Dean O'Brien's Blog

352mc Professional Photographic Practice: Assignment Project Proposal

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Your name:  Dean O’Brien

Title of Final Major Project:  Destination Unknown

Description of subject to be investigated:

A look into marriage agencies in Ukraine.  I plan to travel to Ukraine to continue looking into marriage agencies and their clients.  As I have mainly documented female subjects, I now need to document a male subject to create some balance within the project.  I intend to work with a subject from the UK and tell his story through images.  When I return to Kiev this month I will continue to work with both subjects.  To document their individual search for love.


This work was influenced by looking at the work of photographers such as Simon Roberts, Donald Weber and Anastasia Taylor-LInd.  I found their projects in Eastern Europe and Russia to be an inspiration in so many ways.

Travelling to Ukraine and witnessing the huge amount of marriage agencies advertising their services  made me want to explore this further.  To look more into the issues as to why so many women want to leave the country.  I plan to continue working with contacts previously made and create a visual record.

Ukraine is a complex country.  A country run by mafia and rich oligarchs which when combined with a corrupt government and Police Force, make daily life a real struggle for many.  So many questions remain unanswered.  Why are so many western men travelling to Ukraine to find their next partner?  Why are so many women wanting to leave their own country?  Why are so many fathers encouraging their daughters to join an agency?

Not only am I telling the stories of the women who want to leave, but I am investigating the causes.  Social change is something that fascinates me and I want to explore what is happening in Ukraine making so many people (women in particular) to leave a country they love.  I intend to explore and document the reason why this is happening.

The men from the west have their own stories to tell also.  Their reasons for the search for love differs greatly from the women’s, and I plan to document this also.

I have spent the past eight months working closely with my subjects and confidence has been built on both sides, enabling the project to develop further.

Plan / Schedule of work:

I plan to fly out to Ukraine and meet up with contacts which I previously made.  To see how their relationships have developed, or how they are continuing their search for a partner.  I plan to explore the unknown lives of these people and their reasons behind using this method to find love and marriage.

I intend to build upon tasks already completed within this field in previous modules.  These are reference points that will help in building the foundations for my final major project.

I have contacted the AUGB (Association of Ukrainians of Great Britain).  They have a brach here in Coventry and I feel that this can can only help to give me an insiders view.  There may also be the opportunity to document people’s stories of migration to the UK.

Anastasia Taylor-LInd has agreed to be interviewed regarding her projects, to try and get a deeper insight into how she manages to contain an intimacy within her projects.  Many of her projects have been based in former Soviet countries so I know that she is someone worth making contact with.


British Journal of Photography:

BJP regularly feature photographers working on projects in their ‘Project work-in-progress’ section and also in their ‘Report’ section.  My project fits neatly into either of these sections and could give me the exposure that I need.

Sunday Times or Telegraph magazine (also similar supplement magazines):  (example article overleaf)

I strongly believe that my project would not look out of place within the pages of a Sunday magazine supplement.  The type of reader that buys the Sunday Times,  often does so for the high quality images and documented stories contained within its pages.

National newspapers:

Papers are always looking for interesting stories and I feel that this project could possibly fit into a piece within a national paper.


The degree show exhibition will be a great place to have my work seen by many members of the public for the first time.  This is why I intend to have my images presented in a very professional way.  Research into this area is fully supported on my blog under ‘352mc’ section.


I attended Perpignan last year and managed to meet up with photographer’s Peter Dench and Maciej Dacowic.  This was a great opportunity to see how they were there trying hard to push their books (both off which were carrying sample copies) to prospective publishers.  I also watched how they networked and arranged meetings with major people in the industry.

I also met Donald Weber whilst out there and managed to get him to look at my current project in Ukraine, an area where he has completed many projects.  He spent half an hour with me going through my images and pointing out what I could do to improve and develop my project further.

Whilst there I was introduced to the editor of Russian Reporter magazine who explained to me that he may well be interested in publishing my story once it has started to develop.

I intend to go there again this year and take a sample copy of my book along with my current work loaded onto my iPad.

Networking with like minded professionals is vital and this is probably the most important event of the year for someone like myself to attend.


Photographer’s become skilled in certain areas and it was explained to me that I could well become an expert in this area that I am researching.  Having a deep knowledge of this area of study could prove useful to those who intend to embark on similar projects.  This is something that I am very aware of and realise that this could bring work to me in the form of commissions.

Anticipated method of presentation:


I will document this with a selection of images which on their own, will create a narrative.

A visual record in the form of a book and a selection of square prints for a final exhibition.

I will be producing the images using a medium format camera, shooting film.  Shooting 6×6  in a square format seems to suit this project and has enabled me to find some kind of balance within my work.

Three metres wall space will be sufficient for my needs.  To test this I have out marked three metres in length along a wall at home, and made a dummy framed image to scale.

The images will be placed in two rows of five.  One row sitting above the other.  One row will display five images from Katya’s story and the other row displaying five images from Pete’s story.

