Category Archives: Reading

‘Light’ book reviews

Books that I found very useful on Light

On commencing the TAoP chapter on Light, I had only a very basic understanding of how light behaved and how this relates to photography. As I worked through the exercises and projects (at a much slower pace that I would have liked) I used reading to explain topics further and in turn support my learning in this area.

Three books that I found to be particularly helpful were

  • Hunter, F., Bier, S. and Fuqua, P. (2012) Light, Science and Magic. (4th Ed.) Waltham: Focal Press
  • Präkel, D. (2007) Lighting. Lausanne: AVA
  • Freeman, M. (2012) Light & Lighting. Lewes: ILEX

I will now offer a short review of each book highlighting the ways in which each offered support and inspiration.

Light, Science and Magic (2012)

I bought this book at the beginning of the course as per the recommended reading list. Since this point I have made a few attempts at digesting its contents only to become confused with the technicalities of diffusion, transmission and reflection. However, as I needed to extend my knowledge of light I made a concerted effort to read and, this time, to understand the concepts. Admittedly, I found the first three chapters difficult, however this time I persevered and I found it useful in helping me to understand the answer to the fundamental question, What is Light? This led to a further explanation about colour temperature that helped support my work on the exercises, Judging Colour Temperature and Light Through the Day.

The ‘family of angles’ was a concept that I had real difficulty in grasping no matter how many times I read the text. However, I carried out a practical exercise as directed on p121, and this helped demonstrate to me how to find the family of angles that, in turn, helped to demystify the concept. My blog entry on this can be found by clicking here.

The following chapters in the book contain a lot more practical information and advice and clearly guide the reader, using lighting set-up diagrams and varying subject matter characteristics. This section was especially helpful for Assignment Four as it explains about the angle of light in relation to texture, shape and form, three characteristics of an object the assignment asks to be revealed.

Despite it’s technical introduction, this book is actually full of practical advice on photographic lighting. It is a book that I will keep to hand and undoubtedly use as a point of reference for my lighting set-ups.

Lighting (2007)

This was also a book that was included in the recommended reading list for the course. It is part of the Basics photography series by AVA and has a good balance of technical information and practical tips alongside inspiring images and clear diagrams. The book consists of six chapters;

What is light?

Natural light

Available light

Photographic light

Controlling light

Using light

The section, What is light? Helped to reinforce what I had read in Hunter et al regarding light being an electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the eye. It expanded on this somewhat, by detailing the colour temperatures of common light sources and how a nomograph can be used to work out which filters can be used to convert the colour of one light source to another.

The Natural light chapter specifies the qualities of light at different time of the day. I referred to this often when researching the Light Through the Day, Cloudy Weather and Rain and the Outdoor at Night exercises as it helped me to understand how light behaves throughout the day and how to ‘read’ its temperature.

The section on Controlling light helped outline to me the possible uses for the light modifiers I had recently acquired, such as reflectors, a flag and a snoot, to build light and control it.

The last section, Using light, offers brief, yet clear advice on how to use light to reveal a subject’s shape, form, texture, tone and colour. Advice that was extremely useful in planning for and carrying out Assignment Four.

This book has both practical content and is easy to navigate, making it a handy reference book to have on hand.

Light and Lighting (2012)

This book was not part of the recommended reading. I found it in the photography section of my local bookshop and decided to buy it after noting that its structure is akin to that of a college course, containing lessons and encouraging reader participation.

The book covers five sections titled; Lighting fundamentals, Daylight, Artificial light, Photographic lighting and Lighting styles.

I found each section helpful in some way.

Lighting Fundamentals was helpful in that it explained colour temperature, WB and measuring light in a simple way. All helpful in supporting the Light exercises.

Daylight discussed the quality of light at different points throughout the day and in different weather conditions and how to use this to advantage. Freeman covers shooting into the sun, which was useful as it gave practical advice on how to achieve a silhouette and correct exposure. This section also outlines how reflectors and diffusers, both man-made and natural, can be used to manage strong sunshine.

Artificial light is a short section which discusses incandescent light, fluorescent and vapour discharge lights. The main learning I gleaned from this chapter is that even with WB presets many images taken under these types of lighting still may have deficiencies in colour accuracy. While sometimes these colour casts can add to a scene’s atmosphere sometimes they require colour correction, best carried in images shot in RAW format. It became apparent that there is no one ‘rule’ on whether to correct or not. Freeman advises that it is probably best to consider what is appropriate for your individual subject and setting.

Photographic lighting was a helpful chapter as it details the benefits of both flash and continuous lights alongside various light modifiers. It also illustrated the varying positions of a light in relation to the subject and how this could emphasis specific subject characteristics. Practical information that was useful when planning and carrying out both the exercises, assignment and future shoots.

Like Präkel, the Freeman book also looks at Lighting Styles. However, the Freeman book has a wider range of images to illustrate the varying lighting styles, several of which, the chiaroscuro, light painting and backlighting styles, sparked me to experiment.

Overall, I found each of these books helpful in widening my knowledge of light and in supporting me through this section of the course. While several of the topics are repeated in more than one of these books I didn’t feel that I was routinely covering the same ground. Conversely, I felt as though reading from more than one source helped broaden my knowledge and has helped me to consolidate my learning.

John Szarkowski’s The Photographer’s Eye

John Szarkowski and The Photographer’s Eye (1966) reprint 2007

While I had casually looked through The Photographer’s Eye By John Szarkowski before, I recently took the time to read it properly and consider its premise.

The Author

Szarkowski (b.1925- d.2007), a photographer, critic, curator and historian, succeeded Edward Steichen as the director of Modern Art in New York in 1962, aged just 36. Despite the fact that Steichen had curated “The Family Of Man’ photography exhibition at MoMA in 1955, an exhibit that later toured the world, when Szarkowski took over at MoMA in 1962 there was not a single gallery exhibiting photography in New York. Szarkowski is widely accepted as being the person who changed that, giving stage to the, at the time, relatively unknown Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, amongst others.


