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Performing for the Camera – Tate Modern

Performing for the Camera, is a Tate Modern exhibition visited in June. It is broad in its range, including 500 photographs, covering the relationship between photo and performance – from historical photographs to the contemporary.

No photography was permitted, which diminishes the effectiveness of this write-up. However, the Tate website, Performing for the Camera, provides some visuals and videos. The exhibition is separated into rooms covering the following aspects:

  • Documenting performance. This included Yves Klein’s leap and live paint brushes – the documentation of performance. It was noted that photos are often the only remaining evidence of an ephemeral work and how it can be challenging to photograph the unpredictable whilst making creative decisions.
    Source: www.stedelijk.nl
    Source: www.stedelijk.nl, Shunk and Kender

    For some of the work, one perhaps needed to be present at the event to truly appreciate the photograph – there was more interest in the photograph as a memento of performance art rather than as piece of photographic art itself. Heavily featured photographers were Harry Shunk (1924–2006) and Janos Kender (1938–2009).

  • Staging / collaborations purely to be photographed. Many images were featured from the Paul Nadar studio, the premises inherited from his father. Paul Nadar (1856 – 1939) was the son of the celebrated photographer Nadar. Various staged images were featured.
  • Photographic actions – included artists photographing their own creative processes eg Warhol with Grace Jones body painting, Ai Wai dropping a 2000 year old vase and Erwin Wurm’s one minute sculptures. The work of Francesca Woodman was also featured in this section – interestingly the prints were small in size; not appreciated through online viewing of work.
  • Performing Icons Cindy Sherman’s famous untitled film stills featured here; it was great to see these captivating images in print. David Wojnarowicz’s- series of
    Source: www.americanphotomag.com/
    Source: www.americanphotomag.com, David Wojnarowicz

    collaged faces, Rimbaud in New York,  stood out; the same face place in various scenes by its superimposition over original photographs. David Lamelas’s work, Rock Star, dealing with the conventions of rock photography provided inspiration for assignment 5 of this course (see here). The concept of Yasumasa Mormura’s requiem to Yves Klein through a recreation of the Leaping Man caught my attention – the idea of a photograph as a requiem!

  • Public relations  covered mass media techniques.
  • Self-portrait
  • Performing real life references recent social media projects.

I’ve ordered the catalogue of the exhibition from Wordery, strangely at an £8 discount to the exhibition price, as it will make useful reference and serve to fill in the gaps that are missing by not being able take photos during the extensive exhibition.


Getty [website]. Harry Shunk and Shunk-Kender Archive. Available from: http://www.getty.edu/research/special_collections/notable/shunk_kender.html [accessed 3.7.16]

Getty [website]. Paul Nadar. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1586/paul-nadar-french-1856-1939/ [accessed 3.7.16]

Searle A (2016). The Guardian [online]. Performing for the Camera review – pain, passport photos and genital panic (15 February). Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/15/performing-for-the-camera-review-tate-modern-exhibition  [accessed 3.6.16]

Tate Modern [website]. Performing for the Camera. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/performing-camera [accessed 3.6.16]


Note to Assessors – Photography 1, EYV

Dear Assessors,

Thank you for taking time to review my work. Here is a brief note explaining the contents of my submission pack and my learning blog.


My blog is at context.fitzgibbonphotography.com. I am using a single blog for all of my courses and the content for EYV is listed on a separate index page that is accessed through the menu on the home page (menu – EYV Contents). The EYV posts have not been edited for some time and are left unedited during the assessment period. Any changes to the blog relate purely to the ongoing C&N content.

All of the material for assessment can be found through the EYV Contents page, under the assignments section. ‘Submissions to tutor’ are the original submissions; ‘Feedback’ is my thoughts on tutor feedback, with pdfs of the feedback attached at the foot of the posts; and ‘rework’ is where I have reworked assignments based on tutor feedback. A printed copy of the contents page is included in the pack.

Printed copies of the assignment posts are included in the pack for ease of reference (see below).

Contents of submission pack:

To supplement my blog, the pack provides printed copies of the assignment blog pages and tutor feedback. I have also selected one image from each assignment and made a print of it (five prints in total).

Contents are as follows:

a) Index to blog contents

b) Assignment 5

> Print – boy and pool > Assignment rework (text only, photos unchanged) > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

c) Assignment 4

> Print – apple in space > Assignment rework (text and photos) > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

d) Assignment 3

> Print – limited head room > Assignment rework (text and photos) > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

e) Assignment 2

> Print – fallen tree > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

f) Assignment 1 (not for assessment – reference only)

> Print – rotten gate post > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

 Thank you.

Staged photography

On the back of EYV assignment 5, I was encouraged to look more deeply into ‘staged photography’; in particular the work of Jeff Wall and Duane Michals.

At the outset of this course, I confess that I didn’t really understand the purpose of staged photography and its apparently popularity. It somehow seemed to fly in the face of the decisive moment, which seemed to me fundamental to the purpose of photography; even if contemporary technology has made that decisive moment far less elusive. Now, I see it simply as a different working practice and aesthetic. As long as it is not passed off as candid, which makes it fake and unethical.

In Wall’s revealing interview with O’hagan, his work is explained:

Wall describes his work as “cinematographic” re-creations of everyday moments he has witnessed, but did not photograph at the time. “To not photograph,” he says, “gives a certain freedom to then re-create or reshape what I saw.” He takes months to stage and direct each of his “occurrences”.

So, it is an extension of aftermath photography, but with an artificial recreation of the witnessed scene as remembered by Wall. Also, with the potential to add an artistic interpretation or vision perhaps not originally present in the scene. The approach is akin to painting, where the different elements are brought together in the artist’s construction. Some examples of Wall’s work are in the ‘checklist’ or pdf catalogue from MoMa exhibition attached as pdf: checklist. Or, on the websites referenced below.

Duane Michals’ work and approach is discussed at length in his interview with Resnik. From a very different background to Wall, Michals was discouraged from a career in art by his parents, but nonetheless pursued it. He considers not having formal training in photography as a benefit to his style – ‘he didn’t need to unlearn the rules’. He discusses his experience of his work not being accepted by the established photographers (Winogrand et al) as there was no decisive moment. However he considers freedom from the principal of the decisive moment as liberating for his art. Unusually, Michals often adds text to his images as context for the narrative.

Interestingly, neither Wall nor Michals uses digital photography (Michals does paint on his pictures) despite the obvious potential for digital recreation of the stage. I’m not sure why they choose not to; it could be a generational thing with digital technology, or perhaps a fake of a fake stage is a step too far for them?


Lipsky-Karasz E (2015). Wall Street Journal [online]. Jeff Wall’s Unique Photographic Vision. Available from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/jeff-walls-unique-photographic-vision-1441375796 [accessed 28.11.15]

MoMa [online]. Jeff Wall in his own words. Available from: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2007/jeffwall/ [accessed 28.11.15]

O’Hagan S (2015). Guardian [online]. Jeff Wall: ‘I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake’. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/03/jeff-wall-photography-marian-goodman-gallery-show [accessed 28.11.15]

Resnik R (2014). American Photo [website]. Interview: Duane Michals on 50 years of sequencing and staging photos. Available from: http://www.americanphotomag.com/interview-duane-michals-50-years-sequences-and-staging-photos?image=1 [accessed 28.11.15]

Absurdist art

On the back of my EYV assignment 5, I was persuaded to look into absurdist art.

Gafney explains Erwin Wurm’s one minutes sculptures that were created out of anything and anyone available on the spot. The results are absurd and comical – a man with various stationery placed in his facial orifices; like an extreme version of Edmund Blackadder feigning madness.

Source: itsnicethat.com, one minute sculpture by Urwin Wurm
Source: itsnicethat.com, one minute sculpture by Urwin Wurm

Isabel Wenzel’s photographs capture her own body movements (or those of others) in absurd positions – for example posing upside-down as a flower pot. In the American Suburbx interview, she explains her working methods – a tripod, the clothes she’s decided to dress up in and the camera’s auto-timer are used to capture her own movements. She repeats each pose until she captures a successful image. Her images are both absurd and constructed.

Wenzel’s images can be viewed on the website’s referenced.


American Suburbx [website]. An Interview with Isabelle Wenzel @ Unseen. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2015/09/an-interview-with-isabelle-wentzel-unseen.html [accessed 28.11.15]

Gafney C. It’s Nice That [blog]. Just a minute! Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures on show in Liverpool (2012). Available from: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/erwin-wurm-1 [accessed 28.11.15]

Erwin Wurm [website]. Available from: http://www.erwinwurm.at [accessed 28.11.15]

Isabel Wenzel [website]. Available from: http://www.isabelle-wenzel.com [accessed 28.11.15]

A short history of photography – Walter Benjamin

[Recreated from pdf after blog crash]


Benjamin’s renowned essay is often cited in writing on photographic theory (for example, Sontag’s On Photography) and referenced in the academic study of photography. It was first published in Germany in 1931, but was not published in English until 1972. So, it was written approximately 100 years after the invention of photography and I am reading it 85 years after it was written. An 85 years in which the world has changed beyond all recognition, socially, politically and technologically. This is important to recognise when drawing any message from the essay, since Benjamin rooted it in the social and political context of the times – when mass media was young and the prospect of World War II was looming, which had disasterous consequences for Benjamin. He took his own life at the age of 48, while endeavouring to escape Nazi Germany (European Graduate School).

The essay examines the social and psychological a”ects of change brought about through the technology of photography. I summarise what I read as the main aspects of the essay:

It opens with a seemingly nostalgic reference to the ‘pre- industrialisation’ of photography, which he describes as a ‘prime’ period. He means the time when photographic equipment was slow, technically challenging and inaccessible to the masses.

He discusses the tensions between art (paintings) and photography, initially in the context of portraits.

” However skilful the photographer, however carefully he poses his model, the spectator feels an irresistible compulsion to look for the tiny spark of chance, of the hear and now, with whic reality has, as it were, seared the character in the picture …

This is reminiscent of Barthes’ puntum. Benjamin likens photography’s making us aware of the ‘optical unconsciousness’ to psychoanalysis.

He proposes that the length of time required for a sitter in the early photos was similar to sitting for a painting and that through this intense sitting more of the moment is captured than in snapshots. That there is a greater aura around the subject. This seems to be at the root of his nostalgia.

As photography took over the work of painters of miniature portraits, Benjamin discuses the absurdities of the props and scenes in photographers studios as they tried to mimic portrait paintings. And further, once advanced optics became available to capture fine details in photos, how details were then removed by retouching to recreate the look (or aura) of early photographs.

Benjamin celebrates the work of Atget as a forerunner of surrealist photography, helping to ‘disinfect the stuffy atmosphere spread by conventional portrait photography … He initiated the liberation of the object from the aura, which is the most incontestable achievement of the recent … photography.’ Benjamin values this as an achievement because of Atget’s ability to reflect the changing world around him – ‘the sense of sameness of things in the world has grown to such an extent that by means of reproduction even the unique is made to yield up its uniqueness.’ So Benjamin is not celebrating the lack of aura/uniqueness, but Atget’s ability to capture it – ‘a salutary estrangement between man and his environment’. Benjamin described it as a ‘new way of seeing’.

He describes how the then-new way of seeing was least at home when people were paying for portraits, but notes that photography cannot do without people. At this point, the work of August Sander, Face of Our Time, is introduced as an alternative model for portrait photographs; ‘Sanders work is more than a picture book, it is an atlas of instruction.’

On the subject of photography as art, Benjamin observes it as the most contested area of debate, ‘… the question of the aesthetics of photography as an art, while … art as photography scarcely received a glance.’ He draws a parallel between the development of reproductive techniques (photography) and how great works of art were no longer created by individuals, but by collectives, and on huge scales. So, art as photography becomes a practical necessity to share the art. Benjamin proposes that when photography strays outside the context established by Sander and frees itself from politics and science, it then becomes creative. He is not in favour of this:

” The world is beautiful – that precisely is its motto. Therein is unmasked a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists; a photography which even in its most dreamlike compositions is more concerned with eventual saleability than with understanding.

Benjamin concludes by discussing the possibilities that come from the authenticity of photography – capturing transitory and secret pictures with shock value. Arguing that this type of image requires a caption for it to be clearly understood. He seems to be making an argument in favour of what we might call the paparazzi, ‘… is not every corner of our cities a scene of action? Is not each passer-by an actor? Is it not the task of the photographer … to uncover guilt and name the guilty in pictures?’ In this context he then reiterates, ‘will not the caption become the most important part of the shot’. Remember that this statement was made in the context of the social upheaval and unrest in Germany in the approach to WW2.

