People & Place part 5 – 1: Orienting myself in Space and Place

During the course of this Module I’ve become increasingly aware of my interest in how we as people interact with our environment –  how we shape the landscape and then how this landscape, in turn, affects our perceptions; thoughts; memories and feelings.

I’ve lived in several places but never so long as the house in Sheffield I lived in with my parents from the age of 5 to 22 (when I married) not far from my maternal grandmother’s house where I was born.  That neighbourhood still lives so strongly in my memories and dreams that I was surprised, when I last visited there, briefly, last year that I no longer felt any sense of belonging. The area had changed so much, becomes so run-down and barren of life, that it was as if someone else had once lived there.

Conversely, I don’t feel particularly attached to the town I live in now.  There are no deep memories such as my children being born here. This is part of modern living I guess – on the move. At least part of my modern living. Even so there are some places and spaces here that I do feel an attachment towards. The Common where I walk with the dogs just about every day; the small Church on the hill not so far away; the old Muslim Burial Ground and the Bronze Age Barrows across the road from there. Is it their history that gives me that sense of place I experience – that connects me to people in the past and their lives, beliefs, hopes and fears? It’s as if there are whole other parallel worlds that I connect with through those layers of history.

I’ve referred to Simon Scharma’s book Memory and Landscape before and my growing interest in cultural geography. I had thought that this might be a diversion because I was finding People & Place so challenging as a Module. I’m now thinking, though, that this particular Module began to encourage me to start digging into what connects me with my environment; forced me from my chair of “Isn’t that interesting; maybe one day I’ll ……”. I’ve certainly been technically challenged but the psychological challenge has pushed me into being my own archaeologist; searching for the roots of what binds me to this earth. Discovering how a space becomes a sense of place.

I’m pleased that my notional client for Assignment 5 has provided me with further opportunity to explore these aspects and tread new ground.

27th August 2013


3. Exploring an alternative for Assignment 4:- Sunbury-on-Thames

Sunbury-on-Thames : Exploring an alternative for Assignment 4

When I was uncertain whether I had the right approach towards a Winchester series, I decided that, maybe, I needed to go to a smaller place that I could explore in more depth. I realise now that I had a village or small town in my head. I thought of various places nearby then decided to go to Sunbury-on-Thames. We lived there between 1978 and 1986 in what is called Lower Sunbury, near the river Thames.

The Assignment brief says:-

Decide on a place that you know well, or are prepared to take the time to know well, and have sufficient access to in order to complete a strong selection of a dozen images……… Aim to show the character of the place and of the people who live there with as much variety as possible. ‘Variety’ should include a variety of subject matter and of scale.

Whenever I think of Sunbury I first think of the man who used to regularly walk there from nearby Walton-on-Thames with a parrot on his shoulder. Secondly I think of a friend of my daughter who lived in a house that had a possible Bronze Age barrow in their back garden  – a small one but still….. The family moved some time ago and my daughter lost contact, otherwise I would have paid a visit. I don’t really have the courage yet to go and knock on strangers’ doors.

A walk around Sunbury-on-Thames

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 10.48.47

Sunbury is an old village and Thames Street (once called Sunbury Street) is one of the oldest built-up areas with a mix of styles and sizes dating from the late C16th to today.  Once there I parked at the Walled Garden, had a walk around there and then walked along Thames Street. It was a cold, miserable day, with no flowers in the Walled Garden and hardly any people around except in the café there which was very welcoming, I bought a nice little booklet there, “The Sunbury Trail” that provides a walk around lower Sunbury, with hand-drawn illustrations and descriptions/history of some of the buildings and houses.  I didn’t really look at it at the time because I followed my nose.

I spent about three hours reconnecting with Thames Street by the river, walking along Old Rope Walk to the shops at the bottom of The Avenue (that runs down to meet Thames Street). I walked further along Thames Street before crossing over to the river side; saying hello to some ducks and swans and then walking back down by the side of the river.  It really was quiet, presumably a lot of adults would be at work, children at school , and other adults staying indoors to keep warm. There were no boats up and down the river either.

Making sense  of ‘Place’

I came back from Sunbury with quite a lot of photographs and what has struck me whilst I’ve been trying to work out how to organise the 46 jpegs I processed  from RAW is that I can’t really see a theme emerging. I started this write-up and realised that I was doing a kind of travelogue – “This is this street, here is that street”.   There were no people to talk to really to ask them what they think about Sunbury and no action to show. I can talk to myself of course – after all I lived there once. Thinking about it all now though, my life then was lived in lots of different boxes – a full-time demanding job, three children to deal with, and a husband who was often away – with a lot of ‘free’ time being spent ferrying children backwards and forwards between various activities. On that score, how much did I really know about where I lived apart from weekend walks down by the river and doing some local shopping? Casting my mind back now it all seems very far away.

