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



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



Assignment 5

Assignment 5

Photography is Simple

A photograph is just a snapshot of reality.  Or is it?  I thought so when I first started to become interested in photography.  It is a moment in time when the shutter opens for a fraction of a second to let the light onto the film or sensor to create an image.  However I am now aware that it is the interpretation of that image that makes it more than just a snapshot in time.

Terry Barrett said in his article, ¹Photographs and Contexts, “The meaning of any photograph is highly dependent on the context in which it appears”. He sights the example of a photograph taken by Robert Doisneau of two people enjoying a drink in a Paris bar.  The photograph was taken with their permission and it subsequently appeared in a magazine: Le Point.

Couple in a Parisian Bar:  Robert Doisneau 1958

Some time later the photograph re-appeared in a leaflet produced by a temperance league warning of the evils of alcohol abuse, without Doisneau’s permission, and later still appeared, again without permission, in a paper entitled “Prostitution in the Champs-Elysees”. Barrett used this as an example of how any image may be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewpoint of the interpreter, and may be far removed from its original intention.

Barrett’s view is that an image may be interpreted according to three different types of information:

  • Internal Context: the information in the picture.
  • External Context: information surrounding the picture
  • Original Context: information about the way the picture was made.

¹Barrett, Terry. (date unknown) Photographs and Context. [online] Available at: (Accessed 1/7/2019).

So using Barrett’s analogy, the internal context of the image showed a couple enjoying a drink in a bar, the external context was then interpreted by the temperance league and the anti prostitution group in different ways, neither of which were the purpose of the photograph.  Finally, as for the original context Doisneau simply set out to photograph groups of people enjoying café life in Paris.


For this assignment I chose to take a series of photographs of my bike.  A simple subject but one which means a lot to me.  I have selected 9 photographs from my initial series, and the final edit is entitled A Journey Round my Bike.

I had never cycled a great deal in my childhood, but in 2015 was persuaded to enter a charity bike ride from London to Paris – some 280 miles. Quite a challenge considering at that time I didn’t even own a suitable road bike, just an old heavy mountain bike. So my journey started with buying a suitable bike, training, and then completing the ride to Paris.

I took a series of photographs starting with the handle bars and working around the bike.  Below the series is one final photograph of the complete bike.

A journey round my bike


I have enlarged the final photograph here to show the entire bike and I have analysed this image using Terry Barrett’s analogy.


Internal Context:  The information in the picture.

The photograph was taken on a bright sunny day.  The bike is propped against a green metal barn, standing on gravel.  There is no water bottle in the bottle rack, no panniers, no pump or puncture repair kit.  So it could appear that this bike has been nowhere, done nothing.  No further information can be extracted from the image.

External Context: The information surrounding the picture.

The reality is that this bike has taken me from London to Paris three times,  as well as on a number of long distance charity bike rides in the UK, including Oxford to Cambridge (twice), London to Brighton and other rides around the Cotswold Hills and the Chiltern Hills. It is not just a bike to me – it represents more than that.

Original Context: information about the way the picture was made.

Had anyone said that I would be able to cycles such distances, I would have not believed them, particularly as I was not a keen cyclist in my childhood.  So to discover that later in life that I am capable of cycling long distances was quite a surprise.  This bike represents acheivement, health and fitness, freedom, economy (no fuel required!) and I am very proud of what I have done.  It is not just a bike propped against a barn!

Contact Sheet

Assignment 4 · Uncategorized

Assignment 4: The Language of Light

I chose to revisit exercise 4.2 for this assignment because I learnt so much from carrying out the task. I was aware that the sun alters shadows, however, I hadn’t appreciated how much the movement of the sun also affects the colours. It is not just dawn or the golden hour where colours are affected.  The bright blue of the sky was only apparent at mid-day.

As I photographed the plant on the roof of my boat I was reminded of the work of Imogen Cunningham, so she became the inspiration for this assignment.

