‘Documentary Photography and Environmental Portraiture’ at The Photographers Place

Weekend Workshop at The Photographers’ Place, Wirksworth

13th to 15th April 2012

This Workshop had originally been planned for September last year and I’d booked to fulfil two purposes.  Firstly, I thought it would get me up to Derbyshire to start some work on a personal project I’d had in mind for a while but kept procrastinating on.  Secondly, I thought it would give me some confidence in advance of Assignment 5 of AOP.  Unfortunately, the Workshop was postponed due to low numbers, but I still went to Derbyshire, with some new motivation for my personal project.

The Photographer’s Place was first set up in the 1970s by Dr Paul Hill who was the first professor of photography in a British University .   It isn’t a place so much as a concept because the leaders come together to run the residential Workshops and they are currently Paul Hill, Martin Shakeshaft  and Nick Lockett .

The theme for this particular workshop was on documentary photography and environmental portraiture with Stephen McLaren, street photographer, as guest speaker. Before I left I went through the workbook for ‘People and Place’ and made notes so that I had some of the requirements of the People and Place sections in my head. The Venue was the Glenorchy Centre,  – a self-catering centre managed by the United Reform Church –, which is in the small market town of Wirksworth on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Wirksworth was a town built around lead mining and is also near to Arkwright’s Mill.  I learned that it has quite a thriving artistic community and also that all the shops are owned independently.

There were around 14 participants most of whom were quite experienced photographers, which was somewhat daunting for me as I reckoned that I was one of the least experienced.  The timetable and my notes are in my paper log, but the shape of the weekend was: –

Friday evening:

Course leaders introduce themselves and show their approaches to making portraits and documentary work. Then each participant would show two or three of their own photographs on a data projector screen.  I was aghast when I saw the size of the screen, which looked huge!  I was immediately worried that my images would look pretty rubbish to be blown up as they were, especially as I’d sized them up as around 8”x6” and one of them, at least, was from a smaller compact camera.   Still, I had to go for it – it wasn’t as if there was a critical atmosphere in the room  (nothing like I’ve read about ‘Masterclasses’ recently). I had taken along a few of my photographs on a memory stick, which I thought were ‘street photography’ style and I showed three of them


Some of the others had actually taken in a series of images on a theme, which, really, was much more of what the Workshop was about.  It made me realise just how many of what I consider to be my better photographs (relatively speaking of course) are one-offs rather than part of a series – something that will have to change for ‘People & Place’. I was asked why I’d chosen to process the first photograph in black and white – a good questions because it made me think about it again. It was to do with contrasts and juxtaposition – wealthier looking, man; in a hurry; dressed in a light, smart, outfit as opposed to the lady musician all dressed in black and being virtually ignored.  I said that if I were to take this photograph I would actually have spoken to the lady to make a connection with her and, maybe, find out more about her.

Saturday morning:

I actually got up very early, for me, and went into town at 7am to see it waking up. I took quite a few photographs but won’t post them now. They do give a sense of the town but they are too static I think. On with the rest of the day…

Preparing for the ‘documentary’ project

Martin Shakeshaft talked to us about the history of the picture story – the first photo story being credited as the 1948 photo essay by W. Eugene Smith, for Life Magazine, on the ‘Country Doctor’ Dr. Ernest Ceriani  (brought to my attention by the WeareOCA Blog last August http://www.weareoca.com/photography/country-doctor/).

He then went on to suggest three questions which one could ask oneself before starting out on something – “Why am I doing this? What interests me? How will it be used?” I think these are very important questions, which is why I’m putting them in bold. The questions will help me to examine my interest more closely.  For example, I constantly take photographs on our local Common but I hadn’t worked out what exactly it is that attracts me. It’s having access to this countrified space, encircled by busy main roads, on the edge of town.  I can walk across the road and immediately be amongst greenery and trees in an area that has been used in similar ways for generations. It gives me a sense of my own place in time and a connection with what has gone before. Additionally there are the people who use the Common and how we all have different lifestyles and yet we come together there.

Martin then covered aspects such as how many pictures will be needed and key elements like the establishing shot; the pace of the narrative and different perspectives (focal length; aspect etc) so as to avoid visual boredom.  He exampled these through showing us W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay, ‘Man of Mercy’ on Albert Schweitzer, Life Magazine, 1954.

