Category Archives: Part 5

Final Reflections on I&P

There is a sense of ‘developing a practice’ starting to come through in my work now which I’m very pleased about. I’m inspired to continue with Assignment 5 and the Part 5 exercise 5.3 ‘Amberline’  as longer-term personal projects (or develop them further in Level 2 Landscape), as also encouraged by my tutor.  For Exercise 5.3 in particular, I find the lack of people in the images intriguing and draw parallels with the work of Atget.  This is something I will take into my next course, Level 2 Landscape, and explore deeper.

I&P has presented me with a significant challenge and was definitely the right course to choose after Context and Narrative. Assignment 1, Photographing Strangers, felt like a mountain to climb at the beginning but Assignment 5 shows how far the course content and my tutor have developed me. I’m thinking very differently about my work in areas such as cohesiveness and finding meaning.  But the biggest change is that I am now welcoming rather than fearful of the opportunity to work with strangers. The key is to get to know them while being clear on my creative purpose  – then I can portray them with purpose and confidence.

One thing that kept cropping up in my discussions with my tutor throughout Identity & Place is how I work.  Or, as I fondly call it, the ‘notebook issue’.

My tutor has advocated more use of a physical notebook as an effective, organic method of capturing, stimulating and linking creative thoughts and ideas.  I’ve tried this a couple of times and two issues arise

  1. Falling back into using the digital tools essential for my work life
  2. My handwriting!

I organise my professional life using an online ‘to do list’ app (Todoist) and Microsoft OneNote.  I always have my phone in my pocket, so I fall back into a habit of capturing ideas on the fly in my to do list. I then collate these at a later date, grouping them into the project or Assignment I’m currently working on.

This works really well for ensuring that I capturing things and don’t forget them because I didn’t have a pen at the time.  As a left-hander, I also sometimes go back to my written notes and struggle to read what I actually wrote.

Ive tried mind mapping tools but these seem to be clunky and I lose spontaneity with them.

Nevertheless, I do want to make more use of a physical notebook to ‘break’ my habit of keeping things logically structured and think more organically, letting ideas morph into new ones.

Trying to find a perfect compromise, I think I need to accept that my single to do list is ‘king’ for enduring I never forget anything g in life so I’m reluctant to give this up. But I also need a companion notebook to explore themes and ideas in a less structured way. I will also try slowing down with a nice pen so that I can hopefully read it again after.

Sometimes the simple things seem the hardest to fix.  This is a theme I’ll take with me into Level 2.

Looking back at the practitioners who were a major inspiration for my work during I&P, these would have to be Arbus, Tillmans and Kosloff’s ‘The Theatre of the Face‘ for setting out the progressive journey photographic portraiture has taken in the last hundred years.  Alongside this, Rankin provided a mental ‘bridge’ between my old, more commercially-oriented way of thinking and taking a more artistic approach.

As discussed in my self-reflection on Assignment 5, Arbus taught me how empathy can provide an ethical platform for curiosity in approaching people as potential photographic subjects.  I was lo longer thinking ‘apologetically’ as an annoying person with a camera, but as someone with clear intent to show people as unique, worthy but visually interesting individuals.

Exercise 5.3

For this exercise I decided to photograph the journey of my local bus service, called the ‘Amberline’.  It takes a 6.5 mile route between my local pub in a sleepy village and Derby City Centre.  I decided to walk the route, taking a photograph at each and every bus stop along the way.

I selected a 43mm f1.9 prime lens on a full frame body.  This allowed me to travel light and keep to a single focal length for consistency.  The 43mm lens was chosen as it provides a very natural field of view.

The time of year fitted the ‘amber’ theme very well and so I sought to include as many autumn leaves as possible in the shots.  I also toned the images with a warm effect, heightening the autumnal tones / amber theme further and looking like a 1980’s ‘Instamatic’ camera style.  I took time to explore each bus stop looking for interesting facets – some are bent, some shelters have interesting community notices pinned inside them, giant Remembrance Day poppies and laylandii conifers squeezing against the glass in their quest to grow.

The initial image contained an image of a but for context along with the single word ‘Amberline’ as a title in the same font as the bus itself.  Images titles were all taken from the timetable, quoting the minutes past the hour that the bus arrives (it is an hourly service).  The last image shows the gps points for the images plotted on a map.

Starting out in the centre of the city, the route takes us past urban parks and Derby’s industrial centre – Smith’s clocks being world famous at one time.  It is interesting to note the transition into rural countryside before the traces of people begin again in the outlying villages.  But stops now seem less frequent and linked to pubs, churches and doctors’ surgeries, indicating the changing role of the bus service from leisure time, urban work transport, recreation and finally as a rural lifeline for outlying communities.

