Thursday, 25 October 2012

People and Place Musings

Most photographers know (and some take for granted) that people - singular or plural - make for interesting subject matter. However, recently I have been questioning why this is, partially in order to help me with the fifth assignment. I've come to the conclusion the main underlying cause is the intricacy of their features and the consequent uniqueness of each person because of this.

   The first intricate feature (or set of features) that springs to mind is the human face. This is
justified as it is the defining feature of the human body. There are other distinguishing parts though such as the hands or body posture.

   Another thing that makes people an attractive subject for many photographers is that they are malleable in terms of the amount of space they take up in the frame. This could range from a tiny figure in a massively scaled building or the person's eyes filling the frame. This would be possible potentially using just one zoom lens at the minimum. In this sense in some ways they are the ideally-sized subject for a photographer - more specifically for normal-ranging focal lengths.

   Places I found were for me a lot less compromising- they were either of huge proportions with viewpoints where a lot of the objects within the vicinity potentially got in the way and were immovable, whichever viewpoint you chose. The other extreme was where they were too confined - only a couple of interesting or informing viewpoints were on offer and even more frequently objects would be within the space getting in the way (although these could sometimes be moved around). In between these two extremes was of course, a mid-sized space but I'd found, quite frustratingly, they tended to be spaces that required permission to photograph in. This included libraries, certain museums, shops and certain public spaces where photography was just prohibited.

   People and place together I had discovered were challenging (for me at least) to convey in an interesting way but I thought perseverance was key here in that sometimes you just had to be patient or assertive in order to get the shot you were looking for. An example of this would be choosing an angle that showed off the people's faces rather than just the backs of their heads, which consequently and inadvertently gave a sometimes unusual viewpoint. I have learnt that these viewpoints often are more desirable than 'standard' viewpoints if you were trying to convey something in your photograph.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Assignment 4 - A sense of place - the final selection

Firstly I was overall very satisfied with the strong selection of images I had been able to produce. These ranged from shots that captured a more 'decisive moment' than I had been able to produce previously, to a couple of shots that were influenced by other photographers. I saw Greenwich as a very rich, diverse borough, with the people within it mirroring this. I tried to capture this variety of both people and place. In the process I tried to show the viewer of the publication some of the character and range of (some well-known and others not so well-known) places with the intention of showing the borough as an enticing place to visit; but in a way that was more complete.

   I have included the shot I was most pleased with technically first (number 7). It was also the shot that I had been heavily influenced by another photographer in my preparation for the assignment. I looked closely (as can be seen in the previous post - Reconnaissance!) at the photographer Thomas Struth. I was most impressed by the expressions on the faces of the people looking at famous art and I think this obviously showed in my image of the Painted Hall as the visitors were all gazing intently upwards at the fascinating art on the walls and ceiling. I was also pleased with the symmetry and sense of size replicated in the photograph of the hall. I managed to show off some of the details of the walls and ceiling behind the visitors as well as capturing their expressions while staring up at the ceiling above.


   The next shot (number 8), which I felt was almost mandatory to include was a photograph of the Cutty Sark. I felt it was mandatory because Greenwich has such a deeply vested history in shipping and obviously the Cutty Sark is the most iconic feature of Greenwich in terms of this history. I tried to photograph it in a slightly different way though. This included photographing it at the time of day of sunset with a moody sky and Canary Wharf catching the last of the light in the distance. I also chose to include a person walking in front to add a sense of scale of the ship as it helped to show how massive it was. I chose to include a working man (wearing a high-visibility jacket) in this image to contrast the usually tourist-filled popular space. This was because it differentiated it from the usual tourist/brochure treatment.


   Third, with (number 9), I wanted to concentrate on another side of Greenwich, which while not as famous as the Cutty Sark, was an aspect of the borough that was refreshingly different. This was namely kite-flying at Blackheath and it required some patience (for a windy day and present kite-flyers) to take. I eventually got an occasion when there was both and managed to capture a shot that was slightly humorous but also more importantly showed a potential peruser of the travel publication a different side to Greenwich.



