Reviewing further exercises : A

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Reviewing further exercises : A

(i) Thinking about Location (Project : Setting, backgrounds, locations)

Even at this stage in the Course I’ve realised that the types of settings I normally find attractive don’t necessarily suit portraits or, at the least, provide challenges in dealing with exposure settings.  For instance I used my son Matt as a subject for the Assignment images and one of the locations was the Common.  The Common has dark, wooded areas which, on a sunny day, contrast with sunlight as it streams through the trees.  On a bright, but overcast, day, the sky is white against the dark trees leading to highlight clipping.  Dappled shade is lovely to look at with the naked eye but  can look patchy in a photograph.

In the previous exercise I commented on the problems I had in the garden where there seemed to be distracting objects wherever I turned. Our conservatory has good light later in the day but not in the morning if there is bright sun.  I’ve commented more than once recently (to deaf ears) that it would be great if we could replace the glass roof with an opaque plasticised one which could act as a great diffuser.

I’ll comment in more detail on the backgrounds and settings (and how I dealt, or not, with them) in discussing the assignment images.

We were away in Brittany recently.  Sitting in a café in Guerande on a lovely day and I wanted to attempt one of those shots where the foreground subject is in focus, with the background just enough blurred  so that you can see people in the background (people – unrecognisable as in Part 2?)

I did a fair amount of shopping and, in Piriac, we met a a very nice couple where the husband had acquired an old school photograph of Burnley school in the 1950s. Here they are posed in front of it (and the US flag as well).

Here he is again with his daughter this time (she also has a shop). They are back-lit so the raw image needed a fair amount of work in an attempt to balance the exposure.  I should have used flash!

I will be doing further work on light when I’ve been on my half day Workshop in June because I know I need much more practice.

(ii). An active portrait and pose and stance

I attempted several of these in Wirksworth, and have posted a few already in my write-up on the workshop weekend.  Here are some more.


Looks of intense concentration

Conductor of the ladies’ choir guiding with her expression as well as her hands.  I couldn’t get close enough (physically or with longer lens) to really focus so this isn’t as good as I would have liked it to be.

(iii) Eye contact and expression

In the photographs taken in Brittany (above) I ‘directed’ my subjects. I asked my husband not to look at me, explaining the type of framing I was aiming at – that’s another of his ‘patient’ expressions. With the shop owners I was using my limited french to engage them whilst I composed the photographs.


31st May 2012


Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

The introduction to Part One suggests that we photograph people we know best for these projects who are nearby and available.  In one respect that makes perfect sense.  However, most of the adults I know best dislike having their photographs taken, will turn away, sigh loudly or even make faces.   My grandchildren are quite happy to have their photographs taken but that brings me into another problem which is putting their photographs on my blog.

Train your Gaze, ( 2007) arrived some time ago and it’s been sitting waiting patiently for some attention from me ever since until today. I have to admit that ‘portraits’ just don’t seem to be me.  However, the Introduction gave me a clue as to why I might feel this way.  It describes the word ‘portrait’ as,  ‘Portentous, loaded with gravity and subtle persuasion…..It may influence the behaviour of your subject, opening the door to anxiety and trepidation….It can discourage playfulness and experimentation” “It depends upon the subject’s agreement to be photographed” (Intro x).  I’m thinking of various examples here. Sitting in a studio and having to pose; walking down the street (often at the seaside) where a photographer often used to be waiting to ‘take your picture’ and getting someone else to take the picture for you.

The other aspect is the sometimes cruel effect of millions of pixels cameras which enlarge every pore, line, wrinkle and blemish, unless you’re under the age of around 12. So many of my female friends groan loudly when they see a portrait of themselves which is ‘straight out of the camera’ before any embellishments have been applied. This is reassuring because I groan too but it just gives me another reason not to want to create portraits of people because there are too many self-image hurdles to overcome.

I prefer natural light but I know that artificial lighting  can achieve many other effects.  I’m still uneasy in the presence of artificial lighting and remote flash though, so I’ve taken the plunge and organised a one-to-one session during June.  I’m behind on my schedule for the first Assignment which I really need to get completed but at least I’ll know that improvements can be on their way.

