Bruce Davidson at Fundación Mapfres

By chance, a retrospective covering 60 years of Bruce Davidson’s work happened to be showing at the Fundación Mapfre in Barcelona while I was on holiday in Spain. Davidson (1933) is a Magnum photographer and worked for Time prior to joining Magnum. The foundation’s website describes the exhibition:

The exhibition contemplates a journey through the artist’s long career including some of his most famous series, such as Brooklyn Gang, East 100th Street and Time of Change: the Civil Rights Movement as well as his most recent works, Nature of Paris and Nature of Los Angeles.

The exhibition included around 200 prints in 16 different sections. Disappointingly, photography was strictly prohibited in the exhibition and this was being enforced strictly by the attendants. Therefore, I have no images to share of the exhibition space or photos. I purchased the substantial catalogue that accompanied the exhibition and will review that separately.


Points of note from the photos and narration accompanying the exhibition that could influence my own practice:

  • Davidson was close to his subjects, getting to know them and sometimes becoming a part of their lives for months or even years. 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’ ( Many of his projects appeared to be attached to a cause, to show the human perspective of the subjects. I saw nothing of sensationalism in Davidson’s work.
  • In the video, Making Contact, Davidson tells us how he likes to befriend his subjects, showing them a small portfolio of his work and giving away copies of the photos he takes. Davidson’s 1980s ‘Subway’ project, which he discusses in Tate Shots, contrasts with the covert approach used by Walker Evan’s in his 1938 project, ‘Many are called’.
  • Eric Kim’s blog analyses Davidson’s approach from the perspective of a street photographer (though Davidson would not classify himself as such). What is interesting in Kim’s analysis is how the observed practice (and quotes from Davidson’s published works) is consistent with Davidson’s humanist perspective. The antithesis of Bruce Gilden’s approach to photography, which offers little concession to ethics (see post here).
  • Many of the prints in the exhibition showed extreme contrast of light and dark (chiaroscuro), with attention drawn to the subjects through light. It appeared as if the effect was enhanced during processing, though Davidson’s use of flash could have also created this effect. This added an oppressive atmosphere to some of the photos – subjects coming out of the darkness surrounding them.

I admire Davidson’s approach to engaging with his subjects and attempting to understand their situation. I find it preferable to ‘stealing’ or ‘sneaking’ someone’s image; though appreciate that is perhaps the only way to capture a spontaneous, ‘decisive’ moment. However, for work that is closer to street portraiture than the capture of an unfolding, spontaneous scene, Davidson’s approach better reflects the way I like to meet and deal with people. I enjoy the social side-effects of the aphorism, There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet ( W.B. Yeats), when making photos.


Available from: [accessed 26.6.16]

Eric Kim [website]. Available from: [accessed 26.6.16]

Fundación Mapfre [website]. Available from: [accessed 26.6.16]

Youtube. Bruce Davidson – Making Contact. Available from: [accessed 26.6.16]

Youtube. TateShots: Bruce Davidson’s Subway. Available from: [accessed 28.6.16]



Perfect Prints Every Time: How to achieve excellent photographic prints

This is another post focused on technical aspects, rather than artistic; concerned with making prints from digital images. The main source of information was Robin Whalley’s ebook, Perfect Prints Every Time: How to achieve excellent photographic prints. However, some useful information relating to printing from Lightroom was also sourced from the internet.

The print aspect of the digital workflow does not appear to be as widely discussed as digital processing. Perhaps because many people do not make prints, but mostly share their work online, or simple do not appreciate that additional steps are necessary to get the most from digital prints. This post serves as a reminder of print steps to be added to my workflow, when printing digital images.

  1. Colour management of monitor – this needs to be regularly calibrated so screen colours match what the software (LR) thinks it is showing. The only way to do this accurately is with additional hardware – keep my x-rite i1 attached to my iMac and check calibration regularly!
  2. Print resolution – Whalley advises that images should be scaled to the native print Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 10.15.18resolution of the printer to optimise the print quality. In the case of my Epson sc-P600, this would be 360dpi.
    However, an article by Jeff Schewe in Digital PhotoPro suggests a different approach. That is if the unsampled dpi of the image is higher than the printer’s native resolution, print to the highest quality the printer can manage (for the Epson 720 dpi), otherwise information is wasted. Schewe’s test show that the eye can make the distinction between the two resolutions and perceive the additional quality.  To find out the unsampled dpi  of an image in LR check the boxes in the print module as shown above and the information then appears on the above the image as shoScreen Shot 2016-08-21 at 10.13.49wn here. Consistent with this is Whalley’s view on upscaling prints; he states, ‘typically if you’re working with a good quality file you should be able to double the dimension of the image and still produce an excellent print.’ Another observation he makes is that some matte paper types may not be able to take high-resolution prints, so it may be worth adjusting the output resolution downwards for these papers. A few test prints while making sample prints for my C&N assessment submission showed a clear difference in print quality using Schewe’s recommended approach, rather than sticking to the standard native resolution of the printer.
  3. Selective sharpening of image – this should be done prior to soft proofing of the image. Whalley recommends keeping a master version of the digital image without such sharpening and creating different versions depending on the intended output.
  4. Soft proofing – Whalley’s recommended approach is to use the relevant paper profile for the printer (aka ICC profile) used for the proof, along with ‘simulate paper and ink’ checked in LR’s proof settings. The paper profile needs to be obtained separately from the paper manufacturer – I make it a practice of selecting only papers where the relevant profile is available to avoid the hassle and expense of obtaining a custom-profile. The aim is to then get the proof image looking similar to the edited LR image (view using split screen) so that the print image looks similar to the on-screen version. It will never be exactly the same, as Whalley explains, ‘the image printed on paper will never appear as bright, vivid and have as much contrast as an image displayed on a monitor. Following on from this, different paper surfaces will have different abilities to reflect light. A gloss paper for example will reflect a lot of light where as a matte paper reflects little in comparison and may appear dull’.  Proofing entails making further processing adjustments; with local adjustments for out of gamut warnings in selected areas, ‘usually you will need to increase the “Contrast”, “Clarity”, “Vibrancy” and possibly “Saturation”” sliders’, states Whalley. It is the proofed version that should be sent to the printer.
  5. Printer set-up – this is addressed in the various LR menus and is a question of setting these to fit the printer in use. An interesting suggestion Whalley makes for black and white prints is to investigation the ABW modes of the printer, as they may produce superior results and even remove the need for proofing.

Following this research and test prints, I feel encourage to print more and make it a regular part of my workflow.


Digital PhotoPro [website]. The Right Resolution. Available from: [accessed 21.8.16]

Killer Lightroom Tips [website]. Using print dimensions and resolution. Available from: [accessed 21.8.16]

Whalley, R. (2015). Perfect Prints Every Time: How to achieve excellent photographic prints (The Lightweight Photographer Books) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from

Set-up for travelling light with flash; on the street

IMG_0148I like to travel light on trips abroad with work, and that includes the camera kit I take with me for my spare-time. The camera I usually travel with is a Fuji x100T, which has a leaf-shutter and in-theory can flash-sync up to 1/4000 second, killing day-light.

I spent some time experimenting with flash combinations to decide upon the best travel-kit combo, with a couple of surprising results.

My preferred travel flash is a tiny Nissin i40, which folds into a neat pouch and, despite its size, carries a guide number of 40. I mainly work on street and travel photography when travelling, so keep my set-up simple and avoid the use and bulk of light-stands and distraction of wireless triggers; opting instead for a flash cable to take the flash off camera.

Putting the Nissin i40 to the test:

  • On camera, the flash syncs all the way up to 1/4000 second either in TTL or manual mode, as expected. This allows ambient light / even day-light to be cut drastically, while filling a subject using the flash. But, with the flash on the camera, there is not so much opportunity to play with light and shade; one is left with bouncing the flash where that is possible.
  • Connected with the flash cable, the unit unfortunately seems to be incapable of syncing right up to 1/4000 second (though my bulkier Yongnuo unit does so) – the light falls off. Despite some online research, I could not find a solution to this. However, it is capable of syncing to 1/1000 second (still fast) and with the help of the camera’s built-in 3 stop ND, this is still enough to cut bright ambient day-light if needed. It is important to remember this technical limitation to avoid being scuppered mid-shoot!
  • Holding the flash in my left hand while shooting with my right, is possible, but a little like juggling. I’ve order a small inexpensive camera flash bracket as a perch for the flash, so it can either stay seated (perhaps not used) or be lifted from its perch when flexibly positioning is needed.

Exercise in light-killing: 1/2000 sec @ f/2 against south facing window, plus OCF hand-held (jpeg SOOC).

untitled #1

A quick look at photographers using flash on the street:

Eric Kim, the prolific street photography blogger, discusses Bruce Gilden and Charlie Kirk. Watching the video clip on Kim’s blog of Gilden working, Gilden works with the attitude that he owns the street, putting himself in people’s way, flash and camera in their faces. He says, ‘I have no ethics’. It appears aggressive, claiming the territory of the street. Kim performed his own experiment of shooting street photos with flash and was surprised that few people took much notice, concluding that people are often: lost in thought, thing you’re shooting something else, or assume you are a tourist.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 20.49.42
source: by Dougie Wallace

Amateur Photographer discusses Dougie Wallace’s (Glasweegee) approach to his photographs of and into Indian taxis, using a set up of 3 separate flashes; one on camera and two bracketed either side. Not travelling light!

