Part 4: People interacting with Place – Projects and Exercises

People & Place

Part 4 : People interacting with place

Projects and Exercises

I tackled these by keeping both mental and written notes of the exercises in mind as I visited various locations. My aim was to then analyse why I took a particular photograph at a particular time.  The exercises covered:-

A single figure small

Busy traffic, i.e. ebb and flow of people

Anonymous figures (2 to 4)


facing away

in silhouette

partly obscured

motion blur

Balancing figure and space – varying attention between them

Selecting processing and prominence – using digital processing methods

 My first thought was that I should be pretty good at making figures anonymous given my reluctance to get up there close!

Here are the locations

London September 2012

London Coliseum

I have a fascination with these doors (even though they don’t really make a good backdrop because of their beige/brown colour) and endeavour to take a photograph every time I’m in the area. The main problem is that I have to stand across the road to get a good view. Thinking about balancing figure and space; I think the last one works best. They are walking towards each other but both appear oblivious of place or people; one of them with his ear phones and the other on his mobile phone.


Leicester Square


Mainly anonymous – facing away, almost in silhouette. I framed this shot so that I could include the two men back left.  I was interested how the sleeping man was guarding his  trolley bag, whilst being ignored by the two young men front right. They were standing so near to him. Would I stand so near whilst talking to someone? I think probably not as there would be my inner politeness regarding not wanting to disturb him plus not wanting him to overhear what I was talking about. Is this something again about anonymity in a City full of strangers? Would they stand so near if it happened in Woking rather than London?


Figures fairly small and few rather than many. I was interested in how they were spectators ‘on show’.

Trafalgar Square

The interesting aspect for me about Trafalgar Square is, why do people want to climb on the lions and sit on steps?


Small and many; facing away, party obscured.

The young men below were organising themselves for a group shot so  I took one as well ‘surreptitiously’ and was then rather taken aback when one of them gesticulated at me.  I thought he was telling me off but in fact he wanted me to take a photograph of them with his iPad. Of course, that then gave me carte blanche to ask if I could take one also. At this point they moved from ‘unaware’ and ‘anonymous’ to ‘aware’ and ‘slight acquaintance’.

Could have done better. There’s some distortion from my smaller camera, pointing upwards;  portrait format or TSE lense would have been preferable I think, but they did pose nicely for me. I think this is actually more of a snapshot than my first one though. Also ‘people unaware’ can show more animation and liveliness.

Anonymous figures and facing away again apart from the gentleman left front. I was intrigued – was this really a policeman or someone wearing a policeman’s hat? Was he helping her up or down or pulling her down off a rather precarious spot?


Almost a single figure and showing his smallness in relation to the lion

More on balancing figure and space


the last one works better for me in terms of balance.

Brighton, November 2012

People interacting with place

That wonderful, long wavy hair drew me, another young woman’s pale blue eyes matched the stands and there was some motion blur as well.

and also performing.

He had a very appreciative audience and I also moved further around to take the second shot as I liked his posture.

What interested me here was his total absorption in what he was doing and also that he was doing this without an audience (except for me of course), although I don’t recall him being aware of me.

London 7th December 2012


Small, anonymous people, ebbing and flowing on their way from here to there.

Figures in a landscape 8th December 2012


Anonymous and mainly small figures and, as ever, they are there to enhance the landscape for me.

London January 2013

On the way to Somerset House

There can be a crowd of anonymous people but, then, someone stands out and the girl in the grey coat did that for me..

 From Somerset House along Waterloo Bridge

It was misty and late afternoon – people getting ready for the end of the day. As I followed them I was drawn by their silhouettes against the skyline and buildings.


I waited until the sunset deepened against the mist so I could look at the view as well.