I received the Course workbook at the beginning of April this year and, since then and being mindful of  both Parts One and Part Two, I’ve taken many photographs of people both aware and unaware. I’ve been on a residential workshop and also, more recently, on holiday to Brittany.  I took notes with me on the Projects and Exercise requirements so what follows will be an overview of what I achieved.

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

My understanding of a ‘portrait’ fits with that described in the Introduction to part One. It is something derived from some sort of  agreement between the sitter and the photographer and it is deliberate and considered.  I suppose that this, in essence, is what distinguishes a portrait from a snapshot.

Something else which has exercised my mind about portraits much more so than other types of photograph is the question of whether they should be in colour or black and white.  Normally it would be a case of either/or for me but I’ve decided to do a mix and look at the effect  My husband was my ‘willing ‘subject in the following which were taken in our garden:-

Cropped in close.:  f/7 , 76 mm focal length at 0.5 mm.

I couldn’t decide which part of his head to crop with the frame so tried several, such as showing his chin; his full profile or this one which seemed to work the best from my perspective.

Head and shoulders : f/7.1, 61 mm focal length at 1.8mm

The background probably needed to be more blurred here as you can see the garden shed,  On the one hand the background ‘should’ be relatively unobtrusive but, then again, this does show more of him in his context. A viewer might start to make some assumptions about his lifestyle and mood from the setting; his expression and clothing. He is gazing into space rather than looking directly at something Is he worried; smiling; contemplative; biting his lip etc.

Torso : f/7.1 50 mm focal length at 2.6mm

By this time I was aware of the problems with the background. There was the garden shed behind; a bird-feeder on his right and the greenhouse on his left. My persuasive efforts to get him to move forward away from it all only partly worked, although at least I got him away from the green garden waste bin.  I could have used an even wider aperture but here, with a more pleasant background, I did want to show some context.  This is where he spends a lot of time and effort.

Another problem was that of exposure. I cropped as much as possible to exclude the white sky but there was still the exposure difficulty between his grey/white hair and his dark sweater. I played around with the colour version in PS but still couldn’t get it right and so converted to b+w.  Next time he’s going to have to wear lighter clothing!

Seeing more of his torso provides more information to analyse. His gaze appears kindly, maybe patient. It’s hard to get him to smile in photographs for some reason but he’s trying.

Full figure : f/7.1 46 mm at 4.4m

I have cropped this as the green, garden waste bin appeared on his left. I couldn’t crop out the bird feeder though as it was too near and content-aware/healing brush etc didn’t work.  Instead I opted to add a slight vignette although, unfortunately, it has drawn more attention to the bird feeder instead of less.

Overall, lessons learned here about clothing and background.

Here are some other photographs I took of ‘people’ aware and in different locations which follow the same pattern of head, head and shoulders, torso and full  figure:-

On the Common. His name is Bruno and I asked him to pose for me. This is actually from last year but I’m including it because it was the first time I asked a stranger to pose.


Eco Fair, Wirksworth. I had intended to take an ‘unaware’ shot but she saw me so I waved my camera with an, “Is this okay’ smile.” It was interesting how her posture became more fixed. I cropped the image slightly but wanted to leave enough of the context to indicate the setting. I like the way she is looking straight at the camera.

Railway volunteer, ‘Wirksworth.  A lovely man who was willing to be photographed.  This was an ‘unaware, aware” photograph if you see what I mean, taken when he was absorbed in his task. I know now that I should show what he is actually looking at.



Eco-Fair, Wirksworth. This lady appeared in a previous post.  I was pleased here because firstly, I asked her to pose and, secondly, I took another photograph and asked her to move. Again, this shows her in the context of selling her lovely creations.

On the Common at the end of April.  It was pouring with rain but the dogs needed their walk.  This couple had found a geo-cache so we had a chat about that and I asked them if I could take a photograph, using my iPhone which was all I had with me. I think this is more of a snapshot because I just let the iPhone do its own thing and it was quick because of the rain.

