Category Archives: Assignment 3: Thou Shalt Not Age

Assignment 3; ‘thou shalt not age’

Select the most interesting parts of the diary (which could also be the most banal or mundane) and interpret them into a photographic project.
A good way to approach selection could be to ask a friend/fellow student/stranger to read it and send back a highlighted version. You could then base your project on those parts. This would take the pressure off you to find a ‘good story’.
You may choose to select a few days or phrases that spark an idea for you, or you may wish to exaggerate how you were feeling one day into a parody of yourself or the circumstance. You may wish to create a ‘document’ of that time in a re-creation of events
– or direct a model to act out some of the content of the diary, making your own ‘filmstills’.
You could present your chosen diary entries as a visual diary or use it as a springboard

I have kept diaries sporadically over the years, recently for my grandchildren. Many of these have been about our travels or what is going on in the world.

For this assignment I started my diary on 9th February and continued until 9th March. When I was starting the diary I remembered that at this time of year, 19 years ago, we moved to Africa to work as volunteers. I located these diaries and copied a couple of pages to put into the current diaries. What struck me most was how mundane the African diaries were. The reality was certainly not. The only conclusion I could come to was that the reality was too difficult to put down in words.

Re-reading the current diary there was nothing there on which I wanted to work. I wanted to explore how I could portray this modern claim that with age comes invisibility.

My deafness came when I was 26 years old, 45 years ago. I wore glasses at 16 so that makes 55 years of peering through lenses. I have grey hair for 20 years and I quite like it. But none of these ‘defects’ explains why older women  feel invisible.

I do not feel invisible but then I have never given much thought to how visible I was when I was younger. I searched for inspiration on Pinterest for images of invisibility with aging. Most examples involved superimposing half the older face on a young portrait. There were many images of shadows that I had already worked on. Dr. Google did not offer much better inspiration. I devoured my newly acquired Auto Focus by Susan Bright to become inspired. I liked the idea, used my Kapajeva in Interiors, of replacing the features with the wallpaper background. But I was more deeply influenced by Francesca Woodman’s flimsy self portraits.

I have always believed, if we are not supermodels, we are noticed and remembered for our personality not our looks. At a recent party a rather intoxicated guest was forcing his unwanted attention on me (not on my 20 year old beautiful neighbour). When I shook him off we both laughed. The phrase we flirt with Myopia (2) seemed relevant as did Don’t whisper your anguish to me, as if an accumulation of crow’s feet somehow excuses other people’s bad manners  (2)

But the idea of how or why women feel invisible interests me. Is it driven by consumerism that glorifies youth and perfection? Is it that, with age, we are less sexually attractive? Or is it that one really does become invisible with age? I wanted to try to represent this invisibility. I found this series of self-images by women aged 50 – 65 inspiring (3) which gave me some ideas of how and where to start.

I created a couple of image sets shown in contacts below.


Set 1: Being sexually invisible.


Set 2: Being physically invisible


Set 3: Using reflections to demonstrate invisibility


Set 4: Finally revealing myself

I then honed my selection to try to encompass all of these possibilities and added some text to create “Thou Shalt Not Grow Old“.

1_me_portrait_writing_smImage 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5


Image 6


Image 7

Reflection on Assignment 3

I have really enjoyed this assignment as it gave me an opportunity to make contact with many photographers that were previously unknown to me. The whole idea of self portraiture had never entered my head before I started this assignment.

Once I had decided on my topic I was surprised not to be able to find more examples of other ‘older’ photographer’s work. Most of what I found was very routine. I wanted to make a narrative but when I made my final selection I was not sure whether it would have been better to use only images 1 to 4 as they hung together well. However I feel the point of this study course is to submit what I think and await the tutor feedback. I also liked my images 6 and 7 but without Image 5 they would have been stuck on the end of the other four….

For image 1,5 and 7 I set my camera on a tripod, having focused it beforehand on where I would stand, using a stick, I set the timer to 20s to give me plenty of time to get back into the scene. For the other images I held the camera at chest height. For image 6 I asked a friend to take the image of me after I had set the camera but I had taken the cloth which was draped over another aircraft.

