Which categories would you have on your mode dial- Some thoughts!

Reflecting on page 112 of the course, the authors asks the question:

‘which categories would you have on your mode dial’.

Thinking about the areas for development from my assignment feedback and also where I need to develop my practice I came up with the slightly whimsical page from a fictitious camera manual!

Personal Mode Dial 2




Photography as information

Some reflections on the course notes

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

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

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


Copyright Rinko Kawauchi

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

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

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



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

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


Chapter 5 Research Point (pp106)

Terry Barrett on Photographs and Contexts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright Cornell Capa

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


Copyright Doisneau Estate

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

A personal reflection on the Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary: ‘L’amour de court’ (‘Just plain love’, 2001)

There can be few people with an interest in photography that would not know something about Henri Cartier Bresson. The notion of the ‘decisive moment’ and Cartier Bresson’s catalogue of iconic images, capturing memorable moments in time, must truly make him a central figure in photography’s canon of leading exponents of the art.

Through a long-term interest in the work of photographers associated with the Magnum Agency I was familiar with this photographers work, Cartier Bresson being a founding member of the agency.

It was in this context that I watched (several times) Raphael O’ Byrnes haunting documentary ‘L’amour de court’. Made in 2001 when Cartier Bresson was 92. I was immediately struck by the contrast between the apparent frailty of the famous photographer with the still sharp vivacity of his thinking, humour and wisdom.

Looking more deeply into the content of the documentary, his desire to look forward and move on, was quite uplifting. ‘L’amour de court’ was in many respects simultaneously inspiring and melancholic, the content of the documentary was at times quite broad and wide. The early section about image making with juvenile prisoners in detention in an institution in a former soviet republic was a link between a contemporary photographer and protégé of Cartier Bresson who had in the past worked with him on a similar project in a French prison. At one point Cartier Bresson says:

“I should go back to Fleury with Sluban”

Referring to  French photographer Klavdij Sluban who he undertook a prison photography workshop with in 1995. Although the documentary then shifts to Sluban in the former soviet union, I was left reflecting on Cartier Bresson’s thoughts about his own time in prison during his military service. His statement that he always feels line and ‘Escaped prisoner’, a poignant thought from someone who has spent a lifetime observing and recording others.

For me the documentary not only provided insight into Cartier Bresson’s life, thoughts and motivations, but it also says much about photography’s place as a form of expression in a wide spectrum of visual and musical arts. Let me explain this grand statement!

Early in the documentary Cartier Bresson talks deeply not about the ‘instant decisive’ but far more about the geometry of the visual. His reflections on image making as moments when the visual elements of the scene through the viewfinder of his Leica come together in a perfect form. He talks overtly about a golden section, for which he needs no compass, just his eye.

I was left with a sense of Cartier Bresson, as an artist, who happened to use a camera for much of his life but as someone who could well have painted or sculpted. Being a photographer, is just how he chose to express his creativity. In later life he swapped his camera for a sketchbook and he talked in a very matter of fact manner about seeing good shots to make but no more carrying a camera about with him. These scenes did make me wonder what his younger self would have said in a documentary in the 1950’s or 60’s perhaps?

O’ Byrnes inspired use of scenes with the late Avigdor Arikha, painter and historian talking about the compositional quality of Jacques Louis David’s portrait Juliette Récamier, emphasising the geometry of the visual locates not only Cartier Bresson’s work in wider visual arts but also photography’ importance in the visual arts. Similarly the inclusion of scenes of Italian cellist Paolo Beschi’s master class on the subtleties of Bach Cello pieces and in particular his emphasis of the syncopating bow work when playing particular arpeggios creates a sense of the detail and nuance essential to communicate the composers intent. For me this aligned with the subtleties of Cartier Bresson’s image making and complexity he conveys in what at first glance may appear to be a simple image. There was for me a strong linked implied between this and Cartier Bresson’s attention to detail and high level of selectivity about what he committed to film.

