Assignment 4 Re-worked

Assignment 4 was an interesting activity, as I stated in my original submission I was not not used to shooting at night. I won’t go over the technical challenges set out in my original assignment write up but following tutor feedback I decided to focus on a very particular aspect of capturing the beauty of artificial light. As my tutor stated in his feedback, the sculptural quality of things can be revealed in artificial light, in the way not possible in daylight when objects can be overwhelmed in day light. Something different happens to structures and their ref;actions when illuminated by artificial light.

I really liked this idea and set about exploring the nature of objects under artificial light. In particular I was interested in public structures and their reflections in  and on different surfaces. This lead me to experiment further around some of the ideas from my original submission.  I also went further a field in a attempt to gain additional inspiration.

In truth I learned a lot about the nature of light and how it behaves on different surfaces, the limitations of my equipment and the challenge of controlling the glow of sodium frequencies that are all pervasive in the urban night scapes. I also learned about how the  effects of artificial light can define structure and shape  in a way that sunlight does not.

Using some of my original images, but in a different order as well as  adding in some new and different ones I arrived at this final set for this reworked submission. The set explores light, reflection, surface and structure.

I looked at the work of a range of photographers who I think explore the nature of structure and shape  and although none focused on the nocturnal in the work I explored, they all helped me think about the nature of structure and composition.

Geert Goiris’s work taught me about thinking about how  the strange can be brought out in what might at fist glance appear as mundane. Lucien Herve’s architectural studies create a beautiful sense of structure through the bold use of shadows and light. Robert Hausser’s stark but engaging work made me think about line, shape and structure and how viewpoint is vital. All of the above artist made me think differently about how shape and structure can be represented on essentially a 2 dimensional medium. 

As with other reworked assignments i feel i am just scratching the surface of concepts and ideas and in many respects the learning achieved is greater that the final images present here. But, I am unashamedly on a journey and accept I have much further to go.


Assignment 4  -Revisiting Exercise 4.3

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term).

The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot.

You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash.

‘Beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term’

Bloomfield 2014

Images-Experiments with artificial light, colour and reflection

Ass 4 relectionstar-4574


Ass 4 church reflection-4500


Ass 4 relection Market Pavillion 2-4504


Ass 4 relection find out more-4536


Hepworth 3 (1 of 1)


Hepworth 2 (1 of 1)


Hepworth 1 (1 of 1)

Additional Contact sheets:

Assign 4 Rework final-1Assign 4 Rework final-2Assign 4 Rework final-3


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

Herve Family Website: (accesed Febr 2016)

Koetzle, H-M. (2011) Photographers A-Z , Taschen, Gmbh

Lunn, O. (2015) Unfathomable: Geert Goiris’ futuristic objects in abandoned landscapes, British Journal of Photography found: (Accessed February 20i6)



Assignment 5 Reworked

Following the helpful feedback from my tutor I revisited my original submission.  Specifically I replaced the 7th image from the original group with a new image. I retained the steps motif but took an entirely different view point. The steps had been used as a signifier for my daughter moving on, but as my tutor rightly highlighted the original image jarred with the developing narrative of the set. I now have the steps, but the view point is an empty beach and a far horizon. The other image I replaced was the final one. This time going for a wide view of the beach huts again with no one in sight, reflecting what had been, but removing the sense of decay that was seen as being unhelpful in the original set. I think the is something ambiguous about the reselected final image and the high tide mark makes an upward arrow, replacing the rusty bolt central in the previous final image. 

I am  happy with the rework an the images hang together retaining my original intention which was to some extent inspired by the  of the Adams (1994) quote used in the original submisions introduction.

The reworked set is set out below.

Assignment 5  Photography is simple -Reworked

Leaving Home – exploring 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 4 (1 of 1)


Steps 2 (1 of 1)


Steps empty beach v-5055


Steps empty beach 2-


Assignment 5 Feedback

Ass 5 feedback-5193

I was very pleased with the tutor feedback for Assignment 5. It was as ever supportive, it highlighted the areas of strength and areas to consider to strengthen the work. As this was the final assignment I was particularly pleased that I finished the course on a pretty positive note.

Throughout the course I have used a consistent approach for reviewing and acting upon tutor feedback. This has involved using three highlighter pens, green for positive, orange for negatives and yellow for areas for development. Much of this final feedback i could highlight green!

That said there are some areas to consider. Based on the feedback I am going to change at least tow of the images and add in some new work that will help me convey the ambition I set out in the statement at the start of the assignment. Also there are a few things i want to do to my blog in response to tutor comments. Th comments were generally postive but a couple of helpful issue have been raised.

My tutor referenced one of my works as being similar to Harry Callahan, so I will look further at the work of this photographer.

Perhaps the biggest issue to consider is how I narrow my approach down a further into a more specific genre. As with other assignments I I am pasting  below the response i sent to my tutor to the assignment feed.

This of course is also the last time I will do this on this course!

Response to Tutor-Assignment 5 Feedback

Dear Robert,

Many thanks for your as ever, helpful and constructive feedback on this the final assignment of the course. The last 10 months have gone by rather quickly! I did, as with the other assignments, enjoy planning, researching and executing this assignment and feel I have learned more along the way. In many respects the final outcome does not always reflect the level of learning taking place. There is also the continued realisation there is still a long way to go with my work, but I will keep going as long as the journey is gratifying and feels fulfilling.

Based upon your feedback there are elements of the assignment I will rethink and re-work. You are right about the final image, I was uncertain about that too, your comments have given me an idea for a different final image. I am also going to look at some of the others with a view to some refinement to the set. As with other assignments this took me out of my comfort zone, things I would not have done if I were not on a course of study, I am really grateful for this.

Your feedback on the blog is most helpful, particularly because this last 10 months has been my only experience of blogging, something else I have learned on my OCA journey! I have undertaken a lot of experimentation and have to be frank been hesitant at times in settling to final images. I will look at sharpening these up though in terms of quality. I am also looking at printing much my work now. The final images can vary so much on different screens. Printing brings a new set of challenges but exciting (and expensive) ones! That said there is something quite satisfying about an image as an artefact, not least because of both Barthes and Sontag’s thoughts on the photograph as an object and all that it carries.

I have really enjoyed the reading and research element of the course and feel I have gained many new insights into the work of photographers I have been superficially (I now realise) familiar with for years. Most importantly though I have been exposed to a whole new canon of image makers whose work is challenging, inspiring and in some cases quite frankly life enriching!

I am not quite finished Expressing Your Vision just yet because I am in the process of completely re doing Assignment four. As you suggested I have had a look at the work of Geert Goiris, I particularity like the other worldly strangeness he creates out of the relatively mundane. This led me to look too at the work of Lucien Herve and Robert Hausser, in my exploration of shape and form. I have a clear shooting schedule and a plan of locations and will complete this in the next few weeks. I plan to submit my work in mid May, ready for the July assessment panel. I also have some things to complete on the blog too. I am also getting my head around the new submission requirements.