As recommended by my tutor I asked some artist friends to comment on my submission. Here are some comments:

Beverly: (a dancer)

  • They are in the right order.
  • YOUTH IS WASTED ON THE YOUNG   We emerge into adulthood but everything we opened to and sensed as a child gets hazy and confused.Childhood forms us into the people we are but childhood remains veiled in us.
  • BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER  that photo is the most self explanatory. I love the white. It becomes purity.. We hold up our masks to the world.The mask hides, so the viewer cannot make judgements and the subject is protected from outside limitations, remaining whatever they feel they are.  I love the purity of n thought, just being what is.

Sandi: (a painter):

You should definitely include all. My favourites in order of preference are 1. Youth is wasted on the young. 2. Beauty is in eye on beholder and 3. Inside I’m 20. I can’t really make out the image of inside I’m flying but I’m rushing

Angela: (an art psychotherapist):

I am interested in the fact that you are not worried about aging and see the beauty in aging faces. I especially like Image 5 as it shows a youthful figure and a hidden face. I like also Image 6 as it expressing hope and joy.

Tutor Feedback



Formative feedback

Student name Nuala Mahon Student number 513668
Course/Unit C & N Assignment number 3
Type of tutorial Written

Overall Comments

It’s really evident that you have enjoyed producing the work for this assignment. Your enthusiasm and focus is there to see. Your reflections and ideas for the project are well considered and thought through. Your idea development has been less ‘photographic’ the ideas and context have informed your visual approach and you have responded accordingly. This assignment has certainly developed your creativity and artistic practice. Use of the self-portrait appears to have given you a sense of freedom and allowed your ideas to grow.

Research and reflection is excellent. It’s clear that you have been informed and inspired by the artists that you have looked at. Your critical analysis connects and has helped you to develop your work.

This is a really positive submission and one that addresses some of the issues mentioned in previous reports. Your confidence and creativity has certainly developed. Keep up the excellent work!

Feedback on assignment

I can clearly see that you had great enthusiasm for this project and it is based upon sound reflection and research. It’s evident that you have learnt an awful lot and pushed your practice. Interpretation of diaries or ‘real life’ can be problematic but I think that in this instance it has helped you to discover a more personal approach to your work. In turn, this personal approach has helped you to experiment further and reflect upon your artistic sensibilities, areas that seemed to concern you before. Your artist research into the likes of Woodman, Kapajeva and Fox have been really beneficial. It feels like you considered the context and idea of the work and put a precedent on this rather than the ‘practice of photography’ if that makes sense? This is a positive, bearing in mind the course title! You have allowed your ideas to flow resulting in a project that has an opinion and expresses your thoughts relating to invisibility and ageing. The resulting selfportraits help to reinforce your narrative and position as an artist. The self-portrait actually feels like a logical step within your practice. You mention in your notes that this is a new direction but it feels like an extension and progression from your earlier work. I think that it has aided your conceptual and photographic development.

Your contact sheets identify your progression and idea formation. They evidence the consideration that you have applied to your visual strategy. The final images are interesting and along with the inclusion of text successfully reflect upon your ideas. You have applied experimentation and creativity along with various visual approaches and locations. Your input has clearly been considered and focused. It’s great to see and feel that your personality has manifested itself within your work. There is playfulness and humor within the images but also a sense of serious contemplation and reflection. The subject matter is universal and would no doubt appeal to a wider audience. I think that the final images have a duality in that they could work individually but also successful as a series. The text and font connects them, it gives them a coherency. Your staged photographic approach is appropriate and helped you to produce some strong images. Image 1 and 2 work well with the silhouette, introducing the viewer to you the protagonist yet still remaining anonymous. Use of the steam in the bathroom is an excellent device. Image 3, again you have responded well to your brief, use of the distortion in the mirror allows the viewer a slight insight into your identity but holds back just enough to keep the suspense. I think that image 4, is the least successful, it’s a little too ambiguous and doesn’t offer enough information to connect with the viewer, It’s unsure has to how the image reflects upon the text. How does it connect to youthfulness and your internal thoughts, what is the viewer looking at?

