Category Archives: Research and Reflection

A double dose of Cameron

This was an unofficial study visit centred on the exhibitions featuring the work of Julia Margaret Cameron at the Victoria and Albert museum and the Science Museum.  In addition we also had time to see the work “Dark Mirror” by Richard Learoyd and a collection of both art and photography entitled “Facing History: Contemporary Portraiture” both at the Victoria and Albert museum.

We started off with looking at Learoyd’s work.  As can be seen from the photo below the prints are a considerable size and, as a result of their means of production, are a true one-off.  They are created by a room sized camera obscura, with the image being exposed directly on to photographic paper.


Richard Learoyd’s Dark Mirror at the V&A

There was a mix of portraits , animals and the mirrors of the title.  The pictures have a an amazing clarity, and it would appear a narrow depth of field (I’m not sure as to the lens used) as well as a (deliberately, it would appear) timeless quality about them.  I thought they were marvellous and went back to see them again before I returned home.

I would imagine that the book of his work, no matter how well published would not be able to do justice to the real thing.  I did have one criticism of the exhibition, nothing to do with the work itself but the way it was displayed. Because of the venue and its lighting works opposite were reflected in the work you were viewing and I am wondering whether it would have been more beneficial to either stagger the pictures (so they weren’t opposite each other) or just have them closer together down one wall.



The display -note the lighting and reflections,

The artist is giving a lecture on 10 February 2016 at the museum which I am hoping to attend.


Richard Learoyd

We then went on to the V & A’s exhibition of Julia Margaret Cameron.

The introduction to exhibition states that Cameron is “one of the most important and innovative photographers of the 19th century.” and adds that “Her photographs were rule breaking: purposely out of focus, and often including scratches smudges and other traces of the artist’s process.”

At the risk of being contentious I have a couple of issues with these statements firstly I struggle to see how she could be regarded as innovative (other than perhaps in her habit of posing and dressing up her sitters.) as a lot of her portrait work is very similar to her contemporaries at the time (based on my admittedly limited research – for instance see and I am not persuaded as to the “purposely out of focus” point as there are a significant number of her photos in focus.  Judging by her letters on display she was a shrewd businesswoman (as well as not particularly modest) and I’m wondering if she used the out of focus angle as a USP in order to sell her work.



Julia Margaret Camerson

In any event her portraits are powerful and, viewed individually, some have both a potency and, in some cases a pathos, about them:-


DSC02546 DSC02544


This was one of my favourites from this exhibition – Cameron’s portrait of John Frederick William Herschel

However, to me there were almost too many pieces in this exhibition and, in my view, it could possibly have benefitted from some pruning so as to enable the viewer to concentrate on the best and/or most interesting of her work.  On the other hand it could be agued that by including her, shall we say, less successful shots we get more of an insight into her working .   To be fair that is certainly the case with several instances of alternative versions on display:-


Alternate shots of Lady Adele Talbot



Holly, a fellow student, taking notes.

The thought occurred to me while going round the exhibition that many of her photos could pass for paintings and her poses and lighting were, it seems to me, based on existing art rather than any innovative approach.  It is of course possible that I am missing something.  It is the case however that many of her portraits, irrespective of their technical merits, are historically important and valuable from that viewpoint alone.




We then went on to the collection of mixed media portraits “Facing History: Contemporary Portraiture”

This was a relatively small collection of works including artists such as Grayson Perry, Julian Opie, Thomas Ruff, Maud Sulter and Gavin Turk.  I’m am unsure as to the basis of selection but it was an interesting mix of works


Julien Opie’s Luc and Ludivine get married, No. 7. Opie is well known for his portraits of Blur


Tom Hunter’s “Woman reading possession order” I thought this was a wonderful phot with marvellous use of natural light imitating classical art.


Top Left:- Self Portrait from the Mirror with a Memory series – Gardiner, Jeremy; Right: Man with Eyes Closed (Walter White) – Brian D Cohen; Bottom Left: Untitled (Stella) from The Library of Human Hard Copy – Jeremy Gardiner, 1984


After Lunch we went to the Science Museum’s Cameron exhibition entitled Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy.  It occurred to me that this exhibition, apart from a few artifacts, was not radically different from that of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s offering (and overlapped it in the duplication of some of her work)and it seemed a pity that the two could not have collaborated on a joint venture.

