OCA Thames Valley Workshop : 19th October 2013

OCA Thames Valley Workshop : 19th October 2013

 Photography, portraits and prints

Eight of us met, with tutor Sharon Boothroyd in attendance.  The format, as usual, was a portfolio review in the morning and then a discussion in the afternoon.  Our homework for the discussion was to read Chapter 4 of David Bate’s book Photography : The Key Concepts.

The morning session

Experimental work, a photo essay exercise and two sets of work towards assignments for AOP and DPP provided a lot to think about and digest here. I was able to experience a microcosm of the way in which my own process of “compassion fatigue” sets in, despite the strategies of the photographer to challenge this. I realised over again how difficult I find it to edit a selection of photographs to produce a ‘story’.  We also discussed methods of presentation – size of prints and use and placement of captions.  Sharon then shared her progress on a new series she is working on at the moment, including giving us a live demonstration of how she works later in the afternoon.

My print experiments

_MG_5525 2 edit 12x8 low res


As there was time, I took the opportunity to ask for some feedback on two prints of the image above.  The background to this was that, since the Arles Residential Visit I had been thinking more about presentation. I’ve been working on edits of my Templemere project and I wanted to achieve a print with a dark glow, perhaps an aluminium print.  I asked for some suggestions on OCA Flickr and decided to use The Printspace and Kodak metallic paper. The print arrived the next day and I’d liked the effect but it was quite glossy and almost like a print on a mirror or on aluminium. I knew that, if I was going to submit such a print for an assignment or Assessment, then I would have to have a good justification for it. Kodak Metallic paper doesn’t seem to be generally available so, after more discussion on OCA Flickr, I decided to experiment with Permajet Titanium Lustre using my own printer.  It was definitely less glossy and had a slight texture to it that gave almost a painted effect.  My next step was to bring the prints to the TV group.

Feedback was generally positive with not a lot of difference seen between the two. Comment was made that the narrow border on my own print made it slightly more difficult to compare as the Printspace print was full bleed. I had aimed for full bleed  on Titanium Lustre print but my sizing was inaccurate and I need to work on this. My Titanium print was considered to be slightly cooler than the Kodak metallic in having a slight blue tone and suggestion made to warm it up and print it again. John had also thought he could detect ‘bronzing’ on the shadow areas but when he double-checked it wasn’t there.  I’ve looked this up and found this discussion.   I need to read it again but is seems to me that having two different types of black ink (as in more expensive printers) is a way to overcome this effect which appears to happen sometimes on glossy paper.

Dave also reminded me of the photographs we had seen at the Somerset House Exhibition,  Henri Bresson-Cartier: A Question of Colour  – a Russian (?) photographer and  the low-key prints were very large and on aluminium. I immediately recalled how their rich, dark tones deeply glowed and also how we commented at the time that you had to stand in a certain place to avoid the reflections on them from the lighting.

The afternoon Session


The points I picked up from my reading of Bate’s chapter were

  1. Portraiture is a semiotic event for social identity and aims to say, “this is how you look”.
  2. Painters began to use photographs as a basis for their paintings and this changed the conventions of posture and style – e.g. hand used to prop the face. Photographers also borrowed from paintings.
  3. All classes could benefit from photography in different ways and to meet their different aspirations.
  4. There are 4 basic elements of portraits that work together to make up their codes of description – Face; pose; clothing and location/background setting.
  5. The question of how much can be ‘read’ from an image goes back to Plato and his distrust of surface visual appearance so there is always a critical suspicion that the surface is hiding or covering something over. It’s like the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” I suppose or “handsome is as handsome does”. However this leaves out the intentionality of the spectator in the equation.
  6. When we look at a portrait we ‘recognize’ the human figure and this process gives us pleasure – the pleasure of looking (scopophilia). The fact that we ‘recognize’ means that we are returning to something already known, and this fits with the ‘compulsion to repeat’.
  7.  This pleasure of recognition applies to 3 general categories of people – familiar, unfamiliar and known representations (e.g. celebrities). We are a viewer with the camera and looking at images of others engages our own sense of self. The latter links with Lacan’s ‘mirror’ phase – the process by which the infant recognizes itself as a person through identification with its ‘mirror’ image of another person and, in this sense, human identity is a precarious structure because it is subject to ‘others’.
  8. A central gratification of portraiture is that it addresses the question, “Am I like this person or not?”.  This can link to the phenomenon of projection where we relocate feelings (usually uncomfortable) about ourselves within another person or thing. This process of projection also has implications for what we do with portraits, e.g. we can confirm our own stereotypes.
  9. There are certain techniques which can be used to encourage viewers to use their imagination to prove to themselves that the traits they believe they see do exist. The artist Gainsborough achieved this through leaving some features undetermined. Leonardo da Vinci used the technique of sfumato  – slightly smudging Mona Lisa’s face to give her an enigmatic quality such that she seems to smile or frown according to the mood we project when we look at her face. Photographers such as Julia Cameron and Edward Steichen used soft-focus blur similar to the painting technique of Rembrandt. An opposite technique to this can be the use of excess detail in an image such as images by the photographer Thomas Ruff where the viewer will search for meaning.

