Photography as information

Some reflections on the course notes

Photographs contain huge amounts of information. Even those with limited pictorial elements, this I believe is because we all ask questions about the photographs we see. As discussed in the Research Point here, there is also information surrounding a photograph that shapes and to some extent guides how an image is interpreted.

Flusser’s comment on page 109 of the EYV course materials raises the question about intent and how as image makers photographers try and create something new out of things that have been seen before. I think Sontag suggested that everything has already been photographed, although I need to re read ‘On Photography’. I guess this idea of creating something new is at the heart of the whole Expressing Your Vision concept. How can the photographer create something new out of the common place?

I know from my own image making that the idea of a new and different interpretation of subjects that have been photographed many times before is a key motivation, even if I fail to achieve my aspiration the chase is is part of the alluring joy of photography.


Copyright Rinko Kawauchi

The front cover of Rinko Kawauchi’s book ‘Illuminance’ has an image of what appears to be an over exposed flower or plant, possibly a rose. Although over exposed, the plant can be seen in the context of other plants in the out of focus bokeh of the background. In spite of the brightness of the image and the out of focus burned out highlights, the image still contains information of sorts. Given the title of the book, Illuminance the image seems an appropriate cover piece for the work.

I think this type of image probably challenges the concept that the best transmission of information is done with well exposed and sharply focused images. As my blog entry on the Part 5 Research point highlights, the clarity of the an image does not necessarily provide more truth, meaning or information. Kawauchi’s image itself provides Internal Context, given I can tell what it is and I can say something about the pictorial elements within it. Because I know it is a book cover I have some thoughts and information about its External Context. At this stage though I have limited information about its Original Context although I could gain this by getting hold of a copy of the book and investigating it further. From an out of focus over exposed image I have already gleaned a lot of information.

In short, there is much to read from the image at all levels and it isn’t depenedant on technical accuracy from a photographic point of view.



Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1, Expressing Your Vision, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Kawauchi, R. (2012) Illuminance, Aperture, New York



Chapter 5 Research Point (pp106)

Terry Barrett on Photographs and Contexts

This research point asks students to consider how images, photographs can and are interpreted. Terry Barrett’s helpful articles encourage some very specific considerations to be made.

Firstly the importance of understanding the difference between a photograph and the reality from which it has been taken. He uses the term ‘segments excised’ to describe the moment in time that the photograph is taken.

He makes the point that it is important that students of photography understand the difference between the photograph and the reality from which it has been taken, urging viewers to consider and appreciate, the photographers intent, he suggests:

appreciation of photographs is dependent on recognsizing and understanding a transformation the photographers has made in excising the segment and instant to make it aesthetically noteworthy rather than routine and mundane.”

He is asking us to consider the photographers intent it the image they have made. Not taking this position and simply seeing the photograph as a record of a moment in time he suggests makes the photograph ‘transparent’ and the viewer is left considering the only photograph itself and not the photographers work in making the image.

To assist in this analysis he describes in detail three types of context that assist in understanding an image.

The first is the Internal Context, that which is contained within the frame, the elements that are evident within the picture. This can include the elements of the image, the composition, exposure, angle of view, all the choices the photographer made (or didn’t make) as part of the image making process. Barrett suggests in some images this is enough to interpret the intent. Advertising photographs for example seek to provide enough ton guide the viewer to a conclusion based upon what is contained within the frame.

Additionally Barrett describes the Original Context, the information that informs how the photograph is interpreted. He suggests that some photographs are ‘inscrutable’, that is impossible to understand or interpret without some additional sources of information for outside the photograph itself. Other photographs because of the nature of their content, what is within the frame.

Original Context therefore broadly refers to that which was physically and psychological present at the time the photograph was made. Bloomfield describes this in the EYV course notes as the information about how the picture was made. In an earlier Blog post I refer to this principle when considering the image below by Robert Capa. It becomes much more meaningful when we know that Capa was aboard one of the early lading barges on the beaches ate Normandy on D-Day. I didn’t realise it at the time but my blog post here was describing Barrett’s concept of Original context.


