Category Archives: ASSIGNMENTS

assignment 5 – narrative


75 Years After – Installation View; Hibbert Road, July 2015

In this final assignment imagine that you are about to illustrate a story for a magazine. You have a cover to illustrate, and several pages inside (create between 6 and 12 images – you can choose). Even though there may be no text, you should write captions (of any length) to explain and link each picture.

The cover picture will need some of the techniques of illustration that you have been experimenting with. The picture essay will be more of a narrative. This means that, as you will be using several photographs to illustrate the main body of the story, you will have the opportunity to spread the load of the story telling among them. Different images can deal with different aspects of the subject, or you might choose to insert a linked series of photographs that show something happening in sequence. Remember that some of these photographs will be seen together on the same pair of pages. You can use this to set one image off against another; sometimes the juxtaposition of two appropriate images can be telling.

AoP Coursebook

First, before the shouts of “RTQ, Chirgwin! RT bloody Q!” begin, I should say that it was a conscious decision, discussed with my tutor, to move away from a straight illustrated story for this assignment.

Quite reasonably, he pointed out that it was better to take risks, and not worry about assessment marks now, rather than in a few years’ time when hopefully I’ll be making a start to level 3 of the BA and the marks will count for more than a simple pass or fail. The idea of following a path suggested by Steffi Klenz’s body of work Nummianus seemed to give me scope to tell the story while paring the clues about what was happening back to a minimum.

At any rate, I am quite pleased with the results and think that it works as a narrative. It could even work in a magazine as a series of double page spreads, but I’m not sure which magazine would run it.

75 Years After

The hard copy of this assignment (nine 128mm x 102mm Digital C-Type Prints joined with masking tape into an extendable concertina, seen above stuck to the bomb shelter at the bottom of my garden) is the bit I’m most excited about; I still need to do some work on the online presentation of the sequence – the slideshow below is not quite satisfactory, but I haven’t been able to work out how to get  the pictures to flow sideways, like the long opening shot of Goddard’s Weekend (1967). No doubt there’s a widget, or I could write some javascript, or something, but for now, I’ll leave it – like far too many photographers’ sites I have viewed recently – as another slightly flawed online presentation of photographs!

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I have tried the print version of the sequence out on a number of people now and they all have “got it” which is gratifying. It has been interesting listening to the variety of comments it has aroused – ranging from thoughts of how present bomb-sites were when people now in their 50s were growing up to the way you don’t notice the signs of bomb damage all around you, and more abstract comments of how nice it is to be presented with something physical rather than something on a screen. I think it would be interesting to make larger prints for display (like the Nummianus installation views) and to maybe try another few roads as well. This would lead to something that could go on as part of the annual Walthamstow Art Trail, possibly.

Also, the more I have looked at them, the more I have become aware that there is also a second, softer narrative to be found in the pictures: each individual instance of the two types of house pictured would have started off pretty much identical (there are variations in the Victorian Terrace, but even so, the variations repeat as you go down the street) but now they all are different – doors have been changed, and windows; some of the attics have been converted and had windows let into the roof tiles; 65 has had monstrous things done to it; there are solar panels and there is pebbledash. Individual people have made their mark on the street and that is as significant as the bomb that fell 75 years ago. As well as being a story about death and injury, it becomes a story about life going on and progress and rising house prices and so on and so on. The sequence can also serve as a typography of houses in the street.

Notes on the Pictures:

fig. 1 – A contrail dividing the blue ground of the sky into a 2/3:1/3 composition. Attached to the right-hand side of the string of prints, to wrap back round and seal the “book” when it is fully folded up. When the string of prints is unfolded, the back of this print is visible, which is why it is folded under and not visible in the header to this post. The typed label was made with a manual typewriter and stuck to the print; it contains enough information to allow the viewer to make sense of the whole. “1 H.E.” refers to the single high explosive bomb that fell on Elmfield Road; the numbering of the houses (47-61) suggests a mistake by whoever recorded the damage for the Borough Council as close inspection of the remaining numbers show that number 47 – if damaged – was left in a repairable state while number 63 is missing.

fig. 2-9 – A sequence taken around 17.00 on Sunday 14th June with me 6 foot up a step ladder using a Nikon D50 with a Nikkor 1:2.8 24mm manual focus lens. ISO 200, 1/200″, f8 (underexposed by about a stop to prevent the highlights in the sky blowing out). Contrast was reduced in Lightroom by pulling back the highlights (a lot) and upping the shadows (a bit) and then upping the exposure by one stop. White and black points were also adjusted. The frame was then cropped to 5:4 as this seemed to give the best section of the street per picture, although possibly something even squarer would have been better for the Victorian Terraces as more sky would have been included and the TV aerials wouldn’t have been cut off, but it wouldn’t have worked as well for the wider, lower post-war houses in the gap. I have tried – and generally succeeded I think –  to make each of these pictures a pleasant composition of horizontals, verticals and quadrilateral shapes as well as working in concert with one another. The slight chaos at the junctions between 3 and 4 and 7 and 8 is intended to accentuate the change from original to bombed and back again without being too heavy handed about it.

fig. 10 – a composite made from 2 acquired images: the google earth view of Elmfield Road and the famous picture of a Heinkel 111 bomber over the Isle of Dogs, taken by an anonymous Luftwaffe photographer on the 7th of September 1940. Isolating the aircraft was a relatively straightforward selection in Photoshop Elements, it was then pasted onto the google earth picture and rotated so the direction of the sun matched. I slightly reduced the saturation of the background shot and added a small amount of gaussian blur to match the bomber. The intention was not to make a convincing fake, but rather to link the ‘then’ with the ‘now’ in the picture and in the sequence as a whole. If I was going to make larger prints of the pictures for exhibition in frames, I would probably definitely need to seek out higher resolution source images, and be more scrupulous about the edges of the bomber. Online or in the smaller prints I had made for presentation, I think it holds up. Just. There is also the question of whether its inclusion is just a bit unsubtle, really; I suspect the narrative would be apparent without it, but have left it in for now.