There were to some contradictions for me though within the documentary. Cartier Bresson’s work is beautifully composed and thoughtful in its content. So it was interesting that at 17 minutes into the documentary he suggests the following:

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

However, what is certain is that his keen eye for the geometry of the golden section, his patience and his determination allowed him to time after time collect and record the human condition with skill and aplomb. I would argue this was far from luck and far more to do with a highly sophisticated visual acuity and the ability to find the beautiful and engaging in the everyday. I strongly suspect Cartier Bresson made his own luck.

At 102 minutes into the documentary there was for me one of the most telling expositions of Cartier Bresson’s ability as a photographer and artist. The narrator describes how Cartier Bresson blended into the background at the funeral of a Japanese Kabuki Actors funeral, allowing him to record the poignant moments of grief and remembrance in the faces of the actor’s friends. In the last place a photographer might be welcome, Cartier Bresson moves to the centre of the group of mourners, almost becoming one of them and recording forever the fleeting moments a human emotion, otherwise lost. This really is the ‘instant decisive’, not merely the strongly composed images of a striking group of people, but all the attendant thoughts and emotions locked into this two-dimensional recording of a moment in the human condition, long passed. Cartier Bresson’s legacy is perhaps far more about his record of life and love of it than it is about the legacy of iconic images he left behind

In the closing frames of the documentary there is a poignant moment where Cartier Bresson is asked what of the future holds? He replies:

“Question yourself, it’s essential!”

Reflecting on this thought and a key quote I found by the photographer (1952):

“Of all means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant. We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

I have a real sense of the power of the camera, but an even greater sense of power of the photographer. In all, the documentary, which initially I found hard to read, proved to be an inspiring and thought provoking exposition of Cartier Bresson’s contribution to the art form. It also offered me some inspiration for assignment three and my OCA studies beyond!

With that in mind I too am off for a glass of red!

Cartier Bresson, H. (1952) The Decisive Moment. Simon and Schuster, New York

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

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

Scott, C. (2013) Street Photography –from Atget to Cartier Bresson. IB Tauris, London

The full documentary can be found at:


Some short reflections on the work of Michael Wesley

I have come a little late to the work of Michael Wesley, but I was drawn by a comment made by Edurado Martinez. When commenting on Wesley’s work  he suggests:

In his hands, the time contained in a single picture is dilated to the extent of becoming a matter of days, months and even years.

Wesley appears to have taken long exposure imaging to extremes and has developed techniques and equipment that allow exposures over many years. I have myself been interested in the motion of people in fixed scene and as a film photographer have experimented with extended exposure to solidify a scene but demonstrate the temporal traces of human activity. This sounds perhaps more profound than my work actually is but I have long since thought of photography as ‘stealing slices of time’, my own experiments have been predicated on the notion of stealing bigger slices! It is for this reason that Wesley’s work struck such a chord with me. His ability to make meaningful images over a serious duration of time is both intriguing but also empowering. As humans we move through a solid, and over years in many cases, a world that in general remains static, fixed  and concrete. Whilst there are changes to the built environmen we inhabit, changes are perhaps, incremental and therefore not perceived. Photography can however, as it has done through time, reveal what the eye never sees in real time. Wesley challenges this with his images of the rebuilding of cityscapes, good examples being Postdammer Platz in Berlin and the rebuilding of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His strange almost abstract photographs plot such changes but in a manageable photographic construct. His work is like a time lapse film, but all captured in an individual frame.


Copyright Michael Wesley


Copyright Michael Wesley

In a previous blog entry I suggested that photography offers a form of time travel in its ability to look back in time through the images we make and collect. When I first bought a film scanner and began to scan my archive of negatives I found my self to all intents and purposes traveling in times lol be it in one direction and being reacquainted with my past. When I began to scan negatives and transparencies for family and friends, many taken before I was born, I traveled to moments in lives from their pasts and in some cases long before I was born. Wesley however creates and entirely different construct on photography as a controller of time. In a single frame he captures the signs of change, in a single image, slices of time assembled into a coherent whole which tells us something different about the world we inhabit.