Victoria & Albert Museum – February 2013

Anonymous people, indoors, coming; going and sketching



I felt self-conscious to begin with, as I usually do but once I started photographing people it became easier and I relaxed.  I began to realise that it isn’t usually the people in themselves that attract me but the patterns and shapes they make in the environment. I wondered about the life that people give to built environments as in what would an empty Trafalgar Square look like? I also thought again about the differences between  portrait, landscape and social documentary in terms of the balance between people and space and how much focus is given to activity.  For instance, I think most of the photographs I took in London/Trafalgar Square are mainly on the social documentary spectrum, apart from the posed young men which is a snapshot cum group portrait whereas the ones I took on the Common are still landscape (I think?) because the figures are small. What about the ones on Waterloo Bridge though?

30th April 2013


Second Meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group 20th April 2013

Second Meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group 20th April 2013

 We had a slightly different format this time with Portfolio review in the morning and then the afternoon spent discussing Semiotics.

Portfolio Review

I didn’t have anything to show at the last meeting because I had been going through a stuck phase which seemed to have lasted for months. It wasn’t that I wasn’t taking photographs just that I couldn’t feel enthusiastic about photography.  This time was different and I took two sets of prints from ongoing work.

(a) Medium Format Camera (earlier post here )

I told the others that they were my witnesses that I’d carried out my promise to myself to do more work with the camera. I’d expected to be asked, “Why film; why medium format?” and I was. I’m still not sure I was sufficiently coherent to give a reasoned reply though and keep thinking about this. It’s the whole process and the slower pace.  Putting film in the camera (still with some trepidation and remembering to push in the locking buttons); the awareness that it’s more costly; I won’t know what I’ve got until I get it back from the lab.  All this makes me consider framing and composition more.  I can’t just walk around the subject as I try to do every time now and then have a quick look at the screen to check the focus and settings. It’s exciting to get the negatives back and CD with scans. I hardly need to do anything at all apart from minimal tweaking and slight cropping (why does that black line appear down the side sometimes?).  The aspect ratio appeals to me and, most importantly, prints from film are different. They have a special quality for me, that soft clarity.

I got very positive feedback and encouragement to continue working with the camera; including the sense I’d conveyed of me looking at people from afar, from behind the trees, and beginning to show groupings; the way in which people come together in the landscape.

(b) Work towards Assignment 4 of People & Place

I explained the process I’d worked through from three visits to Winchester; and my developing concept of how one aspect of the cathedral is a place where the living meet the dead; a timeline; how still the visitors are in their looking.  Sharon was very positive about the idea of statues and also suggested I look at Mark Power’s “Mass” .

(c ) Insights gained from looking at other members” work

One aspect I enjoy is to see how others are progressing their ideas; trying new approaches, and how they’re putting their interests into coursework. As before, I won’t go into any detail because I know they’ll be writing their own posts. Areas covered looking at manipulation and reality; re-doing assignments in a completely different way – just for fun!; using small images as details to take the viewer beyond the frame/fill out the picture; dealing with issues regarding confidentiality and strategies used; combining found images with current ones; how to combine images of nature into a personal theme; moving forward on photographing people.

Sharon excellently models the critical approach towards selection for a series and the importance of having physical prints there that can be shuffled around to make different stories. It isn’t a case of the rest of us just sitting back to observe a 1:1 discussion – we all get involved and absorbed.

Introduction to Semiotics

This will need a separate post so that I can summarise what I’ve learned so far;  thoughts on the further work set for us, and, more importantly, how I’m making use of this type of analysis.  The format was good.  There was reading to do beforehand and we then had a discussion around the topic and the meanings of signifier/signified/denotation/connotation. We also talked about studum and punctum. After this Sharon read to us an essay on “The Hippopotamus” a photograph by Count de Montizon taken in 1852 (from David Bate, 2009)  which lead into some pairs/trio work on analyzing an advertisement to draw out the underlying messages.

We’ve been left with some further work to do. More questions for me to ponder concerning the order of ‘signs’; text as a form of relay as opposed to anchor and what needs to be in an image to make the viewer stop and look. Another topic was to now deconstruct a photograph. So many to choose from!