The overall message of the essay is that photography should look for something other than recreating what has gone before in paintings. It should work with its quality of authenticity to uncover truth.
My personal perspective at this time, is that photography can serve many purposes. Intention and integrity are therefore important. But with the political imperatives at the time of Bejamin’s writing, I may well of had a di”erent view.


Benjamin W. A short history of photography. London, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2011.

André Kertész – master photographers

[recreated from pdf following blog crash]



This 40 minute BBC documentary is an interview with André Kertész (1894 -1985) as an old man looking back on his life and his work. I always find it fascinating to hear photographers talking about their own work and views on photography and to get some sense of the person. Things I learned:

Despite being persuaded by his agent to move to America between WW1 and WW2, his work was not accepted there at that time. Stuck there because of the war, it is still a period in his life about which he seems to feel resentment. He describes how his work was rejected by Life and other magazines. They considered it too sentimental and carrying too much of a story. I assume that this was at odds with the straight, documentary style photography of Walker Evans and Robert Frank.

We are treated to a discussion of some of Kertész’s work – I find it charming with a pictorial style; he comments that the details (through photographic technique) are not necessary to tell his story. Instead I can enjoy the simple forms contrasted within broad areas of deep blacks and highlights within the frame.

We learn that he processed his own photos, but his approach was not discussed in any detail. The style reminds me of Bill Brandt – images sculpted out of black and white.

On photography itself, Kertész has some observations:

He believes that subjects find him – he does not deliberately seek them out. He photographs firstly for himself and does not take on work he does not believe in.

He sees the camera as an instrument and the human eye as an equivalent organic instrument. In creating a photo (and in seeing things), he says it is the thinking that is important, not so much the instrument.

He looks for stories when framing photos and talks enthusiastically about the unfolding scenes in his work.

In his old age and since the passing of his wife, we are told that Kertész rarely leaves his New York apartment and spends his time photographing some of the objects he has collected over his years. These are featured in a picture book, From my Window, and share the pictorial style of the rest of his work.

Kertész sounded like a romantic when he was speaking and I see his masterful work as romantic.


BBC TV production (1983). André Kertész – Master Photographer. Available from:https://youtu.be/Olc_QLDPUeU [accessed 6.9.15]

Daido Moriyama – book review

[Recreated from pdf following blog crash]



I recently read the small format book on Daido Moriyama, that includes examples of his work with accompanying narrative and a short biography of Moriyama written by Nishii.

The biography gives some fascinating insight into the life of the artist and his aims. His dislike of urbanisation, participation in an international youth movement, and the PROVOKE photography movement in Japan.

In the context of my other recent research, I was interested to read that the PROVOKE group proposed a ‘distance’ between the photographer and the viewer, implying psychological as well as special distance. Nishii states that Moriyama and his associates were the first photographers to be aware of the dual distance.

Moriyama is a street photographer and enjoys the life and crowds of busy cities. His photographs are all in black and white and processed as high contrast images, with shadow details often lost in blackness and highlights bleached out. This is not the documentary-style of Walker Evans, but something that feels dark and dramatic. In the Tate Modern video, Moriyama tells us how monochrome feels better to him, more abstract and focused on forms. He also explains (and we see him use) a compact camera with a zoom lens for his photography.

Moriyama see photography as a way of allowing people to connect with their memories. The lack of detail and texture in the images seems to reflect this – they are like hazy memories, dreamlike. Perhaps I am also drawn to them as an antidote to the extreme sharp and detailed images that are currently common place.

Despite Moriyama’s work being exhibited in art galleries around the work, he explains that he does not really see his work as art and is more interested in the book format for showing his photos.

A great photographer with a clear and distinctive vision for his photos.


Nishii K. Daido Moriyama. London, Phaidon Press Ltd, 2012 edition.

Tate Modern, Video. Daido Moriyama: In Pictures. Available from: http://bcove.me/uodutw8o [accessed 23.8.15]

Deep space in Photoshop

[recreated from pdf after blog crash]


As part of my research for OCA assignment 4, I looked at the feasibility of creating a deep space scene in Photoshop for placement of my ‘apple as moon’ in a context rather than a black- out space directly from the shoot.

I found this is possible by creating a new file an first filling the background layer with black. The next step is to add noise (or stars) using the ‘add noise’ filter and apply gaussian blur to the noise so the stars are not too sharp. Then the levels adjustment is used to increase the black eliminate some of the noise (so creating space between the stars).

I then layered this effect with different levels adjustments. And finally added some coloured layers (deep blues and yellows) to give more complexity to the scene.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 22.16.00

Not shown in the screen shot above, but photoshop lens flare does a good impression of a bright star.

For further development of this method, I intend to use brushes to add a white speckled layer of brighter stars.


BluelightningTV [website], YouTube video. Photoshop: How to Quickly Create Stars, Planets and Faraway Galaxies. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhJfC1SuU0. [accessed 23.8.15]

Photoshop essentials [website]. Starry night sky effect. Available from: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-e!ects/starry- night-sky-e!ect-photoshop-cs6/ [accessed 23.8.15]

iPad for photography research

[Recreated from pdf after blog crash]


Sometimes I need to travel light, with a small mirrorless camera and an iPad as companions, but I don’t want that to stand in the way of making the most of any time I have available for research. As I sit enjoying a coffee with a view of the Mediterranean, I’m making a record of tools and workflows I find useful while travelling light. That way, I won’t need to recreate the next time, and it might encourage me to travel light (which is extremely liberating!) more often:

  1. Blogpad Pro – a great tool for creating blog-posts off-line and then syncing to an online blog. Very simple to use with a similar interface to WordPress itself. One can even pull posts started online and then complete off-line on the move. The best time-optimiser I’ve found for blogging!
  2. Simplemind+ mind mapping app. I have the desktop version of this for planning and researching my work. The app allows syncing of maps through drop-box across any device with Simplemind installed. The app allows insertion of thumb-nails of images, hyper-links to webpages, and export of pictures of your mind maps (which I include in my blog). To use these tools well, one should understand the techniques of mind mapping first – there are plenty of good books on this.
  3. For word reference and exploring the semantics in books and briefs, I use the app versions of The Oxford English Dictionary (free for online version) and the Chambers Thesaurus. These I also carry on my iPhone for instant reference. Both these apps allow export of definitions to the clipboard, so the can be pasted into a blog post, or as a text note in a mind map.
  1. Apps for camera. This is camera manufacturer-dependent, so here I only describe for the Panasonic LX100 I am travelling with. The Panasonic Image app has various functions, activated through wi-fi connection between device and camera. These include remote control of the camera (think cable-release on acid), review and deletion of in-camera images without transferring to device, transfer of images to device. I shoot RAW plus standard JPEG – the app (and those of other manufacturers only act on JPEG files due to RAW file sizes). However, when reviewing the in-camera images, deletion is applied to any files with the same time-stamp, so unwanted RAW files are also deleted from the SD card. A great time saver for editing of a shoot.
  2. Finally there are apps for processing. The constraint here is that they only act on the JPEG files, which is not ideal but at least allows one to try out some processing ideas. A bit like a sketch-pad. The Lightroom app does have another trick up its sleeve to deal with RAW files, described below:Lightroom app. This allows any of the basic processing adjustments found in the desktop version, LR presets, posting of images online and syncing to desktop. The very neat trick is if you start from RAW files from your desktop and sync these to LR mobile, a virtual file is created for use on the iPad. Any adjustments (including meta-data) made on the iPad can then be synced back and applied to the RAW file. It just syncs the adjustment data rather than the full image files. Free with CC subscription.

    PS touch – a very light version of Photoshop for the iPad. I’ve not yet used this enough to conclude on its usefulness but my feeling is that it will be limited to a sketch-pad for trying out ideas. Free with CC subscription.

    Photoshop mix. A new app that I’ve not yet used, but seems to be for photo-montage. Free with CC subscription.

There are a large number of other apps for photo-processing, but as I’m invested in the Adobe infrastructure, I tend to keep things simple by limiting myself. To explore other apps, the best place to start is perhaps a recent post from somewhere like Techradar.

I’m determined that by the end of my two-weeks travelling light, I’ll become a convert. I’d be very interest to hear from anyone else exploring this area.

Photographs & context – Terry Barnett

[Recreated from pdf following blog crash]



Terry Barnett (1945) is an American art critic and professor of art. His short essay, Photographs and context, gives an introduction to the importance of context to photographic images.

Barnett describes several examples of how photographs placed in different contexts, or accompanied by di!erent textual narrative take on different meanings. Insightfully and expertly done, but almost to the point of being tautological.

Most referenced is the story of a photograph by Robert Doisneau of a romantic couple in a café that Doisneau had asked
permission to photograph as part of a project of cafés in Paris. In various contexts this same image had been portrayed as a romantic meeting, an indication of alcohol abuse in Paris, and evidence of prostitution.

Barnet explains that is not just the narrative that can alter the meaning of a photograph. He uses examples of placement in di!erent magazines that represent different points of view (and therefore the message we anticipate), and the placement of documentary photographs in art galleries (images that were intended to provide information on poverty, become images to be viewed as art).

He summarises, saying:

” In interpreting [photographs]….. there three sources of information are available for examination: information evident in the picture, information surrounding the picture in its presentation, and information about the pictures making.

He calls these the internal context, the external context and the original context. Each of these aspects requires thought to avoid reaching the incorrect reading of a photograph. And the information available will frequently be imperfect.

I conclude that while photographs contain information, they contain no inherent meaning. They cannot argue, or complain about being unfairly represented. Perhaps it is only literature amongst the arts that can possess inherent meaning.


Barnett T (nd), extract from essay. Photographs and
context. Available
from: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf [accessed 23.8.15]

Understanding a photograph – John Berger

[recreated from pdf after blog crash]


This book contains a series of Essays by John Berger, written between the late 1960s and the 1980s. The essays cover a range of photography related topics, including the theoretical (eg understanding a photograph), examinations of specific photographs and photographers, and a response to Susan Sontag’s On Photography. It is worth noting that in describing the context for photography, Berger makes frequent reference to socialist values with an anti-capitalist perspective.

What I enjoyed about the book is Berger’s ability to demystify Art and express the understanding of photography with clarity through the use of analogy and references to other art, and with examples of his own writings on specific photographs. It is a book to return to for ideas and inspiration and not necessarily something to be read straight through.

I list here a few of the points I have annotated in the book for my future reference:

  1. When talking about the amount of information in a photograph, Berger uses the term ‘visual density’ – a useful descriptor.
  2. When writing in 1970s, Berger defines Art as something that has a significant financial value and therefore as photography has little property value (it can be easily replicated), it is not Art. He also dismisses process- based definitions of art and not useful as they can equally apply to craft activities. Perhaps, now in 2015, photography has become an Art under

Berger’s definition.

  1. ‘Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph results from a decision… that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen.’ With current technology )particularly phones) it is arguable whether there is much decision making involved in many photos – for some, it seems to have become an unthinking habit.
  2. ‘The good photograph is the well-composed one … true only in so far as we think of photographic images imitating painted ones’.
  3. ‘One might argue that photography is as close to music as painting’. This has occurred to me as a musician – it even uses similar terminology; chromatic scale (and colour), tonality, and perhaps most critically, both have timing as part of their essence.
  4. ‘Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actual a trace of it’. I think this is true to a lesser extent now with the advent of digital imaging and manipulation, when the trace of the original subject can be completely transformed.
  5. ‘. . unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. They offer appearances – with all the credibility and gravity we normally lend to appearances – prised away from their meaning’. ‘Meaning is discovered in what connects … without a story there is no meaning. Facts, information, do not in themselves constitute meaning.’
  6. ‘All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity.’

I’m sure I’ll be revisiting Berger’s book over the coming years!


Berger J. Understanding a Photograph. Kindle edition, Penguin Classics, 2013.

