Category Archives: 4 Reading Photographs

Assignment 4 – Tutor Feedback

I was pleased overall with the feedback that I received for this assignment. My tutor had written some ideas to improve on the submission including:-

In the assignment, you describe the chosen image clearly. For the exercise in the course, you annotated a picture to help describe it. If you did this technique before writing the essay, it would be good to upload this as part of a blog post for the assignment.

Truthfully, I was NOT disciplined enough to write notes against the image, however I did look again at the image more recently and carried out the exercise in case I could spot anything else in the photograph that I had neglected to include. I have included this as a blog post.

It is clear you have undertaken some research into the photograph. Can you ensure that you reference your sources… You make a comparison to an overhead war image, again include this image (or a link) in a blog post alongside the finished essay.

As time went on in the course this and I was cramming in the final work in between NHS work and house renovation work, I’m afraid this fell by the wayside. I have now added the sources I used for the essay.  For the war image, I decided to include this in the essay itself as it seemed to complement what I was saying better to be included, rather than have it as a separate post.

I also came across an article in the Guardian which showcased some other more modern aerial perspective sports images. I added a blog describing the images from the article which specifically appealed to me, and why they did, after my assignment was submitted.

My tutor also gave me more general advice about the course assessment and suggested:-

  1. Top up the Ideas, Projects and Reading tabs (I subsequently updated these areas of the blog with a few personal photographic assignments) and some ideas for places I would like to photograph in the future;
  2. Use the blog more as a journal to document the learning aspect of the course and provide shorter but more frequent blogs. I will take this forward for the remainder of the course and certainly into future courses if I progress.

She also referred me to another website which had chronicled how the Leifer photograph was taken – within the Time 100 best photographs. I read the article with interest.

Assignment 4 – Postscript

Having enjoyed reading about the Neil Leifer aerial photograph of Muhammad Ali, I came across an article in the Guardian which showcased the best sports-related aerial photography. I thought several of the images were outstanding:-

Swimmers contest the world’s biggest ocean race, the Cole Classic, from Shelly Beach to Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia, in 2010.
Photograph Steve Christo for Getty @Images

This image is akin to an Attenborough-witnessed fish feeding frenzy as the white splashes of the swimmers surge forward through the water. It almost dimishes the humans in the image to tiny microbes which combine to form a much stronger force, pushing forward over the ocean. I think its a beautiful image and the tiny coloured dots of the swimmers caps add additional interest.

Cross country skiers during the 2012 Engadin Skimarathon near St Moritz, Switzerland. Photograph by Arnd Wiegmann for Reuters.

The apparent blizzard of snow falling on top of the skiers has rendered this photograph almost like a painting. The criss-cross of the skis as the skiers clamber their way along the course give the image a rhythm and texture. The tiny limbs put me in mind of Lowry’s famous stick-men characters.

Thailand’s Nina Lamsam Ligon, on Butts Leon, rides past spectators as she competes in the evening competition at the 2012 London Olympics in Greenwich Park. Photograph by Adrian Dennis, for Getty Images.

The shadows provide all the story in this photograph as you can only actually see a small part of the human’s and horse’s head and torsos. I like the rhythm of the standing spectators, some poised and ready with their cameras, and the feeling of speed generated by the horse’s flared tail as it gallops along the course. The curl of the horse’s legs capture is timing perfection.

Serena Williams winning the 2010 Australian Open. Photograph from Back Page Images/Rex/Shutterstock.

This is a photograph I remember seeing at the time it was taken. It has a very strange perspective and almost looks as if Serena Williams is velcro’d to a wall together with her tennis racquet which seems suspended in mid air (given the shadow). The white lines are forming compartments in the image for the subjects to be ‘thown’ into. The colours are striking and its an altogether joyful victorious image.

With the ever-increasing use of drone technology these types of images are going to become common place for sport photography and it will be interesting to see if the fine art leaning of some the images also becomes equally as widespread.


Bloor, S. (2018) Hitting the Heights : Sports Photography from above : In pictures. At (accessed 22 January 2018)

Singular Images: Sophie Howarth

The task was to read and reflect on the chapter on Diane Arbus in ‘Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs‘ by Sophie Howarth (2005, London : Tate Publishing.