There are many different types of picture story, such as sequential narratives; diptychs; triptychs; poetic/abstract/mood pieces; the use of a rostrum camera to move the camera across an image; still image with sound, and digital story-telling (short films usually less than 8 minutes).  Here are 7 elements to consider as well: –

  • Point of view/purpose
  • Dramatic question
  • Emotional content
  • ‘Your’ voice
  • The power of soundtrack to support and embellish (or the opposite of course!)
  • Economy/Just enough content
  • Rhythm/flow

Some good resources are: –

BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project

Magnum in Motion



‘Documentary’ Project

We were given a brief to produce a three-picture story, making sure that we obtained an establishing shot. The opportunities were to visit the old railway station where a lot of renovation work is being done on old engines; a Spring Fair being held at the Derbyshire Eco Centre; to walk around in town; photo opportunities around the town, or a nearby quarry which has been reclaimed for the community. I chose to go to the railway station and then the Fair.

a)    The railway station

Due to health and safety concerns we had to wear a reflective jacket and we also had a brief safety talk from the health and safety officer. Then we were set loose onto the volunteer workers who were working a little further down. One of our group, Chris   immediately got talking to them and, really, he laid the ground for us – so thanks very much indeed Chris. The volunteers were so friendly and eager to talk about what they were doing and it didn’t take long before they were calling us over, and closer, to look at what they were working on.  I started to feel much more confident about talking to people whilst getting close to take photographs. I’ll discuss some of the photographs below. We spent so long there that we actually missed the next train to the Eco Centre and had to walk there. It was cold, threatening rain and very hilly!

b)   The Fair

The Fair was very popular, despite the poor weather, and had lots of interesting demonstrations, exhibits; course information and eco-inspiration.  I felt a little more inhibited because there were more people around but still felt able to walk around taking photographs, especially as there were so many other people doing the same thing.

It was well into the afternoon by then and we had to be back at the Glenorchy Centre to download our images and begin to edit them, before the talk by Stephen McLaren.

Processing our ‘documentary’ pictures

We gathered in small groups with the course leaders, although some people had brought their own laptops so worked alone. Myself and another participant worked with Martin Shakeshaft. I had already looked through mine and chosen three but Martin said, “let’s look through all of them and flag likely ones”.  It was interesting to sit there and see how his finger hovered over the track pad on some of them, either hinting he wasn’t sure, or stopping at some I hadn’t thought were good enough. I’m only going to show a few here because I want to concentrate on learning points and will be using some later towards the exercises in People & Place.



If you feature someone’s eye-line then the viewer need to be able to follow it to see what that person is looking at. If you focus on something in their hands you need to get in closer to see what it is.



I think this one is okay

I tried to make this one grittier – seemed more in keeping with his character somehow – and I desaturated the colour slightly to add to this.


The overall feedback from Martin was that I can ‘see’ the image but I need to get in closer.  That was advice already given by my tutor for AOP after she had seen my initial images from the Illustration & Narrative exercises.  Honestly, I do go in much closer now and I don’t take so many photographs of the back of people.  How close do I need to be without shoving my camera right into people’s faces – which is something I don’t want to do? That’s the challenge for me. My AOP tutor and now Martin, suggested using a prime lens around 28mm (full sensor size). Martin also suggested, alternatively, to stick my zoom lens by using tape so I couldn’t zoom. This is all obviously a whole new learning area for me.

The Fair

There was a lovely lady there, Anne Menary who had created some quirky cards, which I really liked. She had some books there, which I thought where for sale but, sadly for me, were not.  These are her working tools and Anne had created them by using old book covers and then inserting her working sketches and materials.  We had quite a long chat and she also said that, every time she goes on holiday she creates this type of book inserting various souvenirs etc.  Of course, they all reminded me of the wonderful sketch and logbooks I’ve seen both at the Farnham UCA end of year show and on WeareOCA, which make me feel so uncreative as well.  I bought some of the cards Ann has produced (although I’ll probably keep them) and, using my new- found confidence, I asked her if she would pose for me:

Here she is and you can just about see the books in front of her. Anne does lessons at the Centre and, if I lived in Wirksworth, I would certainly go on one of them.

My final photograph here is one that I thought could make an establishing shot for the Fair

I was in two minds about it because I also took more general shots of the fair but this one appealed to me – as if the lady was having a conversation about what to look at next.

Stephen McLaren, Street Photographer

Stephen co-edited Street Photography Now (2010),  which presents 46 contemporary street photographers, together with four essays and a ‘global’ conversation between leading street photographers which explores issues within the genre.  By sheer chance my husband had bought me the book for Christmas, before I even knew that Stephen would be guest speaker on the Workshop. It is full of vibrant, candid shots which exemplify street photography as it is now.

Only one of Stephen’s own photographs appears in the book (the first page) and he told us that this was by chance as it fitted what was needed. this was by chance. It features the back of a young woman who is walking along with chestnut-brown, glossy hair flying around her.  Stephen‘s talk was informal in the sense that he showed/talked about some of his personal, favourite photographs and showed us how he had been putting images together to produce books.  As you can see from his website, his images are colourful and quite striking and you can see how closely he gets to people. We didn’t get to the discussion I would have liked to have had regarding the ethics of street photography, e.g. taking photographs of people who don’t want you to do so and taking photographs of people who are injured  (see ‘Coupling’ on his website).