Finally, I took this picture showing clearly the gap between the original and the post war houses, but decided that it both disrupted the flow of the pictures in the sequence and was not necessary to understand what was going on in the narrative. I include it here though as I quite like the view through to the parallel street behind.


assignment 5 – making the pictures

elmfield road - gap take 1

fig 1: elmfield road – gap, take 1

The picture above is a composite of 8 separate images which I attempted to combine to create a little under a half of my finished narrative sequence. It is frozen at the point where I abandoned it and, in my head, committed to doing a reshoot…

I taken 52 pictures of 13 houses. There were some retakes – I messed up the amount of space needed above the ridge of the roof to allow all of the TV aerials to be shown for example – but generally what I was trying to do was take 3 pictures per house – a picture with the dividing line between houses on each side and one taken straight down the middle of each house. The idea was to create a long composite panorama which would then be cut into segments based on either each individual house or each pair of houses.

I had totally missed what was going on in Nummianus.

But before I explain why it is rubbish doesn’t work, I should say what I actually like about it. I like the bird, frozen a quarter of the way in from the left and I like the lamp-post to the right’s straight punctuating line. I like the way the slight differences (in exposure and in positioning in the frame) could make you aware of the constructed nature of the image.

But it still doesn’t work. And it would work even less well if were cut up into 3 images, linked to 4 or 5 others. And the main reason it doesn’t work is the extent to which the road is not two-dimensional. In the previous post, I noted that “foreground objects are a pain”; a better way to put it would have been to note that the effect of different planes, parallel to the camera’s sensor is that points on these planes alter their relationship to one another as you move to the left or the right. An object in the centre of the frame at one point may well vanish totally when you move a relatively short distance along the row of houses. The closer to the camera the plane is the more pronounced the effect. In fig. 1 (below) the grey car exemplifies this perfectly


fig.1 Planes! Agh!

This is the leftmost of the triptych of composite images that I was trying to construct. The house frontage (which is what I was concentrating on as I took the pictures) is fine. With a bit of creative overlapping, the front gardens and the ages can be forced to work. The cars though! If people could neatly park in the centre of their house, that would be super. Tragically, people these days are nowhere near OCD enough for that, so my constructed panorama has mangled car after mangled car running along the front. It adds nothing to the narrative while catching the eye. Similarly tall thin things (most particularly a telegraph post about a third of the way in the new block can be missed entirely. Also, the roofs slope away from the camera, introducing converging diagonals from the divisions between houses and the edges of rows of slates. It looks a mess.

If I could move back far enough for the different planes to be closer to being the same distance from the camera this patchwork approach could possibly be made to work, but that is not feasible here. I needed to reshoot, something that was confirmed by another, better look at Nummianus. i realised that what I had read as collage was actually present in the street pictured, in the form of different shades of brick red painted onto the front of individual houses. Each pane was an individual picture and there were repetitions and overlaps in each of the series. I needed to work out how much horizontal distance needed to be covered by each picture, and then to go out and take photographs accordingly.

I had the six new houses as the centre of the series so needed something to balance this and to give enough Victorian Terrace for the story to be apparent to the viewer. There were two trees in front of the victorian houses; on the left there was one 4 doors from the bomb damage; the other was 2 doors past the end of the gap. That gave 12 houses. If you cut them into two house segments, you had six pictures.

At this point, I was going to have two lengths of picture with a run of blue sky above the run of houses (see fig.2, above) . Above the bombsite there would be an obvious contrail, pointing back to the events 75 years’ earlier. Thus, 6 pictures became 12; the upper limit of the assignment. I already had 6 “skies”. Now I needed the six house shots.

Now, as far back as my phone-tutorial, I had mentally noted that Elmfield Road faces west and so would be better photographed in the evening when the sky above the roofs wouldn’t be much much lighter than the facade of the street. I had also noted that an overcast day with nice uncontrasty light might be better than a bright day with harsh shadows and strong highlights.


fig. 3 – backlit, contrasty and wrong…

So, there was no reason whatsoever for me to be up a ladder at 9.30 in the morning taking pictures in the blazing sunshine. None whatsoever other than as an exercise to confirm the benefits of patience and sticking to your guns. And maybe also confirming (again) that there is a blue cast in shadowed areas.

The blue sky would match the sky + contrail pictures better than an overcast one, but I was already beginning to wonder if this was going to be overkill in terms of clues as to what was going on and also not look as good displayed.

On a positive side, this mis-re-shoot  also allowed me to work out that portrait didn’t work if I wanted to use a 35mm equivalent lens and still get in 2 and a bit houses. I was going to need to take landscape format pictures (like Steffi Klenz) and probably plan for them to be cropped to a different aspect ratio to the 6:4 that my  D50 does by default.

I was moving towards a point where I knew what I wanted to do quite clearly: I would have a simple row of houses, with a degree of overlap between pictures; these would be presented as a concertina-type spread, capable of either being pinned to a wall or of being a free-standing display on a flat surface; part of understanding the narrative presented would be contained in the act of unfolding the concertina. I was less sure about whether I wanted to have a second strip of sky, but knew that I needed some sort of key to unlock the sequence.

