What have I learnt working through this unit

Now I have completed the unit and preparing for assessment I have been thinking back over time to see what I have learnt.

Firstly, I have learnt that being able to take technically good photographs is not enough.  Photographs should actually tell a story.  And more importantly, the focus of the story does not have to actually appear in the image, but it should, by implication, be part of the story.  For example, a photograph of a pair of muddy walking boots implies that the owner has been on a walk through mud.  It implies that the owner probably wore jeans, carried a rucksack, a phone or compass, and wrapped up against the cold weather.  A very typical stereotype image of a walker, but without additional information, it is likely that stereotype image will emerge.

Secondly, a photograph should have context.  How does it fit with the background, how does it sit with other photographs.  The photograph of the muddy walking boots displayed next to a photograph of someone knitting doesn’t have the same context, whereas displaying them next to a photograph of woodland scenery does have connection and context.

Thirdly, I discovered have a voice.  My own voice.  I now have the confidence to say what I think of a photograph, and be able to back up my view.  I don’t always agree with “experts”, but I know that so long as I have a reason for disagreeing, then my opinion is as good as theirs. And it will always be an opinion.  There is no right or wrong. Our opinion is influenced by our background, upbringing, belief structure, culture, experience and many other factors, and when forming an opinion, these factors will influence our decision. So, opinions cannot always be the same, but there should always be a reason for that particular opinion.

So as I move forward, I intend to develop my own voice further and with more confidence, starting with as many gallery and exhibition visits as possible.

Galleries, Exhibitions and Study Visits

Misbehaving Bodies at the Wellcome Collection

On 25 October I attended a study visit at the Wellcome Collection, consisting of work by Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery.

Jo Spence

The work on display could be divided up into the phases of her life.  She had been working for a photographer, and then moved on to become a photographer in her own right, and had been working for some time before she produced the images on display at the exhibition.  She was a feminist, and a member of the Hackney Flash.  An extract from the Hackney Flash website outlines the purpose of the group:

The Hackney Flashers, a women’s photography collective, was formed in 1974 and remained active until 1980. It was started by a small group of photographers and an illustrator with the purpose of making a photography exhibition about women at work – part of a trade union event celebrating 75 years of union activity in Hackney, East London. The group eventually also included a designer, a writer and a book editor. Over time members described their individual political positions as feminist or socialist feminist. [accessed 26/10/19]

Beyond the Family Album

In this series of photographs Jo Spence aimed to address family issues, not normally shown explicitly in family photographs, such as divorce, strained relationships, absences, illness.  She wanted to take control of how others see her, not as a result of a family photograph taken by someone else.

The Diagnosis

Jo Spence was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1982.  She recalls the day she was told of this: a doctor walked into the ward, followed by a group of student doctors, and told her in what she felt was a very matter-of-fact way that she had cancer and her breast must be removed.  Spence was very angry at this treatment both because of the way she was told, without giving her any options, and as it was her body, she should have been able to make the final decision.  She took a photograph of herself with the words: “Property of Jo Spence” written across her breast, and this photograph entitled “A Picture of Health: Property of Jo Spence?” accompanied her into hospital when having a lumpectomy.

jo spence
A picture of health: Property of Jo Spence?    © Jo Spence


Coming to Terms with the Diagnosis

Jo Spence spent the following years investigating alternative medicines and therapies.  She shunned the convention treatment available at the time.  During this period she took a number of self-portraits, documenting her feelings and state of mind. Some said she was brave and courageous to do this, but she didn’t feel that way.  She just felt that she was expressing her feeling, and this help her come to terms with the outcome.

Final Project

Jo Spence was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991 and during her final two years she worked with her long time collaborator Terry Dennett to create a series of photographs documenting her decline and finally her death.  Terry Dennett created one last image of her appearing to float in a field, returning to nature.

js returning to nature
Double exposure image taken by Terry Dennett symbolising Jo Spence returning to nature

Oreet Ashery

In her 12 part mini series: Revisiting Genesis, Oreet Ashery explores the way in which people can become marginalised when seeking treatment for illnesses.  She felt that this could be due to the type of illness, the person’s sexual orientation, or culture.  She also explores how companies may try to exploit families even after a loved ones death.  In the mini series she acts out a play in which actors are invited (by Genesis) to create a video of themselves or a representation of themselves to be shown to their families after death.