Copyright Cornell Capa

Finally Barrett describes the External Context, referring to the presentational context of the photograph. This creates furthers layers of interpretation. In his extended article on this context in Goldblatt and Brown (1997), he describes how a single image can be widely interpreted and misinterpreted based upon its presentation. Like the earlier 1986 article from Art Education he makes reference to the work of Freund (1980) (pp178) and her commentary and analysis of the image below made by Robert Doisneau.


Copyright Doisneau Estate

The picture of a man and women drinking wine in a cafe, the image appeared in: Le Point, devoted to cafe’s as an exemplary scene of cafe life, but it also, without Doisneau’s permission appeared in a pamphlet about the evils of alcohol. Even later it appeared in a scandal sheet magazine with the caption “Prostitution on the champs elysee”. This was again used without the photographers consent and led to the man in the photograph suing not only the magazine but Doisneau too. The court awarded the man compensation from the magazine and the photo agency but acquitted Doisneau. Barrett (1997) describes this as Category Displacement, that is where new text creates a new meaning and interpretation of an image.

This research point raises huge questions about photographs as information, as works of art and how context can define narrative with or without the consent of the photographer. It challenges the early views that photography offers a truth! I suspect I will explore these themes further if I make it to the OCA Context and Narrative module!


Barrett, T. (1986) Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts, Art Education July 1986 Vol. 39, No. 4, pp33-36

Barrett, T. (1997) Photographs and Contexts in Goldblatt,D. & Brown, L (Eds) (1997) Op CitBurgin, V. (1982) Thinking Photography, Macmillan London

Sekula, A. (1982) On the Invention of Photographic Meaning in Burgin, V. (1982) Op Cit

Goldblatt,D. & Brown, L (Eds) (1997) Aesthetics: A reader in Philosophy of Arts, Prentice Hall, New York

Fruend, G. (1980) Photography and Society, David R. Godine, Boston, Mass.

‘View from a Judgment Seat’-Quentin Bajac in conversation with Philip Gefter- Aperture Blog

Some short reflections on the article beyond its immediate relevance to section 5 EYV


Quentin Bajac- photo copyright Ed Alcock

I read with interest the referenced article on the aperture blog, highlighted in section 5 of EYV (pp105) because of the Paul Graham reference. Bloomfield’s (2014) reference to ideas developing and changing during the process of executing a project are of interest and link to my own emerging thoughts about practice dictating the final out come of a project rather than sticking slavishly to a concept from the start of a process, idea, project or assignment. I will pick this theme up later but I was also interested in the wider content of the article and this short reflective writing piece picks up some of these wider themes.

The interview sheds some light on the role of The Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA) role on photography over a number of decades. MOMA known the world over as a centre of modern art with photography being a key area of its work.

Quentin Bajac as the then new curator (January 2013) is in conversation with Philip Gefter who writes about photography. The interview raises some interesting issues about the role of  MOMA in the development of photography as an art form over a number of years.

The role of curator of photography at MOMA has in the past been referred to as: the judgement seat of photography. Bajac clarifies this suggesting the the history of photography being written by MOMA is now in competition with histories of photography being written by other institutions internationally. In short MOMA is one of a number of judgment seats on photography.

The conversation also considers the historically american centric view of MOMA regarding photography, indeed implying the photography was seen as fundamentally being an america centric art form. Bajac quickly replies that this might have been the case in the past but MOMA is in a different place now. Indeed the appointment of a european as the curator is perhaps a way of amending this history.

When asked about the mark he would want to leave on the photography department at MOMA, given the high profile predecessors in the role: Beaumont Newhall, Edward Steichen, John Szarkowski, and Peter Galassi, Bajac replies:

“to leave the museum with a photography department and collection that is more fully integrated into the museum’s collections, more in dialogue with the other departments, and more global in scope.”

Is he perhaps suggesting that photography still sits outside the notion of art as seen in great galleries and collections? I am unsure, but it is an interesting thought to ponder!


Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1, Expressing Your Vision, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Gefter, R. (2013) View from a Judgment Seat-Quentin Bajac in conversation with Philip Gefter found at: (Accessed December 2015)

Quentin Bajac’s background experience can be found at: Bajac

Assignment 5 Photography is simple

“There are two fundamentals in all picture taking – where to stand and when to release the shutter … so photography is very simple.”

(Jay & Hurn, 2001, p.37)

So photography is simply viewpoint and moment… but what about subject? The simplest subject is the moment. You can record the moment with a snapshot, but when you review the photograph later you find you didn’t actually record the moment, you just recorded the ‘event of photography’.

It might take a very long time to simplify the whole world and its infinite framings into a subject that makes sense to you. Robert Adams said, ‘Sooner or later one has to ask of all pictures what kind of life they promote’ (Grundberg, 1999, p.34). For now, though, you should just feel comfortable with your subject. It should say something about you and, in the end, you like it!


Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.

Assignment 5 Submission 

Leaving Homeexploring emotion and place

“Landscape pictures can offer us, I think three varieties-geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together…. the three kinds of information strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life”

Adams (1996)


Light leak (1 of 1)

Beam and boards (1 of 1)

66 no 2 (1 of 1)

Horizon (1 of 1)

Lock (1 of 1)

Key (1 of 1)

Step 3 (1 of 1)

Step 4 (1 of 1)

Steps 2 (1 of 1)

Rust and age (1 of 1)


What is it about? – in 300 words

The concept of ‘subject’ is open to interpretation and although the images appear to be of people, places or things, this assignment is an attempt to capture something quite different.

‘Leaving Home’ is response to the fact my daughter is soon to move away to study. This is not an unusual occurrence for families, but it is new for me as a parent. It brings with it a mix of emotions that range from pride in her achievements, to a deep sadness about her departure. For 18 years she has been a central presence in mine and my wife’s life. The sadness and trepidation I feel is in part that she will be across an ocean on another continent in a matter of months. These images were made in a place where we spent much time as a family when our daughter was a young child. Each image contains new information, but this set is not about place, it is a very personal reflection on how I feel about my daughters imminent departure. Whilst the images are anchored in a location they are both biographical and personal, and say as much about the passage of time as they do about a place. The set tries to reflect that there something fleeting about human presence on a beach, not least because each new tide washes away the evidence of what went before. The work uses intentionally stark metaphors to describe the distance between us and the passage of time. The first image is deliberately dull and obscure but as the set progresses, place, time and emotion are revealed. There is also something about relationships that might be drawn from the connotations of a number of signifiers such as the keys, the lock and the steps hinting at my use of place as metaphor for the passage of childhood. The last image is meant to signify decay and the inevitability of all things growing old. All of the signifiers attempt to attest to my ‘original intent’ in this work, my feelings about my daughters transition to the next phase of her life, one in which my wife and I will have a much lesser part.

(333 Words)

How I made this work

Much of Part five of the course has asked students to explore photography as information and I was struck by the importance of the mediums ability to communicate emotion and not simply record a place or time. This for me represents a fundamental shift in thinking about the medium and although perhaps obvious, this last part of the course has brought home to me photography’s power to transcend merely recording things. Of course an image of a person, place or thing can solicit an emotional response in the viewer but this is a simplistic view of the power of the medium. I also reflected for sometime on Alexia Clorinda’s statement in the course materials:

“I don’t pretend that I can describe the ‘other’. The camera for me is more a meter that measures the distance between myself and the other. It’s about the encounter between myself and the other; it’s not about the other.”