The next shoot worked. I waited til there was an overcast afternoon when I could get the time to take the pictures. I loaded the ladder into the sky and headed up the road to Elmfield Road for the third time. This time, i realised that I could move even further back on the grass, giving a more crop-able basic frame with fewer adjustments required to alter distortion etc. I worked my way along from 41 to 73. The man popped out from 47 and showed me his copy of War Over Walthamstow. I went home and edited the pictures, cropping them to each show two and a bit houses and adjusting the white and black points and how the highlights and shadows worked to reduce the contrast between the sky and the houses. I could see I had something I could go forward with.

I had already had 6 x 4 prints made of sections of the original shoot and I could see how they worked together; now I had the third shoot printed along with the sky shots and saw that they didn’t quite meld with the terrace and that if only the 3 above the gap houses was going to show evidence of flight overhead, 3 of them would merely consist of blue sky, but I still liked the idea of sky and planes hinting at what was going on in the other pictures.

Lastly – and there from the beginning in my outline/proposal to my tutor – was the idea of working with the memory I had of the picture of a Heinkel 111 over the Thames, combining the German bomber with a modern (colour) aerial shot appropriated from the internet. The question was how far it could all be pared back while still telling the story I was trying to tell. Realising that my initial idea of buying and building a scale kit of a Heinkel would simply be another form of procrastination, I located the historic picture and acquired the satellite view of Elmfield Road from Google Earth. I’m not the world’s best composite image-maker, but it would be fun to see what I could come up with.

I started playing with the pictures I had, to see what worked and what did not. I made dummies of the concertina joining prints together with masking tape, and showed them to friends. Gradually, it all came together and became a story…


assignment 5 – moving the idea forward

looking north; looking south - elmfield road, E17

looking north; looking south – elmfield road, E17

So, I had agreed during a phone tutorial to follow up the Elmfield Road Bomb Damage idea and to work it in a way which grew out of my understanding of Steffi Klenz’s Nummianus.

Right; onwards!
Elmfield Road is a fairly standard, Victorian terraced street in Walthamstow, the last before you get to the southernmost tip of the reservoirs that sit, obvious from the air or on a map, inside the A406 (the North Circular) as it curls round between Edmonton and Walthamstow. There are only odd numbers in the street with the west side of the road left open, with a wide stretch of grass before you get to a fence and a storm drain, there to cope with heavy rain over the waterworks, I lived in Elmfield Road from 2003 until 2009.

A few doors down from where I lived, the terracing stops and there are 6 much more blocky 50s or 60s houses; then the Victorian housing resumes.The terrace stops at number 47 and resumes at 65; 8 numbers are missing and 6 newer buildings have replaced them. You can see this quite clearly in the two pictures at the top of this post. Quite obviously, this is wartime bomb damage; there are similar gaps in the parallel roads to the east. They’re quite different from the larger splodges of post-war housing in the sites where larger, more powerful V-weapons fell on Walthamstow, or indeed further to the south, in the east end proper, where whole streets were flattened during the Blitz.

Beyond this though, it’s relatively difficult to get more detailed information. But that’s where research comes in, doesn’t it?

Background Research – When I lived in Elmfield Road, it had never crossed my mind that the six “wrong” houses could be the result of anything other than wartime bomb damage. When it came time to get something to bqck this up however, it proved remarkably difficult to get documentary evidence. My first effort had involved borrowing a copy of the book published by the London Archive, reproducing the bomb damage maps produced in 1945 by the LCC from the daily damage reports compiled during the blitz. But of course, Walthamstow was not part of London until some time in the late 40s, so the maps didn’t quite reach far enough. Presumably there were local records, which would be held in the Waltham Forest Archive at the Vestry House Museum, but so far I have not been able to find the time to make an appointment to view the material they have stored there.

What I did find through a google search (how else?) was a reference to an online map of London bomb-sites in an article in the Daily Telegraph, published after an unexploded bomb had been found and defuses (link). This map did include Walthamstow and shows a bomb was dropped on Elmfield Road (and also confirmed other sites, i’d notice nearby and also close to where I now live).
This was confirmation enough for this project, but it would have been nice to have more detail about the particular bomb (or bombs) that I was interested in. I finally got it when I was half-way up a stepladder making my third set of pictures in Elmfield Road. A man was taking some stuff out of his car and into number 47; he was glancing the sort of glances you make at someone up a ladder with a camera opposite your house and then came over. Fortunately he turned out to be interested rather than hostile and once I’d explained what I was doing, nipped back into the house and returned with a copy of a slim book published by the council called War over Walthamstow. It contained map and day by day records of bomb damage. It is of course out of print, but a search online to see if there were second-hand copies available turned up a site that reproduced the text in full, but not the map.
A single bomb fell on the 8th December 1940 at 11.45 pm. It killed 3 people and injured 18 others. 8 houses (47-61) were damaged. There had been a lot of bombing that day, but this was the last to be dropped on Walthamstow.