Vanitas and chiaroscuro in photographs

As further research for my OCA assignment 4, I examine here the concepts of vanitas and chiaroscuro in the context of photography still life.
I previously looked at the work of Sam Taylor-Wood (1967) in the context of decay (see here). Cutter describes Taylor-Wood’s work within the concept of vanitas:

In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries though also common in other places and periods. The word is Latin, meaning  “emptiness” and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of Vanity. Common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death; rotten fruit, which symbolizes decay like ageing; bubbles, which symbolize the brevity of life and suddenness of death; smoke, watches, and hourglasses, which symbolize the brevity of life; and musical instruments, which symbolize brevity and the ephemeral nature of life. Sam Taylor Wood’s work (Still Life, Video Stills, 2001) is another step in this direction: the image, beautiful as ever in Taylor-Wood’s universe, decomposes itself. By the end, nothing is left but a grey amorphous mass. On closer inspection, one thing distinguishes this picture from its predecessors. The ball-point pen. A cheap, contemporary object that doesn’t decay.

 The Dutch School of painting is renowned for its use of chiaroscuro (use of light and dark to provide contrast and depict the volume of subjects). Last year, I was fortunate to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and see Rembrandt’s expansive painting, The Night Watch (see http://www.rembrandthuis.nl/en/rembrandt/belangrijkste- werken/de-nachtwacht). This complex use of light and dark is used to great effect in photography too – for example some of the other stills from Taylor-Wood’s work remind me of the light in the Dutch masters’ work.

Another photographer using this technique is Ori Gerscht (1967). In his work Gerscht literally blew up an arrangement of flowers and made a series of images from the explosion. Again we see the chiaroscuro effect giving depth and contrast to the photo.

I see how the symbolism through vanitas can trigger an emotional response in the viewer and how chiaroscuro creates visual impact as well as reminding us of the light and dark side of life. For my next iteration of apple as moon, I’ll reflect on how I can introduce these effects.


Cutter S (2010). Photographs do not bend [website]. Sam Taylor Wood: Vanitas. Available
from: http://www.photographsdonotbend.co.uk/2010/09/sam-taylor- wood-vanitas.html [accessed 23.8.15]


Art Net [website]. Sam Taylor-Wood Gallery. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/sam-taylor-wood/ [accessed 23.8.15]
Demos TJ (2007). Tate Gallery [website]. A matter of time. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/matter- time [accessed 23.8.15].

Mummer Schnelle Gallery, Ori Gerscht[online]. Time After Time & Blow Up [2007]. Available from: http://www.mummeryschnelle.com/pages/oriselector.htm [accessed 23.8.15].

The National Gallery of Art [website]. Dutch and Flemish Painting of the 16th-17th centuries. Available from: http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/dutch-2.html [accessed 23.8.15].
National Gallery [website]. Glossary – chiaroscuro. Available from: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/chiaroscuro [access 23.8.15]

Moon and celestial bodies

As part of my OCA assignment 4, I was recommended to do further research into photographs of the moon and celestial bodies. Here I look at the work of Ansel Adams, Susan Dergres, and Kevin Newark.

Ansel Adams’ photography, Moonrise, is probably his most famous image. He took the image in a rush to capture moment and couldn’t find his light meter. However, he knew the luminance of the moon, so used this as a guide for setting his exposure.

Source: anseladams.com
Source: anseladams.com

Adams has been described as a Precisionist photographer (Rosenblum p420), meaning that he was a champion of straight photography (vs pictorialism) and master of detail and texture. This style of photography was promoted through the f/64 Group of which Adams was a founding member.

The moon itself is a small spec in the image but set in high contrast against the dark sky, which is in turn separated from the foreground by a band of light from the fading sun. The composition is arranged in the golden-ratio, which Adams liked to work with.

The photo is a good example of the disproportionate power of a point to draw in the eye.

Susan Dergres (1955) is a contemporary British photographer, who uses an extraordinary technique to capture images from the view-point of beneath the water. Her technique involves putting photographic paper into the water and exposing it without using a camera!

The unusual technique made me at first question what I was seeing. Was it a reflection in the water – but it didn’t look like one? Was it digitally manipulated – but it looked natural? The image didn’t have the same light haze as a photo taken with an underwater camera. Then, at last reading how the images were created help me to understand.

In contrast to Adam’s photo, there is no sense of scale. There is a design and we know it is the moon because we recognise it as such. The ripples on the water create a peaceful, other worldly e!ect. Primordial, taking us back to under the water. Quite wonderful!

Another photographer concerned with the celestial is Kevin Newark’s Protoplasm. I’d previously looked at his work in the context of decay and renewal (see here). Newark explains (The Exposure Project):

”My practice resonates around the themes of space, time, anxiety and displacement. In photographing discarded plastic carrier bags found in the canals of East London, I looked to find some solace for the exiled soul of the plastic bag.

The bags appear to be photographed at night, in the water, giving the impression of them floating in deep space.

The work of Dergres and Newark triggers the idea of taking my studio outdoors at night to photograph my apple as the moon in the water.


The Exposure Project (2009) [website]. Explanation from Kevin Newark. Available from: http://theexposureproject.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/kevin- newarks-protoplasm.html [accessed 22.8.15]

Dergres S [website]. Susan Dergres/Moons [online gallery]. Available from: http://www.susanderges.com. [Accessed 21.8.15]

Rosenblum N (1984). A world history of photography (revised edition). New York, Abbeville Publishing Group.

V&A Museum [website]. Shadow catchers – camera-less photography. Available
from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/channel/people/photography/shadow_catchers_camer less_photography_susan_derges/


Anseladams.com [online]. The story of the making of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez. Available from: http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-anecdotes/ [accessed 20.8.15]

Adams M [on YouTube] (nd). Ansel Adam’s son on the making of Moonrise. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8ZaD0W3yms

V&A. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography – Susan Derges. Available from:https://vimeo.com/13149808












Anseladams.com [online]. The story of the making of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez. Available from: http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-anecdotes/ [accessed 20.8.15]

Adam M [on YouTube] (nd). Ansel Adam’s son on the making of Moonrise. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8ZaD0W3yms

Photography a concise history – book review

To put a backbone into my research on photography, I’ve invested in a couple of books on its history. Picked up at a reasonable price secondhand online. The first one, Photography a concise history, carries the stamp of Lancashire Library inside its front cover – I can only assume that it was acquired legitimately by the online book store from which I purchased it!

The book covers the period from the invention of the camera in the 1830s through to the 1970s. It deals only with European and American photographers. Each of its 10 chapters covers a period in time, the principle photographers in the period, and the social and artistic context for the period. Interestingly, each chapter is given a thematic title that reflect the mood in its period.  In total the book contains 136 images, with 8 in colour.

While the writing style is a little dry, I find the book valuable:

  • It provides some social context within each chapter, so it is possible to understand something of the environment the photographers were working in and how it was either reflected in their work or not.
  • Importantly, it explains the connection between the photographers, either personal or in time.
  • The genres and styles of the photographers are discussed alongside the images in the book.

The book is limited in its geographic outlook, but that also allows it to be concise. If there is one area in which I would have liked to have seen more content, that is the post World War II period. This is allowed only one chapter of the 10. Either there was not so much happening in that period, or what was happening was not of so much interest to the author.

Overall, a good investment for my research!


Jeffery I (1981). Photography a concise history. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Behind the image – book review

Behind the Image is a guide to the photographic ‘research processes that underpin successful, meaningful photography’. It explains the importance of research in photography succinctly:

A body of photographic work is developed through knowledge gained in exploring the medium.

The book covers the following broad areas:

  • Planning – the initial ideas, fact-finding and objective setting.
  • Developing ideas through research – explores the potential research tools and how to develop a framework for research.
  • Practice as research – looks into practice-based research
  • Compiling research – discusses ways of recording research for future reference and reflection
  • Research and practice – examines the continuous working process of research and practice
  • The impact of research – discusses the value of research in the contemporary world.

While this is a reference book, it is written in accessible language, with a clarity sometimes lacking in art books. A few of the important  lessons I took from the book for my own needs at this time are:

  1. Understand the history of photography and photographers (from several sources) as a way of placing and connecting different photographers.
  2. Read widely to refresh own thinking on photography.
  3. Use mind maps to record ideas during planning.
  4. Visit the National Media Museum (in Bradford and a short journey by train for me!)
  5. Use an RSS reader to track new entries on blogs of interest.
  6. Treat the practice of photography (taking pictures) and post processing as research and record it for reference.
  7. Think of my blog (this one) as record of my ongoing research for future reference and development, not just for the purposes of my OCA studies.
  8. Get into a working habit where research becomes connected to practice in a way that makes the two things hard to separate – second nature.
  9. My final point (didn’t make it an even 10) is a direct quote from the book:

In order for research to have real impact, the following are vital: access; discussion and thinking; writing; and response making. Research needs to reach an audience, as methods of communication and dissemination of ideas plan an important role in conveying new knowledge and debate.

This last point needs some reflection in itself as I currently feel in a small bubble, with my only real audience and feedback comes from the OCA level 1 Facebook page! There must be other outlets.



Fox A and Caruana N (2012). Behind the image – research in photography. London, Thames & Hudson.

Walker Evans

In this post I look at the photos of Walker Evans (1903 – 1975), in his renowned book, American Photographs. As photos of their time, they are all in black and white. The book was first published in 1938, following an exhibition of the works in MoMa, New York. The cover material tells us that we should look at the images in sequence – the photos are deliberately arranged as a series in two parts. The first part of the book, showing us the life and people of American and the second, the architecture. It is intended to show us what life was like in America.

Source: erickimphotography.com
Source: erickimphotography.com

The photographic style is straight, revealing details of the scenes and people photographed. Mostly, Evans takes a point of view immediately facing the scene, which makes it easy for us to examine the details in the photos. Evans tells us (Cummings) that he was ‘photographing against the style of the time, against salon photography, against beauty photography, against art photography.’

While the photos show detailed information, they are carefully composed, with the frame containing no distractions from the main subject of each photo. They have a kind of calmness. I think that is one aspect that makes the photos remarkable – they show us carefully framed extracts from everyday life but feel like still-lives rather than the active-lives.

Evans himself (Cummings) defines the documentary-style that is associated with his work:

I use the word “style” particularly because in talking about it many people say “documentary photograph.” Well, literally a documentary photograph is a police report of a dead body or an automobile accident or something like that. But the style of detachment and record is another matter. That applied to the world around us is what I do with the camera, what I want to see done with the camera.

‘Detachment’ is another word for what I feel when looking at the photos. I do not feel involved, like I would in the work of modern photographers such as Joe Meyerowitz. This allows me to better take in the facts or details of the photos, without strong emotions being conveyed in the images.

Like William Eggleston, who came much later, Evan’s subject matter is banal but Evans is interested in showing us the detail of the subject matter. For example, the signage outside a photography store or a garage with tyres and spare parts displayed outside. Whereas Eggleston’s images are more concerned with the interaction of forms and colours, often with little in the way of details.

Evans’ photos provide a record of what places were like in America at that time. As a non-American and a viewer over 75 years after the event, they are interesting. Would the same approach be interesting in my local environment now, when travelling is convenient, and when photographic images are all around us? A question to consider in a review of the work of modern photographers.


Cummings P (1971). Smithsonion Archives of American Art [website]. Interview with Walker Evans [transcript of interview]. Available from: http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-walker-evans-11721 [accessed 18.8.15]

Evans W (1938). Walker Evans: American Photographs. UK, 75th anniversary ed., Tate Enterprises Ltd.


Jeffrey I. Photography – a concise history (p172-177)London, 1981, Thames and Hudson.

Kim E (2013). Eric Kim Photography [blog]. What Walker Evans taught me about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/09/05/17-lessons-walker-evans-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ [accessed 18.8.15]

William Eggleston

Glover describes William Eggleston as the godfather of colour photography. He explains that:

He has had many detractors, and many of those critics spoke up when his work was shown at MoMa, New York, in 1976, in a retrospective that helped to define the nature of photography in our time. Forty years ago, his photographs were dismissed as banal, inconsequential and ramshackle in the extreme. The New York Times called it “the most hated show of the year”

Kim explains that when he first saw Eggleston’s work ‘he just didn’t get it’. Eggleston is renowned as being somewhat cantankerous and not found of giving interviews or talking about his work, which can be see in Glover’s Q&A session.

Source: Guardian online.
Source: Guardian online.

In this post, I consider the Eggleston’s colour work and reflect upon what I might learn from him. I base this mainly on looking at Eggleston’s work in his book, William Eggleston’s Guide, but also from review of the other source referenced, including Almereyda’s insightful documentary.