What did I gain from the day

After the discussion on my prints I said, “I feel like a photographer now”. I think that was a real step forward for me in that I’m taking myself more seriously and I’m sure that a part of that is being taken seriously by my peers.

The importance of meeting face to face with a tutor who is a role model for constructive criticism and analysis and demonstrates editing a series visually.

I’m very pleased that our small group has melded so quickly. We all knew each other already so that is obviously a factor but that shared purpose and desire to encourage others constructively is very important.

Semiotics doesn’t seem as complicated (once I put aside my reaction to the stilted language of its academic proponents) to the extent that I’ve ordered a book Semiotics: The Basics by Daniel Chandler. I know I can read it online as well under a different title (Semiotics: The Basics) but I wanted to get the book this time.

27th April 2013




Bate, D (2009) Photography (Key Concepts),  Berg, Oxford

Chandler, (D) (2007)  Semiotics: The Basics, Routledge

Working with a Medium Format Camera

Working with a Medium Format Camera

This is a brief post as a follow-up to my promise to myself  at the end of my previous one responding to my tutor’s feedback on Assignment 3 of P&P

My road towards medium format has been a slow one.  It began back in 2011 when I began studying with OCA and first went on Study Visits. I noticed that most of the images were large format prints and so clear in the detail.  I acquired a 35mm film camera but still had that yearning to try medium format. Towards the end of last year I succumbed and bought a Fuji GA645Zi with a 55-90mm zoom lens (35mm-55mm) (there’s a review here)  This camera came out in 1998; so it’s relatively modern, with autofocus and automatic wind-on, which is good for me as a nervous newcomer and means I haven’t created double exposures or even, yet, taken a photograph with the lens cap still on.  I do tend to circle cautiously around anything new and so only used one roll of film in several months with the camera in program mode.

However, as I wrote previously the visit to the Landscape Exhibition at Somerset House gave me some new inspiration/enthusiasm after looking at some of Simon Roberts’s landscape work . I know that this is large format but at least medium format is along the way towards this, and so I went off to the Common to make some more photographs. The film is Fuji Superia 400 120 and,  this time I used the camera on aperture priority, which is more adventurous.  Here are some of the results:

I took some A4 prints along to the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting a couple of days ago and got some positive feedback and encouragement to do a longer term project along the lines of ‘figures in a landscape’. Of course, I was asked, “Why film; why medium format?” It’s because of the soft clarity that medium format film can give.  I know that there are filters I can use in Photoshop, e.g. in Nik software, to achieve similar effects but they’re not quite the same as actual film.

I have another location in mind to visit and gradually want to put together a series.  I can’t envisage this being for P&P because of the time element but this will be a personal project to undertake alongside my coursework.  I recently emailed my tutor to update him on progress on my next assignment and he has suggested that I also have a look at  Peter Bialobrzeski . who was also shown at the Landscape Exhibition and I’d made a note of his series Heimat   which had examples in the Pastoral Section. Bialobrzeski uses an analogue “Box” camera for his large scale landscapes and focuses upon the way in which cities and landscapes are changing.

22nd April 2013


Assignment 3 : Response to Tutor feedback


People & Place

Response to tutor feedback on Assignment 3

My tutor responded very quickly to this assignment and I’ve taken quite a long time pondering over the feedback.

Overall comments were that this was another good assignment. There were a few, small technical issues largely stemming from the use of  a few different cameras (which I was aware of at the time when post-processing and noted in my write-up) so advice was to select just one for the next assignment – the 60D. No particular problem re print quality except for some small sensor/high ISO noise problems in a few images (again due to using smaller cameras sometimes).

 1. The images

The Glasshouse, RHS Wisley



Although he thought that there are situations it might be appropriate (eg. if only indication of this being a managed habitat) My tutor found the metal barrier (bottom left) distracting and suggested I find a way of reframing this. He also referred to prominent noise and artefacts – probably from using the G12 and a high ISO

I particularly liked this viewpoint as it showed the lushness of the greenery; the sweep of the path, with people walking along, it plus the height of the glasshouse and the edge of the waterfall.  I was leaning over the rail already and it wouldn’t be possible to lean any further out.  I could actually see on my monitor that it looked over-sharp and yet the print itself seemed okay. There were some other images, taken on the second visit with the Canon 60D which had been possibles.

