A3: rework

maybe the series could have had a little more diversity of image. Looking through your contacts I think that you may have some stronger shots, shots that also give more of an impression of the men, community and location. (Tutor feedback extract. For complete feedback see here).

My tutor’s comments on the potential for more diversity of image, giving more of an impression of the people and place were spot on. During the edit, I was perhaps subconsciously focusing on consistency of visual content (something I am learning to let go of, but not yet there). The example provided of Klaus Pichler’s work, Golden Days before they End, helped me to reflect upon this. Pichler uses ten images to tell the story of a traditional Austrian bar and the characters frequenting it. The work shows varied activities within the bar – there is only one of someone drinking (the obvious activity for a bar), with the other photos telling us about other things that happen in the bar. The variety makes compelling and varied viewing.

I revisited my edit, including shots not previously included, some suggested by my tutor for consideration (from the small contacts), and I worked to achieve a greater variety and broader narrative. I replaced seven of the original twelve photos in the final edit, which suggests a very different perspective on pulling together the choir series; just because bars are for drinking one shouldn’t focus only on the beer, or the individual portraits one is attracted to. It is how the whole story works that is important!

The final series is included in the submission for assessment here.


Klaus Pichler [website]. Golden Days. Available from: http://kpic.at/images/5244 [accessed 25.7.17]

A2: Vice Versa – assessment submission


Prints are included in the assessment submission pack.

Click on image for full sized gallery


Artist’s statement

The work is a portrait of a friend who is active in the local community, but the photos show something of her daily routine about her home and in the land that surrounds it. There is a play on vice versa: she is shown in a formal and informal context; and photographed making use of natural light (including outdoor) and using studio flash. I wanted to show something of the personality of the subject through her expressions and body-language, elicited through interaction during the shoot and avoiding direction or staging as far as possible. It was a discussion with a camera and a consider approach to interaction with a subject.

My influences were Emil Hoppé, who discusses his interactions with his sitters extensively in his autobiography and Jane Bown, who talks about moving around her sitters, trying to find their photo. Both photographers worked in monochrome, which I feel gives a sculptural feel to portraits, viewing line, shades and shape without colour. My work is in a small way a tribute to their work and what I have learned from them. Katy Grannan’s work, which includes subjects contextualised in their everyday surroundings, doing everyday things influenced me in my choice of final selects.

I took over 200 photographs in two sittings; one shoot was indoors and the other outdoors. Making the final selections was an challenging process as there were an number of possibilities for creating a final thematic response to the brief. Combining different photos to create different storylines was a reminder that images have a flexible meaning that can change with contextualisation, with other photographs or text, often with little relationship to actuality. Monochrome conversion was in Photoshop (calculations) along with other adjustments to remove distracting background elements for the ‘studio’ shots, including white radiators and light switches.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here. The selection of images in the submission were different to the final edit presented here.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. My tutor’s feedback was that the quality of my editing could be improved to arrive at a more interesting and varied series. There has also been some reprocessing of the images, with earlier edits being perhaps a little too harsh (through Silver Efex Pro) and later monochrome conversions completed in Lightroom.

I’ve learned from this – work needs to be given time to rest and grow before making a final edit.Things that are not seen on first viewing become apparent later; distance from the time of shooting allows a more dispassionate edit determined by the quality of the images themselves and not so much influenced by memories of the shoot itself.

A1: The Non-familiar – assessment submission


Click on image for full sized gallery


Prints  are included in the assessment submission pack.

Artist’s statement

The brief was to make ‘five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you’. My day-job means that I spend up to 50% of my time travelling overseas, so I have a broad view of what constitutes my local area. I chose to take photos of strangers on the street in Patpong Night Market, Bangkok, after asking their permission and finding out a little about them. I was interested in discovering the different ‘types’ I might find in this area given its reputation as a market for locals and tourists and its infamous Go-Go Bars. The final selects show the different ‘types’ I came across.

While the work of August Sander has influenced me (see post here), Emil Hoppé’s photographic style and his interest in the psychology of interactions with subjects as well as types is a greater influence (see post here). Hoppé’s work stems from an interest in individuals and showing something of their character and then what that might say about the type of person they are and what general type they belong to. I admire his flexible approach to composing portraits – as if he is surveying a landscape for the best point of view to express his idea of the subject. I’d also done some research on street photographers working with street portraits, but only came up with suggestions as to why they might not do this (see post here).

My approach to the subjects was a discussion with a camera; some rapport building, expressing a genuine interest in something about the individual, finding out a little about them (language permitting), and then asking for the photograph. I had only one near rejection from the street seller with the tattooed arm; this was over-come by asking to photograph his tattoo, rather than him. I showed the photos on the camera screen afterwards; the French traveller (not in final selects) requested a copy, which I emailed the next day.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. The feedback was positive and no rework was performed.


A3 – tutor feedback

As usual, useful and encouraging feedback was received from my tutor (PDF of assignment feedback). A few points for action noted:

  • Revisit some of the other stronger images in the contacts to explore the possibility of an edit that tells more of a narrative about the community spirit. I will look at this separately and update the final submission if the edit is stronger.
  • I believe that you should be making a decision over b/w or colour before you shoot a project and not shooting in colour and then converting to b/w at a later stage. I don’t fully understand this comment – with digital RAW it is shot in colour (even if one is thinking in black and white) and of necessity converted to b/w later. I will explore this point through the OCA forum.
  • Recommended photographers to look at:
    Ed Van der Elsken (Love on the Left Bank): https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2011/feb/10/love-on-left- bank-in-pictures [accessed 25.2.17]

I’m familiar with this work and own a facsimile copy of the original book. I reference the work as part of the IAP course in the context of the text and image (see post here). The style of shooting is close-up and intimate and I appreciate how this type of approach would have given a very different feel to my choir shots. It was a deliberate decision to shoot from more of a distance to not disturb the choir practice unduly and also to avoid the men becoming too self-conscious before the camera. However, noted as something to experiment with in future shoots – a range of POVs and approaches.

Klaus Pichler (Golden Day…). http://kpic.at/images/5244 [accessed 25.7.17]
Source: www.kpic.at by Klaus Pichler

This work shows the locals in an old-style Austrian bar through a variety of shots. The work is very effective in capturing the atmosphere in the bar and the characters of the customers. It shows what can be done with a variety of POV, while maintaining a consistency in the edit.

Project 3 – Fictional texts

Images and words can operate in a way which extends both mediums into an exciting, conceptual and visual piece of art. (OCA IAP, p86)

The previous project explored how memories and speech can act as a source of inspiration for creative photography. I explored this in an exercise that was based on my grandfather’s letter to his then fiancé about his escape from HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed in WW2 (see here). After completing the exercise, and receiving feedback, I began to think about other images and letters I have recording other aspects of his life and how they might form part of a bigger story. It is in this post that I reflect upon how other photographs have extending the meaning of photos and text by combining them.

Michael Colvin’s Rubber Flapper is an inspiring piece of fictional work, inspired by ‘hidden histories’ of LGBT communities. It is Colvin’s attention to detail in staging the images that makes the project so compelling – there is an ambiguity created through a tension between fact and fiction. Is the rubber flapper symbolic of an anonymous person whose story we are witnessing. Or is the whole thing a fiction. It is the attention to detail that allows me to suspend rationale belief (like good cinema) and let myself sink into the story. In his interview with the OCA, Colvin explains that the work is partly a response to events at Clear Comfort, Staten Island, NY State; home of the Alice Austen photographic archive and partly his broader response to broader LGBT issues. However, I don’t need to know this – the ambiguity in the work, leaves me preferring to puzzle over the meaning myself.

Source: americansuburbx.com by Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken’s Love on the Left Bank, reads like a documentary story of a group of young people living in bohemian Paris, but is in fact a purely fictional story, written by the photographer around the photographs he took while spending time with the group.

Source: christianpatterson.com

Christian Patterson’s ground breaking Redheaded Peckerwood, is a fiction based around a true story, which incorporates fabricated artefacts and documents as inserts in a book to complement the photos. The combination makes it difficult to grasp whether we are viewing fact or fiction. The artist describes his creative process in the interview with Abhorn Magazine, which took place over a period of five years. He also provides some insights into the layout and sequencing within the book.

The work of these artists creates ambitious  narratives shaped by both image and text. In my own practice, this is another dimension that I have begun to explore in the Ark Royal work (here) and will continue to explore in the upcoming assignment.


Augschöll D and Anya Jasbar A (nd). Interview in Abhorn Magazine. Interview with Christian Patterson. Available from: http://www.ahornmagazine.com/issue_9/interview_patterson/interview_patterson.html [accessed 27.2.17]

Christian Patterson [website]. Redheaded Peckerwood. Available from: http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood/#1 [accessed 27.2.17]

Colvin M. Interview: Rubber Flapper. Available from: https://weareoca.com/photography/rubber-flapper/ [accessed 16.2.17]

O’Hagan S (nd). Aperture [website]. PhotoBook Lust: Sean O’Hagan on Ed van der Elsken, Love on the Left Bank. Available from: http://aperture.org/pbr/photobook-lust-sean-ohagan-ed-van-der-elsken-love-left-bank/ [accessed 27.2.17]

Ex 4.5 – Sinking of the Royal Oak

Find words that have been written or spoken by someone else. You can gather these words from a variety of means – interviews, journals, archives, eavesdropping. Your subject may be a friend, stranger, alive or dead. Select your five favourite examples and create five images that do justice to the essence of those words.

For this exercise I have used five fragments of prose from a letter from my grandfather to my grandmother (who have long since passed away), written during WW2, and telling the story of his escape from the Royal Oak in October 1939, on which of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed or died later of their wounds. I hope one day to revisit these letters as a project.

Click on image to open gallery view



National Trust [website]. Dunham Massey ancient trees walk. Available from: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey/trails/dunham-massey-ancient-trees-walk [accessed 9.2.17]

HMS Royal Oak [website]. Available from: http://www.hmsroyaloak.co.uk/index.htm [accessed 9.2.17]

iPad portfolio

I’d used my iPad to show some photos to members of the choir who were the subject of my previous assignment, using Lightroom mobile. This was okay for the purpose but not really suitable for an iPad portfolio showing –  not a clean presentation with the LR edit functionality visible.

Screen grab from Foliobook on iPad, by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I looked for other options suitable for a iPad portfolio presentation (so I am prepared for any potential projects) and found it surprisingly not straightforward, with the obvious apps being flawed:

  • Photos, offers no possibility of manual sorting the order of photographs
  • Behance (an Adobe offering), while well integrated with LR, bizarrely shows the clock, wireless status and battery status of the iPad when in portfolio view.

After some online research, I selected Foliobook (http://www.rocketgardenlabs.com) as a reasonably straightforward but customisable solution with Dropbox integration and syncing for updates to the portfolio content.

A neat solution for creating a bespoke first page, is to an create image and text composite in Photoshop (using a new page with iPad dimensions) and then in-app add transparent buttons over the text to go to the portfolio pages (eg the footer on the image shown on the image in this post).

Saving the Photoshop composite as a PSD file also makes it easy to update with a fresh image or add additional text at a later date. A good solution for a £10 app!

Project 2: Memories and speech

This section of the course material discusses the use of memories (either our own, or those of others) as a source of inspiration for photographic work. Of course, memories are a source of inspiration for many forms of art – just yesterday I was listening to Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, where he mentions that much of his work is based on his own heavily disguised experiences and memories. Continue reading “Project 2: Memories and speech”

Pictures on a Page – Harold Evans

I was pointed towards Harold Evans’s Pictures on a Page during a discussion, which touch upon editing, on the OCA discuss forum. The context of the book is news papers and photojournalism, but it contains a wealth of advice relevant to all photographers.

iPhone shot of book page

The 1978 book is biased towards black and white photography (it was the newspaper format of the time),
but Evans offers an interesting quote in support of black and white:

you may get closer to reality with colour but the closer you get the more obvious it becomes that it is a picture not the real thing (Evans, p13)

But this is a small detail. The book includes over 500 photographs and is informed by interviews with famous photographers. Evans illustrates his advice and opinions with examples of photographs. It includes 16 chapters, covering topics from selection, composition, sequencing, editing, cropping and words with pictures. I found it an enormously useful and interesting read.

Points for own practice
  1. Evan’s discusses at length ‘three tests for selection’, dismissing the idea of pure intuition. The qualities he looks for are: animation, relevant context, and depth of meaning. How he looks for these qualities is examined in detail in the book, along with example photographs. These qualities are a strong framework, within which to apply intuition when editing.
  2. Chapter 10 discusses picture editing (Evans, p185) – ‘the photograph, once selected, has to be edited for size shape and story content … it is a pity that the neglect of judicious picture editing is being encourage by vague ideas that there is something vulgar about cropping’. Evans then discusses contrasting views, including those of Cartier-Bresson (anti-crop) and Bill Brandt (pro-crop). I had previously been convinced that cropping was generally to be avoided, but Evans convinced me this approach has little merit. A change in practice towards cropping and shaping represents a huge difference in personal practice; including revisiting edits of early photographs.

Evans H (1978). Pictures on a Page. London, William Heinemann Ltd.