The Photographer’s Eye is based upon a 1964 exhibition. It is the investigation of what photographs look like, and of why they look that way.

The book has minimal text, but has many black and white photographs spanning approximately 125 years. These photographs, Szarkowski states, share a vision, not of aesthetic or academic theory but to photography itself. The photographs are from both recognised and unknown photographers and are divided into five sections. Each of the five sections examines the choices imposed on the artist with the camera: The Thing Itself, The Detail, The Frame, Time and The Vantage Point.

I will now look at each of these in turn and some of the photographs chosen to illustrate each chapter.

The Thing Itself

Szarkowski notes that photography deals with the actual. He states that the photographer must accept and treasure this fact and in doing so learn to anticipate and capture the best works and moments in this world. An important factor to consider is that subject and picture are not the same, the photographer has to think how to make the ‘invisible picture’ be seen. From this I imagine that Szarkowski is suggesting that the photograph can convey a ‘truth’ as suggested by the photographer, or even perhaps a ‘truth’ that is individually perceived when viewing an image.

He includes a photograph by Arthur Rothstein taken in 1939, ‘Mr. and Mrs. A.B., in their Farm near Kersey, Colorado’ (p18). The photograph shows a couple, presumably Mr. and Mrs. A.B., standing side by side in front of a large tree. They are smiling and holding arms full of fresh produce, that, judging by the title of the photograph, they have grown on their farm. The image can be viewed by clicking this link to The Library of Congress.

The photograph was made for the FSA (Farm Security Administration), which was originally established as the Resettlement Administration in 1935 to help the American economy recover. Roberts (2007, p106) notes that struggling rural communities were given government loans to spend on new machinery, livestock and trucks etc. They were also encouraged to grow crops that were marketable.

Linking back to Szarkowski’s idea of the photograph as a truth, I cannot help but wonder what ‘truth’ this image conveys. Roberts notes that the purpose of the photograph commissioned by the FSA was to educate urban Americans about rural deprivation and also to influence Congress into further investment in these areas. While many of the FSA images I have seen do show scenes of hardship this particular image, to me, appears as evidence of some success in the government’s redevelopment scheme.

The Detail

Szarkowski notes that by capturing the detail, isolated fragments, are documented and gain significance. By recording the trivial, the photographer suggests that the subject had never been seen before properly and is perhaps full of undiscovered meaning.

 On p48-49, Szarkowski illustrates this by displaying five photographs in which hands are the dominant subjects. The hands act as simple symbols that alongside other details suggest to me very different meanings.

Insane Stockade at Dr Albert Schweitzer’s, Lambaréné. (1954), by W. Eugene Smith shows a wooden slatted gate or a door with glimpses of a dark interior. Two hands can be seen holding the door from the inside, fingers overlapping the exterior. These hands seem to symbolise captivity and confinement.

Untitled, (1959) by Roy Decarava, appears to have been shot in a street but all that can really be seen are a pair of trouser-covered legs and the forefingers of two cupped hands that are carrying a large black square. With no further clues in the image or the title, one can only guess what the hands area carrying and why? That being said, I did think of burden and weight when I looked closely at this image.

Hands and Kimono, (1924) by Edward Weston shows a small section of a torso of kimono-clad girl. Her hands are neatly folded in front of her stomach. The position of the hands and the details supplied by the kimono suggest conservatism and modesty.

Hands of Jean Cocteau, (1927) by Bernice Abbott show a pair of hands placed on top of a man’s hat. The hands are wrinkled and appear to be well-worn. These details evoke, for me, the idea of hard work and labour.

The Frame

Simply put, the edges of the frame demark what the photographer thinks is important. Szarkowski notes that this process of selection and elimination, deciding what to include and leave out, is the central act of photography.

I think Elliott Erwitt’s ‘Yale’s Oldest Living Graduate’ (1956) shows this well on p83. The photographer has chosen to eliminate the person or persons in the front of the car, showing only the man (the graduate) in the back seat, making it clear who the subject of the photograph is.

Szarkowski states that capturing objects within the frame creates a relationship between the objects. In this case the relationship between the man and his surroundings was not immediately obvious. However the photograph’s title and the captioning within the photograph, led me to think that the sport’s field in the background was perhaps part of Yale’s campus, relating to the alumnus in the car.


Szarkowski notes that whether short or long exposure, photographs describe a unique parcel of time and that the time is always the present.

He refers to the well-known Cartier-Bresson phrase ‘The decisive moment’, saying that it is often misunderstood. This got me thinking about what I understood the phrase to mean. If I’m being honest, I think I have thought it to describe a photographic opportunity as a result of being in the right place at the right time. Szarkowski looks at ‘The decisive moment’ in more depth by saying that it is to do with recognizing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that are often lost in the flux of movement and capturing these in a picture.

I thought Straw Market (1960) by Stefan Moses on p116 was a good example of how time has been captured on camera. The scene shows a market stall covered with straw handbags. In front of the stall two men face each other arms raised, preparing to fight. A woman looks on, hand over her mouth in shock. A priest is walking towards the camera but is glancing over his shoulder towards the men behind him. The scene is certainly one of interest and raises many questions, perhaps about why has this altercation arisen and who is the woman? However, it is perhaps ‘The decisive moment’ chosen by the photographer that makes the image so strong. The positioning of the figures has meant that their bodies create a strong triangle shape while their eye lines all seem to follow the same pathway. Factors which all create relationships between the subjects in the frame.

Vantage point

Szarkowski notes that by choosing unexpected vantage points, often by necessity, the photographer reveals not only the clarity but also the obscurity of things. Reading this brought to mind an expression by Bryan Peterson (2012) who talks about ‘mining the mundane’ to describe awakening the eye/brain to the possibilities of creating successful images from mundane objects and in mundane locations.