I was further along the balcony so the sweep of rail was avoided but there’s less greenery and no people.

That apart, my tutor commented, “I should also note quickly that I like how you have been thinking out of the box and photographed through the flowing water – this adds a good visual twist and variety to the overall selection from this space”

Lindley Library, RHS Wisley

Issues noted here included the small space where I had attempted to reveal more by including a detail shot of the toys. My tutor’s suggestion here was that I could have chosen one of the wider shots, “.. and then perhaps have made some more photos of details that seemed unique to this space”. He would have preferred me to wait for the people in the window to move in the second photo



Interestingly, I’d actually waited until they moved in front of the window because I was thinking to link mothers and children with the children’s facilities in the library itself.

My tutor thought that the increase in saturation in the toys photos had left it not fitting in well in terms of colour with the other two, “the idea that the toys are present is enough to point towards this being a space for children without having to increase saturation to ram the point home”



Point taken

7. desaturated

There was a helpful suggestion regarding white balance – to take one photograph with a colour neutral grey card in the frame, such as one by Michael Tapes This is where I feel doubly foolish because I actually do have one but I didn‘t have it with me at the time!.

One good point was that my tutor also wrote that he thought the compromise I made works.

The Churches

The ones from St. Nicholas were thought to be the more successful – “These little pieces of the puzzle allow the viewer to piece together the space and in some respects are reminiscent of the work of Peter Fraser” (see below). Reminder to be a little more careful with my technique on images like the roof image as it is not sharp.

He would have liked to see a slightly wider and clear shot of the drawings on the wall



I had ummed and aahed about this one as, again,  I’d wanted to show it in context.  There were tighter shots

wall painting

Unfortunately the sconce does get in the way.  The other aspect is that, to me, the wall paintings look much more interesting   appearing in the context of the whole building as , somehow, because they are fairly crude,  they provide a contrast to the beauty of the wood in the building.

My tutor  didn’t like the different aspect ratio of the crop of the altar cloth detail (square) pointing out that  he felt I  should, “ either crop everything the same or have a very good reason for cropping one photo from a series to a different aspect ratio”



My reasoning had been that I wanted to show a top to bottom view of the altar cloth (which I think is a lovely piece of needlework). I had problems there because light was flooding through a window at the side onto the wooden rail so in order to cut out as much of that as possible and still show the altar cloth top to bottom, I had to crop as I did. I realise I should have explained that but, even if I had, I guess my tutor would still have made the same comment regarding one different crop in the series.

There is a tighter shot. I originally excluded this because it shows a much smaller part of the cloth but it is in the same aspect ratio.

altar cloth detail

On a more positive note, my tutor did think, “the detail in one of the wider shots showing the font serving double duty as a brochure stand is particularly insightful into the modern church as well” .  I was also pleased that, whilst he didn’t think the church images are a success yet he thought they were a very good first go at a longer project.

Golf Club

I think I was damned by faint praise here because, whilst he thought they were technically probably the most accomplished (although there were some slightly unpleasant shadows), fine in a catalogue for the club for instance but not as interesting as other buildings visited. I agree.

Additional comments

Excellent blog; acknowledgement that I’d avoided use of ultra-wide lens; and some recommended looking/reading. My tutor also remarked that most of the work I’d linked to on my blog was made on medium or large format cameras. I’ve increasingly come to realise that much of the photography I appreciate has been created on larger format cameras and I have also noted more use of these in Exhibitions. A recent visit to the Landscape Exhibition at Somerset House has inspired me to make more of an effort to practise with the medium format film camera I have acquired.