Aspect ratios in photography & compositional theory

Part of the feedback I received when I put my assignment 3 draft up for discussion on the OCA critique format was a comment on the aspect ratio; I’d used the standard 3:2 that comes out of my Fuji X-T1 (or any 35mm inspired sensor). The suggestion was made that 5:4 looks better and the student mentioned that he crops all of his photos to this aspect ration. I’ve used square format on a few occasions as a square is an obviously a different container to a rectangle, but had not thought of cropping to a different rectangular dimension. Strangely, I tried the 5:4 crop and liked the look of it better. This got me thinking.

Source: petapixel.com by Ming Thein

Different sensors or film formats determine the native aspect ratio of the digital or film image, as Gibson explains in his online article. He also explains what he calls ‘the 35mm problem’, which is 3:2 works well in landscape orientation but can look too tall and narrow in portrait. So the longer rectangles make it difficult to fill the frame effectively and hinder composition. Several articles (various, photocomposition) discuss the ‘golden ratio’ (3:2 is an approximation to this), including studies that show this is often a naturally occurring ratio and attractive to humans – this is supported by anecdotal and historical evidence of the ratio’s use; why have we continued to use it if we don’t find it attractive? It is also thought to approximate the eye’s natural binocular field of vision (Thein M), so it is comfortable for us to view in one glance. So if you flip 3:2 vertically, to maintain the same horizontal aspect it would need to be 4.5:3 (or 5:3.3 if you want a comparison to 5:4). This is the 35mm problem – portrait viewing does not fit with our native human aspect ratio.

Most people will stick to the aspect ratio that is native to the camera, and either do nothing else, or crop to fit later. This is compositionally very, very sloppy – not only do you not get the best frame for the shape of your subject, there’s a very good chance that you probably won’t be able to fill the frame properly, either; 3:2 is a bit of a compromise aspect ratio that lacks the organic intimacy of 5:4 or 4:3 for portraits, or the drama of 16:9 for more expansive scenes. (Thein M)

I am self-confirmed ‘compositionally very, very sloppy’ – focused on maintaining available pixels for printing at expense of composition. But the times are changing. However, there is plenty of ‘purist’ thought in the photography world to discourage cropping – the same writer has a blog post entitled, ‘why cropping is bad’. Though, he does explain reasons and why he considers aspect ratio to be an exception, providing the shot is made with the aspect ratio in mind.

Now, I am going to work and experiment with different aspect ratios, but I cannot imagine how to envision the final aspect ratio in camera, while shooting 3:2 through my view finder (advice welcome!) and I wonder about series of photos – I’m not sure that a series containing various aspect ratios would be accepted; mixing portrait and landscape in the same aspect ratio seems to already cause controversy amongst photographers.


Gibson A (2011). The Art of Using Aspect Ratios in Digital Photography. Tutsplus [website]. Available from: https://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/the-art-of-using-aspect-ratios-in-digital-photography–photo-7947 [accessed 1.2.17]

Thein M (2012). Introduction to aspect ratios and compositional theory. Petapixel [website]. Available from: https://petapixel.com/2012/12/26/an-introduction-to-aspect-ratios-and-compositional-theory/ [accessed 1.2.17]

Thein M [Blog]. Why cropping is bad (January 21, 2013). Available from: https://blog.mingthein.com/2013/01/21/why-cropping-is-bad/ [accessed 1.2.17]

Various (nd). Photocomposition Articles. Photoinf [website]. Available from: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/ [accessed 1.2.17]

A3 Window – submission to tutor

Use this opportunity to find out about a community that you don’t know much about and tell their story. Get to know them and talk to them; learn by listening and understanding.

Your aim here is to become an insider … Be clear about your intentions and involve your subjects in the process … What window into this world can you access through your role as photographer?


This work shows the rehearsals of the internationally renowned Steeton Male Voice Choir (Steeton MVC), which are held weekly in a Methodist hall.

Identifying a suitable group to spend time with and photograph with the constraints of my travelling job and home location, presented some interesting challenges, which I discuss this here. I was pleased to obtain the agreement of the choir for the project and detail my initial approach and discussions with them here.

I found very little in contemporary photographic practice that dealt specifically with choirs and most of the vernacular photographs of choirs by choir members or press photographers deal with capturing the choir in colour as a corporate body, rather than the emotion conveyed through their music; I examined this here. However, I did find inspiration from the study of the Group Portraiture of Holland (see here) and the observations and techniques used to add interest to group portraits and making individuals stand out within the group.

Selecting and editing a series of photographs would be an important aspect of this assignment and this aspect has also been an area previously highlighted for me to spend more time on. I completed some general research on this here, and looked specifically at Alec Soth’s advice here. I also obtained feedback from peers and the choir itself, which is detailed for an initial cut here, and a second cut, including a colour option here.

The photographs

Click to view larger size in gallery


In one way, this work is unfinished as a document of the choir; it shows their rehearsal only and not a performance. However, their first performance of the year is over one month away, when the assignment was already initiated in the last months of 2016. In another way, the work is a document of the hard work that goes in behind the scenes and drawing a line at this point allows me to move on in the context of an OCA level 1 course. I hope to continue working with the choir to photograph a performance and turn this assignment into an ongoing personal project.

It was the range of emotions and concentration of the choir that I found mesmerising, etched on the singers’ faces. I saw this as the visual expression of their wonderful music and their commitment to the choir as a group. I had moments where I needed to remind myself I was there to take photos, not just listen to the music!

To capture the emotions while showing individuals as part of group, much of the most effective framing was of individuals isolated in the context of a group (referencing Group Portraiture of Holland, mentioned in the introduction). I consider that monochrome images better capture the emotional content of the rehearsals, while accepting that colour rendition gives more of a sense of place. It is the emotion of the choir and the music that I considered to be the core of their identity, rather than the place in which they rehearse, and this is my reason for using monochrome. I took over 300 shots and seriously considered around 40 for the final selection (contact sheets here). In editing to arrive at the final selects there were a number of aspects:

  • A narrative flow from the anticipation at the start of rehearsals or new songs, through the tuned-in performance, to the sense of pleasure in creating music that is great to hear.
  • Quality of individual images – a number of interesting moments captured were edited out when images were blurred beyond a tolerance that made them inconsistent with other images.
  • A sense of rhythm in the ordering of images – I considered the placement of landscape and portrait, the number and direction of subjects in the frame (much like musical notes on the page) and the size of the subjects in the frame.

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Good observational skills to capture story telling moments in the context of rehearsals and the use of inspiration from Group Portraiture of Holland in composition and the use of chiaroscuro.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

I believe the closer attention to the editing process and allowing myself more time to reflect on the photographs has resulted in a stronger final edit than in the previous assignment, showing the emotion of making music in a choir above the simple representation of a choir as a corporate body.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Interaction with a new group of people was an important aspect of this assignment – there was a level of creative thought in succeeding in gaining the engagement of a choir who are well-known in their field and tour internationally. I’m developing a personal voice for expressing human emotions through black and white photography.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Extensive research reflected in learning log and preparation for this assignment linked in this post.


Alicia Bruce [website]. Available from: http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/about/ [accessed 22.12.16]

Aaron Schuman [website]. The Mississippi: an interview with Alec Soth.Available from: http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html [accessed 21.12.16]

Alec Soth [website]. Sleeping by the Mississippi. Available from: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 [accessed 21.12.16]

BBC [website]. In pictures: The Valleys Project. Photographer Alicia Bruce on show at Cardiff’s International Festival of Photography (2013).Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22365027 [accessed 22.12.16]

Caruana, N. and Fox, A. (2012). Basics creative photography 03: Behind the image: Research in photography. Lausanne: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.

Eric Kim [blog]. 15 Tips How Street Photographers Can Better Edit Their Work (2012). Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/03/19/15-tips-how-street-photographers-can-better-edit-their-work/ [accessed 10.12.16]

King C (nd). Documentaryphotoreview [website]. Visual Storytelling and Effective Editing – An interview with Raffaela Lepanto.  Available from: http://documentaryphotoreview.com/perspectives/visual-storytelling-and-effective-editing-an-interview-with-raffaela-lepanto/ [accessed 10.12.16]

MartinParr [blog]. 2012. The Facebook problem. Available from: http://www.martinparr.com/2012/the-facebook-problem/ [accessed 10.12.16].

Powell A (2001). Treorchy Male Choir (Archive Photographs: Images of Wales). The History Press.

Riegl, A., Kain, E.M., Britt, D. and Kemp, W. 2000. The group portraiture of Holland. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Center for the History of Art and the Humanities.

Steeton Male Voice Choir [website] http://malevoicechoirs.net [accessed 9.12.16]

Steeton Male Voice Choir [Youtube]. Steeton Male Voice Choir sing The Colliers’ Requiem. Available from: https://youtu.be/aKPa6dQrAd0 [accessed 9.12.16]

A3 – Window (revisited): for peer review

Following the useful feedback I received on my previous draft series for this assignment (see here for previous photos and brief explanation of assignment), I’ve put in a few more hours in the virtual editing room.

The purpose of this post is to request and then summarise feedback on two potential series for the assignment submission; one is in colour, following a feedback suggestion, and another is updated in black and white – still my preference as my intention is to show emotional content above visual information.

Please leave any comments in the OCA forum and I will update this post with an anonymised summary. If you are not using the OCA forum, comments on the blog below are also appreciated.

Please note that the jpegs here are not at full resolution.

Series 1 (colour) – click to open larger slideshow.

Series 2 (monochrome) – click to open larger slideshow.

Feedback received

I showed the photos to the choir on an iPad during after rehearsal beers – the monochrome was a clear favourite, with a feeling that it better captured the mood and intensity of the rehearsals. However, the colour version was also enjoyed for its ‘warmth’. The process of talking through the photos, also helped me gain a fresh perspective on the sequencing and content, which I have made some adjustments to in the final submission.

There was some very interesting feedback and discussion on the OCA Discuss forum, particularly around the choice of colour or monochrome and the importance of sequencing. There was no consensus about the colour vs monochrome, but I am mindful that two very experienced contributors strongly favoured colour. However, I have chosen to use monochrome and explained my choice in the final submission.

A3 cut 1 – feedback from peer group

Below are the draft selects for A3, Windows. The project’s objective was to photograph a group that was not previously known to me (through a ‘window’), gaining their confidence to allow the photographs to appear as if I were an insider of the group. Note that the jpegs are reduced resolution for this purpose.

This post collects feedback from peers in the comments on the sequencing of the series and the photographs included (shared on OCA student website and OCA Level 1 Facebook page).

Click to view as large-size gallery

Summary of feedback

As well as the direct feedback, noted in the comments below, I enjoyed some interaction through the OCA student forum on this version of the selects. I summarise the anonymised suggestions here:

  1. Within the existing series check photos for out of focus background highlights that draw the eye away from the subject.
  2. Don’t be worried about cropping images in further to aid composition – if pixels are lost, lost detail in large prints is made up for in the distance of the viewer from the picture.
  3. Try a completely different edit using colour and a broader range of subjects (eg frames without people at all) – using colour as an aesthetic choice rather than being too concerned about the accuracy of colour in this context.

Based on this feedback, I will experiment with an alternative series and offer that for critique.

Ex 4.2 – Images and text

Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example.

In exercise 4.4, I have explored the use of captions in newspapers and magazines. Therefore, for this exercise I have focused on images and text on a local high street (Skipton, North Yorkshire).

As I walked along the high street, it occurred to me that shop windows form images for reading – the contents of the displays are projected onto the glass shop-front and framed by the edge of the windows. We view the display as an image. Therefore, for the purposes of this exercise, I treat the shop window itself as an image where text is superimposed upon it. Continue reading “Ex 4.2 – Images and text”

Yorkshire Dales Grid Project


Early in 2016, I joined a collaborative project to photograph the Yorkshire Dales National Park, using a grid-based approach. The project is the brain-child of Tom Marsh of Yorkshire Photowalks and detailed information is provided on his website, linked below. Over the Christmas break, I took the last of my shots for the project.

The project is thought to be one of the largest in the world, with projects elsewhere focused on smaller urban areas. The Dales grid project covers 134 sixteen square kilometre areas, with photographs at each of the 16 OS map grid intersects within each area. One of the early grid projects was in Portland USA, started in 1995 by Christopher Rauschenberg, dividing Portland into 98 squares. That project has continued to the present day, with new photographs showing the changes in places over time. In the UK cities with grid projects include Bradford and in Birmingham.

Aiming to photograph from points where OS map grids cross in the open countryside presented some challenges – some required long walks to reach and pin-pointing locations on open moorland is tricky! In the end, I used the ViewRanger iPhone app to guide me to the spots, which saved time compared with fumbling with a map and compass. I the process, I discovered some wonderful less often visited spots in the National Park and got some good exercise.

The photographs

Click to view larger images.


I initially found the constraint of having to photograph from specific points on the map limiting – it always seemed that there was a better spot 10 or so meters on! However, I came to enjoy the limitation and process of looking closely at what I could see around me, perhaps taking photos that I may not of otherwise even considered worth taking. It became a lesson in the discipline of looking.

I must now wait to see if any of my work is selected for the exhibition planned in the summer of 2017, to be hosted at the National Park’s new HQ.


Bradford Grid Project [website]. Available from: http://www.bradfordgrid.co.uk/intro.html [accessed ]

The Grid Project [website]. Available from: http://www.birmingham-photographic-grid.org.uk [accessed ]

Portland Grid Project [website]. Available from: http://portlandgridproject.com/content/about [accessed 3.7.16]

Available from: http://yorkshirephotowalks.com/gridproject/index.html [accessed 30.12.16]

Ex 4.4 – Captions

The purpose of this exercise is to gather newspapers and cut out some images without their captions then, for each image, to write three or four different captions that bend the image to different and conflicting points of view.

