Monthly Archives: March 2017

Assignment 5 – The Idea

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme […] The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five. This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas.

– Context and Narrative Course Book (p. 122)

During part two, I wrote this in my post on using a poem (Like a Beacon by Grace Nichols) as the basis for a photograph:

“A constructed picture. A still life, along the lines of the” [Barthes/Panzani] “pasta ad!”

I even went so far as to make up a shopping list and reckoned that I might have made the resulting still life some time in March.

That was, of course, in March 2016… Continue reading

Constructed Realities: Rejected Ideas for Assignment 5

Each part of the course has thrown up ideas for this, final assignment; and each bit of course work has left something hanging, something that deserved a bit more attention than I was able to give it at the time:

Part 1 fed into thinking around the idea of just how ‘true’ a photograph isthat has been burbling along underneath all the other parts of the course; large chunks of my online tutorials have dealt with my increasingly conscious attempts to evade the indexicality (the direct correlation between thing photographed and the resulting image) of the photographic image. Also, this part of the course introduced the idea of constructing images rather than taking them. The idea of ‘truth’ became slipperier by the day…

Part 2 contained the revelatory idea (which I’d been circling round, without ever quite managing to sieze it ever since I first read The Ongoing Moment, some years ago now) that still photographs had more in common with poetry than with prose, when it came to the production of meaning. Narrative becomes more capable of alluding to things rather than telling a straight beginning-middle-end story.

Part 3 gave me the various sequences of diaristic photographs and allowed me to play with some of the ideas associated with conceptual art in the late sixties and early seventies as well as freeing up my inner surrealist a bit.

Part 4 allowed me to think about theory a bit and about the way that photographs produce meaning (or rather how viewers take the clues from within photographs and turn them into meanings) as well as reintroducing me to Cartier-Bresson and his contemporaries.

When my tutor suggested that I stage a street scene, constructing my own decisive moment rather than waiting for it to coalesce before me, my immediate reaction was to dismiss the idea out of hand. The amount of effort required – casting, storyboarding, taking the picture and on and on – was immense. And of course, I don’t have the time at the moment and I have set the clock ticking for getting C&N in for assessment by the end of April. And of course, somewhere there must be a bit of me that was horrified after absorbing all the tedious rules people set up around “street” – setting something up is cheating!

But then, soon after, I was walking home from Jubilee Park with Alice when I saw a great varied cluster of people at the bus stop outside the ex B&Q on the Lea Bridge Road. In a series of movements I got my camera out of my pocket, flipped open the ever-ready case (hah!) and brought my camera up to my eye just as a bus swished up and they all got on. Regardless, I still liked the shapes in the shot and took three pictures, stopping after a man positioned himself in the centre of the bus stop and started doing something with his phone.

Later,  when I got home and downloaded the pictures to my laptop, I realised that the framing was almost identical across the set and thought that maybe I could try collage-ing them into something by way of an exercise to try and answer some of my questions about seamless compositing and also to have a go at constructing a single moment from a number of indecisive ones.

Anyway, after about half an hour of messing around with layers, layer masks and the airbrush tool in Photoshop, I had welded the three pictures together, and could see where additional pictures could have been taken to add detail: something –  a cyclist heading right to left? a foregrounded pedestrian’s shoulder and the side of their head, waiting to cross the road? – in the bottom left corner of the picture, perhaps; maybe some more people at the bus stop.

Composite Picture

Even without the extra details, it isn’t bad I think, but for the assignment I think I’d want something a bit more planned, a bit more – well – meaningful somehow.

I had a better location for a constructed decisive moment, possibly one that referenced a picture roughly contemporary with the early work of Cartier-Bresson.

058/159-044 André Kertész Meudon, 1928 gelatin silver print 23.8 x 17.7 cm (9 3/8 x 6 15/16); 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14) Collection Soizic Audouard, Paris André Kertész photographs reproduced courtesy of the Estate of André Kertész and the Jeu de Paume/French Ministry for Culture and Communication

André Kertész Meudon, 1928

For the book that went with the TV series The Genius of Photography, Gerry Badger chose André Kertész’ 1928 picture Meudon as the first photograph he would look at in depth.