As it was, I preferred the presentation here as it seemed to show the work to better effect, albeit in a rather clinical white space, as opposed to the somewhat overpowering red of the V & A.

What I felt was missing from both exhibitions was any detailed desciption of her methods and indeed her influences.  The “Annals of My Glass House” as mentioned in the top left photo below, and available via the link, indicates that a portrait was taken as “a Raphaelesque Madonna.” but that is the only indication of influence that’s explicit. As an aside “Annals” makes interesting reading as to how she views her own work – and those of others.

IMG_0237-2 IMG_0234-2 IMG_0229-2 IMG_0230-2

I have to admit that I did become a bit Cameroned out and remained unpersuaded, after seeing both exhibitions, that she was particularly innovative.  She’s undoubtedly important to photographic history,if not just from the perspective of gender, but not in my view from a deliberate rule breaker point of view.  It could be argued however that where she does stand out is the ability to promote her work, and all credit to her for doing so.

Annals of My Glass House can be found here:-




Gathered Leaves – Alec Soth exhibition and talk at the Science Museum (and Linnaeus Tripe at the Victoria and Albert)

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Alec Soth’s talk at the Science Museum on the opening day of his exhibition Gathered Leaves and I booked a viewing of his exhibition to precede the talk.

Having arrived in London early I had time to go into the Victoria and Albert Museum to see what was on there.  The exhibition of Tripe’s work entitled Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 caught my eye and so I had a look at it.  This is record shooting in its purest sense, undertaken it would appear with military precision and dedication during the years 1852-60 and using an albumen solution for processing, documenting the threatened historic structures of South India, as a means of helping the government make conservation recommendations.

While the photos themselves were fascinating (and many were of buildings no longer standing) it was also interesting to read about the little tweaks Tripe added to his photos.  For instance to simulate foliage, in an area where the photographic process he used showed trees as a black mass, he created holes on the negatve to create the illusion of light coming through.  He would also paint in clouds, and added ripples to water, when detail had been lost.

The detail, considering the age and the process used, was incredible and also on display was a nineteen foot panorama – a record of the inscriptions on the four sides of the base of the Brihadishvara temple in Tanjore.  This was, as far as is known, one of, if not the first, example of a photographic panorama.  It seems a shame that the vagaries of government budget cuts (yes they had them then, too) caused Tripe to cease his work but in the relatively short period he was working he has left a very impressive body of work.

Tripe’s biography and examples of his work can be found here:-

I then moved on to the Alec Soth exhibit at the Science Museum.

Gathered Leaves is distillation of four of Soth’s published works, Sleeping by the Mississipi (2004),  Niagara (2006) Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2014).  The title comes from a Walt Whitman epic poem Song of Myself (1855) *

I say distillation, as there were limited number from each work but the print sizes  were such that to include more would have been problematic.  As it was, it was possible to see in detail and in space just how good these shots were.


A shot from Niagara with fellow student Sarah to give some idea of size

The first collection you come too is the earliest Sleeping by the Mississippi with its repeated motif of beds (in motels, abandoned and in sickrooms).  Soth, using a large format camera, has taken shots of the childhood homes of Lindbergh and Johnny Cash (the later shot a wonderful composition of the home against a cloudy sky.)   This format (and its shallow depth of field) really isolates the subject and works to great effect in portraits, from prostitutes to preacher’s wife,  particularly in the case of  Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 2002.  There are also some slightly surreal shots such as the door in Hotel, Dallas City, Illinois 2002.  What was interesting from a personal point of view was that there wasn’t one image in those shown that I didn’t enjoy or thought was not as strong as the others.

This was also the case with Niagara in which Soth shows both shots of the grandeur of the falls and the tackiness of the wedding/honeymoon industry that’s grown up adjacent to them.  More than that, though, he also closes in on the emotions surrounding them both positive, in the case of newlyweds in love, and negative with letters from spurned partners  showing real vitriol.  He’s also managed to show couples at their most vulnerable (sometimes in the nude) but with a somehow sympathetic eye.


