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

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


Beginning thoughts and reading – Narrative and illustration

The Art of Photography

Part 5 : Narrative and illustration – Initial reading and thoughts

 I’m now coming towards the end of this Module and, it’s odd, but I don’t want it to finish. Maybe authors feel like this when they’ve written a book (or experienced photographers when they’re coming to the end of a lengthy project).  This is not to mention the fact that, as usual, I feel anxious as to whether I’ll be able to meet the brief for the Assignment, especially as I’ve now had the invitation (and a reminder) to apply for formal assessment.   Still, best not to think too far ahead and I have a few ideas to explore.


This is the first Project.  I’ve read through the Handbook notes and this is what immediately comes to mind. I’ll add additional thoughts as I progress through the exercises.

 Using photography to tell a story now as opposed to treating it as a set of skills. This brings intent more into the frame. What is the purpose of the photograph; how is it going to be used. Michael Freeman (2007 p. 134) writes about the differences between reactive (I like his description of guerrilla still-life photography taken handheld from real life’!) or planned photography, and the role of the photographer’s personality. With regard to the latter, he might well have added experience and self-confidence.   My preference is for a mix of reactive and planned – like the action learning cycle, so that a project can attain more depth and immediacy.

Subject versus design/form versus content – put the subject first; consider what is important and let this suggest the treatment. Compositional skills may be less important than telling the story; bringing a subject to life. I’m thinking here of the growth in the use of camera phones as snapshots of events. They can bring that raw element of ‘here and now’ action to the fore, the recent riots in London for example (back to guerrilla photography). Images from a royal wedding are received best when beautifully, nay romantically, composed, whereas images of a famous star with her head in curlers and no make-up usually have that ‘snatched out of the blue’ air.

Narrative in photography is a way of telling a story through a set of pictures as opposed to trying to tell a story in a single picture. Sometimes, though, just one image conveys a moment in time which encapsulates an issue, as in photojournalism.  That single image becomes more than the sum of its parts. For instance, when I see those photographs of coffins of servicemen and women being brought back to the UK I have a flash of what their lives might have been like. The image of the young mutilated Afghan girl brought forward a whole story in my imagination of why and how this happened which deepened my sense of  anger and pity.

Showing each different aspect of the subject in a separate image is more simple than attempting to find a viewpoint in which they are combined and best suited to subjects made up of several parts or events. I need to keep the following in mind and a ‘picture script’ is a helpful aide-memoire:-

Plotting the story

  •  When and where
  • Venue and timing
  • What kind of event
  • Good locations to shoot from – making a reconnaissance.
  • What will work best –  birds-eye view or on the ground
  • Long-distance; close-up, overall, detail
  • Weather considerations
  • What restrictions might there be
  • What’s allowed and what not

Planning what and how to shoot

  • Kind of shots which might be expected or hoped for –  such as distant, close-up, or detail.
  • Variety of images to consider – the whole set will be more interesting with the most visual variety. Therefore consider vertical as well as horizontal; taken at different scales and focal length; variety of colour and lighting.

It’s comforting to have a beginning ‘how to’ list when starting from almost zero. A few months ago I started off on a personal project concerned with reconnecting with my childhood.  This involved me in spending a few days in September back in Sheffield and the Peak District, and I certainly made a list and kept a log book. What happened though was that as soon as I got back I realised that there were certain photographs it would have been good to have and arrangements I should have made beforehand. I’m still working on this particular project and gathering material together and, fortunately, I’m going back in April. The project for Assignment 5 will be a smaller scale. I have some initial ideas and, this time, will make sure I plan more comprehensively and stay nearer to home.

In thinking about ‘telling a story’ there was also another helpful article by Michael Freeman on the Photonet website – ‘Three Tips to help your photos tell a story”. Tip 1 was that  pictures also have to do a job of explaining so put yourself into your viewer’s shoes and ask yourself is anything is unexplained. Do your friends understand it, is anything missed out/needs explaining. This also brings words/captions into play – an area which has involved considerable discussion on the OCA Flickr site. Tip 2 is start with the basic 3-plus-1 ingredients. Start strong, develop the storyline, end strong.  Plus 1 is that key shot a strong powerful image which will ‘halt’ the viewer and key the story somewhere. Tip 3 ( as above) is that a linear story is the easiest.

I bought ‘Context and Narrative’ (Maria Short) last September as well.  I’ve dipped into it but now intend to absorb it more conscientiously. Here I go!


17th January 2012.


Freeman, M. “The Photographers Eye”, 2007,

Short. S, “Context and Narrative”,  2011, AVA Publishing, SA


Freeman M, “three tips to help your photos tell a story”, The Ilex Press Ltd (accessed 17.1.2012)