This gave me my title, referring back to Conflict-Time-Photography: 75 Years After. It also gave a number of links to things that hover around me and the pictures taken for this course. On the 8th of December 1940, my father – a conscientious objector, working with The Friends Ambulance Unit after his tribunal – would have been a 21 year-old, acting as a shelter warden near Bethnal Green; more bombs fell near there. Also that night, N minutes earlier, a bomb fell on Portland Place, damaging Broadcasting House (where I work) and knocking the tip off the spire of All Souls Church. The repair to the spire can be seen in photo 5 (diagonal) of Assignment 1 for this course. Many of the buildings on Flotta in Scapa Flow (Assignment 2) were being built at this time too…

Installation  – Over the last year, I have become increasingly aware of and interested in how photographs are altered by the way they are presented and of the details attached to their exhibition. I had already been struck both by just how small Lartigue’s pictures are and how large more modern prints by people like Gursky are or indeed very old prints like some of the pictures in the Muybridge exhibition at Tate Modern a few years ago. Now I was looking as much at the sequencing and the juxtaposition of pictures, one with another, to add up to more than the sum of the parts.

I realise I quite like the intimacy of small prints – the way they draw you in to peer at them, and gaining a sense that you and you alone are looking. In this sense they become like a book. There is nothing grand about the Egglestons I have seen or most of the pictures in the Harry Callaghan rooms at Tate Modern last year. But you look at them and – despite being in a gallery – manage moments of being alone with the pictures. Again at Tate Modern, the way the Henry Wessels’ series Incidents was laid out – a series of 26 head-height 18 x 12 prints in plain black frames that you were meant to view working clockwise from the door – made links between the pictures in sequence and drew you in to look, and think, and wonder, and move on to the next; of course, you went round the room twice.

I have been struck by things as different as the three huge typographical light boxes that formed the centre of Subotzky and Waterhouse’s Ponte City installation in the Photographer’s Gallery (and made a note that 6cm x 9cm transparencies are really a very fine thing) and also the collaged pictures taking found images and then placing them over new photographs of either the room they were found in or of the room where they had been taken; equally the collaged wall combining a large background picture, writing and smaller framed pictures of Jim Goldberg and Kamel Khalif presented as Open See (Democratic Republic of Congo) in one of the rooms at Conflict-Time-Photography was good for literal laying of meaning – you read the wall rather than just looking at it; I like the way the pictures are arranged into three panels (a bloodline; an explanation; footnotes) in Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead (which I’ve seen bits of a couple of times now);  it all adds up, it all helps the pictures tell a cumulative story rather than just show “a thing” and then “another thing”.

And then there is Nummianus by Steffi Klenz. As soon as David mentioned this body of work, I remembered the three pictures(the last two house of a terrace; one and a half terraced houses with the second mid demolition and a third of the cleared land visible to the right of the second picture)  reproduced in the first chapter of Behind the Image. When he sent me a link to Klenz’s site where there are more examples, I was greatly taken by the gallery views, with long lines of  – possibly fictitious – terraces constructed from print after print, some going round corners.

I saw how a bombed terrace could be presented as a series of pictures with the story coming out of the differences in between houses (and types of houses). The story began to take on physical properties and led me to start thinking of those series of concertina-folded postcards you can get. I am still somewhat at a loss as to how to present something long and thing and horizontal on a screen, but suspect that it can be done. The main version of this assignment however, will be physical.

There were other details I should have noticed at this point – most notably around how shallow the houses front facade was in each of Klenz’s pictures; there are no gardens and no cars parked beyond the pavement; the only thing interrupting the plane of the terraces are lamposts – but of course, I didn’t.

Practice as Research – It took me several goes to get something that worked. Some of this was down to not looking closely enough at the Nummianus pictures before I had my first try at approximating the feel of Klenz’s series, but a fair bit of it comes down to something as unsubtle as how taking pictures of a row of houses is much more difficult than it would at first appear!

  • If you shoot from pavement level you get quite a lot of convergent lines from looking up at even a two-story building
  • You don’t want straight lines to be distorted towards the edges either, so you don’t want to use too wide a lens
  • You are limited in how long a lens you can use by how far away you can get from the facades of the houses opposite by the width of the street.

And all this is before you start to try and link two or more pictures together into some sort of sequence, at which point errors or inaccuracies become compounded.

I started off by trying to get an idea of what it would take to get a good, straight shot of part of a terrace. I tried to take a shot across the street outside my front door using my Nikon D50:

Firstly I was able to get around the converging line issue by taking out a folding step-ladder and climbing to the top. The camera was somewhere between the top of the doors and the first floor windows; not quite level with the centre of everything when you take the roof into account, but not bad.

The D50’s 1.5 crop factor meant that my 35mm lens was still too tight from a far back as I could get and not feel I was going to break my neck falling off the ladder (fig 1). But a 24mm lens (equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera) got in enough of the houses to show everything from the road up to the top of the chimneys (fig 2). There was enough space around the focus of the image to crop down to a nice, symmetrical composition (fig 3) and also to correct the effect of not quite getting the camera parallel to the front of the building, the small amount of vertical distortion that still I got even with being up a ladder and the slight bulginess caused by the short lens. Generally it seemed fine and I set out to take a test sequence of another bomb damaged row around the corner.

This threw up further problems that needed overcoming:

Foreground objects are a pest; trees and lampposts either get in the way or force you out into the road. This is not good photographically (you are closer to the other side of the street, so all the bad things of using a wider lens are compounded, even if you don’t need to go even wider) or from a personal point of view (before you get onto being up a ladder on a cambered surface, there is the question of cars using the road even on a quiet side street).

Parked cars are a pain. In the foreground they won’t block you if you’re up a ladder, but vans will. On the other side of the road, they change their position relative to the building further away making it really hard to get anything even approaching a clean composite if you are trying to build up a row of houses seamlessly from a number of pictures, as I was at this stage.