This was a more low-key day which I needed really because the previous day had been intense and tiring.  I went off outside with a small group and Nick Lockett  showed us various ways of using remotely-fired flash in natural light. One interesting effect was gained by setting tungsten light in WB, whilst putting an orange/warm gel on the flash.  This gives a vivid blue sky whilst warming the subject’s face.

Once back inside, Martin Shakeshaft talked to us about Blurb books; ebooks and more aspects of digital story-telling using sound.


It’s a shame that the Workshop couldn’t have been held last year because I can say quite definitely that it would have been a wonderful lead-in to Assignment 5, Art of Photography . As it was, it was a very useful refreshment/reinforcement of what I learned in Art of Photography and a good lead-in to People and Place.  I gained more confidence in asking people if I could take their photograph and  took a lot of photographs which will be appearing in my new People and Place Blog. I also made a link with Mo,  another OCA student who is currently studying People and Place and it was good to share notes with her.

I’ve looked at the resources given by Martin Shakeshaft. They are all excellent and I particularly like Photobus, (which is clear, user-friendly, informative and with lots of free content) and the Digital Story Telling Project.


Howarth, S & McLaren, S (Ed),  Street Photography Now (2010), Thames & Hudson , London

Anne Menary: http://www.annemenary.com/

BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/yourvideo/queries/capturewales.shtml

Magnum in Motion: http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essays

MediaStorm: http://mediastorm.com/

Photobus: http://www.photobus.co.uk/


30th April 2012

Assignment 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Asssignment 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Final version : Tales with Valeria

I know I’ve been full of indecision regarding the subject theme – veering backwards and forwards between the Common and the Holga images. I’ve really appreciated my tutor’s pre-assignment comments and support.  In the end though I just knew I had to do something more definite with the Holga set. It was like the thought fox in Ted Hughes’ poem, http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/ted-hughes/the-thought-fox/ nosing its way into my early waking moments and nudging me throughout the day.

I had some very encouraging comments when I placed the first four images on Flickr, including from Clive one of the tutors which gave me a boost and spurred me on to continue with something which is very new for me.

There is something about the doll that intrigued me from the start – a slight oddness. Flaxen plaits; pretty dress; retrousse nose and downcast eyes but I could imagine a whole lot of other thoughts below the surface – something wilful. She reminded me of those two rhymes , “What are little girls made of’ and ‘There was a little girl who had a little curl ….”. There’s a book I’ve had for many years – “Women who run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes , who is a Jungian psychoanalyst as well as being a cantadora, a keeper of old stories. The book concerns the inner life of women and the theme that runs through it is that there is within every woman a Wild Woman that has been repressed.

“We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed” (Foreword, 1992)

The book is filled with Dr. Estes’ own written versions of tales and poems which have been handed down in the oral tradition in different versions for generations. One of her versions is of the Russian Vasalisa tale – a dying mother hands her little daughter a doll, telling her that if she ever loses her way or needs help, she should ask the doll what to do.  The doll guides her and there are adventures along the way, including a meeting with the fearsome crone, Baba Yaga, who gave her a skull with fiery eyes.

In my previous post, ‘Holga Lens – working with light in a different way’ (under Reflections) I described how I liked its soft and slightly surreal effect. It can seem to make inanimate objects look almost human and living creatures almost inhuman. Reality is blurred and I think it is an ideal medium to use for photographic images in fairy stories. ( I have also experimented with processing photographs to give a more ‘painterly’ effect as well). I began to think of ideas for scenarios and bought some more ‘props’ cheaply through eBay– a book on wolves; 2 old versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1933) (which is another story!); red riding hood clothes for a patch doll; a decorative ‘birdcage’; two magnetic, retro, french dolls, and a Snow White doll. I wanted Red Riding Hood to turn the table on the wolf and go out hunting him. My idea was to use pictures from the films ‘Wolverine’ and the Twilight series but then I had a better idea with less issues re copyright. I bought an image from iStock – a handsome, muscular young man in a wolf-type pose.

I didn’t have any difficult problems regarding sequencing or captions, it was placing different format images on the page which was (is) the challenge. What’s the best page format when you use landscape, portrait and square images and want to have one on a page rather than several in magazine style? I still haven’t worked that out.

I think that the images actually suit a smallish book and the 7×7 one which Blurb do seemed ideal. In fact I’ve already started a prototype using their software.  For the Assignment though I decided to start from scratch, using a Blurb template plug-in in InDesign so that I could utilise some of my learning. I also decided here to use a standard portrait format which is larger. I did this thinking about the prints for assessment but there is a disadvantage here because I think that photographs from a Holga lens can look good on a monitor but, printed, are better smaller because the larger they get the more blurry they can look. Anyway, I’ll wait for feedback and take it from there

It took me a while to think of a name for the doll. I went through the alphabet and made a long list. In fact, at one point I even decided to maybe have a competition on Flickr.  I decided to call her Valeria and here she is:-

(Open it in preview mode and then view as two page display).