1_Corporation St 35 mins past the hour

35 mins past the hour

2_St Pauls Church 36 mins past the hour

36 mins past the hour

3_Chester Park 38 mins past the hour

38 mins past the hour

4_Alfreton Rd 38 mins past the hour

38 mins past the hour

5_Haslams Lane 39 mins past the hour

39 mins past the hour

6_Pektron 42 mins past the hour

42 mins past the hour

7_Croft Lane 44 mins past the hour

44 mins past the hour

8_A38 Island 45 mins past the hour

45 mins past the hour

9_Derby Garden Centre 45 mins past the hour

45 mins past the hour

10_Duffield Road 46 mins past the hour

46 mins past the hour

11_Queens Head 47 mins past the hour

47 mins past the hour

12_Morley Lane 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour

13_Alfreton Road Windy Lane 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour

14_Bottle Brook 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour

15_Westley Crescent 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour

16_The Chase (opposite) 49 mins past the hour

49 mins past the hour

17_Armoury Cottage 49 mins past the hour

49 mins past the hour

18_Fox and Hounds 50 mins past the hour

50 mins past the hour

19_Fox and Hounds (opposite) 50 mins past the hour

50 mins past the hour

20_Sunnymeade 51 mins past the hour

51 mins past the hour

21_Coxbench Keepers Cottage 52 mins past the hour

52 mins past the hour

22_Sandy Lane 52 mins past the hour

52 mins past the hour

23_Smalley Mill Road 53 mins past the hour

53 mins past the hour

24_Church St Coach and Horses 53 mins past the hour

53 mins past the hour

25_Horsley Churches (Opposite) 54 mins past the hour

54 mins past the hour

26_Horsley Churches 54 mins past the hour

54 mins past the hour

27_Horsley Road 90 55 mins past the hour

56 mins past the hour

28_Woodhouse Road 56 mins past the hour

56 mins past the hour

29_Hunters Arms 57 mins past the hour

57 mins past the hour

30_Highfield Road 58 mins past the hour

58 mins past the hour

31_Alfred Road 58 mins past the hour

58 mins past the hour

32_Meadow Court 59 mins past the hour

59 mins past the hour

33_Windmill Avenue on the hour

on the hour

34_Arthur Medical Centre 1 min past the hour

1 min past there hour

35_Old Oak Inn 2 mins past the hour

2 mins past the hour

36_Amberline route

route map

Final thought: it was quite easy to feel rather silly and self conscious taking photos of bus stops! But once I’d decided on a clear idea it was easier to be ‘on a mission’ and focus on the job at hand.  Something to think about the next time I feel awkward photographing strangers.

Exercise 5.2

This exercise introduces the idea of noting down everything that is visible from a fixed position, similar to Georges Perec’s “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris” (1975) then make observations about it.

I selected a café in my nearest city of Derby, on the basis that there would be lots going on:

Key things I noted from the exercise:

  • There is so much more going on than we realise.  As a photographer, the lesson is to LOOK HARDER!
  • Even after an some time I was noticing new things that had been there all along.  I finished the exercise when I seemed to run out of new things to see (over an hour later)
  • Seemingly obvious things are not readily apparent.  For example, I noticed all sorts of details yet I had written several pages in my notebook before I realised there was a huge Primark store directly opposite.  Distractions can give a distorted view of reality.  Had I taken a photograph of the exact same scene then looked at it, I expect that I would have noticed the Primark store sooner.

Some specific considerations posed by the exercise text:

  • Can you transform this into a photography version? Yes, there woulds be various approaches.  One might be to photograph details in the order I noticed them, perhaps using a telephoto lens to be selective.  The final image could be the ‘complete picture’.
  • Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?  Get in close, although the earlier idea of using a long lens would serve a similar purpose.
  • Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get your tripod out? I attracted some attention during this exercise as it was.  With any sort of camera I expect it would be more so, potentially also including the proprietor of the venue asking what I was doing and asking me to leave.  I think a stealthy approach would therefore be essential.
  • Would it be better in black and white or colour?  I think black and white would work better where the items of note were more likely to be the expressions of passers by, texture, patterns and other abstract shapes.  Monochrome is a good medium for separating these elements out.  But Colour feels more appropriate given that the goal is to present my view and then allow the viewer to contrast this with their view, unadultrated.
  • Would you include your list with the final images?  For the project identified above it would not be necessary.  The viewer would see the full picture – perhaps with a 360 degree camera, panoramic shot or wide lens – and make their own conclusions about whether their assessment of what is noteworthy differs to mine.

