Exercise: Sarah Pickering

At the beginning of the series the images are convincing as scenes of urban life. The streets are realistic if grey and monotonous from the same breeze -block construction. As you go through the series you begin to wonder – why are there no people/animals/plants or trees or indeed any sign of life whatsoever.
As you progress through the series the sense of artifice increases until you reach the High Street series when you begin to see that the buildings are merely facades, there is no depth, no inside to them.
The picture is completed by the two images of ‘Flicks Night Club’. The first being an initially convincing view of a street corner with the night club opposite the junction. The second image is of the rear of the scene and shows it as a constructed reality.
These photographs took me on a journey from believing that I was seeing a portrayal of grim urban life to a questioning of what is real and what is not.
They are images of police training grounds and this then colours how you view the scene. I don’t look at them as a reality but as an imagined reality, one constructed to train police in how to deal with street violence and disorder. This then made me feel very uncomfortable as to why this is needed – could I get caught up unwittingly in something like that?
I think that Public Order is a highly effective use of documentary, it is leading the viewer through a range of images and stimulating a discussion/decision on what is being seen. But more than that it stirs debate on the nature of civil society and what it depends on for the maintenance of order.
You could cause a debate on this with photos of rioting, street disturbances etc. – yet these would be more emotive and ‘editorial’ in the words of Paul Seawright. These images give their meaning up slowly and stimulate a greater questioning of society generally rather than perhaps the causes or details of a particular incident.

Research Point: Paul Seawright

This exercise concerned Paul Seawright’s work in particular Sectarian Murder

My full response to the questions in the exercise is here Paul Seawright.

I was very interested in Paul Seawright’s work. His interpretation of the sectarian murder theme really makes you think about the images. the video shown in the exercise was also very good, I particularly liked the way hea talked about creating images that ‘give their meaning up slowly’. This is something that will take you back to an image time and time again looking to see if you can find more in it. I think that this is a lesson that will stay with me for a long while.

Exercise: Photos in Street Photography Style

This exercise required 30 colour 8images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style.

I had already planned a trip to London to visit an exhibition, so I went to Covent Garden to try to complete this exercise. The photographs that I took on the day are shown below.

It is interesting to compare the two sets of photos, there are some in each section that work but wouldn’t if they were in the other section e.g. the coloured shoes in the colour section would not work at all in Black and White.

I had noticed from the previous Research Point that some street photographers have separate sections of their websites labelled ‘colour’ and ‘black and white’. Matt Stuart and Nils Jorgensen are two examples.

I found that when I was looking specifically for black and white photos I was trying to identify patterns  in the image whereas in the colour photographs it is the vibrancy of the colours that make them stand out. I can’t say that I prefer one over the other, the quality of each individual image was the overriding feature.

I found this exercise extremely hard, street photography is probably my least favourite genre (in terms of taking the photos) as I often feel very self-conscious. I chose Covent Garden as I thought there would be plenty of opportunities for photos; but also almost every other person was holding a camera so I felt a bit less conspicuous, which helped. I guess I need to get out with my camera more often in this type of setting to get used to the feeling.

Colour Photos

Black and White Photos

Photography: The Key Concepts by David Bate

Learning points from the book: Photography: The Key Concepts, David Bate, Bloomsbury Academics, 2009
Chapter 3
p 45 Documentary aimed to show, in an informal way, the everyday lives of ordinary people to other ordinary people.
ln this respect, the modern notion of documentary is a media product of the twentieth century.
p 47 Editorial control  is a key issue and the conflict between photographer and editor over photographic meaning remains highly relevant for documentary photographers today.
p 50 As an active political campaigner, Hine promoted photography as a tool of social criticism
p 53 Objective and subjective approaches to documentary photography. Objective-neutral camera view:Subjective-capturing a fleeting instant.
The mode of ‘objective’ photograph was already an established convention , long before reportage and documentary were coined as the general terms for the photographic expression of a  social interest 1 ph. century Dutch ‘descriptive’ paintings exemplify the objective tendency too).
p 56 Cartier Bresson’s famous idea of the ‘decisive moment ‘fuses a notion of instantaneity in photography with an older concept from art history :story-telling with a single picture.
p 58 To capture, not reality but the dramatic instant that will come to signify it. Staging refers to the act of creating a scene. Not a critical description.
p 65 The making of documentary work not only involves shooting pictures, but also the process of selecting(editing)pictures from those taken to make a body of work. This may include cropping, use of captions and titles, establishing the overall context for the work.
The motivation for documentary photography is to ‘creatively inform’ an audience about another part of  the population, whose life and experience  may be unfamiliar to them. The aim of the work may be to criticise, celebrate, support or attempt to reform the situation they describe.
The tactics adopted by photographers range between tripod-based views and hand-held scenes (tableaux), which create distinct viewer positions usually perceived as either an objective or subjective ‘witness’ position.


