Category Archives: 1 The Photograph as Document

Assignment 1 – Tutor Feedback

After submitting my assignment I received feedback from my tutor really quickly which enabled me to rapidly assess how well I’d managed to make a start with the ‘Context and Narrative’ course whilst the assignment was still fresh in my mind. I felt very encouraged by the feedback and simultaneously less daunted by the course in general  A couple of the comments were especially positive:-

“What may be simply seen as walls, takes a great deal more technical and creative expertise that you have given yourself credit for……. You have taken an innovative approach to the assignment and I would suggest that you follow suit on the subsequent assignment….. The course is open to both literal interpretation of assignment briefs but lateral thinking should be welcomes, embraced and actively encouraged as it will normally lead to more interesting work.”

I was grateful for the suggestion about correcting perspective distortion on 3 of the images. I regularly use zoom lenses for most of my shots so whilst this gives greater flexibility, it was a helpful reminder to be careful at the wider angles that objects don’t get skewed.  I’ve recently started a very short 4 week Photoshop course on Tuesday evenings at the Norwich City College which will just help refresh my memory on how to use some of the lens correction functions.

The advice from my tutor regarding the planning for the next assignment is something I will take on board and benefit from. I definitely rushed the first assignment which made me feel dissatisfied with the results, so I will factor in a bit more time to work for and plan and basically take a bit more care, if necessary, redoing some shots where I can.

I’ve managed to read 90% of the David Hurn book ‘On being a Photographer’ and thoroughly enjoyed his pragmatic, practical and sometimes inoffensive but blunt, style. There are a lot of excellent tips about researching around a subject and taking photographs of things that actually interest you first and foremost. Whilst I wanted to move into new territory with this first assignment, I think one of the lessons I’ve learnt is that whilst it would be stupendous to be an eclectic all-round photographer, equally as good at landscape, portraiture, street photography etc., you definitely need to have a passion for the types of photographs you’re taking otherwise that ambivalent attitude will show through in the results.

Finally, another great tip from my tutor was to visit the William Eggleston portrait exhibition which I managed to do in early October. I will add some notes from this in another blog entry…

Assignment 1 – Two Sides of the Story

he task for this assignment is to create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story whilst exploring the convincing nature of documentary.

I dabbled with various ideas for this assignment, including an over-ambitious plan to photograph the harsh reality of working in the NHS, against the images of success in the NHS portrayed in glossy publications available for patients to pick up in the outpatient reception areas.  As my tutor pointed out, this was a really broad topic which would have been difficult to provide a coherent and distinct set of images for so I decided to change tact and look for a simpler theme.

My chosen subject for this assignment is: A building wall protects its contents but has no other purpose.   The first set of photographs, set one, seeks to dispel the myth and the names I’ve given to the images are a list of those other uses for a building wall:– Collection, Literary Work, Rebellion, Plea, Art, Shelter, Garden;  whilst the second set of photographs seeks to prove that a building wall is only good for protecting the building’s contents from the elements, burglars etc..  As a minimum, the walls in these images are screaming out to be decorated by street artists in the same way as cities such as Lisbon and Berlin adorn their architecture. I have limited the photograph names in Set 2 to Wall 1, Wall 2, to underline their lack of function, anonymity and character.

I thought that this relatively simple theme would enable me to focus on the specific narrative idea, and allow me to spend less time worrying about achieving the perfect execution. Being static, immovable objects, buildings don’t demand to be photographed at a particular fleeting moment in time, nor do they require me to build any sort of connection to them prior to the shoot; all that was needed was some daylight or available light to ensure the wall was illuminated and not in shade and hiding the details that I wanted to make the subject of the images.  However, buildings, also I’ve discovered, do have personalities all of their own. This allows for some irony in the images if you are also aware of the practical use of the buildings or the inhabitants they house.  I have tried to encapsulate this in the names I’ve attached to the images.  I have also tried to keep the image names a simple list of uses of a building wall.