2. Some suggested photographers/reading 

John Gossage –Berlin in the time of the wall –

Marc Wilson-

Simon Standing- (PhD will be most relevant but everything should be of interest)

Peter Marlow- The English Cathedral

Simon Norfolk- (Specifically look at For Most of it I have no words: Genocide, Landscape, Memory)

Joel Sternfeld-

John Kippin-

John Riddy –

Steffi Klenz –

Peter Fraser –

I looked at all of them but these are the ones that had particular impact for me:

John Gossage:  this b&w series began when Gossage, an American,  went on a trip  to Berlin  to exhibit photographs and run a workshop.  He ended up making further trips into the early 90s,  and created a survey of The Wall that was both historical and contemporary.  It struck me how images of small details and absence of people  can  still evoke such a sense of place and, as the description on the web site comments, tell a story, “in images that are as much metaphorical and emotive as they are politically accurate and historically mindful”.

Marc Wilson: Beautifully captured colour images of remains of military defence installations that, to me, have a dignified loneliness about them.

Simon Norfolk:  Places of genocides. The b&w images adding to that sense of gravity, damage and loss.

Simon Standing:  Here, as suggested, I looked at Dr Standing’s PhD project.  It concerned “The Architectural Expression of Anglican Rituals as Disseminated Through a Photographic Enquiry of Six Devon Churches” . I found this very interesting in terms of how he built his composite images and used polaroid and film tests. These were wider viewpoints but I also looked at some of his other work on churches where he used detail images to, again, evoke that historical sense of people and place.

Peter Marlow:  I looked at Peter Marlow earlier in the Module in terms of environmental portraiture but, this time, I was looking at his work on English cathedrals.  It certainly put my attempts at Wisley and St Nicholas into perspective (although I did note some near- clipped highlights)!  The photographs looked so imposing that I bought the book.  The book is beautifully large with superb colour prints and includes some of Marlow’s notes on how he went about the project.  It was easy to imagine him up a step-ladder with his large camera, just as the sun came up to cast the right light within the interior of each cathedral – not to mention the cleaners who were determined to start their work at the right time and so switched on the lights! There are also details in an appendix outlining the histories of all the cathedrals.  I just hadn’t realised that they weren’t all built from scratch, as I’d thought, but some of them developed into cathedrals from previous Parish Churches.

I found the book so inspiring, as did my husband,  that we both went off to Winchester to photograph the cathedral there and I’ll write more about that when I record work towards Assignment 4. Suffice it to say that, as a result of this first visit, my husband decided he must have a TSE lens and, following this and further discussions, he also obtained a Sinar camera.  I’m not going near the Sinar (apart from to admire it and pose for it) until I’ve practised with the TSE lens and that’s to come.

Peter Fraser:  He took up an artist’s residency at Oxford University in 2006 and, in reading about the lead up to this, I was interested in the way he wrote about a time when he was in hospital recovering from Hepatitis and Dysentery ,walked to a courtyard and was dazzled by the  Saharan sunshine falling upon some Bougainvillaea trees.,

“Standing in that doorway, each flower appeared as a crucible in which a perpetual struggle was taking place, between the impossible beauty of the world and its irrefutable fact…….Additionally over the passing years, it has become clear that by photographing a stationary subject in a particularly intense way ….. there is potential for the photograph to allude not only to time at the moment of exposure, but to time before and even time to come”

I wish I had known about Peter Fraser before I started Assignment 3 because he has so clearly detailed what I was aiming for.  I’ve only just started on that path and the struggle for me is not only to get to grips with technical aspects  but how to nurture that inner vision that can focus upon the mood and viewpoint I need to convey.

Areas for further work

I need to more scrupulous at checking noise on my images and to avoid high ISOs on smaller cameras. For the next assignment I intend to just use  my 60D. I also intend to show more commitment to practising using my medium format film camera – I must admit here that it’s the fact of not being able to see results quickly that’s held me back.

15th April 2013


Marlow, P (2012) The English Cathedral, Merrell, UK