Tales with Valeria


Working through Part 5 took me even longer than Part 4 and I really struggled with it but I did enjoy working with the Holga lens and doll. It brought me back into touch with that part of me that likes myth, legend and fairy story and wants to understand the lessons that these are trying to impart. I discovered a different way of telling a story through images and seeing it through a different lens.The camera can’t be controlled in the same way with the Holga lens and you have to see where the light falls through that pinhole and search for the image.

My tutor gave some positive feedback on an initial look at my first four images and also some research references.  She suggested I have a look at Olivia Parker’s work http://oliviaparker.com/, and particularly Weighing the Planets   http://www.edelmangallery.com/parker-planets.htm.  The images certainly appeal to me and I immediately thought of something I could do if I acquired an old wooden, puppet!

My tutor also suggested to read some of the books by Marina Warner and Angela Carter.  I have already read some of Angela Carter’s work but have now bought Marina Warner’s ‘From the Beast to the Blond’.  This is a comprehensive, well-researched and literary review on storytelling, and its practitioners and images through the ages. Her book is basically in two parts – the Tellers and the Tales and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

This is just a beginning really…….


11th April 2012



Estes, C.P., Women who run with the Wolves, 1992, Ebury Publishing, The Random House Group Ltd

Warner, M ,  From the Beast to the Blond, 1995, Chatto & Windus Ltd, London.




Assignment 5 – drafting and hiccups

Assignment 5 : Narrative and Illustration

 The ‘nearly’ Assignment 5

From the beginning of Part 5 I’ve wanted to focus on the Common that plays a large part in my life.  I played around with the idea of Geocaching for a brief time and, indeed, eventually managed to combine it with the Common. During the Part 5 Exercises I produced two sets of images – one using the Holga lens with 500D  and the other using my smaller G12, but processing with artistic filters.

I went back to just the Common though and one particular event which happened at the beginning of the year. I realise now what a challenge I set to myself and how anything I did for this particular Assignment could only be a brief snapshot of the ebb and flow of its Seasons; changing moods; environments; animals and people. It is bounded by major roads and largely hidden from view by trees, with only two car parks to its major area. We live close by, so I walk over there daily with our two dogs through a tree-shadowed, path and, usually, up to the Sandpit. I decided that this Sandpit was going to set the scene for my Assignment. Mist can hang around in the mornings (something I hadn’t portrayed in any previous exercises or Assignments) and I wanted to include this as well.

This is how it was shaping up as a booklet:


First page/’editorial’

The mist that can hang around in the morning




The events that can emerge

       4 images (see below)

End of the day


I’ve run into some difficulties though which have been highlighted by a further telephone conversation with my tutor yesterday.  She also emphasized some aspects of presentation.

The Cover page

This is in portrait format, but the rest of the pages are in landscape format.  Now I had actually realised that, panicked, and tried to shuffle the other images around on portrait format – but they didn’t work.  I then had a look at some other Assignment 5’s that did appear sometimes to show a similar format. I reassured myself then that it would be okay, and carried on merrily. My tutor, quite rightly I think, was not in agreement with this. She thinks I do have some strong images and also pointed out that one of the mist images could actually make a good cover. If I do this it will alter my pagination and how images are being put together.

Emerging events

I was charmed by the cross country event that emerged (and the dog spectators).  One of the areas that I think had been making me dawdle about this subject though was that it involves children. The original discussion with my tutor reinforced this ethical issue. I can submit for an assignment but it would not be appropriate to post them on my blog. I spoke with Lee at OCA office, and discussed further.  Another possibility might be to post the assignment on the protected student site but, if in continuing doubt, my tutor or myself could get in touch with someone from the management team about this. I discussed this again with my tutor yesterday and she doesn’t think the OCA site would be suitable either.


Two of the images juxtaposed together don’t look right  due to their relative sizes and position on the page (the small dog covered in sand and the large dog) . They were ones I was already uncertain about . My tutor commented on presentation in a wider sense.  I already knew that emailing PDFs or putting them on a disc was not a good thing to do because of the amount of time it takes to download them. I had thought that it would be faster to place a reduced size PDF on a Dropbox folder but my tutor said it isn’t.  It is therefore not a good idea at all to submit a PDF by any method for an assignment or formal assessment.