   I mentioned while I was researching the area for the assignment that I stumbled across some photographic opportunities and this fourth-selected photograph (number 10) is one that I thought was particularly effective. It showed off Greenwich Market from an unconventional viewpoint, namely through a mirror on sale at one of the stalls. I thought it showed off well the vibrancy of the market and it was the kind of oppportunist moment Helen Levitt might have tried to capture (well that was where I got the influence to take the picture from anyway).


   One photograph I could choose easily to be included was a photograph of a girl playing around in one of the fountains on the way to the O2 Arena (number 11). The O2 Arena was obviously visible in the distance and the girl was captured decisively jumping around in the fountain. This was one of my favourite photos as it had clear context (the O2 Arena) and was fun to look at - especially with the low viewpoint emulating the user's (girl's) viewpoint.


   The final photograph (number 12) was at Greenwich Park and offered a view of people relaxing on the brow of a hill in the park overlooking Canary Wharf. It was a sunny day and so the colours were vivid but what I liked most was the way the lying people were placed in a manner that led the eye to the horizon and the view of Canary Wharf. This was (in my eyes) similar to Tina Barney's 'Sunday New York Times' (1982) where the people seemed to be 'placed' conveniently so the eye was led somewhere of importance. In the 'Sunday New York Times' photograph the eye was led to the table containing the Sunday newspaper, whereas in my photograph the people within it (especially those on the left) led the viewer's eye to the horizon. This was, of course, by chance but I thought it corresponded with a statement written about the 'Sunday New York Times' photograph in the book Train Your Gaze by Roswell Rangier (2007): 'Her method is a combination of chance and choreography.' In my photograph the chance factor was the fact I waited until the man on the right walked into a suitable position (in the sunshine and facing the camera) to create a contrast to the people on the left who were in the shade and facing towards the view.

   If I had had more time I would have waited for a more windy day for the Blackheath kite-flying photograph, which might have made a more impressive array of kites being flown and so a better choice of kites from which to photograph or even a wide shot of all of the kites to show how big Blackheath was.

   Another change I would have made would have been to have taken maybe more (or more interesting people) in the Cutty Sark photograph. However I was very pleased with the moody sky and the way the setting sun caught the buildings in the far distance as I had mentioned earlier, which would have been difficult to replace. Also the fact that I didn't end up including what had been I felt a successful technique in using motion blur in some of the exercises leading up to the assignment was a bit of a shame. I know I used it for one of the Greenwich Market shots that I didn't choose for the final selection but maybe the Cutty Sark photograph would have been a candidate for using this technique as well.

   Altogether though, there wasn't much I would change and considering I found it a bit difficult to choose which photos would make the final selection I felt it was a strong group of images for the travel publication.

   If I had been simply taking the photographs with no end-result in mind there would probably have been less variety as the 'intelligent, thoughtful' part of the brief made me think more widely. Also perhaps I would have taken the shots with less context apparent and concentrated more on the people rather than both people and place.

Assignment 4 - the best of the rest

I decided to post these six photos first in order to show the 'strong selection' of photographs I had taken for the travel publication. These would be the supplement to the six photographs I would actually select for the travel publication. I still tried to provide variety within the selection of 'the best of the rest' though, with the intention of not selecting images similar to one another in this selection and with the final selection that I would post in the next post.

   The first of the photos (number 1) that didn't quite make it into the final selection was a photograph of a man and his dog as an accent in the middle of Greenwich Park. While it showed off the scale of the park well in comparison to the man and his dog, I felt there were more 'action-packed' shots to choose from. However the minimalist side of just one tiny focal point worked well, I thought. Because he was quite a small accent in the context of the scene I chose to employ a bit of dodging and burning - dodging the man and creating a vignette burn around the man to highlight him. This was to make him stand out more.

   Second (number 2), was a photograph I had a hard time justifying to leave out of the final selection. It comprised of two young children, sitting in a cable car that went over the river Thames at North Greenwich, with the O2 Arena in the background. I thought it was well-composed with other cable cars visible as well as the O2 Arena and also managed to capture the moment - the expressions on the childrens' faces was telling.

   The third (number 3) shot I chose to be in the final dozen photos (but not the selected six) was a shot that aimed to capitalise on what I felt was quite a success with a few of the exercises leading up to this fourth assignment for People and Place. This was the use of motion blur of people in a scene with the technique used primarily to show a sense of busyness. The technique worked well here too at a (very) busy Greenwich Market; helping to depict how crowded and full of activity the place appeared.