Pages of notes from Niagara

Again there are some poignant portraits here and my favourite was Melissa, 2005 a bride sitting outside what appears to be one of the many motels in the area.

Broken Manual was a bit of a contrast to the preceding work dealing as it did with the desire to run away or be separate from conventional society.   There is a fascinating mix of shots in this collection.   Ranging from their homes built into the mountains (some of which could feature on Grand Designs) to eerie shots of the men, (including what appeared to be a monk) who have opted for this lifestyle. in the wilderness – sometimes very close up or sometimes distant with the figure lost in his surroundings.


From Broken Manual


The original (in both senses) presentation of Broken Manual

Supporting the pictures was a display case not only of the book itself but also examples of the literature available (how to make flash bangs, how to disappear etc) and as a whole it made a fascinating insight into that community.

The final collection was Songbook described in the description at the exhibition as “a chronicle of 21st century America.  It explores the human condition in the digital age: an era when we have never been more connected – yet potentially never more separate.” 


Songbook note size of prints again

All the photos in this collection were black and white shots giving a nostalgic feel to them and indeed, with a lot of them it would, without the information provided, be hard to tell just when they were taken.  Again there is the sense of the surreal (a diver; a mismatch of entrants into a beauty pageant and a strangely positioned couple on a bed) and wonderful portrait work (Bil. Sandusky, Ohio for instance) alongside one another.



I really enjoyed this exhibition and my only , very minor, initial niggle, was that there wasn’t more of his work on display but having thought about it I think the choice to be selective from the works was the right one.  Thoroughly recommended and a must see.


Later that evening we attended his talk and I have to say Mr Soth came across as a very likeable and committed photographer.

To start with he explained his thinking behind the four main projects on display and explained that his work “comes from a sense of serendipity”  and that for Sleeping by the Mississippi he wanted to have a motif of beds and mattresses running through the work.  With Niagara he wanted to have a typology, like the Bechers, of motels and rooms.   Broken Manual was done when he was “tired of photography” and was his way of retreating from the world as a whole.  Songbook is based on “a nostalgia for the past and an anxiety for the future”

He then went on to quite a fun way of giving a talk by spinning a digital wheel on his computer to come up with a random subject.  These included his relationship with Magnum; the project Postcards From America; Collaborations with Martin Parr on documenting Rochester USA at the time of Kodak going bankrupt; his ongoing project of storytelling with teens, Winnebago workshop, and a brief film on approaching people to do portraits of.  All in all  a really great exhibition and talk.

To round off the day I bought Gathered Leaves and had it signed by the very amiable Mr Soth.


Gathered Leaves

I urge anyone who reads this to check out his work – see the links below:-




Light is Location – Talk by Kate Hopewell-Smith

This talk was a free event provided by Amateur Photographer and Nikon (of whom Kate is an ambassador) and I was lucky enough to bag a ticket.

Kate’s website is here

Her talk gave a background to her career which surprisingly only began in 2007 and is, as she pointed out an example of what can be achieved in the industry (even in this time of increased competition – I would add)  I liked the quote she used – “In the right light at the right time everything is extraordinary – Aaron Rose”  – and I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Mr Rose, but agree 100% with his comment.

What I found most interesting and clearly pertinent to the part of the course I am now doing, is her use of natural light.


Copyright by Kate Hopewell – Smith. image used with permission.

Kate explained that she used the full canvas of the setting with one powerful key-light – the sun. She pointed out that the modern digital camera, for all its strengths, is still a computer which reads reflected light and fails in tricky light conditions.  She shoots manually and does not “pre scout” locations as light cant always be anticipated, and meters for the highlights.

She had a list of some pointers for producing good natural light work:-

Front Light

  • Not good for form enhancing
  • Location should be based on direction of light
  • Overcast light not good for portraits
  • Make sure you can see the colour of the subject’s eyes
  • differentiate between portrait (ie directed) light and location light
  • flat light requires more work on composition
  • direct sun not good for portraits – squinting.
Side light (“In order for the light to shine so brightly the darkness must be present” – Francis Bacon)

Copyright by Kate Hopewell – Smith. image used with permission.


