Category Archives: Notes

nftu #9 – personal narrative and a question of curation

Now, I’ve taken all the pictures for Assignment 3 on the underground, I’ve got time to read during my commute again. This morning I read the interview with Sonia Boyce in the Guardian, which (besides the obvious relevance of the furore about the – temporary – removal of Hylas and the Nymphs from Manchester Art Gallery to stuff I had been thinking about the male gaze and the representation of women in art – there’s even reference to Berger’s Ways of Seeing) fired off two quick bursts of associative thought.

1: How my identity as a white, straight man has simplified my ability to inhabit various narratives through my life.

“Even though there were a lot of female students, they were thought about as though they were being trained to become the wives of artists, not artists themselves. As a black person, there wasn’t a narrative at all.” – Sonia Boyce, quoted in the Guardian

(Like Chris Huhne in Grayson Perry’s Ch4 series about Identity, but hopefully less complacently)  I have never really had to consider what I am doing inhabiting any of the roles I’ve played in my life, as they all have seemed a natural result of stuff that I haven’t had to think about, like “being clever” or “being male” or “white” or “middle class”. Sonia Boyce on the other hand has had to write her own story to explain herself (“…she was the first black female artist to enter the collection and, she later discovered to her shock, only the fifth woman. In 2016, she became the first black woman to be elected a Royal Academician...” – Guardian). I wonder how I would turned out with a less friction-free path through life.

2: The extent to which curation is a process of constant, conscious construction (which is also a major strand in all the discussion of the BBC’s plural re-make of Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization)

“Nor do paintings arrive on museum walls by magic. Someone decides to put them up – and, later, to take them down or move them around, which is the job of a curator. This might happen for all kinds of reasons, including the changing of taste or, indeed, a shift in the limits of acceptability.  Hylas and the Nymphs was removed through an impulse to reveal normally hidden institutional machinery to the public, and to invite them to take a stake in it.” – Charlotte Higgins, author of the Guardian article

This set me thinking about the extent to which the various curators – John Szarkowski in particular – of the photography department at MOMA in New York had shaped the general idea of what photography is , not just in America, but here as well.

Where would a British Eggleston have been able to buttonhole a curator like Szarkowski who would have had the clout to catapult him into the art world stratosphere? Of course it is possible that there could never have been a British Eggleston. And there is also the question of whether the art world embracing photography is a good thing in the first place.

I am capable of tracing multiple, parallel paths through American 20th Century Photography (and beyond); I can even name a string of specific canonical exhibitions; but my knowledge of British photography over the same period is much more patchy with plenty of gaps that are filled in my US canon. I know much more about the FSA’s work in the US during the 30s than I do of Mass Observation’s here for example. MOMA has carried out a task to place photography and photographers at the heart of “the culture”  that the great institutions in UK have barely started on. even now.

But there is still scope to dig  here, I think…

(This is not to belittle the stuff that is done by the V&A or The Photographers’ Gallery or even the Johnny-come-lately-to-the-photography-party that is the Tate collossus; but it is striking how much more visible the US photographers are over here.)

Twelve From 2017

contact scan of part of a roll of film, exposed c.2008 and processed in 2017

For the last couple of years, as Christmas approaches, members of the OCA Photography Level One facebook group have posted twelve pictures that they have taken (or made) during the year that is nearing its end.

Back in December, I should have been finishing off Assignment 3 (it would have been a few days late, but nothing serious); making a considered pre-Christmas post on facebook could be seen as a major act of displacement. Now, three weeks later, repeating the post here could – charitably – be seen as an attempt to jump start further progress with IaP.

Here they are:

fig.1 – January. Caversham Park.

Colours, light and shadow and shapes. Simple and satisfying.

fig.2 – february – regent st in the rain

Chucking it down. I found an awning and watched people more eager than I was running by to get to work.

fig.3 – march – lea bridge road

A mini cab office. Lots of nice rectangles.

fig.4 – april – walthamstow

I always wondered what the deal with buying a pair of shoes was…

fig.5 – may – stansted

A tricolour. Even though I wasn’t flying to Italy.

fig.6 – june – south of the river

Heading home from a friend’s fortieth birthday party. Nice light for me to feel horribly old in.

fig.7 – july – kyiv

Somewhere off Shota Rustaveli.

fig.8 – august – southend

Idly taking pictures while queuing to go on a rollercoaster.

fig.9 – september – walthamstow

Alice starts school.

fig.10 – october – glasgow

Opposite Cessnock Subway. Oddly satisfying.

fig.11 – november – whitechapel

Or maybe Fitzrovia. Delighted at the way the letters on concertina-ed shutters you weren’t supposed to park in front of fell.

fig.12 – december – underground

Bank station. Under renovation.