Images and captions


Source: naturetrek.co.uk advertisement
  • Global warming fears as scientists record ice-caps melting.
  • Oil found with the potential for thousands of new jobs.
  • Search in vain for explorer lost in the Arctic.
  • The ultimate adventure holiday.
  • Continue reading “Ex 4.4 – Captions”

Ex 4.3 – Storyboard

This exercise requires the creation of a storyboard where the image does not depend on the text and the text adds something new to the narrative.

Storyboard by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I am so used to seeing words as descriptors of images that it required an effort not to use the words to explain the images (particularly with the poor drawing skills). It was like stretching a muscle that is not often used.

The caption to the second image includes reference to an object in the image (bed) but the focus of the caption is ‘the situation’; a thing indecipherable from the image. Therefore the ‘relay’ still works – there is an unanswered question in the gap between the image and text.

The story concludes with a visual punchline and complementary text that does nothing to explain the punchline. Whether anyone laughs or not, I will never know for sure – a shortfall of virtual communication!

A3 – process: notes of choir meetings

As part of the process for assignment 3, I am keeping a journal of my meetings with the Steeton MVC. I hope that when it comes to editing the final images, the journal will help support the selection process.

22.12.16 – The Airedale Heifer, Keighley

My first meeting with the choir, who were fund-raising for a local cancer charity – a group of 20 members were performing. Notes:

  • An entertaining and lively evening of Christmas songs and stories. The landlady and customers I spoke with all commented on how impressed they were by the choir.
  • Met my main contact, Ian McDonald, at the break. Very welcoming and we had a short chat about the choir and photography. Ian talked about some of the challenges of maintaining choir numbers in general and the struggle to survive that some other choirs were facing. Rehearsals proper would restart on 16.1.17.
  • Chatted to a couple of other members at the break (two of the 1st tenors – who I joked were like gold-dust in choirs); I explained that I’d be working with them on the photo project (they were aware of it and enthusiastic) and I asked them about the choir; mentioned that they were currently recruiting for a new MD (musical director), which is a significant event as there have only been a handful in the choir’s 100 year history.
  • Joined in with the choir when they asked for male volunteers from the pub – it was great to experience standing in the middle of them. Somehow reminded me of being part of a sports team. At the same time, a little nerve-racking for someone without a great voice.
  • Took some photos during the second half of the performance. It apparently wasn’t yet known by all members that I’d be working with them, as some were checking that I wasn’t from the Press and would just be using the photos for my own purposes. However, it was easily explained and I was welcomed as their ‘resident photographer’.
16.1.17 – Rehearsal at Steeton Methodist Hall

My first meeting with the full choir – I was introduced and made to feel welcome. Rehearsals last two hours, so there is plenty of time for photography!

I decided to shoot without flash light on the first meeting as I didn’t want to be too intrusive during the rehearsal and would bring up the question of using flash for the following week’s meeting.

The room was crowded with little space for moving among the seated choir and there were problems with the lighting in the hall – a couple of lights were out and one large fluorescent tube was flicking on and off. My intention was to shoot at a distance from choir members this week, using a Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (with OIS). However, the lens struggled in the poor light so I swapped to an old Nikkor 135mm f/2.8, using it manually with my Fuji X-T1.

I spent as much time watching and listening to the choir as photographing.    The wall of sound created by around 100 well-trained voices was magnificent and the quiet songs moving. The emotions and concentration written on the faces of the men while they sang was captivating. This is what it means to be in a choir and why many have been members for over 20 years.

At the end of the session, I asked about using flash light the next week as a was concerned about it distracting from the rehearsal. However, the choir was not in the least concerned. And then, we visited the pub and I had the chance to talk a little more to some of the choir about what I was doing and about the choir.

23.1.17 – Rehearsal at Steeton Methodist Hall

This week, I was equipped with a single flash (with a diffuser), wireless transmitter and a light stand for the flash – there would be little room for much else in the crowded space and I wanted to be able easily to move around the choir along with the light. I wanted to focus mainly on portraits of individuals or small groups to capture the emotion of the choir in my photos. Therefore, I worked with a Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. I found the Fujinon to bright enough along with the flash, so ended up mostly using that with back-button focus combined with manual tweaking.

The lighting in the rehearsal hall had been fixed from the previous week – it was all together a brighter place. It would have made my flash-less photography in the previous week much easier!

Throughout the session, I moved between the different sections of the choir – using breaks between songs to move my light stand around and photograph different sections of the choir. There were practical constraints on fitting the light stand in gaps between seats and I had no intention of asking people to move around in the middle of their rehearsal (especially as the various voices are grouped)!

The flash was used manually throughout and set at a zoom level and brightness that worked at a distance of 2-3 meters from the subject. Any adjustments to light levels during the session were made by stopping down the lens’s aperture.

No visit to the pub this week as I had an early start for the airport the next morning.

Review of shots

Over the weekend of 28 January, I post-processed my photos and began the process of editing and seeking peer feedback. This is detailed in separate posts.

My feeling is that I have enough for the purposes of my OCA project, and it is time to move on towards the next assignment. However, I intend to continue photographing the choir as a personal project and to provide them with some images for their own publicity. It would be good to do some colour work when they are dressed smartly for a performance, rather than casually for rehearsal.


A3 – preparation: photography of male voice choirs

In preparation for A3, in which I will photograph Steeton Male Voice Choir (SMVC), I explored photography of male voice choirs.

A search on Google uncovers many archives from groups of MVCs, with the screen shot below typical of the photographs taken:

Source: google screenshot

The images are typically concerned with posed choirs, as a record of who was in the choir or of its events; often at just sufficient distance to fit the whole choir in the frame as a documentary record.

This approach results in images that are largely similar between choirs and that are not often visually interesting;  front-facing rows of people, all looking towards the camera, too distant to see emotions, too near to see the context, with a consistent uniformity. The need to capture the whole of the large group seems to preclude other approaches.

Source: Images of wales: Treorchy male choir.

Dean Powell’s compilation of over 200 images covering the history of the Treorchy Male Choir mostly reflects a similar approach to photography as found in the online archives. However, there are some notable exceptions in the book: when the frame is closed in on a few choir members mid-song and we can see the emotion and the various directions of their gazes; where the choir is shown on a hillside, with the mine-town in the valley below; where it is marching through a Swiss town while singing; where a conductor is shown with baton in motion, gazed focused on the score.

Contemporary photographer Alicia Bruce’s work is featured on the BBC website, she explains her approach to photographing individual portraits of members of the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir:

They walked round the Workmen’s Hall singing as I photographed each member individually holding their favourite sheet of music.

Source: aliciabruce.co.uk by Alicia Bruce.

Bruce’s images as a series give a sense of the choir as whole, but primarily act as portraits of individual members, joined as a group through a common uniform and the motif of a musical score held in hand.

Male Voice Choirs are rooted in a long tradition, which is respected by the choirs in their smart uniforms and in their organisation. The photography of the choirs also appears reflect the traditional. Too me, it does not quite capture the power and passion of experiencing a choir singing; the sound wraps around and effects us, but the images are distant.

Alicia Bruce [website]. Available from: http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/about/ [accessed 22.12.16]
BBC [website]. In pictures: The Valleys Project. Photographer Alicia Bruce on show at Cardiff’s International Festival of Photography (2013). Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22365027 [accessed 22.12.16]
Powell, D., Powell, A. and Powell, R. 2001. Images of wales: Treorchy male choir. London, United Kingdom: The History Press.

The Group Portraiture of Holland

Alois Riegel’s work, The group portraiture of Holland, is an examination of the work of group portrait painters in Holland and the interplay between internal coherence of the group (within the paintings) and external coherence (engaging the viewer outside the frame). The theories and techniques described are of interest to me in the context of my upcoming assignment 3, which will involve photographing a male voice choir.

Source: www.rijksmuseum.nl, ‘Night Watch’, Rembrandt 

I foresee a challenge in making large group portraits as being the coordination of individual gazes within the group into something other than a predictable outward gaze the camera, or even worse that, accompanied by fixed smiles! Painters have the benefit of creating their images on the canvas, whereas in photography its indexicality means it must, to a certain extent, work with the world as we see it. Nonetheless, that world can be organised or even manipulated through digital post-processing, so lessons from painters can be valuable.

Riegel talks about ‘psychological manifestations’ that can be expressed within the concept of paintings, and later goes onto to describe how these can add a sense of coherence to a group portrait. The manifestations are:

  1. Will – expressed by an action. By performing actions we express our self-determination within an environment. This makes us stand apart from the environment or from those who choose to remain passive within the environment.
  2. Emotion – this is a reflection of an internal state and is passive in relation to the environment, in contrast to the active ‘will’. Emotions are visible on people’s faces and through their body language. A skilled painter can create these, photographers need to watch for a decisive moment to catch them or rely upon subjects who are good actors.
  3. Attentiveness – is where the subject become open to the effects of the environment; either to participate with it for pleasure or to withdraw from it in pain. It is a reflection of engagement with ‘other’, unlike ‘will’, which is an expression of of engagement by ‘self’.

Riegel discusses a number of paintings in his work, including how their composition and psychological manifestations serve to unify the groups portrayed. It is a fascinating look at reading paintings and discovering the artists’ intentions. For my own purposes, the following aspects are important:

  • The group members are rarely organised uniformly – while there may be a symmetry to overall composition, the groups are never lined up facing-front, one row behind another. This lack of uniformity creates visual interest; something that cannot be said of many photographs featuring large groups, where an overriding concern of fitting people within a space, which can be captured within the frame of the camera, seems to take over compositional considerations.
  • Motifs are sometimes used to unify a group that do not at first appear to be acting as a group from their positioning – for example each group member could be holding a weapon in the case of the night guards.
  • In only one of the images considered are the subjects all gazing towards a single point at the front, outside of the frame (the artist). It immediately makes me think of a photograph, where the convention is for everyone to look at the camera. When a large group all looks to the same point, it introduces a uniformity and predictability to the image; we are deprived of visual variety. The group is all attentive to the same thing outside of the frame; the photographer – there is no ambiguity or mystery.
  • Hand gestures form an important part of many of the group portraits – like a secondary set of gazes, they point, they hold, they welcome, they show. They add another visual dimension. What someones hands are doing is instinctively an important visual cue to us; are we safe, or are we at risk from this stranger? The aspect often receives little attention group photographic portraits.

I have had little success in finding photographers working with group portraits, outside of standard corporate or wedding group photographs; perhaps because these are common gatherings of large groups and they primarily serve the purpose of recording who was present, in time constrained circumstances. This exploration of group portraits in paintings has provided useful food for thought.

Riegl, A., Kain, E.M., Britt, D. and Kemp, W. 2000. The group portraiture of Holland. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Center for the History of Art and the Humanities.

Alec Soth on sequencing series of images

Aaron Schuman’s interview with Alec Soth on his work The Mississippi, includes a discussion on Soth’s approach to sequencing a series of images. I’m interested in this topic, as the upcoming assignment 3 (Windows) will include a series of images, where the number of images to include is left to me to decide.

Source: alecsoth.com by Alec Soth.

Soth comments that anyone can take single great picture (if they have the luck of being in the right place at the right time), but very few people can create a collection of great pictures, which is his aim.

He talks about the art being in making the collection and in the ‘interplay of the images’. He is looking to a whole beyond an individual image. When asked about how he chose and sequenced the photos, Soth refers to the model used by Robert Frank in the Americans:

Frank found the mood and motifs, but didn’t repeat it to death.  His sequencing functions as a kind of rhythm.  It carries you through the book.  He repeats certain themes, but keeps moving.  The structure really is based on poetry.

I find these concepts easier to relate in the context of music than poetry (as I’m more familiar with music), but until reading Soth’s words had not really considered them in the context of photography. Mood is easily understood as an expression of emotion; happy, sad, tense, upbeat and so on. Motif, I think of as a small recurring fragment (a obvious and famous musical example is the introduction to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony).

Unfortunately, the interview with Soth does not go on to explicitly explore the moods and motif’s his work, but looking the images on Soth’s website, here are some of the things I see:

  • A mood of coldness through whites and blues in the images.
  • Sobriety in the gaze of photos that are in the portrait genre; no one is smiling.
  • A singularity in the framing – there is often one main subject and the space around it makes it clear what that subject is. This creates a feeling of isolation when combined with the gaze of the subjects and the mood of coldness.

The concepts of mood and motif are something I will consider when it comes to pulling together assignment 3.


Aaron Schuman [website]. The Mississippi: an interview with Alec Soth. Available from: http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html [accessed 21.12.16]

Alec Soth [website]. Sleeping by the Mississippi. Available from: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 [accessed 21.12.16]

Literary Devices [website]. Motif. Available from: http://www.literarydevices.com/motif/ [accessed 21.12.16]

Research point – the rhetoric of image

Source (featured image): http://www.americansuburbx.com, by Ed Van Der Elsken.