Link to exercise 4.2

Imogen Cunningham was an American photographer who explored and created images in various genres including portraiture, nudes and industrial landscape.  She subsequently went on to work on street photography, but in the early 1920s she became particularly interested in botanical photography and the patterns which were formed by the light and shadows.  She focussed on black and white images using natural light, starting in her own back garden!

cunningham plant
Imogen Cunningham, circa 1920

As a woman in the early 1900s, she struggled to gain recognition as a photographer.  According to Mary Street Alinder, Ansel Adams described her work as:

Her prints could have been produced only by a woman, which does not imply they lack vigour.  All her photographs brim with a restrained strength typical of keen decisive feminine energy.

[Mary Street Alinder, 2014, Group f64, page 39]

However, as her work became increasingly respected by her peer group, her friend Edward Weston, according to Mary Street Alinder, wrote a review in a journal:

[Cunningham] uses her medium, photography, with honesty – no tricks, no evasion: a clean cut presentation of the thing itself, the life of whatever is seen through her lens – life without obvious external form. ……

Imogen Cunningham is a photographer! A rarely fine one.

[Mary Street Alinder, 2014, Group f64,  page 50]

Thankfully this view as shown by Ansel Adams has receded and artists tend to be assessed on their merit regardless of gender.  I empathise with Cunningham’s plight, however, as I have worked in the IT industry for many years, where, even now, prejudice still exists in some areas.

Cunningham was one of the founder members of the California based Group f64  along with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others.  At this time there was a move away from pictorialism towards modernism, and the Group f64 were advocates of the modernist movement.  Photographs were becoming more spontaneous, sharp and focussed, unlike the pictorial movement which encompassed soft focus and arranged scenes. This fitted with her interest in botanical photographs which were sharp and clearly defined.

I chose a very sunny day when the sun was shining into the boat. I drew the curtains so that just a shaft of light came through onto the table where I positioned the plant.

The camera was set on ISO 200, f8 and 1/80th of second and I used a 50mm prime lens.  It can be seen from the contact sheets below that some photographs were taken with the plant pot in the silver bucket, and some with just the plant pot.  I felt the silver bucket gave an additional dimension, so only used those in my assignment submission. The 8 photographs submitted are shown below.

I was pleased with the results, but when I compared them with Cunningham’s work, I felt they lacked clarity and precision. As can be seen above she went for shapes and patterns created by the shadows as well as the plants themselves.

Contact Sheets

Assignment 3

Assignment 3: The Decisive Moment. Updated following Tutor’s comments

Following feedback from my tutor I was encouraged to explore the work of a number of photographers, and to contextualise my images in relation to others’ work.  The decisive moment, as quoted by Cartier-Bresson, generally applies to street photography as that was the genre of his work.

My dilemma is understanding the difference between street photography and documentary photography, if there is a difference, and does it matter.

I concluded that documentary photography includes images which follow a particular theme or situation, such as in the case of Don McCullin, known for his war photography.  In a recent interview he said that he now photographs landscapes in his local area of Somerset, in order to try to erase the emotive war images from his mind, but he is also mindful of the disappearing landscapes in Britain and the need to document what may no longer be in existence in the future.   So he is still producing what he sees as documentary photography.

Looking at the work of Diane Arbus, she generally engaged with her subjects.  Many of her images were of “marginalised” people, such as circus performers, transvestites, etc.  However, she also photographed ordinary people going about their daily activities, such as the young boy about to cross the street.  So one could say Diane Arbus’ images were of both documentary and street genres.

Street photography tends to focus on capturing ad hoc images with no specific theme.  Cartier-Bresson was a master at capturing images as a snapshot, generally without the subjects being aware of the photograph being taken.  More recently, Tony Ray-Jones photographed ordinary street scenes with no specific theme, later developed further by Martin Parr.  The main difference between these two photographers is that Martin Parr produces very brightly coloured images, and seeks out scenes which, to some, would seem to ridicule the subjects’ behaviour.  Tony Ray-Jones images, on the other hand, were black and white and recording scenes which may be humorous, but not ridiculous.

I revisited my photographs selected for the “Decisive Moment” and feel my inspiration came mainly from Tony Ray-Jones work.  The photograph of the bicycle chained up next to a very clear sign stating that no cycles should be left there.  But no one had removed the cycle.  An amusing situation, but not ridiculous.

My journey in reviewing other photographers suggested by my tutor has helped me to align my work with others, and to understand more about reading other photographers’ work.