28th May 2012


Angier, R, Train Your Gaze 2007), AVA Publishing, SA

A brief look at family portraits


People and Place – Part One : People Aware

A brief look at family portraits

Patricia Holland (2009) describes family photographs as, ‘the medium through which individuals confirm and explore their identity ( L, Wells, 2009, p. 123).  Certainly, I have about four boxes of family photographs dating back to the late 1800s.  All those grandparent; aunts and uncles; cousins and, now, my own children and grandchildren.  This is going to be a brief look but I’m hoping that I can comment both as a “user” of the photographs, bringing a wealth of surrounding knowledge, and also a “reader” teasing out meanings. (ibid p. 122).

Holland also writes that taking pictures has become, “an increasingly flexible medium for the construction of ordinary people’s accounts of their lives and fantasies (ibid p.120) which is an interesting point given the way that memories can work.  I’m not only having to take into account the vagaries of my memory but also those of my parents and grandmothers as they related family stories to me.

My maternal grandfather aged around 16. I think it’s a studio portrait with an unobtrusive background and stuck on a thick board ‘frame’. It has a handwritten number on the back (627) but I don’t know whether that relates to the photo or not because my grandfather had a habit of writing messages etc on the back of photographs which weren’t related to the photograph. Anyway it’s a  classic head and shoulders pose, slightly sideways on and gazing into the distance. He looks older than 16 I think and serious. He was one of 13 children and the family were very poor. Are there any clues to that here?  Just a young man having his portrait taken but I’m wondering why given his family circumstances.  Maybe he was going away to work.

The First World War saw a boom in camera sales which peaked in 1917. Parents and wives wanted to have a photograph of their husband/son as he went off to fight.

This was  my great-uncle Daniel Donohoe who was killed in action in Flanders on 18th November 1916. He was killed at the point when my great-grandfather had been trying to get him out of the army because he’d originally enlisted under-aged.

Holland asserts that most family collections are dominated by time spent away from home on holidays or days out – what she terms, “The domestication of the unfamiliar”.

This my mother on holiday with her parents, aged around 12/13 and obviously not enjoying herself. No way was she going to smile for the camera.   I think I remember her telling me that her dad wouldn’t buy her an ice-cream. The background is quite faded but the casual clothes and balloon mum is holding holding give a clue.  In terms of composition, I like the way you get the sense of movement and there’s something similar about the posture of my mum and her father. My grandad looks relaxed and comfortable in his stance whereas there’s some tension around his two ladies. I can see a family resemblance between my mother here and the portrait of her young father.  There they are on holiday not knowing that my grandfather would be dead within a couple of years – something my Nan and mother never recovered from really.

“Children, especially, have very little say over how they are pictured, and this discrepancy is the source of many of the conflicting emotions analysed by writers on family photography” (P. Holland in L. Wells, p. 122).

Me aged around 3 outside the house opposite to where we lived with my Nan. I think a distant relative of my grandad’s lived there. They had a male visitor who wanted to take a photograph of me holding my doll.  He said he would give me a shilling. I can actually remember this and me feeling very cross and saying, “I don’t want your money!” My mum was horrified, “Ooh Catherine.” The event became part of family legend, “You’ll never believe what our Catherine said when ….. wanted to take a picture of her”.  They couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t want some money.  Goodness – what would I do with money when I was only 3.  Sweets were rationed then so I never ate or wanted any. Looking at the photograph I can still feel that sense of annoyance. I’m sure I had more important things to do at home.  Maybe I’d taken an instant dislike to him and didn’t want to be beholden. I’m certainly refusing to smile. The occasion has stuck in my memory because when I went back to Sheffield last year I even took a photograph of that house.

I mentioned above the importance of photographs in the First World War.  I think that such photographs had another importance as well. They could carry a message of love and also be a object of transference for children.


These are some of the photographs exchanged between my parents when my dad was in the Army in Egypt after World War II. Loving messages are written on the back. My father could see how I was growing up and I could see him – “Here is a photo from daddy who is somewhere far away but he sends his love”.  I think he was talked about so much that, with the photos and letters to me, he was alive in my head and so never really ‘absent’.


A holiday in Scarborough with me around 14 and quite happy to pose.  It rained nearly every day. It’s good to see the context as it places it in time and a place. Stripes were obviously in fashion then. Note the coy pose – imitating a film star maybe.