I had partly hoped I’d be able to use this street for the final assignment as this would mean I didn’t have to lug a ladder with me the mile or so to Elmfield Road when I needed to do the inevitable retakes, but there were simply too many vans on the wrong side of the street, trees and lampposts getting in the way for it to really work. Elmfield Road (as you can see from the two pictures at the top of this post) is one-sided, with a patch of grass running back from the road quite a way opposite the built side. There are no lampposts or trees on the unbuilt side either. I should have gone inside and had a good look at Nummianus at this point, but instead, I loaded the ladder into the car and headed up the road…


  • Basics Creative Photography 03: Behind the Image: Research in Photography – Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana (AVA Publishing, 2012)
  • The War Over Walthamstow – 1939-45  – Ross Wyld. (Walthamstow Borough Council, 1945)
  • Nummianus – Steffi Klenz (Exhibitions – New Art Museum Walsall, 2009; Street Level Glasgow, 2010)
  • Ponte City  – Mikhael Subotzky & Partick Waterhouse (Steidl, 2014); installation viewed at the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize Exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery, London (April – June 2015).

All links accessed 30/06/15

Assignment 5 – Ideas & Initial Research

barcelona teleferique - 13/04/2014

barcelona teleferique – 13/04/2014

For this last assignment, I arranged a phone tutorial at the end of April to go through the ideas I had for narratives In preparation I sent him a quick summary of the 4 ideas I wanted to examine: they covered a reasonable spectrum of stories and possible treatments ranging from total control through to recording an event.

Idea 1: Alice – Birth to 2 year-old in Clothes

My daughter is newly two, and we still have not got round to passing on the clothes she no longer fits.

I quite fancy the idea of doing something that shows what she would have worn typically (with increases in size) at 3 months intervals.

There would be body suits, sleep suits, shoes, trousers, coats etc etc to document into some sort of typology. Also, plenty of colour, opportunities for framing to get some idea of growth over 3 otherwise identical tops say etc etc

Idea 2:  Crosswords

Taking 3 of the different sorts of clues (anagrams, read throughs and conventional codes for example) and illustrating them with one day’s crossword as it is solved and filled in.

Opportunity for a nice wide cover shot; opportunities for time to be indicated in various ways like changing light through the window, the crossword being filled in, coffee rings on the paper etc etc as a lazy day off is spent doing the puzzle.

Idea 3: Why is Elmfield Road in Walthamstow an incomplete terrace?

Because there’s a small range of 50’s houses in the middle; because a bomb was dropped sometime in late 1940/early 1941…

A mixture of constructed shots:

  • a silhouetted bomber over Walthamstow at night say;
  • details of the bomb damage maps held in the Waltham Forest Archive

And more documentary stuff:

  • the Heinkel bomber at Duxford
  • Elmfield Road (good for this as it’s one-sided allowing you to get far enough back for a wide shot)
  • Possible other missing-tooth bombsites in the area

Idea 4 – A trip over the Thames in the Cable Car from Canning Town to the 02

  • Queuing
  • Getting In
  • The people you share the gondola with
  • The view.
  • Exterior shots of the ride (near/far)

Stuff like that – giving a simple journey narrative thing, probably taking two journeys to get all the pictures.

Also maybe include some pictures of the Olympic Teleferique in Barcelona, that I took a week ago (and got the idea for this from) but which don’t add up to a full narrative.

The tutorial passed over ideas one and two to concentrate on either the bombed terrace or the cable car. The crossword idea is technical and safe, consisting of a series of constructed shots; Alice’s clothes could look like a series of catalogue shots and again would equal a good commercial photographic commission rather than something to stretch myself (although I’d still like to do this as a personal project – I think it could be a lot more interesting than the outline above suggests).

David made the point that this stage in the Photography BA  is a good one to take risks with as the only pressure to get marks is the need to get 40% or over, allowing you to move onto the next module. Working on from this he pushed the second two ideas in a more experimental direction than I had been considering up to that point.

For the cable car idea, I had been thinking along simple “journey as narrative” ideas, done with a mixture of of 1st person POV stuff, taking in waiting to get on, crossing the Thames and then getting out at the other side and 3rd person shots of the cable car, the gondolas and the wires overhead. They would not have been radically different from the Barcelona pictures, but would be more comprehensive than those I’d managed to take over the course of a single one way journey with only one, 12-exposure roll of film in a 50 year old folding camera after the last battery died in my digital (one of which is the header for this post). Instead, David suggested a series of pictures taken from a static point of view looking out from the moving gondola. An interesting idea, but not one that jumped out immediately as the one to do.

But then, for the filled in blitz-gap in the middle of a row of terraced houses, David’s idea clicked instantly! He suggested doing something along the lines of Steffi Klenz’s Nummianus, a piece I was familiar with from Fox and Caruana’s Behind the Image, where three of the pictures are used across pages 12 & 13 to illustrate the idea of choosing a title to add meaning to a body of work. While following this approach would move away from the magazine article part of the assignment, arranging pictures in a printable sequence would still be possible (I think I will produce a postcard-sized concertina-type book which would be capable of being displayed as a free-standing sequence on a shelf or of being fully opened out and pinned to a wall.

Excited, I moved onto more detailed research and planning…


Behind the Image – Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana (AVA publishing SA, 2012)

Nummianus – (link accessed 17/06/2015)

Assignment # 4 – Tutor’s Comments


“You wisely used a transparent jug here for the flowers and that has given you a much greater variety in framing options than an opaque vase would have. Indeed, a couple of your photographs are reminiscent of Lee Friedlander’s ‘Stems’, and this is no bad thing…”

Again, David was generally positive about the work I had produced for assignment 4 and was glad I had stuck in, despite having found it remarkably hard to get started (or settled on a subject even). Generally he felt:

“All of your photographs were successful –each revealed the aspect you were exploring well. As such there isn’t really much for me to add on that side of things. Your use of lighting accurately brings out the physical properties defined within the assignment.”

