OCA Level 3: Body of Work/Contextual Studies

Tag: everyday life

CS A2 – A False Start?

In this post I want to reflect on the problems I have faced completing my literature review, but most importantly, to work out a way to put these to bed and move forward. It is worth looking back at the strategy I set out for A2 following my feedback for A1:

"Thinking towards the literature review for A2 my approach needs to be - read, think, re-read and refine - by doing this I am sure that the themes I wish to explore in my extended project will come into focus. It is also important to note that the literature review is only a stepping stone towards the final piece and that I can still change direction afterwards and add further sources as I identify them."

The statements here still seem sound and relevant – simply what has gone wrong is that I have failed to refine my subject enough and this has left me tied in knots as I have tried to start writing the essay. 

The subject I chose for my literature review was the everyday/everyday life. In my reading, this is something that struck a chord with me – that everyday experience can be simultaneously banal and extraordinary is a fascinating contradiction. Photographically, my work is very much based in the real world and looking at the unusual in everyday life, so pursuing this as a theme seemed to fit well. 

When I came to begin writing, things quickly became unstuck however. I had collected a number of sources to write about, thought about my essay structure, decided on key areas I would focus so I could attain the word count, and yet, I found it extremely difficult to get going and the harder I tried the more I felt blocked. 

After a couple of weeks of using all my spare time to focus on the essay I realised that I was faced with a choice – either plough on as I had been to put something (anything) together to hit the deadline I had agreed with my tutor, or, miss the deadline, take a step back and evaluate. Although I was initially hesitant to stop, as soon as I had I felt a release of tension that immediately convinced me it was the right decision. The main problem I realised was that I had failed to refine the subject of everyday life which meant I was writing without focus. Also, the subject for my BoW was finally starting to come into view (shopping/retail) I realised that changing the subject of my literature review to consumerism/consumption was the right course of action. This subject was something that featured in my research for the everyday so I would not be starting from scratch, however, I still needed to do a great deal of work to get back on track. So, here is the plan:

  • Agree the main texts I am going to look at
    • Keep to these and (try) not to be too distracted
    • Make better notes as I go
  • Start working on my draft essay straight away
    • Use the process of writing to try and make sense of the subject
  • Don’t try to cover everything
    • Signpost areas/texts that could be of further interest but don’t get bogged down with these
  • Set a timeline of no more than 4-6 weeks for completion

Bess Atwell

Listening to the radio one Sunday morning, I heard a song by Bess Atwell that I enjoyed and added it to my Spotify playlist. I had not heard of Atwell before so had a quick look at her bio on Spotify and it immediately resonated with me:

“There is a comfort in the familiar. Yet it is precisely when we are most comfortable that we begin to ask questions. Artist Bess Atwell is full of questions: on life, death, love, loss…and how things at that at first seem mundane become profound when looked at in a different light.”

Out of all of the reading I have been doing lately, it is theories of the everyday and everyday life that continue to come back to me. I love the idea of how the “mundane [can] become profound when looked at in a different light” – it is something that I am beginning to realise is the overarching theme of my photography and also something that is usually present in the work of artists of all genres that I admire and enjoy. 


Tracy Chevalier on Tom Hunter and daily life

Living in Hell, from the series ‘Living in Hell and Other Stories’ (2003-4) ©Tom Hunter (Reproduced with permission)

Researching the  work of Tom Hunter, I came across this quote by Tracy Chevalier from her essay ‘Making an Art Out of Telling Stories’ from the catalogue accompanying Hunter’s series Living in Hell and Other Stories:

“Everyday life is full of small, familiar moments strung together that repeat themselves over and over. We eat, we breathe, we walk, we sit, we talk, we sleep. How peculiar when something outside of that mantra erupts; it shakes the placid surface of daily life. That, whether we admit it or not, is thrilling.” (Hunter, 2006: 12)

These words perfectly encapsulate what makes Hunter’s series, in which he recreates scenes suggested by lurid and sensational headlines he came across in his local paper The Hackney Gazette – the banality of the everyday and familiar transformed momentarily.


Hunter, T. (2006) Living in Hell and Other Stories. London: National Gallery Company Limited.

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