In terms of one of the aims of the assignment being to stretch yourself I made a concerted effort to move out of my comfort zone and photograph something I’m not usually interested in; architecture. My photography is usually people-based and it’s street photography and portraiture that captures my imagination.  My aim with Context and Narrative is to push myself outside my usual boundaries and hopefully I have achieved this with this assignment.

The next section provides a short explanation for each image taken as part of the Set 1 and Set 2 sets of photographs.  Following that section I have added a summary and some self-assessment notes at the end.

A building wall protects its contents but has no other purpose – FALSE – Set 1


I drive past this property every day on the way to work and I’ve nick-named it the ‘Gnome Home’. Minus the wonderful collection of precariously perched gnomes, this 60s property could not shout ‘suburbia’ at you any more if it tried. Some days I drive past and there is a white transit van parked outside and I imagine the owner is a frustrated builder, tired of being constrained by constructing soulless ‘living boxes’ on housing estates, his only release being to make his own house come alive by letting a family of gnomes move into the external wall. I also imagine him explaining to his neighbours that the gnomes come and go at will using their own magical powers and without the help of any human-held hammer or nail.    

I like to think this image would be one which would appeal to Martin Parr.  His photographs of British eccentricity always have a clever subtext and he uses of image names are pointed give you a clue as to the point he’s making. e.g. his wryly titled ‘Conservative Midsummer Madness’ depicting the staid garden party.

I struggled with a name for this image, so I thought it would be preferable to keep it quite simple to allow the viewer to reach their own conclusions about the residents based on the evidence in the photograph.

Literary Workset-1-2-literary-workIn 2006 artist Rory Macbeth decided to paint his favourite novel, St. Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ onto an old Eastern Electricity building on Westwick Street in Norwich as part of the EAST International Festival. Utopia is 100 pages long, so the artist worked out precisely where each line must be positioned for the entire 40,000 words to fit on the wall. He scribed it using a pot of weather-proof paint hoisted up in the air on a rickety cherry picker.  “I like expressing the text through graffiti,” he explained, “as most graffiti is utopian – the world would be perfect if this or that were different.”

The building was set to be demolished in 2007 a year after the art work was created, but today it still stands, defiant to the bulldozers and testament that sometimes creative art can lift the value of any building above that of its nominal financial value to something altogether more priceless.  

I purposely kept the composition for this image plain and unfussy with the words on the wall just visible, but including the doors and signage so the previous use of the building was clear. Also I felt that the continuation of the words across the door from the brickwork also had a beautiful persistent rhythm of its own.   


This is another example of a building that I pass every day travelling to work. The graffiti on the window of the old video shop similarly to the Gnome Home above, makes me smile.  Rarely in Norwich would you find vicious graffiti composed of inciting words threatening racial hatred or violence, instead, you get a small voice, pleading the local community to rise up against officialdom and take a radical day off work. Maybe the rebel rouser saw his job on the line as the decline in the demand for DVD shops fell sharply with online postal DVD delivery services, maybe it was Amazon that pushed him over the edge?!

I deliberately kept the composition simple again. I like how the yellow of the double yellow lines on the road, mirror the yellow underline under the BLOCKBUSTER signage. The yellow of the graffiti wording also links in with the name of the shop.

I chose the rather obvious name for this image in ironic tribute to my home city which I have often felt rarely, if ever, rises up in angry protest over anything. However, discontent does exist apparently and the wall of the building was used to relay this consternation to the local community.   


Conversely and unusually for Norwich, an arson attack at a Romanian food shop on the 8 July was thought to be the result of hate crime following the Brexit vote. The windows were subsequently boarded up as police carried out their investigations. What followed just hours later was an outpouring of local support, the boards covering the window space of the shop front being covered predominantly in red hearts and messages of love for the family, assuring them of their valued place in the community and pleading with them to stay in Britain.