Petapixel features a video of Mark Cohen at work, using a small camera and flash up close to his subjects, using a similarly invasive approach to Bruce Gilden, but seemingly with few consequences – he engages with his subjects briefly and moves on.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 21.15.28
Source: by Mark Cohen

My own practice has not yet included the use of flash in street photography, but I am minded to give it a go having sorted out the simple kit and examined the masters at work.


Amateur Photographer [website]. Street photography using flash: how Dougie Wallace photographs Indian taxis using flash
. Available from: [accessed 20.8.16]

Eric Kim [blog]. How to shoot street with a flash. Available from: [accessed 20.8.16]

Petapixel [website]. Photographer Mark Cohen and the Birth of Invasive Street Photography. Available from: [accessed 20.8.16]


Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition

I first read Brian Peterson’s book around two years ago, when I was first beginning to develop a serious interest in photography. It could be described as a technical book, on understanding the camera as a tool to make pictures. I revisit it now with fresh eyes, with more photos under my belt!

Peterson first deals with the use of the aperture, describing what he sees as three modes: ‘isolation’ (wide apertures), ‘storytelling’ (narrow apertures), and ‘who cares’ (middle apertures). This relates to the depth of field achieved in each of the ranges. Peterson reminds us that where DOF considerations are not important for a shot, the ‘who cares’ apertures give ‘critical sharpness and great contrast’ and, therefore should be used. These are useful analogies, even if we choose to use them if a different way that Peterson suggests.

At some point in my practice, I have developed the habit avoiding narrow apertures; perhaps weary of front-to-back sharp images on the internet that show nothing of particular interest, just picturesque scenes in detail. I now need to develop the habit of using this aperture range where appropriate.

Peterson generally uses his camera manually and the shutter to adjust the exposure for his chosen aperture. However, he states, ‘there are two situations in which you should make the shutter speed your first priority: when the scene offers motion or action opportunities, or when you find yourself shooting in low light without a tripod.’ Peterson is a tripod enthusiast, valuing them for the sharpness they help bring to his images.

Peterson explains that once aperture and shutter speed considerations have been made,’the real question isn’t “What should my exposure be?” but “From where do I take my meter reading?”  He goes on to consider various scenarios and options in some detail. Throughout, Peterson’s preference is to use manual mode to adjust the exposure, only using the automatic modes in cases where there is uniform light; he finds this easier than using exposure lock but I guess this is dependent on the design of the camera in use. He mentions how on sunny days, he meters from the blue sky (away from the sun), what he calls ‘brother blue sky’ (also its reflections in water). He also makes use of ‘Mr Green Jeans’ when there is a lot of green in a scene, exposing at -2/3s. The approach uses large areas of reflected light to arrive at an exposure for the scene.

Peterson mentions that while evenly lit subjects are easy to meter, ‘to create the illusion of three-dimensionality, you need highlights and as many professional photographers would agree, a sidelit subject—rather than a frontlit or backlit one—is sure to elicit a much stronger response from viewers, because it better simulates the three-dimensional world they see with their own eyes.’ This may not always be the response we want to elicit in our photography, but it is nonetheless worth noting.

Re-reading this book has made me reflect on the way I use my camera as a tool (a Fuji X-T1). It is straightforward to use in manual mode, but the exposure lock can also be assigned as a switch, rather than press-hold. I perhaps us spot metering too often as a way to fix an exposure in a scene with uneven light, when metering and locking exposure based on an area might be more appropriate. I could then reserve spot metering for inter-locking with small focus points on subjects that are genuinely ‘spots’.

A photo from some exercises using closed apertures and a wide-angle lens is below (Fuji X-T1 xf10-24 at 19mm efl f/22).

untitled #1


Peterson, B. (2010). Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from

Digital contact sheets, Mac

A recent visit to see Sid Shelton’s Rock Against Racism (see here) with his original contact sheets in a display cabinet, again left me looking for a way to achieve something similarly organic (with the coloured scribbles indicating selects) with digital files.

After some research and experiment, I came up with the following approach that makes use of Lightroom and Preview on the Mac.

    1. Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 06.50.37Create a contact sheet layout in LR’s print module (there are many online resources showing how to do this if needed) and export it as a pdf. It is the second step that is a little hidden – the dialogue box shows how this functionality is in the ‘printer’ menu at the bottom-right of the screen.
    2. The pdf can now be opened with Preview on the Mac. Preview also acts as the Mac’s built-in file editor and has a few tricks including annotation of pdfs, exporting files as different types, and resizing files. To put highlight markers around selects, use tools/annotate/line – this then brings up options for line thickness and colour. Save the file when done.
    3. At this stage, the file size is likely to be large and not suitable for sharing online, but useful for printing if that is something wanted. To reduce the Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 07.07.15file size, make a duplicate (if the full size file is to be retained) and use Preview’s export function to export the file. Select export, then choose pdf, and select ‘quartize’ and reduce file size. In the case of my file it reduced its size from 10MB to 500KB. Perhaps re-applying the routine would reduce the file size further, but also result in a deterioration of image quality.
    4. Finally, upload the pdf to a blog as a media file and link into the post, setting it to open in a new window. This then brings up a readable copy of the contacts in a separate screen to the main blog post.

See pdf for contact sheets: Leeds decay contacts

Rock against racism, Syd Shelton

Showing in Bradford’s Impressions Gallery is Syd Shelton’s Rock against racism (RAR). BBC Arts summarises the context:

Rock Against Racism was a groundbreaking movement which staged marches, festivals and concerts from 1976-81 with the aim of fighting racism through music. Activist, photographer and graphic designer Syd Shelton was in the thick of it, shooting performers including The Clash, Aswad, Pete Townshend and Misty in Roots and documenting demonstrations across the UK. He was also one of the key designers of the fanzine Temporary Hoarding. As an exhibition of his photographs from the period go on show in Bradford, Shelton tells BBC Arts the stories behind 12 of his favourite shots, and explains how Rock Against Racism was formed as a reaction to the toxic politics of the era.


I visited Impressions Gallery to see the work for myself and note the following areas of particular interest:

  • In the video installation that accompanies the work, Shelton explains that he did not envisage the photographs as a single piece of work but more as a disparate record of events unfolding in the movement around him. It wasn’t until later that his wife persuaded him that the photographs were worth making into a book.
  • The photographs combine portraits and documentary photos of RAR events, all shot in black and white. I found the combination of portrait and documentary highly effective; it was as if viewing the broader story of the social context, interspersed with the stories of individuals in the movement.
  • The photographs are often posed, with Shelton explaining that he preferred this approach to a Cartier-Bresson style decisive moment ethos; apparently the photos were of little interest to the photo-editors of the time because of their preference for the traditional decisive moment. While they are posed, they have a candid spontaneity that makes them feel of the time and place they were taken.
  • The prints were on aluminium sheet – a good idea for a travelling exhibition; I’m unsure of the economics of this approach but the format removed the need for framing and glass, so I would assume cost-effective.
  • IMG_0139An interesting touch in the exhibition was the use of glass cabinets to display memorabilia, posters and original contact sheets of the photographs. Seeing the marked up contact sheets with their tactile feel, has encourage me once again to look into a more organic approach to producing ‘contact sheets’ from digital image files.
  • Many of the photos were composed to show context to the main subjects – whether rows of police in the background, or a street sign recording the location of the photograph. This added a sense of historical interest to the photos.
  • Shelton has demonstrated in the press coverage of the exhibition, the captions that accompany the photos and the newly released book of the work that he kept good notes on what he photographed. Almost 40 years after the events of RAR, these provide invaluable contextual information and allow the story to be told and presented as a record of popular history. This is something I need a process for in my own practice.

An enjoyable and informative exhibition!


Autograph-abp [website]. Syd Shelton
Rock Against Racism. Available from: [accessed 5.8.16]

BBC Arts [website]. Rock Against Racism: Syd Shelton on shooting a turning point in British culture (2016). Available from: [accessed 5.8.16]

The Guardian [online]. Rock Against Racism: the Syd Shelton images that define an era (2015). Available from: [accessed 5.8.16]


Hundred Thousand Exposures

Hundred Thousand Exposures, The Success of a Photographer is the 1945 autobiography of E.O Hoppé, introduced be Cecil Beaton. Beaton describes Hoppé’s work:

Hoppé’s pictures were entirely different from the other photographs at that period, for they were all imbued with a controlled and subtle romanticism and atmospheric glow – they were the work of someone with taste, perception, appreciation; of someone who used the camera as an artist.

The book is a chronology of Hoppé’s career through turning professional, setting up a studio, advise on equipment, how to handle sitters, to his experience with a few of his most famous sitters, including Mussolini.