Ashery also created a documentary video of her father’s last few years up to and including he death.  This prompted much discussion within our group following the viewing, as some felt that it was intrusive.  I felt that her father was happy to appear in the video at the beginning when he was fully coherent, and that he knew the filming would continue until he death, so did not believe it to be intrusive although I was not certain of its artistic value, rather more a personal record of a loved one’s last years.



Assignment 5 · Uncategorized

Assignment 5: Photography is Simple. Updated following tutor’s comments

Following a discussion with my tutor, Les Monaghan, I realised that I had set the context for the assignment using an example of  work by Robert Doisneau and analysed it using Barratt’s analogy: internal, external and original context, but this context did not fit with the example of my bike.  Les pointed out that the photograph referenced was of people, whereas my example was an object.  He suggested I return to my subject and create a series of photographs which implied human intervention, told a story.

As suggested I researched the work of photographer David Moore.  To create his series “The Last Things” he was given access to a secure military location below ground, which would be used in the case of there being a threat to the country.  For security reasons, he was not allowed to show any people or items which could be identified and used in some way.  Yet, he has managed to convey a human presence in each of his images.  For example, the one entitled “Officers Quarters” shows a shampoo bottle, a tub of Nivea and some discarded epaulettes.   He has used the effect of light in the one entitled “Broadcast Studio”.  It appears as if someone is about to come into the room, sit in the chair and start broadcasting. In each image there is a feeling that someone was there just before he took the photograph, but had stepped away to the side, just out of shot.

Moore also created a series of photographs taken in the House of Commons.  Once again, he has not included any people in this series, but there is a feeling of a strong human presence in each photograph.  I was particularly drawn to the image of the scratches caused by heels along the wooden seating of the Opposition backbenches! [accessed 28/10/2019]

I was aware of Les’s work in at the Brighton Photofringe:  WeAreAllConnected (2018).  The series, on his Instragram page, shows a number of situations rather than people.  In some photographs there are no people, just objects, and in others where there are people, it may only be hands, or the back of a head.  As with David Moore’s work, there is a strong human presence in all the images regardless of whether they are actually there. [accessed 28/10/2019]

Les also sent me some photographs which he took while working with cadets, illustrating the use of light and shallow depth of field, and how they can be used to give the impression of something implicit in its presence.  For example the shadow being cast onto the face of an officer by his peaked cap makes recognition almost impossible.

To contextualise these images with the one which I included in my assignment: Robert Doisneau, it is not necessarily what is explicitly in the photograph, but what is in shadow, out of focus, or missing entirely that tells the story.

So to return to my bike, I decided I would take some additional photographs with a shallower depth of field than before, and to include items and viewpoints which imply I’m just about to cycle off.

I have selected 8 images from the series, shown below, and updated the contact sheet, (see link below).

My Bike Contact Sheet v2



Galleries, Exhibitions and Study Visits

Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2019

I recently attended an informal study visit with a friend to view Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize 2019 exhibition at the Photographers Gallery.

The four nominees were: Mark Ruwedel, Susan Meiselas, Arwed Messmer, Laia Abril.

Mark Ruwedel – Artist and Society

Mark Ruwedel had submitted a series of photographs of abandoned desert homes, nuclear testing sites and railways.  His aim was to illustrate the way in which landscapes and buildings can be affected by the political and social culture in an area. His series of desert homes was photographed in the evening because he felt there was a greater sharpness to the images at the time of day. The images were well presented, but I felt I needed to research his work further to gain a better understanding of the underlying purpose of these images.

One of a series of images of abandoned desert houses, taken by Mark Ruwedel, on display at the Photographers Gallery.

Susan Meiselas – Mediations

Susan Meiselas is a documentary photographer who, in order to get as true a story as possible, immerses herself into the community which she is working with.  She gains their trust and confidence so is able to take photographs showing the real events.  I was very moved by some of her images, particularly the one shown below.  Meiselas had captured the plight of the women looking down at the bones, probably now knowing whether they were belonging to a relative, or a member of her community.  The desperation of a mother and wife is portrayed in this image.

Widow at mass grave found in Koreme, Northern Iraq, © Susan Meiselas 1992


Arwed Messmer – RAF no evidence

Arwed Messmer had drawn together a series of images and documents taken from various sources, such as state archives.  The result was a collection of images used as police evidence against the RAF (Red Army Faction).  His aim was to show that by bringing these images together, a greater understanding of the events of history may emerge.  I have limited knowledge of the history of the RAF and their activities, but these images intrigued me, and I wished I had done more research before going to see the exhibition.