I thought McClellanville, South Carolina, (1955-57), p138by Robert Frank was a good example of an unexpected vantage point. The photograph is taken through the glass window of an empty barbershop. Central in the frame stands a solo barber chair while bottles line a shelf on the back wall. What makes the image interesting is the reflections in the glass. The photographer’s shadowy outline can be seen as can tree branches and a house across the street. The image appears to have been taken through a fine mesh curtain, which adds some density to an image that is otherwise about transparency.


I found this book interesting and enjoyable. The theme discussions were brief but clearly explained, while also leaving room for further thinking.

A lasting idea I have taken from this book is Szarkowski’s thoughts on the development of photography. He describes photography’s growth as being centrifugal and photography as being the great teacher, library and laboratory for those who have used cameras as artists. Put simply, photographers learn by understanding their tools and equipment and from other photographers. A statement that is as true today as it was nearly fifty years ago when the book was written.

Peterson, B.(2012) Understanding Composition Field Guide. New York: Amphoto Books

Robert, P. (2007) The Genius of Colour Photography. London: Goodman

Szarkowski, J. (1966) The Photographer’s Eye. New York: The Museum of Modern Art


Digital Photography Expert; Colour, Michael Freeman (2005)

Digital Photography Expert; Colour, Michael Freeman (2005)

When I began the TAoP Part 4, Colour, I sought out further reading materials on the topic to help me both with the theory and with the practice. In the bookshop I came across the book above and found it to be just what I was looking for. It is an easy to read and understand text which is divided into 4 chapters; The Language of Colour, Working Digitally, Real Life, Real Colours and Choosing and Using.

 Chapter 1:The Language of Colour

On beginning Part 3, Colour I found this chapter to indispensable. It examines colour theory in far greater detail than The Photographer’s Eye (2007) and this became my go to reference book when working through the exercises within the chapter. Areas I found of use were

  • Digital Photography Expert; Colour, Michael Freeman (2005)It clearly explains the differences between transmitted light and reflected light and how this results in the different primary colour systems. This was an area that I had been finding it difficult to get my head around.
  • Saturation, Hue and Brightness are also defined to aid the language of describing and, ultimately, understanding colour.
  • The colour of light and colour temperature are discussed, which at the time I did not fully grasp, however I have since found this information very useful in supporting the exercises in Chapter 4, Light.
  • The section on the colour of objects outlined the primary and secondary colours’ properties alongside black, white and grey. It looks at each colour in terms of hue, saturation and brightness and also of the perceived characteristics each colour may have. This was another sections I found very useful as it broke down each colour into shades with the colour families. This helped me to look at and, in some cases, identify the slight differences between the colour of objects.

Chapter 2: Working Digitally

This section looks at computer and camera colour profiles as well monitor calibration techniques to aid the accurate capture of colour. It also has a section on printer profiling. These are areas that I have yet to look into in any great depth but are on my ‘to do’ list for another day.

Chapter 3: Real Life, Real Colours

This section was full of useful explanations, that helped me to understand the different types of colour relationship and why they are widely considered to ‘work’. The chapter covers amongst other things

  • Colour harmony between the primary and secondary colours
  • Multi-colour combinations
  • Colour accent
  • Discord
  • Colour and sensations

Chapter 4: Choosing and Using

This chapter looks at various way colors can be used in photography with themes such as rich and intense, restrained and commonplace and colour as the subject. It also details some case studies of how Freeman has used colour in own shoots.

I also found the section on selective enhancement for colour useful as it highlights the ways that colours and colour relationships can be enhanced digitally.


I bought this book with the initial goal of supporting my studies throughout the chapter on Colour. However, I can now see that it can, and will, act as a book that I can return to for ideas and reference throughout my studies and beyond. I would definitely recommend this to other TAoP students.

Freeman, M. (2005) Digital Photography Experts: Colour. Lewes: ILEX


The Genius of Color Photography by Pamela Roberts

The Genius of Colour Photography by Pamela Roberts

I recently finished reading the above book on the history of colour photography by Pamela Roberts, a former Curator at the Royal Photographic Society.

The book charts the development of colour photography throughout history from the launch of the autochrome in 1907 to the present day.  One of the factors that made this book appealing was that Robert’s discusses the technical developments and processes alongside the historical events and social developments that have influenced the photography world. Another factor was that accompanying Roberts discussions was a wonderful array photographs, many by photographs whose work that I have previously not been familiar with.

I will outline some focal points she discusses and photographs she chose to include.


Roberts (p12) notes that practically as soon as photography was invented the race was on for colour. The most popular solution at this time was to add colour to photographic prints by hand, using brushes, oils, watercolours or powdered pigments. She notes that many surviving daguerreotypes show hand colouring to varying effect. However, many experiments were underway to find a way to produce a colour photograph that could be printed to show ‘true’ colours.

I found some aspects of this chapter confusing. Mainly, when Robert’s describes the technical processes that inventors were undertaking at the time. Compared with the convenience that the technology of today offers it is an understatement to say the processes involved sound labour intensive.


This chapter is devoted to the autochrome, the first commercially available colour process, invented by French brothers, Louis Jean Lumière (1864-1948) and August Marie Nicolas Lumière (1862-1954). The autochrome was launched in 1907.

The science behind the process was a little too much for me to get my head around but did involve microscopic grains of potato starch, glass plates and emulsion. It’s great appeal was that it could be used in any plate camera and photographers could learn the processing and development of the plate after exposure quickly. A disadvantage was that, at least initially, the exposure times were long.

Roberts notes that the autochrome is widely regarded as the most beautiful photographic process ever invented and from the photographs she has selected in the book it is easy to see why.