The book is of a different era based in a society that was very different to 21st century England, but it offers insights that are still relevant today:

  • He offers advice on starting out in photography and cautions against over-investing in the latest equipment, ‘the wealthy man, according to my observations, rarely succeeds because he is tempted to rely more on the latest elaborate equipment than ideas, effort and stamina … to work long hours experimenting .. ‘
  • Hoppé discusses his location preferences for portraiture as ‘miniature’ cameras developed and allowed for mobility beyond the studio environment, ‘harmony between sitter and photographer is best achieved in the former’s domestic or business environment. There is always a certain artificiality about a studio, and there is noting like a home atmosphere for promoting intimacy. At home, the sitter is host, which gives a natural sense of dominance and poise’ (p46).
  • He emphasises the importance of keeping equipment simple, so his mind is free to concentrate on essentials (p67); ‘possibly some astonishment will be caused by the simplicity of my outfit … I am aware that enterprising manufacturers sell almost every variety of gadget for home portraiture, but most of the these things are bought by the overawed amateur’. This reminds me of the approach taken by Helmut Newton (mentioned here).

Throughout the book Hoppé emphasises the importance of understanding and researching his subjects to engaging them in conversation and allow them to express their character before the camera. He enjoyed the psychological aspect of working with portraiture, and this is what lead him into studies of ‘types’.


Hoppé E.O (1945). Hundred Thousand Exposures, The Success of a Photographer. London and New York, The Focal Press.

Keith Arnatt in Bristol

During a visit to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, I came across two photos by Keith Arnatt (1930-2008), Matresses and Miss Grace’s Lane.

The captions explained how David Hurn taught Arnatt about photography in 1973 when the two met (Arnatt was already a conceptual artist) and how these works were photographed in the warm colours of romantic English  landscape paintings. The Met explains that with ’emphasis on the imagination and emotion, Romanticism emerged as a response to the disillusionment with the Enlightenment values of reason and order in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789.’

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 08.12.58

Constable’s work shown above is typical of the movement. That Arnatt chooses to photograph dumped rubbish with a similar colour pallet to the grand landscapes creates a sense of visual irony.

The concept of using a colour pallet in photography beyond constructing it in the scene, seems illogical in the context of photography’s indexicality. However, digital manipulation allows possibilities (see SLR lounge link below) within Photoshop. Colour toning-matches can also be achieved in Lightroom by click-and-dragging the colour swatch tool (see Lightroom Killer Tips).

I intend to explore the use of digital colour palettes in upcoming portraiture exercises.


Fitzgibbon A (2016). Context and Narrative Blog. Experiments in colour. Available from: [accessed 4.8.16]

The Guardian [online]. Constable, Turner, Gainsborough and the Making of Landscape. Available from: [accessed 4.8.16]

Lightroom Killer Tips [website]. Available from: [accessed 4.8.16]

Met Museum [online]. Romanticism. Available from: [accessed 4.8.16]

Slr Lounge [website]. How to take colour casts from any photo in seconds. Available from: [accessed 4.8.16]

Train Your Gaze

Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography by Roswell Angier provides an excellent survey of the genre, exploring its many forms with references to practitioners throughout, including examples of their work. It also provides information on technical considerations of portrait photography.

This blog entry serves as a headline reminder of what can be found in the book for future reference.

Chapters form topic areas and include: about looking, portrait/self-portrait, at the margin: edges of the frame, tremors of narrative: portraits and eventfulness; you spy:voyeurism and surveillance; portrait: mirror, masquerade; confrontation: looking through the bull’s eye; blur: the disappearing subject; flash; figures in the landscape; and digital personae.

The photographers referenced in these contexts are numerous. They include, in order of appearance: Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Sebastio Salgado, James Nachtwey, Jo Spence, Catherine Opie, Francesca Woodman, Guy Tillim, Leif Claesson, Boris Mikhailov, Allen Frame, Weegee, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Jeff Wall, Merry Alpern, Harry Callahan, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, Michael Wolf, Kevin Bubriski, Shizuka Yokomizo, Yasumasa Morimura, Tanyth Berkeley, Nikki S. Lee, Lyle Ashton Harris, Mark Morrisroe, Nan Goldin, Shōmei Tōmatsu, Philip Kwame Apagya, Seydou Keïta, Gary Schneider, Bill Jacobson, William Klein, Nancy Rexroth, Mark Cohen, Chauncey Hare, David Moore, Jitka Hanzlova, Joel-Peter Witkin, Barbara Norfleet, Tina Barney, Kelli Connell, Loretta Lux, and Aneta Grzeszykowska.

Angier covers his topics with energy and enthusiasm which makes reading the 272 pages a pleasure. A few examples of the content:

  • In the context of ‘looking’, Angier explores the relationship between photographer and subject, ‘There is tension here between photographer and subject, faintly resembling the moment of concentrated tension that Avedon habitually seeks … Sander’s portraits are not opinions, in the sense that Avedon used the word. His objective was to create an even-handed inventory of social types.’ The varying objectives of photographers when it comes to portraiture. He goes on to describe Jo Spence’s work as, ’embattled and engaged, determined to explore the taboos and hidden truths which bedevil family histories.’
  • Angier makes a powerful observation about framing in the context of ‘at the edges of the frame’. He notes, ‘Ernest Hemingway once commented that one of the most important things about a written text is what gets left out … A similar statement could be made about photographs. The demarcation between what is included in an image and what gets left out, the area defined by the edges of the frame, can be one of the more exciting elements in a photograph.’ He makes and important comment on how the technology of modern cameras, predisposes the photographer to centre in the frame, ‘assumption is that the subject of the image should be in the center of the frame. This assumption is part of the folklore of photography. It is reinforced by the way in which modern cameras are designed.’ Later on in the work Angier goes on to reinforce this point and it is such an important point, that I repeat it verbatim:
  • Camera design actively encourages the balance and symmetry of the centrally framed subject. When it is superimposed on the subject of your portrait, the split-image focusing aid or centered auto-focus mark (right in the middle of the viewfinder) is like a bull’s eye. It is all too easy to aim, focus, and shoot, without shifting the framing before the moment of exposure. This procedure is subtly reinforced by the fact that many in-camera metering systems are center-weighted, giving preference to the reflected light values in the central area of the viewfinder, where the subject presumably will be located. The camera’s viewfinder, in effect, acts like a template, telling us how to arrange the elements of the picture. The point is to make pictures in which the act of framing/ aiming becomes invisible. When this happens, composition not only ceases to be an aggressive gesture, it all but vanishes.

    In terms of a practical approach to my own photography, with my Fuji system, this advice supports the use of point focusing (with the focus zone movable around the frame), and spot metering where the metering can be set to follow the point of focus. There are of course indirect ways of achieving the same outcome, but this way puts the camera as a tool to efficient work.

  • Angier discusses focus and how some photographers manipulate focus to provide unexpected results as compared to the human visual system. He observes, ‘In fact, the camera and the eye do not see in the same fashion. The eye scans back and forth in time, allowing the brain to assemble an image that we perceive as a stable whole. But this image is really an assemblage of discontinuous fragments. The camera freezes an image, in a wider field of view than the eye can contain, in a single instant. The scanning eye sees things incrementally and in focus, regardless of their distance from the viewer. The camera sees objects distributed through space simultaneously, at different degrees of focus.’
  • On flash, Angier comments the need for flash is not necessary the quantum of light as modern camera can cope with most light levels, but more does the quality of light suit the purpose of the image.’

In summary, a book that will serve as an excellent source of reference to be revisited over and over.


Angier, R. (2015). Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography (Required Reading Range) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from


The many lives of William Klein (2012)

The BBC’s one hour Imagine documentary, The Many Lives of William Klein, provides fascinating insights to William Klein’s life and approach to photography, as he discusses his work as an 84-year-old.

The BBC  summarise the scope of the documentary as:

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 09.00.28

William Klein has lived many lives. One of the world’s most influential photographers, he pioneered the art of street photography and created some of the most iconic fashion images of the 20th century. He also made over twenty films, including the first ever documentary about Muhammad Ali and a brilliant satire of the fashion world, Who Are You Polly Magoo?

Some notes on points of interest to me personally:

  • Klein explains that when he was taking street photographs in the 1950s, it was unusual; no one else was doing it. Cameras and were not ubiquitous and camera phones were a thing of the future (as were mobile phones). This meant that people were curious about what he was doing and their gaze engaged with the camera as it would not to the same extent today. Even by-standers would gaze at the subjects of his photographs, wondering why they were being photographed.
  • While Klein’s street photography was candid, in the sense that it was unplanned and informal, he  discusses his collaboration with subjects to help achieve his vision. For example, in the famous shot of the young boy pointing a gun at the camera, Klein explains that he asked him to ‘look nasty’. He shows how in the next frame the boy is laughing.
  • Klein discusses the variety of his involvement in the visual arts and states that he feels it is important for an artist to develop in as many directions as possible to develop creativity.
  • Don McCullin, who is interviewed during the documentary, describes the difference between Henri Cartier Bresson’s style and Klein’s. He describes Bresson like a ghost, shadowing his subjects at a distance, whereas Klein is involved, close-up, ‘in your face’. His work inspired McCullin. McCullin notes that Klein bought his camera from Bresson – same camera, but a very different vision.
  • Klein discusses his use of lenses – he was the first to use telephoto lenses for fashion shoots; placing models in street scenes at a distance, compressing the perspective of their surroundings and out of sight of the public around the models (sometimes creating chaos around the beautiful models). He also talks about the use of wide-angle lenses for street photography – in the photo shown above the girl though she was the only subject of the photo, unaware that Klein was also taking a family portrait.