The same holiday, with my parents. My mother was thrilled to get a photograph of all of us together, as my father was usually behind the camera.  Note the way I’m posing with that slightly coy, to the side look again None of that straight look at the camera that I gave when I was 3! I think this was early evening as we’re wearing smarter clothes, and that dad asked a passer-by to take this. I always find it quite frightening when someone asks me to do this in case I make a real mess of either the photograph, their camera or both!

I began by writing that this would be a brief look.  Well, I’ve covered the first half of the C20th! Holland is right when she says that family photographs kept are treasured less for their quality than for their context.  These ones are important historical documents to me which place me within my family and help to carry personal and narrated memories. I don’t think either that these particular photographs embody any ‘fantasies’ about that family life.

8th May 2012


Holland, P, (2009) Sweet it is to scan, in Wells, L (ed) Photography, Routledge, Abingdon

Wells, L (ed) (2009 ed) Photography, Routledge, Abingdon

Gillian Wearing Exhibition : Whitechapel Gallery 28th April 2012

Whitechapel Gallery : 28 April 2012

Gillian Wearing Exhibition

Study Visit with OCA

I felt very well-prepared for this visit, with a good briefing from OCA concerning ‘Looking and Reading’. A video  to watch; Guardian  interview to read, and suggestions for some thinking to do beforehand.

Gillian Wearing has a degree in Fine Art, is a conceptual artist and was a member of the Young British Artists Movement. This group rose to fame in the 1990s; its members often used shock tactics; used new materials to produce art and were from the East of London (e.g. Tracey Emin).  I’m assuming they were part of the postmodernist movement.

It’s obvious that the Guardian interviewer, Tim Adams, had difficulty in getting her to speak as freely about herself as she achieved with her own subjects.  I gained a sense of an unsettled, shifting ground between them with Wearing using words to elude and the interviewer trying to pin her down.  Wearing describes herself as a listener and I’ve found that people who are more used to listening can certainly find it hard to talk about themselves – and vice versa.  There is another  interview on the Guardian site (talking to Kira Cochrane)  where she describes her own inarticulacy and problems she had at comprehensive school in Birmingham that pioneered large class sizes. Thinking about it, there’s a ‘listening’ mask and a ‘talking’ mask we wear when we’re interacting with others and we switch between them with greater or lesser facility according to our intrinsic personality and whom we’re with at the time.

After my preparatory reading I noted down masks, sense of self; many different selves; unexpressed selves; boundaries; verbal/non-verbal; Erving Goffman; Eleanor Rigby, and showing yourself through your art.   I read Goffman many years ago and was entertained by his notion of the front and back stage personalities – that we all enact multiple roles in our lives. That was the biggest question I took with me to the Exhibition – is Gillian Wearing going to show me herself through her art – ‘communicate an inner life by proxy’ as her interviewer writes?

It was good to meet up with everyone from OCA and link some more names to faces.  As before, we were greeted by Michael Lawton of the Gallery who  provided a commentary as we walked round. He gave us his introduction whilst standing under a monitor playing a video of Gillian Wearing singing to herself in a shopping mall. So far as I could tell, none of the other shoppers actually paused to look at her so she was in her own inner world there.  Maybe they thought she was madly eccentric. Michael Lawton drew attention to her use of colour; her switch into films and the performance element in her work.

We looked at one short film before we went to the upper gallery. This was of a girl called Lindsay, a street drinker who subsequently died. The film is grainy, in slow motion and synced with Lindsay’s twin sister speaking about her.  Thinking about it now, the graininess and slow motion added a slightly drunk effect.  I wonder if this was Wearing’s intention.

Whilst Michael Lawton had been talking to us I had had this odd thought that maybe Gillian Wearing was actually with us; playing the part of one of the group and observing us. Maybe it was because I’d caught sight of her self-portrait at the bottom of the stairs – wearing a mask of her own face with just her (real) eyes looking through.  The smooth rigidity of the expressionless mask combined with those large eyes was quite unnerving and, throughout, the rest of the tour it was the eyes within masks that were the most compelling yet weirdly skewed to me.