I am slowly narrowing down my work into a more specific genre, this hasn’t proved easy but I am sanguine about this, I still have much to explore and learn. That said my recent visit to the Alec Soth exhibition at the Media Space took me a step closer to thinking further about the Landscape as documentary and social commentary. This has that has been a feature of my thinking for some time and I have some emerging ideas about this in my own work. I do need to look at the work of more artists though and I am patient in my search for a personal voice. I see the selection of an area of specific interest and focus as being an iterative process, recognising the importance of not trying to photograph anything and everything!

Whatever my outcome at assessment, I am a better, more thoughtful and positively self critical photographer than I was 10 months ago, in this sense signing up with the OCA has proved very worth while. I have however a keenness to be much better yet though!

I am sure Context and Narrative will shape and challenge my thinking further in my OCA year ahead.

Can I formally thank you for your support, encouragement, honest and constructive critique, it has been valuable and has been appreciated.
Very best wishes and many thanks.



Preparation for reworking Assignment 4

In preparation for reworking assignment for I looked at the work of Geert Goiris following a recommendation from my tutor. In planning the reworking the assignment, one image from my original submission was identified as being the strongest , my tutors specifically said:

‘It begins to find the sculptural quality of an object – which is something night photography helps immensely by subtracting distractions and especially an over-bright sky”

The image shown below is of remarkably mundane object, a builders hoarding, but it takes on a different form under cover of night when lit by tungsten and halogen!

Ass 4 relection find out more-4536

I was encouraged by this statement because it really resonated with my own thought about the whole set I submitted. I was struck by the entirely different form

Goiris is a Belgian photographer born in 1971 whose work seems to be quite experimental and is hard to define within a single genre. However it was his landscape work that I was drawn to and in particular the strange alien feel he creates

Goiris work is instantly other worldly to me and his images of what look like abandoned places have a dystopian feel while also being visually beautiful. Lunn (2015) suggests that Goiris work is: .

”..mundane yet spectacular, familiar yet unfamiliar”

an analysis that I entirely concur with.

Goiris’s work creates a mood and a sense of place that is at times quite familiar but simultaneously alien. The image below epitomises this for me in that it is clear it is the remains of a human construction, but is is also strangely unfamiliar. The image raise questions about where itv was taken and what happened to this space, was it abandoned and why?


Copyright Geert Goiris

Similar the image below has some thing of the mundane about it whilst the location is far from mundane!


Copyright Geert Goiris

In reworking the assignment i thought i might look for the mundane under artificial light to see if I might capture a different view or indeed a different sense of an object. The sculptural nature of things might , as with my image of the hoarding take on a different guise. I also thought I needed to explore the unfamiliar as part of the rework and decided to go to locations alien to me in which to make the images.

More to follow…….


Lunn, O. (2015) Unfathomable: Geert Goiris’ futuristic objects in abandoned landscapes, British Journal of Photography found: (Accessed February 20i6)

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

Assignment 4 -Languages of light: Revisiting Exercise 4.3

As a distance learning student at OCA you’re not an ‘autodidact’; you have the benefit of tutor reports and a formal assessment at the end of each course. One of the ways to make the most of tutor reports is to rework assignments after receiving feedback.

In fact it’s a good idea to approach the whole course – exercises, contextual research
and assignments – as an ongoing body of work, until you decide you’re ready to enter for assessment. With this in mind, Assignment Four asks you to return to one of the exercises from Part Four and develop it into a formal assignment submission.

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:

  • Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time.
  • Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you’ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
  • Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your ‘process’ (the series of steps you took to make the photographs). Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link in to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.

Include a link (or scanned pages) to Exercise 4.5 in your learning log for your tutor’s

Revisiting Exercise 4.3

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term).

The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot.

You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash.

‘Beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term’

Bloomfield 2014

Images-Experiments with artificial light, colour and reflection

Ass 4 relection street lamp-4618

Ass 4 relection Market Pavillion 2-4504

Ass 4 relection find out more-4536

assig4 UCS 4-4631

Ass4 tiff v5-4693

Ass 4 relection Bus Stop-4561

Ass 4 relectionstar-4574

Ass 4 Drain-4522

Introduction and background to assignment 4

An ongoing positive challenge for me in my OCA studies is trying new things, indeed this is a driver for my participation in the programme of study. This assignment tested me further in new endeavours. In my photographic work prior to joining the OCA I had never really looked at the use of artificial light, or in the case of my choice for this assignment, undertaken night time image making. This section of the course really got my interest and in particular image making outside at night with the illumination being the artificial light that often surrounds us.

There is something unnatural about artificial light, but also as the course materials suggest, it can be quite beautiful too. The city at night offers much in terms of opportunities in image making and it was this that I thought I would try to record. In truth the weather also played a significant role too in this work and rather than being put off by the interminable rain over several weeks, I decided to use it as an opportunity.

As my blog entry: ‘Brassard-Paris de Suit’ ( ) notes, Brassai’s nocturnal scenes of Paris capture something of the topography of the built environment of the city and some of his work falls into the urban landscape genre. It was this notion of the urban landscape illuminated by artificial light, that I set out to record in this assignment

In completing section 4 of the course I was very taken with the work of Rut Blees Luxemburg and her large format colour images of the city at night. Her work was a particular inspiration for this assignment and although I tried hard not to be too derivative, I think the influence might be noticeable. I was particularly drawn to the image below in which there is an interplay between the elements of light, colour, surface and reflection.


Copyright Rut Blees Luxemburg

The image above contains so much about the city without being particularly pictorial. It asks questions, but also is in my view quite beautiful in an abstract way. Luxemburg’s use of of ‘fragments’ caught in reflections set me thinking about how we only need to see a fragment of a thing for our brains to then make a whole. That said the ‘whole ‘ we make may be different to the thing whose fragment we observed? The idea of ‘fragments’ also influenced what I subsequently made images of.

A further influence was my recent OCA study visit to the East London Photo Festival and the work in the ‘Drift’ exhibition. The ‘Terra Firma’ work of Beatrice Tura (2015) attracted my attention in particular. Her work sets out to say some thing about the continual change in the urban landscape. Her images all look at the surfaces we walk upon but often do not look at as pass over them. The image below is typical of her work and has a simple yet intriguing beauty.


Copyright Beatrice Tura

The image above contains so much about the city without being particularly pictorial. It asks questions, but also is in my view quite beautiful in an abstract way. Luxemburg’s use of of ‘fragments’ caught in reflections set me thinking about how we only need to see a fragment of a thing for our brains to then make a whole. That said the ‘whole ‘ we make may be different to the thing whose fragment we observed? The idea of ‘fragments’ also influenced what I subsequently made images of.

A further influence was my recent OCA study visit to the East London Photo Festival and the work in the ‘Drift’ exhibition. The ‘Terra Firma’ work of Beatrice Tura (2015) attracted my attention in particular. Her work sets out to say some thing about the continual change in the urban landscape. Her images all look at the surfaces we walk upon but often do not look at as pass over them. The image below is typical of her work and has a simple yet intriguing beauty.