The soft colours and atmospheric haziness bring to mind Impressionistic paintings from the late 1800 and in particular the one below, Repas de famille Lumiere, en 1910  (although the colours are stronger in the reproduction in Roberts’ book) which looks like a scene that Renoir may have chosen to paint.

Indeed, Roberts notes that the grains involved in the autochrome process tended to form clumps that could be seen by the naked eye, that seemed to add to it’s charm giving it a pointillist effect.

I thought the autochrome taken by Alvin Langdon Coburn, Girl on a red hammock, c 1908 was a beautiful example of bold use of colour, the red dominating the composition. Freeman (2005, p34) notes that red has many associations including energy, blood, heat, passion or power. To me the lady in the hammock seems relaxed although her pose and gaze are turned towards the camera and photographer. Perhaps in this example the use of red has associations with sensuality, warmth and love?

I also like the fact that there are no obvious clues in the setting or in the model’s clothing or dress that tells us this photograph was taken over 100 years ago. It could just have easily been taken in the 1960’s or 70’s. To me, it seems to have a timeless quality.


The autochrome continued to dominates for 25 years after it’s launch. However, the fact that only a single exposure could be made from a glass plate, the glass plate’s fragility and it’s overall cost did not make its future viable.

Monochrome photography now often used flexible roll-film negative in portable hand-held cameras, which was quick, easy and cheap to print at home. This alongside the rapid growth in cinematography was changing artistic and photographic aesthetics. Cars, telephones, radio and electricity were also becoming more commonplace resulting in a faster pace of life, creating a desire for quick, simple options to replace autochrome colour.

Roberts outlines some of the techniques that were being examined in colour photography at this time and several of the photographers who were carrying this out including Edward Stiechan (1979-1973). Stiechan experimented with many new colour processes including the gum platinum process he used for his famous Flatiron Building (1904).

The photograph holds shadows and silhouettes to create an atmospheric evening scene, which, to me, holds the suggestion of mystery and the unknown.  I have seen this image before in books but wasn’t aware that Steichan used the negative to print the photograph in different sizes while experimenting with different processes to change the overall feel.  This made me pause to consider in the ways in which a modern-day digital negative could be utilised to give a photograph different feel? There is a wealth of effects offered in post-processing by Photoshop, the majority of which I am probably as of yet unaware of. There are also printer and ink options that could be considered. The paper the photograph is to be printed on offers more choices with various textures and finishes available which could add to the overall feeling of a photograph. All these are decisions that I will need to apply research to, particularly before I submit work for formal assessment.

While colour photography cannot be neatly divided into decades the following sections each cover a ten-year period to show the technical advances and common themes and influences around that time.


While Leica had introduced the first 35mm camera in 1925, the 30s saw it became more available mainstream providing the convenience simple processing saw the demise of the majority of glass plate processes.

Some considered the onslaught of colour in magazines, advertising and the film industry to be crass and ‘serious’ photographers stuck with the more ‘realistic’ black and white.

The horrors of World War I had led to an avant-garde backlash against the pre-war Pictorialism and for colour photographers the major influence was European Surrealism. Roberts describes the new tastes as ‘a predilection for exploring the sexual, psychological, the abstract, the fanciful and allowing the unconscious imagination to run riot’.

An example from this era that I found interesting was Machine Worker in Summer , taken by Madame Yevonde (1893-1975) in 1937.

The photograph shows a young woman, naked except for flowers in her hair, seated at an old Singer sewing machine. We can see her side on as she works at the machine, sewing billowing metres of sheer, pale coloured fabric. Her surroundings, overhead flowers and a bird in a decorative cage, do not suggest a workplace, but rather a home or garden. Yevonde had staged this scene and I became aware that this was an example of tableau photography, an area of photography I had learned of when reading Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2009).  It made me wonder what story Yevonde had intended the photograph to tell.

The flowers, the woman’s naked form, the flowing fabrics and mainly pastel colours used make the photograph, for me, feel soft, romantic and delicate. It also sparked feelings of nostalgia for me as I recalled my mother using a similar style Singer sewing machine at home when I was young.

I wondered was the woman working to create a gown to wear for an important event or perhaps she is an actress busily creating a performance ensemble?

Roberts (p95) describes the photograph as half way between a Surrealist image and a silly one. She suggests it may have been a speculative proposal for a Singer sewing machine advertisement or inspired by historical art masterpieces, something that Yevonde advised other photographs to look at for inspiration.


The 35mm Kodachrome colour roll film was launched in 1936 and this, alongside the 35mm cameras of the late 30s and early 40s allowed amateur photographers to shoot in colour.

The photographs from this chapter which I found of most interest where those that had recorded events of World War II, such as the work of Alfred T. Palmer (1906-1993) ( who toured aircraft factories in California and Kansa in 1942 to compile a series of photographs showing woman in the workplace preparing for war. ‘Woman working on an airplane motor at north American Aviation Inc. Plant in California, June 1942, is one such image, which shows a pretty woman concentrating on her work with a piece of shiny and complicated looking machinery. She sports a colourful headscarf and wears lipstick and a (birthday?) badge stating ‘29’.  I looked at several other examples of Palmer’s work from the series on-line and couldn’t help but think that most appear staged.  Perhaps rather ideal versions of factory work in the 1940s war years?  This is perhaps not surprising as Roberts (p110) continues to note that the during this time the US government promoted a propaganda campaign to recruit 6 million woman to work in manufacturing plants during WWII.

On the other John Hinde’s (1916-97) photographs from ‘Citizens in War – and After’ series show raw images of war-torn London during the London blitz. Hinde was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to record the experiences of the Civil Defence Forces and everyday citizens during wartime. The ‘And After’ element of the series title was intended to boost morale although I did find it interesting to note that the images were not published until 1945, the year peace was declared.

