Monthly Archives: December 2016

Exercise 1.4 – Archival intervention

For this exercise I chose to explore the collection of family photographs kept by my mother.  The collection is held within various family albums and framed images on display.  As such it is the first time they have been brought together in a cohesive way.

My intention was to create a short chronotype using photographs of my late father.  Inspired by how the Hardman collection highlighted the visual changes seen in the same individual over time, I hoped this would provide insights into the life of my late father that were not immediately apparent from seeing the various images in disparate form.

The photographs were carefully selected to provide a broad spread of my father’s entire life.  He died at the age of 51 and so there are approximately a decade between each image, spanning from him being a young boy, through his teenage years, marriage and into middle age.  The attempt here is to show the key milestones in his life, although naturally old age is missing from the set due to his early death.

Despite the variance in age, location and circumstances, each photograph is clearly linked by my rather wearing the very same smile in each.  Before bringing the set together in this way, this observation that his smile endured unchanged throughout his life might easily have been missed.

I considered the progression from black and white to colour, and whether it would be better to change the latter ones to also be black and white so they all match.  For this particular exercise I decided it was better to keep the photographs to the original, since other aesthetics such as the quality of original camera would never make the individual images look exactly the same anyway.  Some of them carry fond memories for me in this respect, with the penultimate image being taken by me using my first ever camera, a Kodak Instamatic (with rotating flash cubes!).  I note that the last image has faded due to being in a frame in direct sunlight so that my mother can view it every day, a poignant metaphor for the subject matter perhaps.

Shortly after the last image was taken my father became ill and died within a space of three months.  On a personal level, I was struck by how it was possible to see the change in my father between this and the previous images, looking older than his 50 years in the final one.  It is as though the illness was quietly taking its toll already.  Again, this progression might easily have been missed without the broader context of the other photographs.

So far, the chronotype has been reviewed within the context of personal experience, relationships and memory.  In the case of BE. J. Bellocq, his work was not discovered until after his death and the subsequent discovery by Larry Borenstein.  Similarly, very few people saw the contents of the Hardman collection until Liverpool library purchased it in 1976.  How might my chronotype by viewed by an outsider without the external context I possess?

Of course it is difficult to be objective and detached from photographs that carry personal connotations, but there would seem to be two key themes that link the set together.  The first is the aforementioned smile.  I believe this is enough for another viewer to recognise that this is the same individual in each image, thus enabling them to identify with the purpose and main subject of the set.  Secondly, there is a hint of there being a social occation in each one.  Some are more obvious, such as a wedding.  But in the early photograph my father was clearly dressed in his sunday best, complete with bow tie.  Later, he is seen raising a glass in the sun with friends.  The later shot shows him surrounded by empty glasses on the table.  Clearly there is a social occasion going on on but now we can’t see the people he is sharing it with.  The empty glasses denote the celebration time is running out, perhaps.  In the last image my father is seen out walking with a group of friends and my mother.  In order to fit the photograph in the available frame, my mother has cut the other people off (we can just see another foot in the bottom left corner).  Sadly, within a year of this photograph being taken, my father was detached from his rambling society in a more literal sense.

Since this exercise overlapped with my preparation for Assignment 5 of my previous OCA course Context and Narrative, I also chose to incorporate the chronotype for this Exercise within that:

(781 words)

Assignment 1 -The non-familiar



Due to the practical issue of nervousness outlined in the previous post, I was keen to work with simple equipment so that I could focus on the subjects rather than my gear and move about easily.

Equipment was selected to be a DSLR with an f/2.8 24-70  zoom lens.  This combination was selected since it offered the option of both head-and-shoulder and three-quarter/full-length shots in one relatively light and portable setup.  The f/2.8 aperture offered shallow depth of field throughout the range.  Carrying multiple primes was ruled out for speed, as was the use of a longer lens as I felt this may allow too big a gap between me and the subject, potentially allowing people to walk between us in a place and ruin the shot.

The weather conditions were overcast with occasional hazy sun.  This gave very few shadows and was flattering for most subjects.  Given the conditions I opted not to use fill in flash as there were no significant shadows to be careful of and it made the shooting faster and easier.

In practice, it quickly became clear that a 70mm focal length at f/2.8 provided a very good combination of distance from subject, lack of distortion and depth of field.  I immediately decided to keep to this setting for all the shots to provide consistency to the set.  Shutter speed was set to 160th/second to freeze movement and I allowed the camera to select an ISO to suit (I was not concerned about high ISO noise given the fair conditions and full frame sensor).  The camera was set to single shot as I didn’t want to startle people with ‘paparazzi’ style camera clicks.  This also forced me to pay attention to their facial expressions – hopefully selecting the right moments.  The camera was set to use Centre Weighted metering to ensure the face was correctly exposed.

As I wanted the subject to be the main element of the image,  I could concentrate on getting to know what I could about their personality in a short space of time.  Seeking to accentuate clothing and environmental context felt like a potential distraction from the main challenge I was attempting to overcome – that of approaching complete strangers and photographing them face to face.  That said, I considered background in each case and often asked subjects to move slightly to make the best use of this.  Typically 3-5 images of each person were taken.  I note that in most cases the selected images are the earlier ones.

The images exported from Lightroom in the following format:

  • 1,500 pixels longest edge
  • Converted to sRGB .jpg from Adobe (98) DNG RAW.

‘Tom’ 1/160th at f/2.8 ISO 160 70mm lens

Tom was by far the most positive and chatty subject of the session.  I think the bus station background suited his character well.