Copyright by Kate Hopewell – Smith. image used with permission.

  • Form enhancing but takes precision to get right
  • Chiaroscuro (Check out here:-
  • easier to work with individuals than groups*
  • Use window for light source (Jane Bown?)
  • Not flattering for skin

Copyright by Kate Hopewell – Smith. image used with permission.

Back light
  • rim light or silhouette
  • can give warmth (glow)
  • may need to add light if subject in shadow -reflected light – add as needed

Additional Light

Flash added using TTL fill flash not spot metered starting at -2 stops flash exposure compensation.
 She used as an example a scene from 12 Years A Slave to illustrate the power of good lighting.
*I can verify this from personal experience some years ago I tried to do a copy of the With the Beatles album with my four kids, this is the nearest I got:-
with the browns
Many thanks to Kate for allowing me to use her images.

Shirley Baker and Vivian Maier

This was a small unofficial study visit made by four of us to what turned out to be two contrasting women photographers.

The first was an exhibition by Shirley Baker entitled Women, Children and Loitering Men and were photos of the families of the inner city districts of Salford and Manchester during the sixties and seventies.  As the title suggests the photos are predominantly of women and children (the latter often in groups or maybe gangs?) with some shots of the male residents.  Taken during the slum clearances, the body of work serves as both a long term documentary (the queue outside the caravan for Housing placements for example) and as valuable historical record as well as moving and evocative portraits individually.


Shirley Baker at the Photographers Gallery

There is clearly a rapport between Baker and her subjects and they all look at ease (if not always happy in the case of the adults) and the group shots of the children are particularly effective.  Although most of the photos were in black and white there was a number of colour shots and some of these were lovely in their composition:-


Shirley Baker at the Photographers Gallery



The curator, Anna Douglas, in her introduction to the exhibition, makes the point that -by using a rolleiflex – Baker was looking at and had contact with her subjects so there was always an engagement there, I’ll return to this point later.  She also points out that Baker was not of these people (she was a daughter of a small factory owner so was middle class) but due to the length of time of what was an ongoing project they got to know her very well so there was not the suspicion that a visiting photographer might otherwise receive.

The introduction can be found here:-

As a body of work I found it a powerful piece but its worth noting just how good I felt some the individual shots were.  Note the top right shot in this group, its a stunning piece of work (in fact all four of these are pretty good!):-


Shirley Baker at the Photographers Gallery


What I found interesting was that all the shots on display were external, so there was no indication of the real living conditions.  I am not sure whether this was reticence on the part of Baker or whether she thought that maybe pushing things too far maybe and may possibly be down to class difference?  Nevertheless the was a real sense of involvement and dedication in the work.


Shirley Baker at the Photographers Gallery


The second part of the visit was to see Vivian Maier’s work at  Beetles + Huxley , not an exhibition as such in my view, more of a product display.


Vivian Maier at Beetles + Huxley

There was no real background other than a limited description of how the current owner, John Maloof, came by the negatives,  the story of this and the ongoing legal arguments over ownership and rights are well documented elsewhere, not least by fellow OCA student Steve Middlehurst:-

I also recommend Ted Forbes take on Maier (with particular reference to the curation, or lack thereof, of her work) in this episode of the Art of Photography:-

In any event Maier is obviouslty big business, the prints were on sale (in limited runs of 15 signed by Mr Maloof) for well over £2,000.


Vivian Maier at Beetles + Huxley

I have to say I was not overly impressed with the photos, compared to the hype.  The quote often referred to in internet searches and articles about Maier is this one:-

“That rare case of a genuine undiscovered artist, she left behind a huge trove of pictures that rank her with the great American midcentury street photographers. The best pictures bring to life a fantastic swath of history that now needs to be rewritten to include her.”
– Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times Magazine, February 16, 2012

To me I think that is overstating the case and if I think back to a recent street photographers I’ve enjoyed, Leiter and Frank, I don’t think she ranks as highly as them, at least not to me.