The 1940s saw the formation of the Magnum agency in 1947 by Bresson (1908-2004), Capa (1913-154), Seymour (1911-56) and Rodger (1908-95) the majority of who (Capa being the exception) retained monochrome photography as their preferred medium of choice.


Roberts notes that a major trend in the use of colour photography in the 50’s was linked to the growing magazine numbers, particularly within the Condé Nast empire. The art director of Condé Nast, at the time, Alexander Liberman, changed the direction of the magazine by replacing stuffy, formal, artificial photographs to replace them with surrealism, abstraction, minimalism, naturalism and modernism.

Roberts devotes a considerable section of this chapter to the work of Ernst Haas (1921-86) an Austrian photographer who wrote about his work, saying that (p139), ‘color is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it. Learn by doing it or even better unlearn by doing’ When looking at the photographs of Haas it is hard to not to think of his words linking colour and joy. Roberts shows an example of this in ‘La Suerte de Capa’ (1956).

This is an example of Haas’ work with panning the camera to blur the motion and a slow shutter speed to drag and mix colours. I find the results quite beautiful. The orange/red of the matador’s cape is centrally and visually dominant. Its brightness catches the eye immediately and brings associations with danger and fear. The movement in the image brings energy and excitement.  As I am studying colour at the minute I couldn’t help but noting the blue and orange combinations within this composition. Freeman (2005, p102) notes the harmony between orange and blue and states that this arises from not only the contrast in brightness (orange is twice as bright as blue) but also from the apparent cool/warm in the pairing.

I looked a little further into Haas’ work and noted the use of colour in his flora series  The colours vary between the image from being saturated and bold to being soft and delicate. This series of work is something that I will take the time to examine further.

Interesting Haas was signed by Magnum in 1949 and throughout the 50s continued with agency in various roles including vice-president of Magnum America and Magnum president.


Several technical advances also produced developments in the way colour was used in photography. The Cibachrome became available and was noted for its stability and rich colour saturation. Roberts (p147) notes that it is still in use today, called the Iffochrome. In addition, Kodak launched its easy to use Instamatic 126 camera while Polaroid launched its first instant colour film.

There also was a rise in the number of photography courses, both theoretical and practical that had arisen, particularly in the US.

While colour photographs were already being widely circulated through upmarket magazines, the 60s saw the arrival of the colour supplement to newspapers. In the UK, The Sunday Times published its first colour supplement in 1962 followed by the Observer in 1964.

Many photographers had now become the part of the new, hip 1960s pop culture. Marie Cosindas (b.1925) photographed Andy Warhol in his studio; Daniel Kramer photographed Bob Dylan almost daily during 1964-65 and Lee Friedlander (b.1934) Atlantic Records artists for album covers.  This mix of music, art, film and fashion is something I have noted before when reading On Being a Photographer by Jay, B and Hurn, D. (1997) and how Hurn photographed famous actors for film studios.

A few months ago I also viewed work by Terry O’Neill (b.1938), selection of portraits of celebrities’ from music and film.  Terry,  notes that in the 1960s the relationship between the photographer and celebrity were quite different from today and that the ‘celebrities’ were his friends with whom he socialised. 

Ernst Haas gets a further mention in this chapter, primarily for his 1962 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art  (MOMA). This was MOMA’s first solo exhibition of colour prints and also one of the last exhibitions planned by Director of the Department of Photographs, Edward Steichen who retired later that year.

 By the late 60s colour photography was beginning to be more widely viewed in travelling exhibitions and in museums.


In 1970s Britain, things were changing for photography, albeit slowly. Some of these changes included the foundation of The Photographer’s Gallery in London in 1971 by Sue Davis, the appointment of Barry Lane as the Arts Council’s first photography officer in 1973 and the first major photography auction being held at Sotheby’s in 1971. Photographs were now being recognised as having monetary value and in the US (where things were moving at a quicker pace) several commercial photography galleries opened.

This decade also saw an increasing number of photojournalists using colour in their documentary work.

 Roberts (p162) notes that an increasing number of photographers at this time switched to colour, among them was Walker Evans (1903-75). Evans had always considered colour photography to be vulgar, however he began working in colour for an intense 15-month period just before his death, focusing on street markings, architecture and subjects that reflected small-town Americana.

Another photographer from this era whose work I found to be of particular interest is Joel Meyerowitz (b.1938). Meyerowitz works exclusively in colour and would often wait for days to achieve the perfect combination of light and colour values. Meyerowitz believes

‘Photography is about description’, ‘the description of sensations I get from things –color, surface, texture – and by extension, my memory of them under other conditions, as well as their connotative qualities’.

Taken in Cape Cod, where Meyerowitz spent family vacations, Laundry, Provincetown (1977), has the frame half filled with lines of laundry, billowing in the wind. The top half of the frame is filled with a blue sky awash with soft white clouds. Meyerowitz has ‘described’ the scene so that, for me, the overall effect feels light and airy. When viewing it you can almost imagine the smell of the fresh, sea air and the wind in your hair.  Roberts (p172) notes that colour harmony of the orange/blue grey juxtaposition is a favourite of Meyerowitz and can also be seen in Cold Storage Beach, Truro (1976).

Here, the sky occupies around the majority of the frame with just strips of sea and sand to be seen at the bottom of the frame.  I think this photograph has painterly qualities, as everything seems soft and hazy. The calmness of the sea suggests, to me, a sense of peace and tranquility. The figures on the beach appear tiny in relation to the vastness of the sky and the distance of the horizon. I live very close to the beach and would love to attempt a shot like this however the sea is generally busy with boat traffic so perhaps the overall sense of calm that Cold Storage Beach, Truro has would not be conveyed?


Roberts (184) notes that in the 1980’s the arts world took on a Postmodern cast and the most important themes were appropriation, identity politics, startling inventiveness, gender representation, self-absorption and the exploration of sexuality. There also were a growing number of artists choosing to use photography as a medium.

