of the images, in particular the house, feels like a scene of crime image (which has since become poignant to the project) and suggesting of something that has happened. Since receiving this feedback from Ross, my project has shifted in this direction owing to new information coming to light – that I intend to elaborate on once I have fully processed it.

Ross seemed to like the way that I was using the text and how it does not point to a particular narrator, which has been the point of the work and I am happy that he had this reading of it. He did point out that there are some consistency issues with the text and this is something others have also suggested to me. A clear area to develop is in the way that these pieces of text come across for the narrative. Colin made the point that I must be the one who is reliable so that I can be unreliable, and it will be in these details in which that will start to make sense.

The captions seemed to be where I am getting the most comments within terms of how the images are being read. When I started looking at the archive, I made the conscious decision to log everything in a database and describe each artifact in what could be seen visually – essentially all of the denoted elements of the photographs. I then added to these descriptions with accompanying information inside square brackets, which are used to add extra information not by the author. This is an extra level of confusion when both the image, the caption, and the brackets are made by me the author of the work. Initially, my intention with the caption was to create the distance suggested by Wayne C. Booth but I am starting to realise that there are better ways of doing this.

As soon as I started to introduce some of the quotes collected along the way, this approach has become a little inconsistent with the rest of the work – too matter of fact. The other challenge I am finding is the literal descriptions are being read in a way that starts to create negative associations or placing judgement on the subject. Ross made special note of this as he pointed out the portrait of my brother (fig: 1) might come across as too judgmental with the inclusion of the caption about his shift work. I was aiming to make connections to ideas of class within the wider body of work but now realise that I really don’t have to do so in an overt way. In our last meeting, Colin also suggested that the sequencing of the quotes will be important to the narrative of the project and I should start to focus on this aspect of it.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Original caption: ‘8132, Matthew, brother [after a shift collecting rubbish], Frome, Somerset, 2021.’

I made a point of speaking with Cemre, who support me on the surfaces and strategies module, she also has great experience producing books. Her feedback was also focussed on the way that I had been using text and how inconsistent it is when looking through the project. As usual, I have a huge amount of ideas that I am unwilling to let go off and as a result the whole project suffers. Cemre made the useful observation that at the moment the project is far too loose, and it was important to get things back under control. It would be important to come to the work as if I was starting it from scratch. The issue with creating early sequences of the work, as I have been doing all along, is that I may lose some important connections with the work by hanging on to image sequences that are actually not really helping the project as a whole. It is vitally important that I go back to the beginning of this and work on the narrative much more. Between colin, Ross, and Cemre I should focus on working on the way that the text elements fit together before sequencing the images.  And of course, the all important ‘living with the work’ comment was made, so I am going to get all of the images on a wall to work through the sequence again.

As I had started working with a book designer, I spoke with Cemre about this process. It was noted that it would be good to get a handle on the sequence and narrative before I meet again with the designer. This was very useful as I had been presenting a patchwork of loose ideas before this. However, I will need to conder how flexible this project will need to be even after I have a dummy designed. On a recent interview with Bryan Schutmaat and Matthew Genitempo (Smith, et al., 2021) they discuss that it is important to have a great set of images that don’t necessarily have to be too structured in terms of the presentation as the publisher will always want to bring something to the outcome of the book. This of course is if I chose to continue pursuing publishers over self-publishing.

A useful takeaway from my discussion with Cemre is that the book will exist longer than other forms of dissemination and I really need to consider this and what it will bring to the project.

I also spoke with Drew who was able to provide some useful insight into the project and how I might start tackling the sequence and narrative. One of the main points of feedback he made was in the way that I need to find something within the process that is valuable to the sequence. If there is no real conclusion it becomes about what I discovered along the way. My project is very much about the journey and not the outcome so this is an area to now focus on.

Crucially, in our discussion Drew reminded me of Barthes’ ‘Image-Music-Text’ chapter on ‘Structural Analysis of Narrative’ (1977: 79-124), which breaks down the process of how a narrative is structured. Although Barthes is referring to literature, there are useful elements to consider in putting together a photographic narrative that I am aiming to apply. For example, it is important to consider what each of my images is saying in terms of what I want to say. Barthes points out: “having described the flower, the botanist is not to get involved in describing the bouquet” (p. 83), which is to suggest that I am effectively shutting down discourse by overly describing within my captions. Each image becomes a sentence in the story and some of the images would be consider longer sentences than others. Time to break down the images into these elements and then bring them back together.


Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Smith, B., Genitempo, M. & Schutmaat, B., 2021. 155 – Matthew Genitempo & Bryan Schutmaat. [Online]
Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/genitempo-and-schutmaat

Peer Feedback 28/03

I was encouraged to share my project with peers more often. Something that I know but definitely need a constant nudge to ensure that I do it. This is especially necessary whilst producing my current work, which is quite personal to me. I feel I have been keeping it to myself. I shared the same iteration as the portfolio reviews (Fig: 1) with my peers to gain some insight into the work.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Unreliable Narrator portfolio review PDF

Peer Feedback
  • Isabelle: I love the title, the general feel and the variety of the images. I am a bit lost as far as narration goes…maybe some slight hints with some text?