This research requires reading of Roland Barthes’ The Rhetoric of Image and to then comment on:

  1. The definition of anchorage and relay
  2. The difference between the two
  3. Some examples of both
  4. How the concept might be useful in one’s own creative use of words and images
Having read the work (not for the first time – see here for CAN blog post) and again with some difficulty in digestion, I came to the following:

Continue reading “Research point – the rhetoric of image”

Ex 4.1 Looking at adverts

This exercise requires a response to one of Dawn Woolley’s (OCA tutor) blog posts in her series, Looking at Advertising. At time of writing, it is 11th December and the advertising festive season has already been with us for some time! So I chose her blog number 14, which considers Christmas.

The post is concerned with keywords and describes her process of identifying keywords in featured in advertisements from an assortment of magazines over the Christmas period. It does not talk about the connection between words and images in the adverts, but is concerned with the decoding of the meaning of the words themselves. Woolley explains Continue reading “Ex 4.1 Looking at adverts”

Editing photoshoots

The upcoming assignment 3 places no limit on the number of photographs that can be included in the submission. Therefore, it is timely to reflect on the process of editing; by this I refer to the process of reviewing photos taken and working through to a final selection of images. I don’t mean the activity of post-processing – as the term ‘editing’ popularly refers to the use of tools like Lightroom and Photoshop, there is inevitably confusion. I recall being confused early in my EYV studies when my tutor referred to a ‘closer edit’, while at the same time advising not to do too much post-processing! I take care to use each term appropriately now.

Continue reading “Editing photoshoots”

A3 Window – preparation: subject approach and research

During my initial preparation (see here), I identified Steeton Male Voice Choir as a community I’d like to work with (music is something important to me) and a community that meets sufficiently frequently to make the assignment achievable within a reasonable timeframe. This post provides some background on the group and details my initial approach to them.

The strap line on their website is Steeton Male Voice Choir – a hundred years of harmony, a century of song. Very catchy and reflecting their impressive centenary in 2008. The website is an excellent source of information on the choir, explaining its history, activities, how to join and list of officers. It gives the impression of a very well organised community. It sums up what the choir are about very well:

The choir is in great demand, performing about 25 times a year in venues ranging from tiny chapels and churches to magnificent cathedrals, concert halls and arenas. The choir has contributed to massed male voice choir events in the Royal Albert Hall, The National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff and the Manchester Evening News Arena, the Sheffield Arena and St George’s Hall, Bradford. Small groups from the choir also go to entertain residents in Nursing Homes and Sheltered Housing complexes. In addition to its many concerts around Britain, has travelled to the continent on a number of occasions to sing in various places in Germany, Holland and Belgium receiving tremendous applause and making many new friends there. (SMVC website)

The group has a Youtube channel sharing some of its performances (linked below). This gives a good view of how they sound and look, though I’m sure the quality of recording does not do justice to the reality. They present a refined, disciplined image. One initial visual thought is that their red blazers dominate their images – because of the intensity of colour one is drawn to the blazers above the faces and personalities of the men of the choir. A black and white treatment (also reflecting the historical roots of the choir) could be an option. See the powerful image below:

Source: Wales Online

Anne Powell’s book, Treorchy Male Choir (Archive Photographs: Images of Wales), looks to be a useful visual reference, so I’ve ordered a used copy and will consider it in some detail.

My initial approach to the choir was by email, including a musical visual sign off (see pdf here). After an initial response saying that they would most likely be interested but would need to discuss in their committee, I was delighted to receive positive confirmation a few days later, including and invitation to the choir’s scaled-down pre-Christmas performance in a local pub. The choir does not then meet again for rehearsals until 17th January; there are two hours of practice every Monday, followed by ‘refreshment of their vocal chords in a local pub’.

I am absolutely thrilled that the assignment has taken this direction after what was a disappointing inception!


Steeton Male Voice Choir [website] http://malevoicechoirs.net [accessed 9.12.16]

Steeton Male Voice Choir [Youtube]. Steeton Male Voice Choir sing The Colliers’ Requiem. Available from: https://youtu.be/aKPa6dQrAd0 [accessed 9.12.16]

Powell A (2001). Treorchy Male Choir (Archive Photographs: Images of Wales). The History Press.

A3 Window – preparation: the brief and initial thoughts


This assignment presents a choice of perspectives on a group or community – either as a ‘mirror’ in a community that one is already part of or as a ‘window’ to a community that one doesn’t know much about. There are common criteria:

  • The need to spend significant amount of time with the community
  • The need to tell a story about either how the community reflects you (mirror) or about the community itself (as a window onto it).
  • One can use as many photographs as one wishes, but they should be edited well and the process should be described in the assignment write-up. The brief suggests that research is done how to edit photos – this is the first assignment without a photo count limit.
Practical considerations

In choosing my perspective, I face some practical constraints:

  1. Because of work commitments that involve frequent foreign travel the only real communities I spend time with as member are my family and my work colleagues. My multinational colleagues would make an interesting topic, but as I am also their boss I am not comfortable with the ethics of asking them to participate in a project when they may feel uncomfortable refusing to join in. My family is an option, but I would prefer the challenge of dealing with people who are not quite so close.
  2. Living in a rural area, I have found there are surprisingly few communities or groups that meet weekly during evenings or weekends (when I have time for photography); many groups meet monthly, which makes spending significant amounts of time with them in a reasonable time-frame for an assignment impracticable. However, there are some options.
Subjects considered (for windows perspective)

As well as internet searches (including the useful meetup.com website) for local groups of interest, I visited Skipton Town Hall and tourist information office to check for any groups without a web presence. The following groups were considered:

  • Skipton Street Market Traders – Skipton market has operated since the 15th century and runs three times weekly, including Saturdays. In my mind this seemed to be the perfect community. I even packed my camera and drove into Skipton ready to make some introductions and find willing participants. However, I realised when walking around the street market that there was not really a feeling of community – more like a disparate bunch of traders each working in isolation. Perhaps because it is not a permanent market (eg an indoor market) there is not the same connection. My main idea gone.
  • Skipton Rotary Club – meet weekly but in a pub over a meal and discussions afterwards. Practical / etiquette difficulties in photographing people when they are eating.
  • Keighley Blues Club – a favourite (as I also enjoy guitar) but they unfortunately meet only monthly, so not realistic in the timeframe of the assignment.
  • Steeton Male Voice Choir – a group of 75 singers who are famous in their field and meet weekly for rehearsals. This would be my new target group after the disappointment of Skipton Market. Separate research post is here.

I acknowledge here the support and encouragement from the OCA 1 Facebook group with ideas (after the failure of my market idea). Discussion thread below:

RT We’re a group! How many of us are reasonable travelling distance away? We could use it as an excuse to start a Northern Student Meetup 🙂
RT (or does it have to be a group that you’re not currently a member of yourself?)
Andrew Fitzgibbon Can be a ‘window’ into a group you are not part of, or a ‘mirror’ of yourself in a group to which you belong.
MG You could look at people who support you in travelling rap hotels. There are always people and circumstances that happen that you can represent.
HW You could try your local community centre. There must be a wide variety of groups who meet there.
LK Where are you going in South Africa? Might be able to introduce you to a group there 🙂
AF Cape Town – but arriving Mon and leaving Wed. Otherwise would have been great 🙂
LK If you are staying in the city itself, try and get to Wale Street. The Cape Malay community is in this area, very colourful houses, great for photography, always people on the street. There is a museum too – also search for images for “Bo Kaap”. One of my 12 images was taken there – the one of the man in the orange overall against the turquoise wall. http://www.iziko.org.za/museums/bo-kaap-museum
AON If it’s a ‘window’ and you’re a constant travelling perhaps you could take a position as an ‘outsider’ / observer- along the lines of what rob said? Like a sort of Robert frank – Or do you have to ‘get to know them’.
AF That’s the difficulty – have to get to know them, spending a significant amount of time with them. So become like an insider.
AON What about your family then?
JN Try a sports club or a camera club x
DP You could checkout local clubs and societies where you live: football teams, model railway clubs, the WI, cycling clubs, the roundtable, etc etc. They’ll meet regularly so you could visit them whenever your home.
RT Is there a ParkRun near you? They always have a run on a Saturday morning. You could volunteer to be a steward for a few weeks. One of the roles needed each week is to photograph the event…
RON Why don’t you advertise stick up some notices – I’m sure some club or group would like some free photographs for their website?! That’s what I was thinking of doing as I am in pretty much the same situation. Living and working in two locations which makes joining groups etc difficult.
KA Church activity of some sort comes to mind – perhaps bell-ringers?
LK I think I’m going to go for the other option for Assignment 3. Most of my time is taken up with work and studies and a camera club thrown into the mix, so I’m doing to do something on my work place.
AF I would have really liked to do my work environment as it has some really interesting multi-national interplays. But unfortunately, as I’m the boss of the people I spend most of my time with it causes ethical challenges, as some from hierarchal cultures would find it difficult to decline involvement.
AF Thank you so much all for bouncing ideas at me. It’s really helped my energy and enthusiasm after my aborted idea of market traders. On reflection, this would be a great project to do over 6 months (but I don’t have that kind of time in context of the …See more

Big Issue North featured image

I was pleased to have another photo featured in the Big Issue North in connection with the OCA’s partnership / advertising. This time a photo of a decaying farm building with the backdrop of Lakeland fells. The photo was taken during a family visit, with my children no doubt bemoaning another photo-stop. What struck me at the time was the relative impermanence of permanent buildings when placed in the shadow of a mountain.

Exercise 3.3 – under-represented or marginalised

Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed. How might being an insider help combat this? (OCA IAP, p66)

In reflecting upon this, I’ve drawn on some of the work studied since the beginning of my OCA course, with references to previous blog posts below.

Diane Arbus (1923–71) was duplicitous in her approach to subjects, with her main interest in being getting the photo. Her subject matter was often ‘freaks’. In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag showed an almost obsessive dislike of the work of Arbus, mentioning her name no less than 85 times. In one summing up of an Arbus show, Sontag says:

… lined up assorted monsters and borderline cases – most of them ugly; wearing grotesque or unflattering clothing; in dismall or barren surroundings … Arbus’s work does not invite viewers to identify with the pariahs and miserable-looking people she photographed. Humanity is not “one“. (Sontag, S. (2014), loc 394)

Of her own practice in the Aperture Monograph, Arbus says, ‘actually they tend to like me. I’m extremely likeable with them. I think I’m kind of two-faced.’ (Fitzgibbon A, 2016). Arbus viewed marginalised people as spectacles to be photographed and put on display, much like an old-fashioned circus freak-show. A way for ‘normal’ people to view the ‘other’ and make them feel appreciative of their own normality, ‘humanity is not one’, and perhaps happy in their own perception of superiority. It is an extension of this kind of ethos that can be found in photography in the popular press; for example, taking images of refugees out of context and showing them in an unflattering way to fuel the sense of difference in extreme right-wing orientated readers.


Bruce Davidson (b 1933) is a humanist photographer, who works closely with his subjects to understand their perspective on the world. An antithetical approach to the divisive use of photography discussed above. One example is his work Freedom Fighters, in which he followed black civil rights campaigners and joined them on their campaign bus, also putting himself in harm’s way of law enforcers. On this work he says:

“Yes, I was pulled in emotionally by the courageousness of those young kids (the Freedom Riders), who as soon as they got off that bus, they could have been murdered.” (ASX)

source: ASX, by Bruce Davidson
source: ASX, by Bruce Davidson

Davidson spent time with his subjects, sometimes photographing them over the course of one year or more. He describes him self as a humanist photographer. A humanist perspective can be defined as ‘a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason’ (Merriam-Webster.com)

Being or at least acting as an insider, with empathy towards subjects and their lives can help to build understanding and not foster division. Agreement is not necessary, but understanding is essential for a civilised society.


ASX [website]. Everything is Sacred – An Interview with Bruce Davidson (2006). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/12/interview-interview-with-bruce-davidson.html [accessed 8.11.16]

Fitzgibbon A (2015). Context.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Inside/Out by Abigail Solomon-Godeau (May 2015). Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/insideout-by-abigail-solomon-godeau/ [accessed 7.11.16]

Fitzgibbon A (2016).Identity.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Bruce Davidson at Fundación Mapfres (August 2016). Available from: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/tag/bruce-davidson/ [accessed 7.11.16]

Fitzgibbon A (2016). Identity.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Diane Arbus, Aperture Monogram (July 2016). Available from: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/2016/07/10/diane-arbus-aperture-monogram/ [accessed 7.11.16]

Sontag, S. (2014). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com



Exercise 3.2b – Uniqueness of personality


The purpose of this exercise is explained in the first part of this post (see here), where I consider the idea of personality. This post shows the photos I made in response to the exercise.

Before shooting these photos, I read a book that’s been sitting on my book shelf in anticipation of the next self-portraits I would make; The camera I: Photographic self-portraits (follow link for post on the book). I found the book a help in adjusting my mindset to self-portraiture, which I’ve previously found a very difficult exercise. The book analyses the psychological challenges in making self-portraits as well as showing over 100 self-portraits by the greats of photography. Two aspects helped me in particular:

  • Recognising that self-portraiture is an act – my internal self having a conversation with my surface; we are separate and there is no need to be puzzled and distracted about feeling self-conscious with oneself.
  • There are just three general types of self-portraiture: delineation (straight representation of one’s own lines), distortion (for example through a mirror or other reflection), and disguise (pretending to be someone else, eg through dressing up or other disguise).

For this exercise, I decided for simple delineation along with a conversation with myself about aspects of my personality mentioned in part a) of this post – to see if that would elicit a response on the surface of my face.