Tura’s work intrigued me because surfaces of all kinds, not just those we walk on are in a state of continual change. They can take on a very different appearance under different light and under different weather conditions. These thoughts helped me form the ideas for the images I wanted to make in response to this assignment. A detailed write up of ‘Drift ‘ can be found on my blog at:

I also considered some other perspectives on the city in my preparations for this assignment. Brandt and Shintaro were considered in particular. Both of these photographers work say something about the city and the city at night with or without artificial light. In the case of Shintaro I really liked the vivid high contrast look of his images of Japanese cities once the sun has gone down. I decided however to take a somewhat different, more micro view at the effects of artificial light on the fabric and surfaces of the city at night. Similarly Brandt’s work photographing London between the wars and during the blackouts during the blitz proved to be of real interest but in the end did not directly influence the approach I took.

My Blog entry about Shintaro can be found at:

My blog entry about Brandt can also be found at:

Process and Execution

Shooting at night brings a range of challenges, not least getting the colour balance right when the scene is lit by the widely varying frequency and colour temperature of Mercury, Tungsten, Halogen, Neon and LED light sources. During the process I was reminded of long past A’ level Physics experiments measuring the relative frequency of artificial light in Angstroms, that unit of measurement dates how long ago this was!

My camera has quite sophisticated white balance control, but the wide variations in light source meant the real correction needed to be made in Lightroom when I was back at the computer and the warmth of home. It was for this reason that I made the images in RAW and later converted them to TIFFs and JPEGs.

In the initial phase of the work I did some experiments and made images in low light. These were of a variety if subjects. To a large extent these initial images where as much about testing me, my equipment and the practice of image making at night.The images below, although not exhaustive, show some of the experiments I made to consider artificial light and its effects on different surfaces.

St Lazare desk-4637

55mm f2.8 ¼ second ISO 200


55mm f2.8 4 seconds ISO 200

St Lazare desk-4666

27mm f4 12 seconds ISO 200

St Lazare deskfgh-4641

35mm f4 1 second ISO 200


They included light trails of vehicles, buildings illuminated in different colours and light falling on a variety of surfaces. I also used different settings on the camera’s white balance controls to see what the images recorded. The dominance of sodium wavelengths in many of the final images firmed up my plans. An interesting discovery in these experiments was that at a wavelength of 588nm (5880 Angstroms in old money!) a sodium cast dominates the image even when mercury vapour light (at around 365nm) is the brighter light source in the scene. As someone still on a steep learning curve using digital recording techniques (my preference is still to use film and wet darkroom processes) I did spend quite some time in Lightroom adjusting the colour temperature and white balance in the final image selection.

From a practical execution perspective I made the images in a number of locations all through the night on five separate occasions. I was struck by just how busy the city can remain even in the early hours of the morning. I needed to use a tripod and this presented some unexpected issues. It made me a magnet for late night revellers who gravitated to me wherever I set up to shoot! I needed to deploy some high levels of diplomacy with passers by, many of whom were much the worse for ware from alcohol in order to be left alone to make the work. All part of the life of an OCA student!

Although the camera I used produces acceptable files at high ISO settings, I chose to use a tripod to allow for lower ISO settings which of course necessitated much longer exposures. I was keen to produce files with limited noise given the white balance challenges described above. This choice also meant that with the slower shutter speeds I used meant that passers by in some of the images were not recorded. Indeed I discovered that at an ISO setting of 200 on my camera and exposures of more than half a second people simply disappear. This proved helpful in several images. Managing highlights was also a challenge in some images. The contrast ratio in some images was exceptionally high. This proved particularly difficult in the first image of the set, LED sign lights are very bright indeed.

As I looked at the early experimental images I made I was able to capture the effect of artificial lighting on a variety of surfaces. I was motivated and intrigued by how the nature of surfaces fundamentally change in appearance when it is sodium, mercury, halogen and tungsten light falling upon them. The mundane can take on a whole new look when bathed in artificial light. I was also very mindful of composition and in several of the final selection use lines in the scene to draw the viewer into the image. In fact some of these images draw particularly on the exercises 1.2 Point and 1.3 (1) and (2) Line in the first part of the course.

In all I took several hundred images and began to narrow the selection down to the final 9 images. The images of reflections in puddles proved to be the most challenging because even on the stillest of nights the water in puddles moves during long exposures making it difficult to capture a sharp reflection. Over the course of this assignment I learned that what is needed are very shallow pools of rainwater as this moves less than deeper puddles.The fluid dynamics of puddles was some unexpected learning from the assignment! I think of all the assignments so far this one tested me the most in terms of the technical but also in terms of creativity.

Personal Reflection and Self Review

In truth I’m not happy with the final images and I feel that they again did not measure up to the ambition of my intentions. This is what had happened with the previous assignment and this seems to be a recurring theme in my OCA work. In the end after asking for a two week extension from my tutor I finalise, I had to just make a selection and commit to saying this is it and submitting them. I think my vision for my work is really moving foreword, my realisation still has a long way to go yet. I am however sanguine about this and expect that over time my execution will catch up with my ambition. There is I think a balance between artistic expectation and the pragmatics of a time limited course. I am certain I learned much in this assignment and this is a key part of the learning. I would also feel much more equipped to undertake a similar assignment again.

Did I meet the assignment criteria?

In the sense that I captured images using artificial light, I feel I did. I have shown some technical skill in making images at night under artificial light and managing some complex white balance issues. I think there is some coherence between the images although some I am less happy with than others. I have been more thoughtful about composition in these images, being mindful of feedback from previous assignments. I have tried to create a sense of flow through this set, in particular the use of ‘line’ to draw the viewers eye within the images. I recognise though that this approach is stronger in some images more than others. In terms of quality of outcome I think there is technical competence in the images but creativity remains more illusive and something I need to work on.

Considering the creativity criteria specifically, I have engaged in a range of experimentation, I think the contact sheets show the development of a of several areas of experimentation and a degree of imagination. Through the focus on artificial light and its effects when reflected on a variety of surfaces such as water, wet tarmac, brickwork, wood, plastic and aluminium, I am demonstrating a willingness to explore the visual and an attempt to resolve a challenge and respond to the question as set out in the assignment brief. It is an unfurnished journey though and my own voice as an artists remains illusive. The immersion in new and different thinking about image making, new practice and experiences and the review of the work of other artists, all serve to develop me and my work further.

Thinking about context I have been clear about influences and where this work is located both in terms of contemporary image makers as well as more historic photographers. As with previous assignments I have really enjoyed the research as well as the practical aspects of the assignment and more extended writing about this can be found in my blog entries.

In summary, I think I have gone part way to capture the beauty of artificial light, which is of course subjective and I have drawn influence from a range of sources as set out in this written summary. But I feel there is a lot of room to improve my work and develop this idea further.

Contact Sheets for the assignment are set out below:

EYV Assign 4 Contact Sheets Document V2



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

Luxemburg, R.B. (2011) Artists Tumblr found at: (Accessed December 2015)

Shintaro, S. (2014) – Night Lights, Seigensha, Tokyo

Brassai, (1932) Paris by Night- (Reprint by Bullfinch, London, 1993)

Jay, W. (1999) Brandt-The Photography of Bill Brandt, Thames and Hudson, London

Frost, L. (1999) The Complete guide to Night and Low Light Photography, David and Charles,London

Tura, B. (2015) Drift -found at (Accessed December 2015)

Tutor Feedback

The feedback from this Assignment was what I expected and reflected my own self evaluation of the work. My tutor was positive and constructively critical about the promise of the work and the direction of travel of my development.  Again though my images did not quite live up to the ambition of the work.

