Category Archives: Ideas and Thoughts

Liz Hingley – taking the perfect portrait

Taking someone’s portrait is always a disruptive and often very awkward event. Everyone has their default portrait pose. The role of the photographer is to push beyond, to find that mysterious intimate moment that only a camera can freeze.”

Enjoyed reading this because it acknowledges the discomfort that I’ve been experiencing around photographing people.

Hingley’s message is that it is normal – even for her.  The magic happens when we dare to oush through it.

Full article:

Exercise 3.2 – aspects of personality

This exercise requires me make a list of some unique aspects of my personality then set about expressing these attributes through a photograph.

I noted that the exercise does not use the word ‘portrait’ on this occasion.

I reflected on a few ideas then went for a walk around the city of Derby.  I opted for a gritty black and white aesthetic to echo the darker, more melancholy, shadow-self that resides below the happy, cheerful persona that other people identify with as being ‘Ian’:

_IMG2767 There is a constant conflict within me of wanting structure and order vs. seeking a simpler, less structured life where random fun things happen.

After taking this I also considered that there’s a voyeuristic element to this image – as though a person unknown is watching me through a venetian blind.  I fear our gradual loss of civil liberties caused by CCTV, internet surveillance, and so on as we cannot be assured that those watching us always have good intent.


_IMG2766This image describes me on two levels.  I love to be alone in nature, especially near trees and water.  Despite being in the centre of a busy city this rower have found his own quiet space, the image framed to exclude the surrounding buildings and bridges.

Like me, he’s seeking to enjoy a journey as much as the achievement of the destination.  No competitiveness, no challenge.  Just being, moving, travelling.



Is this graffiti reflecting my nature of wanting to help and support people?  Or is it a mirror, reminding me how often I don’t do this?



I’m easily discouraged by obstacles.  I’m trying to learn to step back and see the way around them.


I feel very inspired to develop this into a body of work and, for this reason alone, has been excellent at helping me out of a bit of a rut.  Compared to previous OCA courses I am finding the portraiture in I+P to be more challenging, so it was good to be ‘let off the portraiture leash’ for a while and take photos I enjoy again.

My idea is to consider developing this to see how this mirror of self, portrayed through inanimate objects, changes over time.  Perhaps a photobook over a year.  Like keeping a written journal but containing photographs.  It will be fascinating to see how feelings, mood, style and environment work together and evolve over a period of time.  I need to be careful to ensure that this introspective self indulgence doesn’t become all consuming though.   While I adore the work of Francesca Woodman, things didn’t end up well for her, as we know.  There are also aspects of the self-exploration into the troubled life of Claude Cahun here, as already explored in detail by Gillian Wearing:

Often a fan of bold ‘Martin Parr like’ primary colours and implied humour, it was interesting to explore this darker side of self.  I believe we all have one inside us.  Hopefully the viewer would feel that they knew something of my personal journey when they reached the end of it.  Although it should really be a personal journal that triggers other ideas and thoughts.  My tutor has encouraged the use of a paper-based photo scrapbook and journal for this purpose so I will combine the two some how.   I note that some people engage on ‘Project 365’ and ‘Photo a Day’ projects.


Art portraiture: a personal epiphany?

Reading Face (Ewing, 2008), I suddenly realised the required difference of approach between art portraiture and commercial portraiture that I am perhaps more familiar with.  Instead of apologetically trying to make photographs that people will like, art photography has a different mindset – that of seeking to peel back the ‘veneer’ of the mask, makeup or fake smile to reveal the ‘real’ person undernearth.

Yes, it is important to establish trust with the subject through openness, integrity and good ethics towards photography.  But also I have a right – a responsibility I might argue – to get the photographs that I want.  It’s ok to experiment, change my mind direct the shoot and try to peer beneath the mask…and capture what I might be privileged to see.  That’s my role as an art student.  Not just to make them want to buy a print for the wall.

Writing it down in a reflective way makes this all so obvious.  But I can see how I’ve been so ingrained (for decades) in thinking that, above all else, I have an over-riding social / professional duty to produce work that the customer likes.  This stifles my creativity.  It feeds my fear of being ok to be  experimental rather than on the safe side.  Seminars are geared towards creating ‘portraits that sell’.

A small thing.  But something that has helped reorient how I approach my work

Ewing goes on to explore this portrait, Anastasia, by Inex van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin which can be found on page 75 and online at:


He argues that, at first sight, we are viewing an ‘elegant, refined, Versailles-like decadance, this delicate waif of a woman’.  However, upon closer inspection the mask is not actually a mask at all but black make up.  A mirror rather than a mask?  Is the viewer really looking at a ‘mirror reflecting male lust’ (ibid, p74)?  Clearly this is a carefully constructed portrait image driven by a vision of the photographer to express a personal vision and explore the viewer’s gaze, rather than to produce a portrait that the subject was ‘happy with’.