Vivian Maier at Beetles + Huxley

That is not to say the photos are not good, but again to me, there was no involvement in them, no connection or eye contact with the subjects – except rarely (and notably with children) – and in comparison with Bakers work there is a real sense of detachment.

It may well be the fault of the curation, but to me there is no voice here, just a shotgun approach to photography on an almost compulsive level (if the number of negatives reported to be found is correct.) and apparently secretive basis.  As Sarah-Jane (one of four OCA students on the visit) pointed out its almost like an early version Instagram with everything being photographed.  As an observational photographer (which is I would say a pre-requisite for a Street photographer) I think she is pretty good but there is not, in my view, the artistry behind them to elevate her to the heights that some would seem to place her.


The OCA crew, Sarah-Jane Field, Holly Woodward, Jayne Kemp and me.

A further bit of self analysis here  – what was also an interesting contrast between the two visits was that I had no previous knowledge of Shirley Baker and therefore no preconceptions.   The same can not be said for Vivian Maier as I’ve read, and seen, a lot about her and so am fully prepared to admit that I almost certainly did bring some preconception with me in her case and I’m prepared to admit that may have influenced my view.

One final thought, and this follows on from Ted Forbes point, we have no idea that this is how (or  even if) Vivian Maier wanted her photos displayed like this and it may be unfair to judge her on the material being released without her having the advantage other photographers have had, that of self censorship.   Its a shame I think that there has not, nor is there likely to be an objective, and all encompassing curatorship, of her work.



Light through a window designed by Chagall, All Saints Church, Tudeley

Light is of course a fundamental ingredient of any photo and like any such ingredient varying the amount can have considerable consequences for the final result.  Its fair to say that I am looking forward to this part of the course (in contrast to the previous part) as I enjoy the scope that photography gives you, to a certain degree, to manipulate light to your own taste.

The above picture is one I took a couple of days ago (and could possibly been ok for the colour assignment had I taken it earlier!) and is a representation of a church window, by the artist Marc Chagall, purely by the light reflected through it.  I had to wait a while for the sun to come out sufficiently strongly to get the strength of colour but thought it was worth just shooting this wonderful abstract light as an alternative to the window itself.

Similarly the four photos below, (taken on a tour round Dickens World on the same day as the church one above ) were taken with this part of the course in mind as I wanted, in some of the photos I took, to make the lights, and their effects, the subject of the photos instead of the overall settings and characters :-

DSC01693 DSC01682



I enjoy the ability by varying exposure, to play with the light, and below are a few random  and recent examples.  With my camera having a live view viewfinder, as opposed to a conventional optical viewfinder, I can see with a fair amount of accuracy what any adjustment to the exposure level is going to produce.



Underexposed rooftop shot to accentuate the green picture


Slight underexposure to get the light from the phone on the face


Underexposure to get cloud more threatening



Overexposure to create a more ethereal image.



Overexposed to lose clouds and background


Overexposed to remove background.

Of course changing exposure can be done in Lightroom but its often a good idea to bracket shots (depending on the subject and its mobility) to see which exposure works best and/ or have the option to merge them separate shots into one to get a more detailed image.  (I’m talking about exposure mergers here, not some HDR treatment where the colour get seriously messed up) and I notice one of the exercises in this part of the course looks at that.



Colour Psychology

Following up from my tutors report on assignment 3 (colour) I had a look a this website that he recommended:-

The site discusses aspects of our reaction to colour some of which may be familiar but some were new to me.

Take these points it makes on the primary colours:-


  • Red is a bright, warm color that evokes strong emotions.
  • Red is associated with love, warmth, and comfort.
  • Red is also considered an intense, or even angry, color that creates feelings of excitement or intensity.
  • Consider how red is used in language: redneck, red-hot, red-handed, paint the town red, seeing red


