Tag Archives: Helen Maurene Cooper

Helen Maurene Cooper

Helen Maurene Cooper is another photographer that my tutor suggested I look at with regards usage of text and imagery. The specific body of work she was referencing is Cooper’s book Paint and Polish. It is a project about specialty minority-owned nail salons in Chicago’s West Side. The book features  essays and oral histories in the form of conversations with the nail salon owners and artists. She found that this was a community of mothers and daughters “connected by both birth and mentorship, who have found long-term financial stability through craftsmanship and entrepreneurship” (NewCityArt).

I have not managed to find any other online sources featuring this book other than the link that my tutor sent me. Click on the picture of the publication to access a few pages inside.

Paint and Polish by Helen Maurene Cooper

Cooper’s captions are flipped 90 degree and are vertically oriented in the margins of the pages. On the pages where she doesn’t have a full bleed image she employs a margin of approximately 1 or 2 inches to accommodate the caption. On full bleed pages the text is simply overlaid over the image. Of course it is obvious that the text orientation is mimicking the long nails that the subjects are displaying. It seems that most of the captions consist of the names of the various nail salons, but occasionally there is a smaller, longer line of text below the salon name, but unfortunately I was not able to discern what this was referring to. She uses black as a background colour for the margins and text pages and this makes the text pop.

In the essays and conversations sections, the text is orientated normally. She uses a sans-serif font throughout the book. On some of the pages she has created a transparency overlay effect with her text, in that the colour of the text varies throughout the page, echoing the vibrancy of the nail art featured alongside. I do have to wonder though, if that would affect the ease of readability of the text.

Paint and Polish by Helen Maurene Cooper

I would expect that the pages are glossy as well as this would emphasis the vibrancy of the photographs. The photos that I have managed to view are awash with colours and the closeups are incredibly detailed. I feel like reaching out and touching the decorations on the nails. Looking at this body of work though, makes me realise that the way text is used in each project is vital to the overall message the photographer wants to convey. Where text is needed or used with images it should be carefully planned – the entire look and feel should be consistent and enhance  and not detract or overwhelm the images.

Reference List

Cooper, Helen Maurene (2017) Paint and Polish [online] Onomatopee. Available at: http://www.onomatopee.net/project.php?progID=3aeacd7195c415e05a925c68cb7b9f50 [Accessed 12 May, 2017]

Rigou, Vasia Nailing It, Chicago Stylehttp://art.newcity.com/2017/02/02/nailing-it-chicago-style/ [online] NewCityArt. Available at: [Accessed 12 May, 2017]



Assignment 3 – Tutor Feedback

My tutor and I had a Skype session for my Assignment 3 feedback. Overall it was slightly better than I had expected. My comments are in italics below.

She mentioned that my initial idea of workplace politics and an approach informed by Brian Griffin have merit, but my edit wasn’t cohesive and I need to hone my conceptual ideas.

I totally agree with this statement. I had struggled with the edit and with the shoot and reshoots as well.

She suggested taking the images and focusing on the behaviour of women in the workplace because making this a gendered body of work could create layers of meaning. Potential readings might include women within the workplace as a mirror of myself (or as multiple selves); relations between women in the workplace, performances and identities of women in the workplace; gender equality within the workplace (glass ceiling, etc).

I did have a good chuckle when my tutor suggested removing all the men from the series as “they weren’t doing anything anyway”. I think maybe I may have been trying to be too representative to all the various groups on campus i.e. faculty, all departments, student groups, instead of focusing on something which was in retrospect emerging in my work, namely the female colleagues. I have a few more ideas floating around in my head which I think will be able to bring more cohesion to the series.

My tutor mentioned my strongest visual are:

  • Fig 20 – the lighting in this image is cinematic. Combined with the pose it creates a narrative and she positioned it within the context of Hannah Starkey and Philip Lorca di Corcia.

