Part 5: Project – Illustration

Part 5 : Project –Illustration

Project – Illustration, including Exercises

Telling a story in a single image.. A recent one that came immediately to mind was the image of the woman leaping from a window during the summer rioting in London.  It’s telling a story even if you don’t know this particular story.

Exercise 1 – Evidence of action

I took this photograph in London at the end of last month. Something was going on but it wasn’t clear what!

Conveying abstract ideas and concepts

Examples of concepts that are regularly depicted in advertising and publicity which cannot be shown directly.

Faith; Pride; Equality; Loyalty; Renewal; Success; Beauty; Friendship

Symbols can be used as of visual analogies.  Symbols for Christian faith could be a cross; bible; fish. Women of Hindu faith wear a red spot on the forehead which symbolizes the ‘third eye’.  Renewal can be shown by the phoenix. Friendship can be shown by clasped hands. I’ve been arguing with myself regarding beauty in the sense of it’s in the eyes of the beholder and inductive/deductive definitions. Is there a quality of beauty which we may recognise in many different forms within objects, nature and living beings (Inductive)?    Or is there some divine order of beauty (a ‘law’) against which we can test our notions of beauty (deductive)?

Exercise 2 – Symbols

  • Growth  : A child’s height chart; the Tree of Life; a pie chart
  • Excess   :  A large amount of food; wardrobe lined with many pairs of shoes.
  • Crime    :  A hand holding a gun,  a pair of handcuffs.
  • Silence  : One of the three monkeys. A finger over closed lips.
  • Poverty : an empty bowl; a ramshackle house or tenement.

I was trying to think of unambiguous symbols in the sense that most people would know what they mean.  However, are they culturally specific? The symbols could be used in a photograph on their own or:-

  • Growth : a 12 year old standing by his/her own height chart .
  • Excess : A skip outside a supermarket – full of past their’ sell by date’ foodstuffs. Four personal number plated sports cars on the drive of a mansion,
  • Crime : I remember as a child that the symbol for crime was often a man in a striped jersey’ wearing an eye mask and carrying a ‘swag bag’ over his shoulder!A modern photograph would need to be more  up to date I think. – shadowy figures climbing walls, with a car waiting nearby – door open ready for the escape.
  • Silence – a difficult one. Rows of people sitting down, heads bowed maybe. A thought popped into my head of the funeral cortege of Princess Diana and also that picture of the car carrying her coffin up the motorway.

Exercise 3 – Juxtaposition

This is part of  a model railway project. In terms of a cover illustration I’m imagining it more as a thumbnail on the lower right hand page directing attention to an article on track preparation inside.

I don’t this would make an interesting enough cover illustration as an lead-in to the whole topic. It would be part of a sequence instead.

This could make a suitable cover illustration directing attention to a main article on talking to well-known orchid expert Jeff Banks and his approach to raising orchids from small seedlings.

More of a detail shot I think –  showing his affection for orchids by the way he is clasping one and gently checking the leaf condition of another.

Similar to the one above and a better one because it shows the colour and size of the orchid.  This could also be an interesting cover illustration for an orchid magazine.

There isn’t a lot of room in the greenhouse and so it would have been too cramped to set up a tripod. Therefore, I used my smaller G12 with a higher ISO in an attempt to get as clear shots as possible.

Exercise 4 – Rain

I remember doing this exercise in Part 4.  Rain can be difficult to convey in itself as the drops of water seem to disappear into a blur.  It shows best in photographs of people scurrying with umbrellas; or streaming down window panes. You can convey the effects of rain as well.  These were taken in Venice the day after rain had raised water levels and flooded:-


Of course, I could have added a rain effect as well but, being as people aren’t wearing any rain protection or using umbrellas, this might have looked odd.  This was our third trip to Venice and the first time was similar. We travelled on a Catamaran from the then Yugoslavia (on a day trip) and it was pouring with rain when we arrived. There were traders waiting for us with loads of plastic macs for sale and we had to go in a closed, ‘scenic’  motorboat (with rain pouring down outside and steam clogging the windows) to ‘see’ Venice.  It was still beautiful though!

I wanted to try a rain effect though and so have used it on another Venice image which doesn’t have people:-


I searched around the internet and found a few tutorials. It was quite fiddly though and proves it’s much better to have real rain in the first place!