The strengths of the work were identified as:

“Cohesive and atmospheric feel”

“Clearly making strides”

“Research is excellent and self evaluation is honest and realistic”

The limitations of the work we summarised as:

“None of the photos are strikingly original”

“Personal vision has not been nailed”

I remain optimistic and the critical elements of the feedback will help me move forward.  As with the previous assignment I will reshoot this work before submission to see if I can close the gap between the ambition of my work and its final execution

I remain positive although there is a recurring theme that my ideas are are good, possibly even string, but the final execution is not living up to the aims of the work. 

A PDF of the original submission to my tutor is attached below:

EYV Assignment 4 Final Submission V1

Response to tutor- Assignment 4 feedback

Dear Robert,

Many thanks for your feedback on assignment 4. It is as ever really helpful and has given me much food for thought.

I am pleased that I managed to create a degree of coherence to the set and completely agree with your analysis about the work feeling more like a research piece than a finished response to the brief. In some respects I feel I am really only laying down foundations at the moment.

I am pleased at your comments about the builder’s temporary hoarding image. Ironically I hesitated at including it in the set. As I made the image of the hoarding (and the others you will have seen in the contacts sheets) I was struck by the entirely different character it took on under artificial light, in fact I think it becomes a different object. I didn’t achieve the same outcomes with image 6 of the railings but it is the transformation of the familiar into something different that I was seeking to achieve. Your advice about going wider to create a greater sense of the environment is really helpful too.

Based on your feedback I am going to reshoot the assignment and as you suggest ‘go deeper’ around the specific theme of the sculptural nature of some objects and the effects of artificial light upon them. I have had a quick look at the work Geert Gioris and will explore this in more detail. I am immediately struck by his studies of buildings, structures and constructed space.

I am very conscious of your assessment potential statement which understandably puts a caveat on my potential to make the grade at formal assessment:

“In order to meet the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I outline in my feedback”

I want to ensure that when I re make this work I address these limitations in my work. With this in mind I just want to check with you I have correctly understood the specifics of this. From your feedback I am taking the following:

My work is not yet meeting the ‘demonstration of creativity’ criteria in that it simply isn’t striking or original enough (I am reminded of Tony Ray Jones’s manifesto statement ‘don’t take boring pictures’!)

Similarly, the quality of outcome criteria isn’t being met because of the above. I also recognise I need to focus in a on a narrower topic within the chosen subject.

In terms of technical and visual skills there are some issues with correcting the curvature created by wide angle lenses, but perhaps more importantly the visual elements of the work are not yet strong enough.

Really pining this down is important to me because I am keen to address this and successfully meet the assessment criteria

Based on this I am going to:

-Reshoot the assignment

Focus on the theme that emerged in Image 4,

-Explore the work of Geert Goiris

-Think about the use of wider viewpoints that place a object in a greater context

-Think more about visual impact and originality

-Travel further a field to widen the range of locations,

Please let me know if this sounds right. In the meantime I will also press on with section 5. Again many thanks for your feedback, advice and support, it is really making me think and will help me get to grips with being a better photographer. Reflecting on where I am in the programme as I move into the final phase of this first course I do remind myself that it is the equivalent of reaching the end of the first term of a 3 year course in a bricks and mortar institution. I take some solace in this given I have a way to go yet!

Best wishes






Assignment 2: feedback, reflections and revision

I received feedback on assignment 2 a little while ago but I am only now getting a chance to add it to my blog and reflect on it. I must say I was really pleased with the comments from my tutor and I have used them as I work at planning my next assignment. I am not going to include the comments in line with the student guidance but I was very pleased with them and they contained very helpful, detailed and construct feedback.

In response to individual comments about the images I have changed the first image from the original set submitted. The first image I submitted, although it was one I liked, it didn’t sit coherently with the whole set, the revised one in the set on the blog brings more unity to the whole set.

For the sake of being able to show development, he original submission to my tutor can be seen here:

John Orr Assignment Two V1

Response to tutor in response to Assignment 2 Feedback

Dear Robert,

Many thanks for your very helpful critique and commentary on my second assignment. Your comments will help me further develop my skills and the approach I am taking to assignments in general.

I entered into this latest assignment in a very different way to the first one, taking on board your comments about Assignment One. As an aside I have some plans underway to re-shoot some elements of Assignment One but I’m waiting patiently for some very specific weather conditions. The square mile is becoming a longer term undertaking, although I want to complete the re-shoot well in advance of final submission as a sort of ‘before and after’ element to my final assessment portfolio.
In terms of the Crowds assignment, I really enjoyed the whole process from planning, execution, processing and final selection. Indeed it isn’t work when you’re enjoying yourself!

Whilst I brought precisely the same technical skills to this assignment as the first, I occupied a very different ‘psychological space’ in undertaking Assignment Two. Not only did I make far more images and try several different approaches but I had a much greater focus on creating a sense of cohesion in the set. The result is i think better work. That said Reflecting on the set there are still things I would change and like assignment one there has been significant learning on my part I feel.

I will press on with section three and I have some experimental work to add to the blog, it hasn’t quite worked yet but I will be reshooting my Berenice Abbot inspired shots in the next week or so. Given the focus on fragments of time, there is some real linkage to some of the work I enjoyed most in the revelations exhibition.

As I work through section three I am also starting to shape the plans for Assignment Three, I am looking at the work of Cartier-Bresson, but also at the work of Paul Graham and his somewhat different take on the decisive moment. I have started to look at Street Photography Now and several online street photography collectives. I haven’t settled on an approach yet but my reasearch phase is well underway.

Many thanks for the deadline date, that will be helpful in planning the work ahead and I have set myself some milestone deadlines in between.

Very best wishes and thanks for you ongoing support, it is appreciated.


Assignment 3- The decisive moment

The decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one: the
result is not a story but a picture.
(Swarkowski, 2007, p.5)

You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything
looks just the same.
(Eddie in Stranger Than Paradise, Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1984)


1. Prints
Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme
of the ‘decisive moment’. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive
moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of
weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.

You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.

2. Assignment notes
Submit assignment notes of between 500 and 1,000 words with your series. Introduce your subject and describe your ‘process’ – your way of working. Then briefly state how you think each image relates to the concept of the decisive moment. This will be a personal response as there are no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course. You’ll find it useful to explore the photographers and works referenced in Project 3, if you haven’t already done so. Don’t forget to use Harvard referencing.

Post your prints, no larger than A4, to your tutor together with your assignment notes.

Assignment 3

Transience and Tradition-
Inverting the decisive moment, experiments in durational space.

The English seaside town is a mix of tradition and the transient. Holiday makers in transit pass through the town but are ultimately only a temporary presence. During the summer months populations increase and holiday makers seek the sun, sea and the trappings of the coastal town. This work does not set out to tell a story but rather, share a number of moments that are bound together through a sense of the contrast between the fixed and the temporal. It attempts to explore how these two notions are bound by a sense of place. Most importantly I set out, all be it in a very personal way, to try and achieve what Paul Graham (2012) described as:

“the breaking down of the decisive moment, not allowing life to become this single frozen shard, trying to reflect something of the flow of time in the work”

Assignment Images

Assignment Notes

Introduction and influences

Assignment three challenged me to think differently, to experiment and to move even further from my traditional comfort zone. I reflected on the brief and a number of key factors struck me as starting points around which to plan and execute this assignment.