An interesting post on WeAreOCA blog by tutor Russell Squires also gave me food for thought. This concerned Russell’s experience of photographers not wanting to be a ‘subject’. His point of view is that to be a portrait photographer one must go through the process oneself,

You must understand what it is like to be in front of the lens and relinquish your power to another. And it is the power and control element that fundamentally drives a portrait photographer. Take note, they are in charge, dictating the lighting, the pose and the focus, then at a precise moment firing the shutter, capturing a moment that is theirs and theirs alone (R. Squires, 14.10.13)

Russell goes on to talk about the ways in which some photographers are endeavouring to circumvent this and he refers to the idea of a ‘controlled chaotic environment’. I have certainly been photographed umpteen times in my life.  For me it’s having to sit still for a certain length of time in what feels like a frozen pose that’s the most difficult. I had a very different experience though when I was a guinea pig/subject for Keith when he began exploring his idea for a project on women and landscape photography . It felt much more collaborative because he talked about what he was doing and why and we discussed where I should be and how I should pose.

Group Discussion and Exercises

“Can we tell anything about a person from a photograph of them?” Sharon shared four different photographs of herself to illustrate this. I have always been interested in this searching for the ‘true’ person underneath (linking with (6) above) and the two poles  –  every portrait shows something of the essence of a person versus we only see what the person/subject wants to portray.

Sharon then led us into some exercises around the aspect of the how we can be manipulated by whoever uses the image to see what they want us to see.  Three images – an older man (I was quickly aware that he reminded me of my husband!) and a young man and woman. We had to write down what came into our heads when certain were made – “This person is going to be famous, committed a serious crime,  is a a philanthropist. I found it hard to project anything particularly imaginative. It’s hard for me to do that when all I see is a face without any context – but then to see them in some kind of context might make me project more. On the other hand, maybe I’m resistant to directions to think in a certain way/the statements were too closed.

Following this we looked at elements of portraits with Dave as our willing guinea pig. We thought about this in three different ways – writing a sentence about how we saw him; thinking of a photograph that could tell a lie about him and then discussing with him how he would want to be taken.  It was the third method that I was most interested in and it opened my mind more flexibly towards portraits, helping to dissolve a few of my inhibitions I think.  Dave said he would like to be seen in a more serious, thinking pose and Sharon asked me if I would take the photograph using her Canon 5D. I was pleased that Dave said he liked it and it’s a pity I can’t show it here but there it rests on Sharon’s camera card.

We then went to the laundry area as Sharon was very interested in its pictorial qualities and I ended up being a ‘subject’ as she used her Mamiya film camera. I knew this was how it worked but hadn’t really thought about the effect of having to make a photograph when what you see is upside down and this led to some interesting effects as Sharon was ‘staging’ me.

Immediate thoughts of the day

Interesting, interactive and it moved me on in a positive way. I enjoyed seeing how people were progressing with their various projects and was pleased to get some feedback on my prints.  Also a different way of looking at portraits in a collaborative sense – not how people don’t want to be portrayed and trying to meet that, but working with people on how they do want to be portrayed.  Each has its pitfalls and difficulties I’m sure but it does seem more freeing somehow and fits in with Russell Squire’s point in his blog post.

How I’m moving things forward


Discussing them as opposed to taking them as yet!  There’s been another interesting post by Russell Squires on WeAreOCA as a follow up to the first one were he talks about self-portraiture  He writes,

I ask now, why produce a self-portrait; is it to construct another identity in which to provide a sense of externalisation. Or do we create these images to see a perceived idealised version or ourselves?

This accords with Bate’s comments regarding narcissism. Conversely a visit to two recent Exhibitions under the umbrella of Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity contained self-portraiture that challenged idealized and sentimental views of motherhood and aimed to show how identity is altered through the process of becoming a mother.


I’ve looked back and the photographer at the Somerset House Exhibition was the Ukrainian photographer  Boris Savelev, here  and here  who prints all his photographs himself using traditional and alternative techniques.  The ones we saw at Somerset House were multi-layered pigment prints on gesso coated aluminium. There’s no mention of the type of gesso but I’m assuming it’s clear and applied as a primer.  They certainly have a dark and melancholy richness. The effect is very unusual but I do think that a lot of attention needs to be given to placement of this type of print.

There was also a discussion  about printing on the OCA Flickr forum  Technical for me, but it was regarding the use of either Perceptual (P) or Relative Colormetric (RC) rendering intent.  I’ve used RC up to now because that’s what Scott Kelby suggests.  Still, encouraged by the discussion I did two small test prints using each.  The difference is infinitesimal to my eye but Perceptual does seem to have a slightly lighter effect which I’ll bear in mind.

I also arranged to go and visit a local photographic printing company and went yesterday.  I’ve been exploring the idea of not having a whole book printed, just the images, and then creating my own covers. Actually I’ve been thinking about this for a year and so I decided to take some action instead of pondering about it all the time! Michelle, the owner, showed me the type of  books they produce. They provide software if necessary and generally use hard covers similar to those sold by Opus  – in fact I’ve had one of those – yes – for a year.  The full photo book cost is £60 for  15 pages/30sides which is more expensive than Blurb. They do have alternatives, such as just providing a cover-wrap for one’s self-created book.  The photopaper they generally use is Naritsu double-sided Lustre which is similar to  Blurb Premium Lustre but Michelle also showed me some Tecco Professional Matt which is 225gm.  I mentioned I’d tried some metallic paper and she also showed me some Tecco Iridium Silver Gloss that she mainly uses for Company work. After that Michelle showed me the large Epson printer she uses,  her smaller Noritsu mini-lab and we had a brief discussion on hand-developing black and white film.