After performing the exercise I ready a copy of Perec’s book to compare.  Where I worked outwards, starting with my immediate surroundings then gradually extending my view let or right, Perec seems to group things too: colours, trajectories.  He performs the observation over three days, marked as separate chapters in the book.  Otherwise the approach is very similar.

I’m curious to seesaw this would work as a project so have added it to my ‘future projects’ list to come back to at a later date.  In some ways I’m also reminded of the 1980’s quiz show ‘Catchphrase’, where a common saying or idiom is revealed in small chunks.

Martin Kollar – This Place

This caught my eye, so saving to my blog for reference.

Kollar’s This Place is an example of work that contains few people but says a lot about how and where they live.

Set in Israel, Images of people-less settlements eerily suggest clean, modern living while at the same time suggest isolation, abandonment and lonliness.  There are signs of life everywhere – building, shops, children making ramps out of junk to play on -but noone to be seen.  Their abence makes you womder whether an air raid alarm has sounded? People fled in fear? Disputed settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip? The tension in the lives of these people is clear without them being, in the main, visible.

Mindful photography

Part 5 develops a theme that I started to explore in Assignment 4, that of the concept of mindfullness in photography:

Whatever it is, begin to notice how where you are influences you”


in the moment is where good photographs are often found”.

Harding Pitman clearly identified with what was happening in the would around him, the sprawl of LA Style urban paraphanalia acrcross the world making places less uniquem characterful and more ‘western normalised’ over time.

I’m realising that successful photography must be woven into the very life we lead, not just to be a passive, detached activity like Sontag warns of in Plato’s Cave, to “help people to take possession of a space in which they are insecure” (Sontag, 1977. P.9) speaking of tourists that use the camera to pry into the cultures of others while being safely protected from it by the lens they peer through.

Instead, photography with personal meaning is dependent upon living mindfully, fully in the present, so that we are receptive to:

  • What is happening around us right now and;
  • How we feel about it.
The photograph is a combination of these two things – the awareness and the personal artistic response.
As we consider this concept more fully, is becomes harder to separate out many of the basic tenets of, say, Eastern Buddhism from practicing any art.  Perhaps that is why religion has inspired so much art through the ages: Tibetan Thankga Paintings and Mandalas, Christian frescoes, Greek statues of deities and American totem poles amongst them.  They are artistic responses to a spiritual belief, rooted in, and inspired by, a connectedness to the world around thrm.
This opens the door to the practice and study of photography being part of a personal spiritual journey and not merely an academic pursuit, developing a deeper awareness of the world around us and our place within it.

Exercise 5.1

Exercise 5.1

Create a set of still-life pictures showing traces of life without using people.

You could do this with your camera phone to reflect the vernacular and transient nature of these moments or you could choose to use high-quality imagery to give these moments gravitas, like Nigel Shafran. Your technical decisions should back up your ideas, so write a short reflective commentary detailing these decisions and the reasons for them.


My partner recently went away for a weekend course.  For this exercise I wanted to reflect the little traces of life that she leaves around the house even when shes not actually there.

My initial approach was to take images of discarded items found in our home such as these hair clips.  I liked the incongruity of them being discarded on a chopping board, the contrasting tones and textures.

Although I find these images to be aesthetically quite pleasing, there is no clear rationale for the images to be in monochrome. So I needed another method.

Cyanotype is an old photographic method invented by Herschel and most frequently used to take copies of drawings and diagrams.  It has a characteristic cyan blue colour.  From this comes the term ‘blueprint’.

Prints are made by placing items directly onto the light sensitive paper on a sunny day for several minutes.  Blue areas mark where the paper has been exposed to unobstructed light while the shadow areas come out as white, revealing a ‘trace’ of what was previously left on the paper, like footsteps on the beach.  This trace left was a perfect metaphor for what I was seeking to achieve.

Items with a clearly identifiable or interesting silhouette are most successful.  The hair clips did not work well due to their curved nature, resulting in most of it being lost and not distinguishable.  The following images are cyanotypes of some of the more curious ritual items, masks and pendants left around the house by my partner following her work as a ‘Glastonbury Priestess of Avalon’:




Research Point 2

As you’ve seen, there are many examples of photography that avoid the use of the human figure in order to communicate truths and stories about humanity. Do your own research into areas you’ve been inspired by in this project; delve deeper into the areas that interest you. Continue to think about how this might inform your own practice. 