  • The subject matter of the photographs is completely unremarkable, utterly banal: a dog drinking from a puddle, a jigsaw puzzle on a table, an empty road and trees silhouetted against the sky and so on. I can see how this makes the images difficult to understand at first – they are not what we expect in a photograph.
  • Once one gets beyond the subject matter and starts looking at the form and placement of the shapes in frame, the work makes sense. For example, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi (p52) is block of ground with vibrant textured sand, with a plain box building resting on the horizon, and a block of grey/white clouds above. The form of the shapes and their colours makes a compelling composition. But if one focuses only on the subject matter, this is difficult to see.
  • The photos seem to be carefully composed, with attention to the placement of the objects and lines within the frame. While the frames contain only a few objects, they appear full with activity because of this careful placement.
  • Perhaps most important to the images are the vibrant colour tones – the colours are an essential component to the photos, rather than a distraction that interferes with the form of the objects. I learned in the documentary that Eggleston uses dye-transfer to make his prints, which was originally used for magazine and advertising copy, to give a wider colour spectrum than normal photographic prints.

I struggled with Eggleston’s work at first, but with perseverance and a different perspective on the purpose of a photograph, I enjoy it very much.


Almereyda M (2005). William Eggleston Documentary: In The Real World. Available from: YouTube:https://youtu.be/Lq3N2KWAttU [Accessed 15.8.15]

Eggleston W (2002). William Eggleston’s Guide. New York, The Museum of Modern Art.

The Guardian Art and Design [online] . William Eggleston Americana. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2013/apr/05/william-eggleston-photography-americana [accessed 16.8.15]

Glover M (2013). Independent [online]. Genius in colour: Why William Eggleston is the world’s greatest photographer. Available from:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/genius-in-colour-why-william-eggleston-is-the-worlds-greatest-photographer-8577202.html [accessed 15.8.15]

Kim E (2013). Eric Kim Photography [blog]. Lessons William Eggleston has taught me about photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/04/01/10-lessons-william-eggleston-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/


Joel Meyerowitz

In my continuing exploration of modern street photographers, here I look a the work of Joel Meyerowitz (1938).

Source: In-Public
Source: In-Public

Meyerowitz’s work departs from the traditional black and white format for street photography, used by his contemporary Garry Winogrand and the photographers Westerbeck’s documentary tells us influenced him, Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson. The documentary is one hour long and provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of Meyerowitz on photography as well as showing him in action on the streets.

Meyerowitz talks at length at his approach to street photography and how it evolved over his career as he moved from black and white to colour. His street photographs are mainly from the busy streets of New York City and his approach to photographing did not involve a plan of particular subjects, but just seeing what came up from day-to-day and following his instincts. As the city is so busy, perhaps the unplanned approach works well in his environment.

Looking at the images on the In-public gallery and the documentary, I think a number of things make Meyerowitz’s work exceptional:

  • He successfully incorporates the use of colour into images that are captured in an instant on the streets, adding another dimension to the traditional black and white format of this type of photography. However, he appears to use processing techniques similar to black and white images to achieve high-contrast photos with significant areas of shade that draw the eye into the main subjects.
  • In common with other great street photographers, he captures images close up that show the events of every day life, with an unexpected twist provided through contrasts of different elements (for example, people in paper hats, or extremes of dark and light clothing in passers-by).
  • The linking theme of New York City throughout the photos gives them the feeling of a diary of city life.
  • His subjects mostly appear completely unaware that they are being photographed, which reveals a less aggressive approach to street-craft than that of Garry Winogrand. Though because of this, I feel less involvement in the photographs than in those of Winogrand.

Above all, Meyerowitz’s work has convinced me how colour can be used effectively in the genre of street photography.


In-Public (website). Joel Meyerowitz Gallery. Available from: http://www.in-public.com/JoelMeyerowitz/gallery/53 [accessed 28.7.15]

Westerbeck Jr C (1981). Joel Meyerowitz photographer [documentary]. Nimble Thimble Productions Inc. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDSGWy1CU78 [accessed 29.7.15]

Panoramas in Lightroom

To test the new panorama functionality within Lightroom, I took 4 photos of a scene in the English Lakes. No tripod – just handheld to give the functionality a real test!

Here’s a screen shot of LR – just select the photos, right-click, select ‘photo merge’ and then ‘panorama’. A few self-explanatory options are then presented and LR then combines the images to create a panorama – it is incredibly smart at aligning the individual photos (even with my hand-held shots).

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 07.44.56

And the finished test image ……


Garry Winogrand

The feedback I received on assignment 3 encouraged me to look more into modern street photographers, including Garry Winogrand (1928-1984).

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 21.22.59

The Fraenkel gallery displays a good number of Winogrand’s photos. Looking at these reveals the extraordinary range of human activity and emotion he captures in his work. His images capture moments of human interaction and make one wonder what was happening at the time. Viewing them is like visiting a human zoo. It is human life caught by surprise, unposed, in its natural state. And close up.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 21.37.30

O’Hagan comments of Winogrand’s approach, explaining that ‘while his contemporary, Joel Meyerowitz, stalked the streets of New York trying to be invisible, Winogrand did not mind being noticed. Revealingly, though, many of his reluctant subjects only seem to register his presence at the very moment he presses the shutter.’ This same approach is evident in Engler’s documentary of Winogrand at work, but we can also observe how quick he was to frame and shoot before returning to tuning his camera’s settings – it seems that some subjects are not sure whether they have been photographed or if Winogrand is just adjusting his camera.

In Resnick’s fascinating account of a workshop with Winogrand, he explains:

Incredibly, people didn’t react when he photographed them. It surprised me because Winogrand made no effort to hide the fact that he was standing in way, taking their pictures. Very few really noticed; no one seemed annoyed. Winogrand was caught up with the energy of his subjects, and was constantly smiling or nodding at people as he shot. It was as if his camera was secondary and his main purpose was to communicate and make quick but personal contact with people as they walked by.

We are also told that Winogrand used two meterless Leica M4 with 28mm lenses. A small, unobtrusive set up. This focal length adds to the feeling of being close to the subjects in his picture.

My lessons from Winograd are to frame and shoot quickly – do not send a message that you are about to take a photograph and, therefore, disturb the unfolding scene. And, close up is interesting – we can see the emotions, the whites of the eyes!


Engler M (1982). Documentary – Contemporary photography in the USA – Garry Winogrand. Available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RM9KcYEYXs [accessed 28.7.15]

O’Hagan S (2014). Guardian online. Garry Winogrand: the restless genius who gave street photography attitude (14 February). Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/15/-sp-garry-winogrand-genius-american-street-photography [accessed 28.7.15]

Resnick M (1988). My Street Photography Workshop With Garry Winogrand. [originally appeared in the June 1988 issue of Modern Photography]. Available from: http://www.photogs.com/bwworld/winogrand.html [accessed 28.7.15]


Fraenkel Gallery (online). Garry Winogrand. https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/garry-winogrand

Kim E blog (2012). 10 things Garry Winogrand can teach you about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/08/20/10-things-garry-winogrand-can-teach-you-about-street-photography/ [accessed 28.7.15]

On being a photographer – book review

The format of this book is a dialogue between David Hurn (a Magnum photographer) and Bill Jay, a long-time friend of Hurn and author specialising in the history and criticism of photography. Jay leads the discussion on ‘being a photographer’. The advice and words of wisdom in the book are from Hurn’s perspective as a highly successful professional photographer, one-time academic, and knowledge of how other similarly successful photographers approach their work.

Topics covered in the book range from definitions of photography, through shooting and cameras, to photographic myths. I found the book a fascinating insight into the wisdom of two highly successful men, gained over their lifetimes. The book is the type of book to which one can return again and again. Some of the things I took away at this point in my development were:

  1.  ‘The only factually correct aspect of photography is that it shows what something looked like – under a very particular set of circumstances. But that is not the same as the underlying truth of the event or situation.’
  2. ‘…. photography is is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else. It is not the end result.’
  3. ‘…. The photographer must have intense curiosity, not just a passing visual interest, in the theme of the pictures. This curiosity leads to intense examination….’ So, the first and most important decision is what to photograph. And that should be very specific.
  4. Keep a note book of subjects of interest to you and make notes as they occur to you. Then decide which of these subjects are photographable – must be practicable and subjects to which one has good access over a period of time.
  5. ‘A unique style ….. Is the by-product of visual exploration, not its goal. Personal vision comes only from not aiming at it.’ Hurn states that this comes only through time and making of many images.
  6. ‘There are two fundamental elements in picture taking; where to stand and when to release the shutter’
  7. Hurn explains to importance of contact sheets – as a visual diary to help reflect on how one’s photography can be improved. He recommends close examination of the photos that were not so successful – learning from the mistakes.
  8. ‘Photographers should not put pictures in a box under their beds and be the only ones to see them… they want to record what they see and show to somebody else. Photography is abou communication.’


Hurn D & Jay B (2008). On being a photographer. Anacortes, Lenswork Publishing.

The Street Photographer’s Manual – book review

I bought this book on the back of frequent references to it on street photography websites, other books (including Street Photography Now) and favourable reviews on Amazon.

David Gibson is one of the founder members of In-Public, a street photographers collective, and in this book he shares his views on what constitutes street photography, introduces various renowned street photographers and some ideas on approaches to street photography, illustrated by examples from the featured photographers and Gibson’s own work.

The book draws on Gibson’s experiences of delivering street photography workshops and as well as providing some technical advice and pointers on locations, suggests a number of projects to help create more interesting shots. These are based around themes such as order, blurred, shadows, layers and so on.

The book is written in a very accessible style and the many photos and suggestions are a good source for inspiration. Definitely a book I will dip into again and again prior to street photography shoots.


Gibson D (2014). The street photographer’s manual. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.


In-Public website. http://www.in-public.com [accessed 21.7.15]

Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt (1904–83) preferred to rely on ‘camera vision’ rather than his own subjective vision:

Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.

(OCA, Expressing Your Vision, p95)

I wanted to understand more of Bill Brandt’s creative vision and was thankful to discover Adam’s documentary on Brandt available on YouTube. I find it much more valuable to hear an artist’s own words and explanations than the interpretation of a critic.

Brandt’s images contain striking contrasts and he does not shy away from including significant areas of shadow, drawing the eye into what he wants to stand out in his prints and emphasising line through contrasts. Brandt tells us that ‘it is very important to develop his own work’ and how he ‘completely changes a photography in the darkroom’. For the image of Francis Bacon, Brandt talked about how he darkened the sky in the darkroom.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 17.22.06

During the documentary Brandt mentions several times that he takes photographs ‘intuitively’ and that they ‘are not planned’. He always takes images of people in their own environment. In the V&A biography, he is quoted on portraits:

I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.

When asked during the documentary how he creates the ‘unposed look’, Brandt simply explains that eventually people forget he is there. He is also surprised when the interviewer points out that the subjects are never in the centre of the frame – Brandt seems to have not examined this (he rarely looks at his own photos), which supports his comment about working intuitively.

During the documentary Brandt also talks about his use of a wide-angle lens in portraiture (particularly nudes) to distort the image and include a depth of background as context. The image below is one such photo, which he describes in the documentary as his favourite, and illustrates beautifully Brandt’s vision.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 17.53.34

Every time I look at the work of famous photographers from the last century, I feel that we have lost something in the digital age – often lacking the character and crafted feel of the ‘old masters’. Digital images and digital processing can leave photos looking machine-made, somehow lacking art. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, but a drive for sharpness and detail can result in clinical, sterile images.

Thank you Bill Brandt for your inspirational images and immense modesty!


Adam P, producer (1983). Bill Brandt BBC Master Photographers. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3KuY0quBsk [accessed 19.7.15]

V&A museum [online]. Bill Brandt Biography. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [accessed 19.7.15]


The Bill Brandt Archive [online]. Available at: http://www.billbrandt.com. [accessed 19.7.15]

Chris Steele-Perkins – Mount Fuji

Creativity’ is the assessment criterion that seems to create a sense of bafflement, if not downright confusion, in many Level 1 students. As you can see from the taxonomy, the descriptors include imagination, invention, experimentation and development of a personal voice … One way you can measure‘personal response’is to tackle a popular subject that has been photographed thousands of times before. (OCA. Expressing Your Vision, p92)

In this context, I compare and contrast the work of Chris Steele-Perkins and John Davies on the same subject of Mount Fuji (see separate post).