All in all I came away with a lot to think about, although my tendency at present is still to think about either Blurb books or creating my own book. To that end, I have enrolled for five sessions on a weekly evening course which is an introduction to Book Arts and Book Binding run by Meg Green .   I’ve had quite a lot of email contact with her and was pleased to discover that she is particularly interested in ‘the psychogeography of place as an accumulation of cultural identity’ which seems excellent synchronicity. The course begins on the 7th November and I’m looking forward to meeting her.  Have several ideas of book projects I’d like to embark on.


The OCA Thames valley Group meetings are certainly continuing to exert a creative effect!  I think it’s because meeting face to face has so much more impact and seeing other people’s work spurs me on to progress my own. Additionally I’m beginning to feel more settled in myself in terms of my own photography.

31st October 2013



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










OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 17th August 2013: (B) Discussing Martha Rosler’s work

 Martha Rosler In, Around and Afterthoughts (1981)

This was our ‘homework’ for theoretical discussion. Generally, I think it’s important to first have a look at an author’s context and general attitudes and beliefs so that I can take this into account. This time I thought I knew what she was about and so spent more time in reading the piece (three times), making notes, and making assumptions that were sometimes erroneous.  This is partly due to my own experiences at the time she was writing and also because I found her frustrating to read mainly because she seemed to wander around the years and switch between them as if her readers already knew what she was talking about – like a conversation amongst old friends; an in-group discussion. Of course, that’s what she was doing to some extent and I’ll come to that later. It was also a “This is so” analysis of documentary photography rather than a balanced view, looking at it from all aspects.  Whenever that happens I do tend towards looking for arguments against and know that I have to watch out for that – otherwise I’m doing whatever I’m complaining about!

Martha Rosler  (b. 1943) is an American artist who works with multi-media.”Her work deals with the separation of the public and private sphere, exploring issues from everyday life and the media to architecture and the built environment”. She is also a writer. In, around, and afterthoughts, is a 1981 critical essay exploring these questions more systematically and attempting to develop criteria to define contemporary photographic activities as meaningful social practice. What Rosler appears to be saying is that, in the earliest years, ‘documentary’ photographers were using their images to show how the “underclass’ of society lived and to gain some amelioration of their conditions. This was from humanitarian attitudes but also to encourage charitable giving to prevent social unrest.  In Rosler’s view such Charity “is an argument for the preservation of wealth” and “the need to give a little in order to mollify the dangerous classes” (p. 177, 2004).

In the 1930s (In the US) Roosevelt’s Administration responded to the Depression by instituting a “New Deal” – Relief (for the unemployed and poor); Recovery (of the economy) and Reform (of the financial system). One example of this was Farm Security Administration (FSA) created in 1937 that had a special photographic section  Again the images were used to gain sympathy for the plight of the poor and also to encourage the population to accept the New Deal and the move towards social reform.  The photographs achieved the aims of the FSA and did bring in money for general relief. However,  Rosler refers in particular to the photograph of Florence Thompson taken by Dorothea Lange; how Florence Thompson became a ‘symbol’ of the Depression and yet did not directly benefit Florence and her family (p. 185, ibid). All this is what Rosler terms “liberal documentary”. “Causality is vague, blame is not assigned, fate cannot be overcome” neither the victim nor the oppressor are blamed, “unless they happen to be under the influence of our own global enemy, World Communism”.

As I wrote earlier, Rosler does tend to skip around the years so I am making my own ‘logical’ order here.  She moves on to state how, “ 60s radical chic has given way to eighties’ pugnacious self-interest” (p.180) so that in the 1960s, photographers took the view that they were not there to reform but to show “what is” (I think of Robert Frank and William Klein here for instance) and thence, as photography moved into the Art gallery photographers aspired to achieve a higher status and fame. Her conclusion is

Perhaps a radical documentary can be brought into existence. But the common acceptance of the idea that documentary precedes, supplants, transcends, or cures full substantive social activism is an indicator that we do not yet have a real documentary” (ibid, p. 196).

In our group discussion we identified these different stages and particularly talked about photo-journalism; the role of war photography and other documentary that portrays misery and powerlessness. Does that change anything? If not, what’s the point. Are we as photographers just exploiting our subjects to take photographs that people will look at for an instant and then move on?

During the discussion I told myself that we were really only talking about an extreme – war photography and similar.  I began to  think about documentary photography that had influenced change, even on a more individual scale. Dana Popa and her project around sex-trafficking and how this work has informed a project to assist the victims. Jodi Bieber  and how her photograph of Aesha Mohammadzai the young Afghan woman mutilated by her husband’s family, led to free reconstructive surgery in New York. I hope that there are many other similar stories of the power of photographic images to influence change, but I still cannot help but feel despondent that, whatever, is done violence and war continue unabated so, is there any point?

Reading about “Radical Documentary” I began to think that this was concerned with marching alongside protesters; taking part in protests; gaining publicity for radical views. I think I was imagining Rosler as similar to the young Jane Fonda.  I was also linking into my experiences of social work training in 1978/9 at the mention of documentary photographers and ‘social work’. In the first term we had a series of lectures on radical social work – Thomas Szasz and “the myth of mental illness”; Howard Becker’s Labelling Theory; how social work was an agent of an “iron fist in velvet glove’ governmental authority, just placing a sticking plaster on the fundamental ills of the capitalist society. I remember feeling horrified and saying there was no way I wanted to be involved in that kind of oppression.   At the same time, I had this “Yes but ….” view. Surely that didn’t mean that one shouldn’t do anything right now to help people whilst waiting for the revolution to occur. There are so many shades of grey.