The early series, ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ was the most ‘traditional’ to me. 600 portraits ranged around the room with the subjects holding signs. It was the sheer number of them that was impressive.  Some of the signs were at odds with the subject such as a woman smiling whilst holding a sign ‘I am depressed at the moment’, and a man unsmiling and with eyes closed stating ‘Queer and happy. The latter made me think of how small children can often believe that if their eyes are closed people can’t see them. My other thought was, “How do I know that the signs are telling the truth in any case?”

There are further films where the subject’s words are synced with someone else’s voice. The twins and their mother for example.  How often do I now hear my mother’s words coming out of my mouth.  My daughter and I were only talking about this a few weeks ago and she said sometimes she almost horrifies herself by doing this.  Sometimes my grandchildren say things in such an old-fashioned way that I know it’s a parent speaking – out of the mouths of babes and sucklings and all that!.  I find those occasions amusing but it was odd to see here – not knowing whether to close my eyes and listen to the words or watch the non verbal behaviour of the now muted subjects. Maybe it was harder because these were strangers I was watching and listening to.

There were further portraits – again with the use of masks.  Gillian Wearing as her favourite photographers, and also as members of her own family.  Again it was the eyes that seemed weird, like those films where aliens take over humans or The Midwich Cuckoos.  You know there’s something not quite right about their behaviour but it’s hard to work out exactly why. Gilllian Wearing attempting to get behind the skin of other people – is this because she thinks she can or because she wants to know what it’s like to be them? I don’t know what her living family thought about the portraits but there’s an interesting  Guardian piece here on the creation of the masks.

Beyond this were booths where one could watch film of more people in masks giving intimate details of their lives and secret thoughts – some of which I really didn’t want to hear! One of my fellow students Julia has compared this to confessional booths, whilst also raising an important point to me concerning the ethics of this kind or work. What effect do these confessions have on the speakers; how do they deal afterwards with any feelings raised.  I think it’s fine to say, “Well they volunteered to do this”, but people don’t always take into account what the consequences might be.

There were some harrowing stories as well in ‘10-16’. Volunteer actors, trained in method-acting, lip-synced to the voices of children and young people. Reminding me of how so many adults carry the bruising of their childhood within them.


I might not like her methods but Gillian Wearing is certainly full of talent and creativity. I suppose I’m left wondering how she felt about the stories she heard and whether they helped her to express or make any connection with her own feelings and thoughts. I certainly didn’t get a sense of the real Gillian Wearing behind all those different masks – even her own.

I think that in speaking as yourself from behind a mask you become an actor in your own drama and so, in a sense, unreal. Also, how real do you feel when you speak as someone else?  I know I’ve certainly engaged in role plays in the past where I found I was identifying with the person I was portraying. This kind of projective identification also gave me more of an insight into them as a person – I found clues and answers I hadn’t been aware of before. This brings to mind the role of empathy in our lives and the effect of confluence. If we enter into someone else’s thoughts and feelings then the boundaries between us become a little blurred and we sometimes have to work hard to distinguish between self and other.

In the Exhibition itself seeing through masks actually distanced me from the person behind them, despite their often tragic stories. Their stories were just that – not quite real and so I felt both slightly troubled yet uninvolved at the same time. Thinking of theatrical tradition I’m reminded of Greek tragedies and the masked actors. The masks de-personalize and so the subjects become Everyman and their stories take on a universal resonance.

There’s a lot more of a philosophical nature concerning self, aspects of self and how all those different possibilities of our birthing gradually become distilled into a central core, so that we know when we are, or not, ‘being ourselves’. If we don’t then we can become psychotic or suffer various personality disorders. I want to re-read Goffman to remind myself whether or not he touches upon this aspect.  What comes through in Gillian Wearing’s Exhibition is a view of life which seems to believe that we take on these ‘masks’ to hide something negative about ourselves.  I don’t remember that coming through to me when I read Goffman all those years ago.

I’ve been given a lot of food for thought here, including how as a photographer I want to interact with my subjects. I certainly don’t want to de-personalize them yet, in the very act of pressing the shutter button, I do freeze them in time.