There hasn’t been much rain here recently but I took this one the other day whilst waiting at the station:-

If only there had been someone with an umbrella!


I know I’ve complained before about the number of exercises but this time, there have been just a few.  It was a relief at first but several different topics made it seem somewhat bitty to me and this is why I’ve ended up including more photographs. I’ve certainly learned how to create a (not so perfect) rain effect and can build on this.  The largest part of learning was the cover illustration in terms of what might and might not look right.

Onwards next to Assignment 5 ideas!

27th February 2012

Part 5 : A Narrative Picture Essay (2)

Part 5 : Project Narrative

Exercise – A narrative picture essay (2)

Duckrabbit Blog posted an uplifting video this morning

which cheered me up and gave me some energy to work on part 2, even after looking at my own photographs and comparing them with the ones in the books I mentioned last time.  Still, this isn’t about my perceived inadequacies, it’s about my learning!

A: Street Party

There have been several times in the past year when I’ve set off to photograph an event.  One of these was a ‘Street Party’ to celebrate Prince William getting married. It wasn’t really my cup of tea but it was put to us as, “The weather should be nice; you’ll get free sandwiches and cakes; a glass of wine, and there’ll be some photograph opportunities as well.” Sold!

I took many photographs and emailed an edited selection to our friend in case any of her neighbours might like some of them. I’ve looked through them again now and composed a  small contact sheet of the types of things I wanted to show.

The food that had been prepared; people young and older; choosing food and enjoying it and the day. The Mayor visited (he was doing a round of street parties of the day) and posed for several pictures – one of them being with the youngest and oldest residents.

I then thought about how I would put them together and sizes.

Arranging, preparing –   then choosing the food.

Relaxing and enjoying the event.  I made the one of the Mayor largest, thinking this could be the type of image a newspaper might show as a leader – “Mayor visits Street Party and meets the residents”.

final two, coming to the end of the afternoon and contrasting ages.

This was the first time I’d done something like this and so I felt slightly uncomfortable, although this lessened as time went on. One thing I had done was to set the camera on aperture priority at f11 which I thought would be a reasonable one for sharpness at varying distances.  It enabled me to just take photographs but would have been better if I had checked the kind of exposures I was getting. One of the residents did post some of her own photographs to a local website and I noticed that there were a lot showing the food.  That’s understandable though because a lot of time and effort had been spent to cook, prepare and present the food very attractively.

B:  Geocaching

 In an earlier post I wrote that I had considered Geocaching as an Assignment subject but decided against it after discussing with my tutor.  There was the issue of doing something entirely new, whilst attempting to take good photographs plus the weather being rather cold for spending too long outdoors .  Oddly enough, a couple of days after that post, I woke up thinking, “Maybe there are some geocaches on the Common”.  I don’t understand why I hadn’t thought of that before and it just shows what anxiety laded tunnel-vision can do to you!

I did a search on the website and discovered that there are several caches near to me (quite a few seem to be near pubs).  My daughter was coming over with the two boys and dog for a walk so I decided it would be an ideal opportunity to have a go. I chose the one nearest and got the co-ordinates into my iphone.  Looking back I should have let Doug (oldest grandson) do it  but I was too carried away to think of that at the time. Anyway, I let him hold my (precious) phone when we got onto the Common.

My tutor was right of course about the difficulties of taking photographs when you’re an active participant but as Doug was in charge of the phone I made him the star of the show. This did give me some opportunity to take photographs but in a casual way.

Screenshot from computer, co-ordinates on my phone (although I’ve masked them so as not to give the location away) and entry onto the Common.   I thought they went together as a group but maybe the one of entry to the Common should be larger and stand alone.

There’s Doug striding ahead and then checking co-ordinates, closely followed by Ollie. Talking to another walker about what we were doing and then another check on co-ordinates.


It’s just around the corner – it is near that branch?  Doug found it all on his own!  (I’m not going to give the location away of course!).

Here it is.

I’m not satisfied about the final one. I got the perspective wrong and it’s too close for the camera really (G12 not my larger one).  I didn’t do much processing on these images either. I hope I was conveying some of the sense of adventure through the selection I chose though.


Both these events were planned in advance, although I suppose ‘planned’ is rather a loose word because there wasn’t a large amount involved. It was an advantage that I already knew the locations. The two harder parts were taking photographs of strangers (the first set) and taking photos of my family (the second set) – the younger ones are quite amenable but the older ones are not keen, so hence not many of my daughter.