The statement clearly suggests that act of making an image is a more complex encounter, with the outcome being a product of an interplay between the photographer and the subject. This was a concept I exploited in this assignment. The final sequence of 10 images were selected from 140 images, which in turn were taken from a much larger group of about 400 images taken over several days. I was very mindful that this was the last assignment of the course and that Part five considered viewpoint, context, information and the photographers intent. I reflected on the writings of Barrett (1997), Barthes (1980) and Bloomfield (2014) as I developed the concepts behind the images and in how I executed the image making, processing and selection. In the final selection I printed some small versions of the images and placed them in different sequences until I hit upon a satisfying resolution to the brief. I treated the activity as if I were making a book and the small prints were a sort of ‘maquette’ for the final submission.

I made a technical shift in execution of this work too. My general preference is to use a wide angle lens for much of my work within  the course and my photographic work outside the course. On 35mm equipment I use a 28mm lens and on 6×6 and 645 medium format equipment I often use 45mm and 50mm lenses. For this assignment I used a 50mm standard lens equivalent (35mm) on the crop sensor digital camera used for the assignment. This view is often regarded as approximating the field of view the human eye sees. I also wanted to minimise distortion given the use of straight lines and geometric shapes in the composition of many of the images. This was an important choice in this work because it also meant I had to rethink my distance (literally) from the subjects in all the images.

There is an intentional angular geometry of the man made in many of the images which is intended to contrast with the natural surroundings. For example the straight lines of the shiplap an timber in the first few images contrasted with the naturally patterns of the knots and grain in the timber. In a number of the images the scene is bisected by sharp straight lines. Here the use of the 50mm equivalent lens helped to minimise distortion and meant there was a relatively small amount of post processing of the final images.

Self assessment and reflection

As with all of my work to date I am often left less than satisfied but there comes a point where I have to commit to a final set and move on. I am pleased that I believe there is a sense of narrative to the work and I feel it broadly meets the brief. There is of course scope to develop this work further and I am keen to explore the notion as landscape as autobiography. I was very much inspired by my visit to the Media Space at the Science Museum to see Alex Soth’s ‘Gathered Leaves’. In particular ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi ‘ had quite a profound effect on my thinking about the idea of a road trip, not only in space but in time. Also Soth’s work demonstrates i a wider metaphor for describing a state of being and the associated feelings. This assignment is not an attempt to replicate that work which is very different, but Soth’s use of pictorial elements has influenced this work. I feel I am just that little bit closer to understanding the concept of personal voice, although some way from achieving that aspiration, I have a bit more understanding of the components of personal voice.

Considering the Assessment Criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

I have sought to produce a series of images that try to capture something of the mixed emotions attached to people, a place and a time. It is not intended to be a sequence about a beach hut or a beach. I think think there is some coherence to the composition of the images and I feel I have managed the technical elements of exposure, focus and composition with a reasonable level of competence. I think there is a sense of visual awareness, particularly in images 4, 5, 9 and 10 where I have used composition and depth of field to convey something of the emotions that have driven this assignment. I set out to capture as much as possible at the point the images were made and all of the final images have had minimal post processing, some ‘locked’ cropping, basic RAW adjustments such as sharpening and white balance refinement. The final images demonstrate competence in the use of camera control and RAW processing techniques. The small print ‘maquette exercise demonstrates an awareness of design and the need for meaning to develop through a linked set of works. I intend developing a more formal approach to using photo book maquettes for exercises in the next module of the course, this is very much an idea in progress!

Quality of Outcome:

There is a clear conceptual underpinning to this work as set out in my 333 word description above. I have used the learning from this section of the course to inform the development of the work and in particular used Barrett’s (1986) concepts of ‘internal context’ and ‘original context’ to create a narrative that I hope says something beyond the pictorial elements of the images about my intention in the work. Although I may not have entirely communicated the ideas that are at the heart of the assignment, I feel this is a good foundation for further exploration of the theme.