The composition for the image was difficult as a car was parked directly in front of the building so I had to photograph it on an angle. Also the midday sun shone directly overhead casting strong shadows and bleaching out the colours of the hearts. I spoke with a Romanian girl who was also photographing the display and sending the details to her family at home. I toyed with the idea of including her in my photograph but decided that it would make an exception to the set of images which are devoid of people physically, but obviously each building wall in Set 1 has been impacted by humans and their emotions in some shape or form.

I like the juxtaposition of the Rebellion and Tribute images within the set. Compared to other British inner city areas, Norwich doesn’t really experience many incidents of violence against buildings (or people thankfully) Brexit seemed to generate deviations from the norm all over the country and this is one example


This iconic building in Norwich has seen lots of uses over its lifetime. It was built on a site where in medieval days at the time of the plague, it was used as a burial pit for the unfortunate victims.  The bright red painted figures of Samson and Hercules originated from two constructed in 1657 to support the then porch for the building that had varying uses: a tax office, a surgeon’s practice and a wool combing business. In the 1930s it became the Samson and Hercules Ballroom. 

 In this image the renovated Samson and Hercules figures appear to be acting as bodyguards for the homeless man asleep in the porch. I like how you need to look closely to even notice him, his existence forming just another texture in the building wall.


This row of rather monotone terraced houses is brought to life with the addition of some graffiti in a line across their back wall. To retain the consistency in this set of images, the composition is again simple, the viewer standing square onto the row of back walls. I liked the repetition of the houses giving a rhythm the image as you read it from left to right. Each section of graffiti is made up of its own individual canvass, possibly each designed by a different local artist, contributing an element of their own individuality to make up the bigger colourful patchwork of the row.


This grand house situated opposite my little terrace house is adorned with gorgeous foliage which turns a deep rich shade of blood red in the autumn. It gives the wall the purpose of providing the plant a base upon which to grow and thrive.  The windows on the side of the house almost seem to shyly peek out of the living greenery and threatened to be swallowed by it.


Plea 2

With the difficulties in photographing the shop front above, I decided to attempt to take the photograph via a reflection in the glass shop front opposite. Whilst I don’t think that this image fits in with the no-fuss way I have attempted to capture all the other buildings, and therefore should not be part of the set, I like how the vibrancy of the window sticks out like a bright beating heart around the gloom of the surrounding area in the reflection. I’ve included this as part of the assignment to show a variation of the shot I considered using. I also felt that this more abstract image would not have fitted in with the others in the set.

A building wall protects its contents but has no other purpose – TRUE – Set 2

Wall 1Office Block

The architecture of this office block is pleasantly balanced and I like how the city planners have added the diagonal row of concrete balls but the wall could be transformed into a masterpiece of vibrant artwork standing alone and framed dramatically by the deep blue sky.  

Wall 2 – Art College

Next door to the office block above is another plain building, ironically recently built as an art college but seemingly with little imagination, almost dampening down the passion and caging in the artistic souls inside its walls.      




Wall 3Garden Centre
In severe contrast to the living wall in Set 1, the wall of this Homebase garden centre has an acreage bland white wall which could have been splashed with a vibrant summer display of blooms by advertising the stores wares. The lighting was difficult when I took the photograph, the sun going down behind the building, rendering the sky almost colourless and the front of the building quite dark. Ideally I should have returned in the morning to retake the image but I didn’t have time that day. As an alternative, I tried to make the best of the image by increasing the exposure which had the result of blanching out the colour in the sky completely, mirroring the bland colourless wall.

Wall 4School Entrance
This beautiful row of terraced houses is positioned opposite my old school, Notre Dame. In Brick Lane in London, this wall would have had graffiti artists competing for glory on it. It could be a space on which to inspire the current students but again it’s let plain unloved and only serving the practical purpose of being an functional external brick wall with nothing to say.