There were minor technical issues with a couple of the pictures. The first of the form images was harshly lit, with highlights that were beginning to burn out, something I was aware of while I was editing the pictures, but was unable to do anything beyond correcting the fault as far as was possible in Lightroom, as the next opportunity to have the living-room and the living-room table to myself at a time when it would be fully lit from the window would not be for a couple of weeks, by which time the flowers would have been dead. That said, I did take some pictures after everything had faded, to act as the header for this post; possibly I should include one of them in the set submitted for assessment at the end of the course in place of the picture submitted here. I’ll think about that. The second technical issue was that some of the pictures were over-saturated and that the particular pink of the flowers would be hard to reproduce in prints. Before I started AoP, I had only very rarely printed shots that originated on a digital camera, and I’m still learning lots about how to take things from a .raw to a file that can be handed over to someone who’ll make a digital-C print from it, let alone work out what needs to be done to get a good inkjet print made. David had told me I didn’t need to send prints with this assignment as he was happy that the files and the prints submitted for assignments two and three matched up. However, I think I’ll have a play with the files from this assignment and get them printed up sooner rather than later, as this will allow me to have another run at them if necessary before they are submitted for assessment in the autumn. This probably is a good place to have a look at soft proofing in Lightroom, although my ignorance still extends to the point where I’m not sure if this is only applicable to inkjet stuff… Where I had done much less well though was in writing up the exercises for his section as part of my learning log. I had managed to get almost all of the photographs taken (and I have now filled in the gaps) but failed dismally in getting a final edit of each set of images sorted and then writing it all up. The problems with my workflow first became truly obvious during part three of the course: I have found it hard to confine my shooting to a manageable number of shots and also found overlaps between things that could be used for an exercise or the assignments or for both meaning I have built up pots of suitable images, without necessarily defining where they would appear over the course of each part. I have only managed to avoid this really during assignment two – when I only had one day to take the pictures and no opportunity to go back and further refine them and fill in gaps; even so, I managed to take nearly 350 pictures in that one day – so this is something that I really need to work on in part 5, alongside making sense of the missing posts from parts 3 and 4, and probably will now need to focus on during the course that follows this. While I have managed to reduce dramatically the number of options I have created for the exercise in part 5, I still need to convert that focus during shooting into completed blog posts in my learning log. Watch this space… Then finally, there is a pointer from David to focus more on conceptual self-evaluation, positioning my pictures withing the context of my understanding of both what I am trying to do and where it fits into the wider world of contemporary photography. And this is where Lee Friedlander and Stems comes in…

Assignment 4 – further reading; stems, weeds and studies

In the tutor’s  feedback for assignment 4, I was pointed in the direction of Lee Friedlander’s Stems and also to a wider list of other photographers’ work dealing with the flowers and the way you can light them, in a variety of ways. I was aware of some them already, others were completely new to me.

Two modern Americans, with contrasting approaches to flower pictures:

Friedlander’s Stems: I’ve known about Friedlander for a while now and have the catalogue from the 2008 MOMA retrospective. While the catalogue contains a number of the Stems pictures, I hadn’t consciously spent time looking at them, paying more attention to the exterior shots earlier on in the book (and Friedlanders chronology). However the similarities between 2 and 5 in my set and the pictures here, suggest that – at some level at least – they had penetrated my consciousness.

They don’t deal with the flower heads, but instead play with the transparency of glass vases, the distortion created by water and the structure and shape of a bunch of stems and leaves. They take something commonly regarded as an aesthetic cliche (flowers) and then ignore the obvious to find further ideas of beauty in the bits that most people pass over. This oblique view of the subject is further emphasised by being in black and white, removing colour from the equation as well. It’s not for nothing that the Russian for “flowers” is the same as the word for “colours” and its absence turns the subject into something else entirely.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s Flowers Portfolio (1978 – 1989): In contrast these seem very classical in their concentration on individual named types of bloom, either in black and white or colour. They are crisp enough to be  scientific illustrations, and  – unlike Friedlander’s pictures – are titled according to the flower name. I really like the contrast between the flatness of the backgrounds and the heightened form of the foregrounded flower heads. Orchids, 1989 (one of the coloured pictures) could almost be a watercolour; Poppy, 1988 captures beautifully the hairy texture of the flowers’ stems, the red of the petals again seems exact. Lovely!

3 photographers producing images that could be described as typographic:

Charles Jones (c. 1900 and rediscovered in 1981): Peas, Carrots, Sprouts, Roses, Marrows, more Roses, more Peas, Strawberries; all set out like illustrations in a seed catalogue. All slightly rougher and less perfect than the fruit and veg you get in a supermarket. The text with the pictures linked above describes them as “portraits” and, like with portraits, there are things that give them away as products of a particular time; for example, the variations of grey that depict the red of the strawberries or the green of the pea pods seem slightly “off” in a way that presumably comes from the non-panchromatic way the chemistry of Jones’ plates reproduced colours as greys.

Karl Blossfeld’s Urformen der Kunst (1928): ‘Urformen’ translates from German as ‘Archetypes’ and these pictures seem very much an attempt to set down the underlying structure of the plants photographed by Blossfeld in a way that relates them directly to elements of design used by humans for either aesthetic or engineering purposes. There is no drama in the uncontrasty lighting here; no strong shadows and no dazzling highlights.