Demonstration of Creativity:

This is an imaginative experimental response to the brief, it seeks to capture an emotion, one which in a large part is very personal. I have used a range of signifiers within the work, that perhaps need a stronger set of accompanying text to link them to what I am signifying. In the 4th image for example I have intentionally focussed on the angular construction of the two beach huts of contrasting colours. In the distance the sea and beach are out of focus creating a sense of distance and the unknown. I also wanted the idea of a far horizon and an empty beach to say something about the themes of departure and loneliness. I have taken some risks in this approach and am very conscious of the subjective notion of creativity. Although perhaps pedestrian, this work and the approach I have used has taken me some distance from the type of images I made prior to starting this course. The area of creativity remains for me the biggest challenge in my OCA endeavour because of the illusive nature of what constituents genuinely original work. I recognise this is where I need to focus my energies.


I think the critical thinking and research skills I have developed throughout the course are an area of strength. I have read much of the recommended reading and the research element of all my assignments to date evidence a rigorous engagement with literature in the field of photography. In this work I have assimilated and accommodated many of themes from Part five of the course, not least the ideas about photography’s power beyond the pictorial. I have begun to touch on some rudimentary concepts within semiotics and I particular the work of Saussure and his notions of signifiers and the signified. A theme I will explore further. In conclusion I have thought critically about the strengths but also the limitations of my work and recognise I still have a some distance to travel!

Submission as sent to tutor in PDF: EYV Assignment 5 Final

Contact Sheets: Assign 5 Contact Sheets


Adams, R. (1996) Quoted (pp 21) in Alexander (2015) Op Cit
Alexander, J. (2015) Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography, Bloomsbury , London
Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Random House, London
Barrett, T. (1986) Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts, Art Education July 1986 Vol. 39, No. 4, pp33-36
Barrett, T. (1997) Photographs and Contexts in Goldblatt, D. & Brown, L (Eds) (1997) Op Cit Burgin, V. (1982) Thinking Photography, Macmillan London
Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1, Expressing Your Vision, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley
Burgin, V. (1982) Thinking Photography, Macmillan, London
Clorinda, Alexia (2014) Quoted (pp102) in Bloomfield, R. (2014) Op Cit
Cobley, P & Jansz, L (1998) Introducing Semiotics, Icon Books, London

Exercise 5.3

St Lazare desk-4804

Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.

Behind the Gare Saint Lazare is a genuinely iconic image that in its time presented the possibilities of photography to capture and instant in time. Cartier Bresson, using a 35mm camera with all the freedom it offered when compared to previous generations of larger and slower cameras made this image through a gap in a builders hoarding. As he recalls in the interview in O’Byrnes (2001) Just plain love documentary :

I slipped the camera through [the railings] but I couldn’t see, that’s why it’s a bit blurry… I couldn’t see a thing through the viewer.’

‘You couldn’t see the man leaping?’

No.’ ‘That was lucky.’

It’s always luck. It’s luck that matters, you have to be receptive, that’s all. Like the relationship between things, it’s a matter of chance, that’s all. If you want it, you get nothing. Just be receptive and it happens.’

The image contains significant amounts of information. The scene, believed to be a construction site behind the St. Lazare railway station records a moment in time, a decisive moment. The image attests to the point being made by Flusser, noted in the EYV course materials that a picture isn’t read in a linear serial manner, it is a continuous experience with the eye being drawn to many elements simultaneously. There is much going on in the image and over time it has been interpreted and reinterpreted by many commentators.

St Lazare-4805

For me the pivotal point of the image for me is the silhouette of the jumping man and his reflection in the puddle below. It is the interplay, indeed the distance between his front foot and its reflection. Although the images contains much more information, it is this part o the sen that i always return to. it creates a sense of motions supported by the ripples down the ladder where the man has just run. the still image is full of a sense of movement, countered by the stillness of the puddle. Much of the information in the image is contained in the reflections, indeed ¾ of the scene is a reflection in a large puddle. The pivotal point hinges on  timing, the moment the shutter was released, because an instant after the image was made the mans front foot will have hit the water and much of the scene will have dissappeared in the outward ripples created as he splashes into the puddle. In that moment after the shot was recorded, the whole image as we see was gone forever! I learned much about reflections in pools and the fluid dynamics of puddles in executing assignment 4!