Both photographers use Mount Fuji as a backdrop to life under the mountain, rather than choosing to focus on the mountain itself as the main subject. While the mountain becomes incidental, it is too large and imposing to be ignored. Like a studio backdrop in an old movie scene, it has a fixed presence.

The difference between Steele-Perkins’  and John Davies work is in the post-processing. The former is higher contrast with saturated colours, whereas the latter is understated, like an objective documentary. Given the similar approaches to framing Mount Fuji, my preference is for the more visually exciting processing of Steele-Perkins.


Prix Pictet (2015). Earth. Mount Fuji by Chris Steele-Perkins [online]. Available at: http://www.prixpictet.com/portfolios/earth-shortlist/chris-steele-perkins/ [accessed 17.7.2015]


John Davies – Fuji City

Creativity’ is the assessment criterion that seems to create a sense of bafflement, if not downright confusion, in many Level 1 students. As you can see from the taxonomy, the descriptors include imagination, invention, experimentation and development of a personal voice … One way you can measure‘personal response’is to tackle a popular subject that has been photographed thousands of times before. (OCA. Expressing Your Vision, p92)

In this context I looked at the work of John Davies. In his work Fuji City, Japan 2008 he breaks away from the stereotypical images of the photogenic Mount Fuji. He sets the mountain as a back drop to various photos of the industrial sites of Fuji City. In the series of images the mountain appears as an ever-present god overlooking the banality of industrial scenes. There is not a fleck of cherry-blossom in sight, no watery reflections, nor any Japanese temples. There is the story of everyday life under the mountain.

The images present a seemingly unique and interesting vision. However, they are also banal in themselves, with a snapshot ethos. No drama captured or added in post-processing.


John Davies website: http://www.johndavies.uk.com [accessed 18 July 2015]

Tabletop Photography – book review

In preparation for my next assignment Ex Nihilo, which requires the use of artificial light in studio-like conditions, I looked for technical information on this type of photography that didn’t require the use of expensive studio facilities. Tabletop Photography proved to be the perfect book.

The objective of the book is to show how a studio-like experience can be achieved ‘with a few shoe-mounted flash units, a touch of crafty spirit, and a measure of imagination’.

I learnt about the different roles of lighting – the key light to replace the sun, the fill light to lift the shadows, the effect light to provide, well, effects, and the background light to light the background for some types of image. The book provides practical suggestions for different types of image and even gives advice on how to make or improvise homemade studio props from everyday items.

While the book will be an ongoing reference point, there are a few important notes to self:

  • Use only manual flash settings to ensure full control over the lighting
  • Improvise soft box using white bags or containers for the flash. Alternatively source a flash to soft box adapter
  • Use a lens hood to avoid stray light adversely affecting the exposure
  • Improvise reflectors – experiment with different materials that reflect light (polystyrene sheets for example). Use shelf-brackets to prop them up.
  • Similarly improvise diffusers with neutrally coloured materials.

In conclusion, the book provides some excellent pointers for experimentation in studio-like photography on a tabletop and on a budget. Now the challenge is to put some of it into practice!


Harnischmacher C (2012). Tabletop Photography. Originally published in Santa Barbara by Rocky Nook Inc. Kindle ebook edition is referenced [accessed 3 July 2015].

Street Photography Now – book review

In feedback I received on assignment 3, I was recommended to look at modern developments in street photography, including the book Street Photography Now. I owned this book prior to starting the OCA course, but felt it would be interesting to revisit having now spent a few months studying.

The book is an international guide to over 40 contemporary street photographers, providing not only a selection of images from each photographer but words from each on their motivations and ways of working. There is also commentary on the evolution of street photography and brief analysis of the works included. The insights provided brush-away the cobwebs from the traditionalist views of street photography based on the works of Cartier-Bresson et al from the early 20th century. Some of these views are still pervasive on certain photo-sharing sites that demand, for example, black and white images only, no post-processing, no staged images.

The book is remarkable for its breadth and depth of coverage and commentary on genre now, its developments and challenges it faces. The main lessons I took away from the book after reading it for the second time were:

  • There are no rules in street photography – the best practitioners make their own rules
  • Motivations for making images on the street are as varied as the number photographers in the book. From serious social commentary to amusing visual puns.
  • Without fail, the photos fill the frame and are full of visual interest. Many are close up. There are no dead spots.
  • Street photography often features people, but not always. Commentary 2 of the book, No Ideas But In Things, explores ‘still life’ street photography. One example is Nils Jorgensen’s image of shoes left on a corner pavement in the rain. Another is Matt Stuart’s photo displayed as the feature image of this blog post. I found this type of image compelling and not necessarily something I would look for when preoccupied with filling my frame with a person.
  • The street photographers featured have many different approaches to dealing with the challenge of taking uninvited images of people on the street. From what to me appears highly intrusive and even aggressive, through sneaky (unseen), to collaborative and spending time with the subjects. In certain jurisdictions some photographers talk about the challenges of privacy laws – a memorable example is Bruno Quinquet’s work in Japan, where it is legal to take photos of people, but not to publish them. To overcome this in his Salaryman Project he ensures that none of the subjects are recognisable, with either their faces obscured or blurred.

In summary, this book provides a lesson in experimentation for street photographers everywhere.


Howarth S and McLaren S (2010). Street photography now. Paperback ed. London: Thames & Hudson.


Coombes P (2010). BBC photoblog [online]. Street Photography Now – review. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/photoblog/2010/10/street_photography_now.html [accessed 27.6.15]

Brassai at night

Picasso’s favourite photographer was Brassaï (1899–1984) whose Paris by Night (1936) was one of the most influential photobooks of the twentieth century (OCA photography 1 – expressing your vision)

Here I discuss Brassai’s use of light in his night photos.

Brassai tells Jones, ‘I walked around Paris a lot at night and saw many things. I sought a means of expressing these sights … above all to photograph the night, which excited me’. He explains that ‘thanks to his endless walks through Paris, he was able to go on and do a kind of social study of the creatures who peopled the city at night.’ (Gautrand, p12). We can see through his photos that no subject was out-of-bounds for Brassai’s lens from lovers to workmen to prostitutes. So for Brassai, the night-light brought out the night-life and a side of Paris not seen by day.

Source: Houk Gallery

Brassai’s photos are special not only because they capture the feeling of intimate moments, but also because each frame is filled with interest. At night, as well as the high contrast there is interest in the shadows, no shady areas that serve no purpose in the image. Brassai says:

I’ve always felt that the formal structure of a photo, its composition, was just as important as the subject itself …. Your have to eliminate every superfluous element, you have to guide your own gaze with an iron will (Gautrand, p71).

Jones explores some aspects of technique with Brassai. The artist talks about the use of flash in his night photographs, saying ‘Some people say one must work only with available light and that one should never light the subject. I don’t agree. If it is necessary, I light the subject.’ He also explains how he likes to develop and print his own photographs and considers that to be important, but is not asked why.

Looking at many of his images, it is clear that they are taken with the cooperation of his subjects given his proximity to them and the confined spaces in which they were taken, but Brassai had a gift of helping the subjects forget they were being photographed. He is quoted as saying “I need the subject to be as conscious as possible that he is taking part in an event … in an artistic act. I need his active collaboration …” (Gautrands, p67).

Brassai’s approach to ‘street’ photography involved interaction with his subjects and the use of flash to light up the night if he considered that necessary. Brassai’s small plate glass camera and tripod would not have allowed him to be conspicuous, yet this did not hinder him in capturing some wonderful images of night-time Paris.


Gautrand J-C (2008). Brassai Paris. Cologne: Taschen.

Houk Gallery [online]. http://www.houkgallery.com/artists/brassai/ [accessed 26.6.15]

Jones T. (1970). American Suburb X [Blog]. Tony Ray-Jones Interviews Brassai” Pt. I (1970). Published 19.8.2011. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/08/interview-brassai-with-tony-ray-jones.html [accessed 7.6.15]


DP Tips. Brassai and his work. [online blog]. http://www.dptips-central.com/brassai.html [accessed 26.6.15]


Nik colour efex

Here I show my experiment in processing with the Nik efex processing adds-ins for photoshop. The Nik collection is detailed and available from their website. My objective for this particular image was to create a stylised version of a colour street photograph that would add drama to the scene.

Here is the straight RAW file, with only basic corrections made in Lightroom. The image was shot for 1/125 sec at f/8 with a 28mm (efl) Fujinon lens.

Basic LR processing

There is action in the shot, but its business and distance from the camera makes it difficult to distinguish and for the eye to follow. My approach with the Nik software was to load an unsharpened version of the file into Photoshop and create a smart-object layer in which to apply various Nik filters. I used the following filters Dfine for noise reduction, Sharpener Pro for basic global sharpening, and Colour efex pro to add colour filters and targeted adjustments.

The adjusted image is below. It has a heavily stylised, unnatural feel but I find its graphic quality more compelling than the straight Lightroom image.

Nik adjustments

This raises questions in my mind on how post-processing might be perceived by the viewer – a welcome graphical adjustment or an obvious disconnect from reality, rather than a more subtle disconnect represented by light post-processing.

I’ll explore this with my contemporaries in the OCA level1 Facebook group.


Nik collection website [online]. https://www.google.com/nikcollection/ [accessed 23.6.15]

Hockney on photography

The Hockney on Photography documentary is mostly David Hockney in his own words discussing an exhibition of his photographic work, how he created the pieces and what he was trying to show through each piece. It also includes some commentary from two critics on Hockneys’ work. He also discusses the interplay between his photography and his paintings and how some photos inspired paintings.

The documentary provides a fascinating insight into how Hockney frees himself from what he calls ‘the tyranny of a single point of view’. How he plays with or rewrites the rules of perspective and viewpoint to better represent the three dimensional in two dimensions.

Hockney argues that a single photograph cannot effectively depict ‘grandeur’ or scale of view and describes his approach to creating single works through ‘grids’ (or collages) or single photos taken from multiple points of view. For example, he describes how for one full length portrait, he kept the camera in the same plain and gradually crouches as he takes pictures of each part of the body from close range, then joins them. He describes similar approaches to large landscape images, including the Grand Canyon and landscape in his native Yorkshire. The technique was first developed using Polaroid images, but he describes how he would later send 35mm film images to be developed and enlarged before joining them to form a single image.

Hockney’s approach seems to loosen the grip that reality has on single photographic images by allowing multiple point of views to exist within a single composite image. As he describes it, ‘painting with photographs’.

I very much enjoyed the documentary and plan to experiment with some of Hockney’s ideas in my own work.


Hockney on Photography. Available from Sky Arts TV [accessed 8.6.15]


Hockney pictures [online]. http://www.hockneypictures.com/works_photos.php [accessed 11.6.15]

Chalkie Davies: Rock Photographer

This BBC documentary follows the story of Chalkie Davies’ preparation for a retrospective exhibition of his photographs of the stars of 1980s music. It tells the story of how Davies became a photographer of, and friend to the stars. And how he closed that period of his career on the tragic death of Phil Linnott, with whom he shared a house.

The documentary includes extensive interview footage both with Davies and some of those whom he photographed. Davies comments that because the stars trusted him, he was able to get close to them and take photos that showed them as ordinary people when they weren’t performing. The photos revealed the characters of the stars, not the performance routines more common in today’s rock photography. All images shown were in black and white, but the reason for this choice wasn’t discussed in the documentary.

The frequent message from the stars interviewed was that they trusted Chalkie ‘not to take photos that would make them look like dicks’. This allowed them to relax and let their guard down. This is what makes many of the images so compelling.

The exhibition is being shown in the National Museum of Wales before going on tour.


BBC Wales (2015). Chalkie Davies: Rock Photographer. Viewed on BBC iPlayer [accessed 8.6.15]

Morris S (2015). The Guardian [online]. Unseen Chalkie Davies photographs of 70s and 80s pop stars go on show (8 May). http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/08/chalkie-davies-photographs-70s-80s-pop-stars-nme-national-museum-cardiff. [accessed 11.6.15]

Museum of Wales [online]. Chalkie Davies the NME years. http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff/whatson/7844/Chalkie-Davies-the-NME-years/ [accessed 11.6.15]

Evening light

A series of photographs experimenting with the capture of evening light (early summer). All shot with manual exposures, with careful inspection of the histogram to retain the highlights.

The low light photography field guide

In my research the ‘language of light’, I’ve been looking into the technicalities of low light photography and as well as some online research, read Michael Freeman’s book, The Low Light Photography Field Guide.