As people, we constantly leave imprints on the landscape that betray how we live our lives.  These can be very revealing.  Forensic scientists analyse this in a quest for evidence and to build a profile of a suspect.  Evidence of human activity can therefore say as much about who we are as our facial portrait does.  For example: photographs of the mass graves of war victims, the plans and weoponry used can all reveal more about a despot dictator than any portrait ever could.

While photographs of our actions can reveal a lot about us, so can images of items that we own.  Klepuszowska highlights the importance of mundane items in the lives of others.  Using shallow depth of field and a plain back background, Living Spaces draws attention to these items invoking a sense of isolation for these older people.  Is something we regard as unimportant is suddenly portrayed as very important in the lives of others we feel humbled.  The viewer develops a sense of connection to their plight through this contrast.  For this to work the items must be capable of attracting the empathy of the viewer, not obscure items.

Accomplished portrait photographers frequently talk of connecting to the real person behind the mask of a smile, aiming to reveal something about their personslity.  While there are many exellent examples where this is true, any single portrait image can only ever hint at one aspect of character, never revealing the full persona,  Alongside detecting character, attitude and demeanor, our actions and possessions say a lot about who we really are.

In On Photography, Sontag points to Irving Penn’s 1975 commissioned portraits of celebrities where he presented images of their cigarette butts.  Speaking about another photographer’s work, Szarkowski commends that so much of someone’s personality can “be coaxed from subject matter <that is> profoundly banal” (Sontag, 1979. p137)

Darren Jones

Darren Jones’ approach is to make a still life out of the things we take away with us on a trip.


Jones’ work raises questions of what is really important in our lives.  Going on a trip is when we have to be ruthless, packing only essentials in order to travel light and adhere to airport baggage limits while still wanting to be comfortable.  Here we can see his priorities condensed, distilled and beautifully arranged.  If someone asked for a list of our most important items how many of us would say toothpaste?

The items have been arranged like flowers or other delicate, precious items, befitting of their relative importance while staying away from home.  It makes for a slightly incongruous arrangement overall.

I’m keen to explore this idea deeper: contents of bags, car gloveboxes, bedside reading choices, crockery, shoes, finger nails and doorways all potentially offer insights into who we really are.


André Kertész

Kertész arguably created one of the photographic world’s most iconic still life images with ‘The Folk’ in 1928.


Here an everyday eating utensil has been seen in a clean, minimalist way that highlights the pleasing form of the folk while in no way attempting to make an abstract form of it. It is, simply, what it is – readily identifiable as a folk resting against the side of a bowl.  I note that the apparent simplicity of the image belies the effort that went into setting it up, painstakingly arranged so that no shadows overlap confusingly.  Both item and shadow are independendly distiguishable as folk and bowl.

There’s a quiet sadness, in this as well as other work by Kertész, which fascinates me: the bowl is apparently empty; a dark shadow features prominently;  there’s no evidence of a dinner guest at the table.  I read from the Phaidon website that Kertész was a ‘deeply reserved‘ man who ‘often spoke of the lack of close contact with other artists‘.  He had fled twice – from his home in Hungary and then from Paris in the war – so perhaps there was a sense of never being settled in a place called home, entirely at ease.  Is his personal sense of loneliness what we can really see in this image?





Laura Letinsky

Canadian photographer Letinsky’s still lifes resemble the aftermath of a restaurant table, fruit peelings and dirty crockery arranged in an apparently haphazard but actually carefully placed layout.

Why would Letinsky apply all the meticulous control over lighting, perspective and placement as for any normal still life in order to recreate a ‘pile of washing up’?

It could be as simple as Keith Arnatt’s Rubbish Tip, or Tillmans’ exploration of the aesthetic beauty in discarded items.  But that would not be consistent with her careful placement of items with all the attention to detail of a normal still life study.

I find that I admire her work a lot, noting how it is “a vehicle to explore the tension between the small and minute and larger social structures“. 

Although carefully placed and so storytelling rather than historical in nature, I feel like a historian gazing over a map of a battlefield when I view it.  Where was the power around the dinner table? Did the meal end amicably or with someone getting up to leave? Were passions high or convivial?  A landmark birthday or celebration?  The detritus on the table resembles the fallen soldiers on the battlefield, the dirty plates their bombed-out garrisons and hides.  I often perceive elements of our human condition and relationships in her images, all backed by crisp white linen.

