Exploring a possibility for Assignment 2

Exploring a possibility for Assignment 2 : People and activity

Initial selection

Brief: To plan and execute a set of images of people. Depicting the same person in different forms of activity or different people at the same single activity or event. in some form of meaningful activity and produce a set of 10, final, selected images. I had to concentrate on two aspects : telling moments and on ‘explaining’’ the activity through choice of viewpoint, framing and timing to make the actions as intelligible as possible.  It might seem repetitive to write this from the Handbook but I had to keep reminding myself of this as I went through the selection process.


I went to a weekend workshop in Wirksworth in April, not too long after I started the Course – see my write-up here.  I went armed with all the exercise/projects and Assignment briefs up to the end of Part 2 , and some of the photographs I took there have appeared in various blog posts since.

The Workshop was “Documentary Photography and Environmental Portraiture” and was held on a weekend when there were good opportunities to get the kind of photographs needed for Assignment 2.  We had a session beforehand to brief us on creating a picture story. Questions to ask were “Why am I doing this?, “What interests me?” and “How will it be used”. There was advice on key elements to take into account – the establishing shot; different perspectives on people’s faces such as, long/wide/close-up and to avoid visual boredom – all of which, of course were also covered in the P&P exercises so it was a good fit.

After walking round in the early morning I chose two later events.  The old railway station was a working one, part of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway , with volunteers there at weekends.  There was also an Eco Fair going on.

I have chosen the railway as the best possibility and from the 47 images taken there I chose 18.

I’ve used one of the images as the introduction to set the context here but this would not be submitted for the assignment itself if I decided to go ahead with this set.  I then had to exclude 7 images.

Images excluded from the initial selection

It’s explanatory and could fit well on a website or in a booklet about the railway but there’s no activity going on – it just tells you where the photographs have been taken.

There is too much pale sky (I cropped out a fair bit) and too little contrast with the volunteer’s head so that he almost disappears into it.  There isn’t any context to explain what is happening – either in terms of place or in activity.  Also, in terms of colouring/series cohesion, it doesn’t seem to fit.

I find this image appealing just because of his interesting face but  the symbol looks as though it’s growing from his head. I decided there were others which were better.

A longer viewpoint and I had moved to separate the symbol from his head.  The context is there but he is smaller in the frame.  I could have cropped it of course

There is too much pale sky here, even if I had cropped right in.

I hadn’t noticed that it isn’t level. I could rotate, but the cropping would crop too much of the volunteer on the left so I would lose the sense of working in partnership.

This is showing an activity and you can see the nut he’s holding ready to clean but only just.

The ten selected

I might have got this wrong but I don’t remember it stating anywhere in the brief that you have to show people’s faces. I hope I’m right!

1) Getting ready for action

f/5.6 70mm @ 12.2m. Longer focal length at a distance. Shows scale of man against the carriage.

2) Listening to someone else speaking

f/5 44mm at 2.2m distance. This was a pause in activity which gave me more time to catch expressions. However, it’s not so much a ‘telling moment’ as a ‘listening moment’ so I’m not sure this meets the brief.

3) Cleaning

f/5.6 85 mm at 2.5 m distance. I framed this in more of a close-up to concentrate on the volunteers hands and include the can of paraffin.

4) Surveying what’s needed to clean up some piping

f/5 42mm @ 0.9m.

5) Explaining

f/5 44mm @ 2.2m

6) deciding what needs to be done

f/5.6 27mm @ 1.4m

7) All working together

f/8 24mm @ 3.5m. I cropped this slightly.  There’s still quite a bit of sky but at least it has some definition, although looking at it now on screen I can still see it’s too pale on the top left. If I crop out more of the sky from the top I’ll lose that sense of scale I think. The man just about to climb up is one of the other photographers who wanted to get a better view.

8) Surveying the scene

f/8 70mm @ 5.5m. I cropped this slightly to make a tighter frame. Not exactly looking at me but certainly checking something out in my direction.

9) working separately but together

f/8 21mm @ 2.3m. Wider angle to get the three of them in and retain more of the context.

10) Checking the nuts to test how much they may have stuck

f/5 50mm @ 1.9m. I wanted to capture his air of concentration.

I’ve looked at these photographs so often and for so long that I hope I’ve managed to more or less stick to the brief which was : telling moments and ‘explaining’’ the activity through choice of viewpoint, framing and timing to make the actions as intelligible as possible.  Nos 2 and 8 aren’t exactly explaining the activity and so I think I’ve been swayed there by my own preferences.

Overall, it was a really pleasant experience to spend time with these volunteers – retired from paid employment as such but using their skills to keep these engines going.  They all had such characterful faces which were easy to photograph. I couldn’t exactly talk to them about all the technical aspects but they were very happy to have us there taking photographs and, of course, just about forgot we were there because they were so absorbed in their work.

The intention had been to get on one of the trains as the service was running to the Eco Fair but we missed the next one so ended up walking.  It’s very hilly in Wirksworth – enough said!

Having done later work on another series I’ve decided not to submit the Wirksworth set for Assignment 2 because I’m hoping that I’ll have improved since April.  Even so, it’s been good practice in the selection process

14th September 2012

5 thoughts on “Exploring a possibility for Assignment 2

  1. Hi Catherine….some really good work here.

    I was wondering though whether you are taking enough photographs…

    I have been to three workshops in recent years with Magnum photographers – David Allan Harvey, Steve McCurry and Alex Webb….All gave the same advice about what they called ‘working a situation’. The idea is that you look for a scene which seems to have potential for a good photograph – the composition, the characters, the light etc are right – then you stick with this situation taking many photographs. In the case of David Allan Harvey he showed us some of his contact sheets. To get one ‘killer image’ he took as many as 50 shots. With digital this is possible. I think with film they would have taken fewer but the principle still remains.

    At the Steve McCurry workshop we had to submit all our images from a day’s shoot as a contact sheet to a picture editor. My contact sheet looked like a series of single images of separate scenes…the poor guy kept saying ‘give me more options, give me something to work with!!’

    With my own work when shooting digitally I expect to get a hit rate of about 1%. So for one keeper image I expect to shoot around 100 photographs….these are broad averages…sometimes nothing happens sometimes I am lucky!!

  2. I took a lot more over the weekend itself Keith – these were just the ones at the railway. I think I’m gradually beginning to let go of the idea that I should take as few as possible and that everyone taken should be ‘good’. I took more for the allotment series which I actually submitted as the assignment but still not enough. I’ve talked more about this as well in my later post ‘response to tutor feedback’ and Shaun also gave me his method of approaching a series. Off today to collect The Magnum Contact Sheets from the library.
    Was just wondering as well what your hit rate is when you use film.

  3. My hit rate with film seems a lot higher as I more careful about what I shoot…..but still less than 5%. I also usually try to take several shots of the same portrait/situation looking for different nuances so inevitably there is some redundancy. For example I was in the East End of London yesterday shooting medium format film. I made four portraits of a guy who owns a second hand furniture store. If I am lucky one will work well… Similarly when shooting some landscapes of the Thames with Canary Wharf in the background the light kept changing and boats kept moving up and down the river, so again I took four or five shots. The Magnum book is excellent…you should enjoy it. Rene Burri’s famous portrait of Che Guevara is an excellent example,see pp 139. The book shows around 80 negatives of photographs which he made of Guevara ….two are printed in the ‘Contact Sheets book but only one is an iconic image which appears on the Magnum website!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s