My favourite of the three linked above is Laserpitium Siler, (Laserwort, Part of a Fruit Umbel) with the starry umbels illuminated with their supports darker and in soft focus behind, reminding me of the yellow stars painted on the mid blue ceilings of the tombs in the valley of the kings.

Garry Fabian Miller: I looked at his pictures of Honesty Seed Pods and Bramble Crosses. If I hadn’t read the text, I wouldn’t have picked up on the religious subtext that surrounds these images (although ‘Crosses’ in the title of pictures made at Easter, should have alerted me, I think) leaving me to think about the way they work with repetition of form and variations of colour within depictions of the same thing. Unlike the pictures by Jones and Blossfeld, I don’t see anything that places them in time but – given that they were all made within the last 10 years – the time-specific signifiers probably haven’t started to become obvious yet…

All three sets of pictures looked at here take the plants and flowers pictured out of any sort of historical context, presenting them instead as exemplars of their type, showing details of structure in a scientific, detached way. It is possible to date the pictures however and to place them within the development of photography from technical characteristics of the prints such as the way colours are reproduced (or converted to greys); Jones’ pictures of vegetables or flowers could probably be placed within the context of the cultivation of different types by market gardeners too – they’re not as much a give away of a subjects location within time as clothes on photographs of people would be, but to my relatively ignorant eye, his carrots and marrow don’t look like their 21st century equivalent…

3 photographers whose pictures of flowers seem more concerned with the conditions where the flowers grow than with the flowers per se:

Chris Shaw – Weeds of Wallasey (2007-2012): Purposefully rough pictures printed in a messy high contrast style (“creating an aesthetic of bad printing” is the way Shaw puts it  in the video made by Tate Britain to tie in with a show that paired him with Daido Morayama). Centred, foreground objects are overlit by explosions of flash; the edge beyond  the exposed area of the film is left in; there are stains and imperfections everywhere; and there are also hand-written humorous titles (I particularly like “The Haywain” where you struggle to link the view of a bus stop with one pane of glass shattered into a drift of ice, in front of a box bridge receding into a fog that is either real or a flaw in the exposure of the print with the picture by Constable, but somehow still end up accepting them both as encapsulations of a certain type of ‘England’). Shaw has written that “Weeds are us” which I take to mean that we are the things that spring up between the cracks in the post-industrial world. As someone with two grandfathers who made a living from ships and the Mersey and who grew up in a house called Bidston, I feel a connection with this series, even if my father managed to think his way out of that particular ghetto.

I’d already linked his pictures with Morayama, before I saw the Tate video by the way; I’m not sure why I feel the need to type that, but for some reason (and I suspect my smartarse motives here) I do…

David Axelbank’s  Still Life:  harsh, high contrast single flash, outdoors at night, giving extremely vivid, coloured flowers against an inky black background. They’re not unlike Terry Richardson’s fashion stuff in their harshness, or possibly even surveillance pictures; I found myself thinking of the Japanese bloke who took pictures of people having sex in parks in Tokyo or Weegee taking photographs of couples on the beach at Coney Island or snogging in the pictures. Some of them (the ones of round puffy blue flowers, say) could be taken deep underwater or of tiny things viewed through a microscope; they are photos taken somewhere we don’t belong (night) and of things that we don’t normally see.

Julian Anderson, Cinder Path (2009): 6 centrally placed flowers lit within a square frame with a sense of the much darker surroundings not enclosed within the depth of field. Another set that dares to be ugly, eschewing conventional ideas of “prettiness”.

Where the typography pictures aspire to some sort of perfect reproduction of their subject, these images all revel in their imperfections; smudges greyness, text from outside the boundaries of the frame. The making of the pictures and the photographer making them is as important here as the subjects; the flowers provide a pretext for photography, standing in for something larger, odder, more significant perhaps.

If the typographies have more in common with the Mapplethorpe pictures, these all share something with the tensions between order and chaos between the conventional and the individual in Friedlanders’ Stems. It’s also, I think significant that the type of plant is not of significance here; rather the place or the time when they were taken seems to be of greater significance. We have moved from depiction to an interpretable meaning here…

So, how do I relate these to the pictures I made for assignment 4? Some relate directly – Stems match up with Fig, 2 and Fig. 5; I can see a link between Axelrod’s flowers at night and the last of my pictures where everything is made strange by the mixed light from dawn outside and the interior tungsten filtered flash; the second texture picture (Fig. 6) fits in with both the typographies and with Mapplethorpe’s pictures. All of mine could be pushed further I think, but that wasn’t what I was asked to do; I was trying to play with lighting.

References (all accessed 06-vi-15):

assignment 4 – light

“For this assignment you will draw together the different lighting techniques you have been studying and apply them to one object. The idea is to use your new knowledge of lighting to bring out particular physical properties of the same object. It is also a test of your observation. Choose any subject that you can move around and take 8 photos based on the 4 themes of the assignment. At the core of this assignment you should aim to show the following qualities (Shape, Form, Texture & Colour) of your subject, one at a time, by means of the lighting.” – AoP Coursebook 

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 All pictures were taken using a Nikon D50 with the ISO set to 200.

1: Shape – This quality has to do with the outline of an object – its edges. These are likely to stand out more clearly if they contrast with the background, and if there is minimum detail visible in the object.