As usual with Freeman, the book is clearly and concisely written. It is very much a technical guide rather than a creative guide, but this is what I wanted. The text is in three main sections; a) a general introduction to Low Light including sensor limitations, light sources, colour temperatures, camera settings and post-production aspects; b) specific information on working handheld in low light, including steadying techniques, explanations of sharpness and types of blur, and noise, along with related post-production techniques; and c) working locked down using a tripod, including multi-exposure and blending techniques and applications within different types of software.

The book left me with a greater understand of possible technical approaches to low light photography and practical aspects. For example how good camera handling increases the chance of useable shots at relatively low shutter speeds.

What it did not address was the calculation or estimation of correct exposure settings for bulb exposures of over 30 seconds.  I was surprised and disappointed that this was not mentioned at all. For now, I am left experimenting with Gock’s approach of taking a light reading at a high ISO of 6400 (roughly a x60 multiple of 100 ISO), reducing the ISO to 100 and apply a 60 multiple to the time value at ISO 6400 – so broadly time in seconds becomes time in minutes. As my Fuji X-T1 as a minimum ISO of 200, I then need to divide the calculated time by two.

Armed with this technical information, I will now experiment with some shots!


Freeman M. The Low Light Photography Field Guide. Ilex ebook. Amazon Kindle edition. [accessed 6.6.15]

Gibson A. Gibson Photography Blog [online]. Using Bulb for long exposure photography. Available from: http://www.andrewsgibson.com/blog/2012/05/using-bulb-long-exposure-photography/ [accessed 6.6.15]

Gock A. The Newcastle Photographer [online blog]. How to calculate exposures quickly at night timehttp://gock.net/2010/02/how-to-calculate-exposures-quickly-at-night-time/ [accessed 6.6.15]

Managing white balance with live-view (Fuji X-T1)

Light at different times of day, in different weather conditions, under different artificial light sources has different colours. Unless the light has a strong tint, we don’t notice the colours of light with the naked eye as our brains make corrections to bring the colours back to their ‘normal’ colours. So, no matter what the time of day or what type of clear artificial light, we perceive white as white.

On the other hand, cameras are not sophisticated enough to make these corrections automatically without error (auto-white balance can be tricked) and photos end up with whites or other colours that are not quite as we visualised them.

Cambridge in Colour describes the colours of light and the different K (kelvin) measurements of the light:

Color Temperature Light Source
1000-2000 K – Candlelight
2500-3500 K – Tungsten Bulb (household variety)
3000-4000 K – Sunrise/Sunset (clear sky)
4000-5000 K – Fluorescent Lamps
5000-5500 K – Electronic Flash
5000-6500 K – Daylight with Clear Sky (sun overhead)
6500-8000 K – Moderately Overcast Sky
9000-10000 K -Shade or Heavily Overcast Sky

The colour spectrum moves from orange (for candle light) through neutral (around 5000K) to blue (in shade).

There are several conventional approaches to dealing with this to ensure photos do not end up with an unwanted colour-tint:

  1. Rely on the camera’s white balance (WB) settings to make the correction, for example select ‘cloudy’ or ‘tungsten’, which should do a reasonable job in lighting conditions that are not complex/multi-source.
  2. Use a neutral reference (eg grey card, or neutral grey in the scene) to set a custom white balance setting for you camera for a specific shoot. Usually done by simply selecting custom white balance, pointing at the neutral object and pressing the shutter.
  3. In post-processing of RAW files (in LR) – either by manually adjusting using sliders or using the dropper to select a neutral colour in the image (or even a separate image of a grey card shot at the same time).

However, I was impressed by Lovegrove’s approach using live-view on the Fuji X-T1. Rather than selecting one of the standard settings for unusual light conditions, he selects the K (kelvin setting), which allows scrolling through the full spectrum of light temperatures. He then uses live-view to inspect and adjust the image created by the camera until it meets his vision. I’ve used this and it’s fantastic being able to watch the colour of light change right before your eyes in live-view. So, effective WB adjustment on the hop without wasted time in LR later!

WB auto by camera
WB auto by camera
WB adjusted in live-view
WB adjusted in live-view

I would assume that this approach would also work on other cameras with live-view functionality.


Cambridge in Colour [online]. Tutorials: white balance. Available from: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/white-balance.htm [accessed 2.6.15]

The Lovegrove Blog [online]. Fuji X-T1 settings. Available from: http://www.prophotonut.com/2015/06/02/fuji-x-t1-settings/ [accessed 2.6.15]

Rut Blees Luxemburg

Rut Blees Luxemburg (b.1967) carries her large-format camera around night-time London, making only three or four exposures in a month. A Google Images search for her series Liebeslied (My Suicides) reveals a kind of alchemy at work, a secret process that uses artificial light to turn the streets into gold. (OCA photography 1)

In Deeper by Rut Blees Luxembourg. Source: Union Gallery

Luxembourg photographs mostly at night – she discusses this with Colomer, say that she believes a different perspective on the city is revealed in its shadows. Her large format camera requires exposures of 15 to 20 minutes to make the images, so there is no rushing for Luxembourg, who thinks carefully about the interpretation of her work.

The images, apart from the contrasty night-light, are characterised by strong orange and green tones, giving them a warmth, despite that lack of day light. The Guardian shows some good examples of her work and also discusses how it has been used by musicians on their record/cd covers.

I enjoyed Luxembourg’s work and it made realise that I would benefit from practice low-light shots with longer exposures.


Campany D (1999). Union Gallery [online]. A conversation between Rut Blees Luxembourg and David Camany 1999. Available from: http://www.union-gallery.com/content.php?page_id=653 [accessed 31.5.15]

Colomer L (1999). Photographie on Vimeo [online]. “Black Sunrise” // Interview avec Rut Blees Luxemburg // Rencontres d’Arles 2011. Available from: https://vimeo.com/26151059 [accessed 31.5.15]

The Guardian Online [writer not named]. Commonsensual: The Works of Rut Blees Luxemburg. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/gallery/2009/mar/09/rut-blees-luxemburg-photography [accessed 31.5.15]


Jane Bown: Looking For Light

I watched this documentary on Jane Bown (1925 – 2014) on the Sky Arts Channel. It told the story of her life and work and featured lengthy interviews with Brown herself. She worked as a photographer for the Guardian newspaper and gain a reputation as an excellent portrait photographer, photographing numerous famous faces from Mick Jagger to Queen Elizabeth and from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Samuel Becket.

Samuel Becket by Jane Brown. Source: Guardian online.
Samuel Becket by Jane Bown. Source: Guardian online.

I learned several things about Bown’s approach to photography from the documentary:

  • She always favoured natural light, avoiding artificial light unless no day light was available. She would systematically stalk out the room to find the best light.
  • She believed in keeping a distance from her subjects (not being too familiar) so she could better observe them and ‘find their photo’.
  • She worked almost exclusively in black and white, creating sharply focused images using a full tonal range.
  • She preferred to approach her work quietly, so the sitters would almost forget that she was present, and she could concentrate on finding the right
    PJ Harvey by Jane Bown. Source: Guardian online.
    PJ Harvey by Jane Bown. Source: Guardian online.


  • Bown used a standard lens with an open aperture when the light conditions demanded it. No flash. A number of sitters commented on how close up she would be with her camera.

Bown captured remarkable portraits with simple equipment. Her success seemed to lie in her ability to put people at easy and capture something of ‘what was behind the eyes’.






Directors Dodd L &  Michael Whyte M (2014). Jane Bown: Looking For Light.  Soda Pictures [viewed on Sky Arts channel 29.5.15]

Whitmore G (2014). Guardian Online. A life in Pictures. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/dec/21/jane-bown-a-life-in-photography-in-pictures [accessed 30.5.15]


Kermode M (2014). The Guardian Online. Looking for light – Jane Bown. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/apr/27/looking-for-light-jane-bown-review-affectionate-documentary-observer-photographer [accessed 30.5.15]

Bown J, Dant A and Villani L (2009). The Guardian Online. The complete Jane Bown: a lifetime in photographs http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/interactive/2009/oct/22/jane-bown-photography [accessed 30.5.15]

Eugène Atget

Early in his career, Eugène Atget also worked with midday light for the objective quality that it gave to his photographs. As he developed a more personal style in his later work, he changed the time of day he took pictures.

The works of Atget (1857–1927) are owned by Moma and available for online viewing on Moma’s website. I studied these images to understand his use of light.

Bitumiers by Atget. Source: Moma
Bitumiers by Atget. Source: Moma

This image is typical of Atget’s approach to processing, with the background to the subjects dodged to provide contrast. In some images this is done to the extent that details are almost lost in the highlights. This later photo, from 1913 has no detail in the sky.

Zoniers, Porte de Choisy by Atget. Source: Moma
Zoniers, Porte de Choisy by Atget. Source: Moma

The V&A, who purchased some 600 works, tell us that ‘ [Atget’s] project to record ‘Old Paris’ began around 1897 and continued until the 1920s. In it, Atget was driven by the disappearance of buildings as schemes of modernisation swept the city.’ Despite Atget’s original intention, the V&A explain that today ‘Atget is admired less as a record photographer and more as a forerunner of Surrealism and of modern approaches to the art of photography’. The V&A present the following image as an example of ‘unintentional surrealist’ work:

Source: V&A
Source: V&A

One important lesson I take from Atget’s work is to experiment with the loss of details in areas of highlights. I’m unsure how this will work with colour images, but have seen it used to great effect by Sally Mann in her black and white work.


Moma website, artist page [online]. http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=229 [accessed 30.5.15]

V&A website, artist page [online] http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/eugene-atget/ [accessed 30.5.15]


George Eastman House, Atget Flickr album [online] – https://flic.kr/s/aHsjm5AMZe [accessed 30.5.15]


In the Mood for Love – film review

Daylight changes from moment to moment; the advantage of artificial light is that it stays the same. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle (b.1952) recommended studying the ‘beauty of artificial light on people’s faces’ and one way to do this is to watch his film In the Mood for Love (Dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 2000).

I understand why Doyle would be considered ‘something of a legend’ in Asia. The film is shot entirely in artificial light – either indoors during the day or outside at night. From a cinematographic perspective, things I noted were:

  • Use of visual lead-ins to main subjects, including diagonals of walls, perspectives of desks and framing using verticals. These provided a clear direction for the eye, making the film very easy on the eye.
  • High contrast images, with large areas of darkness off-setting the areas of light of the main subjects, drawing the eye to them.
  • Use of silhouette for subjects walking into or out of scenes, against the contrasted light and shade of the scene.
  • Most importantly, the rich well-balanced colours (particularly in the dresses of the ladies and natural skin-tones) despite the artificial light.
  • The light and shadow across subject’s faces added to the intensity of the film’s story (love and deceit).

After watching the film, I decided to learn more about the technicalities of achieving colour-balance under artificial light – something I’d previously left the the camera’s auto-white balance, and adjusted in Lightroom (using raw file).

Peter Knight exhibition

I visited Peter Knight’s exhibition of polaroids at Leeds College of Art.  Most of the works can also be viewed on Peter’s flickr page.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 18.21.02
Leeds College of Art catalogue entry

The exhibition had little context, so I’m not sure whether the photographs were taken recently or are old polaroid images (I have asked the artist and will updated if I receive a response). Many of the photos capture high contrast light (particularly the featured image for this post) and I think the lower clarity/detail in the polaroid images brought this contrast to the fore when viewing the images.

The use of polaroid also created the perception that the images were historical, sparking a sense of historical interest when viewing.

I found the lack of detail in the images refreshing, when we are surrounded by high-resolution images. Somehow resting for the eye.


Leeds College of Art website. http://www.leeds-art.ac.uk/life-in-leeds/art-and-culture/exhibitions-at-leeds-college-of-art/ [accessed 28.5.15]

Peter Knight website [online] http://peterknight.folissimo.com/photography/polaroids [accessed 28.5.15]

Peter Knight Flickr page [online]. https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterknightimages/ [accessed 28.5.15]

Tracey Welch – 10 years in photography

I visited Tracey Welch’s exhibition in the White Cloth Gallery, Leeds. The gallery describe it as follows:

This exhibition tracks Tracey’s first ten years in professional photography through a collection of her most memorable music images. Intense, intimate, physical and sometimes downright crazy, this is a world that is always and endlessly entertaining and here we can share the experience, clearly captured through Tracey’s uniquely personal perspective.