Martin Parr (b.1952), who Roberts (p187) describes as one of the ‘New Documentarists’ of the time, explored British class prejudices and the demise of social values in Thatcher’s Britain. His first colour publication was The Last Resort (1986) a series of photographs shot over 3 years in the worn-out working class-northern seaside town of New Brighton. Roberts notes that at the time of release these images were considered by some to be shocking and exploitative of the subjects’ lives. When I viewed them for the first time recently they didn’t ‘shock’ me, however I am aware that I was viewing them 27 years after they were published in an era when genuinely disturbing images can be viewed in newspapers. I found them interesting, as I do with most of Parr’s work as many of them record social interactions and elements of ‘British’ life that are familiar or amusing.

Roberts discusses several photographers who were noted for their staged, or tableau photography, one of which is William Wegman (b.1943). Wegman was a conceptual and fine artist who used photography and video for his work.  Ray and Mrs. Lubner in bed watching TV (1981) shows Wegman’s dogs posed in a bed, draped in blankets supposedly watching a TV (we can only see the aerial) that sits at the bottom of the bed.  The overall effect is both surreal and comical. I’m not sure that I can say I like it, but it is interesting. It left me wondering how in earth he managed to got the dogs to stay in the pose in this photograph and the numerous others I viewed on Wegman’s website.

 1990- today

Roberts ends the book by asking ‘will digital photography eventually replace film cameras?’ I considered this question for quite some time. I assume that the majority of photographers in 2013 will use digital technology to make pictures, embracing the convenience, the control and quality that it offers. Particularly when compared to the long exposure times, technical development processes and size and weight of some early photography systems.

I recalled from Charlotte Cotton’s (2009) book, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, that she devoted a chapter to ‘Revived and Remade’. In this she notes (p206) that many photographic processes from the late 1830s and 1840s, such as the photogram and daguerreotype, have been revived in recent years. Suggesting that artist/photographers may choose to experiment with old and new techniques when making pictures.

Roberts (p204) agrees by noting that there is a growing interest in the history of photography in degree courses including the complex photography techniques of the past.


I have written more in this review than I initially intended to, however it has been a valuable process helping me to organise my thoughts on paper (or screen).

When explaining the photography techniques of the past Roberts lost me a little on the technical details, however it was still interesting to learn about the pros and cons of each system and how, in various ways, they contributed to the development of subsequent, improved photography technologies.

The book has also introduced me to the work of several photographers whose subject matter, style and use of colour I think could be inspiring.

These photographers are –

Saul Leiter (b.1923)

Ernst Haas (1921-86)

Joel Meyerowitz (b.1938)

John Batho (b.1939)

Franco Fontana (b.1933)

William Eggleston (b.1939)

Uta Barth (b.1958)

Naoya Hatakeyama (b.1958)

Catherine Yass (b. 1963)

Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd

Freeman, M. (2005) Digital Photography Expert: Colour. Lewes: ILEX

Robert, P.  (2007) The Genius of Colour Photography: From the Autochrome to the Digital Age. London: Goodman

The Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore and The Nature of Photographs

 Stephen Shore (b.1947) had been given a camera as a child. By the time he was in his teens he was using black and white photography and working with Andy Warhol and the Factory. By 1971, he was the 1st living photographer to hold a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) in New York (Roberts, 2007). His debut photographs have been described as a ‘uniquely deadpan interpretations of the social, cultural and physical landscape of the US’ (BJofP, 2010)

 Stephen Shore’s The Nature of Photographs (2007) grew as a result of the many years he spent teaching photography at Bard College, New York State. It is described as an ‘indispensible tool for students, teachers and everyone who wants to take pictures or learn to look at them in a more informed way’.

The book presents photographs from photographic greats such as Stieglitz and Evans alongside those of contemporary artists and unknown photographers, encompassing a range of genres. The photographs accompany and illustrate the themes of Shore’s text, which is both, succinct and edifying. 

 Shore begins by asking ‘What are the characteristics of photography that establish how an image looks?

He raises the idea that a photograph, initially, will be viewed on a physical level, as a physical object, a print which holds an image that the viewer will read to discover it’s content. Entrenched in the physical level are the depictive level and the mental level, which gives signals to our mind’s perceptual apparatus.

The Physical Level

 Simply put, the physical characteristics of a photograph are that it is flat, it is bounded by edges and it is static. Colour is also a physical attribute of a photograph, adding descriptive information about light, culture and era. As I am in the process of studying colour, I found this thought-provoking. In particular, how colour adds information about culture and era. To illustrate this point Shore has selected the photograph by Anne Turyn, 12 . 17. 1960 (1986) , as although it was shot in 1986, the colour palate used makes the time captured appear much earlier. The link between colour, culture and age also brought to my mind the family snapshots taken throughout my childhood. Polaroid’s mostly, which heavily depict the brown, orange and yellow hues popular in home furnishings and clothing in 1970’s Britain.

Shore states that the context in which a photograph is seen affects the meaning a viewer draws from it. For example, photographs saved in a shoebox, displayed in a museum, reproduced for information or advertisement, bought and sold or regarded at a utilitarian object or a work of art.  I considered this, and thought how true that statement is not only in affecting photographic meaning but also on value. Personally, I may notice an interesting image in a magazine then, with minimal thought, recycle or pass on that magazine. I would, however, be shocked at the suggestion that the same would happen to a photograph I had purchased from a gallery or to treasured family photographs.

