Category Archives: Coursework

Reading Photographs: Project 1 – The language of photography

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

“…look carefully at Erwitt’s image and write some notes about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure contribute to this meaning?”

C&N Coursebook, p.98

As the next paragraph in the coursebook go on to say (and it is almost impossible not to read it before you flick a page back to look carefully at the picture again, despite the fact that you’re told not to read on..) the picture is organised rigidly into a grid of vertical and horizontal thirds. Continue reading

Reading Photographs: Introduction – To Communicate? To Express?

from glyphs, runes and other signs – an incomplete series (simon chirgwin; 2007 – present)


“Before you read any further, can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication? Blog about them.” – C&N coursebook. p.92


So to begin at the beginning, I though I’d better find out what the dictionary definition of expression or communication might be:

  • communicate /kəˈmjuːnɪkeɪt/ verb: share or exchange information, news, or ideas
  • express /ɪkˈsprɛs,ɛk-/ verb: convey (a thought or feeling) in words or by gestures and conduct.

So, “communicate” suggests the passing on of the objective, while “express” suggests the passing on of the subjective. In this way, all photographs seem to break down into one of two categories: “Look at this!” (communication – with an expected response along the lines of “Wow!”) or “Look at me!” (expression – with an expected response along the lines of “Wow! You’re brilliant!”) This also of course happens to break neatly into Szarkowski’s two categoriesof  Windows and Mirrors. Continue reading

Putting Yourself In The Picture – Project 2: Childhood Memory

Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. Think carefully about the memory you choose and how you’ll recreate it. You’re free to approach this task in any way you wish.

  • Does the memory involve you directly or is it something you witnessed?
  • Will you include your adult self in the image (for example, to ‘stand in’ for your childhood self) or will you ask a model to represent you? Or will you be absent from the image altogether? (You’ll look at the work of some artists who have chosen to depict some aspect of their life without including themselves in the image in the next project.)
  • Will you try and recreate the memory literally or will you represent it in a more metaphorical way, as you did in Part Two?
  • Will you accompany your image with some text?
  • In your learning log, reflect on the final outcome. How does the photograph resemble your memory? Is it different from what you expected? What does it communicate to the viewer? How?

It might be interesting to show your photograph to friends or family members – perhaps someone who was there at the time and someone who wasn’t – and see what the image conveys to them.  – Context & Narrative Coursebook p.82

Continue reading

Theory, Binary Oppositions and Spectrums – some thoughts…

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Bubion; Alpujarras, Spain – 2008

While it may not be too apparent on this blog, I’ve been doing rather a lot of reading while I’ve been studying for Context and Narrative. As I have done so, it’s become more and more apparent to me that many (if not most) ideas in photography occupy positions somewhere between a set of poles. Some are binary (ie thing and not thing) while other are situated on a spectrum (thing, a little less thingy, even less thingy, a bit un-thingy, very un-thingy, not thing). Continue reading

Narrative #2a – a second poem (or possibly the start of Assignment 2)

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.

From T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Like a fool, I decided that – rather than halve the bulb of fennel – I’d take off the three slices needed to get it to fit into the guard of the mandolin holding it in my bare hand. How wrong can you be?

Continue reading

Narrative #2 – Poem

poems on the underground - after evans

poems on the underground – after evans

“Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.”

Later this year, we hope to move house. One of the things we need to do to turn this into a reality is to pack things away. I have way too many books, so they need to be boxed up and made ready bit by bit. As a result most of my poetry books – all of them. actually – are now in boxes in the the attic. This is quite good as it forces me to find some new poetry to look at, for this… Continue reading

Narrative # 1 – Country Doctor and The Dad Project

late at night he jots notes on any piece of paper that is handy...

late at night he jots notes on any piece of paper that is handy…

“The town of Kremmling Colorado, 115 miles west of Denver, contains 1,000 people. The surrounding area of some 400 square miles, filled with ranches which extend high into the Rocky Mountains, contains 1,000 more. These 2,000 souls are constantly falling ill, recovering or dying, having children, being kicked by horses and cutting themselves on broken bottles. A single country doctor, known in the profession as a “g.p.”, or general practitioner, takes care of them all. His name is Ernest Guy Ceriani.”

