Assignment 2: theme decision – Loss

As at the end of last week I was trying to decide between two alternative themes, Loss and Danger.

I did a couple of dummy shots of each idea, and also spent some time thinking ahead to (a) whether I could come up with eight different executions for each idea, and (b) how the overall set might hang together.

I also spent some time working through my nagging concern about the extent to which I might need to stage rather than find these executions.

With all of this in mind, I have made my decision, and it is the first idea I had right back at the start of this section: Loss.

A word on Danger and why it was rejected: the extent to which these images would need to be staged would be great, potentially onerous and most importantly, maybe too easy to call out as faked. I am not, nor ever will be, a thrill-seeker – so the degree to which I am prepared to put myself in any kind of danger for a photograph is quite minimal…

Loss is however an emotion that I believe we can all tap into. We’ve all experienced loss in some form or other.

Defining loss

Just to clarify my own wording above, in the interests of better articulating my intent: loss is not an ’emotion’ as such, rather a situation to which one can have an emotional response. Loss can be felt, and that can make one sad, lonely, angry or some other emotion on the more negative end of the continuum.

The third listed definition in the OED is the one I’m aiming for:

“the feeling of grief after losing someone or something of value” (OED)

What I am looking to depict here is not the ‘losing’ of something, nor is it the ‘thing lost’ – it is the sensation of ‘having lost‘ (something or someone). Peter Wollen’s excellent essay Fire and Ice (1984) puts well a categorisation of three aspects of narrativity (credited to Bernard Comrie) that can be applied to photography:

  • Process (how something happens/changes – generally typified by documentary photography)
  • Event (the moment of happening/change – generally typified by news photography)
  • State (the stable, unchanging situation – generally typified by art photography)

(Wollen 1984)

Through this lens I could clarify what I want to depict: I want to show the state of loss.

Some more notes to hone in on my intent:

  • More than ‘absence’ or ‘gap’, loss includes the inherent meaning of once having had that which is no longer there; it’s missing something in the emotional sense in addition to it not being present
  • There are different kinds of loss:
    • Temporary vs permanent
    • Tangible (people, objects) vs intangible (e.g. faith, confidence, virginity)
  • There is an inherent difficulty in photographing something that isn’t there! I’ll need to be reasonably creative in coming up with images that can provide the viewer with enough information to determine what is missing

Proposed subjects

With loss as the connecting theme, I still need to deliver eight executions that individually communicate this message.

I have some ideas already. Not all of these have actual executions attached yet. They range from trivial to grave. In sequencing I am already thinking that I might start small/trivial and build up to large/serious.

  • Loss of hair / tooth (to signify loss of youth/vitality?)
  • Loss of hope / dignity /  confidence (hard to depict visually?)
  • Loss of loved one: person
  • Loss of loved one: pet
  • Loss of someone you don’t know personally (public figure?)
  • Loss of relationship (breakup)
  • Loss of job / livelihood
  • Loss of community

There may be more than one execution for some of the more significant ones (e.g. loss of loved one).

Next steps

Before I get too far into shooting I plan to do some research on other photographers who have attempted similar themes. I have been given a few pointers from other students.


Wollen, P. (1984) ‘Fire and Ice’ in The Photography Reader (2003). New York: Routledge


6 thoughts on “Assignment 2: theme decision – Loss

  1. helen 18 May 2016 / 07:48

    Looking forward to seeing how this progresses. I am working on a bereavement/death/temporality theme for G&M assignment 2 so very interested in your ideas and creative process….


    • Rob Townsend 18 May 2016 / 10:25

      Ooh, interesting – very best of luck. Temporality is a big word :-) Mine’s hopefully not going to be wholly about loss as in bereavement and I plan to weave in a couple of lighter (or at least darkly humorous?) executions. Tonally it might be tricky to pull off though…


      • Rob Townsend 18 May 2016 / 13:42

        Ha, yes. I’m not planning any actual executions, that might be considered cheating… :-)


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