1st May 2012

References  to watch

Beginning thoughts 2 : I feel I’ve properly started now

I talked with my new tutor yesterday and so I feel as if I’m properly started on People and Place.  I had a letter from OCA this morning as well reminding me of submission dates for the July assessment.  I have to make sure that I’ve got everything ready to send off my work on The Art of Photography course to arrive by 15th June latest. The phase-over from one course to another has definitely begun!

I’ve decided to put my paper log together in a different way for People & Place as well. The A5 notebook from OCA is a nice thought and I know lots of students use it but it’s too small for my scrawly writing and the bits and pieces I collect. I bought a larger A4 book for AOP instead  but it’s too big to carry around with me so I ended up doing what I always did, which is to carry sheets of paper around with me that I can fold up into my bag, or have tiny notebooks to use similarly. This means I’ve spent quite a lot of time with glue sticking bits of paper, including exercise notes, onto the sheets in the A4 book. This time round I’m using a ring-binder so that I can insert any paper I use in chronological order.  At the end of People & Place I can bind it nicely into something else.

Something else I’ve done is to make enquiries about a studio/portrait lighting course because I know that artificial lighting is my bete noire even though I now have various types of lights (which I don’t use!). I’ll always prefer natural light but interesting effects can be gained with flash etc particularly for portraits.

I’ve now officially ‘retired’ from my work as an NVQ Assessor and so I’ve cleared some books from my shelves to make room for more.  Yes – I’ve definitely started on People & Place.

2nd May 2012

Documentary Photography and Environmental Portraiture at The Photographers Place

Weekend Workshop at The Photographers’ Place, Wirksworth

13th to 15th April 2012

This Workshop had originally been planned for September last year and I’d booked to fulfil two purposes.  Firstly, I thought it would get me up to Derbyshire to start some work on a personal project I’d had in mind for a while but kept procrastinating on.  Secondly, I thought it would give me some confidence in advance of Assignment 5 of AOP.  Unfortunately, the Workshop was postponed due to low numbers, but I still went to Derbyshire, with some new motivation for my personal project.

The Photographer’s Place was first set up in the 1970s by Dr Paul Hill who was the first professor of photography in a British University.   It isn’t a place so much as a concept because the leaders come together to run the residential Workshops and they are currently Paul Hill, Martin Shakeshaft  and Nick Lockett .

The theme for this particular workshop was on documentary photography and environmental portraiture with Stephen McLaren street photographer ,as guest speaker.  Before I left I went through the workbook for ‘People and Place’ and made notes so that I had some of the requirements of the People and Place sections in my head. The Venue was the Glenorchy Centre,  – a self-catering centre managed by the United Reform Church –, which is in the small market town of Wirksworth on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Wirksworth was a town built around lead mining and is also near to Arkwright’s Mill.  I learned that it has quite a thriving artistic community and also that all the shops are owned independently.

There were around 14 participants most of whom were quite experienced photographers, which was somewhat daunting for me as I reckoned that I was one of the least experienced.  There is a timetable in my paper log, but the shape of the weekend was: –

Friday evening:

Course leaders introduce themselves and show their approaches to making portraits and documentary work. Then each participant would show two or three of their own photographs on a data projector screen.  I was aghast when I saw the size of the screen, which looked huge!  I was immediately worried that my images would look pretty rubbish to be blown up as they were, especially as I’d sized them up as around 8”x6” and one of them, at least, was from a smaller compact camera.   Still, I had to go for it – it wasn’t as if there was a critical atmosphere in the room  (nothing like I’ve read about ‘Masterclasses’ recently). I had taken along a few of my photographs on a memory stick, which I thought were ‘street photography’ style and I showed three of them.


Some of the others had actually taken in a series of images on a theme, which, really, was much more of what the Workshop was about.  It made me realise just how many of what I consider to be my better photographs (relatively speaking of course) are one-offs rather than part of a series – something that will have to change for ‘People & Place’. I was asked why I’d chosen to process the first photograph in black and white – a good question because it made me think about it again. It was to do with contrasts and juxtaposition – wealthier looking, man in a hurry; dressed in a light, smart, outfit –  as opposed to the lady musician all dressed in black and being virtually ignored.  I said that if I were to take this photograph again I would actually have spoken to the lady to make a connection with her and, maybe, find out more about her.