This is a general impression that I am getting at this stage. People enjoy the images but are somewhat lost with the reading of it. At this stage, I am actually ok with this. My project is still in the early stages of development and I have not collected any of the depositions from people within the images yet, so it is understandable that there is little to no context to the images that I presented. I also deliberately didn’t explain any of them to the group in order to see how far the concept would carry at this point.

Interestingly, Isabelle’s feeling of being lost could be useful for the series. The idea of the unreliable narrator could be constructed to continually undermine the perceived reading of the narration. It might be argued however, that my sequence wouldn’t feel completely resolved as result. I do quite like the idea of the reader being unsure of exactly what is happening, although at this point of the work could be because I myself so not quite know or understand what happened.

  • Claire: Phil,  I think these are really good and the title really positions the work – I  definitely get the link between challenging truth of image and family albums.  I think the diary entry points to an event – maybe more of archive material/written words.  

It was good to gain insight from Claire with regards to the title, I think that the idea of unreliable narrator does frame the work in the way that makes you consider it in a certain way. Again, Claire is keen to review more text to contextualise the images, which is fair and an area I am keen to develop as the project progresses.

  • Marcel: Hi Phil, I agree with Isabelle – the title is very good and I like the mood and the sequencing. I see a coherence, but perhaps a short introduction or some some quotes between the images would make it easier accessible.

Marcel supports the other feedback that I received and I agree that an introduction would be beneficial to set up the journey through the sequence of the images. This I would expect to come more towards the end of the project as I consolidate the idea and finalise sequences. However, on the theme of unreliability, I could also create a few of these as the project evolves as a means of undermining and creating confusion – should my project focus more on those elements.

  • Tim: I hadn’t see this before, and I really like it as it is. It comes across well. I know a bit about the project and the family history/story that you have mentioned but not too much. What you are showing at the moment (youthful pictures against current portraits); the small amount of text; made me go back and forth to look for clues and make conjectures. It spoke of distribution; a conflict; uncared for… How to push it forward with just visuals and where (may be) you see yourself in all of this. Can you re-build a history; statements from those that remember; revisiting before the conflict/break… It answers some of your questions. I agree for the moment, hold off on a commentary and push the visual. How much content do you have. The layout is great as you compare the 2 images and work out some connection. May be there are visual stories (archival newspaper etc.) of events that can lead us into interesting thoughts about what has happened. 

Tim’s comments support the direction that I am taking the project so far. My intention should be to build mystery. As I am still in the experimental collecting phase of the project, this construction of the narrative will come later. I quite like the idea of also collecting some archive stories, potentially there are some contextualising events recorded in local newspapers that can support the narrative I intend to create. There may also be some references to my own family in the form of birth/marriages/death announcements. Tim’s feedback is useful as it confirms direction and consolidates what the others are saying.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Flatbed scan of St Christopher Pendant Christening Present

Jonjo: I also had the opportunity to catch up with Jonjo Borrill, from another cohort not currently in the FMP and it was really valuable to get his insight into my project. It also gave me the opportunity to go through its progress with someone who was not familiar with the work. Jonjo was able to make some really useful observations regarding the objects in the archive that I had not considered. For example, the St Christopher pendant’s (Fig: 2) association with being the patron saint of travellers is a kind of metaphor for the journey that I am going on during the process of this project. I felt that the necklace is significant because of how it was gifted to me by my grandmother as a baby however, I have not made the connection to the idea of travel and journey. St Christopher’s are typically given to those about to go travelling to keep you safe on the journey, Jonjo has one himself. Potentially the pendant represents this idea and also part of a collection of sentimental objects that we apply additional meaning to.

PHO704 WIPP Peer Feedback

Figure 1: Phil Hill (September, November, 2020) Initial Work in Progress development

Figure 2: Phil Hill (September – November, 2020) Initial Work in Progress Portfolio development – PDF.

I have asked my peer group to give some feedback on my current iteration of my work in progress portfolio (Fig 1&2).

What I have found is that I am still trying to explain and add as much information as I can into the justification of the work. As a result, both Tim and Ross struggled with the ‘Journey’ concept in my work because I led with this explanation, which might have suggested that this is what the work is about when in fact the journey narrative is just the frame. Colin had suggested to me that I construct my story structure and then disregard it for the presentation, or at least keep it to myself. The structure is mine to disseminate as appropriate. Clearly, there are challenges to giving too many of the ‘secrets’ of my narrative construction away. This was supported somewhat, when I shared the same work with Kim and one of my work colleagues Ryan. I kept my justification very simple by stating: the work was inspired by the poem ‘Desert Places’ and an exploration of connection to place. Both of them were much more receptive to the work. My aim is to really consider the statement of intent for the work and see how it adds to the reading of the work, whilst supporting what I want others to see in it.

Ross Feedback

It’s tricky as I’m not familiar with the classic journey system for it. I think if that is important for you then you have to stick with it but I think there’s a better edit in there purely aesthetically if you were to mix the images in a different way. I think if they were all landscape format I would get almost a film still and maybe connect that in an easier way to the idea of the story. I find the mix of landscape and portrait more confusing if I am trying to think about it in that form but it’s the first time I’ve looked.