Tracey appears to be a successful commercial photographer, with an academic background in fine art and photography. The exhibition was of photos taken at large music events (including arenas) across the North of England, featuring some big-name bands such as the Foo Fighters and U2.

White Cloth Gallery with iPhone.

For the most part, the images felt like stage-portraits of band members standing singing or playing, not capturing the dramatic highlights of a performance. I felt there was no unique moment, with the exception of the crowd-surfing scene, that one would not routinely observe while at a concert as part of the audience. I imagine for some there would be enough interest in the photo of a celebrity, but to me it seemed like a missed opportunity to capture dramatic moments that make concert-going an experience.

The exhibition also captured some back-stage moments. I found these images more compelling – showing something of artists that is not normally on show. Giving access to what we don’t normally see.

The format of the Gallery itself contained a cafe-bar and meeting space and was near Leeds Station – I hope this combined used of space provides sufficient funding to maintain the gallery!


White Cloth Gallery [online] http://www.whiteclothgallery.com/event/tracey-welch-10-years-in-photography/ [accessed 28.5.15]


Tracey Welch website. http://www.traceywelch.co.uk [accessed 28.5.15]

http://www.ishootshows.com/about/ [accessed 28.5.15]


Yorkshire sculpture park – study visit

During a visit today to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, “Probably the finest exhibition site for sculpture in the world.” (Bill Packer, Financial Times), I took the opportunity to review the intention and meaning that some of the artists attributed to their work. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but was left wondering what came first, the creation of the work, or the idea explaining the work? So was the work derived from a thought, or was the thought, an after-thought.

While some of the less abstract work clearly reflected the artist’s idea, it would still be difficult to know as a viewer of the art whether the idea was constructed before or after the art. Or perhaps the thought emerged during the making of the art? Does it matter?

On the other hand, the abstract work could arguably have any number of valid ideas or explanations attributed to it and the viewer could accept any of them. Again does it matter?

Bonfire by Kevin Hunter

Kenny Hunter, says the following about his work Bonfire (2009), which comprises a few small bronze castings of bonfires:

Overall my work can be summarised as an attempt to translate the longstanding historical and political ambitions of traditional figurative sculpture into a revised sculptural language appropriate to the current cultural situation. The aim of my work is to question certainties and stereotypes, introducing a variety of fact and fiction into sculpture that is descriptive but not representational of the ‘real’ worlds.

Now to me the artist’s work did not conjure up the ambiguities between ‘fact and fiction’ or ‘descriptive but not representational’. I was simply left with a sense of pretentiousness.


Galloping horse by
Galloping horse by Julian Opie

Julian Opie’s work, Galloping Horse, is explained as ‘investigating the idea of representation and the means by which images are perceived and understood.’ He initially takes photographs of his subject matter and digitally manipulates the photographs, reducing their characteristic features to a bare minimum. Opie himself is quoted as saying:

Things in my experience don’t look photographic… When I recall the things I did in a day, for example, it’s not as a series of photographs, high resolution pictures. It’s a series of images which resemble symbols and signs. It’s like another language.

I found it is easy to relate to these ideas and see it reflected in the work. Somehow the artist’s words had integrity.

So is the meaning of art largely a matter of personal perception and subjective? Similar to Kant’s opinion on beauty – it cannot be argued based on logical facts, therefore it is necessarily subjective. While the artist’s perspective and intention is valid and interesting as an intention. The meaning found in the art by the viewing is, therefore, equally valid, even if different from the artist’s intention.


Yorkshire Sculpture Park website – http://www.ysp.co.uk [accessed 25.5.15]

All photographs by Andrew Fitzgibbon.


Kant I (1892). Critique of Judgement [ebook]. Second edition (1914) , McMillan and Co, London. Available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433 [accessed 15.5.15]

Perfect prints every time review

Following assignment 3, which required the submission of prints, I decided to read further around good practices for printing workflow. I read a number of Robin Whaley’s lightweight books in the past and found them concise and to the point – enough explanation of the principles to get me pointing in the right direction for the practical.

Perfect prints every time takes no longer than a couple of hours to read, but I found it a great help in better understanding the ways of and reasons for a print workflow. The book dispels myths about print size and digital image size, explains the principles of colour management and its application in Lightroom and Photoshop, and discusses the approach to output sharpening and soft proofing.

Importantly, it has increased my enthusiasm for printing images as a tangible output from a digital process. I may even buy a photo printer to get more immediate feedback on the output of my work and increase my learning rate!


Whaley R (2015). Perfect prints every time – how to achieve excellent photographic prints. [Kindle ebook, accessed 20.5.15]

Sally Mann

I was encouraged to look at the work of Sally Mann in the context of the Language of Light in photography. Jiang’s interview gives some fascinating  and candid insights into the work and thoughts of Mann but here, I just focus on the aspect of light.

Mann’s images are often high contrast, deliberately to the detriment of detail. She says, ‘I am less interested in the facts of a picture than in the feelings. The facts don’t have to be absolutely sharp. I can get information across by appealing to viewer’s emotions.’

Mann talks about the quality of the light in the southern states of America, where the majority of her work is photographed:

….. Also, the light in the South is so different from the North, where you have this crisp and clear light. There is no mystery in that light. Everything is revealed in the Northern light. You have to live in the South to understand the difference. In summer, the quality of the air and light are so layered, complex, and mysterious, especially in the late afternoon. I was able to catch the quality of that light in a lot of the photos.

She talks about the place of light, not just the time in the day. Even within the confines of the UK, I notice a difference in the quality of the light in Somerset, where I grew up, and my present home in North Yorkshire. As in Mann’s description, the light is more complex in the south with hazes and layers. A different place, a different quality of light. And within each place a different quality of light depending on the time of day.

Source: sallymann.com
Source: sallymann.com

Mann uses the metaphor of ‘catching’ the light, as if it were a ball. This is a stark contrast to what I discovered in my recent research on Henri Cartier-Bresson, who valued composition above everything else and considered light as almost coincidental. Different voices, different times, different places, different approaches.

I looked at Mann’s images on her website, and am impressed by the use of extremes of tone, including areas of what appear to be complete blackness and areas where highlights appear to be blown to white. But are they? That would create blank white paper areas when printed – does that work? Something I try to avoid. I need to see some of her images in print to explore further.


Jiang R (2010). Chinese Photography magazine. An interview with Sally Mann – “the touch of an angel” [online at www. americansubrbx.com]. Available from http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/01/interview-sally-mann-the-touch-of-an-angel-2010.html [accessed 19.5.15]

http://sallymann.com [accessed 20.5.15]

Inside/Out by Abigail Solomon-Godeau

I was unable to locate a hardcopy or online version of Inside/Out, so instead reference a summary of the essay.

The essay is a critique of certain of Sontag’s perspectives expressed in On Photography. Specifically, how certain approaches to photography can objectify people and prevent the viewer empathising with the subject. Sontag conceptualises these approaches with an Inside/Outside model. That is, whether the photographer is inside or belongs to the scenario being photographed, or is outside as a pure observer. She describes the concept as a ‘binary couple’ (or duality) – meaning one or the other (0 or 1, on or off, inside or outside). Sontag applies the concept to Diane Arbus’ photos of social deviants and believes, with the photographer as ‘outsider’, moral boundaries and responsibility towards the subjects are removed. Solomon-Godeau also cites Rosler’s work, which calls outsider photography ‘victim photography’.

Solomon-Godeau does not share the same perspective as Sontag.  She argues that:

  • The duality is far more complex than Sontag suggests, with truth being seen culturally as on the inside and objectivity on the outside.
  • There is a critical view (including Sontag’s) that photography is unable to do anything but show superficial appearances and, if that is true, it is not possible to tell the difference between an insider’s and outsider’s photograph.

After exploring the concept further through application to the work exhibited in Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, Solomon-Godeau reaches her conclusion. She questions the validity of Sontag’s binary concept, saying that ‘cinematic looking [outside] cannot logically be distinguished from the more negative concept of cinematic tourism [tourism]’. If there is no logic, then it does not provide a sound basis for criticism. She argues that photography reveals ‘a truth of appearance… and totally escapes the binary of inside/out’.

I am with Solomon-Godeau’s viewpoint. Sontag also seems to make an assumption about Arbus’ intention when making the images – given it is impossible to know what is happening in another’s mind, I also find this illogical. Moreover, I would suggest that a degree of objectification is inevitable in photography – one takes something from life and turns it into a photo (an object). The representation of life through the photo as an object, allows the viewer to examine something or someone as an object. The question then turns to the moral and ethic dimension of photographing certain subjects, which is another discussion altogether.


Solomon-Godeau A (nd). Inside/Out. Summary of the essay as it appeared in Public Information Desire, Disaster, Document (SFMOMA 1994). Available from https://www.safaribooksonline.com/library/view/basic-critical-theory/9780240516523/15_chapter-title-6.html# [last accessed 15.5.15]


O’Hagan S (2011). Diane Arbus: humanist or voyeur? The Guardian online (26 July). Available from:  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jul/26/diane-arbus-photography-sideshow [accessed 11.5.15]

Rosler M(1981). In, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography).  [online] Available from: http://web.pdx.edu/~vcc/Seminar/Rosler_photo.pdf [accessed 11.5.15]

susansontag.com. Literature was the passport. [online] Available from http://www.susansontag.com/SusanSontag/index.shtml [accessed 11.5.15]


Lightroom smart previews and Dropbox

I use a desktop computer (iMac) as my primary storage and photo-processing kit. Backed-up of course to a portable hard-drive and the cloud. However there are times when I’m travelling (which happens a lot) or just want to sit away from the desktop and edit photos on my Macbook Pro.

The challenge is how to do this without transferring heavy raw files between the two computers.  I’ve found a neat solution involving Dropbox and LR smart-previews. Here it is in brief –

  • Ensure your Dropbox folder is set up on both computers (see Dropbox for help if necessary).
  • On your desktop LR, right-click the folder containing the images you want to work with and select ‘export as new catalogue’. Be sure to uncheck the box for ‘negative files’ and just leave ‘smart previews’ selected. It may not be possible to save the newly created folder direct to your Dropbox folder from LR, but save it somewhere you can find it, then drag it to your Dropbox.
  • Once Dropbox has synced to your laptop, open LR and choose the option under ‘file’ to ‘open catalogue’ and simply point to the catalogue in Drop box.

Your can now edit and make adjustments to the smart-previews as if they were the original raw files. There are two things to watch out for though – the smart-previews are not of the same resolution as the raw files, so you need to check any sharpening adjustments once they have been imported back to the desktop and applied to the raw files. Secondly, editing of smart-previews is not possible in Photoshop.

Once you are done editing, simply ensure Dropbox is synced back to your desktop, and within desktop LR, choose ‘import from another catalogue’, point to the Dropbox catalogue and import. All the adjustments made from the comfort of your laptop will then be magically applied to the raw files on your desktop.

To finish up, tidy up your Dropbox by deleting the catalogue you’ve now finished working with.

If you’re not ready to take a leap of faith with a folder full of photos, why not create a new folder in LR and just try the process out with one or two photos.

The Symptom of Beauty by Francette Pacteau

I found this a dark but informative read. Pacteau tells us that ‘as a woman – it is my own unhappy relation to representations of female beauty which impelled me to write about the subject in the first place’ (location 2971).

It contains a series of essays describing man’s obsession with ‘beauty’ in women and the consequences of failing the recognise the fallacy  in attempting define and project beauty into women, so clearly described by Kant. Pacteau pulls apart the aesthetic interpretation in a number of books and stories, including contemporary examples featuring celebrities such as Grace Jones. She also analyses the fallacies from the perspective of a psychologist, referring to Freudian theory.

Above all, the book conveys a sense of harm to women through idealised and exploitative images, and concludes as follows:

Narcissus died of love, trapped in the body of his specular rival. Aimée struck out in hatred of her ideal and survived, in a way. The rest of us, less celebrated, live our lives in the shadowy intimation of a perfection yet to come, reached for in the everyday objects of mis-recognition which elude our ever-infantile grasp – again and again.