Considering the work of Wesley has been eye opening and has forced me to change my understanding of the concept of the Decisive Moment, for him there is an extension to this concept, time plotted in a single coherent, if unusual image. Indeed Wesley forces the viewer to re evaluate the notion of tim, our environment and out place In that environment. As someone with some education in the sciences I am always a little annoyed when time is described as the fourth dimension, this to me is an over simplification of a more complex quantum concept. A better description is that time is what we experience as we move through the fourth dimension. Unlike any other photographer I am familiar with to to date (I appreciate there will be many out there that I do not know!) using long exposure techniques Wesley for me beautifully captures an unusual perspective on our journey through time. That said I think Martinez captures much more eloquently than me the essence of Wesley’s work, suggesting his images:

show how the time knits presences and unwinds absences, mixing its trajectories as being threads tied at some points.

I will write more on this topic over time but at this stage and in response to Wesley work I am loading two medium format film cameras with Chinese slow speed black and white film and am about to set out to make some long exposure images inspired by this work. I am not going to try and capture work like Wesley made, his took years, mine will be of a much shorter duration! But I do want to try and assemble and record a creative juxtaposition between the solid unchanging forms in the built world around us and movement over time of the people that inhabit the spaces I am photographing. This is fundamentally different to Wesley work, which to my eye records the changing nature of the built environment over very long durations. Again his work encourages thought in that his notion of the ‘duration all space’ demands a different consideration than the image capurd in 1/250 of a second! What images I make will however have been influenced by my interpretation of what Wesley’s work says about time the temporal To be continued!!!


Martinez, E (2012):  Michael Wesely: the experience of time in the longest exposed photographs in http://pocketmemories.net/ideas/features/michael-wesely-experience-time-longest-exposed-photographs

The decisive moment- some personal thoughts

Street photography now

At this point in part 3 of the programme of study the course materials request that I set down a few words as to where I stand on the debate around the notion of the decisive moment.

I have pondered on the concept throughout this part of the course and through exposure to the work of photographers like Francesca Woodman, Michael Wesley, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Paul Graham, Alexey Titarenko and Trent Parke I have re-evaluated my own position.

There is a right and proper homage to the work of Henri Cartier Bresson and he not only created some defining moments in the art of photography, but also he created to sense of the medium as a powerful communicator of human emotion. Interestingly though from all my reading about him, photography was just a tool and ultimately it was painting that he turned to

But I have to own up to recognising that I have moved into the camp of those that have some concern, even cynicism about the concept of the decisive moment in the contemporary world. Henri Cartier Bresson’s work defined a time in photography when image makers, in possession of the then relatively new 35mm miniature camera were liberated from the limits of larger film and plate cameras. Photographers could immerse themselves in contexts and settings in a way that had perhaps not been possible before, or certainly not as easy in the past. Although Henri Cartier Bresson’s contemporaries, such as Frank Capa and George Rodger (fellow founding members of Magnum, along with Chim) both used 6×6 Twin Lens reflexes, I think it can be argued that the 35mm camera opened up new possibilities for photographers in the 1930’s and beyond. If anyone is in any doubt about the value of 35mm, Henri Cartier Bresson defines its immense capability through the work he produced with his relatively small format instrument.

That said, there can however be something of a cliché in many of the images that claim to capture the decisive moment and I recognise the point being made Ghazzi (2004) when he suggests:

“At its core the decisive moment is indeed mostly anecdotic-composed of short accounts of humorous or interesting incidents”

For many that followed Cartier Bresson (and indeed many of his contemporaries) the search to capture and share precisely what Ghazzi describes above would appear to have become the hallmark of the decisive moment. One only has to look at the vast number of online street photography sites to see what can appear to be the relentless search and repetition of versions of same moments. I have recently revisited a book I had not looked at for 20 years, Baudrillard’s (1981) –‘Simulacra and Simulation’. Its strikes me that I have to ask a question about what is the genuine reality of what I am seeing in many of these images. I also need to apply the same critique to my own work too!