I felt the essay was quite condescending about the subjects in the image. It is smattered with comments like ‘When you look at this young Brooklyn family about to set out on a Sunday outing, you can’t help wondering what will become of them’, or ‘For all their apparent willingness to look at the camera, the family looked benighted’… In my estimation the family don’t look downtrodden or suffering, despite clearly having a child with disabilities. The father does look tentative and maybe doesn’t enjoy having his photograph taken and yes, the woman clearly is injecting some ‘attitude’ into the image, but I don’t agree that she is wearing the baby like a shield, as suggested in the essay.

I find it interesting how far you can go with personal assumptions when reading a photograph. It’s almost as if the author of the essay categorically believes her assumptions are unequivocally correct, without any shadow of doubt. The reputation that seems to stick to Arbus as her single overriding compulsion in that she enjoys photographing ‘freaks’ or those on the edge of society, has almost given ‘carte blanche’ to the author to exaggerate the intention of Arbus to make them out to be people who we need to feel sorry for but I don’t think this is necessarily the case:-

Arbus’ caption for the image ‘They were undeniably close, in a painful sort of way’ leads the author to immediately jump to the conclusion of a ‘marriage in trouble’ rather than a young couple struggling with the rigours of bringing up two young children, when they themselves are only just into adulthood. I think my response to the image might well be tempered by another image that Arbus took of the couple at their house. This clearly implies that the photographer had a real interest in the family and that some rapport had developed between them. Again the author focuses on the furniture held up by boxes rather than suggesting that this alternative image showed a warmer side to the couple’s relationship – sitting close together on their settee with their kids playing. I do think it seems somewhat unnatural that the children are interacting freely but the adults are not engaging with them, however we do not know what Arbus’ photographic direction was with her subjects. It could have been, ‘Look directly at me, don’t smile’…

A young brooklyn family at home

Clearly Arbus liked images which showed some ‘edge’ or ‘grit’ to them but I also think that she was interested in the human spirit also. She loved diversity of characters and I think she wanted to stage manage them as her own subjects (which is why so many of her other portraits are strangely stilted).

I think one of the most telling paragraphs in the essay is a quote from Arbus herself, who almost seems to rue the tactics she has to employ to get the best out of her subjects:-

‘We know from accounts given by her friends that Arbus was a very persuasive person, who spoke, as she wrote, quirkily and with great charm. She accused herself of being ‘kind of two-faced’, when photographing people. ‘I’m very ingratiating. It really kind of annoys me. I’m just a little too nice’. 

It was an interesting essay to read and provides a lot of ideas about all the different angles you can use when reading photographs.

Assignment 4 – Reading Photographs

The task for this assignment was to critique a photograph, either a well-known image, or a found/personal photograph, using facts as a means to draw conclusions about what the image means to you.


I decided to look for images which I wouldn’t normally search for or study in the normal way. Sports photography has for me been in that category because I classed it as a bit of a cliché; I had assumed that the essence of sports photography was limited to creating an accurate record of the result of a competition, imparting information about the winners and losers, depicting whether records were broken, etc. Essentially I saw it as something just to put on the back pages of a newspaper to accompany the written results. I was clearly wrong!

I now know that sports photography has so much more to offer! There is a lot of beauty in sports images: they often encapsulate humans at the very extreme of physical endeavours and in physical peaks of condition.  Good sports photography seems so much less about the sport, more about the human psyche. How far can we really push ourselves if we have the will?  I ended up choosing a historic sporting image which just totally captured my imagination. I wanted to find out more about it I wanted to understand why the photographer chose the perspective he did. The image I chose was Neil Leifer’s iconicCleveland Williams and Muhammad Ali’ image from 1966.

Neil Leifer – Cleveland Williams and Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland Williams at the Astrodome, Houston, 1966

This photograph is of a boxing match, clearly denoted by the two male fighters wearing the characteristic padded gloves, shorts and boots. Both boxers are dark skinned, possibly of African descent.  One of the fighters is lying down on the mat, legs and arms splayed out at 45 and 90 degree angles respectively to his torso; the other has raised his arms in apparent victory and is walking towards the corner of the ring. Surrounding the white square-shaped boxing ring and ropes, there are at least three rows of seated journalists and photographers, denoted by the typewriters, notepads and some cameras that are perched on the edge of the ring. They sit at multiple rectangular white tables around the edge of the boxing ring. Many of the journalists are dressed in suits and ties; clearly this was an important championship event. The lack of advertising banners and slogans as well as the formal dress, connotes a boxing match from history rather than more modern times.