Digesting feedback

I went for a walk with my husband and the dogs shortly after my discussion with my tutor.  On the Common a rather large, friendly, young Labrador came bounding up to say hello to our dogs. He was quite heavy and wiggly. Somehow or other he knocked into me, just behind my knees, and as he moved away I lost my own momentum and was poleaxed! My husband said he saw it all in slow motion – the top of my back hit the ground first, followed quickly by my head. No bones are broken and I’m not having any symptoms of concussion, but I certainly feel very stiff around my shoulders, neck and lower skull. It brought back to me a comment made by John on my previous post in terms of him hoping that my holga ‘wolf’ didn’t lose its legs. How prophetic John!

A briefer discussion yesterday with my tutor concerned the holga images in fact. In previous email feedback she had been very positive about these and given me several references to follow re photographers and authors. Her concern was about the amount of time, effort and challenges I’d already worked through with the Common images and what would be the effect on me of changing the subject theme at this stage. Her viewpoint also was that the holga images had the potential to form a much larger body of work, at a more advanced stage than an Assignment at Level 1. Level 3 seems light years away to me though and, in between, there doesn’t seem to be a Module which fits that type of work. It certainly wouldn’t seem to fit in People & Place which I’m doing next.

I woke up very early this morning with thoughts churning around in my head and feeling a really strong urge to ditch the Common images for the assignment and do some intense work on the Holga images, which have now increased in number.

There are changes that obviously need to be made so far as the Common images are concerned.  The portrait format cover image was, in fact, originally a landscape one which I cropped so I can still use it. Having looked again at the first page ‘editorial’ I realise it doesn’t look right to my eye at all. Some of the type is overset and it all seems wrongly placed on the page. Maybe two columns would be better than three. The image of the sandpit is too small really so it all looks out of proportion. I think it might be better to leave it out all together.

Quite a lot of thinking and work to be done today

5th April 2012

Holga Lens – working with light in a different way

Holga Lens – working with light in a different way

I’ve always been intrigued about the Holga camera because I like its effects – the shadowiness, softness, vignetting and slightly dreamlike quality.  I hadn’t ventured to buy one mainly because it was film and also because I got the impression it was techie, tricky to use and unpredictable – you didn’t really know what you were going to get until the film was developed. A lot of the excitement seemed to be in self-processing. I’d also not had too much success using a Lensbaby optic so I’d put them both in the same category of ‘like the effect but difficult to use’.

My interest in Holga didn’t really go away though and so I was interested to read an OCA discussion at the beginning of the year regarding lenses which had been made to fit DSLRs  http://www.weareoca.com/photography/plastic-fantastic/.  The lens didn’t seem expensive so I bought myself one –  60mm with f/8 aperture.

Here are my first three – taken at a time when I was quite caught up in flower photography:-


The Holga lens seems more friendly to me and I enjoy searching around with the camera until I can see part of the scene in clear view.  I used it when I was doing the exercises for Part 5 and went geocaching on the Common (see earlier posts) because I liked the slightly surreal/unreal atmosphere it produces. The light has to be right – best when the light is behind the camera and ISO 400 seems to work especially well.

Its surreal effect intrigued me and I decided to take some photographs of a doll I’d acquired from a charity shop. I had some interested comments when I posted on Flickr and encouragement to do more. I started to think of different scenarios and ideas built up in my head of props/characters I could use.


Looking for love


                       Babes in the Wood                                                                 She wanted them

It’s now developing into a series based around the doll which  takes a slightly bizarre look at some fairy tales.  I have more ideas and even took her onto the Common with me the other day, where she went down a rabbit hole.







The other interesting aspect of the Holga lens is the way it blurs the distinction between human and not.


I’m still working on it and would like to produce a book. The sequence and format needs to be carefully worked out. I think I’ll use a Blurb book as a try out but I would really like to do a handmade book.

March 31st 2012

Part 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Preparing for Assignment 5 (3)  : Subjects and cover illustration


From the beginning I’ve wanted to base this Assignment around Horsell Common. I live opposite and go there just about every day with our dogs. It was good that I also managed to have a go at Geocaching which was something else I wanted to do,  and combine this with the Common as well. I enjoyed playing around with the images and it was good practice for putting a sequence together. I decided they wouldn’t be right somehow for the Assignment though.

The author H. G. Wells had a connection with the Woking area.  He had the Martians landing on the large sandpit on the Common in his book “War of the Worlds”. All paths lead into the Sandpit. It is still a ‘stage’ – a place where walkers and dogs often congregate; people picnic; children play and horses skirt around it.  I photograph there regularly and decided to use images taken during January and February this year – mainly of one particular event.  This was so that I could stay to some extent within the ‘sequence’ theme in terms of action and also confine myself somehow – otherwise I would just go on and on taking photographs because I find the Common so interesting.  The overarching theme though is the use that people make of the Common:-

The event began for me at the point where there was suddenly a large file of children coming down one of the paths, shepherded by adults. The children were all dressed in green, chattering gaily and skipping around but in a fairly orderly fashion.  We followed along after them.