– Opening of Country Doctor,  Life, 20/09/1948, pp 115-126

“Three months after my Dad died, I found myself hanging photos on a gallery wall that revealed the story of our relationship and of his death. We had recorded it together through photography and film during his last six months, and it became ‘The Dad Project’. He was 65, I was 29, and two years have passed since.”

– Opening of  .pdf version of The Dad Project, online, Briony Campbell, November 2011

In itself, the attribution to these two quotes identifies a number of significant differences between the two series’ of photographs considered here. Country Doctor exists in a single form contained in one edition of Life; The Dad Project has had many versions – a book, exhibitions, articles in the press (and a Guardian film) and the currently available online version that I will base the bulk of my comments in this post upon. Country Doctor – although the pictures are available with some outtakes on both the Life and Magnum sites – is a singular thing; The Dad Project is multiple. Country Doctor is a 3rd person narrative; The Dad Project is first person. Continue reading

The Photograph as Document #5 – Constructed Images

“Use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never actually be. To make a composite image you need to consider your idea and make the required amount of images to join together. Upload the images and decide which image you’ll use as your main image and background. Use the magic wand to select sections of image from the others you wish to move into your background image. Copy via layer and drag into the background. Do this repeatedly until you have all the pieces of your puzzle in place. In order to make it more convincing, use the erase tool on each layer to keep the edges soft and to create a better illusion. Be aware of perspective and light and shadows for the most effective results.”

– C&N Coursebook

London – No Sé

I was first confronted (and given the sheer scale of the print, confronted is definitely the word) by Andreas Gursky’s picture Sao Paulo – Sé (2002)  at the Barbican Exhibition, Constructing Worlds (reviewed here as part of my log for TAoP).  I immediately liked it and the other Gursky, the 1992 constructed image – Paris Montparnasse – on show at the exhibition. Continue reading

the photograph as document # 3 – street photography/reportage

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Regent Street; September 2015

“Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style. In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats. What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?” – C&N Coursebook

I’m never that sure about “Street Photography”: as a genre it seems to span so wide a variety of photographers and their ways of working as to be meaningless as a description; I don’t really know what the pictures are “for”; and I don’t enjoy taking “street” pictures, finding the whole thing grimly stressful. And this is before I even start thinking about the number of different ways the practice of street photography is codified by the policemen of both photography and of the internet. Is street black and white or colour? Can you crop the images? Should you involve the objects before your lens in the picture-making or just hit and run? Must there be people? Does inside count as “street” if it is a public inside?  Continue reading

photograph as document # 1 – eyewitnesses?

“Find some examples of news stories where ‘citizen journalism’ has exposed or highlighted abuses of power. How do these pictures affect the story, if at all? Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?” – Context and Narrative Coursebook

I will use the reporting around the death of the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson (1) at the demonstrations against the G20 summit in London in April 2009 as my main example here.

On the first of April 2009, there were large demonstrations in London focussed on the start of the second G20 summit which was to take place the next day. Policing of the demonstrations featured “kettling”,where large numbers of people are held within a rigidly maintained police cordon (the image here is of hot water, held – and possibly even brought to boiling point – in a kettle).

Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor, collapsed and died within the cordon. At first there were strong official denials that he had been in contact with the police before he collapsed; indeed papers such as the Evening Standard (2) maintained that, “Police [were] pelted with bricks as they help dying man” – a headline juxtaposed with a standard, wide, illustrative demo shot printed over two pages, taken from behind the police line. This photograph was not taken at either the place or the time that Tomlinson died; instead it was of a later phase of the protests when police cleared a squatter camp in another part of the city. Smoke hangs in the air; the police – outnumbered in the photograph by demonstrators and with their backs to us – ie we are protected from the violence by them – wait, braced against possible violence from the protesters. Continue reading