‘John and Unknown’ 1/160th at f/5.6 ISO200 70mm lens

When I approached this couple to ask if I could photograph them for an art project the lady said ‘yes but don’t ask me my name’.  I noted that John (not his real name) then immediately manoeuvred himself in front of her as though acting as some sort of protection.  I started to close down the aperture from f/2.8 thinking that I needed to compensate for this distance between them with a larger depth of field.  But I stopped at f/5.6 as I think that this sums up how she is a bit of an enigma – we are not quite clear who she is in any sense, partially hidden behind John.  The trees behind seem to mimic John’s hair.


‘Steve’ 1/160th at f/2.8 ISO 320 70mm lens

I saw Steve rolling a cigarette near to the local hostel.  He didn’t seem to have any place to get to in a hurry and was happy to be photographed.


‘Jules’ 1/160th at f/2.8 ISO640 70mm lens

Jules had just parked her cycle and was lighting a cigarette before going into work when I met her.  I liked how invigorated and ready for the day she seemed, framed by her impressive hat.


‘Hillary’ 160th at f2.8 ISO 125  70mm lens

I ran out of time of the first shoot and so went out the following weekend to complete the assignment.  I soon met Hillary out walking her dog and collecting litter left by passers by to ensure the neighbourhood looked nice.  I liked her juxtaposed style of outdoor gear and wayward hair mixed with lipstick, earrings and large necklace.  I felt these matched her style of local conscience and strong personality.  As soon as she heard that I was shooting local people for an art project she said ‘let me stand over there so the lovely trees are in the background’.


This was, by some measure, the toughest challenge I have undertaken so far in my OCA studies.

I find the reason for this hard to fathom in some ways as I’m a very personable individual who frequently talks to strangers in daily life, so why should it be so difficult when I have a camera in my hand?  I used to be a wedding photographer until around ten years ago so have some experience shooting people.  But this was very different to anything I’ve done before because the subjects were not expecting to be photographed.  I had no idea how they might respond to me – a ‘no’ could take the form of anything from a dismissive word to violence.

The ratio of people that said no to yes was approximately 3:1 and I quickly learned to become more resilient over the course of the session.  I did this by focussing on the last person who had agreed, not the most recent person if they had refused.  I did form some very interesting generalisations of people as time went on:

  • Smokers were more likely to say ‘yes’
  • Well dressed people generally said ‘no’
  • Asking people who were walking along never succeeded – better to ask people who were already stood doing something such as attending to a cycle, waiting for a bus or lighting a cigarette.

Some people said yes then squirmed in front of the camera leaving me to wonder why they agreed in the first place.  Here is ‘Pam’:

After two shots I realised this was not going to work and released her from her apparent torture, claiming to have already got a great shot and thanking her for her time.

Reflecting on my work through the four OCA assessment criteria:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Having now completed what I think of as a ‘challenge’ rather than a photographic assignment, I’ve learned a lot.  Firstly, I’ve proved that I can do it.  I did not get arrested, beaten up or abused and some people actually did say ‘yes’!

Against this personal context, I’m satisfied that the images are well exposed and composed with accurate focussing and appropriate use of depth of field.  I could strengthen this in the future by using a reflector or fill flash to add catchlights and soften lighting in some of the portraits, but for this initial assignment I wanted to keep things fuss- free.

Quality of Outcome

For what felt like such a stressful situation I’m happy with the outcome here.  There is an aesthetic and compositional consistency to the set which, like a typology, makes the less obvious aspects of these individual Derby characters stand out amongst their peers.

The eyes are the main point of sharpness in each image, inviting the viewer to look at the individual and engage with them on some emotional level.  While not executed to the same extreme level as the Deadpan genre of portrait photography, this triggers a slightly unnerving feeling to the viewer-subject relationship.  It is rare to be able to look so intently at other person without knowing anything about them.  For this reason I think this images are engaging.

Demonstration of Creativity

I feel this is the least evidenced area of the assignment.

I have selected backgrounds to complement the subject’s character, social disposition or as an amusing simile for a hairstyle.  For the latter, this is technically two portraits but I saw the opportunity to use selective depth of field to tell something about their relationship with me, the photographer.


Inspired by Arbus, I have made an effort to try and gain an insight into who my subjects were as individuals.  Clearly this is difficult to achieve in a meaningful way in a short street encounter.  But with a smile and open questions I found that people agreeable to having their photograph taken quickly opened up and talked about themselves.

Whilst taken around 70 years apart, the work of Sander and Püve have a similar goal of using photography to provide some context of what it means to be a group of people from a certain geographical area.  Whilst restricted to a very small typology of five images for this assignment, I have attempted to provide a similar insight into the people local to me.


Gilden, B. (2016) Faces. Available at: (Accessed: 14 December 2016).
Püve, B. and LensCulture (2016) Estonian documents: Portrait of A nation – photographs and text by Birgit Püve. Available at: (Accessed: 14 December 2016).
Southall, T.W. and Israel, M. (1997) Diane Arbus: Magazine work. Edited by Doon Arbus. New York, NY: Aperture Foundation.


On seeing this assignment a friend pointed me to the work of Niall McDiarmid with whom I wasn’t already familiar.

I can see how the approach is similar although he often takes a full body crop of his subjects.  The method of approach is like the one I took for the assignment.  McDiarmid does not use names of his subjects, instead leaving them anonymous and borrowing the place name instead such as ‘Poole’, or High Street.