Simple pop-up studio made with foam board and gaffer tape, with a black cloth drape. Camera Fuji X-T1, xf60mm f/2.4. Single flash light with shoot-through umbrella.

img_0260 img_0261 img_0262















Click to open larger image files

  • #1 crosses over into the ‘disguise’ type; it is an act of despair, shot in very low light. I am not a natural actor – I would need to practice acting skills to get into this area to any extent!
  • There are a number of images that feature hands alongside the face to help with self-expression. Our hands are naturally expressive; for example they automatically calm or protect us. This could be an area of further exploration – ’emotional hands’.
  • A few images feature props – my lighting set-up dummy (‘Ethel’), a guitar, a jacket for warm-weather travel, and a camera. These could be used to explore my relationship with a personal interest (though Ethel could draw dubious inferences). What we choose to do with our time and our lives contributes towards the uniqueness of our personalities.
  • The images are deliberately stripped of context in the pop-up studio. In future I will explore contextual set-ups – for example like Bill Brandt’s work shown here.


The camera I: Photographic self-portraits

For however dutifully we record what we see around us,

the common denominator of all we see is always,



the implacable “I” (Joan Didion)

This book deserves to be on the reading list for self-portraiture, not just because of the 148 photographs, self-portraits by some of the greats of photography spanning nearly a century and a half, but because of the fascinating and thought-provoking introduction by Robert Sobieszek on the nature of portraiture and self-portraiture. The following passage says so much about the nature of self-portraiture that I quote it in full:

In self-portraiture, where the artist and subject are ostensibly the same person, the dynamics of reading, interpreting, analysing, and representing involve by definition a cycle of self-regard, self-presentation, self-revelation, and self-creation … an attempt to achieve an honest and convincing representation of the self invariably embodies the realisation that there are at least two selves, one accessible and the other hidden …’ (Sobieszek and Irmas, 1994, p21)

It is little wonder then, why I have found the process of creating self-portraits so challenging and exhausting – there is so much going on, when considered in this way.


Sobieszek explains the concepts of ‘watchman’ and ‘spy’ to explore the nature of self-portraiture; the former with the role of observer of the surface of activities, and the latter with the objective of digging below the surface to discover information or secrets. In explaining how the photographer as spy might work, he quotes Richard Avedon:

The point is that you can’t get at the thing itself, the real nature of the sitter, by stripping away the surface. The surface is all you’ve got. You can only get beyond the surface by working with the surface. All that you can do is to manipulate that surface – gesture, costume, expression – radically and correctly.

In my portraiture work, I have used the concept of a portrait as ‘an interview with a camera’; that is my way of ‘working with the surface’. In my upcoming self-portrait exercise, I need to find a way of talking to myself with the camera.

Sobieszek suggest that self-portraiture can be divided into three general types; delineation, distortion, and disguise. He goes on to illustrate these concepts by reference to works in the book. He concludes with the inevitable end, which is perhaps why I find self-portraiture a sobering exercise:

Self-portraiture is ultimately a confrontation with the self’s mortality. The self that stares back at the artist was once, when the photograph was made, and is no longer; marking a time immediately removed in time, it portends the imminency of death. (Sobieszek and Irmas, 1994, p32)

In my upcoming self-portrait exercise, I will attempt to relax into the idea of me photographing another me and me trying to shape my surface through a conversation with me. Otherwise, I am doomed to appear as a pantomime actor performing.

Sobieszek, R.A. and Irmas, D. 1994. The camera I: Photographic self-portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection. Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art u.a.

A2 – vice versa – rework


My original submission is here, including details of my process, and my tutor’s feedback, along with my reflections on it are here. I have re-engaged with the selection of photographs and reconsidered the selects following the feedback received. The gist of the feedback was that not all of the photographs encouraged curiosity about the subject – some were a little predictable and more time reflecting on the selections could have improved the series.

In retrospect, there are a couple of lessons:

  • The final selections were a little rushed as I was keen to submit the assignment prior to a two-week business trip to Africa when I’d only have poor internet access. I will avoid this self-generated pressure in future.
  • As well as preparing images for the assignment, I’d promised my volunteer model a selection of photographs as a ‘thank you’. While I intended to keep the two selections completely separate, considering both aspects in parallel muddled my choices for the assignment.

Apart from the reselected photographs, all other information relating to this assignment remains unchanged – please refer to original post here.

Reselected photos

Two of the original photographs remain and three have been replaced.

Click on images to open larger versions in separate window.

Rachel #1
Rachel #2
Rachel #3
Rachel #4
Rachel #5

See original assignment submission.




Exercise 3.2a – Uniqueness of personality

Make a list of some aspects of your personality that make you unique. Start taking a few pictures that could begin to express this. How could you develop this into a body of work? (OCA IAP, p66)

Personality is word used casually everyday when finding out about people we meet or other people’s perceptions of people, but what does it mean exactly? The American Psychological Association (apa.org) offers this definition:

Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: One is understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole.

A well-known tool for assessing personality types is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (see reference below for details), which uses 16 different personality types to categorise people. There is no good or bad type, just different types, who have different preferences in how they interact with the world and other people. I took a free online MBTI test to rediscover my type (been many years since doing one). Without going into the details, here is a general description of my ‘ENTP’ type (Teamtechnology):

you are someone who challenges the status quo, seeking to uncover the hidden potential or new possibilities in different situations. You start projects and introduce change on an experimental basis, not knowing fully what is going to happen, but in the expectation that it will lead to an improvement. You enjoy the challenge of doing something that has not been done before and seems impossible.

This is a general description (or stereotype), but what of aspects of my own personality:

  • Easily bored without sufficient challenge.
  • Curious about many different topics – sometimes too many, both art and science.
  • Capable of getting completely engrossed in areas of interest, to the exclusion of things that could be higher priorities.
  • Not particularly patient with people.
  • Enjoy debating (some might say arguing), even if I have no particular attachment to a point of view.
  • Artistic and numerate.

I will reflect on these aspects of personality and consider how they might be portrayed photographically (making a part b. of this exercise).


Myersbriggs.org [website]. Available from: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/ [accessed 31.10.16]

Teamtechnology [website]. ENTP Personality Types In-Depth. Available from: http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/personality/types/entp/overview/  [accessed 31.10.16]



A2 – vice versa: tutor feedback

A pdf of feedback on assignment 2 (here) is attached below. Overall it was positive and encouraging, but also provided some useful food for thought. In this post I focus on the areas for development, rather than on what went well.

Some extracts of feedback taken out of context, but reflecting the areas to be addressed:

A more considered review of the final work and a development of your visual strategy could have resulted in a more coherent and successful series …  feel that you could have maybe used more time to have reflected and responded to your critical analysis of your final work … It feels to me that presently, judging by the submission, you are struggling to transfer what you know into the final images. To put it into simple terms, I think that you should be engaging further with the actual assignment.

It is a ‘unique aspect of my personality’ (as I explain in the exercise here) that my strength does not lie in finishing things and dealing with details – I am naturally interested in the big picture and debating ideas and concepts, rather than implementing them. I would rather move onto the next challenge. While I’m not often required to deal personally with the details in my day-job, it is something that I have had to make a conscious effort to focus on when necessary, although I find little pleasure in it. In retrospect, I think I am succumbing to the same pitfall with my assignment work – full of enthusiasm for exploring the ideas and concepts during the coursework and when initiating the assignments, but running out of enthusiasm when it comes to the finishing touches. I need to be mindful of my natural preferences when completing assignment work. In future, I will leave a space between completing the shoot for the assignment and dealing with the editing and the final selection process. Allowing some refresh time. My tutor provides the following advice:

As photographers and artists we need time to reflect and review our work, stand back and critically engage with it. Then after a period of reflection try and analyse the pros and cons and then go and produce more work, the period of engagement obviously depends upon the timeframe but it’s a strategy that you should be applying to your work.

For A2, I will revisit the series of photographs and consider alternative selections and post-processing.

It was suggested to look at these portrait photographers:

  • Steve Pyke (b1957), Philosophers.
    source: pyke-eye.com

    Pyke’s work is in square format, shot in high contrast black and white. His subjects are tightly framed and the borders on the photos emphasise this. It is almost as if they have been squeezed into a box.

    The high contrast adds drama and grit – something that would have occurred naturally in black and white film but not with digital images converted to black and white. They do not flatter his subjects by softening the lines of age, but the give a well-lived-in characterful appearance. Post-processing of black and white in digital requires some work to recreate this appearance – mimicking the traditional qualities of film.

  • Bill Brandt (1904-1983), Portraits. Unfortunately the link suggested (http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw71450/Bill- Brandt?LinkID=mp05099&role=sit&rNo=8) is a link to a Cecil Beaton portrait of Brandt and Brandt’s own portrait work is not shared online by the National Portrait Gallery (‘for copyright reasons’). However, I used sources from my look into Brandt during the OCA C&N course and the book Photographs 1928 – 1983, which includes a section on his portraits.
    source: vam.ac.uk

    The portraits by Brandt show sitters in context, unlike Pyke’s philosophers, who are extracted into boxes. But the framing is visually dense with busy details.We see the same high-contrast black and white characteristics of film, but Brandt’s work is softer on textures of the skin as it is not shot in extreme close-up.



  • Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002). Karsh’s website provide generous access to his portraiture and to some short video-clips of him being interviewed. He was a photographscreen-shot-2016-10-31-at-20-08-55er of celebrity who states that his aim was for his work to compliment his subjects, not to show ‘worts and all’, but to provide a record for the many people interested in celebrities and for history.The portraits appear carefully staged. Again there is high contrast black and white, but not the grittiness of Pyke’s work or contextual interest of Brandt’s.

These photographers create different moods and impressions of their subjects. In my own practice, I prefer a gritty approach, but have a concern how that might be received by my volunteer subjects. I suppose that I’ll just have to get over that, or offer them something to their own taste also in return for sitting!


Brandt B (1993). Bill Brandt – Photographs 1928 – 1983. Thames and Hudson, London.

Fitzgibbon A (2015). Context and Narrative Blog. Bill Brandt (19 July)Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/bill-brandt/ [accessed 31.10.16]

National Portrait Gallery [online]. Bill Brandt Portrait. Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw71450/Bill- Brandt?LinkID=mp05099&role=sit&rNo=8 [accessed 31.10.16]

PDF of A2 IAP Tutor feedback

Steve Pyke [website]. Philosophers. Available from: http://www.pyke-eye.com/Philosophers/1/caption [accessed 31.10.16]

Yousuf Karsh http://www.karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits [accessed 31.10.16]

Miksang photography

I’ve recently been blogging on the processes of seeing and expressing a vision through photography. See Ways of Seeing (revisited) and Photography and Zen. Related to the thoughts in these books is Elina Brotherus’s reflections on her own photographic process, where she talks about creating first and analysing later.

Miksang photography is based on Eastern (specifically Tibetan) thought and the contemplative practices that include meditation. In the past I’ve read material based on similar principles but applied to creativity in the field of music, including improvisation. I read Michael Wood’s book, Opening the good eye: a path to true seeing (the literal translation of Miksang is ‘opening the good eye’.) to discover more.

The purpose of this post is to reflect on how the practice of Miksang might relate to the development of my own photography practice.

Like many things, Miksang is easier said than done – it is the practice that is challenging, not the conceptual understanding. In essence it involves:

  1. Being open and receptive to what we see around us, without the intrusion of our learned filters that we use to judge before we see. So seeing with a child’s eye or like it is the first time (echoes in music – the attention and pleasure an absolute beginner experiences when first making sounds).
  2. Once we’ve opened ourselves, staying open and receptive to see the authentic thing, holding back the learned habits of categorising and evaluating. This is difficult, it is our survival instinct to do this (will something harm me, can I eat it, can I use it) and our education processes reinforce this instinct; habits developed over our life-times.
  3. In our photography, being able to capture the authentic thing based on our clear vision of it. As well as understanding the camera as a tool, this would also include what we do to an image in post-processing; any treatment should be true to our vision of the subject (so most likely minimal).

This is not something you ‘get’ from reading a book, it is something that requires dedicated practice. As well as the general benefits from meditative practices in our busy world, I envisage benefits to the practice of art photography:

  • It helps us to get out of our own way and express our own unique vision (the art from within), without conscious reference to what we have seen in the work of others or learned about the technical aspects of photography. Those things shape our intuition and natural responses, but do not need to be actively contemplated when creating – just as a good guitarist is unlikely to actively consider musical scales when improvising; they create a unique distinctive sound from within.
  • Having a solid picture in our mind’s eye of our original, clear vision of the subject allows us to be consistent with that as we capture, process and present our images. They become authentic and not a ‘pastiche of what has gone before’.
  • Like Brotherus we can analyse after creation – I’m not sure that this aspect would be relevant to the practice of Miksang, which I understand is based on the premise that nature is infinitely creative and what we need to do is find a way of expressing this. However, it is useful to consider what has influenced us during the course of academic study as well as for the purpose of hopefully obtaining a degree certification, which of course brings no guarantee alone that we will produce authentic, worthwhile work.
Horse by Andrew Fitzgibbon.
Horse by Andrew Fitzgibbon.

Miksang.com [website]. Available from: http://www.miksang.com [accessed 30.10.16]

Wood M (2016). Opening the good eye: a path to true seeing. Miksang Publications, Colorado.