There are other factors of note, the replicated image of the man and his reflection in the poster on the wall, next to “Railowsky” appears to mirror the man and his reflection as he jumps the puddle. Also the single figure, another silhouette next to the fence on the far side of the scene mirrors Cartier Bresson himself, the observer of the scene, all be it from the other side of the image.

I am challenged a little by the reference to both Kawauchi and Sugimoto in the exercise brief, and I am troubled that the link isn’t obvious to me. I have a sense that at this point in the final stage of the course I should know whey they are referenced. I looked a Sugimoto’s work in detail in an earlier part of the course and understand his stretching of time, how he uses the full illumination of a feature film to make an image. Sugimoto capture an entire story in the light of his Theatres image and although the detail of the story can’t be unpicked, the viewer knows it is there. Sugimoto has also suggested that happy movies produce brighter images than horror films that tend to be darker. Perhaps the link is that in “Behind the Gare St. Lazare’, there is in one scene a multitude of stories waiting to be read, shared and interpreted. The Internal Context of the image is almost overloaded, the pictorial element compete for interpretation, we have Cartier Bresson’s thought about how the image was made that provide further information in the the form of the Original Context and we also have the fact that a copy of the image hangs in the V&A providing some External Context that all add to the interpretation of this paradigm setting image of the decisive moment.


O’Byrne, R. (2001) Henri ‘L’amour de court’ (‘Just plain love’)

Exercise 5.2

Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?

Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.

I particularly enjoyed the planning and preparation for this exercise and used it to  revisit and consolidate what I had read and written in response to Barrett’s essay on photography as information.

I was also mindful that although I had the freedom to choose any photographer and any of her or his images, I also needed to consider the range of the work undertaken in the course so far. The references in the brief to both Davies and Steele Perkins made a link to Exercise 4.5 in the previous section and I considered this in the selection of a photographer and one particular image.

Before I describe that in detail I also want to reflect on the concept at the heart of the exercise:

“take an image in response to it’

The ‘it’ being the image I have selected. Based on this I am assuming I have the licence to be relatively free in my interpretation of the task. I also spent a little time exploring the notion of ‘homage’.

As Bloomfield (2014) suggests: 

‘…the homage should share some deep empathy or kinship with the original work’ (pp107)

The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines homage as:

‘Respect or reverence paid’

These two perspectives on homage framed how I set about the exercise.

During section 4 of the course I spent some time looking at the work of Bill Brandt. I had been aware of Brandt but in reality new very little about the man or the purpose of his work. As background reading for the course I borrowed a large volume of his images from a local library and spent some time getting to know his work in detail.  my blog entry here  records some of my thoughts about him. I also watched the 1983 BBC documentary : ‘Masters of Photography’ about Brandt’s life and work. In response to my first assignment: ‘Square Mile’, my tutor had commented that my work fell into a landscape/documentary’ genre. Reviewing the work of Brandt and recognising he worked in a number of genres, I think it is fair to say that he made a significant contribution to the landscape / documentary genre. His images from 1929 until just after the second world war document much about life in Britain through a landscape, survey type approach.  

With strong black and white composition ( Brandt appears to have eschewed the use of colour), both the internal and original contexts of his work provide the viewer with an insight into life Britain between the wars. To me the social commentary of his work transcends the aesthetic beauty and other strength of his images. A side issue for further consideration at another time is my perhaps niaive hypothesis that Brandt appears to be less well known or appreciated by the wider public possibly because he was a German, all be it presenting himself as being of English origin. There is a whole line of cultural and social enquiry here for another time and probably a different course!

So, after what might read as a protracted introduction, it was Brandt to whom my homage would be directed!

There were many images I could have chosen but the one I settled on  was: Grand Union Canal Paddington, taken around 1938, although the exact date is unknown.

It is a simultaneously simple, yet complex image. Visually it is well composed, there is a symmetry to the pictorial elements of the image and the viewer is led into the scene by the slow hyperbolic section to the curving pattern of the chimneys and rooftops and their reflected counterparts in the still water of the canal. The image has an abstract aesthetic as well as a clear subject and the near square portrait framing  adds to the overall satisfying feel the photograph creates, for me anyway!