Fig 1 - Shape - Available Light

Fig 1 – Shape – Available Light

– Late afternoon sunlight from behind, diffused by curtains; no fill. Long focal length (112mm/168mm 35mm equivalent) to flatten image somewhat, with camera approximately 4 metres from subject and the flowers 1.5 metres from the background; wide aperture was used to help separate subject from background by reducing the depth of field. Colour original very yellow due to low angle of sun and the oatmeal material of the curtains  – when it was converted to B&W, I increased red/orange/yellow in the mix while reducing blue/green in order to lighten background while further darkening the silhouetted jug of carnations.


Fig 2: Shape - Photographic Light

Fig 2: Shape – Photographic Light

ii – Bright Field Lighting (Hunter, Biver, Fuqua – Light, Science and Magic – Chapter 7) using a light box, fairly close to the rear of the subject; no fill. I used the zoom lens to keep edges of the light box at the edges of theframe in order to achieve the black outline of the jug and it’s handle through the creation of internal reflections. The image was then cropped so the subject filled the frame. With the camera positioned close to the lens’ minimum focus distance, sufficient depth of field to keep the whole bunch of flowers sharp was achieved with a small aperture (f16) and a relatively long exposure of 1/15″ to correctly expose using the relatively weak artificial light source. I did not convert this to B&W as I rather like the almost pen-and-ink-on-parchment feel of it, and the slight hint of magenta flowers coming through.

2: Form – This is another way of describing the volume of an object – how 3 dimensional it looks. The modelling effect of the light and the way you deal with the shadows is all important. Try to show as much depth as possible in the subject.

Fig 3: Form - Available Light

Fig 3: Form – Available Light

iii – Late afternoon sunlight (about 40 minutes after fig 1) through window on the left of the frame. This contrasty low angled side light was softened slightly by sticking a sheet of grease-proof paper onto the window, but no attempt was made to reflect light back from the right to soften the shadows, emphasizing the 3-dimensional nature of the subject. The low sunlight did not directly strike the background, resulting in it being underexposed and so, I hope, further separating the lit subject from the background, again adding emphasis to its form. Depth of focus was boosted by setting the aperture to f9 and by using a shorter focal length than the more flattened picture in Figure 1. This picture was one of ones taken earlier during the exercise, so the flowers are less open, leading to them having less form to define.

Fig 4: Form - Photographic Light

Fig 4: Form – Photographic Light

vi – The subject was placed on a strip of black velvet which was then taped to the wall about a metre behind the jug and flowers. The key light was a Nikon SB-27 Speedlight firing through a white umbrella above and to right of the subject; a silver reflector was then positioned to the left to create the shape-defining band of reflection in the glass jug and also to stop the unlit side of the subject vanishing into the black of the background. Again,  the aperture of the lens (a 35mm prime) was shut down to f11 to keep as much of the subject in focus as possible, but this time, due to the brief duration of the strong light from the flash, the shutter speed was able to be a fast 1/400″ rather than the 1/15″ used in fig. 3.

3: Texture – This is a quality of the surface detail. Fine detail, such as that on sandstone or skin, stands out best with a pattern of small, hard shadows, so you will have to consider both the diffusion (or lack of it) and the angle of the light. Of course, a shiny surface like chrome, although it is thought of as being smooth, also has a texture of a kind.

Fig 5: Texture - available light

Fig 5: Texture – available light

v – Undiffused late afternoon sun shining through the jug,  creating reflection on the surface of bubbles in the water which had collected on the inside of the jug the flowers were standing in. The lens used was a Micro Nikkor 55mm 1:3.5 prime macro lens shut down to f16 with an exposure of 1/8″. The picture has been rotated 90 degrees from landscape to portrait to match the others in the assignment.

Fig 6: Texture - Improvised Light

Fig 6: Texture – Improvised Light

vi – Improvised using a Mini Maglite pen torch with the beam focussed on the carnation to the left of frame and a kitchen foil reflector to the right to reduce contrast in image. 55mm micro nikkor 1:3.5, f16, 2″. The length of exposure – intended to compensate for the low light output of the maglite and the small aperture used to create enough depth of field for the picture to be about the texture – inadvertently smoothed out the effect of my hand trembling as I held the foil reflector in position giving a more softened edge to the reflected fill.

4: Colour – Choose a kind of lighting and exposure setting that shows the subject’s colour (or colours) as strongly as possible. In addition, you could photograph your subject in any other interesting, unusual or attractive lighting.

Fig 7: Colour - Photographic Light

Fig 7: Colour – Photographic Light

vii – Nikon Speedlight through umbrella to rear and above subject.  Lens was a Nikor AF-D 35mm 1:2 at f4; exposure of 1/500″ to restrict the light to that provided by the strobe. The pale blue of a background (a bed-sheet) was chosen to sit in the spectrum between the magenta of the flowerheads and the green of the stems; the magenta was further highlighted by slightly underexposing the image as covered in part 3 of the course. White balance was set to Flash in the camera and did not require any correction later.

Fig 8: Colour - mixed light

Fig 8: Colour – mixed light

viii – Mixed light from a Nikon Speedlight with a cheap, “gold” (nearly tungsten, but not quite) Flash Bounce Diffuser restricted by long black-wrap snoot to only illuminate the flower heads acting as the key; fill provided by very early morning daylight on a cloudy day through west facing window in shot to left of camera.  Lens was a Nikor AF-D 35mm 1:2 at f6.3 with an exposure of 1/3″ to allow the blue fill to burn in after the initial brief punch of coloured light from the flash. The camera’s white balance set to tungsten, but adjusted slightly in Lightroom to give a less blue cast to the entire picture as the original effect was overly lurid, resembling 1930’s technicolour a bit more than I wished.