The first was the note in the assignment brief that stated:

“This will be a personal response and there is no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course” pp72

This specific line motivated me to take a more experimental approach to the brief and to utilise what I had learned through the course to date. In addition, I was keen to experiment in response to my experience of attending the OCA  study visit to the Science Museum the see the Revelations: Experiments in Photography Exhibition (a full write up of of this study visit can be found at:

The second key factor was the exploration of the work of a number of the photographers highlighted in the third section of the course. In particular the work of Michael Wesley, Francesca Woodman and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Although all quite different in their style and outcomes, I found a unifying theme in their shared use of long exposure image making. In Woodman’s case only a few seconds, for Sugimoto a few hours and for Wesley several years. Considering the work of these photographers really made me think about the concept of the ‘durational space’ and the cameras power to reveal different perspectives on time and the world around us.

I was also struck by Pantell’s (2012) reflections on Paul Graham’s work, ‘The Present’. In particular his statement about the work suggesting:

“Maybe this is a homage to Friedlander, Frank and Winogrand, but its with the proviso that Graham is doing something completely different. He is not so much showing us something as posing a question; what do we look at when we look at a photograph?”

Both Pantell (2012) and Joby (2012) describe Graham’s work in this photo book as a reaction to the tradition of the decisive moment. Indeed Graham (2012) himself states:

“the breaking down of the decisive moment, not allowing life to become this single frozen shard, trying to reflect something of the flow of time in the work”

Looking at the work on-line, Graham’s images of New York in The Present are a different take on the decisive moment. To me, Graham manages the create a sense of time that is very different to the classical street photographers and traditional notions of the decisive moment. Specifically there is not a sense of the whimsical or the humorous but rather a deepening sense of place, time and people going about there often ordinary business. It the very ordinariness of the scenes he records that to me creates a sense of time and place.


Copyright Paul Graham

The cumulative effect or exploring the work of the artists described above was to make me rethink the notion of the the decisive moment. Whilst the decisive moment might have been a 1/125 (although not literally) of second event for Cartier Bresson (and or indeed many other photographers), the notion of the ‘moment’ is ill defined and does not I believe have to be a brief instant. Indeed there are a number of dictionary definitions of just what a ‘moment’ means. These range from a brief point in time to something altogether longer. The longer exposure work the Wesley, Sugimoto, Woodman and and the images from Graham’s: The Present are to me no less a decisive moment, they just happen to be different.

With this idea of the decisive moment as an extended space in time I set about looking at the work of a range of other photographers whose work entails a different interpretation of the durational space. This formed key preparation and indeed influence in developing ideas for the assignment submission.

The first of these is the photographer Alexey Titarenko (b.1962). On the recommendation of my tutor I had begun to read and regularly revisit Howarth and McLaren’s (2010) work: Street Photography Now. This introduced me to the work of a range of contemporary Street Photographers. Titarenko’s work stood out for his ethereal phantom like images. Using film and a medium format camera, Titarenko captured the fall of soviet communism in his home city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in a very unique way (see my Blog entry for more detail about this work:
I was captivated by not only the beauty of his work but also how time dilates in his images and the viewer witnesses an extended decisive moment, and in doing so is offered a different perspective on the world. Titarenko says he was was influenced by the limitations early European photographers faced and exposures needed to be lengthy in order to record and image.

The stark juxtaposition of movement in the people in the image below, set against the the fixed, sharp and permanent surrounding buildings creates a real sense of dynamism that adds something to the scene. The movement of the subjects also asked me to consider the place, the street the image was made and the time of day.


Copyright Alexey Titarenko

As the Exploring Your Vision course materials suggest:

“While some photographers try to resolve the problem of capturing movement within a still image by freezing it, others prefer to leave a trace of movement within the frame.” pp 62.

Whether by intent or by design the slow shutter’s ability to catch movement that would otherwise be unseen creates for me an alternative way to view the world. While considering the work of Robert Capa (1913 –1954) and his iconic images from the Normandy beaches there is not only a sense of movement, indeed urgency, but the blurred movement of also adds to the sense of place. The image below highlights this notion of the trace of movement assisting the viewer gain a sense of the context and the time.


Copyright Cornell Capa

In many respects I would argue that the Capa image forces the viewer to look into the scene to create meaning in the absence of sharp well defined content. To the viewer the image is partially complete, this lack of detail rather than detracting from the image, asks questions of the viewer? Because we know it is a beach in Normandy in June 1944, what knowledge the viewer carries about D-Day is added to the engagement with the image. The viewers knowledge and the content of the image create a coherent whole and because the viewer has to think there is I believe a sense of satisfaction in looking and and thinking about this work. This principle of the image carrying some of the meaning and the the viewer recognising this and almost filling in the gaps, based on prior knowledge, started me thinking about semiotics and the construction of meaning.

As part of the research for the topic I also looked at the work of some of the photographers of the American civil war. This may seem odd but I had been struck by how powerful some of the images of that time had been when I recently watched Burns (1990) haunting and memorable documentary about the this troubled time in the history of the united states. I was struck by how evocative some of the most mundane images were. Whilst the work of Matthew Brady (1822 –1896), a well known photographer of the American civil war is perhaps best known, it was an image by Timothy O’Sullivan (1840 – 1882) that best illustrates the point I am making. O’Sullivan was born in Ireland but emigrated to America with his parents, as a teenager he worked for Brady in his studio and went on to be a photographer of the civil war and later for the US Geological Survey. The image below is in many respects very simple, but to me asks so many questions. It is not a battle scene and not typical of war photography, but there is a dynamism and interest to the scene that is in part created by the mix of sharp and blurred elements in the composition. Indeed the blur give the image an unusual sense of depth.

Timothy O'Sullivan

Copyright the Estate of Timothy O’ Sullivan

I am challenged to consider what this group of soldiers are doing, is this before or after a battle? There is a mix of cavalry and infantry soldiers, is that usual, what was the nature of their conversations? The composition of the image is engaging too, whilst at first glance it is cluttered, there is something quite ordered about the alignment of all the elements of the image. Most importantly for me though the blur and movement generates interest and intrigue, perhaps the movement makes the image all the more real, a tangible record of a moment in time long past but caught forever with silver and light!

Similarly the image below by another of Brady’s contemporaries and employees, Alexander Gardner (1821 – 1882), a paisley born photographer who as an adult emigrated to the united states and went on to photograph the civil war, I find particularly powerful.

The image shows residents walking in the ruins of Richmond Virginia in 1885, the spectre like presence of the women in black on the right and the translucence of man and child on the far left perhaps sum up how residents confederate capital must have felt about the war, the loss of loved ones and ruins of their once fine city. Again it is the slow shutter that creates a very poignant but different decisive moment. What also struck me about this image was its similarity to the work of Titarenko, all be it almost 130 years earlier!