For my own street practice, this is another reminder that when using wide-angle lenses one needs to be up close to make powerful images and work the optical qualities of the lens.


BBC Imagine (2012). The Many Lives of William Klein. Available from: [accessed 1.8.16]

Hoppé Portraits book review

I was introduced to Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) through the OCA course material and he has since become something of a special interest; I had never come across him before; I found the story of fame lost after his own generation fascinating (it is often the other way around with artists); and his body of work is inspiring.

Hoppé portraits: Society, studio and street is a book published by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany their 2011 Hoppé exhibition. It contains 150 portraits, an essay by Phillip Prodger on Hoppé personality and type, and a biography by Terence Pepper. Both the photos and the text are very well done, making the book an excellent reference for Hoppé’s portraits.

Hoppé was a famous society photography, the choice of the wealthy, the stars and the powerful to promote their own images. His list of sitters read like a who’s who of Western society, from George Bernard Shaw and David Lloyd George to Benito Mussolini. Prodger explains that it was this ‘extraordinary access to leaders in various professions prompted him [Hoppé] to consider whether they might share common characteristics.’ It was a fascination with types and psychology, which ‘became one of the hallmarks of his career’. This theme continued beyond the studio into the artist’s work with street photography.

Prodger comments that although Hoppé’s work was often cropped in publications to show head shots, the originals were wide enough to capture the hands, which is often a distinguishing feature of his portraits. I note that this was also common in August Sander’s work (see post here), who was also notable for his typology. This interest is perhaps because it is the hands that allow a person to do the type of work for which they have become known; the tools of the trade so to speak.

A few general observations on the photographs in the book:

  • It is clear that early works were heavily influenced by the pictorialist movement and, indeed, Hoppé mentions Julia Margaret Cameron as an influence. There is a soft charcoal-like appearance to monochrome. Later works are sharply focused and modern.
  • Unlike in Sander’s work, there is a vast variety in the way Hoppé poses his subjects and captures their gaze. He is aiming to reveal something of their personalities, rather than document a type. Hoppé discusses this aspect in some detail in his autobiography, which I will visit in a future post.
  • The way Hoppé positions his sitters in the frame is as if he were studying a landscape; what aspect does he want to show and what point of view is needed to show it. There is no falling back on a formulaic approach to sitting.
  • Similarly with the gaze of his sitters; while some look directly into the camera, others look away, lost in their own thoughts, as if we are viewing a private moment when they are lost in their own being, their own personality, rather than acting for the camera. As I’ll cover when writing about Hoppé’s biography, he waits for these moments to occur during his dialogue with his sitters.

For my own practice, there are some valuable lessons here for setting up formal portraiture sessions.


Hoppé, E.O., Prodger, P. and Pepper, T. 2010. Hoppe portraits: Society, studio and street. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications.
National Portrait Gallery [online]. Hoppe portraits: Society, studio and street. Available from: [accessed 27.7.16]


RAW vs JPEG (reprise)

As a Fuji shooter, I regularly read about one professional photographer or another extolling the virtues of Fuji’s OOC JPGs and using them as the primary images, with RAW kept as backups. Most recently a lengthy and informative article by Kevin Mullins, a wedding photographer.

Possibly there is not definitive answer to the RAW vs JPG debate, but rather an ‘it depends’. It depends on what you want to do with the images – for wedding and commercial photographers a speedy workflow and turnaround are vital. And the quality that Mullins achieves from his JPGs is quite outstanding; he places a strong emphasis on knowing how to obtain the desired exposure (frequently using spot metering), as without this there are limited possibilities for recovery with JPG. However, where any significant degree of fine-tuning is required; for example in landscape work or Photoshop composites only RAW will do.

Source:, by Kevin Mullins

But with clear benefits in workflow time savings, it is worth exploring the limitations of JPGs to allow an informed choice about their use as part of the photographer’s toolkit.

I took some photos in an old (slightly run-down) mill town not too far from my home and processed the RAW and adjusted the JPGs in Lightroom for the same images. The practical experience was valuable and I note some specific disadvantages of adjusting JPGs as opposed to processing RAW. These of course exist because of the very different nature of the files, but nonetheless one should feel the impact in practice to understand it.

click for larger view

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One pair from the ten or so images I made. It is important to note that the JPG file may have been improved if the exposure had been better or the in-camera JPG settings were changed. Points noted:

  • JPGs are sharpened in camera, so there is no sharpening in LR. In LR both the level of sharpening and masking of areas not for sharpening are controlled by the user. It is also possible to do selective sharpening of elements in the image. In scenes with many elements, this is potentially a benefit. On the other hand, Ken Tanaka in the Online Photographer, suggests, ‘Using only Raw files from your camera is analogous to buying an uncooked meal from a fine restaurant, preferring to season and cook it at home. This made perfect sense years ago when the chef was still in school. But today many in-camera chefs are James Beard Award candidates.’ What goes on inside a camera’s expensive algorithms is difficult to know!
  • White adjustments have little effect on JPG files – I was able to brighten the under exposed white sign with the RAW file. But again, if I’d make a correct exposure compensation adjustment for the white, maybe there would not have been a problem (this could have also taken care of the blocked up shadows).
  • The clarity adjustment slider can quickly cause degradation in JPG files, resulting in grungy images (common place on photo-sharing sites)
  • In general, only a limited degree of adjustment is possible with the JPG files before it becomes visible. So, if you get it more or less right in camera, you are fine, but otherwise there can be trouble.
  • Finally, and obviously, with the JPG file you are stuck with the colour rendition selected in camera ; black and white conversion on JPG isn’t too clean and there is no coming back from black and white to colour.

For my own practice, I will continue working at getting the exposure correct in camera (note that ‘exposing to the right’ is not necessarily a good idea for high quality JPGs). Michael Freeman’s book is an excellent guide (see here). The time savings would be significant. However, it is difficult to envisage dispensing with RAW files at least as a backup solution; and there are times when the digital darkroom is just necessary.


Ken Rockwell [website]. JPG vs Raw:
Get it Right the First Time. Available from: [accessed 26.7.26]

Michael Furtman [blog]. The Real Truth About JPEG images. Available from: [accessed 26.7.26]

Mullins K. [blog]. Shooting weddings with Fuji. Available from: [accessed 26.7.26]

The Online Photographer [website]. Ken Tanaka: Shooting JPEG Instead of Raw. Available from: [accessed 26.7.26]

On camera flash

Being a recent convert to flash photography, I’ve studied a lot of material on how to use it effectively. The consensus is to use flash off-camera and with manual flash settings for creative control over lighting and the important depth-giving shadows. There is no getting away from this.

However, during a recent trip to Amsterdam, I was faced with a photo opportunity that needed extra light and the only thing available was the built-in flash on my Fuji X100T. Highly capable by popular opinion, but I’d never used it and I’ve never even thought about how I could control the lighting. The moment was lost. It makes sense to use what tools we have to get a job done, so I undertook a short exercise to understand my on-camera flash.

The conclusion was it can be very similar, apart from not being movable from the camera and having less control over output levels, and not being able to use any light modifiers. On the upside, the X100T uses a leaf shutter, and allows sync flashes up to 1/2.000th of a second, so it brings a creative advantage when balancing ambient light in bright conditions (plus built-in ND filter if needed). The output of the flash itself can be adjusted through the flash compensation, though it will always be in relation to the measurement it makes through ETTL metering.

There is the possibility of creating images where the subject is at high contrast to the background and, as a process, it keeps one’s mind in tune with ‘flash-thinking’; an exposure for the ambient light and one for the flash light separately. While it is no substitute for a separate flash light, it does offer another tool if travelling light. Something I intend to use more frequently from now on.

Some sample thumbnails, with the ambient light managed through manual exposure.

Seydou Keïta

Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) was a Malian photographer, whose work is the subject of an Paris exhibition, as Jeremy Harding explains in his review. We are told that Keïta took over 10,000 portraits, which were mostly formally posed.

The Grand Palais, which is exhibiting the work, offers the following eulogy: ‘now considered one of the greatest photographers of the second half of the twentieth century. Showing off his subjects to best advantage, his mastery of framing and light and the modernity and inventiveness of his compositions all earned him a huge success’.

Source:, by

Keïta’s work is generously available on the web, through his official website and Instagram account.

Generalities that stand out are that all sitters are highly dignified; there is no trivial smiling, just a sense of relaxed concentration and gravity. Aperture quotes Keïta reacting to this observation, ‘“Having your portrait taken was a big deal, it was really important to give the best possible image of each person,” Keïta stated in 1997. “Often they took on a serious air, but I think it was probably because they were intimidated—it was new.”

In the background are simple drapes to mask the scene behind the sitters. There is no sense of context in the work, it is focused on the image of the person, with distractions minimised. Some of his portraits do feature props, but these are perhaps more symbols of status rather than natural context of the sitters. For example, in one portrait there is a motor scooter and in another a large transistor radio, which the sitter is leaning upon.