Laia Abril – On Abortion

To me this was the most moving collection of work in the exhibition.  Abril comes from a predominately catholic culture where abortion is absolutely unacceptable, and illegal.  She set out to highlight the issues and also the inherent dangers of restricting women’s rights.  For centuries women have sought to terminate pregnancies for many different reasons, and what Abril was showing is that nothing has changed for many women in the world.  The reasons for wanting an abortion are varied: serious ill health endangering the mother’s life, poverty, pregnancy as a result of rape.  Abril interviewed many women in the course of her research, but sadly she was unable to speak to some as they had already passed away as a result of an illegal abortion. 

Abril’s ethos is that women should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, and by prohibiting this, women are being driven to “back street” illegal abortionists.   I was shocked at the number of women throughout the word who were unable make decisions about their bodies, and were either putting themselves at risk because of it, or having to make decisions about their lives after the baby was born.  One image of a hatch in a wall was disturbing when I read about the purpose of this hatch.  It turned out to be in the wall of an orphanage, and anyone giving birth and unable to care for their baby, could put the it through the hatch (anonymously) and the nuns who ran the orphanage would take of it.  A terrible decision for a mother to have to make, and she would also have had no medical care herself, putting her at risk of afterbirth complications.

Instrument used for illegal abortions.  Laia Abril – On Abortion


I found this whole exhibition very emotional, and I hoped Laia Abril would win the Deutsch Borse Photographic Foundation Prize.  In fact it went to Susan Meiselas. 


Thomas Ruff, the JPEG

The context of this theme is based on the comparison of analogue and digital photographic images, how they are archived.  Thomas Ruff in his book Jpegs explores the notion that once a photograph has been taken whether digitally or on film, it is no longer current, and will subsequently be held in an archive.  This archive could take the form of a series of photographs, a photo album, a memory stick, a hard drive on a computer, the internet, or folder containing negatives.  Ruff also explores the manner in which these images may be retrieved.  The one type of archive which holds images from both digital and analogue sources is the internet, although in this case the analogue images will have been scanned and held as digital images.  According to David Campany in his review of Ruff’s book JPEGS:

All photographic images come from archives. The very idea of the archive shaped how photography developed from its invention in the 1830s. The standardisation of cameras and film formats, the standardisation of printed matter, the standardisation of the family album, the picture library, the computer image file, the press agency and even the modern art gallery – these are all archival forms of, and for, the photographic image.  (David Campany)

Digital images held as Jpegs may be edited and enhanced using post production software so any analogue images converted to digital and which are not perfect, can be edited and enhanced in the same way.  However, the question then arises: how much can/should old analogue images be “enhanced”.  Should they be left as they appeared in their original form having been converted to digital images.

In these times of mass media and ease of transmitting images, the key benefit of holding all analogue images digitally is the ability to distribute them in the same way as digital images.  The pixel then is key to archiving and distributing images electronically.

In JM Colberg’s review of Ruff’s book, he quotes Ruff:

The 9/11 images were iconic, but of terribly low resolution. With the […] jpeg structure and the results from work with image structures I managed to modify the terribly poorly resolved but still visually aesthetical images my way. ‘Terribly beautiful’ images they were.” (Thomas Ruff).

So Thomas Ruff, according to JM Colberg, is a great believer of editing any Jpegs to enhance the image.  However, it should be borne in mind that an image designed for viewing on the internet is not necessarily the best format.  The example shows an image reduced in size to be suitable for the internet is not appropriate for the printed format.

IMG_3583 copy
Original image
Original image resized for viewing on the internet





Thomas Ruff/Linnaeus Tripe

The work of Linnaeus Tripe was on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum when I visited shortly after the gallery was reopened.  Captain Linnaeus Tripe went to India and what was then Burma to carry out a military survey.  His photographs, originally created for recording purposes only, became to be viewed as works of art in their own right. Tripe used waxed paper negatives known as “calotypes”, rather than moving onto the more popular medium: glass negatives.  He was concerned they were more likely to get broken, and more difficult to transport.

Tripe often enhanced his negatives.  For example, when photographing a scene the cloud detail was often lost because of the length of time the shutter remained open during the process.  He would then add detail, such as the clouds, to the negative.  Then every print taken from that negative would contain this detail.

Ruff studied these negatives by enlarging them, so that every detail could be seen clearly.