I’m not going to include any more of the images at this point but wait until I’ve decided upon all the ones I want to use for the Assignment ‘story’.

Understanding Layout

I’ve been working for some time on a personal project of mine which involves putting together some letters and photographs from the 1940s, writing a commentary and compiling a book.  My ambition was to do it all myself rather than using software like Blurb and, to this end, I acquired Adobe InDesign. Vicki, one of my fellow students, is an expert on InDesign and kindly put together a 1:1 training session to put me through the basics.  Knowing that I was approaching Assignment 5, Vicki also suggested I collect some magazines together to have a look at layouts and covers. Big thanks to Vicki for all her encouragement and support.

Potential covers

My aim for the cover illustration was to have something inviting, colourful and interesting which would set the scene for my overarching theme of how people use the Common. My idea for the title would be “Let’s Meet on the Sandpit”.  I immediately ran into some challenges though when I looked through the photographs. The Common is quite heavily wooded and so is often shadowed in places. Colours tend towards brown and green and there is a darkish blue tinge to the soil.  It was winter so there was less sun/light. Photoshop can obviously help with all this but there was another challenge. A lot of the photographs I take on the Common are in landscape format but images on magazine covers are usually in portrait format. This meant I would have to do some careful crops.

With the photograph above I would have to choose between horses and people with dogs because the people are almost at the edge of the frame. Also, I’d been using a new Canon G12 quite a lot at the beginning of the year which meant that the quality of cropped photographs would be more compromised than with my 500D.

This crop was the widest I could manage but the people look confined.


I wanted to keep the white dog but when I consulted my husband he said that  this crop made everything look too cramped. I reluctantly re-cropped so that the white dog was no longer there and now people, the other dogs and horses had room to move.

The next image was actually taken at the side of the Sandpit where people were gathered together under the tree:-



This had potential as it cropped quite well, fits the theme and could be intriguing. It seemed static though, I looked for others that had more action and were also actually taken in portrait format:-


These didn’t grab me in quite the same way as the first images.


The one above is just a tree. The silver birch gives contrast with the green leaves, plus there is some blue sky, but there is no action.  Interestingly enough, at the weekend I showed all my cover ideas to a friend of mine asking her which ones would attract her to buy if she saw such a magazine in a shop.  One of her comments was that some people don’t like dogs or horses so might well give that type of cover a miss and, therefore, the tree was more neutral.

Magazine title

I wanted to have a go at a title and the one above was my first attempt.  I was reliably informed that in design circles it’s generally frowned upon to put a different coloured outline (stroke) around text – I’d put a yellow stroke around the black magazine title. I’ve now changed all the wording to yellow and it stands out against the background.  That was another aspect I realised –  that you have to think carefully how the colour of the cover image background will affect any wording.


I’ve spent much longer on this Assignment than on my previous ones.  One ray of hope came from listening to a recent interview on the Radio 4 Book Programme. Alan Hollingsowrth, who wrote The Line of Beauty was telling his interviewer that he wrote between 200 and 300 words per day.  There are 300 pages in the edition I looked at so at the rate of 11 words to a line and 32 lines to a page it means it took him around a year to write this book.

I’ve found all this process quite challenging and felt stressed-out at times but have been determined to work through it.  I’ve learned lots as a result about formats, backgrounds and placing text.  Now I have to sort out  the images to use for the ‘story’ and make a final decision on the cover.

14th March 2012

Working towards Assignment 5 (2)

Part 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Following my tutor’s suggestions on other photographers to look at

In her feedback on assignment 4, my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Chris Steele Perkins and Josef Koudelka (both with Magnum) during my preparation for Assignment 5.

Chris Steele Perkins (1947-)

I had looked before at his work having read feedback on the Study Visit to the Open Eye on 2nd January this year in We are OCA .  His Exhibition there was The Pleasure Principle 1989. I wasn’t able to go on that particular Study Visit but the student feedback/discussion was interesting and varied in terms of how the Exhibition was mounted; the photographer’s motivations for choosing his particular subjects, and how this might be connected with his own experiences as a non-white, non-English person. Chris Steele Perkins was born in 1947 in Rangoon and came to England with his father in 1949. His first book The Teds was published in 1979.

I couldn’t access the images from The Pleasure Principle on his personal website but they are on the Magnum website . They are acutely observed, bright , and colourfully vivid – complementing a, maybe,  wry view of the exuberant way in which some of us enjoy ourselves in this Country. They certainly invite me to raise my eyebrows at some of the events portrayed.

