Top in New Zealand for A Level Photography

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

This article features an A Level Photography project by Melissa Kelsey, completed while studying while studying at ACG Strathallan in 2012, Auckland, New Zealand. Melissa achieved Top in New Zealand and was graded 100% (A*). She writes about her project below.

Some of Melissa’s sketchbook pages are included in our new book: Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. Learn more!

100% A Level Photography

Themes and ideas

My theme was Social Networking. I explored the effects this has on people and the concept of being ‘together but yet alone’. I set out to visually display how people place themselves in bondage through an addiction to an online presence, along with making strong visual statements of people becoming disconnected from reality, creating an insight into a world not physically seen inspired by imagination.

I felt passionate about this theme, as I was shocked at the rapid progression of social media changing the way people relate to each other. In addition, I experienced the pressures to be involved and alienation when not involved. I found myself living in a society where people are all around me, yet so distant. My project explores the journey as one immerses and explores the cyber realm of social networking.

Social media has revolutionized how we communicate between individuals, groups and entire societies. It has been a rapid development spreading like a disease. The social networking realm offers us a multitude of information at our fingertips. We are bombarded constantly with information that is meant to help us, yet at times complicates our lives. I expressed this by creating busy, chaotic photomontages to show how people are overloaded with data.

People are now turning to virtual worlds to socialize; it’s as though face-to-face relationships are a thing of the past. Technology is becoming a vital organ of our being. I presented this through the girl being entangled, possessed, and mesmerized by social media.

Drawn in by the human desire to be connected.

Sucked from reality into a virtual world.

Drowning out what’s all around.

Overloaded with multitudes of instant cyber connections.

Addicted to an online presence.

Relationally absent whilst physically present.

Alive in a virtual world.

Stamped and marked with a digital identification.

The journey – as one engulfs herself in a virtual world.

Artist influences

I based my personal artist study on Ben Cauchi. Cauchi is a New Zealand photographer who is well known for his retrieval of mid 19th century photographic processes. His skillful manipulation of objects, light sources and darkroom effects make his photos illusory and mysterious. I drew from his lighting techniques, composition and illusory feel to create peepholes into the virtual world of social media.

We were encouraged not only to base our research on photographers, but also painters, sculptures or experts in the field of our controversial issue chosen. I found an expert on social interactions called Sherry Turkle. Turkle is a professor, author, researcher and licensed psychologist who spent the last 30 years researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. She has spoken on TED Talks and written books about this. One quote that she shared strongly stood out to me that visually stimulated many ideas in my mind:

We are consumed by that with which we are nourish’d by – Shakespeare

This quote inspired the image below of the girl having over indulged from her consumption of social media connections and data.

Social Media theme: A Level Photography

Use of media

I am fascinated with how you are able to manipulate an image once printed out onto paper. When turning through my sketchbook many textures jump out: scratching, painting, taping, tearing, stitching, pasting and gesso printing onto different kinds of materials. I emphasized the tactile aspect to my project to further the contrast of a virtual world being displayed in the physical.

Gesso printing is a prominent part of my experimentation printing processes. This is a hands-on printing process that allows you to print laser printed images onto nearly any surface. This is a fascinating process, which I have carried on and still use in my portrait and wedding photography business today.

Experimentation was a huge part of my project; this helped me create well-developed visual concepts. My teacher encouraged me to think outside of the box and be daring to try new digital and tactile image processes. This helped me to process, develop, generate and re-generate ideas until I achieved a final product of an extremely high standard.

Tips for other A Level Photography students

Melissa is highly dedicated and determined to achieve with a willingness to learn new skills. Her hands on and practical approach and her ability to think laterally have benefitted her significantly, and she works scrupulously to ensure she meets all deadlines. Melissa is an independent worker who uses her initiative to set her goals high. She has striven to create her own individual style. While being prepared to seek feedback from various sources when necessary. – R.Kirkham Executive Principal

The quote above gives an indication of what helped me to achieve high results. I feel that having a topic that many people can relate to and a wide range of well-developed ideas through expressive experimentation made my photography project stand out.

Have fun with your subject! There are guidelines in place to help you along, but also an abundance of creative freedom. Your only constraint is your imagination. What I love about photography is that there is always more to learn. Photography is not restricted to digital display, but includes gesso prints onto any material, projections onto sculptures, extremely large scales then manipulated in a tactile way and many other ways (for more inventive ways for Photography students to use different media, please read 100+ Creative Photography Ideas).

Put the time in to get results. Most of my lunch times were spent in the Art Department, allowing me to go the extra mile on my project. This was definitely worth it. Bounce ideas of those around you, including your teachers. Be childlike with your creativity, master the photography principles and then splash out into your own style!

Award winning high school Photography by Melissa Kelsey
This image was awarded 1st place in the Youth Section at the Huntly Artz Festival in 2012.

This project was also submitted into the New Zealand Young Designers Award and was awarded 2nd place in the Senior Photography Section.