   Fourth (number 4), was probably the photo I worked hardest to get and I was a bit disappointed to be leaving it out. I did leave it out in the end though because it was a bit similar to one of the photographs I was adamant about leaving in. Here was a night scene from the Royal Observatory overlooking Greenwich Park and then further away Canary Wharf. The reason I had to work hard to get it was simply due to the convenience of finding people overlooking the view at night (which I felt added to the photo) and getting the lighting right to illuminate them. In order to illuminate them I used flash lighting and it was difficult to get the angle right without creating harsh shadows but eventually I managed to succeed and I was satisfied with what I had achieved. That was the main reason not including this picture in the final selection was a bit hard for me.

   The fifth photograph (number 5), I found interesting but not as strong as some of the others. It was taken inside the Maratime Museum. It was perhaps a fairly orthodox shot of a couple exploring the museum. The thing I liked about this photograph though was the framing - an (important) inclusion of a boat model combined with the couple with visible facial features and the backdrop of the museum. Incidentally, I also dodged the couple to make them more apparent (a technique I was finding very useful).


   Finally, and after much deliberation, I left out a theatre shot from the final selection (number 6). While I liked the shot because of its atmosphere I felt it lacked context a bit - it was difficult to set this Greenwich Theatre setting from a different theatre. I suppose it showed some of the local Greenwich people in the audience (albeit their backs) but I felt I had stronger images for the final selection.

Bibliography - People interacting with place

R. Angier, (2007), Train Your Gaze, AVA Publishing SA, Lausanne, Switzerland.

S. Bainbridge (ed), (September 2012), Cutting-edge Fashion Photography, British Journal of Photography, 159, (7804).

C. Cotton (2009), the photograph as contemporary art – New Edition 2009, Thames and Hudson, London WC1V, 7QX, 2009.

M. De Witt (ed), (August-September 2012), Hotshoe, 179.

M. Freeman (2009), Photography 1: People and Place, Open College of the Arts.

M. Harris (ed), (Fall 2012), aperture, 208.

D. Kilpatrick (2012), British Journal of Photography, August 2012, Volume 159, Incisive Financial Publishing Limited, London SW1Y, 4RX.

The Leica Camera Blog. [WWW]. Available from: [accessed on 20 September 2012].

H. Levitt (2008), Helen Levitt, powerHouse Books Cultural Entertainment Inc., Brooklyn, NewYork, 11201.

M. Short (2011), Basics Creative Photography O2, Context and Narrative, Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA.

T. Struth (2002), Pergamon I-VI, [WWW] Marian Goodman Gallery. Available from:  [accessed on 20 September 2012]. 

T. Struth (2005), Audience / Read This Like Seeing It for the First Time, [WWW] Marian Goodman Gallery. Available from: [accessed on 20 September 2012].

T. Struth (2007), Making Time, [WWW] Marian Goodman Gallery. Available from: [accessed on 20 September 2012].

L. Wells (2009), Photography: A Critical Introduction - 4th Edition, Routledge, 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14, 4RN.

Reference Page - People interacting with place

T. Barney (1982), Sunday New York Times, [Photograph]. In: R. Angier, (2007), Train Your Gaze, AVA Publishing SA, Lausanne, Switzerland, Page 178.

M. Freeman (2009), Photography 1: People and Place, Open College of the Arts, page 46.

D. Kilpatrick (2012), British Journal of Photography, August 2012, Volume 159, Incisive Financial Publishing Limited, London SW1Y, 4RX, page 87.

H. Levitt (2008), Helen Levitt, powerHouse Books Cultural Entertainment Inc., Brooklyn, NewYork, 11201.

T. Struth (2002), Pergamon I-VI, [WWW] Marian Goodman Gallery. Available from:  [accessed on 20 September 2012].  

T. Struth (2005), Audience / Read This Like Seeing It for the First Time, [WWW] Marian Goodman Gallery. Available from: [accessed on 20 September 2012].

T. Struth (2007), Making Time, [WWW] Marian Goodman Gallery. Available from: [accessed on 20 September 2012].

T. Struth, (2011), Thomas Struth: Composing Pictures, The Leica Camera Blog. [WWW]. Available from: [accessed on 20 September 2012].