The editing process

I wanted to complete this particular cycle for Sunbury, though,  to see what I could make from the images and also for more practice on editing. How to go about organizing a series of images? I printed some contact sheets of the initial selection

that I then cut up. Originally, I grouped them according to street or river location. It didn’t seem right somehow so I moved them around several times  and ended up with 16 that I hope give the flavour of the village., although I notice that I’ve missed out the Walled Garden completely.

16 selection of Sunbury

The assignment brief asked for 12 good images from which to choose a final 6.  I had another look today and have chosen a 12.  During the gap I’ve been thinking around presentation.  Quite a few of the images could certainly make postcards, even composite post-cards – a time honoured method of showing a place and good for tourists to post ‘back home’.  I actually think that the booklet I bought is an excellent way of introducing the Village as it takes people on a walk around and provides information about interesting buildings – fill it in with information on people as well. I already knew that The Grand Order of Water Rats was formed at a meeting at The Magpie Hotel in 1889 (it has a blue plaque to prove it). I didn’t know that that Charles Dickens referred to Sunbury church in “Oliver Twist’, or that Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd used to live in one of the large houses down by the River (high walls so I couldn’t really take a photograph).

Here are the 12. I decided that they would just give a flavour of the village and wouldn’t be themed in anyway so have gone for a collage. Here’s one created with CollageIt Pro. It’s not too bad although the choice of templates is limited.

Sunbury Collage

and here’s a WordPress version


I did come back feeling dissatisfied. The images are competent enough but there weren’t enough ‘people interacting with place’ to meet the terms of the assignment brief. Also I don’t think I’ve captured enough sense of ‘place’ in terms of a place that was actually settled by people way back in the C10th BC and still has people occupying buildings built in the late medieval period (even though they might have had several renovations since). People created Sunbury on Thames and I think that brighter weather would have brought out more of them around the place and given life to it. I would certainly have included a photograph from The Walled Garden in my final selection because I think that it must be quite an attraction when flowers are in bloom and people are out there enjoying them.  I seem to have created an image of a village that’s waiting for something to happen. Even the river was quiet. I don’t feel depressed though and certainly I can go back there now the weather has improved – weekend would probably be better.   I also had more practice around editing.

I keep thinking as well about my earlier statement as to how my life in Sunbury seems far away. I’d forgotten how long ago it was and how different the South of England seemed. I’m now so used to different colours – the lighter stone and brick, and brighter green of grass. I’ve remembered that when my father-in-law came down from Bolton to see us in Sunbury he used to say he felt as if he was at the seaside.

8th May 2013


Spring is here at last

It’s such a beautiful day and I’m briefly at my computer before going out to enjoy the sun. John Martyn is singing in the background.

Listening to the song reminded me of a photograph I took a while ago when doing one of the exercises on focal length. Two adults, with children, asking what I was doing (photographing a tree). The children were trying to get into the frame so I checked it was okay (also saying I had a blog) and the adults agreed.  I think they match the song well.


2nd May 2013

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

3. Advice accessed on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting

People and Place Part 3

3. Advice on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting

Buildings and man-made spaces

I’ve written previously on how I approached the assignment in the wrong order. However, researching how to photograph buildings and interiors made more sense to me when I’d actually finished taking the photographs. I was able to think back into how I approached it all. ).  It is this notion of buildings and man-made spaces as subjects that took a while for me to get my head around. My understanding so far is that, yes, it involves using skills/techniques of, say, architectural photography whilst, somehow, conveying a more tangible sense of a building/man-made space and how it functions in relation to people.

I read two books; four ebooks on lighting  (thanks to Vicki for guiding me there) and looked on the web. I made quite a few notes so all I’m going to do here is to comment on a few aspects that strike me at the moment.

i. Exteriors

I acquired a copy of Gary Kostelow’s How to Photograph Buildings and Interiors (1998).  It’s not up to date of course (there is a later book, 2007, which looks at digital and buildings) and mainly concentrates on analogue in terms of equipment etc but, that apart, I found it very useful in terms of aesthetic aspects to consider. He also provides an illuminating description of an actual exterior shoot (pp. 67) plus some anecdotes around advanced interior photography (pp 159).