I was very pleased to receive the feedback on this image, because I almost didn’t include it in the series as it was repeated image of the same colleague. I agree the lighting is amazing. Our staff kitchen has these jam jar lights which hang over the counters and create wonderful pools of light which are extremely atmospheric.

  • Fig 14 – my tutor mentioned that this image would have been must stronger had my colleague who was standing had a deadpan facial expression.  She also suggested that I step back so that more of the office and desk could be seen. She liked the uneasy pose of the subject who was standing and the power dynamics and hierarchies at play in this image.

I am pleased that the power dynamics came through in this image because that is what I was aiming for. In fairness to my colleague, she is lucky to have one of those mouths that turn up at the corners even when she is serious. But I have informed my two colleagues that I want to reshoot this image and will hopefully managed to get her to engage in an extremely serious expression.

  • Fig 12 – my tutor mentioned that this image also has potential, but she would prefer to see a disengagement with the camera and more of her office space.

I do have an image of her looking down at her computer and which also shows more of her office space, so will include that in the rework.

  • DSC5102 from my contact sheet – my tutor said there was real merit in this image, but my colleague on the left was not making eye contact with the camera and was half smiling again. The image would be stronger if she was also looking into the camera. The tightness of the office space, the blandness and the paraphernalia work in this image and the positioning of the subjects are good.

In defense of my colleagues I had asked the two at the back to look in different directions, as in the work of Brian Griffin, but the one on the right looked into the lens just as I pressed the shutter. However, I do see my tutor’s point and will reshoot this one with a bit more interaction.

  • DSC5249 and DSC4839 were also mentioned as potential interesting images.

DSC5249 is an image of students preparing food for an event on campus, while DSC4839 is a candid image that I fired off from behind my desk of my assistant eating a muffin. I would have included that image in my final edit if the resolution had been decent. As it stands the focus is quite soft.

  • Fig 3 also had some potential in a Brian Griffin style.

I was a little hesitant about including this image as two of my colleagues were having the giggles posing for this image, possibly because they were being observed by a group of students. I may be able to reshoot this image, but won’t be able to do it with the same subjects as one of the ladies no longer works at the university. Perhaps I can substitute with senior student.

My tutor is happy with my coursework, evidencing of my research and analysis on my blog and finds that the blog is easy to navigate and demonstrates my learning journey.

She suggested that I look at Hannah Starkey and Philip Lorca diCorcia and also the work of Sarah Jones, particularly the uneasy looking young women in rooms.

I have looked at Philip Lorca diCorcia’s work before during assignment 2 and also in Context and Narrative (post here).  Hannah Starkey was also mentioned in my assignment 2 feedback and I also researched her in Context and Narrative (post here). Sarah Jones’s work I am not familiar with and I look forward to exploring her work.

Pointers for the next assignment

My tutor suggested that for the next assignment which makes use of text and visual, I should look at Les Monaghan’s Desire Project (in relation to this we also discussed my place of work, a university and the potential of photographing graduating students. this is an interesting event (transition) happening at an interesting point of their lives (a kind of coming of age), we talked about the relevance of Rineke Dijkstra’s work here).

When I had mentioned graduation to my tutor I had meant it as a possible source to supplement my assignment 3. I will be taking photos of the processional, students as they come off the stage and the recessional at graduation. There is also a flashmob that is performed each year, but I know I will be very hard pressed to extract serious, deadpan faces at this event. So I will have to see what transpires on the day. I did have a look at Rineke Dijkstra’s work while working through Julian Stallabrass’s journal article ‘What’s in a Face/? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography’

Karen Knorr – the series Belgravia and Gentlemen

This work was suggested to me during assignment 1 and I thought I had done a write up on it, but it might have slipped my attention, so I will relook at Knorr’s work.

John Kippin

I’m not familiar with Kippin’s work so look forward to seeing how he combines text and images.

Helen Maurene Cooper’s, in her book Paint and Polish, positions text down the side of the page. http://www.onomatopee.net/project.php?progID=3aeacd7195c415e05a925c68cb7b9f50