Female Sexual Objectification

Revisiting John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (see here) took me on an unexpected exploration of the objectification of women. I referenced female photographer, whose work comprises self-objectification, loaded with sexual signals; she responded to my blog post, commenting that her work was ‘consensual objectification’ and she was comfortable in the knowledge that her 7.7k Flickr followers were predominately male. Putting the post up for discussion on the OCA’s photography forum then generated a range of responses and references.

source: www.americansuburbx.com by Cindy Sherman
source: www.americansuburbx.com by Cindy Sherman

In this post, I aim to come to an understanding of the arguments around sexual objectification. This is not to address broader questions of equality or the impact of the general portrayal of women in the media.

Objectification is a phenomenon; ‘The majority of the thinkers discussing objectification have taken it to be a morally problematic phenomenon’ (Papadaki E). This is perhaps where our challenges start in considering objectification in the context of photographs:

  • A phenomenon is observable through our various senses in the real world. A photograph is not the real world, it has a malleable meaning depending on context and viewer. It can be used as an element in influencing perceptions or narratives, but not without a considered process of communication. We cannot assess whether a photograph alone objectifies without knowing its context; it is meaningless to do so.
  • In defining objectification the 10 criteria referenced all relate to the ‘treatment’ of another person (Papadaki E), for example ‘reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses’. A photograph alone is incapable of communicating about how a person is treated. It shows a fraction of a moment in time, through the frame of a view finder, in two visual dimensions.

Therefore, attempting to assess whether a photograph on its own objectifies, is futile. It must be interpreted in a broader context.

The next point to consider is whether objectification is wrong per se, or whether there are circumstantial considerations, for example ‘consensual objectification’. An example of this in popular fiction is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, with UK sales of over 12 million (Singh A); books with a central theme of sexual objectification and 80% sold to women ( US statistic -http://www.bowker.com/news/2012/Whos-Really-Reading-50-Shades.html). ‘[Martha] Nussbaum believes that it is possible that “some features of objectification … may in fact in some circumstances … be even wonderful features of sexual life”, and so “the term objectification can also be used… in a more positive spirit.’ (Papadaki E) This view appears evident in the Fifty Shades’ success. Everyday Feminism magazine asks the question:

There’s a long-standing debate in feminism about sexual empowerment: How do we know when someone is being sexually liberated versus being sexually objectified, since they sometimes can look similar from the outside?

The answer, they propose, is in determining who has the power. Deciding where the power lies may take some analysis and consideration, but it is a pragmatic model.

I will not consider any photographs (in their context) here, but have a useful model for viewing and interpreting work going forward.


Everyday Feminism [website]. How Can You Tell if You’re Being Sexually Empowered or Objectified? Ask Yourself This Simple Question? Available from: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/empowered-vs-objectified/ [accessed 25.10.16]

MoMA [website]. Cindy Sherman. Available from: https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/cindysherman/gallery/4/#/0/untitled-95-1981/ [accessed,25.10.16]

Papadaki, Evangelia (Lina), “Feminist Perspectives on Objectification”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-objectification/ [accessed 25.10.16]

Singh A. 50 Shades of Grey is best-selling book of all time. The Telegraph [online] (August 2012). Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9459779/50-Shades-of-Grey-is-best-selling-book-of-all-time.html [accessed 25.10.16]

Research point 1 – Elina Brotherus talk to OCA students

OCA IAP (p63) asks us to watch a talk by Elina Brotherus to OCA students about her own work.

It is a short talk of a few minutes and focuses more on her process of working than her photographs. Her advice is simple; get out and photograph more, following your instincts and leave the analysis of what you have made until later.

After reading the advice, I did just that – a 30 minute drive to Saltaire, UNESCO world heritage village to walk around and photograph and just see what came up.



Saltaire was an industrial village built by August Salt (mill owner) in 1851 to house his workers and provide welfare and education facilities. It would have once been busy with industry and workers going about their daily activities. It is now preserved for heritage and tourism. The grand mill is a successful a location for artisan shopping and cafes and a gallery space for  the largest collection of Hockney’s work in the world. It needed to be repurposed to survive and this undoubtedly required substantial effort and investment by the current owners.

I felt a sense of melancholy walking around – similar to a recent visit to Liverpool’s Albert Dock – both once places providing labour and productive output, but now housing gift shops and coffee shops, with little feel of community.

I processed a few of the photos with a sense of nostalgia (for a time of course I could not have known), which may not have been shared by the people employed at hard mill-work. The processing is fake (digital in Lightroom) as is the activity now housed by the mill – no longer an industrial powerhouse, but a servant to tourism.

So, the analysis results in a strap line for the series of photos – From Industrial Powerhouse to Servant to Tourism.

Ways of Seeing (revisited)

I first read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing in January 2016 during my CAN course (see here). I was curious to see whether I would take anything new from a second reading, with the book appearing as recommended reading for IAP.

Looking back on my previous blog post (Fitzgibbon A, 2016), it is in the form of a book review, with the book summarised as follows:

The work is a series of essays that encourages us to see and read art, beyond the two-dimensional image, the interpretations of the traditional art establishment and those holding hegemonic interests. It encourages the reader to think from multiple perspectives about a work to allow more profound understanding. Berger explains how ‘the way people look at art is affected by a whole series of learned assumptions … beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, form, status, taste etc’ (Berger, p11) – importantly that these assumptions may not be relevant and ‘mystify rather than clarify’.

The form of the book review is a useful reminder of the contents of a book, but disconnected from my photographic practice and practical implications. As I’ve progressed through the OCA courses, it is reflecting on the link to practice that I realise is more valuable than just reading and reflecting in the abstract.

The main learnings in respect of photographic practice are:

  • Chapter 1, explores the ideas of seeing, ‘seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognises before it can speak’ (Berger J. et al (1973), p7). The emphasis is on what could be called analytical viewing; how one can read images incisively. This is not only in terms of the narrative within the image, but in the context of the time in which it was made, the purpose for which it was created and/or adapted, the commissioner of the work, the artist and the viewer. Multiple perspectives. Considering these aspects when creating our own work can bring greater awareness when communicating our vision, as well as when reading other work. Perhaps equally importantly, given the transmittability of imagery and resultant re-contextualisation, we can consider what might be missing from our reading; information that is simply not available or obtainable.
  • Chapters 2 (visual essay without words) and 3 focus mainly on the portrayal of women in images. In my previous blog, I was uncertain whether Berger’s reading of female psychology was as relevant today as in 1960s Britain. Anecdotally, I felt it could be, but hoped that we might have become more conscious of a culture of demeaning portrayal of women. The Misrepresentation Project in 2011 however, highlights the ongoing struggle. As a photographer, it is important to be aware of the engrained culture of the objectification of women, valued for appearance and sexual availability; this is shown in imagery through the gaze and signs within the narrative of images and also the gaze in relation to the viewer of the image. Berger discusses this at length. A look at female self-portraits on Flickr reveals some complexities in this area; sexualised self-portraits – exploration of sexuality or self-objectification / knowingly or unknowingly. It is perhaps not for us to judge how others decide to present their own body-image, but we can decide how and what we choose to photograph.

Flickr gallery of objectifying self-portraits (my perception):

During this research, I noticed CyanideMishka who dedicates her work to exploring her own sexuality through self-portraits; the photos are well-done but I wonder whether her 7.7k followers are mostly male and on what level they read the photos. See here (contains nude images) https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyanidemishka/. I will see whether she will comment on this post.

Berger does not deal with the portrayal of men in imagery to any significant extent, other than to mention they are mostly shown in positions of power and authority, their own person, not an object to be owned. In recent years, after Berger’s writing, issues with male depiction in the media have also gained some traction.

  • Chapter 5 deals with the genre of old paintings and their commissioners. For me, often confused by the merit of some oil paintings, this was a revelation. Berger says, ‘oil paintings often depict things. Things which in reality are buyable. To have a thing painted and put on a canvas is not unlike buying it and putting it in your house.’ (ibid, p83). Berger observes that the reason that many of the greats of oil painting died in poverty was because their work didn’t show things that would appeal to the vanity of wealthy commissioners (eg merchants in fine houses, with beautiful possessions). The work was not ‘commercial’. I am reminded of the story of Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) introducing the work of Picasso to America in 1911 and being unsuccessful in selling a single piece. In all art, including photography, the quality of the work does not necessarily relate to financial reward. Photographers motivated to make money from their work do well to separate their commercial and personal artist interests.

Berger’s work raises some fundamental considerations about the way we portray people in photographs and the way we read photographs that are so deeply engrained in our culture that they may go unnoticed or ignored as ‘just how it is’.


Berger J, et al (1973). Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin Books Ltd.

Fitzgibbon A (2016). Context.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Ways of Seeing (5 January). Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/ways-of-seeing/ [accessed 24.10.16]

Vimeo. Misrepresentation Project. Available from: https://vimeo.com/86728310 [accessed 24.10.16]

Photography and Zen: Discovering your true nature through photography.

In my tutor’s feedback on A1 (see here), he suggested that I could be overly concerned with the technical aspects of photography, possibly to the detriment of other aspects. This struck a chord and reminded me of my early experiences with guitar playing, when it was easy to become too focused on the technique of playing, rather than just playing. After a while one knows the technique, it becomes second nature and doesn’t need to be thought about. Through my guitar and being an erstwhile judo player, I’m aware of how it feels to be in a non-thinking zone and also that I am not yet often in that zone with my photography, sometimes actively thinking about camera settings.

I decided to turn to Stephen Bray’s book Photography and Zen as part of a reflection on my current practice and how I might break out of my technical habits. I also referred back to a review of a book I read during the EYV course, Tao of Photography by Phillippe Gross.

My earlier review of Gross’s book appears to be a series of quotations from the book with no record of what they meant to me at the time. A little disappointing in retrospect, but encouraging that I would hopefully not repeat a similar approach just over a year and a half later. I perhaps need re-read the book. The quotes listed are all about seeing and perception, for example:

It is part of a photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveller who enters a strange country – Bill Brandt

How can one see intensely if pre-occupied with the techniques of using a camera? Perhaps modern cameras contain too much technology and too many options for our own good. They are complex gadgets with countless possibilities for tinkering. I recently purchased an old Nikon FE manual focus film camera. When using it, I was immediately struck by how limited the options are for setting it up and using it compared with my modern digital cameras. There is little to do, apart from looking and capturing moments in time!

Turning to Bray’s book, I note here things that resonated with my thinking on forgetting the technical, rather than a review of the book’s contents.

  1. ‘A certificate may denote competence in many skills, but rarely is it an indicator of flair. To have flair it is necessary to fully embrace what life has to offer.’ (Bray, S. (2014), p117). The risk of academic study and focus on technical skills is becoming too focused on theory and forgetting to ’embrace what life has to offer’ and getting out and making photographs. Somewhat of a dilemma when studying and working at the same time – can leave little time for the ’embracing’ bit. The answer must be to integrate studying with doing and living as far as possible?
  2. ‘Mistakenly, I thought what I lacked were knowledge and further skill. In fact what I needed was the courage to explore my own nature.’ (ibid, p145). This is a profound insight – it is without doubt less challenging to seek knowledge and skill than to confront one’s own nature. This confrontation can bring honest and insightful work, that has something to say.
  3. ‘One of the dangers of photography is that, whilst it enables expression of your inner world upon a computer screen, book page, or gallery wall, it can also become a substitute for living.’ (ibid p197)

In the end, it is perhaps as simple as this:

Pick up your camera and make images with it.

The featured image for this post was made after reflecting on the wisdom in this book. Camera used simply – ISO fixed for the shoot (like film), manual focus, manual exposure; changes only made if there were significant changes in light and subject distance. Followed by 2 or 3 minutes in Lightroom. It was indeed refreshing. The lesson is decide on an approach/process and stick with it without unnecessary tinkering; embrace the moment intensely.

I saw sheep glowing in the sun cutting through the storm clouds. I focused singly on the glow, lowered my exposure and shot. The sheep glow!


Bray, S. (2014). Photography and Zen:: Discovering your true nature through photography. (Photography and Consciousness Book 2) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Context.Fitzgibbonphotography (February 2015) [blog]. Review of Tao of Photography by Phillippe Gross. Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/tao-of-photography-seeing-beyond-seeing/ [accessed 20.10.16]

Digital Splash – speakers

Wilkinson Camera run an annual event in the North West; this year over two days in Liverpool’s Exhibition Centre, near Albert Dock. As well as product stands, busy feeding and fuelling photographers’ demand for new products they don’t necessarily need, there are guest speakers.

I saw Michael Freeman speak on travel photography and Faye and Trevor Yerbury speak on their portrait photography practice and projects. Both presentations showed the photographers’ own work, which they talked to. I note here, just the points that were of specific interest.

Source: yerburystudios.com by F&T Yerbury
Source: yerburystudios.com by Faye & Trevor Yerbury

The Yerburys presented some beautiful lit and intimate portraiture. Listening to them speak, I picked up on a theme that runs through portrait photography that appeals to me – a simple approach to lighting that allows the photographer to concentrate on the subject and prevents the subject from feeling overwhelmed by studio lights. They explained that they often use a single light and reflector only, with the occasional addition of a second light. Trevor explained his enjoyment of finding out about the lives of his subjects as he talks with them. They also described some of the projects they have undertaken to keep their work fresh and explore new ideas; this seemed to be personal work in between their paid work.