However, he has photographed many other situations, including in Afghanistan. Afghanistan  was published in 2000 in collaboration with the Afghan poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh. The Magnum site states he “…has created a profoundly personal homage and celebration of Afghanistan” and that he felt the appropriate response to the Country was a photography book that transcends journalism. The photographs (taken over several visits to Afghanistan) are black and white and the tones are beautifully rendered. They show the people in their everyday lives, at work and play.   Yes – the soldiers are there and one can see crumbling/damaged buildings. Overall, though, there is that sense of the human spirit surviving and everyday life continuing despite it all.  I have ordered the book because I want to touch and feel it.

There we have almost polar opposites of ways in which one photographer  creates narrative through photography.

Josef Koudelka (1938-)

My tutor first mentioned Josef Koudelka when we had an introductory telephone conversation at the start of this course.  She said that some of the photographs of mine she had seen on my Flickr site reminded her of him. Obviously, I eagerly looked him up on the web straight away but I just couldn’t see any resemblance. I still can’t although I wish I could! I couldn’t find a personal website but an internet search informed me that he is a Czech photographer, born in 1938 who is particularly famous for his work on Gypsies (in Czechoslovakia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece) and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Russians in 1968. I am old enough to remember the invasion – how I had rejoiced when the Czechs appeared to be successful in claiming their nationhood and my dismay when it failed. I can actually still remember hearing that news on the radio that day and then seeing the film on (black and white) tv. Koudelka’s images of that time are excellent of course, but what they don’t do for me is portray that sense of dismay, defeat and fall from hope that I experienced at the time.

Photographs by Koudelka appear in Magnum Magnum (2009). This is a book in which, “… current Magnum photographers select and critique  six key works of another of the 69 photographers featured, with a commentary explaining their choice”.  David Hurn has chosen photographs from the years 1960vand 1964 (Prague), 1968 (Romania), 1968 (Prague), 1987 and 1989 (France). If I think of narrative, the third one leaps out at me. A man and a horse in Romania (1968). The man, a gipsy,  squats looking up at the horse. His hands make eloquent gestures. His left hand is pointed downwards, between his knees, to the ground. His  right hand, forming a diagonal with the left, is  slightly cupped with the fingers slightly splayed and his thumb appearing to be pointing to the horses head. The horse stands looking motionless; head looking downwards, seemingly towards the man’s right hand – ears forwardly erect as if listening. They are communicating somehow.  I think it is a beautiful image – silvery looking horse, with rough striped dark blanket; lower legs dirtied. This is a working horse. The darker, mustachioed man, wearing even darker hat and clothing, but his fingernails gleam.  Was this posed? I don’t know and the commentary doesn’t say. Even if it was, the horse still appears to be in communication with the man and the viewer can speculate upon their story. Here’s a link to the image on the Magnum site.

In another book, Eamonn McCabe (2008) discusses the techniques and approaches employed by his chosen photographers.  There is another photograph of Gypsies taken around 1970 – three men indoors, gazing directly at the viewer. They form a backlit triangle framed by the dark doorway against light streaming through the window which appears to have a half-drawn blind against it. McCabe conjectures that they were maybe showmen of some sort and describes their mood as one of defiance, linking it with “….a culture in decline and the way Koudelka has boxed them into the dark space” which makes them look penned in (p. 44). The image is again perfectly composed and I assume it has been staged – for light, shade, make a statement, set a mood? The photographic acknowledgments at the back of the book (p.143) state that the prints reproduced are held in the Collection of the  National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, Yorkshire. I have searched the site several times but been unable to locate this one.

Andre Kertesz (1894-1985)

This is another photographer who recently commanded my attention when I went to an Exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath, organised in partnership with the National Media Museum, entitled Art of Arrangement: Photography and the Still Life Tradition .  The image is a poster for the International Museum of Photography in New York. We are looking through a doorway towards the foot of some curving stairs with a handrail to match. On the left of the doorway there is a bowl of flowers on a table. A simple, elegant composition in black and white, showing the contrasting interplay between light and shadow. I appreciated this image so much that I looked up Kertesz and discovered that, between 1915 and 1970, he had collected together a series of images on reading which had been published as a book. I love reading and the idea of this book really appealed to me so I bought it.

On Reading  was first published in 1971, but reprinted in 2008 with a preface by the curator of his Estate – Robert Gurbo.  It is a small, slim book (portrait size) containing 66 black and white photographs taken in places in the United States, Japan, France and Venice. There are no captions (they don’t need them),  just a photograph on every page in a variety of formats.   The images celebrate the ‘power and pleasure of reading’ and are a joy to look and ponder upon. Each one tells a story as I see the people reading; the locations; the clothes they are wearing and wonder what they are reading.