That’s the danger of making assumptions. I had to come back home after the Thames Valley Group meeting and read further to gain a more informed understanding.

Further Reading on Martha Rosler and “Thinking Photography”

Postmodern ideas encouraged new thinking around social documentary photography and Martha Rosler (along with Allan Sekula and Fred Lonidier was a member of an informal study group formed in California during the mid-1970s. The three of them were soon at the core of what was being called in the mid-1980s

…the new documentary, or the new social documentary, created by sophisticated, college-educated, politically active intellectuals who wanted to use photography as an important element of social critique.

(p. 438, M.W. Marien, 2002)

The group was influenced by Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and the breaking down of the “aura” of the original work of art.  They were also influenced by the thinking of Bertolt Brecht – his notion that “less than ever does a simple reproduction of reality express something about reality” and Brecht’s understanding of how to affect an audience with a story. Brecht believed in constructing obviously artificial situations and disrupting the anticipated narrative with the unexpected.

The group linked conceptual Art with political protests/activism and so helped to form a new philosophy and practice that was very different from that of earlier documentary photographers. They wanted to find a way to comment on social oppression without generating what they called ‘victim photographs’ that only evoked self-satisfying sympathy or voyeurism among viewer.

Assumptions about the  causes of poverty and the power of photography to report them were challenged in relation to renowned images from the past (hence In, Around and afterthoughts) Presentations of gender and ethnicity in film and advertising were examined and also incorporated into visual analysis of the power of images. There was one comment by Mary Warner that reverberated with my own perception, mentioned above, that Rosler was writing for an in-group that already knew what she was talking about:-

The new documentarians wrote in language that required familiarity with history and philosophical distinctions, an obvious obstacle to non-intellectual audiences (M.W. Marien 2002, p. 441)

In the early to mid 1970s, Rosler had made three photomontage series called Bringing Home the War” (c. 1976-72) that combined mass-media images of the conflict in Vietnam with pictures taken from design and architectural magazines. Almost 20 years afterwards she revived this series in response to the Iraq War.

Watching this video and seeing the images on websites such as this  I could see Brecht’s influence. It made me think of  his War Primer   and also the recent  re-worked version War Primer 2 by Broomberg & Chanarin  that did take my breath with its poignant images and words despite my being used to seeing countless images of war, death, violence and bloodshed. I think this is what Martha Rosler and her colleagues were aiming to achieve; to find this new way of drawing attention. The main problem as I see it is that as with any genre the viewer gets used to seeing a particular type of image so that the new quickly becomes the old and then yet newer ways have to be found.

Some further thoughts

Subsequently, John Umney sent the Thames Valley Group a link to a recent post on Duckrabbit   with John Macpherson’s conclusion that maybe we should “accept that it [the war photographer’s job] may only usefully serve to mark, and honour, the passing of the fallen, and as a consequence to remind we who are left alive how lucky we are”. I agree John Macpherson’s final sentence that this is an unsettling and disquieting notion and yet it fits with the view of documentary photography that Martha Rosler pointed towards in 1981 and is still working to overcome.   I feel more heartened by a link from the Duckrabbit post to  a post about faked images and separating fact from fiction on the BBC blog News from Elsewhere

I’ve left to the last another issue that the Thames Valley Group touched upon which concerns what makes an ethical photographer and documentary photography.  Aspects which came up for me where should documentary images appear on a gallery wall; the importance to me of explaining and engaging with people; how my practice fits with my personal conscience. Other suggestions were that documentary photography should make people ask questions and should represent some type of truth/reality. I think the last is probably the hardest given that we all have our own versions of the truth and is there such a thing as a generally accepted truth. this is something I need to work on more.

20th August 2013



Rosler, M ( ) In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography) (1981in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings 1975-2001 (2004) MIT Press, London

Marien, M.W. (2002) Photography: A Cultural History 3rd Ed, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London



http://duckrabbit.info/blog/2013/08/war-porn-blood-loss-and-living/ [accessed 19.8.2013]







OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 17th August 2013: (A) Overall View

Thames Valley Group Meeting : 17th August, 2013 in Thatcham

(A) Overall View.

I missed the third meeting and so it was good to meet up with everyone again. Nine of us gathered together, with Sharon our attending tutor, for what proved, as usual to be a very full day.

Portfolio Review

As before I was struck by the sheer variety of work and interests, indeed passions, that absorbed each of us, and how much we could learn from each other. What was also reinforced for me was the importance of expressing our own vision.  I know this is pretty much drummed into us by tutors but I always realise it anew when I see so many different responses to a piece of work.