He writes (p.11): “This is clearly a ‘decisive moment’ picture, a particular instant in time when Kertész – probably looking for the train but also grateful for the man with the parcel – decided to press the shutter. […] But there could be another explanation behind the making of this photograph, Kertész may have known and posed the man with the parcel. […] We know that a day or two before making the picture Kertész made a ‘dry run’ or two. One of these shows the emptry scene, and in another there is the passing train.”

I have often thought about the possibilities offered by the view of Selborne Road in Walthamstow as you approach it down Vernon Road. Running across the back of likely frame there is a raised section of railway nd track as the overground approaches Walthamstow central. Trains pass every few minutes or so. People on foot and on bicycles and buses and cars, enter stage left pe stage right. And there on the right there is the spiral up to Sainsbury’s roof top carpark. I have never managed to  get all these elements to come together at a single time. Perhaps I could do this with a series of pictures, each one getting a single element right.

Simon Chirgwin Walthamstow 2017

Perhaps, I could also find someone to carry a picture across Vernon Road, between me and the junction…

But that would involve coordination, casting and waiting for a day when the southern sky wasn’t so bright, and the road so in the shade of the embankment that taking the pictures would be a technical battle against the contrasty light. I had another idea up my sleeve. One that would not involve anyone else. And one that would not involve leaving the house.


Badger G. (2007) The Genius of Photography – How Photography Has Changed Our Lives 1st Edition. London. Quadrille


Influence as Context – Evans, Frank, Shore, Ohtake, Graham and me…

For further reading after assignment 1, my tutor suggested that  – among other things – I should read Tod Papageorge’s essay on the way Robert Frank had been influenced by his friendship Walker Evans and by Evans’ book American Photographs. The content of Papageorge’s essay did not directly appear to feed into the work I did in part two, but then, as part of the work leading up to Assignment 3, I kept a diary, which included sequences of everyday photographs taken as I wandered through my life, seeing things. While the most obvious influence on this work was Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces (I was working with a compact, portable camera, often using flash and generally the pictures were taken while I was on the move) the range of photographic reference points was not limited to Shore’s work. The photographs illustrating this post, I hope, demonstrate this. 

Continue reading

NFTU #2 – Tillmans at the Tate

To go along with his exhibition at Tate Modern, Wolfgang Tillmans was signing copies of the catalogue in the bookshop there this week. I’d already bought the book when I visited it soon after the opening, but I nipped out of work on the day of the signing and took my copy back to Tate. By the time I’d reached the front of the queue, I’d had enough time to think of something adequate to say about the exhibition so, as I stood in front of Tilmans (who is a tall man, even sitting down, I was able to say: “I enjoyed the exhibition; it made me think, and it made me think about my own photographs as well” which seemed a nice summary of where my head is at the moment and went down well with Tillman, himself.

I visited the exhibition at Tate Modern a couple of weeks ago, when it had just opened and was very impressed by the way that each of the rooms of the exhibition – described as installations – provided a shared context for the pictures displayed there; some of the pictures could have been displayed in different rooms from the one they were in, but then they would have gained some meanings and lost others. It was an interesting way to experience the show, heightened by the different sized pictures which forced you to step in and peer at one, and then to retreat across the room in order to be able to comprehend what the next was about.

The result was very different from Elton John’s collection of Modernist prints that is also showing across the bridge in the Switch House. There – in classic modernist style – they are hermetic, sealed, content to be just themselves. They’re beautiful, but they’ve been done and they cannot innocently be redone either.

They are – well – just photographs. They are lovely and it is great to see them, but they don’t make you want to somehow incorporate them into your own work or rather your way of working. Tillmans makes you (and helps you) construct your meaning from his rooms full of juxtapositions; the modernist pictures just are.



  1. (2017) The Radical Eye – Modernist Photography from the Elton John Collection. London. Tate Moderm
  2. Tillmans, Wolfgang (2017) 2017. London; Tate Publishing