This image was indeed an important boxing match: Muhammed Ali was facing Cleveland Williams for his 7th defence of the heavyweight championship in Houston, Texas in November 1966. Muhammad Ali was said to have been at the peak of his powers. Howard Cosell, the sports commentator said:-

“That night he was the most devastating fighter who ever lives. He dominated from the opening bell, knocked Williams down four times and pummelled him until Williams was spitting blood. It was incredible that he could hand out a beating like that and not once get touched himself.”

The photographer was Neil Leifer and the image was shot remotely from 80 foot up in the roof of the Houston Astrodome using a Hasselblad. Leifer purposely did not use a wireless trigger because he had just 12 possible exposures and he was concerned that the police walkie-talkies would set the set the camera off. Also a fisheye lens was not needed as he was able to suspend the camera so high because of the height of the lighting rig he attached the camera to was used for concerts.  One assumes that this was the knock-out blow and the end of the fight, but coincidentally Williams got back to his feet and continued fighting again until the final knock-out.  Unsurprisingly, this is the photographer’s favourite image and the only one which he displays in his home, printed to the scale of 40 inches square and hung in a diamond format.

Snowflakes and what makes humans unique

For me this image is breath-taking: the composition puts me in mind of a perfectly formed snowflake; the tables as the strands of ice emanating from an ice cold hard boxing mat. The symmetry of all the subjects within the photograph are staged like a precise choreographed ballet, with the two wires ‘pointing’ down in diagonal corners to each of the boxers; both bodies are similarly symmetrical in their poses; Ali with his left and right arms suspended in a victory stance, Williams arms and legs splayed in defeat.

Something often said about snowflakes is that no two are exactly alike even if they ‘appear’ so under a microscope. Although this has never been proven (despite numerous research studies, photographs and comparisons), this quality of being unrepeatable, almost defines us as humans and we all want to be unique, some of us, including Ali and Williams in the photograph, strive even further than that, to be the best and to be crowned the champion.

Maybe Leifer did have a snowflake in mind when he concocted his precise composition – he did display it in a diamond format after all?!  But maybe he wanted us to view Ali and Williams, like snowflakes, as two perfect specimens, virtually identical in stature, physique, weight etc. but one with an indefinable quality, the will to win, the ‘edge’. We all know that sports psychologists form a key constituent to Olympic athletes’ coaching team support these days, and in boxing, the psychological element has been widely understood for years, manifested in the pre-bout eyeball stand-offs between opponents.

Muhammad Ali’s confidence was widely understood and one of the strongest skills in his armoury, and it’s why today, a year after his death to Parkinson’s, his bold statements of his self-belief are just as keenly remembered as his boxing prowess:-

“When will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry, and is as tall and extra pretty as me? In the history of the world and from the beginning of time, there’s never been another fighter like me. Eat your words! Eat your words! I am the greatest.”

Gladiators and boxers

Boxing to me, also echoes the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome.  The threads of spectacle, human bloodshed, endeavour to the extreme levels of human endurance and bellowing roars of bloodthirsty on-looking public spectators, run through the ancient gladiatorial displays as well as modern day boxing bouts.   There is a beauty and simplicity in these physical ‘man versus man’, or ‘human versus beast’ contests and artists throughout the ages have been attracted to depict this. Leifer has captured this beauty as a by-product of the sporting contest in his photograph.

Aerial perspective

Further, the aerial viewpoint in Leifer’s photograph puts me in mind of God looking down on a sacrifice of mere mortals, the ‘defeated’ cold body laying horizontally (and therefore shown in full), surrounded by a sea of humans, the vertical perspective rendering them as multiple/faceless heads. It is the same aerial ‘outer-worldly’ perspective I have seen in war images of mourners carrying a swaddled martyred body through the streets of Gaza. Who is the viewer in these images? Is it us, the living, or is it indeed God, welcoming the slaughtered into his home in heaven?