I did not set out to replicate or mimic this image, but I did set out to make direct reference to the internal context of Brandt’s image, that is the elements within the frame of the image. I also thought hard about the external context of both Brandt’s image and my own, however I was unable to resolve this in my own mind I await comment from my tutor when he looks at this exercise which is part of the Assignment 5  submission.


Grand Union Canal Paddington circa 1938-Copyright Brandt Estate

Brandt’s image of a canal and the backs of buildings carries some obvious internal content.  This includes the composition, the deep depth of field and the relatively high contrast rendering of the image. The sky is bright and the reflections in the water are quite dark. We can see that these are perhaps dwellings and we know we are seeing the backs of them. The dark triangle in the left hand foreground I assume is a towpath and we can see that Brandt took the image from the opposite bank to the buildings.

The original context of this image is a little harder to read. Brandt’s cityscape work often  presents a particular aesthetic and there are some common themes about viewpoint, tone and composition that are a feature of his work that are apparent in this photograph. There is a simple beauty and satisfying balance to the image. 

By 1938 the canal would not have been used for commerce and there is a sense of calm, in part created by the strength of the reflections confirming the stillness of the water. This might have been part of Brandt’s motive. I know from wider reading about the Brandt that his survey work of British cities between the wars was an ongoing project. I am however making some assumptions here.

The External Context is easier to read. Brandt provided images for a range of publications such as Picture Post, Lilliput and Harpers Bazaar. My assumption is that whether this image appeared in any of those publications, Brandt’s work would have been within the context of this sort of potential presentational environment.

My image in response to Brandt’s: Grand Union Canal Paddington

River reflection (1 of 1)

Reflections on the Wensum

My image, of some new luxury flats built at the edge of the River Wensum is about place above all else, although it also has some information in the frame about subject.  Like Brandt’s image it is in monochrome and there is a degree of symmetry created by the buildings and their reflections. The use of perspective I hope draws of the viewer into the scene  but in my image the line of the roof tops is sharper and more angular. I did take an image from a different position with a wider angle lens that had a much more curving sense of perspective, however as discussed earlier, this is an homage and not an attempt to mimic the brandt image

I deliberately made the image in landscape format to be different to the Brandt photograph and I also managed the exposure to capture detail in the sky and water. easier to do in 2016, 88 years after the Brandt image was made!

The External Context of my image is much easier to read, it’s principle presentational environment is this blog and my OCA course work, The external context is that this work is a learning tool. However it easy to see from this image what Freund (1980) describes as ‘category displacement’ can occur just by adding some text to the image. For example, ‘site of the drowning’ presents a very different potential to interpret the image, a darker and altogether different take on the photograph, equally ‘Luxury flats for sale’ is a far more innocuous interpretation of the image. Both statements are true about the location where the image was made, neither are true within the the internal or original context of this work. The point illustrates that the artist can to some extent control these factors but in the digital age one might argue that the external context may be beyond the control of the artist?

Examples where the inspiration is obvious and not hidden

Broomfield(2014) pp108 suggests that students review their archive of images and add one or two to the blog  where we have not tried to hide the influence. In doing so I found the images below.

The first,  a landscape has been unashamedly made with the influence of Ansel Adams, I have tried to use black and white to create a strong high contrast landscape scene in the style of Adams and although a pale reflection o his work , it does I think have some elements of an Adams image, not least the epic natural scenery.

Snowdon range

Hunting for Zone V

The caption, ‘Hunting for Zone V’ is a statement about the original context of this image. In making it I was far more focused on technique and the use of the Zone System than I was about the place or the content. I did compose the shot and consider the elements within the frame, but the real focus was on the range of mono tones in the photograph. It was made on film, like at the majority of my image making, so there was no ‘chimping’ or histogram checks to be had!