Interesting aspects and questions raised included:-

  • If photographs have been taken in a particular location is that location the best place to exhibit them and how can/should ‘permissions’ be handled (e.g. release forms)?
  • The contrast between seeing a person and then hearing their voice separately illustrates how the image can deny the reality (reference made by Sharon to Taryn Simon’s work)
  • How attaching one image to another anchors them together and so follows the voice of the artist and his/her intention. What effect does this have on the viewer?
  • How does contextual information in an image inform the reading of that image?
  • Is there an actual difference between female and male landscape photographers?
  • How captions; text and words influence the reading of an image. How they can be used to add information rather than directing it.
  • Much discussion on editing/processing photographs. How far can we go with this? Should there be ‘rules’; do each of us have our own ‘rules’.
  • If I take a photograph of a work of art – whether the whole or a detail, can I call it “my art”.
  • Thinking how taking photographs at the same event, by the same photographer,  can lead to very different outcomes and effects depending on how they are to be used.
  • Using an evocative approach in building a narrative around place and the use of sound. Sharon provided the example of Interval II  the work of Suki Chan, a video that including the murmurations of starlings.

I presented some work I’ve been doing towards Assignment 5 of People & Place and the feedback was very helpful for me in clarifying my emotional response to that environment. I’ll be writing more on this in a subsequent post.

Afternoon Discussion

We didn’t have as much time as I would have liked for the discussion on Martha Rosler’s 1981 Essay In, Around and Afterthoughts. It raised some complicated issues regarding the nature of, intentions and effect of photography, particularly documentary and so, for me, it deserves a separate blog post – to follow.


Everyone had brought work to show and discuss and so this took up much of the day. As I said above, I gain a lot from seeing and discussing other people’s work as well as my own, but concentration can fade after a few hours. The discussion on Martha Rosler’s piece was therefore limited. It raises a lot of complex issues and so I came away thinking I/We had only skimmed the surface and it deserves much deeper analysis and discussion, particularly as we touched upon some wider issues. I have done some more reading on Rosler and the Study Group she belonged to and so now feel much clearer about the issues which is why I’ll be writing a separate post.

I’ve given myself a lot of general questions as well – all of which arose from the morning discussion.  To begin with I’ll be thinking and reading more around the area of Women Landscape Photographers.

19th August 2013


Rosler, M ( ) In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography) (1981)  in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings 1975-2001 (2004) MIT Press, London



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



A Personal View : Inaugural Meeting of the OCa Thames Valley Group

A Personal View : Inaugural Meeting of the OCA Thames Valley Group on 23rd February 2013

I’ve done a write-up on this for OCASA, our student association website which will be appearing in due course, so I don’t want to just repeat it here.

In brief, Eddy had the idea for this group towards the end of last year and he gathered members together through the setting up of a new Flickr group http://www.flickr.com/groups/2084851@N24/.  As usually happens, it took a while for everyone to agree on a date but, in between, we did have an informal meet-up at the Cartier-Bresson/Colour Exhibition at Somerset House at the beginning of January. Through this we met Barry who was over from Japan (and is now an honorary member of the group).

Eight OCA students and an OCA tutor, Sharon Boothroyd,  gathered together on a cold, wintery Saturday for the inaugural meeting.  The comfortable venue and sandwich lunch were organised by Eddy who also made an application to OCASA for funding towards some tutor input – something which all of us had agreed was very important.  I was very pleased that Sharon agreed to be involved. I read her blog  and also her posts on WeAreOCA which are always thought-provoking and have changed my mind as well about conceptual photography.

Cameras were at the ready as one of the stipulations of the funding was that there had to be a write-up and photographs. There was also the promise of an ‘official’ group photograph, taken with large format camera by Keith and an experimental video by Siegfried.

The morning was spent looking at work in progress – half an hour each person (very hard to stick to !). I was impressed by the feedback everyone gave – careful and deliberate; critical without ‘criticising’ in that sense of making off-hand, harsh comments which can only put people down rather than encouraging them to develop and extend their thinking.  I know there have been various comments thrown in by ‘old-hands’ on the forums who state that that was how it used to be; it’s a cruel world out there in the profession of photography etc and you just had to get on with. My view is that, just because it was done that way in the past it doesn’t mean it has to be done that way now.

We were fortunate in having students from level 1 to Advanced and so it was very interesting to see and hear how approaches and concepts deepened and evolved with increasing experience, experimentation and study. Prints were spread out on tables; closely examined, and discussed.  There were the technical queries/comments, such as degrees of contrast, borders on prints and types of paper but it was the conscious deliberate inquiry into each image that was important. What was the underlying concept; what choices were made; how and why?  What strategies were used to engage the subject or disarm the pose (in portraits for instance). All of this gently steered by Sharon.

We had a short break for lunch and then composed ourselves for the large format camera portrait by Keith.  I’ve been following his explorations into portraiture closely.  I have to confess that I hate having my photograph taken, especially when I have to stand or sit their for ages whilst the photographer works out all the settings and keeps telling me to turn this or that way. Keith’s enthusiasm for and engagement with portraiture shines through and I was so busy watching how he was setting-up this rather cumbersome camera that I completely forgot about ‘posing’.

The work review finished with Sharon sharing  the work she is developing on her Project,  Edelweiss through a Residency with UCA Farnham. The outcome will be an exhibition at the end of the year, so something to look forward to. We talked about issues around photographing children; the ethics involved and how someone who is both a mother and a photographer handles these boundaries and attempts to keep them clear. Another aspect that came into this was also about coherence and consistency between images – colour balance; tones; size ; orientation and presentation. There was only a short time on this but I’m sure those aspects will be extended as our group develops.