Philip Greenspun (1997/2007) suggests, in terms of exteriors, that you need to give old buildings some space – the older the structure the more environmental context is required. Compositional aspects such as compressing the perspective with a telephoto lens often brings out an interesting pattern and you can get increased abstractions. Natural frames such as doorways and windows and fences can frame a subject and draw the eye of the view, as can a visible footpath. I read advice concerning sun angle and the specularity of light;  how the design and texture of a given building will dictate the sun angle best suited for a powerful image.

ii. Interiors

Kostelow states that exterior photography is mostly concerned with form and texture whereas, in interior photography, form and texture take second place to context because a room occupied by humans is entirely related to function:

An interior space is almost always a locus for some manifestation of human life; therefore, interior photography is almost always a specialized form of photojournalism. We record the three-dimensional interplay between cultural artefacts assembled inside a room, and the result is a peculiarly precise and intimate cultural snapshot. This snapshot can be a crude likeness, or it can be an aesthetically elevated, technically faultless representation”  (G. Kostelow, p. 154)

He also remarks that advanced interior photography can be an athletic pursuit where one is physically interacting with the subject and moving around to understand how it functions (p. 159) Similarly, Mark Galer (1999/2006) comments that the choice of vantage point can often reveal the subject as familiar yet strange.

I found three simple guidelines in an ezine from the New York Institute of Photography

  • What is the subject of my photograph
  • How can I give emphasis to my subject – making it large in the frame and featuring a key element prominently
  • What can I do to simplify my photograph or to remove distracting items that take away from the subject such as lighting issues, crooked lines and clutter (thinking about Galer’s comment  regarding vantage points and how they can overcome a distracting background (Galer, M p.86)  ,

iii. Lighting

This was my biggest problem due to some of the buildings I chose –such as a large glasshouse in RHS Wisley Gardens and two old churches. How to balance extremes of contrast in places where I couldn’t do something like mask windows or use much in the way of additional lighting to brighten dark interiors; fill-flash couldn’t quite reach far enough.

Hunter & Reid (2011) reminded me that cameras aren’t like our brains that can deal with extremes of light so one has to sacrifice one or the other. It’s amazing though how the light from church windows can creep into the edges of the frame. I think this is because these are more humble churches – their interiors are smaller and their eyes from the world are much lower.  As the sun was lower, due to the time of the year, going at different times of day (as suggested) didn’t seem to make much difference and even bracketing exposures then merging,  produced a rather artificial image. These churches don’t stay open late either.

That apart, the lighting books were very helpful in general in and the properties of light reminding me about ways of dealing with different kinds of light


My next post will be the write-up on the Assignment itself and I’ll make sure to include information on my choice of  time of day; focal length, aperture; vantage point, and how I dealt with lighting issues.



Child, J & Galer, M (1999) Essential Skills : Photographic Lighting, Elsevier Press, Oxford 4th Ed 2088

Hunter, F & Reid, R (2011)  Focus on Lighting Photos Focal Press, Oxford

Galer, M (1999) Digital Photography in Available Light, Focal Press, Oxford 3rd Ed 2006

Kopelow, G (1998) How to Photograph Buildings and Interiors, Princeton Architectural Press, NY

Peterson, B (2010)  Understanding Exposure Amphoto Books, NY

Prakel, D (2007) Lighting: Basics Photography, AVA Publishing SA

(all re-accessed on 9.1.2013.}



People & Place Part Three : 2 – Interiors as Stage and Subject, Looking at some Photographers

People & Place Part 3

Interiors as Stage and Subject : Looking at some Photographers

Andre Kertesz

The book On Reading (2008), contains photographs taken between 1915 and 1970, all on the subject of reading and taken in many places.

It’s a lovely little book to look through, with a delight on every monochrome page, including some images where a room itself is the subject. Bibliotheque de l’Institut, Paris in 1929 (p. 8) a cavernous space with books layered in and  on top of cabinets, spreading upwards onto  a mezzanine gallery. The portrait format image is composed to show the layers – the books, shelving,  the lights and also the aged/braced roof timbers above. Looking at these aged timbers reminded me,  that paper is made from wood and I wondered if that’s why Kertesz framed the shot in this way.

Another portrait format image (p.45)  is taken in the Academie Francaise, Paris, 1929. A man standing, reading, on a library ladder  sets the scale of the towering bookshelves and the image  is composed in such a way that a mirror over a mantelpiece, reflects other parts of the room.