Group Publication:

My images will also feature in the group publication which I am publishing along with eight other students.  This is going to be posted out to 100 selected individuals within the creative industry.  It will have a very contemporary feel, with each student having a total of four pages.  One page will feature an artist statement complete with email address and mobile phone number, and the other three pages will feature images of their choice.  This is a real thing.  Something that will remain on a shelf or desk.

Individual Book:  

At present I am working on putting a book together to document the stories of two of my subjects.  Although ideally I would prefer a publisher to launch the book for me however in reality I feel that this will be self published.  The advantage of having a book ‘out there‘ is the fact that it is a permanent advert showing my work.  A real article that remains on someones shelf for years to come, unlike a blog post or web page (although they do have their own place in the area of self promotion).

I also intend to create a limited edition version of the book which will come complete with an original print signed and numbered, wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.



Creating a photo film and placing it on Vimeo reaches a huge audience and is a great way to bring a project to life.  I have already produced a short film documenting Katya’s story but would like to continue this creating films for all of my subjects.


Regular blog posts and updates keep my audience interested and shows that the project is ongoing.  It also enables people to leave comments and feedback.  This is the place where many people come to check for updates on where I am with my project.

Social Media:

Twitter has been a great way so far of having my project looked at and commented on.  It has enabled people within the industry to look at the images which I have been making and view the photo films that I have made.

Images:   Taken from a shoot with one of my subjects in Winchester from on ongoing, much larger project located in research post HERE

Brief review of images:

The images contained overleaf are from a recent shoot with Pete at his home in Winchester.  Doing this shoot was a lot harder than shooting with my female subject based in Kiev simply because I am too familiar with Pete’s surroundings which I put down to him being based in the UK.

Obviously I was trying to show his life when he is at home in the UK as it revolves around memories of his ex-wife who was Ukrainian.  He now travels back to Ukraine on a monthly basis looking for another Ukrainian woman to take her place in his life.

His story is still work in progress and it is impossible to show his full story without images of him in Ukraine also.  However these are a vital part of the story to help show who he is.

The strongest image of the eight within these pages I feel is the portrait of him in the pub.  It shows an insight into who Pete actually is and shows him with the things that comfort him most.  His phone and pint.

The weakest of the images I feel may be those which could be technically improved by better use of depth of field, such as the image of Pete standing outside the front of his house.

His search is a lonely existence which I have discovered seems to revolve around internet searches for women, contact with expats and alcohol.

I need to be aware of how I show his life, and above all for it to make sense to the viewer.  The images need to speak for themselves, yet equally not fall into the trap of spoon-feeding the information, thus making the story too obvious.



Group Publication Budget:

List of References:

Amadelio Film (2011) “The Russians” – a film about Oleg Videnin [online] available from <> [5 January 2012]

Atem Books (2011) ‘Kich Gorodok & Gorelovka’ [online] available from <> [21 February 2012]

Berger, John (1972) Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin

Hannes, Nick (2009) Red Journey, Belgium: Lannoo

Hughes, Donna M The Role of “Marriage Agencies” in the Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women from the Former Soviet Union [online] available from <> [15 January 2012]

Ivanova, Olya (2011) Kich Gorodok & Gorelovka, Spain: Atem Books

Ludwig, Gerd (2001) Broken Empire, Italy: National Geographic

Magnum (2009) Georgian Spring: A Magnum Journal, London: Chris Boot

Marino, Maria (2011) ‘Grozny: Nine Cities’ [online] available from <> [24 November 2011]

Mcluhan, Marshal (2008) The Medium is the Massage, London: Penguin

Mikhailov, Boris (1999) Case History, Germany: Scalo

Mikhailov, Boris (2011) Tea Coffee Cappuccino, Germany: Walther Konig

Monteleone, Davide (2007) Dusha – Russian Soul, Italy: Postcart Edizioni

Mueller, Wolfgang (2003) Karat, Berlin: Vice Versa Verlag

Roberts, Simon (2007) Motherland, London: Chris Boot

Russia Today (2011) ‘Ukraine’s stray dogs burnt on altar of Euro 2012’  [online] available from <> [6 December 2011]

Russia Today (2011) Cheat Happens: Senate hopeful in US – hobo in Ukraine’ [online] available from <> [27 November 2011]

Smyth, D. (2011) ‘Anastasia Taylor-Lind’s Cossack Revival’. British Journal of Photography  [online] available from <> [22 October 2011]

ukarainianreport (2011) Ukraine. A Banana Republic Forever?! [online] available from <> [4 December 2011]

Videnin, Oleg (2011) The Russians  [DVD]  United Kingdom: Amadelio

Videnin, Oleg (2011) The Return Route, Moscow: Art Volkhonka

Weber, Donald (2008) Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyyl, USA: Photolucidia

Weber, Donald (2011) Interrogations, Amsterdam: Schilt Publishing


Written by Dean O'Brien

March 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm

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