When I look at more contemporary work aimed at street photography enthusiasts there are many interesting and engaging images, some are poignant and a few are genuinely moving, capturing moments that tell a deep story about the human condition. In general though, and this is a highly personnel statement, the vast majority are at best cliched and in some cases rooted firmly in the crass.

There is also another dimension to my critique of the ‘decisive moment’ that that raises questions. When I look at the work of photographers I have to enquire as to whether an image was the result of the serendipitous press of the shutter, as Henri Cartier Bresson did when he captured ‘Behind the Gare Saint Lazare’, or one of a sequence of many shots where the artist chooses the best of a collection?

Mag 3 (1 of 1)

As a fan of the work of many of the photographers of the Magnum Agency, of whom Henri Cartier Bresson, I have spent much time looking at the work of the agency and particularly enjoy the book -Magnum Contact Sheets (2014). To those not familiar with the work it is a weighty volume of some of the most iconic Magnum images over more than 70 years. The images are shown in the context of the contact sheets from which the final images were drawn. What is clear to even my uneducated eye is that in many cases the decisive moment has been carefully selected from a number of attempts at the same subject.

Mag 1a (1 of 1)

Copyright Magnum Agency

Mag2 (1 of 1)

Copyright Magnum Agency

Again it raises questions about which was actually the decisive moment? If this was a feature during the age of film, there are even more questions of the digitally made image that could be merely a moment in a long electronic frame burst. So, just what is the decisive moment?

Ghazzi, Z. (2004) The indecisiveness of the Decisive Moment at: http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson.htm
Lubben, K. (2014) Magnum Contact Sheets, Thames and Hudson
Baudrillard, J. (1981) Simulacra and Simulation, UM Press

Lens Work-Research Point: A personal conversation


In considering some of the photographers referred to in the course materials and looking at this end of chapter research point, it seems an apposite time to reflect on the notion of ‘Expressing Your Vision’.

From my basic understanding of the concept of ‘aesthetic codes’, it would appear that these are central to the way the photographers I will be considering create their own personal vision.

As I continue to search for a ‘personal voice’ in my own work I can, through the course materials so far, see some of the hallmarks of other photographer’s vision.

I also want to consider this idea in the context of the lens work elements of the second section of the course. What I have been doing through the exercises and reading is I believe demonstrating how control space and to some extent where the viewer of a picture looks or is directed to look.

This I can see is controlled to an extent through the settings of focus, aperture, the selection of focal length, focus point, framing all to varying degrees create theat influence exerted on the viewer. I would argue that these area central ideas to the notion expressing a vision. I will need to explore this idea further but at this stage I needed to record this point and my thinking in my blog.

In responding specifically to the research point question I am going to comment on the work of Ansel Adams, Fay Godwin, Mona Kuhn and Gianluca Cosci  in the context of my learning to date in the course.

Ansel Adams

I have been very interested in the work of Adams for many years and I have visited exhibitions of his work in the UK, Europe and the United States. I have had an interest in landscape photography and Adams is a well-known exponent of one of the most technical and aesthetically sophisticated approaches to the genre.

Adams is perhaps best known for his iconic monochrome studies of the American west, although his repertoire of work extended significantly beyond these subjects. As a member of the f64 group (a loose association of west coast photographers in the 1930’s and 40’s who subscribed to a very purist ethic of very sharp, deep depth of field images) his images use a very deep depth of field which I believe invites the viewer to see the whole scene. Viwers can decide themselves where to focus attention. Admas influence is to allow the viewer choice. His aesthetic codes are those of sharpness and realism with everything from the foreground, the mid ground and on to the distance being sharply in focus. There is something epic and monumental in some of his images and the f64 group principles are central to his practice.