In another image (p. 56) it appears that both a room and a person are subjects as the title is Andre Jammes, Paris, Paris, November 4, 1963. However, the landscape format allows more space to the room itself than Mr Jammes. Mr Jammes and his wife were French antiquarian book dealers so, presumably,  books played a very important part in their life, which is why this image is more than just a portrait , or  even an environmental portrait as such (where the human subject still has prominence). Books spill around the room- large in the foreground on a table, in piles on the floor and neatly on shelves.

Rene Burri 

Magnum Photographer, Rene Burri worked in South America over many years. One of his contact sheets  (Magnum Contact Sheets, 2011) includes the Ministry of Health, Rio Janeiro, 1960. This modernist building was designed by  a team that included Oscar Niemeyer, and was notable for its system of movable sun-shade louvres. The interior shots look as if taken from above a very large, pillared,  entrance hall and one of them (p. 111) shows two women walking across this space. There is a quote in the book (p. 109) by Arthur Ruegg:-

The room with its criss-crossing shafts of light, becomes a stage.  Two women are walking across it with a clear sense of destination their path marked by sunlight. Standing together in the shadows, three men have turned around and are gazing after them.  It is a woven metaphor for the opposite poles of man and woman, light and shadow, soft and hard, horizontal and vertical.

Other images show the men watching as the women approach and then following on. Some of them can be seen here where the room itself becomes a stage for the interplay of light between its inhabitants.

Candida Hofer

My student colleague Keith Greenhough mentioned several photographers in one of his comments to my previous post and I looked at Candida Hofer  who is a former student of the Bechers. She specializes in large format observational photographs of  rooms which often have no human presence yet which have evidence of activity as described here .  I have downloaded  a wonderful one of a library for my paper log. Keith also mentioned the architectural studies of Robert Polidori. I couldn’t find a personal website although I have seen reference to work he did in Versailles. Again I have downloaded an image for my paper log.

Sarah Malakoff :

I discovered her photography through Le Journal de la Photographie  and her website is here .  There’s a post about her in Lenscratch where she is quoted as stating that her photographs are, “examinations of the home as both a refuge from and at times a re-creation of the outside world.”. I contacted Sarah and she gave me permission to download some of her images for this post:-



There’s a formal framing about them which resembles staged interiors and yet, still a sense that people live there.

Tanya Ahmed

Tanya is studying photograph with OCA at the advanced level.  I’ll be saying more about her work on East 100th Street, NY when I move onto Part 4 but here I wanted to refer to the work she has been doing on ‘built environments’ .

In her ‘Advanced’ Module Tanya devised a collaborative project, initially with creative writers, where she posted her own photographs of interiors and exteriors (no people), without captions,  and asked for responses to them. Tanya gave her permission for me to show a couple of them here:-


(c) T. Ahmed


(c) T. Ahmed

Comments were posted on the project site and/or on the OCA student site (the latter is password protected but the link for those who have the password  is here ) . I contributed and was fascinated by the many different responses and the moods, memories etc which were evoked by the same image and the influences of colour, texture, angle and line. Tanya has evaluated the project and referenced the photographers and artists who influenced her (including Candida Hofer) and she was happy to allow me quote from this.  In describing her images she contrasts them with those of Hofer, writing:-

I am not celebrating grand architecture or design …I am isolating quiet moments of communal life in the city and not abstracting them or making them impersonal”. ……Whereas Hofer’s libraries and theatres offer recreation and specific higher purpose, my spaces offer only personal purpose as determined by the individual not by the space. They are in effect spaces where the human mind is free….. (2012)

Richard Rowland : The Regency Project

The Regency House, 29-32 Oriental Place, Hove has been through several incarnations in its lengthy history – originally four houses, then combined into one in the 1930s, it had been an hotel; YWCA and then a hostel for the homeless before being acquired by the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). BHT made the decision to re-furbish the building , in fact virtually dismantle the interior, in two stages whilst residents still lived there and Richard Rowland was commissioned to  document this three year process through photographs.

The images below are reproduced with Richard’s kind permission.


The Regency Project Image 2               © Richard Rowland


The Regency Project Image 12                   © Richard Rowland

I can do no better than quote from an essay in the book, by David Chandler, Photoworks, that sets the context of this project.

‘Rowland’s photographs do not attempt a comprehensive record of the building work. He steps back from the process of structural transformation in search of what the building might reveal or suggest as it is systematically taken apart and then remade. And, importantly, he has chosen to place the experiences of the residents at the centre of his work. For him the building process was as much an excavation as it was a renovation, both in the uncovering of a material past in bricks and mortar and in the releasing of long forgotten atmospheres, as though the house itself had in some way absorbed the memories and experiences of people who had stayed and lived in its rooms over generations.’ (p.37)

The essay itself can also be read here .  The book is very interesting with its combination of photographs – old and new, with the shots taken of the interior before it was gradually re-structured and brought to new life. There’s a strong presence of the people who live there even though there are very few photographs of them.