Wall 5Industrial unit
set-2-wall-5It amazes me how we have such a wealth of possibilities for colour (the traditional Dulux colour chart has evolved now to become a chunky brochures, one page devoted to a variety of ‘whites’ etc.), but industrial buildings are generally built in a clinical, steely grey or black.  The great painters of the 17th century such as Vermeer etc. would have given anything for our modern day accessibility to such a vibrant spectrum of colour with which to paint, and yet we only permit functional minimalism to dominate our environment and our cities.   I like the solitary bollard in this image, a single splash of colour against the gloom of the industrial unit.

Wall 5Jarrolds Customer Collection Service 
The irony of this building will be lost on anyone who is not a local of Norfolk. Jarrolds Department Store in Norwich is an icon of the city, grandiose and occupying a central focal point opposite the market and within feet of the City Hall and old Guildhall. At Christmas the grandeur of the façade of the building is illuminated in an equally over-the-top display of Xmas lights.  Whilst the ‘Customer Collection Service’ building is boarded up and obviously waiting for a new occupier, it is a polar opposite to the department store itself with its glorious frontage and stunning window displays. I feel it’s the building equivalent of putting the shop’s staff-only-allowed stock room on display for all the public.

Wall 6NHS Head Quarters
set-2-wall-7This is a building that I used to work in for the NHS over 20 years ago. It was the head-quarters of Norfolk Primary Care Trust otherwise known as Norfolk PCT. Some would say that its clear decay is descriptive of the state of the service in 2016. Others would also maintain that the back-to-front, inside-out view of the building also resonates with the upside-down focus in the NHS on targets instead of patient care, on saving money instead of saving lives.

The site that this building stands on is a mixture of decaying outbuildings and building units still in service. The boarded up building in this image is meters away from a Mental Health Unit. How assured and invigorated must the patients be taking an early morning walk around the perimeter of the site! In some parts the wall has not even protected the building against intruders as there are holes in brick sections which have now been boarded up to deter further people entering.

I like how the sombre atmosphere created by the weather reflects the decay of the building and adds to the desolation a viewer might feel looking at the photograph.  

Summary and Self-Assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Picking inanimate objects such as buildings and wanting the images to be clear and detailed rather than abstract, I felt somewhat limited me in demonstrating strong technical skills. However I think I composed the images on whole well, but there is lots of room for improvement and I will work on this in the next assignment. 3 / 5

Quality of Outcome

I think that I had wanted to deliberately present Set 2 as a set of banal faceless buildings, and as such I probably succeeded but this is not the photography I enjoy creating. In some respects it really jarred on me. I thought my concept was probably a little lazy also; whilst some of the locations took some research, many were places I was already aware of. The use of black and white to present Set 2 could have further accentuated the difference between the stories, removing the colour as if removing the life in the image, but this would probably be too contrived. I think the naming of the photographs in Set 1 helped me endorse my ideas but I suppose this meant that there was a chance the photographs didn’t stand on their own as a ‘concept’ as images alone. 3 / 5.

Demonstration of Creativity

The images are certainly not imaginative or creative and I don’t think I’ve necessarily started developing a personal voice. I found that it was really difficult to come up with an idea for this assignment, maybe other students had multiple ideas. I hope I don’t struggle like this for the next assignments in the course as I think this might put me off continuing with the course. 1 / 5.


My blog/url is not fully updated with recent reading and exercises I did earlier in the year but I will be working on this before attempting the next assignment. I felt that I needed to get some work submitted as I had lost so much momentum by having such a long break from the course. 2 / 5.

Part 1 – Exercise 5 – ‘The Real and the Digital’

This exercise required me to read an article, ‘The Real and the Digital’ by Liz Wells, which explored the impact of digital photography and how the widespread emergence of this technology has increased the number of debates on nature of photography, in particular photojournalism.

