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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3KuY0quBsk ( 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: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography ( Accessed 26th November 2015)

Yentob, A. 2013 Vivian Maier-Who Took nannies Pictures found at : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0366jd5


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