Ruff was drawn to the scale, beauty and aesthetics of Tripe’s negatives – specifically the way in which discolouration and damage to the paper mark the passage of time.  He was also fascinated by Tripe’s early “retouching” processes, in particular his painting the reverse of negatives to add different effects, such as clouds and foliage. [accessed 21/10/19]

The curator’s description of the work.

20181102_143757 (2)

2019-10-22_17-10-27 [accessed 22/10/19]



Photographing the ordinary

Rinko Kawauchi, a Japanese photographer who works with nature and light and creates images of everything around her from the ordinary to the extraordinary.  Nothing is too small or mundane to be photographed.  I was particularly drawn to the example below  because despite the brightness of the colour, it is a fragile and short lived image.  Within seconds of taking this photograph, the image will have disappeared.

Untitled, from her photobook: Hanabi,  © Rinko Kawauchi

In this image below, again she has captured the fragility and temporary nature of life.  The bubbles will have burst very soon after she took the photograph.

© Rinko Kawauchi


Laura Letinsky created a series of photographs entitled “I did not remember I had forgotten” in 2002.  The series depicts leftovers, crumbs, used crockery, stained tablecloths. These images were not intended to be depressing, but showing what has been.  Again, as in the case of the examples of Rinko Kawauchi’s work above, it is temporary.  Waiting for the cleaner to come along and clear away the dishes.  She said:

I was interested in the narrative end-point of the leftover, of what remains, what resists, not as a depressing or sad place, but as all that we ever really have, what has been handed to us.

[Susan Bright, Art Photography Now, Page 110]



I did not remember I had forgotten, Untitled No63. © Laura Letinsky


Assignment 4 · Uncategorized

Assignment 4: Language of Light. Updated following tutor’s comments

Following my tutor’s feedback and comment, I amended the order in which the photographs should appear.  He suggested the order shown below.  I took these photographs in black and white to emulate the style of Imogen Cunningham.

My tutor also suggested I explore the work of other contemporary photographers, particularly those who photograph the ordinary and make them extraordinary, as Imogen Cunningham did with her black and white plant photography.

The result of this research has been added to the research section of my blog.  Here is a link: Photographing the Ordinary




Science and Photography

I have come to this course from a “techy” background, and learning the more creative and artistic side of photography is very new to me.  In Assignment Two I created a series of photographs showing the workings of canal locks.  I am fascinated by the fact that even today most locks on UK canals are operated by hand, and technology has not changed since they were built.  Mechanical engineering at its finest! However, I am also fascinated by images which can be created using a camera in different ways.  My tutor suggested I investigate an exhibition: Revelations: Experiments in Photography.  I wish I had been able to view this exhibition, now long gone, but I was able to watch several interviews on YouTube, and view some of the images in Google.

What amazed me was that many of the images were created long before our modern DSLR cameras, with macro lenses.  For example the image of the proboscis of the hummingbird hawk taken by Carl Struwe in 1928.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Or the image of insect wings by William Henry Fox Talbot.

Insect wings

However, some of the later images in this exhibition were just as fascinating to me.  Such as the image “Blow up” created by Ori Gerscht.  He describes how he created it in an interview with Greg Hobson, Curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum.  First he arranged the flowers, froze them with liquid nitrogen and then exploded them.  He had 10 cameras set up each with its own flash to create this image.  I now intend to try this, but as I don’t have access to liquid nitrogen, I could try freezing the flowers in a freezer and see what happens. [last accessed 16/10/19].

Blow Up

Another photograper whose work has inspired me is Harold Edgerton, and his work was also on display at this exhibition..  I attempted to create his famous milk coronet in my course work in Part Three,  Exercise 3.1.

Milk Coronet
Milk Coronet © Harold Edgerton


The techniques used in these photographs are fascinating.  I plan to explore more in the future.



Creating a series

Creating a series of photographs is not as straight forward as I once thought.  I now realise having created what I thought were a series of photographs of the canals, that they should all have been taken on the same day.  I took two sets of photographs on different days and as a result the ambient lighting, the weather and the time of day all affected the outcome of the photographs.  Following a conversation with my tutor, I went through the contact sheets and reselected a series which were all taken on the same day.

So I have learnt so far that a series is not just a selection of photographs.  A series must tell a story, have a cohesive element and be similar in the way each photograph has been taken.   If exhibiting a series, then the examples should be mounted/framed in a similar way.  I have been to exhibitions where the installations have varied, but this is usually because there may be more than one series within the exhibition. So another concept to add to the mix when taking a number of photographs of the same subject.