Copyright unknown (source

Location, process and execution

As with Assignment 2 I made the decision to shoot this in black and white as well . Although colour offers lots of creative opportunities I also thought the colour could be a distraction and it also gave me one less variable to be concerned about. I had also been reading Scott (2013) and in his description of how street photography developed as artists moved out of their studios he summed up for me the rationale for why shooting in black and white would work for me on this occasion. He suggests:

“Colour is often taxed for being preoccupied with appearances, with distractive superficialising glamour; while black and white for its part, has all the gravity of a perceptual asceticism, which by dint of self denial is able to reveal and intepret underlying relationships.” pp21-22

This statement far more eloquently than I provides a real rationale for the value of making images in black and white. For this reason most of the images were taken with the camera in monochrome mode and the film images where shot on black and white film stock.

Having explored in a degree of detail the work of the photographers described above I resolved to explore the concept of the durational space and either use multiple exposures or slow shutter images in meeting the requirements of this assignment. In the first instance I set about experimenting with multiple exposures. To do this I used a medium format film camera, medium speed black and white film, a tripod and a cable release. I was still deciding on a location but wanted to undertake some test images that were more about experimenting with technique. I made a number of multiple exposure images but ultimately decided that single slow shutter images would better suit the effect I wanted to create. Although interesting the multiple exposure approach did not have the impact that I was seeking.

Again, using a medium format film camera I made a number of slow shutter(¼ of a second up to 4 second) exposures. I experimented in a fixed location and quickly realised after processing the film that once the exposure goes beyond 1 second in normal daylight conditions moving object such as people and vehicles in effect disappear and you are left with the impression of an empty space. As I wanted to capture people in motions I then decided to move back to digital equipment and experiment with a flash gun as well as long exposure shots.

After the period of experiment and test shooting in Norwich city centre I then chose the seaside town of Cromer as the final location for the assignment and spent two days looking for vantage points and then taking images. Cromer was very busy and it was a sense of the ‘busy’ that I was seeking. In the end I narrowed the shooting locations down to the junction of the main streets in the town, the pier and the he promenade. I could have looked more widely but decided that too many locations would lead to a disparate sense of place and I would run the risk of the work not being unified and linked by the location.

This proved to be a productive approach and this was the technique I deployed when I went to the final shooting locations to make the images for the assignment. From a technical perspective I realised I needed to manage light. With ¼, ½ and 1 second exposures in bright seaside conditions real challenges are presented in ensuring images are not vastly over exposed. Even setting the cameras ISO to its lowest setting and shooting with lenses set to f16 and f22, there was still too much light for the sensor To manage this I used a range of Red, Yellow and Neutral Density filters to bring the exposure back under control. That said even with the Red and Yellow filter together the days I made the images were so bright I still had some over exposed pictures as the contact sheets illustrate.

The final images were all taken with the camera operating between ¼ and 1 second. During the exposure I manually fired a high power hand held flashgun, I wanted to ensure that I illuminated the people in motion and minimised the risk of subject disappearing during the slow shutter exposure. The flash is not evident on all of the images but on some it really did make the difference, contributing to the effect I wanted to create. On some of the my long duration ‘decisive moments’ I believe the images benefited from this approach. I did however get some strange looks from passer by, as I fired the flash multiple times during the longer exposures, even though it was bright day.

Assessment and Self review

From more than 200 digital images and 40 images on film I narrowed the selection down to about 20 and then down to a final 7. The contact sheets illustrate the range of approaches I took and for me are a good record of the process of refining a broad collection of images down to a final coherent set that meets the brief, are technically acceptable and most importantly feel right. The process of planning, experimenting, then executing the assignment was really engaging and enjoyable, my only frustration was the limit of time available, I would have liked a little more time. I am sure this is something many students feel though.

This has been a very interesting assignment to research too, as has been the the write up and assembly of the images for mailing to my tutor. In many respects I am not happy with the final set but I am happy with my learning journey and what I have gained in knowledge and experience on the way! I believe that the positive learning through this section of the course outweighs my dissatisfaction with the final set.

I need to qualify this sense of dissatisfaction though. The images don’t quite achieve what what I visualised in my head. But I believe I am several steps closer to translating a personal vision into a set of images that I would be happy with. With this in mind I will revisit the approach I used in the assignment and further refine the process. I need to take many more images, I need to experiment further get and use a range of darker neutral density filters and I am certain I will work more with the idea of slow shutter scenes.

Since finishing the assignment I have looked further at Titarenko’s work and also the images of Australian photographer Trent Parke. Parke’s work is gritty and fluid and he revisits many of the same places, but it is his use of light, harsh contrast and at times a slow shutter that I am most drawn too. As I further refine my search for a personal voice I am certainly learning and discovering some amazing photographers whose work has me itching to hit the streets and make more images. My journey continues!


Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1, Expressing Your Vision, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley
Burns, K. (1990) The Civil War– A film by Ken Burns, Florentine films
Howarth, S. & McLaren, S. (2010) Street Photography Now, Thames and Hudson, London
Joby, L. (2012) Paul Graham- The Present- Financial Times, February 10th 2012
Pantall, C. (2012) The Present by Paul Graham (review) found
Parke, T. (2013) Minutes to Midnight, Steidl
Scott, C. (2013) Street Photography- From Atget to Cartier Bresson, IB Tauris, London
Titarenko, A. and Bauret, G. (2015) The City is a Novel, Damiana, London
Whelan, R. (2001) Robert Capa- The Definitive Collection, Phaidon, London

Assignment 2: Collecting – Crowds


Create a series of between six and ten photographs from one of the following options, or a subject of your own choosing:

  • Crowds
  • Views
  • Heads

Use the exercises from Part Two as a starting point to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint for the set. Decide upon a single format, either vertical or horizontal. You should keep to the same combination throughout to lend coherence to the series.

  • Crowds make a great subject for photography, not least because they are so contemporary. A city rush hour is a good place to start but events also offer great opportunities to photograph the crowd rather than the event. The foreshortened perspective of the telephoto lens will compress a crowd, fitting more bodies into the frame, but it can also be used to pick out an individual person. A wide-angle lens can capture dynamic shots from within the action.
  • If you choose to make a collection of views you need to be prepared to do some walking so keep the weight of your equipment to a minimum – you’ll walk further and see more. A tripod will be important to allow you to select a combination of small aperture and slow shutter speed to ensure absolute sharpness throughout the frame. The weather and time of day will be crucial, whether for urban or landscape
  • views. A wide-angle lens is the usual choice but Ansel Adams also used a medium telephoto to foreshorten the perspective, bringing the sky, distance and foreground closer together.
  • Heads: Frame a‘headshot’, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds. The light will be paramount and a reflector is a useful tool (you can ask the subject to hold it), throwing light up into the face, especially the eyes. The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral which is quite difficult to achieve, but try to achieve a natural rather than an artificially posed look.