Choosing the selection wasn’t easy – did I go for the most technically perfect; the most interesting to me or the ones which would fit the theme. Along those lines I had some thoughts for projects.  One would be to lay out all the images taken and then ask participants to choose their best 10 – the ones which they felt conveyed the most of their own experience. Another would be to go somewhere new with Doug , give him  my older compact and see what he finds the most visually interesting – compared with my own choices.

I’ve now learned how to do contact sheets in Bridge although it’s a pain that they’re in pdf form which you then have to change to jpeg. WordPress just won’t seem to accept pdf even though it says they do. So far as having images in different sized and placements I kept this simple at this point by opening a Word document which I saved as pdf then turned into a jpeg.  I’m learning how to use InDesign but it’s early stages yet (more on that subsequently).

21st February 2012

Exercise – A Narrative Picture Essay (1)

Part 5 : Project Narrative.

A Narrative Picture Essay – Part 1

One of the aspects I’ve been pondering on is the difference between telling a story with pictures and using pictures to illustrate a story. The proportions of words to pictures obviously varies but what other differences are there?.

I wrote a post some time ago about the book, Phil and Me  by the photographer Amanda Tetrault. She put together photographs taken between 1975 and 2003 as a way to understand her feelings towards her father Philip, a poet who suffers from mental illness and has spent periods of homelessness. The book is landscape orientation and measures approximately 11” x 8”.  The title is a facsimile of handwriting.  The cover of the book comprises a collage of images from photo booths (I think). There isn’t any descriptive text inside the book apart from near the beginning of the book where Amanda writes a letter to her father (in print) in 2004.  There are no captions to the images.

The photographs record Amanda and Philip growing older as they meet though the years. There are also scans of poems handwritten by Philip. Looking at it again, I still feel the same kind of sadness as before. The waste of a creative life; all the missed possibilities; Amanda as an observer of her father. These are pretty much warts and all images.  They are mostly monotone, and low-key, like images snatched quickly although I have the sense that some of them were posed – after all, Philip Tetrault is also a performer. And yet – the images also give a sense of a relationship hanging on and surviving despite everything. Where am I going to with this?  Well – this book tells a story in pictures. What I’m not sure about is whether I would read the story in the same way if I hadn’t read about the book before I bought it.  Or if I hadn’t had the experience of spending time with people who suffer mental illness and their families who live through this with them.

I have another book, acquired more recently, called Irish Travellers, by Alen Macweeney.  In the 1960s he began to photograph Travellers in Dublin and the West of Ireland. He spent time with them and tape recorded their stories and songs which had been handed down orally through the years. In 1997 he went back to make a film about them and what had become of them.

Whereas Amanda Tetrault’s book has a rawness about it, this second book has a more serious social documentary aspect. There is an introduction by Bairbre Ni Fhloinn, University College Dublin. The book has chapters and Macweeney writes about the families or records their songs/stories. There is only one photograph (but of varying sizes) to a page and some stretch over two pages. Where an image bleeds into one page the opposite page usually has a wider margin than usual. All the photographs have captions so you know who these people are and even though there is written narrative the images take up a largest portion of the book. There is something here for me about giving importance to and space for the subjects to become alive for the reader –  even though it’s still warts and all and doesn’t attempt to add false glamour.  On the whole, Macweeney’s point of view is right up close.  I get a sense of how the Travellers lived their lives yes I don’t feel drawn into them in the same way. Is what’s happening here to do with the fact that I can’t imagine those lives in the same way I can with Amanda Tetrault’s book?

What I’ve been attempting to do here is to increase my understanding of the different ways in which images and words can be put together and presented in a book and also the effect of prior knowledge on the viewer/reader which takes me back to the need to establish my reading/viewing population in considering the composition of a photo essay.

20th February 2012


Macweeney, A, Irish Travellers (2007), New England College Press, NH

Tetrault, A, Phil and Me, 2004, Trolley Ltd, GB

Project : Narrative – Preparing for the Exercises

The Art of Photography: Part 5

Project : Narrative – Preparing for the Exercises

I’ve been growing through another stuck phase where I can’t see a clear way forward.