Assignment 3

Assignment 3 – The Decisive Moment

Ever since Henri Cartier-Bresson used the term “the decisive moment”, there has been a great deal of discussion as to what that actually means.  He used the term having taken the photograph of the man jumping over a puddle in Paris.  Surprisingly he could not actually see the person at the time but put his camera to a gap in a fence and clicked!  So “the decisive moment” must include luck as well.  Being in the right place at the right time.

The phrase “decisive moment” is usually seen as being the basis of street photography.  However, if you take the view that the decisive moment is actually the moment when the photographer decides to press the button then it could be applied to any photograph.   A landscape photographer may set up the camera on a tripod, and then wait for an hour for the sun to be in exactly the right place in order to cast the right shadows.  Or a sports photographer filming a motocross event may sit in one place next to a particularly muddy and slippery spot and take a number of photographs of spills and near misses during the event.  To get the perfect shot the photographer must press the button at exactly the right moment.  The decisive moment.

In his book, The Street Photographer’s Manual, David Gibson says that true street photography should never be staged in any way.

“Street photography’s core value is that it is never set up; this aspect is ‘non-negotiable’ because the guiding spirit of street photography is that it is real”

This view can be applied not just to street photography, but also to the above examples: the landscape photographer or sports photographer.  The decisive moment should not be staged, but an actual representation of events.

Andreas Feininger, in his book The Complete Photographer, said:

“Photography can be taught only in part – specifically, that part which deals with photo-technique. Everything else has to come from the photographer”

This quotation aligns with Cartier-Bresson’s view that the decisive moment is the point when the “geometry” comes together, the way the image is framed.  The relationships between the objects are in line.  Only the photographer knows when that moment is right. The photographer’s intuition.

I decided to use some photographs I took earlier in the year as I wandered around Oxford.  Street photography is outside my comfort zone, but I intend to do more in the future and hopefully become more confident as a result.  It was a cold day, starting out sunny, and then it started raining.  I managed a few puddle jumping pictures, in Cartier-Bresson style.  When selecting the photographs for this assignment I considered each one against Cartier-Bresson’s views: the geometry, the relationships, the decisive moment.


I loved the juxtaposition of this photograph: the stern notice about no posters or bicycles, below which is a bicycle securely locked to the lamppost, and posters on the telecom box.  At first, I wished I had waited till the car had gone, but then realised that it forms part of the story, life goes on around these small scenes tucked away in a corner.


A student walking past silhouettes of students.   The joke here is that in Oxford students don’t get together and throw their mortarboards in the air after a graduation ceremony.  It’s a very formal event, conducted in Latin.  Whoever was commissioned to paint this hoarding missed this point.


A happy little boy playing in a puddle oblivious to those walking around him.


This scene fascinated me.  A group of ordinary women have a very earnest discussion as though the jokey fluffy things on their heads were the most normal headwear in the world.    Which one was the bride?


I started to take the photograph of the man on the seat and as I pressed the button the cyclist came into view.  I think that was luck more than a conscious decision.


A photographer taking a photo of 2 people taking a selfie.  I would love to have known why.


The bird in the background had been hovering around these 2 girls for a while waiting for them to discard their crumbs.

The puddle jumpers.


Finally, I particularly like this photograph by Matt Stuart in 2006 in London.  It seems to me to follow all the Cartier-Bresson “rules”.  The feet are all in line and marching to (or from) work.  The pigeon is just another commuter.  The geometry is in place.


The contact sheet:







Assignment 2

Assignment 2 – Collections. Updated following Tutor’s comments

The purpose of the assignment was to photograph a series of locks showing that the fundamental engineering of the UK canal system had not been modified over the years given that modern technology now governs much of the civil engineering processes today.  Some locks have been electrified, particularly on the rivers, but most remain as they were, requiring manual input to work them.

To put this idea into context I then considered some of the pioneers of the 18th and 19th  century, those engineers who designed and built the canal system.

The development of the canal system in the 18th century was driven by changes resulting from the industrial revolution and the need to move goods around the country as economically as possible.  One of the first canals was commissioned by the Duke of Bridgewater, who owned coal mines at Worsley and needed to transport his coal, previously transported in carts, to be taken to the River Mersey  more efficiently and cheaply.  He commissioned James Brindley, a millwright, to design and build a canal.  That canal still exists and in regular use: The Bridgewater Canal.