His search for clarity and perhaps even truth in the images he made is summed up nicely in a reflection from his autobiography. While on a commercial assignment  he describes where the clients, a mining company, were deeply dissatisfied with the images he produced. Adams was asked to take a series of images of the workings of a mine and went about making a number of very high clarity well composed monochrome photographs of the mine and miners at work. When the mine owners saw the proof images they were horrified that the images were so sharp and clear that they unintentionally highlighted the fact that the mining company were illegally using wooden rather than steel roof joists. In his sharp and detailed images, even from a distance his control of tone (his Zone System is for discussion at another time) made the grain of the timber highly visible and blatant in the images. They knew they were breaking the law but they had not thought the photographs would show this. In a strange way Adams commitment to honesty and faithfulness to accuracy exposed the company’s dishonesty.

Adams used a technique called pre visualisation to imagine how the final image would appear and then he exposed the plate or negative in a way that would allow the recreation of his pre visualised image in the darkroom. This technique in parallel to his commitment to a form of realism offer an insight into his motives and thoughts about aesthetics.

All this points to an aesthetic code or set of codes epitomised by the sharp and clear rendition of a scene in which the viewer could choose their points of focus and interest, liberated from any sense of direction by the photographer. I recognize this is a very simplistic description of his work but in understanding aesthetics I am trying to drill down to core principles..

AA, 4/28/04, 4:23 PM, 8C, 3580x4416 (654+1555), 88%, John, 1/120 s, R71.4, G57.9, B69.4

Copyright Ansel Adams

This image above of highlights the deep focus that is a hallmark of Adams work. From the gravel in the foreground to the spire in the distance all is in sharp focus.

Fay Godwin

Godwin was a British photographer renowned for her monochrome images of the British landscape, she was also highly political, more overtly so than Adams in my opinion.

Godwin has long been associated with the ‘right to roam’ campaigns of the ramblers association and her photographs are seen by some as a central element in the campaign to gain access for walkers and ramblers to the British countryside.

I have always been intrigued by Godwin’s work since I first saw an original copy of her collaboration with the Ted Hughes, ‘The Remains of Elmet’. Her work demonstrates that she not only supported the ‘right to roam’ campaigns but also contains wider political messages about social class, access and a statement about the  control of rural resources being in the hands of the few.

There is a distinctly sociological perspective within her work. This is particularly so of the images in her 1990 work: Our Forbidden Land. The images in this volume appear to be far more about communicating the messages of access, pollution, the spoiling of the land and the politics of the countryside than the more classical landscape images in her earlier 1975 work; Land. I have spent time considering both works and will revisit this assertion in a later blog post.

Throughout much of her work she employs a deep depth of field, in the tradition of earlier realist landscape photographers she allows the viewer to decide where to look and how to interpret the image.

Or does she?

In addition to the deep depth of field and deep focus I would argue that she does exert some influence on the viewer. In particular through the juxtaposition of picture elements in her images. The example image below illustrates this point, the viewer can’t help being drawn to the contrast between the landscape and the abandoned car, presumably dumped in the countryside?

Godwin 1

Copyright Fay Godwin Estate

I am reminded again that aesthetic codes are I believe created by the interplay of a range of factors and this is a far more sophisticated concept than merely lens or shutter control.

Mona Kuhn

Kuhn’s ‘Evidence’ series is a striking collection of images. They have a real impact and an almost ethereal feel, there is also a timeless quality that is in part created by her  use of a particular range of colours. They do suggest to me that they were originated on film rather than through digital media.

This was new work to me but I remain uncertain about decoding these images however.

The use of a shallow depth of field creates a sense of depth to the pictures, almost a feel of three dimensions. The very soft colour palette creates an elusive quality to the images, an effect that is formed by the wide f-stop used to make the images. The very shallow depth of field also links or even creates a question about the relationships between the subjects in the images. There is an intimacy created through the photographer’s use of aperture to direct even control what the viewer sees.

