Sarah Scott

OCA Expressing Your Vision Notes & Learning Log

A2 Vortography

This is my initial research for A2 and represents the majority of the research work I completed. 

This is where most of my research, thinking and planning time went and is the idea I was originally working with.

I wanted to continue on from assignment 1 by examining some other themes that came up for me as important and exploring some of the reasons I feel disconnected; to me, a large part of this is Brexit. I wanted to find a way to represent it, and this coincided with me looking at the work of Alvin Langdon Coburn, especially his work on London and from that discovering his vortographs and the Vorticist movement.

The second assignment I was working on, “collection”, was essentially about lens effects; vortography seemed to me to be a lens effect, and I felt the use of it would work well in the context of the message I was trying to convey. I felt that the UK has been fractured (this word came up in my second tutorial).

A2 vort PLL 5

I thought about lots of ways to represent this fracturing – cutting up instant images, fracturing a mirror or lens filter to shoot through – they were all ideas I though of, but vortography really spoke to me as the planes and lines in the image are broken up and disturbed.

I felt that both the political climate of the time (1910-1914) and the backgrounds of the artists in the movement were a good reflection of themes I wanted to explore. In his essay on Wyndham Lewis in ‘The Vorticists'(1), Paul Edwards says that the movement came out of a ‘strange synthesis of cultures and times’. From the same book, Tom Normand in his essay on Coburn, says that ‘the theme of the emigre is central to vorticism, which, although a London based movement, included individuals either alien to British society or on the margins of the cultural establishment.’ Despite being British, feeling alien to British society is something that applies to me at the moment and clearly also applies to many of my contemporaries.

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Working through ideas

learning log idea 1

One concern I had was that I didn’t quite know how Coburn created his vortographs. It took time and research to work out that essentially he was shooting through a prism of mirrors. I experimented with several mirrors before I had a set of mirrors made up that worked. I have been asked about this several times now and so I wrote a separate post about how to create a vortograph. See post  How To: Vortography. 

Another concern was that these aren’t traditional lens effects and I didn’t know if I was pushing too far; I couldn’t use control aperture, zooming etc which is what the text was getting at. You can’t zoom with mirrors around the lens or the whole effect is lost. Another worry was that for images to work as a set, the whole set needed to be vortographs. There are not many examples of vortography and I found it difficult to judge the aesthetic merit of the images I was producing.

In terms of subjects, as suggested by my tutor during the tutorial for A1, I looked at the book ‘How We Are; Photographing Britain'(2). There was an essay ‘England your England’(3) which referred to an essay written by George Orwell which I followed up.  That essay, written 1941, begins:

“As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying over-head, trying to kill me.”       -George Orwell, England Your England

Europe has come a long way since then. In that same essay he also says that we underestimate the Europeans and that we live to regret it. It all just seemed really relevant to the current situation in Britain, and I felt I would like to use it in the assignment.

I originally thought I’d use Orwell’s take on Britishness as a starting point for subjects, but later decided to use Google as well to see what represents Britain to the modern mind and if there has been any significant change. I want to use some of that research at a later date so have not included it here, but for this assignment I ended up with a list of British icons as a starting point for subjects.

I wanted to use London, I was quite clear about that, and originally I had thought about crowds. I think part of this was the idea that many of the people pictured in London near these iconic British landmarks, would not actually be British and that a great many of them would be fellow Europeans. Including people is unusual for me as I am not always happy with the idea of street photography.

Vortograph: crowds in London
Vortograph: Tower Bridge
Vortograph: St Paul’s Cathedral from Tate Modern taken from a Fuji Instant Wide Image
Vortograph: St Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge


A2 vort PLL 3
Some thoughts from my notebook


To give me more options with initial image capture – being able to use varying apertures and focal length which is impossible when creating the image in camera for example – I experimented with using the mirror arrangement around the lens on a photograph either printed or on screen as well as trying to produce vortographs ‘live’, which is difficult and fiddly.

When I had an initial set of images I then went through the evaluation points:

Demonstration of technical and visual skillsThis first point is where I became really unsure of handing this in for assignment. I cannot judge the compositional skills in a vortograph. I don’t have a lot to visually compare it to. It is abstract, but less abstract than the vortography I began looking at, like Coburn’s vortographs. 

Quality of outcome

I wasn’t sure if a set of vortographs would communicate an idea in a coherent manner. 

Demonstration of creativity

I thought the vortographs were creative. 

Context -reflection, research, critical thinking.

I was happy with the context – the research and thinking I’d done.


From my notebook:

After this review, I decided to do something else for assignment 2.


1. Edwards, P., Antliff, M. and Greene, V. (2010). The Vorticists. London: Tate Publishing.

2. Williams, V., Bright, S., Jackson, K., Badger, G. and Parr, M. (2007). How we are. London: Tate Publishing

3. Orwell, G. (2017). England your England. 2nd ed. [London]: Penguin books

4. tower, E. (2019). Symbolism of the Eiffel tower. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2019]

5. The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. (2019). Eiffel Tower, Métal (Getty Museum). [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2019].

6. Tate. (2019). Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art – Exhibition at Tate Modern | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2019]


Sudjic, D. (n.d.). The Language of Cities.

Webb, J. (2010). Design principles. Lausanne: AVA Academia.

Atget, E. and Grazda, E. (2008). Photographe de Paris. New York: Errata Editions.



Further Exploration 

I have continued to play with the idea of vortography and produced more images, some of which work, some don’t.

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Vortograph; St Paul’s Cathedral
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Vortograph; Tower Bridge
sarahscott516860a2 extra (3 of 4)
Vortograph; St Paul’s Cathedral
Piano vortograph. Taken by holding a mirror in front of the lens.
‘The Mummy’ script as a vortograph. I took the original image and displayed it on a computer screen.
Self portrait vortograph.
The original image was taken in December 2016 in New York, the vortograph was taken by displaying the image on a computer screen and photographing through mirrors.
This is the effect obtained by using layers of mirrors.
Union flag postcard vortograph.
Vortograph produced by placing mirrors over the displayed image on an iPhone. I like the colour results that happen when using an iPhone.
iPhone vortograph. The original image is a train and was taken in Poole, Dorset.


Prosperous St, Poole, Dorset
View from Salisbury to Waterloo train.


The technique of displaying the image on a computer monitor and then taking the image through the mirrors can be seen here. The image is part of a photograph of an artwork from MoMA in New York. The other elements on the computer screen often creep in. The USA and UK flags remain recognisable and make a good subject.
Night road vortograph taken on iPhone.



In future I might try different sizes of mirrors. I think multiple exposures, broken mirrors and broken glass are something I’d like to try to take forward, especially as I’m thinking about personal projects on mental health. The ideas behind vortography would also seem to work for mental health ideas, but I don’t want to do it to death. I also thought about doing more with the initial idea I was working with using Google maps, breaking up the country (or areas of it) into shapes that could be tessellated, moved, recombined and jumbled up. I’d love to be able to do this with statistics of how the Brexit vote worked in certain areas, but I’m not sure it’s that simple because there also seem to be splits between old and young, rich and poor, north and south. Lots of dichotomies, perhaps with individuals not necessarily fitting into the sections of society that they once would have felt comfortable in.

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