Saturday morning:

I actually got up very early, for me, and went into town at 7am to see it waking up. I took quite a few photographs but won’t post them now. They do give a sense of the town but they are too static I think. On with the rest of the day…

Preparing for the ‘documentary’ project

Martin Shakeshaft talked to us about the history of the picture story – the first photo story being credited as the 1948 photo essay by W. Eugene Smith, for Life Magazine, on the ‘Country Doctor’ Dr. Ernest Ceriani  (brought to my attention by the WeareOCA Blog last August

He then went on to suggest three questions which one could ask oneself before starting out on something – “Why am I doing this? What interests me? How will it be used?” I think these are very important questions, which is why I’m putting them in bold. The questions will help me to examine my interest more closely.  For example, I constantly take photographs on our local Common but I hadn’t worked out what exactly it is that attracts me. It’s having access to this countrified space, encircled by busy main roads, on the edge of town.  I can walk across the road and immediately be amongst greenery and trees in an area that has been used in similar ways for generations. It gives me a sense of my own place in time and a connection with what has gone before. Additionally there are the people who use the Common and how we all have different lifestyles and yet we come together there.

Martin then covered aspects such as how many pictures will be needed and key elements like the establishing shot; the pace of the narrative and different perspectives (focal length; aspect etc) so as to avoid visual boredom.  He exampled these through showing us W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay, ‘Man of Mercy’ on Albert Schweitzer, Life Magazine, 1954.

There are many different types of picture story, such as sequential narratives; diptychs; triptychs; poetic/abstract/mood pieces; the use of a rostrum camera to move the camera across an image; still image with sound, and digital story-telling (short films usually less than 8 minutes).  Here are 7 elements to consider as well: –

  • Point of view/purpose
  • Dramatic question
  • Emotional content
  • ‘Your’ voice
  • The power of soundtrack to support and embellish (or the opposite of course!)
  • Economy/Just enough content
  • Rhythm/flow

Some good resources are: –

BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project 

Magnum in Motion http



‘Documentary’ Project

We were given a brief to produce a three-picture story, making sure that we obtained an establishing shot. The opportunities were to visit the old railway station where a lot of renovation work is being done on old engines; a Spring Fair being held at the Derbyshire Eco Centre; to walk around in town; photo opportunities around the town, or a nearby quarry which has been reclaimed for the community. I chose to go to the railway station and then the Fair.

a)    The railway station

Due to health and safety concerns we had to wear a reflective jacket and we also had a brief safety talk from the health and safety officer. Then we were set loose onto the volunteer workers who were working a little further down. One of our group, Chris   immediately got talking to them and, really, he laid the ground for us – so thanks very much indeed Chris. The volunteers were so friendly and eager to talk about what they were doing and it didn’t take long before they were calling us over, and closer, to look at what they were working on.  I started to feel much more confident about talking to people whilst getting close to take photographs. I’ll discuss some of the photographs below. We spent so long there that we actually missed the next train to the Eco Centre and had to walk there. It was cold, threatening rain and very hilly!

b)   The Fair

The Fair was very popular, despite the poor weather, and had lots of interesting demonstrations, exhibits; course information and eco-inspiration.  I felt a little more inhibited because there were more people around but still felt able to walk around taking photographs, especially as there were so many other people doing the same thing.

It was well into the afternoon by then and we had to be back at the Glenorchy Centre to download our images and begin to edit them, before the talk by Stephen McLaren.

Processing our ‘documentary’ pictures

We gathered in small groups with the course leaders, although some people had brought their own laptops so worked alone. Myself and another participant worked with Martin Shakeshaft. I had already looked through mine and chosen three but Martin said, “let’s look through all of them and flag likely ones”.  It was interesting to sit there and see how his finger hovered over the track pad on some of them, either hinting he wasn’t sure, or stopping at some I hadn’t thought were good enough. I’m only going to show a few here because I want to concentrate on learning points and will be using some later towards the exercises in People & Place.



If you feature someone’s eye-line then the viewer need to be able to follow it to see what that person is looking at. If you focus on something in their hands you need to get in closer to see what it is.