Shore notes that by consciously adopting a visual style a photographer can reference context and assist in the reading of the image. Being aware of a photographer’s intention is something I find extremely valuable when viewing photographs. It provides context and information, which assists in interpreting the images. This is something that was very apparent when I recently viewed the exhibition Moments Before the Flood by Carl de Keyzer.   De-Keyzer photographed European coastal scenes to capture a point in time ‘just before’ the impending catastrophe of flood, created by rising sea levels due to climate change. Had I not been informed of this premise I would have viewed beautiful, interesting seascapes and not been aware that the scenes contained uncertainty and hidden threats.

To summarise The Physical Level, a photographs physical attributes are that it is flat, static, bounded by edges, the texture of the print, colour, the context in which it’s seen and the photographer’s visual style.

The Depictive Level

A photograph depicts, within certain formal constraints, an aspect of the world. A photographer begins with the messiness of the world and simplifies the jumble by giving it structure. On the depictive level, the order within a photograph is achieved through

  • Flatness
  • Frame
  • Time
  • Focus

Shore describes these four attributes as the basis of a photographer’s visual grammar.

Flatness– While a photograph is two-dimensional; it can contain an illusion of deep space. This statement made me consider what techniques could be applied to add depth to a photograph? Freeman (2007, p52) notes several ways of strengthening perspective and depth including selection of viewpoint, use of a wide-angle lens to enhance linear perspective and shallow depth of field so the focus becomes unsharp towards the distance. An internet search also revealed some useful tips from these websites

Shore describes some photographs as being opaque as the viewer is stopped by the picture plane. Others photographs he describes as transparent, drawing the viewer through the surface into the illusion of the image.

Frame- A photograph has edges, the world does not. The edges separate what is in the photograph and what is excluded. Shore notes that for some pictures the frame can act passively. This is where the structures of the photograph begins with the image and works its way out to the frame, where it ends. For some other pictures the frame is active, beginning with the frame and working inwards. Passive and active framing are new concepts to me and I will add it to my mental list of things to consider when viewing photograph or indeed, taking them

Time– A photograph is static, but the world flows in time. Each exposure has a duration and Shore refers to what Szarkowski called ‘a discrete parcel of time’ to describe the duration.

1/10000- Frozen time, a short duration exposure, capturing a new moment.

2 seconds-Extrusive time, movement producing a blur

6 minutes-Still time, the context is at rest and time is still.

The vast majority of the photograph I have taken up to this point could be described as frozen time. However, I do really like the effect of longer exposures using light such as Kevin Cooley’s Lights Edge series and the Light Painting work by Finnish artist, Janne Parviainen,!page-5 Perhaps this is something I should experiment with?

 Focus- Simply put, attention to focus concentrates our attention. It gives emphasis to part of a picture and helps distill a photograph’s subject from it’s content. When taking my own photographs I am selective with my point of focus and choice of aperture in order to use the plane of focus to help guide a viewer.

 The Mental Level

The mental level is where you construct a mental image. Shore explains that the mental level elaborates, refines and embellishes our perceptions of the depictive level.

Shore talks of photographs having both depictive space and mental space on the mental level. He notes that while a photograph may show a deep depictive space it may only have a shallow space on the mental, and vice versa. What I have taken from shallow and deep space on the mental level is how much thought an individual would apply in constructing their understanding of the subject and if the subject prompts questions and/or personal connections.

Decisions on vantage point, framing, focus and time can only be made after the photographer has decided what to pay attention to. This is something that I need to remind myself of when I am taking photographs. It can, on occasions, feel as though, in the midst of all the other decisions I am making, that the choice of subject and what I am paying attention receives only a brief thought. Shore notes that what a photographer pays attention to has the capacity to leave its imprint on the mental image of the photograph.

Mental Modelling

Shore notes that when photographers take pictures, they hold mental models in their minds, either consciously or unconsciously. I think, for me, when the mental models are conscious they are fleeting and often not well-defined. Shore offers valuable advice, stating that by making the model conscious, a photographer can bring the model and the mental level of the photograph under their control.

Shore summarises the process as follows,

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 3.42.45 PM

He describes the procedure as a dynamic, self-edifying process.


This book was an enjoyable, informative read. It had clear explanations and the photographs selected helped to exemplify the themes. Despite, being a relatively short read it holds a lot of advice that will be useful to me on a practical level and I will add it the collection of books that I return to often. It has left me with much to think about, including, what I pay attention to and the mental model I want to imprint on an image.

Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: ILEX

Roberts, P. (2007)  The Genius of Colour Photography. London: Goodman

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs (2nd edition). London: Phaidon Press Limited

On Being a Photographer, Bill Jay and David Hurn

On Being a Photographer, Bill Jay and David Hurn

I have recently finished reading the Kindle version of this book, which takes the form of a dialogue between the two authors.

Hurn, an internationally renown Magnum photographer and Jay, an author of photography, frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities across Britain and Europe and photographer in his own right, have been friends for 30 years.

The conversational style of the book made it easy to read and the very practical nature of the years of wisdom imparted made it easy to understand.

The book begins with describing Hurn’s route in to photography, by route of Sandhurst then a job at Harrods. A chance encounter with Michael Peto, a leading British photographer, gave Hurn the opportunity to share his work and learn the business side of photography. Hurn describes his career as being ‘about a succession of bizarre coincidences’, which, when I considered the hard work and drive he has demonstrated to be an extremely modest statement.

I found the section on Selecting a Subject to offer some particularly good advice. Hurn advises the need for forward thinking and planning, to be specific about what you are looking for when planning a project and shooting it. This is advice that I will heed as a few months ago I visited a busy event with my camera and with no definite plan in my mind, I became quite overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of the event and eventually returned home with only a few photographs, of which, there were none I was happy with.

Practical advice offered by Hurn, that I will to consider when planning my next assignment, is to ask your self, is a subject-

  • Visual?
  • Practical (and accessible)?
  • Something that you know ‘enough’ about?
  • Interesting to others?