We then had two sessions on ‘Transitions through the Levels” with personal views from John (Level 2) and Keith (Level 3) and ended with a discussion on “Where do we go from here?” All of us want to continue to meet, preferably on a two-monthly basis.   It was a very full and enjoyable day. Thank you Eddy for the inspiration; Sharon for agreeing to join us and OCASA for contributing some funds.

What did I learn?


There was a lot of other learning but this is something that’s stayed with me over the last few days. Projects can evolve over a number of years. There’s a good discussion going on at the moment on WeAreOCA entitled Put A Frame On It   regarding the importance of contextualising your work and what a difficult task it can be to develop one’s thinking around the meaning of a project. I know it isn’t the case but I can’t get myself out of the habit of thinking that I must have a fully formed idea of what I want to do and why before I even start to take photographs.

Sometimes we take photographs and just don’t know why so it can be important to tease out from our own subconscious what’s going on. I was the only one who didn’t take any ‘work in progress’ with me (I gave myself the penance of doing the write-up of the meeting).  I have been feeling ‘stuck’ for a while (whilst still continuing to take photographs for the projects/exercises) and doing a lot of reading.  I had decided to take some photographs taken in the Peak District a while ago – not the ones I took when I went to the Leeds Students’ residential, but some others which were a response to reading a crime thriller set in the Peak District. I worked on these images over a couple of days but then decided that they didn’t fit what I was trying to achieve. I’d been attempting to illustrate the novel. If I continued with this I would have to go back to the Peak District and it really isn’t feasible for me to keep travelling up and down from South to North.

However, the photographs I took really are linking in with something I’ve been thinking and reading about ever since which is Cultural Geography – how we shape our landscape and the landscape shapes us over time.  When I went back to the Peak district I’d been returning to the landscape which helped to shape me. In fact, my personal projects on the Muslim Burial Ground, Pylons and People Traces on the Common are all linked by that, as are the two churches I wrote about for Assignment 3. This is my real area of interest and so I’ll be doing more work on this, whether or not it fits with People & Place.

28th February 2013


OCA Student Residential Weekend in Leeds : September 2012

OCA Student Residential Weekend, Leeds : 1st/2nd September 2012

This was a wonderful initiative by Penny,  ably assisted by Eileen  who worked on the Agenda and liaised with the guest speakers etc. It was a while in the planning (February to September) which it had to be because of all the variables involved. Many thanks again to them both for putting it all together.  If they wished they could both have a brilliant future as Conference Organisers. Maybe at some point they might even give us a glimpse of what occurred behind the scenes. Their mix of inspirational, motivational practical, didactical, experiential, was transformed by the alchemy of that special aura which occurs when people are truly engaged together in a creative endeavour.  You might think this is a trifle fulsome but it really was special.

From the beginning I was heartened by the easy way in which we all quickly became a group. There really wasn’t any of those forming, norming and storming phases that often occur. For me this was because, even though I hadn’t already met everyone, I still felt as though I knew a lot about them through exchanging comments and messages via Flickr, the OCA site and blogs.  It helped me to understand why some couples who meet via the internet can seem to fall so quickly in love and, before you know it, they’ve moved in together. Despite all I’ve just written I still went through that feeling of awkwardness which occurs for me when I have to introduce myself in a group which wasn’t helped by the air-conditioning having made my voice hoarse. I really did think that I’d grown out of all that. It certainly wasn’t the fact that Mark was there with the video equipment because I was hardly aware of it. Now, back to what did I gain? I have fuller personal notes for my paper log and this will be a distillation.

Transition between levels

Like some of the others in the group, I was disappointed that this session didn’t really develop.  What I did pick up from it was that Level 1 is about exploring the medium and developing distance learning habits. At Level 2 you are beginning to engage with the world of art, visual creativity and the critical debates. Skills needed for Level 3 include time management and analytical/critical skills. From my own observation ,discussing, reading blogs and OCA forum/Flickr comments, all these skills are present in some students even at Level 1, which isn’t surprising given that many of them already have degrees of various kinds. Those more used to being in scientific/analytic left-brain mode, can find it harder to get into right-brain mode though – which is something that wasn’t touched upon in the session.

Assessment: It was confirmed that it’s normal for the (summative) feedback document to contain breakdown of marks in the different criteria with only a few lines of feedback. This is for institutional reasons and quite normal – some Universities just give the marks and that’s it anyway. This point is important and the group fed back that many students are dissatisfied with the brief comments because they expected more. I think that the assessment information provided beforehand should really emphasise this point.

Going back to ‘transitions between levels’. It was that inner developmental process that I was interested in.  I’ve experienced it in a small way and I began to observe/learn how it operates in others as the weekend went on.

Genesis and evolution of a major project

Jesse Alexander, OCA tutor,  took us through his MA work on the ‘Threshold Zone’ . His concept was to explore man’s relationships to underground spaces through the medium of photography, particularly through the use of long exposure. He explained all the research he had carried out in myths, legends and Jungian theories of ‘underground’. Jesse also referred to the work of Rosalind Williams who is a Professor of  the History of Science and Technology and uses imaginative literature as a source of insight into the emergence of our technological culture. I have accessed a PDF of an interview she gave where she explains this in more detail and ordered her essay “Notes on the Underground” (2008) from Amazon.