I searched a number of archives to try to find photographs of the locks showing how they were worked in the same way as today, without success.  However, I found 2 photographs of the construction posted by John Nesbitt on Pinterest (origin unknown).


I also looked at the work of Bernhard and Hilla Becher.  Both keen photographers with an interest in industrial landscape.   They set out to record these structures in a detached way – thus if the structures were no longer required or irrelevant they would be demolished.  But the Bechers’ photographs ensured the images survived.

“The Bechers’ purpose has always been to make the clearest possible photographs of industrial structures. They are not interested in making euphemistic, socio-romantic pictures glorifying industry, nor doom-laden spectacles showing its costs and dangers. Equally, they have nothing in common with photographers who seek to make pleasing modernist abstractions, treating the structures as decorative shapes divorced from their function.

The Bechers’ goal is to create photographs that are concentrated on the structures themselves and not qualified by subjective interpretations. To them, these structures are the ‘architecture of engineers’ and their pictures should be seen as the photography of engineers – that is, record pictures.

So, in 1959, the Bechers drove around the Ruhr in a van photographing blast furnaces, winding towers, gas tanks, cooling towers, water towers, lime kilns and framework houses. They would use ladders and scaffolding to achieve clear vantage points from which to make their pictures. Like technical drawings, these would feature front and side elevations.

Becher Towers

Winding towers Germany, Belgium, France, 1965–98

My collection of photographs aims to achieve the same purpose.  If at a later date locks are modified, or changed completely and the old technology is no longer used, my photographs will remain as a record of how they once were

Finally, I took my lock photographs on two separate days with very different weather conditions and lighting.  My tutor suggested revisiting the contact sheets and creating two possible edits, one for each lighting condition.  I tried using photoshop to carry out simple edits so that they all appeared to have been taken on the same day.  However, I was not happy with the result, so I selected some different photos all taken on the same day.  Here is the final selection:




Assignment 2

Assignment 2: Collections: Views

The aim of this collection of photographs is to show how the majority of locks on UK canals continue to operate using Victorian engineering, and without any modernisation or 21st century technology.  There are some exceptions to this: e.g.: the Anderton Lift and the Foxton Incline Plane lift, and although some rivers do have electrically operated locks, the principle of how a boat progresses up or down hill remains the same.

I visited two locks to take the photographs: one at Napton on the Oxford Canal, a narrow canal, and one at Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union, a wide canal.  The only difference between a narrow and wide canal is the width of the locks, but I wanted to show the different winding gear and gates.  I avoided taking photographs of scenery or boats as there are many such photographs in existence.  This was an exercise in photographing the locks and their workings rather than a create a set of “postcard” images.

I used a 24 – 105mm zoom lens as this gave me the flexibility of being able to take close up photographs and also to stand back and zoom into the subject without falling into the canal!  All the photographs were taken on aperture priority.   I found the first set taken on the narrow canal difficult as it was a dull day and I each time I closed down the aperture to increase the depth of field the camera increased the shutter speed.  Without a tripod (which would have been impractical) some photos were blurred and some overexposed.  I had to alter the exposure compensation each time to allow for this.  The second set of photographs on the wide canal were taken on a sunny day so I had less complications with over or under exposure.  I have indicated on the back of the 10 printed photographs which ones were taken on the dull and sunny days.

I took some photographs of people working the locks, which I think worked well, but perhaps I should have taken more of the boats going down and coming up in the lock to show how the water controls the functionality of the paddles and gates.

I was pleased with the photograph of the wooden bollard.  It was taken with a wide aperture (f4) to blur the background and from this angle it is difficult to assess its size.  (Actually it is about 18” high). The bollard would have been installed when the lock was built, and now, with many years of ropes having been wrapped around it, has taken on a very different shape.  It’s no longer straight sided.

I felt the photographs of moving water worked well considering the camera was on aperture priority, rather than shutter priority.  Because they were taken on a sunny day, the camera set the shutter speed fast enough for the water drops to be in focus, which was my aim.  I also took some of the moving water where the shutter speed was slower, and these can be seen on the contact sheet.  My preference is for the drops to be visible.