In some of the images, particularly those of two or more nude or semi nude subjects, there are questions raised about what is their relationship and these questions are underpinned by the stark effect of the shallow use of focus. The interesting framing of some of the images also transforms the out of focus windows in some of the scenes into angular light panels carefully placed within the overall composition of the picture.

In some of the images the subjects are entirely out of focus although still easily discernible. In others the subjects are framed with a plant or flower in the foreground that is sharp focus. Again this creates a real sense of three dimensions in the image.

I  liked the square format of these images. Square images I find have a sort of democracy, there is no debate for me as to whether the picture should be landscape or portrait, there is a satisfying feel to the square frame that I don’t get from other formats and ratios. I am aware this is a very personal perspective, informed by some years of choosing 6×6 as my format of first choice.


Copyright Mona Kuhn

I am left pondering upon this set and  I can see there are some clear hallmarks of the photographer’s style, that said the specifics of the aesthetic codes being deployed are still a little elusive. For me the shallow depth of field alone is not an aesthetic code in itself.

Gianluca Cosci

I looked specifically at Cosci’s ‘Panem et Circenses’ set which is new work to me. This set of images is the antitheses of Godwin’s and Adams approach, using an exceptionally  shallow depth of field an d narrow zone of sharp  focus in a field  of out of focus background and foreground. Focusing on what might be seen as a simple and uninteresting subject in the ‘in focus’ area of the frame raises for me questions about what is it that Cosci wants the viewer to see?

Panem et Circenses is also  is an interesting title I thought. The Latin origins of the phrase (from a poem by Juvenal) are about political approval being gained not through reasoned argument or exemplary service from politicians but rather through the diversion of ‘bread and circuses’ or ‘bread and games’. In short, duping or defrauding the masses by offering them diversion.

Knowing this changes they way that I read his images. The extremely shallow depth of field highlights some simple object, a part of a bench, a blade of grass or weed coming though a pavement. In considering this work I found the real information and perhaps message was not what was in the ‘in focus’ element of the image but rather what had been framed in the out of focus areas of the images.

This work did make me thin about the  the way Cosci possibly misdirects the viewer. The detail is not where we expect it? Close observation reveals that in the out of focus elements of the image there are hints at the corporate and the powerful, the image below highlights this I feel.

panem et circenses 3(1)

Copyright Gianluca Cosci

Is Cosci misdirecting the viewer? As mentioned above the message and meaning of the image might bein the out of focus area and not in the slender field of focus. There may also be a message about what we see and what we don’t see in the world around us?

This does further compound the notion of the aesthetic code. In a shallow depth of field there might be a message about alienation, even subjugation, a very different set of meanings are created than in the shallow depth of field in Kuhns work?

Reflections on aesthetic codes

It has been an interesting exercise to review the work of Adams, Godwin, Kuhn and Cosci as a tool to explore the concept of the aesthetic code. I am however not at a point where I feel I have achieved a definitive view of the concept.

Let me explain why. There appears to be an element of ‘convention’ to the interpretation of aesthetic codes, i.e. they are what they are because we say they are.

This creates some tensions for me. For example, I think the motives and intended outcomes of Adams work and Godwin’s work are fundamentally different. Some of Godwin’s work is overtly political, for example the inclusion of signage in the image below setting out access restrictions leave nothing to the imagination about the artists intent.


Copyright Fay Godwin Estate

Adams work however is much more subtly political, whether we like it or not, his highly detailed images of the American wilderness have I believe an implicit message about ‘damage this at your peril’. His biography attests to his unique contribution to the creation of the Wilderness act and the formation of the National Parks movement.

Both use similar techniques in terms of deep depth of field, deep focus, high contrast fine art monochrome and both deployed square format cameras for much of their work. I ask my self are they employing the same aesthetic codes? I believe not and the comparison helps me to begin to decode this principle.