The image to the left caught my eye as the sitter has her back to camera and looks over her shoulder towards us; in all the other portraits viewed, the sitters were formally front-facing or 3/4 facing. It is impossible to know the reason for the exception; perhaps to show the elaborate pattern of the lady’s dress and head scarf? The lighting is interesting, illuminating the front of her face from above; with catch-lights to the top of her eyes and deep shadows under he cheekbones and below her shoulder. Perhaps some natural light fills her back to help show the details on her dress.


There is perhaps a real danger that modern photographers in the affluent societies can get become pre-occupied with the need to have certain equipment to get the job done. There is the marketing from the camera and equipment manufactures to reinforce that perspective. However, Keïta created wonderful images with simple equipment and backdrops; this is a valuable lesson to remember – learn to work well with what one has, and focus on creative skills.


Aperture [website]. Revisiting Seydou Keïta. Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Grand Palais [website]. Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Harding J (2016). London Review of Books [website]. At the Grand Palais (30 June).  Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Instagram [photo sharing site]. Seydou Keïta. Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Seydou Keïta [website]. Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Eamonn Doyle

When the latest email magazine from Lensculture arrived, it was intriguing to see the words, ‘street photography revisited’; the title offered the suggestion of something different or new, but in such a well-established and relatively traditional genre?

Lensculture described the show of Eamonn Doyle as a ‘small but potent exhibition, “End.” which leads the way in the generally excellent section of the program titled “Street Photography Revisited.” Sean O’Hagan adds to the praise, and mentions that Martin Parr described Doyle’s photo book, i , as ‘the best street photo book I have seen in a decade’.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 17.52.16
source:, by Eamonn Doyle

One of the things that makes Doyle’s work so interesting is the usual point of views used when making the images; he is often above head-height or near ground level, offering us a different perspective on street life. This is accompanied by unusual framing, with the images appearing to be formalist in a situation that is anything but formal. The images are also tack-sharp, something that is not always the case with street photography. Doyle appears to be using a wide-angle lens and is up very close to many of his subjects – he must have the knack of looking through people or appearing to be photographing something that is not his intended subject. The unawareness of the subjects of the camera, when they are so close, gives a surreal impression of people walking the busy streets, disconnected from what is happening around them.

ASX eloquently describes the work, ‘Mostly all of the people are seen from above and behind, as if Death is looking over their shoulder. They are portraits in absentia of familiar strangers.’ The idea of ‘death looking over their shoulder’, gives the work a cinematic feel – how could we be looking with this view-point if the subjects were aware of our presence. Perhaps they are actors, performing a role for the camera?

Doyle’s work is refreshing and certainly has inspired me for whenever I next have the opportunity for some street photography.


ASX [website]. EAMONN DOYLE: “i” (2014). Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Eamon Doyle [website]. Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Lensculture [website]. Arles 2016 In Review: Street Photography Revisited and More. Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]

Michael Hoppen Gallery [online]. [accessed 25.7.16]

O’Hagan S (2016). The Guardian [online]. The amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle (23 July). Available from: [accessed 25.7.16]



Digital photo archive

I first considered my workflow in Lightroom, including archiving in my Context and Narrative blog. In preparation for an exercise involving portraiture and the archive, I am again reflecting on this, painfully aware that my current practice for referencing photographs is inadequate.

Rideau emphasises that ‘to properly store digital photos requires the development of a workflow, a standard process of taking, storing, editing and archiving your digital photos.’ This should be obvious, but the application of the workflow requires discipline and habit. Labelling in particular is an area not fully integrated into my workflow. Rideau explains the standard for labelling:

The archival standard to follow is called IPTC which stands for “International Press Telecommunications Council”. They have developed a standard for information that can be embedded into a digital photo. Adobe has used IPTC as the foundation for their Adobe XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) open standard. Microsoft has also adopted IPTC as the standard for labelling digital photos.

The IPTC provide helpful information on the types and use of metadata. Explaining three main categories of data:

  • “Administrative – identification of the creator, creation date and location, contact information for licensors of the image, and other technical details.
  • Descriptive – information about the visual content. This may include headline, title, captions and keywords. This can be done using free text or codes from a controlled vocabulary.
  • Rights – copyright information and underlying rights in the visual content including model and property rights, and rights usage terms.”

Phlearn provides a practical guide to applying metadata (including copyright), using presets and applying keywords within Adobe Lightroom.This provides protection to digital images once online and allows searching of the Lightroom archive with the keywords.

My previous workflow practices had been more concerned with the selection and processing of photographs, rather than the copyright protection and keywording of images. This I’ll now incorporate into my workflow.


Fitzgibbon A (2015). Context and Narrative [blog]. Lightroom Workflow. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16] [website]. Photo Metadata. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Phlearn [website]. How to Add Metadata to Photos in Lightroom. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Rideau [website]. Storing and archiving digital photos. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Helmut Newton, Foam Museum

This post reflects on a visit to a retrospective exhibition on the work of Helmut Newton (1920-2004), at the Foam Museum, Amsterdam on 14.7.16. I was lucky to have visited retrospective of Stephen Shore’s work on the previous day (see here), so I could not but help be impressed by the difference in work within the same media.

The exhibition contains over 200 photographs,covering Newton’s life work. Newton was primarily a commercial photographer, working extensively for Vogue magazine, whose website provides a timeline of his work with the magazine. He also shot photos for Playboy Magazine.  He later received the critical acclaim of the art-world, being awarded the prestigious grand prix national de la photographie by the French Ministry of Culture in 1990.

Source: iPhone snapshot

Newton never defined his own work as art, saying ‘Some people’s photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or a museum, that’s fine. But that’s not why I do them. I’m a gun for hire.” (Dazed Digital). The documentary Helmut by June, which is available on YouTube, provides a fascinating insight into Newton’s approach to working, based on home video footage taken by his wife, June. From this, it is clear that the models are used as part of his tableaux; he is not interested in photographing them as individuals but how he can use them as an element in the scene he envisages. By definition he is objectifying them. However, Newton is insistent that he is presenting them as strong or powerful in his images. So, objects of power rather than weakness and submission. But nonetheless often in fantasy, erotic scenes that appeal to the male gaze.

The exhibition does include some traditional portraiture that is concerned with showing the individual, including a photograph of Margaret Thatcher, the first British female Prime Minister. In this work, there was often a lack of contextual information (Sanderesque), which is very different to his fashion tableaux. What was evident in this work was the depth of tone and the creation of the three-dimensional illusion. His approach to equipment and lighting is simple, Newton explains ‘it is all in his head’. (Helmut by June). It was surprising and inspirational to see that in a shoot featuring Claudia Fischer that a simple domestic battery-powered torch was being used as a light-source.


Source: iPhone snapshot

Newton’s work divides opinion, ‘Dramatic and beautiful, maybe, but are his photographs also misogynist, cruel and pornographic?’, asks Linsey Barker in the Guardian. Barker doesn’t answer the question directly in the article. There is however an extract that expresses her view and that of Newton:

Certainly, his photography is a matter of taste, and some of his more extreme, fetishistic images are, to many of us, just plain nasty. In fact, he’s happy not to be liked by everyone, though flamboyantly exasperated by those who believe that his work is demeaning to women. To me, the woman-in-saddle shot is funny in its absurdity but, equally, I can see why it might be regarded as offensive. He gets rather cross when I say so. “It’s bullshit!” he says. “As far as I can tell, and women friends have told me, the feminist movement has evolved into something more serious.”

Therein, lies the answer, for the viewer of the photography; it is a matter of personal taste, shaped by culture and experience. Whatever that view, it is not appropriate to deny the intention of Newton himself, “Triumphant,” is the word he uses to describe his work to Barker, also telling her that he disagrees that he often makes women look absurd or objectified.

Finally, an observation on the format of the exhibition itself. Some of the prints were what can only be described as ‘monumental’, filling whole walls. This can either be viewed as reminiscent of fashion billboards, but the print quality is something very different, or as that of old paintings hung in the city’s nearby Rijks Museum (the art that Newton says his work is not).

Source: iPhone snapshot



Barker L. The Guardian [online] (2001). Helmut Newton: a perverse romantic. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Dazed Digital [website]. Your ultimate guide to Helmut Newton. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Foam [website]. Helmut Newton / A Retrospective. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Helmut Newton Foundation [website]. Biography. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

Vogue [online]. Helmut Newton Timeline. Available from: [accessed 16.7.16]

YouTube [website]. Helmut by June (1995). Available from:  [accessed 16.7.16]

Stephen Shore – Huis Marseille

This post reflects on a visit to the Stephen Shore (b1947) retrospective exhibition in Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, visited on 13.7.16.

Shore is a photographer of huge influence, first selling work to MoMA at the age of 14 and going on to have his first exhibition at the age of 24 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the 1970s he was one of the few photographers working in colour. The retrospective contained 200 photographs covering the period 1960 to 2016 (Huis Marseille).

O’Hagan explains, ‘in the 70s, everyone hated Shore’s quirky photographs of everyday life because they weren’t in black and white. Now, a new retrospective shows how he became a modern master – and how the masses finally caught up with him’.

“To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap,” Stephen Shore once said. “But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in.”

The breadth and depth of the work on display in the exhibition is a staggering, covering street photography, landscapes, urban and suburban environments, conceptual work, and archeological landscapes. It is difficult to know what can be said simply and concisely about it. Mentioned here are just a few images of interest.