I think this one is okay

I tried to make this one grittier – seemed more in keeping with his character somehow – and I desaturated the colour slightly to add to this.

The overall feedback from Martin was that I can ‘see’ the image but I need to get in closer.  That was advice already given by my tutor for AOP after she had seen my initial images from the Illustration & Narrative exercises.  Honestly, I do go in much closer now.How close do I need to be without shoving my camera right into people’s faces – which is something I don’t want to do? That’s the challenge for me. My AOP tutor and now Martin, suggested using a prime lens around 28mm (full sensor size). Martin also suggested, alternatively, to stick my zoom lens by using tape so I couldn’t zoom. This is all obviously a whole new learning area for me.

The Fair

There was a lovely lady there, Anne Menary who had created some quirky cards, which I really liked. She had some books there, which I thought where for sale but, sadly for me, were not.  These are her working tools and Anne had created them by using old book covers and then inserting her working sketches and materials.  We had quite a long chat and she also said that, every time she goes on holiday, she creates this type of book inserting various souvenirs etc.  Of course, they all reminded me of the wonderful sketch and logbooks I’ve seen both at the Farnham UCA end of year show and on WeareOCA, which make me feel so uncreative as well.  I bought some of the cards Ann has produced (although I’ll probably keep them) and, using my new- found confidence, I asked her if she would pose for me:

Here she is and you can just about see the books in front of her. Anne does lessons at the Centre and, if I lived in Wirksworth, I would certainly go on one of them.

My final photograph here is one that I thought could make an establishing shot for the Fair

I was in two minds about it because I also took more general shots of the fair but this one appealed to me – as if the lady was having a conversation about what to look at next.

Stephen McLaren, Street Photographer

Stephen co-edited Street Photography Now (2010),  which presents 46 contemporary street photographers, together with four essays and a ‘global’ conversation between leading street photographers which explores issues within the genre.  By sheer chance my husband had bought me the book for Christmas, before I even knew that Stephen would be guest speaker on the Workshop. It is full of vibrant, candid shots which exemplify street photography as it is now.

Only one of Stephen’s own photographs appears in the book (the first page) and he told us that this was by chance as it fitted what was needed. It features the back of a young woman who is walking along with chestnut-brown, glossy hair flying around her.  Stephen‘s talk was informal in the sense that he showed/talked about some of his personal, favourite photographs and showed us how he had been putting images together to produce books.  As you can see from his website, his images are colourful and quite striking and you can see how closely he gets to people. We didn’t get to the discussion I would have liked to have had regarding the ethics of street photography, e.g. taking photographs of people who don’t want you to do so and taking photographs of people who are injured  (see ‘Coupling’ on his website).


This was a more low-key day which I needed really because the previous day had been intense and tiring.  I went off outside with a small group and Nick Lockett  showed us various ways of using remotely-fired flash in natural light. One interesting effect was gained by setting tungsten light in WB, whilst putting an orange/warm gel on the flash.  This gives a vivid blue sky whilst warming the subject’s face.

Once back inside, Martin Shakeshaft talked to us about Blurb books; ebooks and more aspects of digital story-telling using sound.


It’s a shame that the Workshop couldn’t have been held last year because I can say quite definitely that it would have been a wonderful lead-in to Assignment 5, Art of Photography . As it was, it was a very useful refreshment/reinforcement of what I learned in Art of Photography and a good lead-in to People and Place. It was an intensive and tiring weekend where I talked photography the whole time.  There were occasions where I felt humbled and unskilled in comparing myself with most of the others, even though everyone was friendly, interested and helpful.  I took a lot of photographs which will be appearing in this Blog over the next few weeks. I also made a link with Mo, another OCA student who is currently studying People and Place and it was good to share notes with her.

I’ve looked at the resources given by Martin Shakeshaft. They are all excellent and I particularly like Photobus, (which is clear, user-friendly, informative and with lots of free content) and the Digital Story Telling Project.


Howarth, S & McLaren, S (Ed),  Street Photography Now (2010), Thames & Hudson , London

Anne Menary:

BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project:

Magnum in Motion:




30th April 2012