AWAY (to) Oxford

From the series If you get married again, will you still love me?  by Sharon Boothroyd.

Eight of us met for a coffee and a chat, partly to help me learn more about OCA (as a new tutor) and to question each other on our passion for photography.  I think meeting together to do real things like drink coffee and chat about shared interests is one of the main benefits of these Study Visits, helping alleviate the isolation factor of online learning.  There happened to be a great article in the Guardian about whether photojournalists should intervene in violent situations or take a picture, which kickstarted a conversation about morality and the role of photographers.  Tricky.

Then we ambled up to see the work I have in Art Jericho, If you get married again, will you still love me?

These photographic tableaux are based on words spoken to separated fathers by their children.  After gathering the memories, Boothroyd produced visual representations of these phrases, drawing on emotions the child may have been dealing with at the time.

The highly fabricated images incorporate elements of fantasy in their precise construction, settings and use of actors.  By exaggerating conventional locations into filmic versions of themselves, the artifice of the photograph is highlighted.  The manufactured scenes challenge the accuracy of selective memory by questioning the truth behind the images.

The images, which operate like film stills, give access into private and intimate moments within the tension of the public space.  Rather than alluding to utopian dreams, these photographs portray common relational struggles with disappointment, anger, over-compensation and jealousy.

Sharon Boothroyd

The exhibition consists of my series as well as the work of another photographer Tim Crooks, whose stills from an abandoned mental asylum are psychological in approach and create quite a disturbing an unsettling feeling.  Coupled together these two works encapsulate two very different notions of absence and question the impact of absence on society and individuals alike.

I gave a talk which I titled “Representations of the Real” because I am interested in how photography is always grounded in something actual but when it is used intelligently, can transport the imagination to the most far flung places.  It is this clash between reality and fiction that always draws me to photography as an art form.  Something unique to the medium.

While painters have the amazing ability to imagine something and create it on paper straight from the imagination, photographers have to find something that actually exists, take their camera to a relatively close proximity and make the image without an obstruction getting in the way.   Photographers have to be physically present with their subject.

The problem is; How can you be physically present with an idea?  Photographers have to find something that represents that idea before they can begin to create anything.  In some ways this can be extremely limiting and frustrating but at the other end of the spectrum it can open the mind to new ways of thinking and interpreting what is real and new ways of representing that reality.  In fact, by defamiliarising an idea using a different means of representation, I believe it creates a more engaging and interesting body of work.

Excerpt from my talk Representations of the Real.

After my talk the students and some members of the public engaged in an interesting question time.  I always find it fascinating to learn how people respond to the work I create and one particular response I have been thinking about with interest since.  These images were my interpretation of what the child may have been dealing with at the time of speaking the words remembered by the father.  I undoubtedly projected my feelings into the scenarios.  An astute comment was made that the fathers in the series look almost motherly in how they are intently concerned, physically present and attentive.  Perhaps more what I would like to think happened and not necessarily what actually did.  I totally agree with this observation and think it was a very valid and accurate point to make.  The notion of what is real is confused once again with my ‘voice’ being so ingrained in how I make pictures.   However, the question of reliability was never supposed to be the case with this series, even though it was based on real life case studies it is not a documentary project.  Nonetheless I was intrigued at how my motherhood came through in a subconscious projection of how I hoped Dads in these complicated circumstances would naturally respond.  The reality may in fact be very different.

I summarised by saying how I thought Eastender’s and Big Brother are good analogies for how we can decide what is more real.  Although Big Brother is supposedly unstaged, live TV, we know the false environment it creates has a profound impact on the personalities in the house and crowd mentality kicks in to produce something of heightened interest to the voyeur watching at home.  It may be argued Eastender’s is far fetched of course, but one only need turn to the local newspapers to see the endless torment and emotion that is expressed through a soap opera.  Although it is staged, acted and even uses constructed locations perhaps what is eventually portrayed is a more accurate view of humanity, one more people can relate to than staying up all night in your underwear and jumping into the swimming pool at 3am.



  1. Lerpy 30 July 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Great afternoon and such a treat to have one of the artists there to discuss their own work, how it was made, their feelings on their work and lots more. Thanks Sharon and I hope to see more of your stuff.

    1. Sharon 31 July 2012 at 8:28 am

      Thanks Eddie, Good to have you there!

  2. Richard Down 31 July 2012 at 2:08 pm

    A very enjoyable visit and talk Sharon. Thank you for the insight into your work. I enjoyed “The Glass Between Us” and “Disrupted Vision” particularly

    “Photographers have to find something that represents that idea before they can begin to create anything……..”

    I’m going to take this paragraph away and stick it on my mirror so I don’t forget it. Hopefully it will remind me of what I need to do when inspiration fails me.

  3. Neil White 31 July 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I thought the whole study visit exercise was an extremely useful vehicle for getting me to think about an artist and the work they have produced.

    I’m not sure I liked everything I saw and some of Sharon’s images provoked quite strong feelings – not necessarily positive. But as an exercise in critical analysis of another author’s work I value the study day very highly.

    I’m sure that in my immature understanding of immagery, my views could easily be challenged, but I’d like to think that this was an important aspect of the course…. to make us think.

  4. Gill.G 31 July 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Well, my very first study visit and being quite new to the OCA (only joined in June) it was so helpful and for the first time I felt I had become part of the student community.

    I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Sharon and the group and also enjoyed the opening discussion which helped us to get to know each other. Some interesting questions to answer too!

    I really enjoyed the exhibition very much. Although only at the beginning of the course, I have become acquainted via my reading with the tableaux style of photography and have been studying Jeff Wall in particular. Seeing images Sharon has created by constructing the images based on interviews was fascinating and brought some of my learning alive.

    I found the images to be very moving and the ones with teenagers showed the difficulties experienced with communication particularly well. So often these types of photos use black and white to portray the emotions but I was pleased to see these were in colour. To me the colour heightened the emotion and ensured there was no room for the black and white cliche.

    This exhibition has encouraged me to explore tableaux photography further. I know for certain that at some point over the next few years I would like to experiment and try something like this. I’m fascinated by the idea that the camera can be used as a tool to create or paint a picture in the same way that the dramatist can write and direct a scene. Much food for thought.

    Many thanks Sharon! And many thanks to the students I enjoyed meeting!


  5. Sharon 3 August 2012 at 10:45 am

    Thanks everyone!

  6. John 5 August 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I’m hoping to get to see this exhibition this week

  7. Stephen Barney 23 August 2012 at 11:38 pm

    It was great chatting to you today Sharon got me doing a lot of thinking, really sad I was away for this but I am really looking forward to joining in on the next sounds like it was fun!

  8. Sharon 24 August 2012 at 9:40 am

    John, thank you for writing such a thorough review. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Stephen, good to talk to you too! Looking forward to seeing the finished article.

    Best wishes,


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