Fine art?

Leifer’s photograph has moved far from being sports reportage, conveying information about the fight, or recording the event itself: It is clearly fine art and was intended to be so – an image to be appreciated purely at an aesthetic level for visual pleasure.  This seems incongruous with the idea of a typical sports photograph. The photographer has chosen to show nothing of the speed, dexterity, skill, power of the boxer, The most common boxing images might show motion blur of the speed of the jabs, or freeze the droplets of sweat bouncing off the fighters’ bodies, or capture a fighter’s head thrown back from the impact of a ‘connected’ punch.  Instead Leifer has chosen to depict what the viewer would consider the aftermath, the victorious and the defeated in opposite corners.


In summary, I don’t tend to appreciate many sports images; they often follow a set format and the emphasis is often on the winner or the loser, the first person to cross the line, the person who fell, but rarely on both the winner and loser as equal subjects within a precisely manicured composition. This is why I suspect Leifer’s photograph won the Observer Magazine best sports photograph of all time, but also why I have extended my photographic interest into other types of genres, now including sports photography – you never know what beauty you will find in the most unexpected of arenas!

Summary and Self-Assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Not required for this assessment.

Quality of Outcome

I think I researched the photograph quite widely as well as the photographer’s approach and I hope this will stand me in good stead for this assessment. I drew on my own personal feelings invoked by the image and connotations after including a description of what the image clearly denoted. 3 / 5

Demonstration of Creativity

Not required for this assessment.


My blog/url has recently been updated with all the exercises within part 4 of the coursework materials

Part 4 – Exercise 2 – Gucci Advert

For the purposes of this exercise, I bought a mixture of magazines (including men’s mags) and not really being someone who regularly scours or flicks through a lot of magazines (other than photography ones) outside of going to the hairdressers, it was an interesting exercise to compare the different style and quality of images used in the adverts.  The perfume and after shave adverts followed a very specific minimalistic code of format for example.. As soon as I spotted this Gucci ad it was an easy decision to choose this one given the bold colours alongside the and effortlessly upmarket ‘cool’ retro feel…. I thought the bold yellow was a note to the Kodak company colours of the 70s.  I have written some comments around the advert and scanned it in to upload to my blog:-

Advertising Image GUCCI

Part 4 – Exercise 1 – Elliot Erwitt


Elliot Erwitt - New York, 1974
Elliot Erwitt – New York, 1974


The brief for this exercise is to write notes about how the subject matter is placed in the frame, how it is structured, and explain what you think the image is saying..

I think the composition really works in this image. There are so many perpendicular vertical lines which form a distinct rhythmical pattern and which naturally you are reading from left to right (tree, dog legs, human legs, dog lead, mini dog legs) and then to finally rest your eyes on the main subject in the image.  The background and immediate foreground are pleasingly thrown out of focus and so don’t really feature at all in the photograph and therefore don’t detract. The photographer has got right down, almost to the ground, to be at eye-level with the smallest dog, rendering the other subjects just as a series of legs. I think the dog is saying ‘I know I’m small but I have 2 towering bodyguards and a heap of style in this hat, so you really don’t want to mess with me!’ .

The image reminds me very much of the 2 Ronnies’ sketch ‘I know my place’. In the famous sketch John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett are lined up left to right, each representing the different classes in British society which in turn is further emphasized by their differing heights:-

Barker; ‘I look up to him (looking at Cleese) because he is upper class, but I look down on him (looking at Corbett) because he is lower class.’
Corbett: ‘I know my place‘…….

The sketch then turns and Corbett goes on to say ‘I know my place.  I look up to them both, but while I am poor, I am honest, industrious and trustworthy. Had I the inclination, I could look down on them both. But I don’t’.

The image reminds us to not discount the diminutive little guy, he’s may well probably the boss, so don’t think he has any less power or authority, you will dismiss him at your peril!  Start with him first, the other guys are a waste of leg space and are probably getting vertigo way up there… It’s a lesson on ensuring we listen to everyone, not just the leaders but the little folk too.

It’s clearly an intentionally comical image, especially noting the fashion sense of the little dog and his pointed and unflinching gaze into the camera despite his stature and it’s a great example of the iconic and comedic black and white street images of the time.