In some ways, image 5, and the use of the mask is the most obvious. The mask as device to question identity and visibility is an often (very) used device along with the quote. However, I think that you have used it in an interesting way and it works. The image is a strong portrait; it is subtle with attention to detail. The pose, whiteness and holding back the curtain gives it an intriguing quality, its mysterious! I really like what you have done with image 6. You have experimented further and the subject seems to have more cultural influences, again your pose is key to this. It feels more tongue in cheek and questions patronising commercials (my reading anyway!). And finally your sense of humor comes through, again influenced by culture; it’s fun, mocking and a great conclusion to the series.


It’s clear that you have really engaged with this assignment and coursework. You have showed great enthusiasm and focus, this is evident in your final outputs.

Keep up with the great work!


Evidence of research is excellent. It’s clear that you are engaging with artist references and these are informing your work. Your evaluations are clear, coherent and very informative. There is a clear connection between your practice and your personal thoughts; you demonstrate a great ability to learn from your critical analysis

Learning Log

Clear concise and is becoming a good archive of information. It’s great to see that you are reflecting on course materials along with the suggested reading mentioned in my tutor reports.

Suggested reading/viewing

I think that you will find these artists of interest.

Jo Spence:

Donigan Cumming (Pretty Ribbons)

Tutor name C Coekin
Date 26/04/2016
Next assignment due 30/05/2016


Reflections on Tutors Feedback:

I am completely satisfied with the Tutor’s feedback. In fact it was a lot more positive than I had anticipated. As I said I was not sure if the series hung together as a narrative. But my tutor felt they could stand alone or form a narrative which is great. Although he was doubtful about image 4, I want to leave it in as it is the only one in the set which indicates how I FEEL. I hope this meets with approval.

I had been asked to participate in this project this Summer: and it was suggested I could get very large prints of this series to put on the walls of the space. However since the space is unsecured and open to the elements during the daytime i did not feel this was prudent. I asked the organiser if I could wait until next Summer when I would  have more time to prepare.

Now to look at the tutors reading/watching suggestions. Jo Spence I know but have not looked at for a while and Donigan Cumming is completely new to me. Yippie I love discovering new photographers.

What a project – Cumming’s images of Nettie…. They are extraordinary. Nettie was extraordinary. I found this response to the work interesting:(3). I am wondering how old the author, Zoltan Jokay, is? Young I would guess….. I appreciate both Spence and Cumming’s work but this is not what I am trying to say in my work. I am 71 years young and feel mentally and physically fit(ish!!!!). My body is in reasonable shape and yet I am of no interest to the modern world of consumerism and very little to the world of photography. I represent a whole ‘untapped’ world of people being missed (thank goodness) by these worlds.

However I am very interested in the ethics of photographers like Spence and Cumming. Hence I did some more research on Cumming and wrote a review here.

Am a little shocked that I had forgotten, or maybe never knew, that Spence gave up High Street photography because she was becoming unhappy with the ethics of making images f other people. About this time she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she started using photography as a diary and a therapy. I watched again the very interesting Arena programme of Jo Spence’s life. (4).

Jo Spence set up Photpgraphy Therapy to help herself deal with her own past and to be used by others to help them deal with their issues. She had fet abondoned by her mother but through therapy she learned to understand how difficult her mother’s life had been.

She made many projects with her husband also to help her work through her issues with nakedness. Her photographing system was very simple with the minimum of lighting.

Jo Spence died of leukemia at the age of 58.

  1. Women become invisible to men as we age. So what? . 2016. Women become invisible to men as we age. So what? . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 February 2016].
  2. The Invisible Age:Photographic Self-Portraits by Women Aged 50-65 – Curated by Jan Potts and Beth Keintzle | LensCulture. 2016. The Invisible Age:Photographic Self-Portraits by Women Aged 50-65 – Curated by Jan Potts and Beth Keintzle | LensCulture. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 04 March 2016].
  3. Donigan Cumming/ Pretty Ribbons | time machine. 2016. Donigan Cumming/ Pretty Ribbons | time machine. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2016].
  4. YouTube. 2016. Jo Spence – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 04 May 2016].