Source: iPhone snapshot

The early selection or Shore’s black and white work is reminiscent of Robert Frank’s The Americans, with wonderfully composed snapshot street portraits, which subjects at the edges of the frames, and their gazing drawing the eye into and across the frame.

This type of street photography is often poorly emulated by amateur photographers, who hold onto the black and white tradition,  seemingly believing that any candid street photograph makes arresting viewing.

In early 2000, Shore was to revisit black and white photography and a street style. This panoramic image features the main subject sharply focused and contrasted to the left of the frame and in the middle distance.

Source: iPhone snapshot

They eye is then drawn forward and across the image creating an illusion of depth in two dimensions.

The photo below shows a suburban landscape, with almost a graphical illusion of depth. As the viewer, one has the sensation of stepping into the scene; carefully placed diagonals pull the eye into the distance, towards the mountains.

Source: iPhone snapshot

The final image selected for this post shows an landscape, in which man’s mark and influence on the scene has been embraced and shown in the photograph; no attempt show a beautify, unspoiled landscape, or to digitally remove the power lines, which etch man’s mark across the scene.

Source: iPhone snapshot

An excellent exhibition, which will further encourage my exploration of the ordinary for photographic possibilities


Huis Marseille [website]. Stephen Shore / Retrospective. Available from: [accessed 15.7.16]

O’Hagan S (2015). Guardian [online]. Shady character: how Stephen Shore taught America to see in living colour. Available from: [accessed 15.7.16]



Douglas Huebler

I looked at the work of Douglas Huebler when reviewing feedback on Context and Narrative assignment 3. Here, it is briefly revisited in the context of portraiture.


An explanation of the work is in the blog post referenced. In summary Huebler used portraits of Bernd Becher, a leading exponent of typology in photography who drew inspiration from August Sander, to ‘void’ the application of typology to portraiture.

Huebler took a series of portraits of Becher acting different roles, without explaining the end game.

A month later he asked Becher to pair the portraits with the roles he was asked to act out; he failed to match them accurately. Huebler went on to emphasise his point when the work was exhibited by mismatching the portraits and roles, as if to reinforce his view that the concept was invalid.

What does this mean for the concept of typology? Perhaps that while it is easily understood as a concept, there may be practical difficulties in its application and in attaining a consistent reading between different viewers.

Huebler’s work will be revisited in detail in part 4 of the I&P course.


Fitzgibbon A (2016). Context & Narrative [blog]. Douglas Huebler and the Voiding of Photographic Portraiture. Available from: [accessed 11.7.16]

Hughes G (2007). Game Face: Douglas Huebler and the Voiding of Photographic Portraiture. Source: Art Journal, Vol. 66, No. 4 (Winter, 2007), pp. 52-69. College Art Association. Available from: [accessed 11.7.16]

Diane Arbus, Aperture Monogram

Diane Arbus (1923–71) is a photographer whose work deals explicitly with identity. A retrospective of her work was first published in 1972, following her suicide in the previous year and the edition considered here is the 2012, fortieth anniversary publication. At the time the book was first published, John Szarkowski summarised his thoughts on Arbus:

Diane Arbus was not a theorist but an artist. Her concern was not to buttress philosophical positions but to make pictures. She loved photography for the miracles it performs every day by accident, and respected it for the precise intentional tool that it could be, given talent, intelligence, dedication and discipline. Her pictures are concerned with private rather than social realities, with psychological rather than visual coherence, with the prototypical and mythic rather than the topical and temporal. Her real subject is no less than the unique interior lives of those she photographed. (back cover material, Arbus D, 2012)



The introduction to the book includes a slightly rambling monologue by Arbus, setting out her views on photography. In the context of understanding her approach to portraiture, the following points are important:

  • Arbus’s subjects have a confident gaze before the camera. She comments, ‘actually they tend to like me. I’m extremely likeable with them. I think I’m kind of two-faced.’  It sounds like Arbus attempts to instil confidence in her subjects by acting benignly towards them.
  • Arbus talks about the need for a photograph to be ‘specific’. She seems to mean the unusual, rather than the generic, the things that have been seen before. She comments how she was drawn to photograph the freaks and nudists. Indeed, the book is full of unusual people, not conforming to what is general presented as the norm.
  • She expresses a dislike of texture, saying, ‘… I really hate that, the idea that a picture can be interesting simply because it it shows a texture … it bores the hell out of me.’ Her interest is rather to see the ‘densities of different kinds of things.’ This preference is reflected in her work, which tends have soft contrasts, there are no craggy sharp lined faces in her portraits. Nothing like Don McCullin’s homeless Irishman here.
  • An aspect of photography that Arbus comments she tired of is strobe lighting, saying, ‘… lately I’ve been struck with how I really love what you can’t see in a photograph. An actual physical darkness. And it’s thrilling for me to see darkness again.’ Of course, this limitation does not follow for modern strobe lights, which are finely controllable. However, Arbus would perhaps not appreciate the use of digital processing techniques used to open up shadow information and show detail throughout images.
  • Arbus comments that she dislikes the idea of composition, meaning rules of composition. She comments that, ‘there’s a kind of rightness and wrongness and sometimes I like the rightness and sometimes I like the wrongness. Composition is like that.’ This approach is evident in her photos, with elements sometimes placed awkwardly and effectively in the frame (child with a toy hand grenade, for example).
  • In concluding, Arbus comments on intention, with the pity phrase, ‘I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.’.


ASX [website]. Notes from the Margin of Spoiled Identity – The Art of Diane Arbus (1988). Available from: [accessed 10.7.16]

Arbus, D. and Israel, M. eds. 2012. Diane Arbus: An aperture monograph: Fortieth-Anniversary edition. United States: Aperture.

FItzgibbon A (2015). C&N Blog [website]. Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs – Diane Arbus. Available from: [accessed 10.7.16]

They all say please – Sharon Boothroyd

The White Cloth Gallery, in Leeds, is hosting Sharon Boothroyd’s (a former OCA lecturer) exhibition, They all say please. This is an account of a visit on 9th July.

If one had not been in the know about who was exhibiting in the gallery, it could have remained a mystery; there was nothing in the exhibition space explaining the work or who produced it. The details on gallery’s website were also sparse and took some digging through layers to find. As an exhibiting artist this would have been a little disappointing; an opportunity for promotion missed.

Source:, Please make him kick her out, S Boothroyd

Fortunately, there are other online sources that explain something of the intention behind the work. Slate features what seems to be extracts from an interview with Boothroyd, who explains that the inspiration for the work initially came from found prayer cards in a church and then an online prayer forum. The title of the exhibition comes from the observation that all the prayers start with, ‘please …’. Interestingly, Boothroyd explains that the project originally started as a work illustrating the prayer cards, which become captions to the images, but after a mishap with the photo files, she relaunched the project in more of an abstract direction.

The work seemed a combination of the abstract and the illustrative; for example, Please keep us safe tonight is accompanied by the photo of a woman standing alone at a bar (distinctly illustrative); whereas the selfish prayer, Please bless my eBay listings, was accompanied by a washing machine (in the gallery), which is distinctly abstract.  Apparently the photo for the latter should have been the old warehouse buildings (according to Boothroyd’s own website).The mix between the illustrative and the abstract was a little disorienting, and distracted for the concept of the work.

The photos themselves, which can be viewed on Boothroyd’s own website (here), are processed in consistent subdued tones (with a chrome appearance). Many of them are taken in subdued lighting conditions, but the tonality in the shadows is wonderfully reproduced (example above, with the contrasting highlights). The shots are carefully, but conventionally framed, with subjects mostly centred in the frames; easy on the eye, but not visually challenging.

Overall, a very interesting concept. The importance of consistency in interpretation of a concept to avoid disorienting the viewer is perhaps a lesson learned from viewing this work.


Sharon [website]. They all say please. Available from: [accessed 10.7.16]

Slate [website]. What do people pray for? Available from: [accessed 10.7.16]

White Cloth Gallery [website]. Available from: [accessed 10.7.16]

The Blue Guide – Barthes

Roland Barthes’ essay, The Blue Guide, is found in the book of essays, Mythologies. Hachette World Guides, are dubbed ‘Guide Bleu’ in French and Barthes analyses the perspective of the Blue Guide in his essay. The Blue Guides title was acquired by Ernest Benn Limited in the 1930s and no longer has any connection with Hachette (Blue Guides).

Barthes essay references the perspective of the bourgeoisie – it is difficult to draw a directly equivalent term at the time of writing as there has been dramatic social change in the intervening years. However, Barthes was referring to a privileged middle class with the means and time to travel and holiday abroad. We should broaden this perspective to tourism in general in the modern era, since in Britain alone there are around 43m overseas holidays, which is up from 1m in 1950 and 27m in 1994 (Guardian online). A quick search for travel books on, reveals 750,000 titles available. Anecdotally, Barthes’ criticism would most likely apply to many modern travel books?

Barthes’ central argument is that travel books simplify and generalise perspectives on cultures, ‘The ethnic reality of Spain is thus reduced to a vast classical ballet, a nice neat commedia dell Arte, whose improbable typology serves to mask the real spectacle of conditions, classes, and professions. For the Blue Guide, men exist as social entities – they constitute a charming and fanciful décor, meant to surround the essential part of the country: its collection of monuments’. In effect, Barthes is warning about the use and misuse of typology.