Michael Freeman has published innumerable books on photography. He spoke about his many years as a professional travel photographer and the changes over the past 20 years; unexplored corners of the earth are now much more difficult to find because tourism has become pervasive. Freeman then discussed how to get a travel shots that are not like everyone else’s. These included, travelling away from the main tourist spots, focusing on people (who are unique) rather than landscapes, and avoiding the obvious shots that have been done time and time again.


Digital Splash [website]. Available from: http://www.digitalsplash.tv [accessed 16.10.16]

Freeman Photography [website]. Available from: http://www.michaelfreemanphoto.com [accessed 16.10.16]

Yerbury Studio [website]. Available from: http://www.yerburystudio.com [accessed 16.10.16]

Ex 3.1 windows and mirrors

Go through your photographic archive and select around ten pictures. Separate them into two piles: one entitled ‘mirrors’ and the other entitled ‘windows’.

I quickly skimmed through my 2015 archive and selected a number of images for the exercise, without at first considering whether they are ‘windows’ into another world or ‘mirrors’ of my own world. For the purpose of part 3, we are asked to use our own perspective, as the photographer, in deciding whether to classify images as ‘windows’ or ‘mirrors’




I used an intuitive response to categorising the photographs and analysed my choices afterwards.

The ‘windows’ are all photographs outside of my own country and culture, so from that perspective they are easily categorised. However, one could also consider them as a mirror on my world, reflecting the places to which I have travelled and what things have caught my eye. The aware portraits could also be categorised as mirrors, with the subjects reflecting their view of me as a photographer.

The ‘mirrors’ are closer to my own identity: a street photograph in Leeds of two strangers obscured by a Union Flag umbrella – my nationality is mirrored as is a rainy day in Yorkshire, as part of my day-to-day life. The head portraits are of an old school friend and my son. Both reflect my life at different points in time, they have influenced who I am and I see them as mirrors.

It can be difficult categorising based on our perceptions of what we see; the world is highly interconnected and it is possible to hold different perceptions of the same thing. It is perhaps more a judgement of degrees of separation and taking a position based on a distance, rather than a general perception. It is also apparent that my rationale for the selections would not be clear to a viewer without context; even people I know would be unlikely to make the same categorisations on my behalf.

A2 vice versa – submission to tutor

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits … develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. (OCA IAP, p55)

Thank you to Rachel, my extremely patient model.


The development of my concept is detailed here. In summary, I wanted to experiment with the psychological impact of how one interacts with a subject to allow them to show something of their deeper self to the camera, as opposed to acting for the camera in a more superficial way. Also, I wanted to shoot in monochrome to allow focus on the essence of the subject without the distraction of colour. The work of Jane Bown in particular influenced me in my approach to the subject and to the use of natural light in many of the photos.

Part of my process was a preliminary meeting with my volunteer, without a camera to set the scene and general direction to the project (see here). My aim was to give the project a collaborative informal feel, rather than one that was directed and staged.

For the assignment, there were two shoots with over 200 photographs; one shoot was indoors and the other outdoors. Details along with contact sheets are here. Making the final selections was an interesting process as there were an number of possibilities for creating a final thematic response to the brief. Combining different photos to create different storylines was a reminder that images have a flexible meaning that can change with the contextualisation with other photographs or text, often with little relationship to actuality.

In the end, I chose not to include any of the outdoor shots in the final selection; there were issues with the quality of light and framing that made it difficult to combine them with the indoor photos into a consistent series. Instead, I used a combination of indoor shots that used available natural light (on location) and indoor shots that used flash and a shoot-through umbrella diffuser to control light quality and depth (in the studio). I also made use of the digital studio, Photoshop, to remove distracting background elements for the ‘studio’ shots; specifically a white radiator panel and and light switch. Katy Grannan’s work that includes subjects contextualised in their everyday surroundings, doing everyday things influenced me in my choice of final selects (see here for more on Grannan).

All images were shot with a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon xf 35mm f/1.2 lens (efl 50mm). Black and white conversion was done in Nik Silver Efex Pro, with additional post-processing in Lightroom (mostly dodging and burning).

The photos

Each photo says something different about the subject; what it says is down to the reader of the photograph; and the photos have no inherent truthfulness – they are just pictures open to a range of interpretations. The studio-style photos are decontextualised, so the reader is just left to interpret the face as a reflection of personality and thoughts.

Click on images to open as large images in separate window.

Rachel #1
Rachel #2
Rachel #2
Rachel #3
Rachel #3
Rachel #4
Rachel #4
Rachel #5
Rachel #5

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Technically sound images with natural and flash light, with effective conversion into black and white, optimising tonal ranges. Use of Photoshop to remove unwanted elements in ‘studio’ image (radiator panel and light switch in image #5). Careful observation of the changing face of the subject to capture a range of expressions and emotions.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

Final selection is consistent with objective of showing ‘on location’ and ‘in the studio’ techniques. It also reflects concept of vice versa through subject’s change of dress from casual to dinner dress. Clear presentation of output, with preparatory work explained in separate posts.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Experimented with shooting the same subject in different locations – outdoor, indoor with natural light, and indoor with studio light. Used different point of views, while aim for consistency of framing. Continued to develop my practice of treating portraiture as a discussion with a camera.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Research for this assignment specifically is shown in separate posts in this blog section and linked above. Blog shows ongoing work and research on technical aspects of photography, photographers working with portraiture and gallery visits.

A2 vice versa – shoot


I decided to shoot this part first as I thought I would have less control over the outcome and it would therefore be easier to later fit a sequence of indoor photos that would work as a series with the outdoor photos. In retrospect, this was a mistake – the indoor photos within a contained space and environment came much easier with some clear choices for selects. It would have been better to use the context of these selects to shape the outdoor shoot and photos that would work in series.

The route we’d agreed upon is on high ground (a pinnacle) overlooking the surrounding landscape. In theory, this sounded like a good idea – dramatic backdrop to provide context for the portraits. However, in practice, it proved to be less than ideal for monochrome portraiture; on high ground there was little light and shade and contrast in light to shape monochrome images, particularly as it was an overcast day with cloud spreading light evenly all around. Also, the objectives of creating a portrait and including a distant dramatic landscape within the same shot were a little at odds (which is really the subject?). I would have been better to choose a landscape where the subject could have been part of it, rather than standing above it. Still, it is a valuable lesson that sometimes one has to take care of reaching a balance between no directing and considering the details during the planning of shoots.

During the shoot, I didn’t feel that I was getting great images but didn’t have the experience to step out of the process and consider other possibilities at the time. Now I’ve learned.

On the positive side, Rachel was very pleased with the photo of her dog, Diesel, and chose this to be made into an A3 print by way of a thank you for giving several hours of her life to my photography project!


Rachel came with her own suggestion of doing part of the shoot dressed in everyday clothes without makeup and part dressed in a dinner dress, with makeup; a play on the ‘vice versa’ theme. I liked this suggestion and it also sparked the idea that some of the dressed-up photographs should be taken with controlled lighting with flash for a studio-like effect. This would then give the option of selecting entirely indoor shots while meeting the visa versa brief.

A couple of observations on the process:

  • I borrowed Rachel’s small step ladders to allow a different point of view for some of the shots – this approach worked well, it allows us to view angles we do not normally see and creates visual interest.
  • I generally kept conversation down and concentrated on observing Rachel’s changing expressions as she was being watched and photographed. On a couple of occasions I experiment with telling Rachel stories that might amuse her and provoke a response – what is interesting in these photos is that the whole dynamic changes; she is suddenly clearly engaged with the camera and photographer, rather being her reflective self. It was the latter I was aiming for.
  • Having some experience of flash photography under my belt (during CAN course), I was pleased that I was able to quickly and intuitively set up the lighting and relocate it to various positions in the house with quick re-adjustments. I was a little apprehensive about how this aspect would play out in advance of the shoot, but this experience has made me fully confident (almost anyway).

Contact sheets

In total, I shot over 200 photos for the project. Contact sheets of potential photos are attached below (click to open larger images). The star ratings: 1 (a potential from first review of files), 3 (a select from the potentials), 5 (final selects).





A2 vice versa – meeting with subject

A friend of my wife, Rachel, kindly volunteered to be the subject for this assignment, despite not being fond of being photographed. I arranged to visit her at her house to talk about the project and discuss potential locations for the shoot.

It was important to provide a good explanation of what I was looking to do during the project – working with a volunteer, who is not used to, or fond of being photographed was inevitably creating a little apprehension.

I took along Jane Bown’s book, Faces (see here) to explain and illustrate that I was hoping to catch something of Rachel’s personality rather than a staged look, which she perhaps would have expected through experience with family portraits. I think the sharing worked well – the visual is better explained through the visual than with words.

We discussed things that Rachel enjoyed or were important to her to decide upon potential locations. In the end we decided upon the themes of cooking (Rachel has what seems to be a library of cook books!) and walking (with her dog, Diesel). During the discussion, Rachel several time kindly volunteer that it was up to me what we photographed, but I deliberately avoided this direction as I felt it would lead to more of a staged feel. There would be two separate shoots – one outdoors, during a dog walk through a local scenic area; and the other around her house (which has large windows and a conservatory as sources of natural light) with a cooking theme or association. I also would take a flash and shoot-through umbrella along to the indoor shoot for studio-like control. Beyond this general direction, no specific details were fixed for the shots.

A2 vice versa – concept

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits. (OCA IAP, p55)

Further text explains that the idea is to take what has worked during part two and develop it further through interchanging the use of portraits taken inside (studio) and those taken outside (location). A series of five themed images is required. ‘There is no right answer, so experiment’.

Initial thoughts, as I reflected on this brief:

  • ‘visa versa’ is one of those Latin phrases that survives in common use, perhaps it concisely expresses a concept with poet phrasing. In modern English the meaning is defined as, with the order changed : with the relations reversed (Merriam-Webster, online); visa versa sounds much more pleasing!
  • In the context of photography inside (studio) or outside (location), it is not a straightforward concept to interpret. A studio has become a flexible concept as the portability of equipment, including lighting has increased; Irving Penn and his pop-up studios is a good example – a kind of outdoor-indoors. Even outdoors, we can control the light or overpower the sun with the use of ND filters and powerful flash, rendering the background unreadable. Or indoors, we can make use of natural light, even if the term ‘studio lighting’ suggests the use of studio strobes or flashes.

In the run up to this assignment, I’d become interested in the concept of showing something of a person through a portrait and the psychology of the interaction between photographer and subject.

Influences in this respect are Emil Hoppé, who discusses his interactions with his sitters extensively in his autobiography (see here) and Jane Bown, who talks about moving around her sitters, trying to find their photo (see here). Both photographers worked in monochrome, which I feel gives a sculptural feel to portraits as we view line and shape without the distraction of colour. Faces are distilled to their essence. Bown’s work in particular I admire for its visualisation of personality. I would contrast this to the work of Irwin Penn, who produced arresting images but with a staged feeling, echoing his work with fashion photography. This element of stage, doesn’t allow the same intimacy visible in Bown’s work.

My tutor recommended three photographers to consider in preparing for this assignment (see here). They all work in colour with limited colour palettes and I notice that this creates something of an abstract feel; not the pure line, shape and shades of monochrome, but something without the distraction of full-on colour. The effect appears to be achieved partially through the use of colour in objects set up in the frame but also in the colour response in post-processing with certain tones muted. This is an area which I will experiment with in future exercises.

A further aspect of monochrome work is reading light and how it falls on the subject – it is the variations in light and shade that add colour to black and white. Bown relied almost entirely on natural light for her work and the location of light seemed to be the deciding factor in her contextual placement of sitters.

I want to aim to show something of the personality of the subject, through careful interaction during the shoot and avoiding direction or staging as far as possible. Almost like a discussion with a camera, rather than a scripted approach. The ‘vice versa’ objective will be dealt with through a mix of situations: one, where it is difficult to control the context and lighting of the subject (location); and two, where there is more control over the lighting and background or context for the subject.

Ex 4.2 – same background, different model

The requirement for this exercise is to make portraits of three different subjects, keeping the background to the image consistent. Three images are to presented together as a series along with a 500 words reflection.

For sometime, I’d intended to complete this exercise using street portraits in my nearest local town, Skipton. I noticed during assignment 1, shot in the night markets of Bangkok, that a busy location makes it easier to engage with people. There is no need to close the distance between you and them before engaging. One is already in proximity. I wanted to experience the different feeling from crossing the path to approach a stranger, with a request for a photograph, offering nothing in return. No reciprocity. A very different scenario to Irving Penn, who paid strangers to sit for him – admittedly often exotic individuals on the margins of the mainstream.

The weekend prior to the shoot, I scouted the town for interesting backdrops with a reasonable footfall. My choice was a traditional red telephone box outside the town hall. An interesting piece of history that perhaps would not be in place for too much longer. The idea was to have people stand back-to-box and look sideways towards the camera. However, on the day the location did not work out. The area was in deep shade due to the position of the sun and overhead clouds – I was not prepared with flash, nor had I considered the timing of the shoot and light in advance. A couple of lessons learned before I even started shooting!

Plan B was an impromptu hunt for light and an alternative spot. I settled on a backdrop of a dark alley way. As Penn did in some of his photos, I would anonymise the background while using natural light.