There’s something going on in my head which is making me feel really apprehensive about these coming exercises. I’ve got this very large block inside me about being ‘artistic’. I’ve always wished I could draw (amongst many other wishes) and, indeed, I’m going to drawing classes at the moment, but I know that there’s a strong voice which repeatedly says, “You’re not artistic”.  This parrot on my shoulder has been with me for almost all of my life. All I could ever do for my children was draw them a cat on a mat or a house. It’s even worse because one of my uncles was an ‘artist’ and my father had an artistic flair. Everyone said he needed to have something in his hand to draw with when he was talking (quite gallic). I wave my arms and hands around similarly but they don’t have a pencil in them!

I never feel I’m any good at arranging things – flowers; icing Christmas cakes; laying tables; choosing the colours to go on walls; colour-coordination and working out what goes with what. I’m not too bad with words, and photography  is becoming a means for me to express my creativity in a different way and satisfy my urge to communicate. Here we are, though, talking about narrative and illustration and putting pictures together to make an impact!

Somehow or other I’ve become stuck on the term, ‘magazine layout’.  The final assignment brief relates to illustrating a story for a magazine with a cover picture and then a ‘narrative’ picture essay.  What I’ve turned this into is, “I have to do a magazine layout as well as produce the images” and, because I’m interested anyway in the idea of eventually producing my own book, I’ve been focusing on page design.  This isn’t coming easy to me (for all the aforesaid reasons) and I’ve gone into tunnel vision mode:

It made me feel quite down and thinking I’d never reach the end of this module but, thankfully, I’ve had enough presence of mind to email my tutor about my choice of subject and she suggested we speak on the phone.

I’ve had several ideas for a subject for Assignment 5 the  two I came down to were Geocaching or something on the theme of my local Common. I’ve always been interested in treasure hunts (Remember that Kit Williams book – ‘Masquerade’ – where he actually hid a golden hare.) I thought it would be interesting to do a geocache search if I could find one not too far away and photograph my route.  To that end I registered on a website which gives loads of information and also downloaded an app for my iphone. I felt very enthusiastic about this idea although, unfortunately, the energy hasn’t yet turned into action because the weather is much too cold at present!

I visit our local Common just about every day. It’s just across the road from where we live; the dogs love it and I’ve taken many photographs there over the last 18 months.  I had various ideas around themes, including one on the areas bordering the Common (such as Fairoaks Airport, McClarens and the Muslim Burial Ground). My latest one was to photograph people as they walk on the Common and to talk to them as well about what the Common means to them.  I’ve even sounded a couple of people out on this already and they were very willing. One of them is actually a ‘Commoner’ and has many interesting stories to tell.

I explained my ideas to my tutor and we discussed them. Her question regarding geocaching was whether it would be a good idea to photograph something when I’m participating in a completely new experience. That’s a very good question which brings into play action research and that range  between observer; participant observer; observer participant and participant.  I would really need to get the experience of geocaching myself; get to know some other participants and then ask their permission to photograph them.  This could take some time.  Also, of course, the weather isn’t good at all at the moment and time isn’t on my side either re getting in the Assignment. I’m not going to let go of the idea entirely though because I’d still like to do it at some point.

My tutor thought the Common idea could be very good but suggested I consider streamlining this down to one day.  This would enable me to show passing time; how the light changes etc. She said I should do no more than 10/12 photographs and emphasized that I do not need to compose the images into  an actual magazine layout as such using software. I could think of it as a simple booklet/pamphlet with double-page spreads. The front ‘Illustration’ shot needs to be a powerful image which will take the viewer in and make them want to see more.  Then, with the double page spreads I need to think about how images will look together in terms of contrast/contradiction/juxtaposition. Alongside the actual images I could do a ‘draft’ layout – as a hand-sketch or by cutting and pasting etc.

This advice was very helpful; made considerable sense and it calmed me enough so that I now feel ready to move on.  Normally I actually work much better when I have several projects on the go at the same time. I’ve become quite proficient at multi-tasking over the years.  However, this time anxiety has been getting in my way with the result that each potential figure of interest has been too hazy to emerge brightly into the foreground. I’m still interested in the idea of creating a book though but, as my lateral vision is coming into play now, I think I can run two or more things together at the same time.  I think I have a more natural tendency towards telling a story using photographs as illustration, as opposed to letting the photographs tell the story themselves. I need to explore the two approaches and how this looks in practice so that I can find a combination which suits me whilst challenging my creativity.

11th February 2012