I can go on looking at, referencing, and writing about photographs who have interested and influenced my thinking about interiors but will stop here.  What I’ve learned is that there don’t need to be actual people in images of interiors to evoke particular moods or the presence of people.  it can be small details, seen as the eye searches an image, that can achieve this. The distance of subjects/focal length also has an effect – e.g. in Hofer’s photograph the image is taken from above so that the lofty height of the room can be seen and this evokes grandeur and majesty. In Tanya Ahmed’s image of the corner of the room this is much closer; a space within a room; showing the soft colours which suggest intimacy and comfort.

I’ve already acknowledged (confessed!) that I looked at other photographers mainly after I had taken images for the assignment itself so hope I have built upon my learning for the future.  I was aware though, from the start,  of, somehow, beginning to enter into the atmosphere of a particular environment, to imagine I spent considerable time there and to look around to see what was catching my eye the most, what attracted me either positively or negatively. I think it was looking at Tanya Ahmed’s project photographs and thinking/writing how I responded to them that influenced me here from the beginning and now I also have Richard Rowland’s work to think about.

Having to cope with various types of lighting indoors was challenging for me and I realised that I still haven’t fully absorbed the relevant skills/techniques that are needed for interiors. This led to more searching on the internet and looking at books which will be the subject for my next post.


Ahmed, T (2012) Assignment 5-Advanced, Unpublished Paper

Lubben. K (ed), 2011,  Magnum Contact Sheets, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Rowland, R (2007) The Regency Project, anotherpublication 2007,



Part 3 : Buildings and Spaces – 1. Approaching buildings and spaces

People and Place

Part 3 : Buildings and Spaces

1. Approaching buildings and paces

I’ve been thinking that I did this all the wrong way round, mainly from that feeling of anxiety that seems to have been with me all the way through this particular module.  Knowing that this is because I’m being challenged to step outside my comfort zone doesn’t seem to have helped me! For quite a long time my energy was directed more towards the inner anxiety than getting out and about, with the result that I felt quite ‘stuck’ and lost any pleasure in taking photographs .  Thankfully I did struggle on, even if lamely, and slowly got more interested in buildings and how they function.

My process has been to go around taking photographs using my smaller camera to just get a grip on photographing the buildings both before and after taking the shots for the assignment itself. It was only when I became more interested that I knew I had to read more about lighting and also look at some photographers. I actually think that if I’d done the latter before taking the photographs it could have made me more anxious so, although it seems topsy-turvey, it has been a more effective way for me to learn.  I think the outcome might eventually been that I re-do the assignment, but I’m staying with what I’ve already produced for the time being.

The Projects and exercises are around Space and Function, including the user’s viewpoint, and Space and Light.   It was light that was particularly challenging because, at this time of year the sun is low on the horizon; days are darker and interiors are lit by artificial light. I haven’t precisely followed the Project briefs but have kept them in mind. I used automatic white balance throughout to allow for the mix of daylight and different types of artificial light.

Here are some buildings and their interior spaces:-

Town Centres

Town centre 12x3 low res


A recently revamped Woking.  The newest shopping area is on four galleried floors so, if you suffer from vertigo, it’s best not to look down from the top!  The top floor contains the Cinema and Theatre and the bottom one (below ground level)  is mainly a café/food outlet area. There are some food outlets on the other floors but not many and I don’t know what the psychology is concerning having most eating areas on one floor.



I was there recently with my youngest grand-daughter and she introduced me to shops I’d never visited before. In one of them she warned me beforehand, “It’s very dark when you go in and there’s a strong smell from their perfumes”.  She was right! It’s accessed from a lower entry level of the Friary Centre (actually built on the site of a former Dominican Friary.   I was quite intrigued by the way the space was used. It is dark so you can hardly see the clothes but there are spotlights around which highlight say, one shirt amongst many.  The whole effect to me was of going into an Aladdin’s cave, and the only problem was that I found it really hard to read the price labels.  There is a comfortable seating area by the cash tills so that friends can wait for you to pay and, should the queue be rather long, there are the perfumes and potions stacked on shelves to tempt you. A major problem for me was that the cash till area is also gloomy so it was quite hard to see to pay. This really is a shop for young people with their keen eyesight.

Thinking about function and a user’s viewpoint I took a straw poll amongst some of my grandchildren.