I would suggest that whilst the technology has again brought the debate to the forefront, there has probably always been opposing viewpoints as to how ‘real’ or close to reality a photograph can be.  The core difference is that in the past, photo manipulation took a great deal of effort, and serious photo editing was limited to obsessives that took their art to another level, such as the surrealists where the point of the image was to make it ‘other worldly’. Years ago, a photojournalist would have to be quite single-minded to deliberately change an image – it took above average knowledge, effort and access to dark rooms to do it successfully.

Nowadays a much bigger percentage of photographs have some level of editing, be it purely aesthetically, to improve lighting for example, to physically remove annoying objects that get in the way of a good composition, or to improve human forms and features.  This commonplace manipulation is now widely regarded as just another step in the process of making an image, almost a core element of the production.  So as well as manipulation being intrinsic to making a successful image, on top of increased accessibility to a vast range of easier methods/software, it is somewhat inevitable that there now exists almost ‘accepted’ cynicism in photojournalism. Effectively, everyone is doing it and therefore every newsworthy image has the potential to have been edited possibly deliberately, to skew a story.

For me, photojournalism will always be an interpretation of an event, where the photographer stamps his style on a scene in order to convey his own message about what he is seeing and wants to record.  Viewpoint (to deliberately move around an object to change the background), proximity (a closer image may feel more intimidating, gritty or dangerous), choice of shutter speed, etc., impact how a photograph might be interpreted in subtle ways. Whilst this is not deliberate image manipulation, it can have similar outcomes and yet the debate rarely seems to touch on these elements of ‘truth’ within a photograph.

In the article, David Campany points out that almost a third of all news photographs are video frame ‘grabs’. Similarly, this subtle choice of which slice of time to freeze by the photographer or news editor, also means that the event or happening is open to yet more interpretation.

So as the technology continues to evolve and open up yet more choices to the photographer, so it is likely that the debate will rage on and interestingly, our thirst for photojournalism and newsworthy images appears to still be growing. This may in part be due to how quickly we can digest images in an information heavy world compared to the written word, however our reliance on these images still seems rife, despite the potential for visual distortion of the truth.


Wells, Liz. (2009) ‘The Real and the Digital’, Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 73-75.

Part 1 – Exercise 4 -Composite Image

The brief for this exercise was to create a composite image which visually appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never actually be.

Sifting through a couple of photographs I’d taken in the summer, I decided to use a an image of a bull-run street festival in a little village in Portugal where a young boy was in the fenced off arena of the street and eyeballing the bull whilst talking on this mobile phone…  I decided to teleport a little girl from Cambodia into the middle of the image… the image of the girl was useful because it was a full body image with a relatively plain dusty earth background which would enable me to easily select her and add her minus the background to the main image. Also the lighting on both images was similar, i.e. daylight but not bright sunshine. I suspected this would help both elements blend well together.

The result is shown below…. it’s not hugely successful as I didn’t feather the edges of the little girl and so her figure doesn’t blend in particularly well, however it feels like this would need a lot of practice in Photoshop to make it look seamless and the image half-way believable.




Part 1 – Exercise 3 – ‘Public Order’ by Sarah Pickering

The brief for this exercise was to look at the series of images entitled ‘Public Order’ by Sarah Pickering and explain how her images made you feel and also answer the question ‘Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

I felt that the 2 images provided in the course materials were rather nebulous rather than being unnerving or disquieting. Presented alone, they depict an obviously deserted location near a nightclub (a common occurrence during daylight hours) and what appeared to be a boarded up back of a half-dismantled warehouse.

As you look at more of the images, the knowledge about the location grows and you start to piece together what it might be, rather like a jigsaw puzzle. Equally, if you only selected a particular handful of images which only offer up a few minor clues, you could get a sense of a post-apocalyptic UK, a land devoid of humans. For example, taking the following images on their own, you wouldn’t believe that a tube station would have no forms of life buzzing around it, and the alleyway, without evidencing signs of life in the form of rubbish or debris on the ground, could also leave you with an eerie sense of unease.