Images from my A Level Photography sketchbook

artist research A Level Photography
I started my project by expressing the vision I had for it and why I felt strongly about social media. I also researched artists I wanted to learn from and incorporate their techniques in my work.
Tactile techniques used in photography
I first expressed the concept of being ‘physically present yet socially absent’. I did this through tactile techniques of stitching, taping, tearing, painting, cutting out, stapling, layering and scratching up parts of the body. Experimenting with many techniques led me to learn what which one worked most effectively.
OHP projection photography
This page acts as a timeline showing the rapid development of technology revolutionizing human interactions. Towards the end of the timeline we see how busy and chaotic the compositions become from social media advancing. To create this series of images I printed my photographs out onto OHP paper and then photographed the OHP projection on a wall.
Photo manipulation techniques - artist analysis
To further progress my project I researched the Dada art movement along with photomontage artists. I was drawn to the expressionist style and tactile photo manipulation techniques that they used.
photomontage techniques
Drawing inspiration from the photomontage artist studied I set out to applying the photomontage techniques to my project. The creative freedom that the expressive style of manipulating the images has outside of the computer fascinates me. I photographed the girl holding a frame to show her being boxed into the cyber realm. The business of the photomontages helped me express the magnitudes of online data and connections.
People in boxes: A Level Photography
At the top I show the progression of painting out the background around the box, illustrating how people become less aware of what’s physically around you when online. Through using the concept of placing people in boxes I am able to present my visual interpretation of what social networking sites look like. I see it as everyone being confined in separate compartment, yet through messaging on the Internet we overcome the physical barrier of not being with one another.
Vulnerability: A Level Photography
This would be my favourite image from the whole project. I show the model being closed up and vulnerable. This was done to relate to the closure they value, as there can be allot of social pressure to have online presence.
Gesso printing / image transfer experiments for A Level Photography
Here I experimented with applying gesso onto different mediums, and then placing images printed on plain paper face down on the gesso. I left the gesso to dry overnight then used a wet sponge to rub off the paper and reveal the transferred ink on the gesso. I experimented with different thicknesses of gesso being applied and mediums of card, black paper, newsprint, cardboard and magazine paper. Although some prints didn’t turn out as expected I still recorded my trial and errors to show the progression of the idea and technique.
wrapped bandages: creative portraiture ideas
I have taken photos of the model with her head wrapped in bandages. This was done to show the bondage people place themselves in by spending too much time on social media and becoming addicted. I have also layered the images on Adobe Photoshop with textures to add depth to being bound and trapped. I continued to explore the effects of printing onto different mediums of textured paper, canvas, hessian and newspaper. Prints onto OHP paper were also gesso printed onto textures to create a glassy digital look.
Shellac and tea staining photography
In these photos the girl is being physically engulfed and trapped by wires to further express cyber bondage. I introduce shellac and tea staining to create a contrasting vintage look to the new age technology. Multiple tactile manipulations are further investigated, including using gel medium, shellac, tearing and scratching in words such as ‘connection’ and ‘self restraint’.
Gesso printing on canvas: creative photography ideas
In the top images the girl holds speakers up to her eyes to show how social networking is making a robot out of her. I furthered the use of gesso printing onto canvas as I found printing on that medium to be most effective. In the bottom set of images I photographed two people communicating with very emotive, energized expressions. I used the imagery of apple devices to show the chaos of connections in the cyber realm. Black boxes have been stitched inside the devices that overlap, resembling the physical separation and digital unity people have together.
Social media theme: A Level Art
Here I express the positive side to social media, opening us up to a whole new world of connections. To express how digital media is becoming part of us I have manipulated the figures into possessing robotic features. I have also showed iPads acting as doorways into social realms. I have collaged them together with different people inside. The stitching relates to the digital connections. To conclude this section of work, I created a photomontage board out of old cell phones with portrait photographs pasted in each screen and real cords to connect them all.
Creative A Level Photography project by Melissa Kelsey
Miniature people cut-outs: A Level Photography
This sequence of work looked at the life lived within the digital world of communications. I researched the artist Gilbert Garcin and applied his technique of using miniature people cut-outs in my work. The small people were used in replacement of a digital device to show cyber relationships.
Transparent cut-outs A Level Photography
On these pages I show the girl relating to her miniature cyber friend. The miniature cut-out has been made partially transparent to give a surreal digital look. I drew from the early traditional photographic aesthetic that artist Ben Cauchi uses. This gave my photos more of an illusory feel, giving impact to the surreal miniature characters.
Stitching upon photography
As the connections we have over social networking aren’t actually tangible, I have used cups and string to show this unseen connection. I have applied stitching in a disorderly manner to show the busyness of online media.
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by
In the top image I have shown the miniature people connected to an electronic cable tie. Changing a piece of clothing into digital connections relates to how we so often carry digital connections close to us. This image was printed in an A1 size for an art exhibition. The larger format gave it more of a dramatic impact. In the bottom image I created a large gesso print on canvas. This photograph was inspired by the Shakespeare quote: “Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.” The girls is shown at a stage of over-consumption of social media.
Intentional movement blur: A Level Photography
To make the miniature figures look more digital and surreal I applied a digital blur to the image. This was achieved through a rapid side-to‐side movement of the photograph while it was being scanned. Different speeds of movement of the photo on the scanner were experimented with to create different distortion effects. A visual connection can be drawn between the distorted scanned image and the repetitive lines of a barcode. I see this relating to online identification of QR codes and URLs. In the three sets of images, we see the transition of the miniature becoming more blurred as it takes on more of a digital identity.
Barcode portraiture
In the top image I have applied different Photoshop effects to an overlaid barcode image. I have created this composition to show how our physical identities are being replaced by digital identities. I also explore different ways of showing how people may be identified by barcodes.
Social self-destruction: A Level Photography
To conclude my project I explored absence, with the use of sheets and physical social self-destruction. I have stitched over the eyes to express the void social networking has created in the outer world. For the final piece I filled a photo frame with a sheet and stitched on a photograph of the girl being lost in the cyber realm with cords around her.

If you enjoyed viewing this project, you may also enjoy Melissa’s AS Level Photography coursework project, which was also awarded 100%.


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