Ewing, W.A. and Herschdorfer, N. (2008) Face: The new photographic portrait. London: Thames & Hudson.

Andy Adams

Adams has the idea of making the internet browser a virtual gallery space, making work accessible to a wider audience than might otherwise be able to visit a gallery of prints.

Whether this is a gimmick in light of the almost ubiquitous sharing and promotional posts on social media is a debatable point.  But there are some great portraits here that I wanted to retain for future inspiration.

Adams’ subjects cover Russia and the gay community, perhaps with a homage to Tillmans in some of the work. There are also gritty monochrome images of curiosly unique people, perhaps some may say freaks and oddballs.  Like Arbus, Adams has clearly built rapport and trust with his subjects before lifting the camera to his eye.

Migrant Mother – the wider view

Unrelated to the course but I wanted to save this for future reference. Someone on a forum has allegedly located the other images shot by Lange alongside the Migrant Mother.

In effect this is like looking at a contact sheet, seeing the selected image within the context of the others taken at the time.  The others taken are all wider views taken further away.  On one hand they carry less impact but they do show more environmental context of where these migrants live.

Paparazzi – ethics and covert photography

Confessions of the paparazzi, Channel4 , 9pm, Monday 6 February 2017

This was a tv programme about the working life of George Bamby, paparazzi photographer.  It raised some interesting questions about the ethics of covert people photography that is relevant to the course, especially exercise 2.2.

Bamby is perhaps the most notorious of celebrity photographers, known for his questionable intrusive techniques and acting on the edge of privacy laws.

Many people would start from the viewpoint that the paparazzi occupy the less savoury end of the spectrum of photography.  His earning potential is derived from exploitative images of celebrities without makeup, in compromising positions or otherwise behaving contrary to their carefully honed public persona.  He makes special reference to Dawn French in the programme as someone who has taken court proceedings against him on previous occasions.

Surely everyone has a right to a private life?

Several times in the programme he admits to taking a photograph in an opportunist way then fabricating a story around it to invent context and narrative for a magazine editor.  For example, he photographs a Poldark actor on the set smoking a vaporiser and embellishes it with a story about the crew having an argument on set with him about his constant use it it.  His justification is that the  actor “stays in the public eye, the magazine earns money, I earn money, everyone is happy.”

But he also makes the valid point that these people are very wealthy from being in the public eye.  So surely he has the right to earn a modest income from photographing people who have chosen a career path to be in the public gaze anyway?

I’d add a further point that media photographers often get a bad name for airbrushing models to create ‘perfect’ faces and bodies.  This distorts our perception of reality.  It is argued that impressionable young girls see this as ‘normal’ then suffer mental illness, unnecessary plastic surgery and anorexia as a result.  Isn’t Bamby simply maki g the point that celebrities are just normal people too?

As photographers we must all be guilty of ‘enhanching’ the narrative behind a shot to give it stronger context and meaning at some point?

is the ethical boundary money? Is it ok to take compromising photographs for artistic purposes but not to profit at the expense of others? What about war photographers who get paid for putting dead bodies on our screens?  At the end of the programme I surprised myself by having more sympathy with him than I did at the start.

But while the images make money, can be amusing and act as a natural counterbalance to the inflating egos of the rich and famous, they can’t be said to have any meaning.  They are record shots of someone famous at a point in time but no more.

One thing I’ve already learned to appreciate from my studies is that meaning is an essential component of a successful image.

Fortune Cookie

Although this does not fit precisely with the course content I wanted to retain these ideas as something that I could potentially develop further in the future.

As it was Chinese New Year we sat down to a meal which included Fortune Cookies.  It occurred to me that the ‘fortune’ contained within could be made the primarily element in a portrait. What does this then infer in the resultant image?

‘You are a person with a good sense of justice’

‘The quieter you are the more you hear’

I would have liked to have made the series a set of three with others but this was not possible.

Monochrome was selected as it more strongly emphasised the writing on the paper by eliminating colour distractions.  Focussing closely ensured that the actual subject was portrayed as secondary to the text.

The overall impression is that the ‘fortune’ plays a significant role in how we believe the subject to be.  For instance, in ‘The quieter you are the more you hear’ we are immediately led to assume that the subject is particularly quiet, or otherwise.  His out of focus smile then suggests the irony of the latter.

Conversely, the stern face of the first image fits well with the text suggesting that the subject has a ‘good sense of justice’