However, the group of images below, the one on the left being also somewhat ironic with it’s front door also doubling up as its back door, walking straight through the front door into the garden, as well as the couple to the right clearly showing the mock facades of the building walls, give clear indications that this a much less sinister location. As a film set, it’s quite grim, but the two bashed up cars facing each other, give a clear clue that this is some sort of training ground, maybe for the emergency services.

I think that the series as a whole is quite interesting, but it’s not instant information-giving and therefore, doesn’t necessarily easily fit into the documentary classification. Simultaneously I don’t think it deliberately misleads, although the artist could be accused of ‘playing with us’ a little bit. The deliberate use of the overcast skies in every image does cast a bit of a sombre atmosphere over the shots, but to me this just allows the images to feel like part of a series rather than give a real sense of any dark, other worldly undertones. As a set of art photographs, these don’t appeal to me apart from perhaps as a puzzle to unpick.


Pickering, S. Public Order At Accessed 17 September 2016

Part 1 – Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murder’ Series

The research point in the Course materials suggested looking at Paul Seawright’s work Sectarian Murder to answer a number of questions:-

How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art?

I think that reverting to first principles about what documentary photography is, would be a good starting point. The course materials succinctly maintain that documentary has a ‘distanced style, often described as cold’.

In Sectarian Murder Seawright revisited the sites of sectarian attacks during the 1970’s close to where he grew up in Belfast. The texts are from newspaper reports at the time and document the murders of innocent civilians, killed for their perceived religion.

Looking at a number of the images and accompanying text from the series, they can definitely align with this ‘cold’ description: The captions, drafted by Seawright from  actual newspaper reports, are almost brutal or clinical in their lack of emotion, using hard facts with little or no elaboration.  The subtlety is all in the images.

However, to  apply the adjective ‘distanced’ to the set would be quite untrue. Each image seems to have been taken from a specific individual’s viewpoint and there is a deliberateness to this choice, lending the viewer to being acutely aware of the artist’s involvement and in turn, him clearly wanting to convey his own personal message.

itemsfs_9511Using the photograph above as an example, Seawright did not simply photograph the location in a straight documentary style, but he also wanted to give us a sense of perspective from a human viewpoint. He could quite easily have taken a shot of the location standing on the grass. Instead, he captured the location from the perspective of a child looking over the sea, waiting to head down the slide. He wanted us to truly understand the innocuous nature of the site – a child’s play area perched on a cliff top, as a stark contrast to what he had included in the text – “Tuesday 3 October 1973 – ‘Late last night a 28 year old man disappeared from a pub. It wasn’t until this morning that the body was found abandoned in a quiet park on the coast”.

Susan Sontag in her book of essays ‘On Photography’ explained:-

‘When looking at a painting we are very aware of the artist. This is not the case when looking at photographs, and in the case of ordinary and utilitarian photographs, the photographer is almost irrelevant. Photojournalism is successful because the work of good photojournalists is so similar, they are powerful images because they copy the world and do not express ‘…an individual artist’s consciousness’. In the vast majority of photographs this consciousness ‘…interferes with the primary demand of the photograph: that it record, diagnose, inform’.

Using Sontag’s quite forthright language, Seawright has obviously let his ‘consciousness interfere with the primary demand of the photograph to inform’. Applylng Sontag’s quite rigid rules therefore undeniably moves this series into the genre of ‘art’ as opposed to ‘documentary’.

The British Photography website stresses the importance of viewpoints in their assessment of the series of images and explained that Seawright had researched the events and in some, if not all of the images ‘… re-enacted the route taken from the place from which a victim was snatched to the eventual spot of the murder or dumping of the body.’ The commentary goes on to explain ‘Such reconstructions of reality built up tensions within the artist, as well as eliciting the lingering presence of gross transgressive acts from the location..’