The photos (click to view full screen)

Skipton Alley #1, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #1, Oct 16
Skipton alley #2, Oct 16
Skipton alley #2, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #3, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #3, Oct 16

In total, I took around 10 photos and the rate of being rejected by people I approached was about 50%. As expected, this was a more difficult location than a crowded space. There was the anxiety of whether a potential subject would accept or decline as the space was crossed towards them.

The camera used was a Fuji X-T1 with a 35mm f/1.4 lens (50mm efl). The exercise would have been more straight forward with a zoom lens – rather than shuffling back and forward for framing, but I wanted to ensure a consistent angle of view with a prime lens.

With the X-T1’s electronic view finder (set to preview the exposure) it is sometimes tricky to see shadow areas clearly; it would have been better to deactivate the exposure preview to allow a clear view of the details of subject being framed – I do this for indoor and low-light work and because the subjects were standing against shadow, I should have also done it here.

In terms of future process, I will ensure I have cards available with contact information so that the subjects contact me for a digital copy of the photos (this would make me feel more comfortable!). I intent to repeat a similar exercise to refine my process and gain more confidence in this kind of scenario.

Photographers suggested for A2

As a part of the feedback on assignment 1 (see here), I was recommended to look at the work of 3 photographers in preparation for assignment; Joel Sternfeld (1944), Katy Grannan (1969), and Phillip Lorca diCorcia (1951).

source: vice.com, by Phillip Lorca diCorcia

I consider three aspects of the photographers’ work:

  • ‘Procurement’ of subjects. An important part of the process of portraiture is finding subjects that are willing to give their time and image to a photographer. The quid pro quo. In Sternfeld’s work Stranger Passing , the approach to the work seems to be described by its title – strangers passing through seemingly random locations, photographed within the context of the moment and engaged with the camera but at a distance (the subjects are aware). The photographs were taken over a period of fourteen years (1987-2001) (Fadedandblurred). In contrast Kern explains diCorcia’s approach; ‘To find subjects for his series Hustlers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia drove around Hollywood between 1990 and 1992 looking for male prostitutes. Although many of the photos look perfectly timed, off-the-hip candid photos of street hustlers, diCorcia pre-selected the locations and did lighting tests with an assistant before searching for a subject to put in each setting’. diCorcia paid his subject the same amount that they would have charged for their trade in sex, with the project funded by a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Source: http://www.npg.si.edu, by Katy Grennan
Source: http://www.npg.si.edu, by Katy Grannan
  • The style of the photographer. Eric Kim quotes Sternfeld as saying, ‘Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world. Color is the real world. The job of the color photographer is to provide some level of abstraction that can take the image out of the daily.’. This is an interesting perspective; Sternfeld’s work contains a limited colour palette, which provides a level of abstraction that is not immediately apparent as it is with black and white photographs. Grannan also works in colour, with a limited pallet; it is this that allows us to focus on the portrait subject without the distraction of noisy colours, which can quick overwhelm a subject and themselves become the focus of our gaze. diCorcia’s colour palette is subtle, with the look a classic chrome film; muted and with warm shadows.
source: artblart.com, photo by Joel Sternfeld
  • The story or narrative of the works. Sternfeld’s Strangers Passing feature ordinary people, dressed in ordinary clothes, doing ordinary things. They are not photographed close up to reveal the expressions of their faces or hands but put at a distance in the context of their place, with Sternfeld’s large format camera showing details of both people and place. Similarly Katy Grannan uses the everyday in her work, again within the context of their environments, but with a specific message to the work, for example, the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, or teenagers serving time in adult prison facilities; there is an element of photojournalism. diCorcia stages his images and uses lighting artificial lighting in making his images; though they are staged in such away as to make them look not obviously staged.

There is careful attention to the story told by portraits in the work of these photographers, either through staging or careful inclusion of the context of place. Limited colour palettes bring an element of the abstract to the work despite it’s rendering in colour.


American Suburbx [website]. Photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia Talks (2003). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/09/interview-photographer-philip-lorca-dicorcia-talks-2003.html [accessed 8.10.16]

Erik Kim Photography [website]. Kim E (2014). 6 Lessons Joel Sternfield has taught me about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/02/14/6-lessons-joel-sternfeld-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ [accessed 8.10.16]

Fadedandblurred [website]. Put a frame to the world: Joel Sternfeld. Available from: http://fadedandblurred.com/joel-sternfeld/ [accessed 8.10.16]

Fraenkelgallery [website]. Katy Grannan. Available from: https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/katy-grannan [accessed 8.10.16]

Luhring Augustine [website]. Joel Sternfeld, Passing Stanger. Available from:  http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfield [accessed 8.10.16]

National Portrait Gallery [website].Feature Photography/Katy Grannan. Available from:  http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/feature/grannan.html [accessed 8.10.16]

Vice [online magazine] (2013). Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’ (November 13). Available from: http://www.vice.com/read/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers [accessed 8.10.16]


A1 – tutor feedback

My tutor’s feedback on assignment one is below, with my responses and reflection recorded in red italicised text.

Overall Comments

You have successfully completed the first assignment. You have produced the required amount of images and demonstrated a solid approach. You have submitted a sound and informative evaluation to accompany your images. It’s clear that you are enthusiastic and engaging with all aspects of the course. Your blog is coherent and easy to access. Continue to work through the course exercises. Your final images demonstrate your technical abilities and also show that you have good communication skills. It’s great that you have produced various portraits and a contact sheet with the relevant technical information. In future, be prepared to push your creativity and experiment. Overall, this is a very good submission, well done.

‘Push creativity and experiment’ – I need to think more about creativity in the context of photography; A1 set a specific task of taking portraits of strangers. My focus was more on how and where I might approach the task, rather than how I might approach it in an experimental or creative way. What I could have done differently:

a) The camera as machine – I shot the assignment in low light and made a conventional choice for settings to achieve clear images (i.e. wide aperture to maximize light to the sensor, high ISO, and a shutter speed that would avoid blur). I could have made other choices that would have resulted in a less conventional image. For example, deliberately underexposed to reflect the darkness, or a slow shutter speed to allow image blur, reflecting the movement in the night market (re Egyptian photographer).

b) POV – the images were all shot with the camera at the same level as the face and with the face framed. This was a deliberate choice but a different approach could have been used. For example, full-body in the frame with image blur to create an anonymous portrait, reflecting the unknown strangers.

Assignment 1 Assessment potential

You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.

Yes, I intent to submit my work for formal assessment.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

You have produced the required amount of images and successfully completed the assignment. This is a very good submission and one that will stand you in good stead for future submissions. Your reflection that accompanies your submission is very good and contains lots of relevant information. It’s clear, concise and provides a good evaluation of your thinking and practice. It’s clear that you have been looking at relevant references and these have inspired you and expanded your knowledge.

Producing portraits on the street with unknown people is difficult. The exercise will help progress your confidence and communication skills. The images all appear to be competently produced, technically they look fine. It’s also great that you have included technical information re the shoot; this gives an indication as to your knowledge and skills in this area.

I wasn’t sure whether to continue including EXIF data in my contact sheets as I was increasingly reaching the conclusion that technical considerations were not too important in this course. However, if a creative approach to exposure is used (as opposed to a conventional one), including EXIF data would provide an indication of how the creative effect was achieved.

As I said this is a solid submission and one that I cannot constructively criticise too much at the moment. The first submission is more of a diagnostic exercise that allows us to take stock of your skills, both contextual and technical. You have fulfilled both of these requirements but do make sure that you continue to push your practice and thinking. The area to concentrate upon now and during your progression through the course is to apply more of yourself to your projects. Often we (tutors/OCA) talk about the importance of having a ‘personal voice’. Obviously this takes time but do try and produce projects that interest you and carefully think about the context and concept of a project.

Yes, I understand and am aware that I’ve not yet found a personal voice, as I continue to develop and try out different approach to photography and post-processing. I need to reflect more on the components that signal a personal voice and make it recognisable. There is a parallel with music and the ‘sound’ of a particular guitarist, but unlike with photographers, I am more used to articulating a personal ‘sound’. I think it would be helpful to consider this aspect as I look at the work of other photographers.

Another point I would make is not to get too bogged down you’re your technical output. Photography is about being creative, it’s about having something to say, and it’s about communicating with an audience. Sometimes overly concentrating upon the technical outcome of a photograph can kill an image. An image may not be technically perfect but may be able to convey a feeling, emotion and narrative to the viewer. Do bear this in mind as my initial reaction to your process is that you may concentrate too much on technical details which is understandable at this stage but don’t let it dominate your practice. In future assignments be prepared to experiment and push your ideas/creativity, this is the time to do it!

I agree that I do currently have a significant degree of focus on technical aspects of photography. My thinking has been to master and absorb these before letting go of them. A bit like I would learn musical scales on the guitar and then forget them when improvising. There is perhaps a similarity that I should use in photography – there is a time to practice technical aspects and a time to let go and just go with it.


It’s great to see that you are working through the exercises with enthusiasm. Make sure that you continue to apply yourself here. Use the exercises to experiment and push your creativity. Input here will certainly help your confidence and personal approach.


Continue to apply both independent and course initiated research. You are clearly engaging and offering reflections upon the course material. Your reflections accompanying your assignment images are really important; the final assessment team will read these. Continue to apply critical analysis here, reflect upon your input, influences and practical input.

Learning Log

Your learning log/blog is coherent and easy to navigate. The separate folders easily identify your different outputs. Continue to add to your folders including research and reading.

One point I would make is that your final assignment images should open up larger. Presently they are too small. The assessment team and I will want them to open up to a larger size when clicked upon. This is possible, please look at how to do so this, you can get advice from OCA.

Noted – I know how to do this and will re-upload the images to assignment 1 (same images, without changes, just available to open larger) and note the post-feedback change in the blog. See adjust post here.

Suggested reading/viewing

Have a look at these photographers:


Bettina Von Zwehl: http://www.bettinavonzwehl.com/alina.html

This work shows 12 young women, who look to be around the same age – they are all dressed in similar white vest tops, the photos are shot against empty backgrounds (white / grey), and none of the women are engaged with the gaze of the camera, but look to be in quiet contemplative moments. The series makes us wonder why the different women are contextualised in the same minimal way, all contemplating something. No explanation is offered. It is the fact that the work is a series attracts interest; I don’t believe any of the images on their own would be of much interest. For me, it is the uniformity of the subjects’ gazes that adds interest.

James Mollinson (James and other Apes): http://jamesmollison.com/books/james-other-apes/

These are portraits of 50 apes, taken over 4 years and published in a book. There is an artists statement on the work (see – http://aphelis.net/james-mollison-photography-james-other-apes-2004/), in which he states ‘I traveled to Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia to meet orphans of the bush meat trade and live pet trade’.  The project may have been supported by Benetton as it also features on their corporate website (http://www.benettongroup.com/media-press/image-gallery/institutional-campaigns/james-and-other-apes/). Mollison identified with a specific cause and this appears to have driven his project – whereas each photo has a similar aesthetic of closely cropped head-shots, it is the clear cause that is central to the series. This can be contrasted with Von Zwhel’s work, the reason for which is unclear, so we are left to come construct our own narrative (if we have the inclination to do so).

For Assignment two:

See separate post here

Joel Sternfeld, Passing Stanger: http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfield

Katy Grannan: http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/feature/grannan.html

Phillip Lorca diCorcia: http://www.vice.com/read/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers


The theatre of the face: Portrait photography since 1900

I’ve been dipping in and out of Max Kozloff’s book The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900 for a couple of months now (it is OCA recommended reading material). I purchased it used from World of Books (who recycle library books and say they donate some of their profits to charity); a good source.

The book is a monumental effort of over 300 pages (large pages) and over 300 photos in colour and black and white. The text is small and dense for the A4 pages; it is as much a written documentary as a photo book. Deborah Garwood’s review on artificial.com enthuses over the quality of the writing and level of research that went into the book; there is really nothing to disagree with in what she says.

There are two ways to read this book: the first, as a text exploring the context of the  photographs and photographers included; what it means to take a portrait, how a portrait might be viewed, the psychological and sociological significance of the photographs. And how portrait photography has evolved since 1900; the second way is as a visual reference for photographs and photographers, perhaps referring to the words for additional context.

Having read through the book (not every word), I know what I can find there and that it will no doubt be a valuable reference source. Perhaps that is enough to say in the context of a visual arts study blog, on the premise that any relevant quotes will be included along with the appropriate pieces of work?

However, I will make note of a particular aspect that I find rings true as I have been working on my own portrait photography. Kozloff opens by saying:

Among its many functions, the human face acts as an ambassador, on the job whenever out in the world. We are face reading, socially inquisitive animals, accustomed, mostly likely programmed, to respond to physiognomic expressions as signs that help us decide our own behaviour in limitless scenarios.

It is attention to these visual signals that I feel contributes to interesting portraiture; the rich tapestry of the face and not the camera-mask or fixed smile. These expressions talk to us visually as we read a photograph and draw us into know more about the sitter. They are not necessarily ‘nice’ or  ‘beautiful’ expressions, but they catch our attention and prick our curiosity.

I would like to avoid taking bland photographs of smiling people; though sometimes the social pressure could be too great to resist!

Garwood D (2008). Artificial.com [website]. The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900 by Max Kozloff. Available from: http://www.artcritical.com/2008/02/01/the-theatre-of-the-face-portrait-photography-since-1900-by-max-kozloff/ [accessed 27.9.16]
Kozloff, M. 2007. The theatre of the face: Portrait photography since 1900. London: Phaidon Press.