“It caters to teenagers’ needs. The style of the shop is dark and gloomy and they like the vampire feel. With the spotlights on the clothes it’s as if the spotlight is on you when you wear them. The clothes are slightly more expensive so it makes you look richer when you wear it” (12 yr old girl)

“It’s dimly lit so you can’t see the clothes. It’s cramped in size and the clothes get jumbled together. Because everything is in piles you could pick up the wrong size. The clothes are expensive for what you get”  (16 yr old girl, who is a fan of Topshop and H&M)

“It’s different from other shops and has a completely different layout. Because of the darkened interior any lighting on the clothes makes them stand out” (19 yr old boy).

I should add that after the shopping, we went to the food court which, in this case was on the top.

IMG_1201 lr



My usual complaint when I stay in a hotel is that it must have been designed by a man.  Mirrors never seem to be located near enough to an electric socket where I can plug in my hairdryer. If a hairdryer is provided it’s usually very slow on speed and the cord often isn’t really long enough.  I’ve also noticed that quite a few boutique hotel rooms are decorated in masculine shades of brown, with low lighting. This might be good for creating an intimate, cosy atmosphere when you’re going to bed but not in the daytime.  However, my prejudices were more or less confounded when I recently stayed in the Hotel Metropole in Brighton when I was down there for a weekend study Visit with OCA.

The Hotel is currently part of the Hilton group.  It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1888 and built in 1890, see here . It faces the sea and has a wonderfully gracious air of Victorian splendour, combined with a modernized interior, including the bar .

On the ground floor the areas are spacious and lofty. Artificial light on shiny floors adds to the glitter of the chandeliers. The first impression is of ritzy opulence and is in keeping with Victorian grandeur and a 4* hotel.

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The bedrooms are according to price – mine was an upgrade from a single to double. The room was mainly bed but with space for an easy chair and I was pleased that mirrors and electric sockets were in the right place together. I would have needed a very wide-angle lens to make the room look spacious in a brochure but it was sufficiently large for its purpose, which was somewhere comfortable to sleep. I took the shots in the bar from a seated position. The bar area was large and chairs were arranged in clusters.



I still frequent the library where I used to live. It’s fairly small and the shape is a unusual


It was built in the 1950s I think and is round inside.  The panels on the exterior make it look a hexagonal shape. It sits in one of the car parks close by the shops, with the larger supermarket across the road. I looked at it from a seated point of view and then I crouched right down to get a child’s view of the children’s area.


Coffee Houses

Costa Coffee is well-known.  It’s now owned by Whitbread plc.  The ones I’ve been in have all had comfortable, leather-like chairs’ a fairly dark interior, artificially lit even in daylight, which adds to a more intimate atmosphere. Papers are available for people to read. This is one is in the same  village as the library above. It opened some months ago in a part of the space which had previously been occupied by Woolworths.  It’s very popular and busy for a small shopping area but there’s no apparent pressure to finish your coffee quickly and leave.


On the other hand, an independent coffee house has recently opened in Ripley, a village nearby. There are more than 20 listed buildings and cottages in the village and Pinnocks is in one of them 

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You get a warm welcome and coffee produced from the drip feed method here.  It’s a wonderful combination of the old with the modern and good use is made of the interior. Downstairs there is the serving counter, a small shop area to one side and a few tables – arranged between the old wooden beams. Upstairs is ‘the library’. Low, squashy, more traditional type armchairs nestle in clusters beneath the exposed rafters.



At first it seemed like a chore to have to photograph buildings and interiors as they’re not usually the type of subject I’m interested in.  I made it easier for myself by using my smaller camera, so as not to draw too much attention to myself. This worked because I’ve now become much more aware of and interested in how interiors are designed to produce particular atmospheres and suit users.  My next post will be based on books and other photographers.




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

People & Place Part Two : Projects and Exercises

People & Place : Part 2

People Unaware : Projects and Exercises

The ‘street’ camera was born  around 1890 when the first multi-shot, hand-held cameras were produced with short enough exposure times to capture moving object. Paul Martin was an amateur who pioneered candid street photography when he began using a camera disguised as a parcel. “His photographs were derided at the time for being ‘inartistic’ but he persevered ……and went on to become one of the first London press photographers” (M. Seaborne, in London Street Photography 1860-2010 [2011]). There are three evocative images taken by him in the book (pp 2—22) and you can see the clear image of his subject in each against the slightly motion-blurred background.  This was a big change from subjects having to stand there for minutes whilst the exposure was made.