“The crowd- The mass or multitude of ordinary people”

 Oxford English Dictionary

Covent Garden 7 230mm f8 1-700 (1 of 1)

“If it has to choose who is to be crucified, the crowd will always save Barabbas” – Jean Cocteau

Be yourself 230mm f6.7 1-600 (1 of 1)

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken” – Oscar Wilde

Covent Garden 10 230mm f8 1-900 (1 of 1)

“One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take the medicine” William Osler

Youth 205mm f14 1-125 (1 of 1)

“If you want to hold a crowd, just mystify it.” Ernest Vincent Wright

Covent Garden 6 95mm f8 1-200 (1 of 1)

“If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd” Edward De Bono

Solo man 230 mm f 6.7 1-680 (1 of 1)

“Every select man strives instinctively for a citadel and a privacy, where he is free from the crowd” Friedrich Nietzsche

Covent Garden side 17 216mm f9 1-300 (1 of 1)

“The only power deserving the name is that of the masses” John Stuart Mill

Covent Garden side 19 216mm f13 1-160 (1 of 1)

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.” Philip K Dick

( click on image to enlarge)

Introduction and background to the assignment

For this assignment I selected the theme of Crowds. This was intended to be a challenging choice given that I live in a sparsely inhabited area of eastern England.

I was also aware that as well as attempting to produce a coherent set of images, I wanted to explore and demonstrate some of the techniques that had been discussed and practiced in the exercises within section two of the course. In particular the concentration on the control of aperture as a way of managing the space in an image as seen by the viewer. The course demonstrated how by controlling what the viewer sees, through for example the use of wide apertures and a directive shallow depth of filed or the viewer being left to make their own choice through the use of narrow apertures and deep focus. I also wanted to make reference to the notion of aesthetic codes and my developing understanding of this concept. In all there was a lot to try and cover in the assignment.

Early in the planning stages I decided to shoot the images in monochrome. My reasoning for this was to remove one of the variables and in trying to create a coherent theme, I felt the colour could be a distraction.

In considering the content of the images I considered ‘crowds and the masses’ as themes that have been picked up in literature and writing in general. As part of my preparations and planning I also looked at some perspectives in literary sources, homing in on a number of quotes about crowds from a range of sources. I had also been reflecting on Berger’s (2013) idea that images can take on new meaning when combined with other coded information, the most common being the addition of the written word with an image. With this in mind I decided to add a related quote with each of my images. A bit risky perhaps, but I had committed to taking more risks following the feedback from assignment one.

Technical and practical approaches

The first choice to make was the location or locations I could make my images. In the search for crowds I thought I would travel to London where I would be guaranteed significant groups of people, this proved to be an important choice. I settled on a number of locations and scheduled some shooting time in planned trips to London already in my diary. The final locations I settled on were: Liverpool Street station, Covent Garden Piazza, Oxford Street / Regent Street, Camden Market and the Underground tube system.

From the outset I decided to take two separate and distinct approaches in making the images. The first was to look at crowds from a fixed vantage point and use a long focal length lens to flatten perspective and isolate specific scenes within a crowd. Within this approach I set out to use a mix of wide and narrow apertures to create both deep and shallow depth of field images. This approach did present some specific technical challenges because using narrow aperture and long focal lengths would in an ideal world be assisted with a tripod. However this was not possible in the busy locations I selected so I needed to shoot all the images hand held. The longest focal length I used for the images was 345mm. This did require the use of relatively high ISO settings as well.

In parallel to this approach I set out to make a number of images by moving through and within a crowd. To do this I used a very wide angle lens (15mm) set to a narrow aperture. The purpose of this approach was to attempt to photograph the crowd from within and the narrow aperture was to ensure as deep a focus as possible. There were challenges with this approach given that the narrower aperture required slow shutter speeds on the dull days I took the images. Careful hand holding proved to be a must. It is worth noting that both approaches were given an equal amount of time but only one of the two approaches provided me with images that I wanted to use in the final selection.

Self review and evaluation

My final selection was 8 images from more than 200 taken with mainly long focal lengths, although there were one or two taken with a shorter focal length. In the final choice I excluded all the images taken with the ultra wide angle lens from within the crowd. The reason for this was that from a distance and using a longer focal length a real sense of the crowd as mass of people is seen, this sense of a mass of people was an element of the aesthetic code I was trying to create. A key element of this was a sense of claustrophobia and people in very close proximity.

Up close and from within a crowd, there is not the same sense of the density of people and bodies. Put simply, from within the crowd there is not the same sense of of there actually being a crowd. The rejected images below highlight this and are representative of a significant body of photographs I chose not to use. From a distance the space looked very crowded but within the crowd there simply was not the level of interest or context I was attempting to photograph.

Oxford Circus 1 (1 of 1)

Oxford Street, 15mm at f11


Oxford street 7 (1 of 1)

Leicester Square, 15mm at f8

I experienced the same effect on the tube train, even on very busy tube trains, where I needed to use a very wide angle lens, narrow aperture and slow shutter speed, in the confined space there is still not the sense of claustrophobia and population density I wanted to achieve. The image below demonstrates this, it was a very crowded train but it is hard to capture a real sense of the mass of people in a crowd, as I discovered from within the crowd! Being the outsider was a much better approach.This was not wasted time though, understanding this line of photographic exploration still yielded valuable learning.

Tube 5 (1 of 1)

Tube train 15mm at f5.6

Using a longer focal length I also looked at some high vantage points, but again even in some apparently very busy locations I still struggled to create a sense of people in close proximity, the images simply didn’t fit what I was trying to achieve in recording a sense of the crowd. The images below were rejected but demonstrate some of the wider experimental and exploratory approaches I tried.

Camden market 18mm f11 1-1800 (1 of 1)

Camden Market 27mm at f8

I applied the same approach at the train station and made a number of images, some included a ‘blurring’ as people rushed through the station concourse. I explored this theme for a while but just felt that the images were dull and didn’t convey what I wanted to say. I have included a few examples below for reference.

Liverpool Street 23m f811 1-105 (1 of 1)

Liverpool Street Station 27mm at f11

Liverpool Street Station 27mm at f11

Liverpool Street 35.8mm f11 1-40 (1 of 1)

Liverpool Street Station 27mm at f11

Having experimented with a number of approaches, the images below, taken with a long focal length on Regents Street gave confirmed for me that the use of long focal length to create a sense of ‘population density’ within a crowd was the approach I wanted to explore further. The images didn’t quite achieve what I was envisioning but they influenced what I was doing and how I was thinking and shaping my vision of how to respond to the assignment brief. The subsequent set of images, predominantly take around the Piazza at Covent Garden, using a 55-230mm (1.5x crop framed camera lens) gave me the direction to complete the assignment.

Regent Street Front 20 144mm f6 1-2900 (1 of 1)

Regent Street 215mm at f16

Regent Street Front 21 144mm f14 1-680 (1 of 1)

Regent Street 215mm at f14

It is important to note that I wasn’t happy with either of the above images but they opened up a different way of seeing the crowd. It occurred to me that I as creating a clear personal vision in my own mind about what I wanted to say in my crowd assignment.

In reviewing my final set of images I was reasonably happy with the technical quality of about 40% of the photographs. I feel the monochrome approach worked well and in the shallow depth of field images I was pleased with the areas of sharp focus and also the out of focus areas. I did think hard about the composition of the out of focus spaces as well as the sharp focus elements of the images.

There is plenty of room for improvement though. I would in the future use a monopod to allow for some slightly longer exposures which in turn would allow some narrower apertures to be used. Also, having undertaken this wok in monochrome and developed a personal vision in response to the brief, the next steps would be to try and move the process on and use colour too.