I am less drawn to the abstract images and the close up images personally. I prefer the more formal images that you create where there is a clear structure to either the portrait of the image of the object, tree, car, wall etc. I like that more topographic approach in your work.

I think the link to paths throughout do suggest at a journey but I find some of the images a bit confusing. The opening image is the only image taken inside, or I think it’s inside? The image of the hand with flower, although I really like it, seems out of place as well. I’m less drawn to the images where you are looking down as well as like I Said, I think your work is really strong when it has a formal gaze.

  • I attempted to justify the Journey structure first, which has created a challenge to the reading as Ross is attempting to resolve the sequence solely on this piece if information. This is quite valuable in the way that I will need to approach the statement of intent for the body of work.
  • I agree with Ross on The image of my Dad holding the Dandelion (Fig: 3). When showing the sequence to Colin he felt the same. I really enjoy this image but it does feel out of place in this sequence. I was keen to hang on to it because of the reference across Edgelands (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011, p. 141) and one of the metaphors in ‘Desert Places’ (Frost, 1936, p. 44) however, the image is clearly aesthetically different to the rest of the sequence.
  • Ross did also mention that I might want to consider taking an image from each section and building it up, which is something that I might consider moving forward.
Figure 3: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Dad holding Dandelions
Tim Feedback

I have more questions than answers when looking at this.

  • This comment is actually great. Exactly what I want from my sequence. Using the journey structure I hope that the sequence encourages the reader to explore and investigate. I am not aiming to answer anything with the work, only present a narrative version, or ‘truth.’

Presented in this way, I do struggle a bit to take it all in. The individual images are great, really strong, but the question is it’s about how it all comes together.

Your first image, the one of the looking through the window, of me is the standout image. And great that it sets us off on a journey of the hero. Through the piece we meet experience the various encounters, and people who aid or distract the hero on the journey. But are they a distraction, to our own experience of what the hero is going through.

I like how you have structured the narrative in the screen shot, through the phrases. The ‘Call to Action’ etc., as I then can see more of what you are trying to achieve and how you have thought about it.

The questions that pop into my mind are:

Too many different sizes to the images – does this lessen their impact

What if you removed 90% of the portraits. What would you feel

The ‘Goal’ completes the journey started out by the first image

Is the ‘Journey’ happening too soon. Are we not going out from urban into countryside as the goal.

This has made me think that there are images of ‘paths’ and that there are images where the path is ‘blocked’ and therefore our journey through the piece is about us, through the hero, finding a path from inside to outside, and the goal.

  • As with Ross, I went to a great length in explaining the way that I structured the sequence. This is a clear identification of the need to withhold some information from the reader to illicit a more receptive response from the work. For Tim, I even presented him with the structure infographic (Fig: 4), which then feels as though took over from other aspect of what I am aiming to do with this work.
  • There is some work to do on the structure as some of the images in the different sections may not be working. If both Ross and Tim are saying similar things here then it is important not to dismiss the feedback because of the way that I described it – this is only part of what I need to resolve here.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (November, 2020) WIPP compared to narrative ‘journey’ structure.
Colin Feedback

Colin was responsive to the way that I have created my first sequence. There are clearly areas that need development and I am continuing to work with the series on my wall to make adjustments and edits to the work. A key area to consider from my tutorial was to continue working on the narrative to narrow it down a bit more – Think of a direction and build it into the narrative.

Narrative Developments

I consider the journey story as a frame and not necessarily to be followed in the strictest sense as it may lead to quite a ‘closed’ linear sequence that leaves little room for ambiguity and multiple reading. This felt confirmed by me aiming to justify my WIPP iteration by explaining this structure process. I am also not aiming to answer any questions with this work – raising some, more likely. I like a level of ambiguity in the work as it acknowledges that the reading of the work is not mine to control, I only aim to lead the reader on a poetic journey through the landscape.

Referring to the journey structure, the idea of defined elements of the structure, for example ‘the call,’ the helpers,’ ‘the hero’s companions’ do not necessarily relate to the embodiment of a lead character or person at all. These can be an idea, or particular imagery that suggests a means of viewing the narrative. Christopher Booker suggests as much when discussing the idea of ‘Overcoming the Monster’ (2004, pp. 31-50), in which stories will create language to paint a picture of “immense menace and evil” (p. 37) over actual embodiments of what we might consider a monster. The same can be said for any of the structural elements that I am applying to my sequence. Instead they should be represented by a visual language that I create through the edit of the work.

If I were to be pressed on the idea of a protagonist however, this is potentially a story told in the first person, in which the viewer becomes the person journeying through the landscape. Ultimately, I am going to use Colin’s suggestion and build this up using the structure and the trope and then remove it to the bare minimum so that the reader is required to look for it. Of course, when questioned about the work, I can build up the picture of the narrative once again.


Booker, C., 2004. The Seven Basic Plots. London: Bloomsbury Continuum.

Farley, P. & Symmonds Roberts, M., 2011. Edgelands – Journeys into England’s true Wilderness. London: Vintage.

Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.