I would contradict their assertion that ‘Each scene was photographed in colour from the victim’s viewpoint – close to the ground.’  Not only were some of the images taken at normal shoulder height (see bottom left), some appeared to be taken from the point of view of the gunmen. The image to the bottom right clearly mimics the viewpoint of the murderers as they would have held the victim children in their weapon sights outside of the chip shop, the sugar-coated colours of the car interior a shocking contrast to the text describing the bloody act, accompanying the image: ‘Sunday 3 February 1973. Gunmen using a stolen car, shot down 5 young boys who were standing outside the Glen chip shop  on the Old Park Road. A sustained burst of gunfire wounded four of the youths and killed the fifth.’

The rather obvious statement to make about the images also, is that they clearly move away from the genre of ‘documentary’ in that they don’t actually depict anything from the actual event bar the scene of the crime, and in many cases not even that, the locations were where the bodies were finally dumped. This can render the series almost as ‘late photography’, the central theme of ‘Conflict, Time, Photography’ exhibition which I visited at the Tate Modern in December 2014:

Specifically, Seawright’s series reminded me very much of Chloe Dewe-Mathew’s Shot at Dawn set of photographs from the exhibition, where she also used the location of the event as the central subject, being the sites where WW1 soldiers were executed at dawn for cowardice or desertion. Whilst Dewe-Mathews was fastidious in ensuring that her image was taken at precisely the same time of day that the soldiers’ were executed, so Seawright seemed equally as methodical to ensure that he researched the route that the murdered person took hours before and after their death before their body was taken to its final location before it was discovered.


Chloe Dewe-Mathews ‘Shot at Dawn’ Image -Soldat Ahmed ben Mohammed el Yadjizy, Soldat Ali ben Ahmed ben Frej ben Khelil, Soldat Hassen ben Ali ben Guerra el Amolani, Soldat Mohammed Ould Mohammed …


Listen to Paul Seawright talk about his work at: [accessed 24/02/14] What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?

In the interview, Seawright explains how he grapples with the fine balance between an image hinting at it’s meaning or message, or being too blatant or ‘journalistic’. The central core of his argument seems to be that rather than stamp his message on a viewer, he wants his art to be interpreted in exactly the way we want to decipher it, and however we do that, it should never be an instantaneous process. Rather like high end cooking he seems to imply that art needs to be digested slowly in order to be enjoyed. He talks of ‘giving up meaning’ as a necessarily slow process in order to hold attention and to avoid the instant view then ’15 second later’ page turn.  He definitely wants us to work at understanding the images and by that in turn for the viewers, makes them all the more satisfying to look at.

If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its meaning?

Eric Newton, in his article ‘Four reasons why great Photojournalism is Art’ uses Oxford Dictionary definitions to argue his point:-

Art is….. “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” Artworks come “typically in a visual form … to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

He then asserts… ‘That’s great journalism’. (2014)

I agree with Newton. I think that certain documentary images are so compelling that you can look at them for a long time. And these art/documentary images don’t need to be holding our gaze as objects for morbid curiosity, such as could be argued they might, for brutal images of war or terrorism. (I think the world is long past being shocked by violent or bloody scenes.)   I think that a documentary style image becomes art when it triggers any one of a wide range of emotions,  be it humour, awe, shock, despair. All these go beyond the point of ‘informing’ in a documentary sense, and it is quite simply because photographs have the power to evoke these reactions (which will differ from viewer to viewer), that this changes their meaning. As Seawright points out also, an artwork is personal to a viewer so the meanings become much more complex and can be dictated by a whole range of factors, including personal experience, family background etc.

Certainly where a photograph is displayed has an impact on its meaning and connotation and how we react to it.  Sarah J Coleman wrote an article having visited the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea to see photographs by Tim Hetherington, the war photographer killed in Libya in 2011. Viewing the image below, she writes:-

‘I admire Hetherington’s work, but even so it a bit felt jarring to see his images of Liberian child soldiers and decrepit hospitals commodified into beautiful 4′ x 4′ art prints. The contrast between the dirty-colorful, poverty-stricken Liberian landscape and the perfect white walls of the gallery was ironic to say the least.’ (2012)


My focus is usually always on the aesthetics of the image, however or wherever it is presented, however I can appreciate that this can have an effect on how we ‘read’ a photograph and therefore may skew its meaning.