This was a very interesting assignment and I do feel that there is a coherence to the final set of images. I think I have created a sense of the crowd as a dense mass of people whilst also saying something of the individuals within the crowd. The literary references in the captions will shape the viewers thinking even if they do not like them.

All of that said there is much I could do to improve the work. Some of the images are not as sharp as I would like and there are several of the images there are distractions within the framing, where the final image was to some extent a compromise.

The idea of the crowd as a mass of individuals is a theme I have really only just scratched the surface in exploring. To improve the work I would like to get in even closer, make the individuals stand out more whilst still retaining the sense of a mass of people. In many respects I am far from satisfied with the final selection but they do illustrate what I was trying to communicate, they could certainly be improved through better framing and some cropping.

I would also like to explore the idea of solitude in the crowd, a tricky but interesting theme that at first may sound paradoxical. I have however made several images that I think are about solitude. I will re work some of these images and thoughts when I next get the opportunity to get back to London. As mentioned earlier I will also use a monopod for some of the longer focal length images.

On a final note I want to say something about aesthetic codes. In Mona Kuhn’s work highlighted in the course materials there is a clear reference to using a shallow depth of field to create a feeling of intimacy. I do think I have used a shallow depth of field in the context of the crowd to create intimacy, but also to create a sense of solitude and even perhaps alienation. In particular I feel the image below emphasises this, there are lots people, but some of them may well be very lonely.

Solo man 230 mm f 6.7 1-680 (1 of 1)

Covent Garden Piazza 230mm at f6.7

My learning point from this, which I reflect upon my blog, is that I believe that aesthetic codes are created by the interplay of a range of factors of which depth of field is just one. Framing, subject choice , colour and in some cases captioning all contribute to an aesthetic code. I recognise that I still have some way to go in fully understanding this concept. Through some peripheral reading, I now recognise the need to look at the concept of semiotics in some detail. Still lots to learn but I feel I am making some progress.


Berger, J. (2013) Understanding a Photograph. Penguin Classics, London

Cocteau, J. (1926) Le Rappel a L’ordre. Delemain et Boutelleau, Paris

DeBono, E. (2009) Quoted in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations Oxford Press, London

Dick, P.K. (2009) Quoted in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations Oxford Press, London

Mill, J.S. (1977) The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill-Essays on Politics and Society.Rutledge Keegan and Paul, London

Nietzsche, F. (2003) Beyond Good and Evil. Penguin Classics, London

 Bliss, M. (1999) William Osler, quoted in Osler: a life in medicine. Oxford

Wilde, Oscar (2009) Quoted in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations Oxford Press, London

Wright, E. (1939) Gadsby. CreateSpace.London

Zola, E. (1999) The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories. Oxford World Classics, London

Contact Sheets for Assignment Two

John Orr Crowds Contact Sheets

de Chirico, alienation and my square mile- some thoughts

In the feedback from my first assignment my tutor encouraged me to look at the work of the Italian artist Gorgio de Chirico. Although familiar with some surrealist painters I was unfamiliar with this artist and his work. As I investigated the artists, it became clear that although he influenced the surrealist movement, that title was perhaps not appropriate for him.

In my square mile assignment a recurrent theme for me as the photographer was my self-ascribed status as an ‘outsider’ in my own immediate square mile. Although I felt my self to be an ‘outsider’ status I failed to convey this in the images I produced. Perhaps the only one that comes close is the final shadow image in the set.

My tutor made the following suggestion:

Have a look at de Chirico’s paintings of the urban environment and see how that relates to the way Antonioni visualised “the city” in his films, like The Passenger or Blow-Up. There are large, concrete urban spaces, which are almost empty of people but for a few distant figures often set apart by distances. This reflects the alienated space experimented with in de Chirico’s paintings that depict pieces of places and flat planes.

I also considered the work of Antonioni and have watched his film ‘Blow Up’ as part of my research and study for this course. I will write a separate blog entry about that though when time permits. I have however spent quite some time looking at the work of de Chirico. I have really enjoyed this area of research and I think I have begun to visualise how I might create a sense of alienation in my images.

Let me explain why!

Whether or not some one likes de Chirico’s work, I personally do, it is clear that he uses a number of recurring themes to say something about the world and humans place within it.

In his paintings he presents a stark picture of a human landscape in which large flat surfaces of colour depict simple, yet classical buildings. Columns, arches and towers, drawn in very rudimentary and angular style create a view of the world as being empty accept for the occasional figure or pair of figures. The artist also employs an unusual and exaggerated sense of perspective that to me creates and uneasy, not quite balanced feel to the work. This deliberate and I assume meant to add the the sense of things not being quite right with the world.

In some paintings, human presence is merely implied by shadows. A particular recurring theme is pairs of figures, generally dwarfed by the surroundings, not seen in any particular detail and more emblematic of human presence than studies of people in them selves. It is in these paintings, I have included some examples below, that I can see sense of alienation and sense of ‘edifice’ overpowering human existence. de Cirico seems to create a view of a very lonely space in which the constructed world dominates those who constructed it perhaps. Single or pairs of figures overshadowed by their surroundings.

Two further motif’s in some of his paintings are distant steam trains silhouetted on the horizon and elaborate public sculptures set in the streets and piazza’s of the scenes he has created. Both, perhaps emblems of art and science, although this is a personal interpretation rather than a scholarly informed one!

In the Antonioni film ‘Blow Up’ a central theme is the photographer unwittingly witnessing a murder. The scene is set in an open space between woodland in an urban park. The photographer secretly (initially) photographs two figures from some distance as they play out an unknown conversation, engagement, argument or some other communication. To me this scene, central to the film, is very much influenced by de Chirico’s work, although the buildings are replaced by woodland, there is a sense of emptiness and distance, an atmosphere of the human presence being fleeting and even perhaps temporary?


Italian plaza with equestrian statue


Mystery and Melancholy of a Street 1914


Piazza d’Italia 1913

What does all of this mean for me as a photographer?

Well, I want to be able to create a sense of the ‘outsider’ in my work. I am going to look for distant figures in the landscape I photographed for the square mile assignment. Distant figures in the landscape certainly attest to mans presence and I like the idea of trying to replicate how de Chiricos figures are dwarfed by their surroundings and in some sense seem out of place. It is a challenging task but this short bit of research has given me some food for thought about what I frame in my camera’s viewfinder and why. In my self-evaluation of the first assignment, considering what I framed was a key area of learning. Through a consideration of de Chirico’s work I now have some additional ideas! Let’s see where that might take me?
A few biographical words about Gorgio de Chirico (10 July 1888 – 20 November 1978) based upon Internet searches

He was an Italian artist, although born and initially educated in Greece. He did also study in Munich and this would appear to have been a very influential time for him. In the years before World War I, he founded the ‘scuola metafisica’ art movement, which appears to have been influential to surrealist artists. After 1919, he became interested in traditional painting techniques, and worked in a neo-classical or neo-Baroque style, while frequently revisiting the metaphysical themes of his earlier work.

An interesting collection of de Chirico work, a source I found very useful