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 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