There’s another point worth noting which hadn’t really occurred to me before and that is the contrast between black and white photography of the time and paintings. Clarke (1997), in commenting on the city in photography in New York and Walker Evans’s photographs , writes:-

The black-and-white images suggest an unrelenting greyness quite at odds with some of the more dynamic images produced by New York painters in the same period. Collectively they create an image of urban loneliness and separation (p. 86)

From there to now with all the many strategies to capture people unwarily going about their day to day lives – shooting from the hip; telescopic lenses; pretending to be looking elsewhere; sitting there for a while (even sometimes with camera on tripod) until people get so used to you that they then don’t realise that you’re actually taking a photograph of them etc.  The slightly different aspect is when people actually know you’re going to be taking a photograph of them but then ‘forget’ when they become involved in an activity.  To my mind this is the best kind of shot – you have their permission to take a photograph but can capture them when they’re less stiff through knowing the camera lens is peering at them.

The exercises in Part 2 are all designed to provide practice in many of the different strategies for photographing people who are mostly ‘unaware’. The emphasis is to be on being unobtrusive, spotting potential pictures in advance and shooting quickly. My challenge will be to do this without drawing attention to myself by seeming flustered. It would, of course, be much easier if I just put the camera on auto settings – in fact the exercise guidelines actually mention that automated settings but I just didn’t absorb that – probably because I’ve now got so focused on setting everything myself.

I carried out the exercise over several different days and locations and so what follows is a summary of my experience

Project – A comfortable situation : Developing confidence








I took a series of photographs in Brittany, through morning to early evening,  on the first day I arrived (56 in all).  I did feel rather conspicuous standing there with a larger DSLR (Canon 500D). As can be seen from the information above I was tending to use a fairly long focal length to enable me to get closer to the subjects, whilst standing a fair distance away. The first two were taken at an open-air Brocante fair where there was quite a throng of people. I felt I was ‘snatching’ shots and decided that the next day I would use my smaller G12 with the hope that this would increase my confidence level.

Project – The moment : Capturing the moment

It’s been interesting to read Charlotte Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2004) where she describes how photographers are now challenging the traditional stereotype of ‘the decisive moment’ by preconceiving focus and also creating narrative content, ‘through the composition of props, gestures and the style of the work of art’.  If you’re aiming to create, ‘a picture of great visual charge or intrigue’ though, rather than wait for it to come along for you, there is a risk that the created image will look staged/artificial – at least when you’re a photography student.   Having said that though, it now transpires that the famous photograph of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima was actually re-staged after the event. P&P Handbook refers to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Man jumping over Puddle’ often being used as the prime example.  Actually I’ve lately read that Cartier-Bresson asked the man to jump over the puddle several times before he got the right decisive moment! I’m now starting to think of Hannah Starkey and how she waits for the right person to come along.

The challenge for me has also been recognizing it when it happens naturally. I thought I had a perfect opportunity when we were having a tree cut down in our garden not so long ago.  I took 44 shots during the process – being careful though to keep sufficient distance so as not to create a possible accident with the lethal saw. The bathroom window was opposite the scene of the action and so I leaned out to take the shots.

In the first two shots I was endeavouring to capture the moment when the blade sliced into the tree, using a longer focal length (85mm) to get in closer at a distance of 5.6m. The last one shows the moment when the tree surgeon was moving in closer to another branch – 35mm focal length here to gain a wider perspective to show how potentially dangerous the whole manoeuvre is.

Project – Medium telephoto : Standing back

With these next examples I was using longer focal length again (my zoom lens is 15-85mm at 1:6 crop ratio)

85mm @ 37.1m. Problem here was the variation in light. If I had been closer and used a shorter focal distance as well I could have focused more directly on the two ladies (but with just enough background for context) and adjusted exposure accordingly. As it was, I wanted to get the best of both worlds but achieved neither very satisfactorily. I could crop of course but then that affects quality. As you can see the longer focal length also compresses the scene and it makes shoppers look closer together than they actually were.

76mm @ 36.5m. I chose landscape format to get the context but got a lot of empty sky! It’s much more like a ‘snapshot’ – and with not a lot of interest.

An elderly lady contentedly reading her magazine in a small, enclosed garden just away from the busy shopping street.  78mm @ 36.6m. I needed to be much closer, and wider focal length I think because she was interesting in herself. Again I could crop but this would affect quality. I actually did move nearer but kept the same focal length 78mm @ 12.3m.

Actually, I really can’t see much difference here despite the differences in distance. I was very conscious of not wanting to disturb her quiet time and almost felt guilty.