Jesse described how, through experiencing for himself the structure of caves – entrance zone, inner zone and dark zone – he came to realise that it is the inner/threshold zone, just before perpetual darkness,  that he feared, was fascinated by, and gradually approached and entered as his project evolved. To me, the process appeared to parallel both the hero’s journey into the Underworld and that creative leap of imagination which can occur if a person can allow themselves to access their creative subconscious, whilst being able to retain a link with, and step back into, rational mode when necessary.

Portfolio Review Group with Peter Haveland, OCA tutor

It was here that I was able to observe how these inner processes manifest themselves in other students as they travel through the levels. I could sense this but it’s harder to describe.  It isn’t just that the photographs are more technically perfect and presented but it’s in the way that they talk about their process, that seeking for personal expression, using image as metaphor for a thought or feeling. Whereas I’m at the stage where I know the thoughts and feelings I want to express but can’t yet find the right way to go about it.  I keep telling myself that it’s because I need better equipment, or to learn some new technique or other, but I know that isn’t so. I can express myself in writing fairly easily but I’m still at the crawling stage with regard to visual expression.

I took some personal work which had been creeping along for a year but I’d become stuck due to too many competing possibilities for themes. This was allied with my anxieties that by revealing my true feelings towards the subjects (places not people) I could alienate those who loved these places or were proud of what they had achieved there. I was very impressed overall by the way in which Peter commented on everyone’s images – ‘criticizing’ them in the ideal sense of pointing towards emerging themes; advising how apparent weaknesses could be dealt with, spotlighting images which didn’t quite fit etc. In my own case he drew my attention to how some of the images were very much linked with the colour blue and, of course, went straight for the set which was problematic for me. His view (and that of the group) was that these had the greatest charge for me; they were my photographs and I should go with my own feelings about the subjects. I know that this is very much about my own ethical mores and I have more thinking to do around this issue.

There were other questions concerning ethics which came up for me in the sessions with the two guest speakers.

Questions of Ethics

The two guest speakers were Mishka Henner   and Peter Rudge of Duckrabbit. They are two inspiring and motivating people who are very enthusiastic and committed to their approach to their very different styles of work.

Duckrabbit work in two areas – as a digital production company and also in training in digital storytelling. The company was created in late 2008 by Benjamin Chesterton and David White. Peter Rudge is a former diplomat and also a trustee of Hostage UK (he didn’t tell us that but I looked him up).   Peter created such enthusiasm that most of us now want to do their training.  So far as working with NGOs and corporate clients is concerned, Teresa asked an interesting question which was whether they would turn down work for ethical reasons.  Peter’s response was that yes they would if necessary. Strangely enough I can’t find a Mission Statement on their website, but I follow their blog and know that they do raise many humanitarian issues.

For some reason Mishka Henner’s official website comes up with a message that it may contain malware and a suggestion that one visits a Goggle Safe Browsing diagnostic page. How odd, I wonder how much this has to do with his work using Google Street views!  Anyway, I decided not to take risks and accessed his work instead through the webpage of the company he runs in partnership with Liz Lock, Lock and Henner

Mishka was firstly a sociologist, then involved in documentary projects after he became interested in photography and, latterly, a conceptual artist who is interested in the image itself rather than being a photographer, a pity in a way because he is an excellent photographer. His conceptual work still often shows a sociological sense in the way he uses it to comment on social attitudes and mores. He describes himself as being interested in appropriation and erasure – which means he takes a variety of already created images and turns them into something else. Now, to be honest, I’m not normally keen on that type of work which seems to ride on the back of the hard work of other artists. However, having listened to Mishka,  seen his commitment and enthusiasm and viewed his creative output I’m converted. He must spend hours at the computer though!

His conceptual work is so diverse that I recommend anyone reading this just to have a look at the website for themselves. I was particularly fascinated by his ‘Collected Portraits’ where he takes the works of various photographers and layers them together at low opacity, to show how, on the whole, artists choose the same types of face to photograph over and over again. I’ve contacted him today to ask if I can download one of the images for this post and will add it if he agrees.

He is very clever and engaging and I certainly felt myself drawn into his way of looking at images. However, it’s time for me now to take a step back and be more analytical. ‘Collected Portraits’ (and much of his other work) provides an example of his approach to ethics through the questions he raises. He has created a new image by appropriating many other images. To whom does this image belong – the original artist or himself?  Similarly, he has created an interesting body of work (and book) ‘Less Americains’ where he takes the work of Robert Frank and erases parts of it to produce what is virtually abstract art. Same question.

Mishka is quite open about the rancour and threats which have been expressed towards his work. An example is ‘No Man’s Land’ where he sourced Google Street Views from website forums of men who were exchanging information about the locations of street workers. He raises the issue concerning what you do with information you gain. Is it exploitation, is he colluding with the men on those forums, now that he’s seen it shouldn’t he be doing something about the plight of these women?  Of course, having raised all these ethical questions he still continues with the work. I wish I could think of a character from Shakespeare who illustrates this.

Another query raised for me was whether there is any difference qualitatively between someone who actually goes amongst these women and takes photographs but no ameliorative action, and someone who just appropriates images and takes no other action. I just can’t work out how I stand on this except to compare this kind of work (in both respects) with that of Dana Popa a Roumainian photographer who exposed sex trafficking through her photography in her series ‘Not Natasha’.  which raised funds for NGOs to help these women.  Sharon Boothroyd also interviewed her this month.  Having raised the question for myself I now know the answer. I couldn’t do that type of work without offering support to the people involved.