Pacteau F (1994). The symptom of beauty. Reaktion Books, UK. Kindle edition [last accessed 15.5.15]


Kant I (1892). Critique of Judgement [ebook]. Second edition (1914) , McMillan and Co, London. Available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433 [accessed 15.5.15]

McRobert, L. (1996). The symptom of beauty. History of European Ideas22(2), 160-162. Available from, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1016/S0191-6599(96)90061-3#.VU-6GmDG6Ho [accessed 15.5.15]

Critique of Judgement by Immanuel Kant

I used the term ‘beautiful’ in my second assignment and was encouraged by my tutor to look into the meaning of sublime and beautiful by reading about what Kant says. His book Critique of Judgement contains his thoughts on the topic and is available as an ebook from gutenberg.org.

In summary, Kant says beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  While, we might describe something as beautiful, it has no intrinsic beauty, it is only what each of us perceives subjectively as beautiful. He draws a distinction between this and a priori judgements that are based on logic or reasoning and therefore, can be argued to be universal, rather than based on personal taste, ‘(aesthetically by the medium of the feeling of pleasure)’.

Kant also states that ‘everyone must admit that a judgement about beauty, in which the least interest mingles, is very partial and not a pure judgement of taste’. It is difficult to disagree with this and it seems that ‘beauty’ as a useful descriptor is best left for colloquial use.

Kant discusses the use of the word ‘sublime’ as holding the characteristic of perfection with reference to the subjective measures of beauty. Therefore, the only real distinction between the sublime and the beautiful is that the sublime is unlikely to be consider the same thing by different individuals. He illustrates this that while there might be some general agreement of what characteristics of beautify are desirable in nature, there is unlikely to be agreement over the absolutely required characteristics.

The lesson here seems to be avoid the word ‘beauty’ if one wants to convey a meaningful description.


Kant I (1892). Critique of Judgement [ebook]. Second edition (1914) , McMillan and Co, London. Available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433 [accessed 15.5.15]

Key Thinkers on Space and Place

This book compiles critical discussions on 66 thinkers who, in the editors’ opinion, ‘have contributed significantly to theoretical discussions of the importance of space and place in shaping cultural social, economic and political life in recent years’. Each thinker is discussed by a different academic, in the same format for each thinker: biographical details and theoretical context, spacial contributions, and key advances and controversies. Followed by a listing of the key works of the thinker.

The book is about geography, and one needs to understand the meaning of the word in its full sense. The Royal Geographic Society describes this as follows:

Geography is the study of Earth’s landscapes, peoples, places and environments. It is, quite simply, about the world in which we live.

Geography is unique in bridging the social sciences (human geography) with the natural sciences (physical geography). Human geography concerns the understanding of the dynamics of cultures, societies and economies, and physical geography concerns the understanding of the dynamics of physical landscapes and the environment.

Geography puts this understanding of social and physical processes within the context of places and regions – recognising the great differences in cultures, political systems, economies, landscapes and environments across the world, and the links between them. Understanding the causes of differences and inequalities between places and social groups underlie much of the newer developments in human geography……..

Geography is, in the broadest sense, an education for life and for living. Learning through geography – whether gained through formal learning or experientially through travel, fieldwork and expeditions – helps us all to be more socially and environmentally sensitive, informed and responsible citizens and employees.

In this context, the book is important for photographers seeking to understand and interpret the world around them, which they are aiming to communicate through photos.

Whilst I found the book valuable overall, it has one major problem. Each chapter (one for each thinker) is written by a different academic and while some of them write in an accessible way, others write in an abstract style, dense with obscure terminology that makes reading as heavy-going as running through treacle! A number of the thinkers were described as seeking to depart from the traditional academic language of geography to make it more accessible. It’s a shame that the academics writing the discussions didn’t follow the lead of these thinkers.

The book provides valuable insight into thinking about what makes places the way they are and the interdependency of factors such as culture, politics, economics, and social models. It has encouraged me to think of places in multi-dimensional terms and what lies beneath commonly referenced terms such as nation and globalisation.

To mention a few specific thinkers that caught my attention as a photographer:

  • Marc Augé who has worked with photographers, including a book. A Journey Apart, on airports and the experiences of the frequent flier (with photographer Francesco Cianciotta) – used to illustrate the concept of non-spaces.
  • Manuel Castells discusses how local ways of life are being undermined by global capital networks, in particular the ‘proliferation of serialised ahistorical and acultural building projects that undermine the ‘meaningful relationship between society and architecture’, giving international hotels, airports and supermarkets as examples. This aspect creates sameness in many of our urban landscapes.
  • Anthony Giddens discusses culture as ‘defining what is normal and what is note, what is important and what is not, what is acceptable and what is note, within each social context. Culture is acquired through a lifelong process of socialisation from cradle to grave’. This view has important to photographers whose culture could unknowingly influence the choices made when making photographs.
  • Bertrand Latour also worked with a photographer on an experimental ‘virtual book’ on Paris – there is a link to this in my references.

Above all, having opened a new awareness in my, I will use this book as reference for ideas when attempting interpret geography through my photos.



Hubbard P and Kitchen R [editors]. Key thinkers on space and place. Second edition, Sage Publishing (2011). Kindle edition [last accessed 10.5.15]

Latour B [online]. Paris: invisible city [virtual book – online]. Available from http://www.bruno-latour.fr/virtual/EN/index.html [accessed 10.5.15]

Royal Geographical Society [online]. What is geography [webpage]. Available from http://www.rgs.org/geographytoday/what+is+geography.htm [accessed 10.5.15]


Reflections on the decisive moment

‘II n’y a rien en ce monde qui n’ait un moment decisif” [there is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment] ….. ‘and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.’

Cardinal de Retz, quoted by O’Hagan.

There are so many opinions expressed about Bresson’s Decisive Moment (originally published 1952) that I wanted to read it myself, first hand, rather than second or third hand through the voices of positive and negative commentators. For such a seminal book, it is surprisingly difficult and expensive to come by, even following the reprint in 2015. The book’s photographs can be readily seen on Magnum’s website and Bresson’s narrative can be found in the reasonably priced book, The Mind’s Eye.

The Decisive Moment is a personal account by Bresson of how he defines his specific type of photography (reportage, and what could now be called ’street’), he states, ‘I have talked at some length, but of only one kind of photography [photojournalism]. There are many kinds’. He explains that he doesn’t attempt to define it for everyone, saying, ‘I only attempt to define it to myself’. While it is a book of its time, I find it problematic when Ghazzal suggests that the decisive moments are not possible to capture in a dull modern landscape, with his focus on photos as the output, rather than Bresson’s words as principles. It is self-evident that a modern urban landscape will not present the same context for images that Bresson found 50 years before Ghazzal’s writing. To me, Bresson’s words relate more to his principles of photography than to specific subject matter and these can lend themselves to application in any environment, producing photographs stylistically very different to Bresson’s own.

Often quoted from the book is Bresson’s personal definition of photography, ‘To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.’ However, the remainder of the text provides valuable context, leaving little reason to second-guess Bresson’s intention or meaning. He talks about his reportage work as a ‘picture story’. In some cases he says that a single picture is a whole story, ‘but this rarely happens’. So, he does not suggest that a decisive moment is common-place.

Bresson contrasts photography with other arts, saying ‘of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instance ….. the writer has time to reflect. He can accept and reject.’ Photography is necessarily, decisive.

The importance of awareness and discrimination in photography is emphasised, ‘to avoid shooting like a machine-gunner and burdening yourself with useless recordings’. Bresson explains that ‘it is essential to cut from the raw material of life – to cut and cut, but to cut with discrimination’.

He emphasises the importance of the relationship between the photographer and the photographed, saying that ‘a false relationship, a wrong word or attitude, can ruin everything. When the subject is in any way uneasy, their personality goes away where the camera can’t reach it’. He talks about the importance of approaching the subject ‘on tiptoe’. The event may lose its significance and the connection between subject and environment, if the subject becomes too interested in the photographer.

Composition is of the highest importance to Bresson, ‘the recognition of a rhythm in the world of real things. What the eye does is to find and focus on the particular subject within the mass of reality; what the camera does is simply to register upon film the decision made by the eye’. He talks about ‘plasticity’ in lines made as a scene unfolds in front of a photographer and how ‘inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance’. This being the moment photography must seize.  Decisive. However, he clearly explains that composition, ‘at the moment of shooting it can stem only from our intuition’. With analysis left for ‘post-mortum examination of the picture’.

On developing photographs, Bresson doesn’t have many words, but they are concise, saying ‘… it is essential to re-create the values and mood of the time the picture was taken; or even to modify the prints so as to bring it into line with the intentions of the photographer at the moment he shot it. It is necessary also to re-establish the balance which the eye is continually establishing between light and shadow.’ This aspect, for most photographers now, means being adept in the use of Lightroom or similar tools, rather than Bresson’s dark room.

Bresson’s words are wise suggestions for how to approach reportage / street photography and they can act as principles that can be applied differently in different places and times. As O’Hagan suggest, in  modern context ‘it might be better applied to, say, Garry Winogrand or Joel Meyerowitz, photographers who pounded the streets in search of the right convergence of light, action and expression rather than patterns and geometry.’ However, in one important aspect Bresson’s words are incomplete for the modern reader – colour photography was in its infancy and digital photography (and Photoshop) a distant horizon at the time of writing, so we will never know his thoughts on these aspects.


Bresson HC (1999). The Mind’s Eye, writings on photography and photographers. Published by the Aperture Foundation, New York.

Ghazzal Z (2004). The indecisiveness of the decisive moment [online, August 12]. Available from http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson.htm [accessed 5.5.15]

O’Hagan S. 2014. Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his decisive moment has passed. 23 December. The Guardian [online]Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/23/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment-reissued-photography [accessed 14.4.15]


Magnum photos [online]. Book – the decisive momement [showing images from the book]. Available from http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K1HRG6C5YD0 [accessed 6.5.15]

Pantall C. 2012. The present17 May. The Photo-Eye Blog [online]. Available from:http://www.photoeye.com/magazine/reviews/2012/05_17_The_Present.cfm [accessed 14.4.15]

Photography as propaganda

Here I discuss the use of photography as propaganda, primarily in the context of the work of Ansel Adams.

Dedman’s useful analysis of propaganda quotes Jowett & O’Donnell’s definition:

‘Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.’

I immediately think of harmful manipulation when I hear the word propaganda, reflecting on Nazi Germany. However, the word has come to take on much wider use and is also used in the context of intentions that are generally accepted as desirable, for example in conservation efforts, or relatively harmless in the case of advertising.

Adams was an active member of the conservation group, The Sierra Club, which lobbies to create national parks and protect the environment from destructive development projects. His images were first used for environmental lobbying in the 1930s for creation of a national park in the Kings River region of the Sierra Nevada. He went on to become an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club for 37 years.

Hyde describes the Sierra Format photobook series and how the Sierra Club began using sophisticated lobbying techniques in the 1950s and started ‘what eventually became known as environmentalism’.

Esterow, quotes Adams in his last interview prior to his death:

‘I wish I had gotten into the environmental work earlier because I think that’s a citizen’s fundamental responsibility. The channeling of creative arts in that direction has been very difficult. As I said, I never made a picture with a direct environmental objective, but if they can be used for that, that’s fine. I think young people are pretty aware of the dangers, but they’re sort of pessimistic. They think everything is set up and it doesn’t make a difference who they vote for. They don’t realize they have to go out and vote themselves.’

When further exploring the topic of photography as propaganda I found a YouTube video by writer and Oscar-winning documentary maker Errol Morris, The Nature of Truth, Art, and Propaganda in Photography.

Morris argues that there is no inherent truth in photographs, and urges viewers to think carefully about powerful photographs that on meanings that are not necessarily the truth, and asks the question “aren’t you at least a bit curious about what you’re actually looking at. Just a tiny little bit?”

In conclusion, I think that Ansel Adams work was used as a part of propaganda, but was not propaganda in itself. It is the words around the image during the lobbying that are needed to deliver the propaganda.

References / video

Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences. Unattributed lecture. [http://www.physics.smu.edu/pseudo/Propaganda/ – accessed 21.4.15]

Esterow M (1984). Ansel Adams – the Last Interview [online]. Available from: http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/art%20news/905N-000-001.html [accessed 21.4.15]

Hyde P (nd). Messages from the Wilderness. [online video] http://lumieregallery.net/wp/5415/messages-from-the-wilderness-2/ [accessed 21.4.15]

Morris M (nd) The Nature of Truth, Art, and Propaganda in Photograph [online video]. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsBU55NXKTE [accessed 21.4.15]

Sierra Club. History:Ansel Adams [online]. Available from http://vault.sierraclub.org/history/ansel-adams/ [accessed 21.4.15]