Project – Wide-angle : Close and involved

Doing this exercises really showed me the difference between expanding the view and then moving right in on it.

With no. 1 I used my zoom lens at f/8 20mm and stood back (21.7m away). The man and dog look quite tiny. I think this focal length and distance could be utilized well for an image where I might want to show lone man against landscape. Not long afterwards I met up with this lovely lady who I sometimes have a chat with about dogs and their world. I took a chance, explained what I was doing and asked if I could experiment doing a close-up.  At 19mm f/5.6 I had to step so close to get her into the frame that I felt as if I really was invading her space, in fact right in her face (0.4, 0.5, 0.5 and 0.6 m). As you can see the full face views distort her face due to the wide angle but I thought  the profile ones were quite interesting and show of her quirky hairdo – certainly the first time I’ve taken that kind of shot and I think she was brave to let me come in so close.


Project – Standard focal length



People enjoying their evening in a public space. I used my Canon G12 here – it’s quite small and unobtrusive. Top left is at a focal length of 25mm the rest are 30.5mm. These are jpegs straight from the camera with no post processing.  I think that standard focal length is good for getting impressions of situations and can set the tone.

Project – Public events, public spaces

Here are images from an organised event – an Eco Fair in Derbyshire. I used a variety of focal lengths here from up to 7.8m distance.


One aspect which was a good reminder for me was the usefulness of a long focal length in close-ups of people and the interesting aspect given by a wide-angle lens in close-up.  Both of those techniques, to me, require subjects who are ‘aware’, otherwise you’re pushing your camera right into their faces.  I know some photographers (often press and paparazzi) feel quite happy doing that, taking the view that they’re in a public place, or these people are always in the news/seeking fame and attention,  so they have the right.  What is the line between ‘picturing eventfulnes’ as Angier terms it (ch 5, 2007) and voyeurism and surveillance? – concealing myself so that my gaze cannot be reciprocated or placing myself in plain sight yet behaving in such a way that I am not seen?

I think my own attitude is ambivalent as well. When I’m out and about, particularly in London, I’ll quite happily take photographs of strangers.  However, when I’m in my local area I’m much more hesitant even though they may be strangers anyway. Is this to do with propinquity/ them and us? Someone who lives within a certain radius of me automatically becomes less of a stranger, therefore I should ask their permission or at least let them know so they can refuse? Or is it that there’s more of a chance they’ll see me again sometime and remember I was that person who stood there and took a photograph of them. This is something I need to think more about.

28th August 2012


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

Clarke, G. (1997)  The Photograph, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Cotton, C (2004) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London

Museum of London (2011) London Street Photography 1860-2010, Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport

Reviewing further exercises : B

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Reviewing further exercises : B

Projects : A portrait sequence; focal length and pose and stance

I asked my youngest Matt if he would be my subject for the Assignment as he is the only one of my three children who is quite happy to be photographed.  He has also recently taken a keener interest in photography himself which he is sharing with one of his twin sons, Lewis.

I will be discussing choice of focal length, pose and stance in more detail in my write-up on the Assignment so, in this post, I’ll concentrate mainly on the process of review. Overall, I took 327 photographs.  I took 83 photographs on 16th April when I stayed overnight with Matt and his wife on the way back from Wirksworth.  We went to the stables on the following morning so I could meet his latest horse.  Matt came for a weekend stay the following week, bringing  Lewis who was spending the weekend with him. We went on the local Common on both days as I wanted to take some photographs there and also introduce both of them to geocaching. I also took photographs in the house, including several where I used my Holga lens on canon 500D. That weekend’s total was 244. If it’s said that a total of 327 is too many then I will probably agree. I think this was due to several factors:

–      Once I get started taking photographs I get so engrossed that I want to keep taking them.

–      There were varying exposure problems on the different days and I wanted to do my best to meet the challenges.

–      I was concerned that I only had a certain amount of time so wanted to make the most of it.

–      I should also add that Matt got hold of my camera and took some photos of myself and Lewis whilst we were looking up clues etc on my computer (it was a Harry Potter based geocache). He’s therefore partly to blame as well!

–      The more photographs I took the more confident I felt about asking Matt to adopt various postures.

Reviewing a portrait sequence

Firstly, I quickly eye-scan all the images once they’re in either Photoshop or Lightroom.  Then I’ll label likely ones with one star, choose them for another folder and so on. I chose an initial 34 from the 327 total and printed them off in contact sheets.




Having looked at the contact sheets I then went back into Photoshop, starred 16 of them and, again, created a contact sheet so I could make my final choice of 7.

1st June 2012