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



Galleries, Exhibitions and Study Visits · Uncategorized

Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship at the Barbican

The work of Dorothea Lang and Vanessa Winship were on display at a joint exhibition at the Barbican Centre earlier this year, and I went along to the study day.

Vanessa Winship. The first part of the exhibition showed photographs she had taken in when she and her husband spent a number of years in the Balkans, Albania, Athens and Turkey.  I felt that she had created a record of how life existed, and the landscape of those areas, but had failed to engage with the people she was photographing.  The only photograph in which she actually seemed to engage with the subject was that of an endearing little girl sitting in a cafe looking out of the window.

© Vanessa Winship

In most of the other photographs there is little rapport between her and her subjects.  This is especially true of the series of schoolgirls, where I would have thought she could have engaged with the young girls.  They were mostly very stiff and lacked humour or personality.

© Vanessa Winship

Then we moved onto her series of the Humber estuary.  Whilst these photographs were of good quality, I didn’t feel they were exceptional and was surprised that she was able to exhibit at such a prestigious venue.

The final part of her exhibition was a series of photographs of her grandson taken on an iphone.  Again I didn’t think these were outstanding, simply family pictures which mean nothing to the onlooker.

Overall I was disappointed with the work of Vanessa Winship.

Dorothea Lange started out her career as  portrait photographer, but then joined the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1935 and documented migrant workers and their families in rural areas of the US.  This was a period of depression caused by the overworking of the land resulting in an infertile dust bowl.  The migrant families had to move around looking for work.  Dorothea Lange travelled around the area affected and photographed the migrant workers, one of her most well known photograph being the Migrant Mother.  The mother was Florence Thompson, age thirty-two, mother of seven children, from Nipomo, California.


Migrant Mother © Dorothea Lange


I felt she was able to capture the essence of how life was during the depression.  These children seem unaware of the seriousness of their situation and are enjoying life.

Children during the depression © Dorothea Lange

Overall I felt Dorothea Lange was an excellent photographer capturing the feelings, worries, and anxieties of the migrant workers during the depression.


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

Part 5 · Uncategorized

Exercise 5.2

Homage to other photographers

1. Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus specialised in photographing marginalized groups such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, strippers, carnival performers, nudists, dwarves, children, mothers, couples, elderly people. The photograph below taken in 1961,  “Jack Dracula at a Bar”,  depicts a fully tattooed man who worked as an entertainer in side shows and circuses.  By photographing and published her images, she aimed to show the world that the members of these marginalised groups were no different to those in society who considered they were “normal”.


Jack Dracula
Jack Dracula at a Bar by Diane Arbus 1961

I selected this particular image because at the time it was taken body art was not considered acceptable in society, rather a curiosity to be viewed, but not indulged in in any way.   Today tattoos and body piercings are becoming the norm, and many of my close friends have a least one tattoo.  Furthermore, most towns or cities in the UK now have at least one tattoo parlour.

A close friend of mine was willing to be photographed, showing his tattoos.  Surprisingly, when I asked him to pose, he naturally went into the same pose as Jack Dracula in Diane Arbus’s photograph without me asking him to.  He had not seen Jack Dracula before that day. Coincidence?

The main difference between these two photographs is that at the time Jack Dracula was performing in side shows tattoos like his were not the norm.  It was not considered “respectable” to have any tattoos, even hidden from sight.  He belonged to a marginalised group, to use Diane Arbus’ view. Today, tattoos are considered acceptable, and in contrast to Jack Dracula, the model in my photograph would be considered “normal” and acceptable.  The happy smile on my friend’s face shows how proud he of his tattoos, unlike the blank expression on Jack Dracula’s face. His face gives nothing away.

So the original intention of Diane Arbus’s photograph of Jack Dracula was to help normalise his appearance by taking the photograph and displaying it publicly. Onlookers may over time become used to his appearance and accept it as the norm.

2. Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron specialised in taking soft focus portraits using natural light, no studio lights, and in black and white.  The first image below is one taken by Julia Margaret Cameron of her niece, Julia Jackson (mother of Virgina Wolf).  The second is one of a series of photographs I took in the same genre.

I find her work inspiring because she was from a conventional Victorian family, born in India in  1815 and started taking photographs later in life – at the age of 48 when her daughter and son in law gave her a camera.  This was at a time when Victorian women were engulfed in domesticity.  She had her critics, who ridiculed her soft focus technique as “out of focus”.  However, she ignored the critics, and eventually became a respected figure in her field.  She died in 1897