Aesthetic codes are not simply about the use of large or small apertures, they are also about framing,the use of colour and tone and the selection of content. Most importantly however, they are about the artist’s motive, this is sometimes overt, but at other times it is far more elusive. I feel I now need to look into the world of semiotics if I am to begin to understand these codes in real detail and depth!

Examples of some of my own work highlighting the aesthetic codes described in Section 2


In this image I used a very small aperture to get a deep depth of field. I wanted to create a sense of grandeur, but also a composition that draws the viewer into the scene. The inclusion of the fence was to direct the viewers journey into the image.


Again in this image I have used a deep depth of field and focus, but the simple layers composition attempt to create a sense of solitude. In this image the viewer has more freedom to choose where to look than in the previous example.


In this image I used a very shallow depth of field, autumn in the street emphasised by the leaves caught in a small zone of focus. Also, there is important information for the viewer in the out of focus element of the image.


In this final image, the shallow depth of field creates a sense of intimacy and association with important  information for the viewer in the out of focus area of the image presenting meaning beyond the aspects of the image that are in focus.


Adams, A. (1985) An Autobiography, Little Brown, New York
Armor, J. & Wright P. (1989) Manzanar. Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd, London
Godwin, F. (1975) Land. Little Brown, London
Godwin, F. (1990) Our Forbidden Land, Jonathon Cape, London
Kuhn, M. (2007) Evidence found at: http://www.monakuhn.com/collections/view/evidence
Cosci, G. (2006) Panem et Circenses found at: http://www.gianlucacosci.com/page10.htm

Project 3 Surface and Depth

Research Point- Campany and Colberg


Thomas Ruff’s ‘Jpegs’ & the aesthetic of the pixel-Some personal thoughts

This is new work to me and I read the reviews by company and Colbert with interest although not before I had searched out some of Ruff’s jpeg images on the internet. Little did I know I was replicating Ruff’s own processes that led to his found image series in his book Jpegs and the exhibitions of this work.

Campany’s review I found a hard article to assimilate, he covers the themes of the photograph as an object of contradiction and he places Ruff as ‘trail blazer’ pushing the boundaries of the medium to new limits and pointing out the Ruff’s work is:

‘at once cliches and estranged visions of our collective photographic order’

I remain uncertain about Company’s reference to layers of photographic archives, which range from the formal archive that an original image may be located to the virtual archives that digital copies of the same image inhabit allowing me to see and screen grab the Ruff image below. To this he adds the notion of the archive individual viewers that retained memory of images seen and observed, a sort of cerebral personal archive. Whilst not fully understanding this , Colbersg forces us to think about photographs and images existing as a wide range of ‘objects’, some real, some virtual and some highly personal.

I did understand his description of the importance of the pixel in Ruff’s work, these ‘grid like mechinic’ elements are at the heart of the giant images Ruff produced. Ruff looked closely at the fundamental building blocks of digital image construction and viewed the artefacts produced by compression algorithms as a thing of interest in itself. The ‘found’ (found in that it was found through an internet search and not taken by Ruff) image below is an example of Ruff’s work where he makes the pixelation an intrinsic element in his art. What I found fascinating is that he took this approach to making art before the software we all take for granted was routinely available. Ruff’s exhibition prints of ‘Jpegs ‘ are giant in scale which I imagine means the artefacts of compression central to his intent in this work will be exceptionally prominent.

Thomas Ruff, jpeg ny02, 2004

Copyright Thomas Ruff (http://i1.wp.com/www.foto8.com/live/wpcontent/uploads/2009/10/ruff_nyc.jpg?w=1200)

It is interesting to note when considering the image above that Ruff was in New York on 9/11 and although he took photographs he discovered none came out when he had the film processed back at home in german. It was this event, the failed pictures which appears to have spurred him on to make the image above.