At the moment this topic feels enormous and I feel I’m just skimming the surface. It would be good to revisit the questions later on in the course.


British Photography / The Hyman Collection. Paul Seawright : Sectarian Murder (1988).  At Accessed at 14 September 2016

Newton, E. (2014) Four Reasons why Great Photojournalism is Art. At Accessed at 16 September 2016

Coleman, S (2012). Documentary Photography at the New York Photo Festival. At Accessed at 15 September 2016

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers : Susan Sontag, On Photograrphy

Part 1 – Exercise 2 – Colour or Black & White Street Images?

For this exercise the brief was to pick a ‘favourite street’ and take 30 images in black and white and take another 30 in colour. The street I chose in Norwich was Magdalen Street, a street that starts in the historical heart of the city next door to the iconic Anglican cathedral and then deteriorates wonderfully into a world of ‘grungy’ charity shops towards Anglia Square, an area which has bizarrely been threatened with the addition of ’boutique shops’ by the local planners, and a promise which thankfully has not yet been fulfilled.

There were some rather obvious choices for colour – people walking in the low winter sunshine with the light just catching their faces (above top right), some colourful trolleys thrown around by the wind (above top left), ‘busy shop windows and a historic shop front where street signs battle for space with the extended shop floor as the furniture spills out (above).

Along with the ‘trendy’ retro atmosphere of parts of the street, some of the businesses are stuck in a time-warp, including the hairdressers shop below which proudly boasts ‘Appointments not always necessary’.. this image cried out for a black and white finish to emphasise the fact that time has not moved on and the old fashioned hair dryers work just as well as they did 40 years ago.


Some of the contents in the shop displays  were also quite bizarre and seemed to lend themselves to colour just so that they were noticed… for example in the image on the left the small pink guitar at the back of the shop would have been completely lost in a black and white image.


Conversely, for some images, I felt that the lack of colour created irony in the photograph and that’s why the colour, however little there was, needed to be retained.  Heading towards Xmas, this sad looking shop front didn’t exactly fill me with Christmas cheer!

Equally, for some images I felt it wouldn’t really matter if it was black and white or colour. In the shot below, a woman cowered behind the sign stuck to the café window, obviously in an attempt to avoid the camera. Her leopard print coat appealed to me, but this also showed up in the black and white version.  The lack of customers apart from the cowering woman also seemed to work well in the image and similarly, it didn’t matter if I’d shown the strewn empty chairs in colour or black and white.


The Xmas fun-fair in Anglia Square in the image below gave me the opportunity to play with the balance of black and white or colour during post-processing of the image.  I desaturated some of the image to emphasise the grey, dismal feel of the shoppers sitting gloomily on the benches, possibly not relishing the idea of the impending festive season, but I liked the colours of the empty ride and the leading yellow power cables providing the life in the image. I also think the bollard says ‘Danger! Watch out ! You might have fun here !’


My final comment on the choice of black and white, is that sometimes a gloomy day can be exaggerated using colour and can add to the overall melancholy feeling within a photograph. I think that using black and white can mask that atmosphere, which of course makes it a useful tool to use to combat the UK weather. The ‘Moonlight Cafe’ below sounds like it could be a rather beautiful and romantic location and therefore the dismal, colourless winter afternoon retained in what little colour there was, to me, added to the irony of the image.


This is far from my best set of photographs on a not particularly inspiring day, which in itself was a good test for me to go out and find images whatever the weather or location. Consciously concentrating on choice of colour or black and white was also a good exercise for something which often feels instinctive and therefore difficult to pinpoint or explain the reasons for choosing one format against the other.