Research Point: Street Photography

I found the book ‘Street Photography Now’ by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren (Thames and Hudson, 2010) particularly useful for this exercise. It showcases the work of 46 contemporary street photographers from around the world and gives a good variety of style and content.. You can read the introduction to it here and there are a host of street photos from a project organised by the authors here.

My comments on street photography can be found here. Street Photography

I must admit I did not know a great deal about street photography until doing this exercise – I had studied the work of Cartier-Bresson and had heard of Martin Parr but I had never come across the work of most of the names in the book that I studied. This exercise has taught me a lot about street photography, I particularly like the humorous, quirky photos of people like Matt Stuart (Trafalgar SquareNew Bond Street) and Paul Russell (Charity and Bees).

Looking back on it I’ve really learned a lot from this exercise!

Research Point: Debates around photojournalism

There are interesting parallels between the debate around socially driven photographers and also images of conflict and a similar debate twenty years ago as to whether pictures of starving children in drought hit parts of Africa were exploitative or a necessary way to raise awareness and assistance.
Pictures of starving children are rarely used by charities working in the field these days; they seem to prefer more positive images of what can be achieved rather than look at failure. But the original images of children served a purpose; they brought to the world a new realisation of what was happening elsewhere. I guess the same applies to the Lewis Hine photographs. As with Sontag’s comments on the pictures of the horrors of war numbing viewers responses, so ‘compassion fatigue’ was said to have set in when pictures of starving children were much more commonplace.
I’m not so sure that Rosler was criticising the photographs of Hine and others per se, more the way in which they were used – to achieve reform of the system rather than a radical restructuring of society.
This does lead us to an interesting conclusion – horrific pictures of war or starving children do have the ability to provoke concern, horror, desire to help/do something, etc. – but as they become more commonplace then they lose that ability to stir passion. Therefore this is not about the quality of the photos or even about what they are showing, but more about the frequency with which they are shown (echoes of the ‘flood’ referred to Earlier in the chapter) which leads to a conundrum for photographers (and campaigners) to find new images that will provoke compassion/cause for concern whenever they are seen.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley La Grange

Learning points from the book: Basic Critical Theory for Photographers, Ashley La Grange, Taylor and Francis, 2013

Chapter 3 Sontag
p 30 ‘despite capturing reality photographs are also interpretations’.
p 33 ‘The moral impact of disturbing images lessens as people are continually exposed to them and become used to them’.

Chapter 5 Rosler
p 114 ‘Documentary photography has power because the images are more disturbing, and have the potential to generate arguments more radical than commonly considered. By using them to campaign for reform rather than radical or revolutionary change allows them to be institutionalised by the government so limiting their effect.
p 114 ‘which political battles have been fought and won by someone for someone else? ‘
p 116 ‘The question of documentary in the wholly fabricated universe of advertising is a question that can have no answer. ‘
p 118 ‘Believability of documentary photography under attack from 2 opposing camps. From the left “legitimises and enforces the wealthy classes dominance over the poorer classes while pretending to be fair and universal. ” From the right debates ”revolve around formal aesthetic considerations ignoring the content and political or ideological dimension of the images.”


I found Sontag’s first point particularly interesting, it encapsulates much of the argument about ‘the camera never lies’. Any photograph is always going to be an interpretation of a scene through decisions the photographer makes on

  • framing – what to include or exclude
  • composition – what will be in the scene and what may be emphasised because of their positioning in the image
  • viewpoint – close-up or stood back
  • post capture processing.


The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer

Learning points from the book: The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer, Abacus, 2007

Quoting Dorothea Lange

“to know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.”

I found this to be quite an interesting quote – does this mean that we should never preconceive an image? This seems to go against the concept of making rather than taking an image.

Perhaps what she means that we should not think that we know in advance exactly what it is that we want to photograph as this could lead us to ignoring something that would make a really good image. The moral could be that we should always be open to different versions or approaches to what we may originally have had in mind.

Exercise: Can pictures ever be objective?

This was a good exercise to start the course and get me thinking about objectivity.

A copy of my response to the exercise can be found by clicking here: Can pictures ever be objective

I enjoyed this exercise, it got me thinking about ‘citizen journalism’ and whether all these photos taken on mobile phones are intrinsically more objective than those taken by professional photographers. (No I don’t think they are).

It was good that I could relate this exercise back to a study visit I made to the Press Association Images Library when I was doing my Art of Photography course, and relate it to an example of a press photo (the Madrid train bombing) that we discussed there.