There was so much to learn and absorb during the weekend. I’ve only covered some immediate responses here and I’m sure that I will keep returning to other aspects as more thoughts come to the fore. Thanks once again to Penny, Eileen, our two presiding tutors, Peter and Jesse and the two guest speakers Peter Rudge and Mishka Henner.

13th September 2012


Postscript 26.3.2012:  WeAreOCA have just posted  a short video from the weekend, where Peter Rudge of Duckrabbit is talking about ‘storytelling’. Here 


Introduction to Portrait Lighting : 18th June 2012

Introduction to Portrait Lighting

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I prefer natural light and have somewhat of a phobia about using additional lighting. This all came to the fore again when I was working on the first Assignment where I only used my on camera flash amongst the trees. Feeling untechnical and therefore unskilled isn’t a good feeling for me at all and so, having watched one of his Photoshop videos and looked at his website, I decided to take the plunge and book a 3 hour 1:1 session with Gavin Hoey .

I’ve read book chapters and articles on portrait lighting and looked at videos but not actually seen or done it myself. Gavin and I agreed that although I might be an ‘improver’ in terms of using a camera I am definitely a ‘beginner’ regarding studio lighting.  It had been suggested that I take along studio lighting equipment if I had any and so I ‘borrowed’ my husband’s Canon Speedlite 580EX which Gavin thought was perfect to use.  He told me that my models were going to be himself and, later, his wife, Sam.

He asked me to fit the Speedlite onto my hotshoe. I use the manual setting most of the time now and so Gavin suggested I set the speed at 1/125 to ensure that the flash would sync.(I’ve checked and with my built-in flash the fast possible shutter speed is 1/200). He asked what I thought could be a good aperture to use – I thought f/5 and then Gavin began a process which showed me that ,whilst the shutter speed will control how much of the ambient light is recorded,  the flash compensates whatever aperture and ISO speed is used so that the same image will be produced.   He suggested that, as a starting point I use 1/125 f/8 (good for one and two person portraits) and ISO 400 (so that the flash didn’t have to expend too much energy).

After several shots with the Speedlite on camera, including ‘bouncing’ from the ceiling, Gavin moved on to showing me the effects when the Speedlite is mounted separately as a ‘slave’. My 500D doesn’t have wirelss transmission so we used a Yongnou ST-ET (cheaper than the equivalent Canon) which will maintain the ETTL system

Everytime I took a few shots we went back to the computer to see the results and I also had brief tutorials on PS use including extending the background by using the crop tool.


No. 1is f/5.6; No. 2 is f/11; No. 3 is f/8 on ‘bounce’; No. 4 is  with the Speedlite stand-mounted as ‘slave’  still in front.

Angled Flash

From there we changed the direction of the flash to 45 and 90 degrees at the side behind and then behind, including a profile view.  A good way to think of this is how similar this is to the direction of sunlight at different times of day.

Zoom flash on the dark background

Gavin then showed me the effect when the subject stands directly in front of the background with the flash mounted high above. I learned that the flash will adjust to the camera lens when it is mounted directly on the camera but off camera it can be used more creatively to change the light spread. I used it at 35m zoom and then 105m zoom. After that he brought in Sam to be my model and randomly changed all the settings on the flash and transmitter so that I had to set everything.


Diffusion umbrella

We then talked about using some form of diffusion by placing a panel or umbrella in front of the flash. Gavin compared this to the effects of clouds and how they can change the effect of light – again a very good metaphor for me to use.


No. 15 shows the Rembrandt effect – a small triangular patch of light on a shadowed cheek that I also replicated with Sam in Nos. 16 and 17. No. 18 shows more of a rim lighting effect.

Special Effects

I was interested in how you change the colour of the background using a coloured gel in front of second flash which is placed behind the subject. A blue gel seemed to work the best with Sam. We then also used a fan to blow Sam’s hair around as attractively as possible (also being fairly quick as blast of air can be quite drying for eyes!).

I was really surprised how much can be covered in a few hours on a 1:1 session. Sam isn’t a professional model so these were very natural images that I hope I can replicate if I can find someone (near and dear) who is willing to pose for me. Gavin explained everything simply and clearly and made it all seem easy.  It makes such a difference not only to have a 1:1 but also to actually do it oneself with an expert standing by to advise. I’d certainly recommend his training sessions. He and Sam were very welcoming and I should add that Sam also has her own cookery blog and so is interested in food photography  as well.

These are my personal favourites from the session:-

Obviously I’ve a long way to go and need much more practice but at least I’ve made a start.

21st June 2012

Documentary Photography and Environmental Portraiture at The Photographers Place

Weekend Workshop at The Photographers’ Place, Wirksworth

13th to 15th April 2012

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

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

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

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

Friday evening:

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


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

Saturday morning:

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

Preparing for the ‘documentary’ project

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

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

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

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

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

Some good resources are: –

BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project 

Magnum in Motion http



‘Documentary’ Project

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

a)    The railway station

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

b)   The Fair

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

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

Processing our ‘documentary’ pictures

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



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



I think this one is okay

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

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

The Fair

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

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

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

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

Stephen McLaren, Street Photographer

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Anne Menary: http://www.annemenary.com/

BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/yourvideo/queries/capturewales.shtml

Magnum in Motion: http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essays

MediaStorm: http://mediastorm.com/

Photobus: http://www.photobus.co.uk/


30th April 2012