Secondly, Barthes argues how the guide projects hegemonic interests, ‘Beside the historical accounts proper (which are rare and meagre, incidentally, for it is well-known that History is not a good bourgeois), those accounts in which the Republicans are always ‘extremists’ looting churches – but nothing on Guernica [1937 bombing of Basque town at behest of Spanish National Government] – while the good ‘Nationalists’, on the contrary, spend their time ‘liberating’, solely by ‘skilful strategic manoeuvres’ and ‘heroic feats of resistance’,

While generalisation and simplification is necessary to make sense of the world in short time, Barthes’ essay is a reminder that we should be alert to the filtering and distorting that can be present in the information we receive. Typology by its very nature embodies filters and distortions of a very broad, impossible to meaningfully summarise real world.


American University of Paris [website]. Article on The Blue Guide. Available from: [accessed 7.7.16]

Barthes R (1972). Mythologies. Translated from the French Mythologies (c) 1957 by Editions du Seuil, Paris.

BBC News [website]. The legacy of Guernica (2007). Available from: [accessed 7.7.16]

Blue Guides [website]. History of the Blue Guide. Available from: [accessed 7.7.16]

The Guardian [online]. A brief history of the package holiday (2013). [accessed 7.7.16]


The Photographer’s Exposure Field Guide

The importance of getting the right exposure for the image one is trying to make, at the time one takes a photo perhaps receives less attention in the digital age than it should; after all there is post processing. To understand more about the subject area, a useful reference book is Michael Freeman’s, The Photographer’s Exposure Field Guide: The Essential Guide to getting the Perfect Exposure; any subject, anywhere.

Freeman explains the importance of making the desired exposure in camera: ‘Getting the perfect exposure means rising above total reliance on the camera’s metering mode, whichever that is. As the first and all-important step is to know what you want from an image, you have to evaluate the exposure before committing to a metering mode, whether this takes a fraction of a second or it’s something you decide at the beginning of a shoot.’ (loc 809). It is easy to let the camera take care of exposure in an automatic mode and end up with an average exposure across the scene. However, this does not necessarily place the key tones in the scene at the tonal level that best suits our intention. Adjustments can be made in post-processing, but there are limits to what can be done without affecting the image quality and disturbing the original, natural graduation of tones throughout the image.

In my own practice, I have tended to rely unthinkingly on the camera’s automatic exposure readings and adjustments too frequently. Freeman emphasises, ‘know clearly what the photograph is about—what caught your eye, what attracts you about the shot, and what you want to convey. Have in your mind’s eye how bright it should be overall, and how the distribution of brightness should look. Naturally, this is the million-dollar question.’ This involves working with the camera’s assumption that the scene should be an average 50% brightness (‘18% grey), where the human visual system perceives the most detail. It involves deciding where key tones in a photograph should sit in relation to 50% and adjusting exposure to achieve a vision.

With high dynamic range scenes (the range between the darkest and lightest elements), Freeman reminds us that there needs to be a compromise or reframing of this kind of scene as it is likely to beyond the range of the camera’s sensor. Or alternatively, take different exposures and blend in post-production. With lower dynamic range scenes, there is more freedom to choose and, in fact, average exposure reading across the whole scene can work well.

Before moving on to look at an example, there are a couple more valuable extracts from the book. Freeman refers to another book, ‘The title In Praise of Shadows is stolen from an influential essay by junichiro Tanizaki, written in the 1930s. In it he railed against the new tendency to install tungsten lighting in traditionally dark Japanese interiors, but the point is not completely alien to photography. In digital processing there is a tendency to choose auto—with its generic brightness—without thinking; but it doesn’t have to be that way.’ It is perhaps this averageness that gives the impression of sameness across much digital imagery, lacking richness in tone. Freeman makes the following important point about human perception,untitled-1 ‘Highlights carry a sense of glare, while shadows are areas we tend to peer into. This is a perceptual matter: if the highlights are rendered so that we think of them as bright, we take them in but tend not to spend time on them; with shadows, if we think they have some relevance we look longer at them to discover detail’. If everything is average brightness, there is nothing to peer into and create visual tension, everything is served to us on a plate.

In this example of a shadowy scene on a river bank, there is a clear highlight area on the grass bank. This is a similar brightness to the edge lighting on the old flood gate mechanism. If I’d taken a photo using an average exposure across the scene, The image would appear similar to the first image adjusted in Lightroom with ‘autoexposure’; the large
shadow areas raised to an average and the detail revealed in a flat-looking image, with highlight details lost.

In contrast, the featured image has (in my view) more interest and a greater depth and richness of tone. It shows the large blocks of shade and the light highlights I’d envisioned.This was taken by spot metering the exposure for the bright area of grass, with a +1 stop adjustment  to raise it above the 50% brightness level.

In conclusion, I will be paying much more attention to my vision of exposure in my practice going forward. Perhaps this is just the progression that comes with becoming more familiar and practiced with the camera as a tool for making photos.


Freeman, M. (2011). The Photographer’s Exposure Field Guide: The Essential Guide to getting the Perfect Exposure; any subject, anywhere [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from

Emil Otto Hoppé

The OCA I&P material makes reference to Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) – it was an unfamiliar name to me, so I was curious to find out more. The O.E Hoppé Estate Collection (EC) explains how Hoppé auctioned himself into obscurity by selling his complete works in 1954 (prior to the writing of most histories of photography) for them to be subsumed with millions of other ‘stock photographs. It wasn’t until 1990 that Hoppé’s photos were extracted, and his archive reconstructed. EC describes Hoppé as one of the most renowned portrait photographers of his day. The National Portrait Gallery featured an exhibition of his work in 2011, describing him as ‘… one of the most important photographers of the first half of the twentieth century. Celebrated during his lifetime, much of Hoppé’s work has only recently been reassembled and this major survey will enable visitors to discover a forgotten master.’

EC provides a generous display of Hoppé’s work and biographical information. In the portraits, I feel a sense of intense engagement with his sitters and the depth of tones in the photos adds to the richness of the viewing experience.

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Hoppé was also interested in typologies, producing two books on the people of London. He seemed to have a knack of getting under the skin of people. Lucy Davies, in The Telegraph, discussing his portraits of the Yorks, says, ‘Hoppé was famous for his attention to the minutiae of his sitters’ individuality, and one can surmise that his unhurried, friendly manner, brought out the innate poise of the young royal couple. He reportedly kept himself informed on a number of topics, so as to converse easily with the variety of his subjects, studying them discreetly as he talked, for expressions he thought natural or characteristic. It was this drive to transmit his personal appreciation for his sitters that makes his photographs so distinctive.’

A couple of Hoppé’s photo books have been ordered and will be examined in future blog posts. Used copies of books are available at unusually low prices for photobooks, perhaps reflecting Hoppé’s relative obscurity.



Davies L (2011). Telegraphy [online]. E.O. Hoppé: See the Yorks as they really were. Available from: [accessed 4.7.16]

Grove Art [online]. Hoppé, E. O. Available from: [accessed 4.7.16]

O.E Hoppé Estate Collection [website]. Available from: [accessed 4.7.16]

National Portrait Gallery [website]. Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio and Street. Available from: [accessed 4.7.16]

The Guardian [online] Hoppé portraits in pictures. Available from: [accessed 4.7.16]



Historical portrait photography – sources

Here I examine some sources of information for historical portrait photography. OCA I&P material quotes, Keith Jenkins, ‘We should distinguish between the two by calling ‘the past’ everything that has happened before and calling ‘historiography’ everything that has been written about the past.’ (Jenkins, 1991, p.7). This is a statement of the obvious, but I see it as important in the context of the human predisposition to generalise and summarise in order to make sense of the world – in this process, basic truths such as Jenkins’s can be overlooked. So the sources of information I mention below are a reflection of the frames of the past that were captured and preserved and not a representative picture of the past itself.

  • Source: Rijksmuseum,
    Source: Rijksmuseum

    The Khan Academy features a brief introduction to early photography, including portrait photographers, Clementina Hawarden (1822 – 1865) and Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879).

  • The Met Museum houses a large collection of photographs, including many digitised for online viewing. A current exhibition, Framing a Century, includes a number of historical portrait photographs. It is also a good source for Julia Margaret Cameron images.
  • The National Portrait Gallery has a collection of over 250,000 photographs and an excellent web portal to its collection, which features many digitised photos for online viewings.
  • Oxford Art Online (subscription through OCA), includes examples of early portrait photography and biographies of photographers.
  • The V&A has recently revamped its photography website – it is not as well structured as the NPG website, but does include a number of digitised historical portraits.
  • The Rijksmuseum houses a large collection of portraits, including photographs. What’s more it has decided to allow free download and use of its digitised images for personal use. One can even create a personal online library after signing up!
  • Naomi Rosenblum dedicates a chapter of her book to portraiture between 1839 and 1890, A plentitude of portraits (Rosenblum, p38). This chapter is an excellent resource for early portraiture. It deals with the technical constraints of early photography and the practical implications for portraiture; the development of the portrait as personal expression; and profiles of Julia Margaret Cameron, David Ocatvius Hill and Robert Adamson, and Nadar.