  • Blue is described as a favorite color by many people and is the color most preferred by men.
  • Because blue is favored by so many people, it is often viewed as a non-threatening color that can seem conservative and traditional.
  • Blue calls to mind feelings of calmness or serenity. It is often described as peaceful, tranquil, secure, and orderly.
  • Blue is often seen as a sign of stability and reliability. Businesses that want to project an image of security often utilize blue in their advertising and marketing efforts.
  • Blue can also create feelings of sadness or aloofness. Consider how a painting that heavily features blue, such as those produced by Picasso during his “blue period,” can seem so lonely, sad, or forlorn.
  • Blue is often used to decorate offices because research has shown that people are more productive in blue rooms.
  • Blue is one of the most popular colors, but it is one of the least appetizing. Some weight loss plans even recommend eating your food off of a blue plate. Blue rarely occurs naturally in food aside from blueberries and some plums. Also, humans are geared to avoid foods that are poisonous and blue coloring in food is often a sign of spoilage or poison.
  • Blue can also lower the pulse rate and body temperature.
  • Consider how blue is used in language: blue moon, blue Monday, blue blood, the blues, and blue ribbon.


  • Green is a cool color that symbolizes nature and the natural world.
  • Green also represents tranquility, good luck, health, and jealousy.
  • Researchers have also found that green can improve reading ability. Some students may find that laying a transparent sheet of green paper over reading material increases reading speed and comprehension.
  • Green has long been a symbol of fertility and was once the preferred color choice for wedding gowns in the 15th-century. Even today, green M & M’s (an American chocolate candy) are said to send a sexual message.
  • Green is often used in decorating for its calming effect. For example, guests waiting to appear on television programs often wait in a “green room” to relax.
  • Green is thought to relieve stress and help heal. Those who have a green work environment experience fewer stomachaches.
  • Consider how green is used in language: green thumb, green with envy, greenhorn.

As far as photography goes there are some ways this information can be incorporated. I’m thinking of settings for portraits; the use of these colours, and others, for emphasising aspects of the shot.  It occurs to me that these factors could be applied also to the display of work and wonder if there has been any research on the effect of showing say, fairly ambiguous photos (and the publics interpretation of them) on different coloured walls?

The idea that yellow is also the most fatiguing to the eye is I suspect fairly obvious in that a room full of bright yellow prints would grate on one after a while and this reinforces the colour ratios previously covered,

While I think this is an important aspect of colour photography (and I’m wondering what are the psychological aspects of black and white photography) the application of the factors outlined above depend either on your ability to spot them in the context of what you are shooting, which I suspect is difficult, or, more likely, staged shots incorporating colour to reinforce a particular message or feeling.

I haven’t noted the use of colour (except perhaps in Greenaway’s films*) in what I would class as a subliminal way but then I haven’t been looking for it so it may not have occurred to me before.  Its something to consider when I look at work in the future.

*The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her lover for example.




Colour exercises – other shots

I thought I would include these shots as a separate entry, as they represent my initial work on the exercises and, to a degree, the assignment.   While I think they fulfil the function of meeting the brief of the exercises, I found that they were not making me very involved with them as they were as a result of me taking several trips around the village as seen with no clear relationship between the shots.  I guess as I thought they were just photos and there was no personal point of reference I felt that they were just a little bit too constructed and impersonal for what I wanted to do.

Nevertheless I thought it might be interesting to show some of them as they do illustrate the range of colours available:-

DSC00911-2  DSC00910-2  DSC00909  DSC00908 DSC00907-2 DSC00906 DSC00904 DSC00903 DSC00900 DSC00898 DSC00897 DSC00895 DSC00937-2 DSC00930-2 DSC00928-2 DSC00927-2 DSC01015-3 DSC01037 DSC00887 DSC00885-2 DSC00884 DSC00875 DSC00872  DSC00864     DSC00890-3DSC00858   DSC00883-2  DSC00879  DSC00881-2  DSC00863-2   DSC00857

DSC00882     DSC00889-3  DSC00870

It seemed to me that the two most common relationships were red/yellow and green/red.  Of all the colours on the circle violet was the hardest to locate, as can be seen from the above selection.  Interestingly violet was, with one exception, really only available as a natural colour in plants.  Its not used in signage as much as the other five it seems to me.  I guess it is, as is demonstrated by the ratios previously described, not a bright (and therefore eye-catching) colour.