Monthly Archives: June 2017

August Sander – A Postscript

In my earlier post discussing August Sander’s comprehensive study of German ‘types’ made in the first half of the 20th century, I limited myself to the sixty plates included in the 1929 book, Face of our Time at least in part because this was the only part of Sander’s wider project where he had been in complete control of how it was presented.

As I looked for copies of the images I wanted to use to illustrate my post, I realised that the pictures included in the book had often been cropped from wider – sometimes much wider – original images. For example, the Shepherd – Pl.2 in the book –  has been cropped down from a wider composition, concentrating the picture’s depiction of it’s subject’s lined face and removing extraneous detail.

fig.1 – Unemployed (pl.60) as shot

Mostly, the cropping of the images for publication simply concentrates the meaning of the original, but, in at least one instance – Unemployed (Pl.60) – the effect is completely changed. Continue reading

assignment 1: the non-familiar – the pictures

MSP® is part a UK government managed portfolio of Best Management Practices. It has no practical element. 2 levels of Certification are available – Foundation and Practitioner. The higher level certificate (practitioner) expires after five years and so everyone is expected to sit a re-registration exam. Most people do this at the end of a short course to refresh their knowledge of the methodology.

On the 16th and 17th of March 2017, eight people attended a Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) re-registration course in a commercial building near Liverpool Street Station in London. I was one of them. I had never met  my fellow students before the course and I will probably never meet any of them again. We all work for large organisations, working on projects and programmes that will have significant impact on the way our colleagues work.

While one of my fellow students did not wish to have their photograph taken, six (and the trainer) allowed me to take a photograph of them during breaks from studying. Here are five of the resulting portraits.

assignment 1: the non-familiar – getting there

fiona, from the metropolitan police, who did not want to be photographed

‘Your first assignment is to make five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you.’

– IaP Coursebook, p.35

This is the eleventh assignment I’ve done for the OCA and It has probably the least ambiguous brief yet. But unambiguous doesn’t necessarily mean, easy or simple…

‘You will almost certainly find it challenging to make photographs of people you don’t know; it’s often much easier to photograph somebody you’re already familiar with. This could be referred to as the ‘comfort zone’ – and for the purposes of this assignment you will be specifically required to leave it!’

– IaP Coursebook, p.35

It has never come naturally to me to approach someone I don’t know and ask them if I can take a picture of them and this is probably why I have far more pictures of peeling paint, or dappled shadow or architectural geometry or whatever silting up my hard-drive, than I do of people. Continue reading

Exercise 1:4 – Archival Intervention

the cover of a photo album put together by my father sometime in the early 1950s

‘Look through your own family archive and try to discover a series of portraits (four or five) that have existed within this archive, but have never been placed together before. The portraits can contain individuals or even couples; they may span generations, or just be of the same person throughout the years (chronotype). Whichever way you wish to tackle this exercise, there must be a reason or justification for your choices. What message are you trying to get across about these portraits?’
– IaP Coursebook, p.34

I think this set of five pictures (plus one extra, acting as a full stop) tells a fairly straightforward story – a man is born, grows up and gets married, has a family and then dies – without much need for explanation. But I shall provide short captions anyway to try and make this story a bit more complex, because it is about other things too, including history and class and society and place. And, of course, because the man is my father, me.

Continue reading

Exercise 1.3 – Off to one side a bit


places where people who were smoking outside buildings had been smoking – april 2017


As mentioned in my previous post, easily as many people declined to have their picture taken by me as agreed to be included in my smokers’ typology. After a while, I realised that I could always take a picture of where some of them had been standing, after they had gone. I tried to keep the focus slightly in front of the wall, where the smoker would have been and tried to make interesting compositions that would work with the others in a grid.

Here they are. I quite like the effect and probably would be more likely to have these printed, framed and hung on a wall somewhere than the ones that actually have people in them.

Exercise 1.3: A Typology of My Own

‘In response to Sander’s work, try to create a photographic portraiture typology which attempts to bring together a collection of types. Think carefully about how you wish to classify these images; don’t make the series too literal and obvious.’

– IaP Coursebook p.29

people smoking outside buildings – central london, april 2017

“Excuse me – for an art college project, I’m taking photographs of people smoking outside buildings; you’re smoking outside a building – can I take your photograph, please?

I said this, or some version of this more than a hundred times over the course of six or so lunchtimes back in April. Around forty people said yes and I ended up with around seventy-five pictures (usually two of each smoker: one of them with a cigarette near or in their mouth; the other with the cigarette well out of the way of their face) that I was happy enough with for them to go through to the next stage of the edit. Continue reading

Exercise 1.2: Background as Context

sean in the three judges, glasgow – may ’17

“Make a portrait of someone you know, paying very close attention to what is happening in the background of the shot. Be very particular about how you pose the subject and what you choose to include in the photograph. Ideally, the background should tell the viewer something about the subject being photographed.”
IaP Coursebook, p.26

I have mentioned Sean in my learning log twice before: he was one of the people who helped me generate my self-portrait in part three of  Context and Narrative and he made a cameo appearance as a ‘colleague’ in my discussion of Robert Adams’ Why People Photograph during The Art of Photography.

We both come from Orkney; our sons are in the same class at school; we shared a flat for a while. I have played in bands with him, played in the same Glasgow chess club. He is a rather good photographer and writes proper computer code for a living.  Continue reading

August Sander and Typology

‘What did August Sander (1876-1964) tell his sitters before he took their pictures? And how did he say it so they all believed him in the same way? […] Did he simply say that  their photographs were going to be a recorded part of history? And did he refer to history in such a way that their vanity  and shyness dropped away, so that they looked into the lens , telling themselves, using a strange historical sense, “I looked like this”?’

– John Berger (1979)


The more I look at August Sander’s photographs of people in Germany at the start of the 20th century, the less certain I become of what exactly it is that I’m meant to be looking at. If – as Sander claimed – they form a cross-section of a society, it is not a society that I have personally experienced. 

All my examples are taken from the 1994 reissue of Face of Our Time. Sander died in April 1964, a month after I was born; time has moved on and if I wish to pick up on signifiers that would have been shared by Germans of Sander’s generation, Looking at his pictures, I must act as a historical detective, not as a member of that ‘Our’ in the title.

Continue reading

Exercise 1.1: Jean-Baptiste Frénet – Madame Frénet et fillettes, c.1855.

Madame Frénet et fillettes, c.1855. (Image Copyright, Wilson Centre for Photography)

I went twice to see Tate Britain’s 2015 exhibition Salt and Silver. This picture hung in the final room, Portraits and Presence. Certainly, it was the presence of a woman who must have been dead for nearly a century and a half by the time I was standing in front of her portrait that drew me back to this particular photograph again and again.
Continue reading

Glossary – Collodion Process

After its simultaneous discovery by Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave le Gray in 1851, the collodion process for producing wet-plate negatives quickly superseded the earlier Daguerrotype and Calotype methods for capturing images. Glass Collodion negatives were more sensitive to light (meaning that they required shorter exposures) than either of the older processes and were capable of finer detail than the grainy paper negatives that were used for Calotypes. Continue reading