When I assessed my work I was a bit disappointed as I felt I had not been able to show all the workings of the lock from the bank.  There is much more to see from within the lock chamber itself but of course that is only visible from a boat.

Although I am pleased with the technical quality of these photographs, I think overall the collection could be improved by telling the whole story of how a boat gets from one level to another using only mechanical technology. Whilst all the photographs are of the same subject, there is no narrative, and anyone who is not familiar with locks would not necessarily understand what is going on.

I intend to take more photographs in future when we next take our own boat through some locks.  The view of the engineering inside the lock chamber is easier to see and photograph.  I will then revisit this collection and aim to tell the full story.


Contact Sheet


Assignment 1

Assignment 1 – The Square Mile. Updated following Tutor’s comments

29 November 2017.  Amendment to Assignment 1.

Following a discussion with my tutor, Les Monaghan, I revisited the photographs selected for the assignment.  I realised I had posted a series of photographs as a record of the area rather than telling a story.  My original purpose was to photograph 2 sites in the area with the juxtaposition of the new hi-tec and the old.  What I missed was the one key point which linked them both: prohibition and security.  The earth satellite dishes are surrounded by security guards, chain link fencing and barbed wire.  The ruins of the manor house are also surrounded by fencing and a sign stating: Danger Keep Out.  As there was no Private sign or a padlock on the gate, I concluded that this was just because the ruins are unsafe. However, as I had no intention of going into the ruins and risking my safety I went through the unlocked gate to get a closer look. And then I was shouted at by a walker to keep to the footpath, and that I was on private property. It seems to me that as a photographer we are conceived as being guilty before we can prove our innocence. What harm was I doing photographing a few satellite dishes, for their beauty as they reflected the sunshine, and some ruins, which I had no intention of approaching and risking my own safety.

I have removed some and added other photographs as suggested by Les.  Also I revisited the ruins and photographed the Keep Out sign.  It was a sunny day but slightly later in the season, so the foliage is not quite as shown previously.  But I felt it was an important part of the series of photographs, and I should have picked up on this link at the time I took the original photographs.



Assignment One: The Square Mile

For the past 15 years I have lived on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal, 9 miles north of Oxford. Initially when I read through the brief I thought of the obvious: I’ll photograph the canal. But then I felt this would not truly reflect the overall landscape. The canal does dominate the landscape but there is much more within the square mile than just the canal, in particular a 14th century derelict manor house, and an earth satellite monitoring station. I decided to photograph both these items to create a series of pictures showing the juxtaposition of ultra-modern and ancient within a small area of rural Oxfordshire.
I took my inspiration from Keith Arnatt. I was fascinated at how he could take an ordinary subject – for example a rubbish tip – and create art. I have always felt that the satellite dishes have personalities and look as if they are about to escape their compound. I hope these photographs reflect that feeling. The ruins of the manor house, on the other hand, are quite the opposite. They have been there since the 14th century and are not going anywhere!
I chose to photograph the satellite dishes on a bright sunny day so that I could capture the way they rise up out of the surrounding trees, majestically reflecting the sunshine, gleaming bright white. The site is well guarded and as can be seen in some of the photographs, they are surrounded by chain link fencing and barbed wire. To me this makes the dishes more entrancing, as though the fencing is there to keep them in, rather than to keep intruders out. I took some of the photographs using a 250mm zoom lens, but would have loved to have been able to take those photographs with a longer lens (if I had one). I didn’t want to get too near as I was being closely observed by a security guard!
The photographs of the derelict manor house were also taken on a sunny day, and I think this gives greater definition to the brickwork, creating more shadows than if they had been taken on a cloudy day. I was unable to get any closer to the ruin because of safety warning signs, but nonetheless was able to take photographs from several angles. I would have liked to have been able to go into the ruin and photograph the walls from the base pointing upwards into the sky.
Overall, I was pleased with the selection of photographs. I would like to develop this project further by returning to the same sites at different times of the year and in different weather conditions to compare the difference that lighting and seasons make to the landscape.

Contact Sheet

Contact Sheet assignment 1