Letinsky talks about how “photography conflicts with and constrains our sense of our environment by reinforcing certain ideas we have about perception.”  I’m not confident that I fully understand her point here, but it could be a reference to how we take and consume photographs, reinforcing these perceptions unconsciously as we go in order to make thing fit our model of the world.  The plain white tablecloths may well invite us to view the images – and the human behaviours they represent – with a fresh backdrop, not influenced by our prejudices and past experiences.


Research Point 1

Read Chapter 4 ‘Something and Nothing’ in Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd edition) London: Thames & Hudson. You will find this on the student website named PH4IAP_Something and Nothing.

To what extent do you think the strategy of using objects or environments as metaphor is a useful tool in photography?

When might it fall down?

Write some reflective notes on these points in your learning log.



This strategy provides the photographer with virtually endless scope to use everyday items from the world around us and make them represent something else that is perhaps less readily available or harder to photograph (either in a person or elsewhere).  So the first thing to say is that this type of metaphor has very practical use where photographing the ‘real thing’ would be difficult or dangerous.  Of course this comes with a warning that it can be used lazily where better results could be had by seeking out the subject.

Because the subject matter is often banal, Cotton warns against making the assumption that the subject matter is what would otherwise be ‘without visual symbolism. In truth, there is no such thing as an unphotographed or unphotographable subject‘.  The job of the viewer is to seek to find out what meaning the phorographer identified in it, knowing that there must be one.

As with Orozco’s ‘Breath on a piano’, mundane objects in combination allow us to see things in a new and perhaps subversive way – Just who was it that dare breathe on the prefectly polished piano? Who used scrap car doors in a doorway (Wentworth, 1999) and who balanced a courgette and carrot on a cheese grater (Fischili and Weiss)?  This quirk is what piques the interest for me, stops me and motivates me to explore the image in more detail (Barthes’ concept of Punctum raises this phenomena in Camera Lucida).  We know that any photograph is a moment in time that actually existed once (maybe constructed sculpture from the parallel art movement in the 1960’s exploring minimalism), but it wouldn’t normally look like that.

I can see how this is a tremendous tool for drawing the viewer’s attention to an attribute that the phorographer seeks to highlight.  It is as though the photographer presents a riddle to be solved, ‘drawing on our natural inquisitiveness‘ (Cotton), the reward being to gain an insight into the subject.  A ‘portrait’ of someone characterised by a love of food and a very large, pointy nose might unkindly have a wedge of cheese in the image instead, as a crude example.

The risk is thst cetrain aspects are accentuated by this strategy at the expense of others giving an incomplete view of the subject, or misunderstood (the puzzle too cryptic) and getting it entirely wrong.  This feels more serious when we are talking about people – at least with a straightforward portrait the viewer can rely on his own senses, not just curious items thst the photographer substitutes for the original. Rather than a complex and intriguing image it may descend into stereotype and crude characature.

But for me thats the whole point.  Sculpture is never the original, it is an interpretation.  So is painting.  Minimalism is accepted as an artistic style across mediums.  Why should photography be any different, shackled in creativity by its ability to faithfully reproduce?  The responsibility of the photographer therefore is to remain alert to this risk of over-simplification for an image to be persuasive and rich in meaning.

However, James Melling challenges even this with his exploration of lighting a single subject.  At first sight his work resembles an early Cokin Filter catalogue, with images of the same glass house through various coloured filters and graduated filters, solarisation and other vivid colour techniques.  What might be dismissed as crude and amateurish is visually engaging and exploratory, showing diversity while only changing the light that falls upon a fixed subject.

Alfred Stieglitz: Clouds

Reading Sontag’s On Photography again, Chapter 5 introduced me for the first time to the cloud formations of Alfred Stieglitz,  taken between 1922 and 1935.

For some time I’ve been collecting my own series of cloud images, a few of which are shown here, for apparently similar reasons to Stieglitz in that:

  1. They are aesthetically pleasing to look at:
  2. They can “represent corresponding inner states, emotions and ideas

Clouds can be transient, heavy, light, mysterious, forbidding, domineering or airy.  They can influence moods and reflect them.  Of course they can also be changed for better or worse by man in the form of contrails, hinting that the scars man makes on our environment.

So are they images about people or the clouds themselves?  What does choosing to take the photograph, like or dislike it reveal about us as people?

There is something disorientating about an image without any ground.  Yet looking up is such a natural thing to do.  Are these Landscapes? Skyscrapes?  Naturescapes?  The decision to include or exclude the ground has a significant effect on how the image is viewed, becoming abstract formations by the simple action of cropping or selective framing.