In an very different genre, the image below is a self portrait in a mirror, entirely influenced by the Rolleiflex self portraits of Vivian Maier. In recent years Maier’s work has been prevalent on the internet and with both the Maloof and Yentob documentaries about her life, her work has now become well known. Although known for her street photography, Maier’s catalogue of images is punctuated with a series of self portraits taken in mirrors and other reflective surfaces. My image is pure theft of this approach, right down to my use of a Rolleiflex 3.5E to make the photograph.

after viv v2

After Vivian


Barrett, T. (1986) Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts, Art Education July 1986 Vol. 39, No. 4, pp33-36

Barrett, T. (1997) Photographs and Contexts in Goldblatt,D. & Brown, L (Eds) (1997) Op CitBurgin, V. (1982) Thinking Photography, Macmillan London

Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1, Expressing Your Vision, Open College of the Arts, BarnsleyJay, W. (1999)

Brandt-The Photography of Bill Brandt, Thames and Hudson, London

Goldblatt,D. & Brown, L (Eds) (1997) Aesthetics: A reader in Philosophy of Arts, Prentice Hall, New York

Fruend, G. (1980) Photography and Society, David R. Godine, Boston, Mass.

BBC Documentary (1983) Master Photographers- Bill Brandt found at: ( Accessed 26th November 2015)

Maloof, J. & Sisket, C. (2013) Finding Vivian Maier details found here ( Accessed 26th December 2015)

Victoria and Albert Museum Biographical Note- Bill Brandt found at: ( Accessed 26th November 2015)

Yentob, A. 2013 Vivian Maier-Who Took nannies Pictures found at :


Exercise 5.1

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.

When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4). In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:

Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.


The Distance Between Us

I pondered for some time about the subject for this exercise when in fact it was in front of me for much of the time. So, the sequence I shot was of my wife and daughter on a recent overnight excursion to take in the coast in winter. I made a number of images when we were together in a restaurant and in our hotel room. I was struck by the notion of ‘the distance between us‘ not only being about the relationship between the photographer and the subject, but also between the relationship between subjects too.

I do understand and recognise  the concept that a final image is created by the interplay between the photographer and the subject, but in this work there also the interplay between the subjects too. My daughter rarely like to be photographed an some encouragement was required to produce the sequence.

S&K 4 (1 of 1)

27mm, f3.2, 1/20 second, ISO 3200

In the image above I was trying to capture my daughters face and did not think enough about the background and the surroundings, given my daughters reluctance to be photographed I paid little attention to the rest of the scene. ~The lights from the christmas tree and the items on the table, all to some extent distractions, were all unintentional.

S&K 7 (1 of 1)

27mm, f2, 1/50 second, ISO 3200

In this image, taken with the camera held a little higher I manage to record and image while my daughter was distracted by social media! Again the background elements have had little thought. The distracting shadow of the chair in the top right was not intended although I have mixed views about it. Also given my motives for these images, the background is perhaps for me less of an issue than a more clinical and less involved viewer?

S&K 6 (1 of 1)

27mm, f 2, 1/30 second, ISO 3200

Below are some further image from the sequence

S&K 3 (1 of 1)

27mm, f3.2, 125 second, ISO 320

S&K 1 (1 of 1)

27mm, f3.2, 1/20 second, ISO 3200

S&K 2 (1 of 1)-2

27mm, f2, 1/125 second, ISO 3200

Of the whole set it is the image above that is my ‘select’. In analysing the picture as suggested in the exercise brief , the thing that stands out is the awful hotel room wall paper! Although I had concentrated on facial expressions, this thing that stands out about the image is that in this image my wife and daughter come a single subject. In an un posed, captured moment there is something between them as well as between the photographer too.

I am uncertain about whether I have captured what was intended in the exercise but I have learned something about both unintended pictorial elements in an image and also how the presence of the photographer does in many instances change the nature of what is being photographed. A topic that warrants further exploration. 

As a footnote to the exercise, I was also left considering does the presence of the photographer change the image even in a candid image? Some food for thought!


Research Point: Context can be found here