Colbergs article although brief does set out with some clarity Ruff’s motivation and an the goes so far as to suggest that some will not see Ruff’s work as photography in the accepted sense. Given he is using the images of others, the work is certainly a different take on the image as art. Colburg clearly struggles with the work:

‘The tremendous beauty of the images notwithstanding, the concept itselfesems to rely a bit too much on the technique itself. What else is there?’

So what does all this work mean for me? Certainly reading about Ruff’s work has made me consider the wide range of art practice encompassed in photography as a medium. I have to say however I was drawn to Campany’s comments about grain in film. Whilst he’s state that:

‘The pixel has replaced the grain of photographic film”

he does concede they are fundementally different and not before he suggest that in documentary photography of the 20 century graininess took on the :

‘connotations of authenticity’

I am very interested in this concept and although a tangent to this commentary this is a theme I will pick up at another time!

Ruff does appear to be exploring images in different ways, central to his work is the hidden world of compression algorithms that under most circumstances the photography ould want to remain hidden. Making that the creative feature of the work would suggest hidden layers of meaning. At this stage however I can’t in all honesty say i am able to decode that meaning behind the purely aesthetic.

On a concluding note I found a helpful overview of Ruff’s work in this review from the Photo8 website and I have to say looking at this helped me to make more sense of the Company’s and then Colberg’s articles.

In addition to the material referred to in the course and I found a very helpful segment of a lecture delivered by Ruff. It provides a valuable insight into the artists thinking behind his work and why he was motivated to produce the ‘Jpeg’ series.

As suggested in the materials I produced a very low resolution copies of one of my own images , saved at zero quality to experiment with this approach. Clearly the compression artefacts are not hard to see!!!

Brand 244 copy


Campany, D. (2008) Aesthetic of the Pixelhttp://davidcampany.com/thomas-ruff-the-aesthetics-of-the-pixel/

Colberg, J. (2009) Jpegs-Book Reviews April 17 2009 http://jmcolberg.com/photography/2009/04/review_jpegs_by_thomas_ruff/

FOTO8-The Home of Photojournalsim– Thomas Ruff Interveiw- http://www.foto8.com/live/thomas-ruff-interview/

Paul Seawright – some further study and reflection

I have now had a chance to look in more detail at the work of Paul Seawright. His work is simultaneously challenging and engaging. His work does take some reading, he takes a particular standpoint on conflict, almost certainly informed by his insider view of conflict growing up in Belfast. I can connect with the messages he is conveying about conflict and how we view it for quite personal reasons. I find his take on the world increasingly powerful. I also found an excellent online lecture that he gave in 2010 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, he provides real insight to his motives and technique and I understand his work more completely having watched this. Although he does not use the term ‘Punctum’* in the talk I think I understand this concept more having watched this lecture. He frequently refers to the salient point of the image ‘puncturing’ the photograph. The lecture also encouraged me to think about three key area:

Finding your voice

Finding your subject

Constructing meaning

I need to consider what all of this means for the work I produce, which to date does not speak coherently or loudly  enough about the messages I want to convey!

* Rolands Barthes term Punctum: ‘A photographs Punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruised me, is poignant to me)’  pp27 in Barthe, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage Classics, London

The online lecture can be found here:

The commentary below was supplied with the lecture:

‘Paul Seawright, Voice Our Concern Artist’s Lecture 2010′ is a 40 minute illustrated artists lecture by the artist photographer Paul Seawright given in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in November 2010. Paul talks about the use of photography in conflict situations as often being unreliable and how his work as a photographic artist is a response to this. He presents photographs from the Crimean war and discusses the influence of photographer Paul Graham on his work. He describes the difference between photo journalism and art in the context of artists defining their subjects and in the construction of meaning. He goes on to discuss and present examples of his Sectarian Murder Work series. This Voice Our Concern lecture was a joint project organised by IMMA and Amnesty International Ireland.’