Khan Academy [online]. Early Photography. Available from: [accessed 2.7.15]

Metropolitan Museum [online]. Framing a Century. Available from: [accessed 2.7.15]

National Portrait Gallery [online]. Photographs collection. Available from: [accessed 2.7.15]

Oxford Art Online [website]. Available from: [accessed 2.7.15]

Rosenblum N (1989). A World History of Photography. Rev Edition. Abbeville Pr.

Rijksmuseum [online]. Photographs. Available from: [accessed 2.7.15]

V&A Museum [online]. Photography. Available from: [accessed 2.7.15]


Reflection – my square mile

Here I think back on the very first assignment in the OCA Level 1 course,  My Square Mile, and about what the area selected means to me. The featured image is taken from the original work.

Reflection always has a perspective; from where we are viewing when we are looking back. We see things as they relate to our present place in space and time – as this changes, so does our perspective. I sit in a hotel room in Bangkok, towards the end of a two week business trip away from home; with the viewpoint of looking forward to being at home.

The photos in the project are from around my home, an old farm house in Yorkshire, a place that is worlds apart from Bangkok in many different ways. Looking at the photos, I want to be home in the quite of the countryside, away from the noisy city; in my own house, away from the plush luxury of the the hotel; in the cool air; away from the stifling heat of Thailand.  The work reminds me of nature, my family, the English countryside, the English weather.

However, I have enjoyed Bangkok and the contrast to my square mile. A 24 hour city that never stops, with life crammed into every corner. It is different, it has been an opportunity to meet different people, to explore and photograph the unfamiliar in my spare time.

I enjoy both the strange and the familiar. The challenge of the new and the reassurance of the habitual. In my square mile, I am at home; from my current view point, I am enjoying an adventure. There is always more than one point of view. It is my mood, rather than my identity that shifts with different backgrounds.


Fitzgibbon A (2105). EYV Blog. A1 EYV – submission to tutor. Available from: [accessed 28.6.16]

Research point – social media profile

Here I reflect on my social media profile image, what it says about me and how I might create a more accurate image of myself.

The first question is which social media profile? Social media takes different shapes and forms – Linked-in for a business face, Facebook for friends and family, Facebook Page for photography, Outlook profile for in-office hours, Flickr for photo sharing, and so on. Do the various channels of social media reflect our need to project different sides our identities to the variety of interest groups to which we might belong? Or should we project a constant identity in across all our social spaces; or else we play to our different audiences and risk confusing our true identity?

I have set identity across the channels. Facebook currently shows a Union Flag in tatters, reflecting my feelings about Brexit; my Outlook profile shows no image – the image was over 10 years old, so I removed it and 10862_449606901821040_1102765316_nhave not yet arranged to replace it; Linked-in shows an image a couple of years old in which I was aiming to appear business-like; until recently Facebook showed a picture of teenage-me (the featured image for this post) that was recently shared by an old friend. Who am I?

On reflection, as an image maker, I should present a consistent more accurate image of myself across channels. The current approach partitions aspects of my identity – it doesn’t feel right to do this. Unawares, I am working hard to project a different aspect of identity depending on the situation, while suppressing other aspects.

Having reflected on the question, what identity should my profile present, I now consider creating a different image of myself and return to this post with an update, when done…

A week later – I decided on an unconventional portrait, featuring just my hand holding a hand-stamped plectrum. This describes my unconventional aspect (an accountant who’s an artist at heart) and my life-long love of the guitar. Also visible is the shadow of scarring on my thumb from a childhood accident – acting almost like another finger print.

Reflection point – identity

Can you think of some examples from your own experience, or of someone you know, where there was a clash of identity? What happened and can you see how fluctuating notions of identity are still potentially problematic? What does it mean, for you, to be yourself? (OCA I&P, p11)

source of featured image:

I reflect upon this question a few days after the UK finds itself as a nation divided and England as a country sliced from within. A people struggling with their identity – European, British, English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish? Native, immigrant, Muslim, Christian, Jew? Political class, upper class, middle class, working class, unemployed? Enfranchised, Disenfranchised? Remain or Leave?

The shock referendum result was to Leave. Then the confusion and the blame-game begins and the dark facist and racist side of nationalism shows its ugly face to our fellow Europeans and human beings as they are told to ‘get out’, ‘go home’. Those seeking another to blame for their problems and challenges. In the crisis of identity there is a crisis of confidence and uncertainty over which group identity will emerge, and whether it will function and succeed. Complexities in money and financial markets unravel in ways that many people do not understand and cannot foresee, hampered by the limits of their own experience and the mix of truths, half-truths, and blatant lies peddled by the political classes and media to inform and misinform the decisions taken during the referendum. They do understand that the fuel for their cars, their holidays, their food is suddenly more costly. They do see the televised shock and panic throughout the globe. Some wonder what they have done, what has happened.

Should they really have remained as part of a broad European identity, with many differences but nonetheless as part of a broad family willing and able to help its own members? Or will they prevail as a small English family, putting up barriers to the world with which they have so many interdependencies?

For me, I am angry and frustrated by sense of European identity being torn from within me by ill-informed mob-rule, incomprehensibility at a political class that has allowed what has been painstakingly built to be torn down in a few short days, with no vision for a future identity and direction for the narrative of a country and the identity of its people.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Bangkok

I took the opportunity to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bangkok while in Thailand over the weekend during a business trip. The museum has only been open a couple of years and is a bit out of town (expensive Uber ride!) but is well worth a visit. I would guess that the place is on the scale of MoMA in New York City.


The collections are focused on contemporary Thai art, some of which is a stunning fusion of the traditional and the modern. Captions are provided in English and Thai.

Included in the foreign collection are some photographs. There seemed to be a strong narrative style, with a dash of fantasy running through the photos. This reflects the slightly surreal theme running through the rest of the art collection.

The Photographers shown (accompanied by iPhone snaps) were:

Manit Sriwanichpoom –  I initially  read this as a gay take on the AdamIMG_0053 and Eve story, but on reflection, it could also refer to the commoditisation of sexual fantasy; the man with his pink shopping trolley encouraging the women to perform for his own voyeuristic pleasure. Perhaps a view formed by my perception of the sex trade in Thailand and a Western perspective on the colour pink. However, the artist explains the series of photos from which the print is taken, as a criticism of an emerging consumerist society, with the colour pink signifying vulgarity and the sex trade in Thai culture (reference Pink Man Begins).


Tom Chambers. Chamber’s work is of composite fantasy scenes, made with skill enough to make the viewer question whether or not the scenes passed in reality. Chambers describes his process on his website; photomontage based on sketched concepts that can take several months to complete.


Richard Tuschman. Constructed bedroom scenes, processed in a painterly style. The museum’s collection contained a number of paintings in a photorealistic style, so this made an interesting juxtaposition. Even intercontextualisation. In Petapixal’s interview with Tuschman, his influences are described as follows, ‘Richard Tuschman began experimenting with digital imaging in the early 1990’s, developing a style that synthesized his interests in photography, painting and assemblage.’ Photoshop acts as his canvass.

IMG_0058Thavorn Ko-Udomvit – blind glasses. This was an almost absurdist work – thumbnails of headshots of people all wearing the same ‘blind’ glasses. I laughed to see the confusion on the faces of the sitters – the disorientation if temporary blindness. The concept gave me an idea for my own project which I’ll revisit soon, perhaps in the context of coursework.


MOCA, Bangkok [website]. Available from: [accessed 27.6.16]

Petapixel [website]. An Interview with Richard Tuschman, the Photographer Behind ‘Hopper Meditations’. Available from: [accessed 27.6.16]

Pink Man Begins [webpage] . Available from: [accessed 27.6.16]

Tom Chambers [website]. Available from: [accessed 27.6.16]


Different blog, different subdomain

I’ve never been keen on the free sites – no personal domain name, adverts on the site and limited functionality compared with site (with their wide range of plugins). So, I have a self-hosted blog, using Siteground’s excellent services, with the domain name (for obvious reasons).

However, the wish to keep all my study courses on a single blog (for ready reference), using a personal domain name has not been without challenges:

  • I’m now on my third level one course and it seems to be a preference of the assessors to have blogs separated so there is no risk of confusing material from different courses, even if separated in menus.
  • Setting up the menu structure to keep the course material separate within the same blog is a little fiddly and requires extra work.
  • There is the nagging concern that marks will be lost if the assessor find a more complex menu structure frustrating.

Before setting up my blog for this Identity and Place blog, I looked into the use of subdomains – this blog uses – so identity is the subdomain. These are really useful because:

  • There is no need to purchase or register a separate domain name.
  • You can create as many subdomains as you need.
  • In the cpanel of your host, you simply use the subdomain icon to set up an new folder on drive.
  • You then make a separate WordPress install to the subdomain and you are immediately ready to set up and configure your new website for your new course.
  • You have a consistency in your domain name throughout your websites.

What’s more Siteground offered as a goodwill gesture to move my previous courses (in the root folder) to the new subdomain So, I now have available to use for my own profile building purposes.

So my old blog (EYV and C&N combined) will shortly disappear from its current location  and will be found only at

I wish I’d know all of this when I started EYV!