Further thoughts

I’ve realised that I’m spending much more time now when I look at photographs – enjoying them (of course) but also analyzing exactly what it is that appeals to me and how the effect is gained. I move back and forth between colour and black and white trying to decide which I prefer but then do I really have to make a choice? For me colour celebrates the vibrance of life and reflects what I can see around me. Black and white distils the essence of an image down to light, shade, tone and form.  People can often end to become archetypes in its fine art form and represent continuity of emotion and experience. I hope I’m now becoming more able to reflect upon what it is I want to achieve with my photography and how I might be able to go about it.

13th March 2012



  • Kertesz, A (2008) On Reading, W.W. Norton & Co, New York and London.
  • Lardinois, B (ed)  2009, Magnum Magnum, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
  • McCabe E. (2008), The making of great photographs, David & Charles Ltd, Cincinnati, OH



Working towards Assignment (1): Ideas for subject themes

Ideas for subject themes

Last month I wrote about my two ideas regarding a subject for the Assignment. These were Geocaching or my local Common. My first experience of Geocaching arrived soon afterwards (see earlier post)  and I enjoyed it. The photographs I took were more of an experiment to see if it was possible to photograph something while I was more of a participant than an observer. The idea was okay but the photographs weren’t that exciting.  However, I had another opportunity a couple of weeks ago when Doug and Ollie came to stay again. This time I decided to use two cameras.  I’ve been experimenting with the Holga lens I bought recently for my Canon 500D.  I thought that could be good for producing more dreamlike images of a treasure hunt. Additionally, I decided to take my Canon G12 as it should be quicker to use and need less attention on focussing.  I had an idea of using photographs from the latter to make up a story for Doug and he liked that idea.

Holga lens

    Let’s check the location.


Entering the wood


Let’s have a lookout to see if anyone is around.  I can see that lady there with her dogs. She looks very busy with them so maybe we shouldn’t ask her any questions about the treasure and where we can find it.


There are more people here, but I think we should just carry on walking.


I think this is a magic tree. Maybe the treasure is buried under its roots.

Are we ever going to find this treasure?

I like the Holga lens as it can give a good effect with light and shadows.   The sequence of events is as it happened but  I’m not sure it would be suitable for the purposes of the Assignment. We were in a wooded area and the images are quite dark on the whole.

I turned then to look at the photographs from the G12.  The idea in my head was to see if I could make them look more like story book images by using the dry brush in the Artistic filters.

G12 images

  Let’s see if there’s a map showing us where the treasure might be.

Off they went into the wood. Ollie found a piece of wood which he said would make a good gun to frighten off any monsters. “I think we’re lost.”, said Doug. “Oh dear!”, Ollie said What shall we do now?”. Ollie felt a bit scared in this dark wood.  He was glad Doug was with him.

There were all those people on the sandpit. What could they be doing? Doug wondered if they were looking for the treasure as well because they had so much equipment and what looked like sand diggers. He decided not to say anything to Ollie about it in case he got more scared.

 “Oh, look Ollie!”, said Doug, “That looks like a policeman on his horse. I’m sure he’ll keep an eye on us from a distance. Let’s just pretend we’re playing in the sandpit and our mum and dad aren’t so far away”.

“I’m sure that treasure is somewhere near here because this looks like the place I saw on the map on the computer”. Doug really wasn’t too sure but he wanted Ollie to cheer up.


“What’s wrong Doug?”, Ollie said. “I’m getting a bit tired and hungry now and I think we’d better go back home because mummy might be getting our tea ready”, replied Doug.  “Oh that’s a good idea”, said Ollie. “Let’s go back now”.

“Look! Two cyclists. Do you think they might be lost?.  


I probably haven’t got quite the right wording for a seven year old but I can ask Doug to help me. We can make up the story together and then Doug can read it to Ollie.


WordPress hasn’t behaved itself in allowing me to position the images as I wanted to. I’ve re-edited several times but it still won’t co-operate!

These are only a selection of the photographs I took so, either way, I can create a longer story.  The magazine could be a children’s magazine or maybe a monthly magazine for parents containing short picture stories they can read to children at bedtime. The holga images have an interesting effect but probably don’t fit so well into the idea of a treasure hunt, unless I make it more of a dreamlike, almost nightmare story (not too good for bedtime).  My preference from these two would be the second set. I’ve given them a more artistic effect though than pure photograph.  Does that make them unsuitable for the Assignment? I need to think about that. There is also the cover illustration to consider which would take me more time than I want to use.

I’m already over time with this Assignment –  my last one for The Art of Photography – and I don’t want to make it too late for the submission date for the July assessment. I will definitely do the story book for Doug and Ollie though.  Oh yes.  I forgot to mention that we didn’t find the treasure, which was why the boys were getting tired and hungry. My GPS stopped working for a while and we went off the track.  I went back the next day and found it so will have to take them back.  I think they deserve to find a special treasure.

9th March 2012