I captioned the set overall with…

“In the end I narrowed things down by choosing one photograph a month. This is a bit rough on months like July when I was spoiled for choice and conversely rather kind to June.

I have not included any pictures that I’ve used in my log.

If I had to choose again tomorrow, I might not go with the same 12, of course…”

…and posted it at 20.20 on the 20th of December.


I suspect that, at this stage, I should be moving away from individual pictures a bit more than seems to be the case here, although of course, very few of them are just ‘one of a type’ experiments and some of them – February or August, say – could easily be fitted into work done for Identity and Place; December is only the latest of many pictures taken over the last fifteen or so years of underground stations as they are given a facelift; while even the most family-album/documentary-style picture – September, taken on my daughter’s first day at school – is taken in a conscious, thinking way.

It was interesting to work through the thousands of pictures I have on hard drive from last year, if only to get some sort of idea of what I make pictures from when I’m just making pictures. Some themes and styles probably should emerge from this, that will then feed back into my course work. It also is probably part of the process of establishing what my ‘voice’ is.

I said in the text wrapper for the pictures that none of them had been posted here either in response to an exercise or an assignment; I may well use some of them (or ones that got as far as the final long-list) to illustrate the other posts I’m working on now.

The header to this post – while it didn’t make the final cut for the year – possibly comes close to encapsulating at least one of things I use photography for. I finally got round to processing a roll of Agfa B&W film that I had taken back in 2007 or 2008 when friends had bought me a night on The Watercress Line’s Real Ale Train. It was very gloomy and – even though I’d exposed the film as though it was 800 rather than 400 asa – everything came out rather underexposed. Possibly, I should have pushed the film further, but it’s too late to think about that now. However, the reason it almost made my pick of ’17 was because of the way that faces (all belonging to people I am still in touch with) loomed out of the darkness, encapsulating that marvellous time-travel thing that photography is capable of, if only you’ve had the foresight to take the pictures in the first place.

Fiona was in some of the shot’s on the beer train, and there she is in the September picture, walking to school with our daughter; other pictures ripple backwards through other earlier photographs, linked either by subject matter or theme or place. It is hard to harness this in the assignments for the level one courses, but it is definitely there in the photographs I have been taking.

And finally – before I crack on with part three of IaP – by way of further comparison, here are my twelve photographs from 2016:

I could write much more about all this, and try to work out how my work has changed over the last two years, but that would definitely be pure displacement. Time to hit the mid-blue publish button and to open another, save draft for a post…

NFTU #8 – A quotation from Lewis Baltz

Anyone can take pictures. What’s difficult is thinking about them, organising them, trying to use them, montage them in some way so that some… some… some meaning can be constructed out of them. That’s really where the work begins.”

– Lewis Baltz interviewed by Studio Arte for Contacts 2 (viewed on  vimeo, 5/10/17)

Which is pretty much why I signed up for the OCA in the first place, but articulated better than I could have at the time. Or now probably.

Worth keeping in mind.

(Thanks to Andrew Fitzgibbon for linking to the interview on the OCA discussion forum)


NFTU #6 – close-ups and printing size

An article in today’s Guardian by poet Lydia Towsey opens: ‘Botticelli’s painting of the Birth of Venus was the first female nude painted and exhibited life size.’

james; waulkmill, 2017

The rest of the article – about body image and eating disorders and the way being the subject of portraiture can help recovery from them – has a lot more in it to consider, but it was the phrase ‘life size’ that captured my immediate attention. Continue reading

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

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

NFTU #5 – bona fides

business card design # 1 – based on a template by; other online business card manufacturers are available.

Thinking forward to the sort of work I’m likely to be producing during Identity and Place, I realise that there’s going to be quite a lot of photographing people who I don’t know. In the past, people have often asked why I want to take their picture and then, when I’ve said why, whether I have a card or some other proof that I’m not just some random idiot with a camera. It therefore seems a good idea to get some cards made up. Continue reading