On Shooting the Single Picture Hurn advises that the photographer has two basic controls, where to stand? and when to release the shutter? Having spent a lot of time since beginning TAoP course working through my camera functions and fiddling with various buttons I found this quite refreshing. As I am now more familiar with my camera controls these are the two questions that I should now, perhaps, consider as a priority, rather that spend too much time setting controls and missing a potential shot.

When discussing The Picture Essay, Hurn recommends that avoiding visual boredom should be a key consideration. Establishing pace and changing the rhythm within a set of photographs can achieve this.

This will be a key consideration for me as I prepare my photographs for assignment two. Hurn mentions photographs taken from different distances help establish pace. I also imagine changes to composition; colour, dominant shapes and page orientation would be factors to consider. On discussing rhythm in Elements of Design the course notes advised that for visual rhythm to be established there should be repetitive elements. I wonder if this is considered to be true in a picture essay? For example, 3 horizontal format photographs followed by 4 vertical? This would seem to offer a rhythm without being too distracting for the viewer. Out of interest, I have just had a browse through the layout of Stephen Shore’s, The Nature of Photographs (2012). While it predominantly has text on the left page and a black and white photograph on the right hand page, the pattern does break to include double page colour prints and a few large images which cover a whole page and a section of the opposite page too. Perhaps this is what Hurn would describe as avoiding visual boredom?

The book comes to a close with both Hurn and Jay debunking what they describe as Some photography myths. The myth that stood out for me is that ‘photography is about talent and instinct’. The authors argue that no one is born a photographer, but that rather photographers have to show fierce single-mindedness as they commit themselves wholeheartedly to their chosen discipline.  I found this of interest as I have often heard a photographer described as ‘having a good eye’ and to me this implied a natural talent. However, having read this chapter it has made me realise that the ‘good eye’ is not a natural god given gift but a result of many years of practice, research and debate.

At the time of writing On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn was available from for Kindle download for £3.82.

Jay, B and Hurn, D. (1997) On Being a Photographer, 1st Kindle Edition 2010. Washington: LensWork Publishing

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs, 2nd edition. London: Phaidon Press Limited

The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton

The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Charlotte Cotton (2009) 

I recently read The Photograph as Contemporary Art, by Charlotte Cotton. This book considers the full range of ways in which artist engage with photography to make art. It aims to explore the spectrum of motivations and expressions, which exist currently in the field.

 In doing so, Cotton has divided contemporary art photography into eight categories, dedicating a chapter to each of these. She stresses that the categories are more concerned with common grounds and motivations in artists’ practices than with stylistic aspects or subjects.

The groupings are as follows:

 1. If This Is Art?

2. Once Upon a Time

3. Deadpan

4. Something and Nothing

5. Intimate Life

6. Moments in History

7. Revived and Remade

8. Physical and Material

 As a form of review I will provide a brief description of each chapter’s underpinning themes, followed by my personal thoughts on the topics, ideas, photographers and photographs discussed.

 1. If This Is Art

Cotton describes the focus of this chapter to be photographs that have evolved from a strategy or happening orchestrated by a photographer for the sole purpose of creating an image. To illustrate this method of working, Cotton refers to the work of photographers who she describes as collectively making a confident declaration of how central photography has become within contemporary art practice.

 Of the photographers discussed, I found the following images and motivations particularly interesting.

 Gillian Wearing ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ (1992-93). Wearing approached strangers on the streets of London and asked them to write something about themselves on a piece of card: she then photographed them holding their text. In orchestrating these events, Wearing has made the thoughts of her subjects the focus of her portraits.

This relatively simple idea has resulted in what I thought to be an extremely powerful image. The tattooed man, who holds a sign that read, HAVE BEEN CERTIFIED AS MILDLY INSANE! has been photographed with a background of what appears to be a commonplace shopping arcade. The ordinariness of the scene contrasts with the boldness of the statement. The expression of the man could be interpreted in several ways, is he intimidating and possibly challenging or has his personal truth made him vulnerable?

Cotton writes that Wearing’s proposal has been an important one within contemporary art photography, especially evident when sitters are given instructions that disarm them and prompt less-self conscious gestures for the cameras.

 Shizuka Yokomizo , Stranger (10), (1999). Yokomizo selected windows from which she could see through at night. She sent letters to the inhabitants of the houses asking if they would stand at the windows with the curtains open at a certain time. The result was a series of 19 portraits.

Stranger (10) shows a young man standing in the centre of a lit window. When reading about Yokomizo’s plan I was struck by the confidence behind her proposal and the exciting outcome it could muster. For both the photographer and subject there must have been a sense of trepidation in anticipation the shot being taken. One can only imagine that the subject would be nervous, particularly as they cannot se the photographer, but only their own reflections in the window glass. In Stranger (10) the young man’s facial expression appears defiant, his chin raised high. His body language, however, appears somewhat awkward, as he stands tense and still.

I find it interesting to note that of all the works discussed in this chapter I was drawn to two examples where the artist has choreographed events where the end result has been a portrait of a stranger.

Once Upon a Time

This chapter considers the use of storytelling in contemporary art photography. Cotton (2009, p49) explains that many of the photographs in this section make reference to fables, fairy tales, apocryphal events and modern myths while others are more open-ended, relying on the viewer investing their own train of narrative and psychological thought.

This area of photographic practice is often described as tableau or tableau-vivant photography as the story is concentrated into a single, stand-alone image.

This chapter had a particular appeal for me as I have become to realise that I enjoy looking at photographs that invite the viewer to imagine a story about what may have occurred or be about to occur. Such as the work of Brooke Shaden, in  ‘Vivid Dreams and Fragile Machines and Tor Seidel and Julia Fullerton-Batten contributions to the Identity exhibition.

Cotton (2009, p49) discusses the contribution of Canadian artist, Jeff Wall to this arena, noting that he is one of the leading practitioners of staged tableau photography. The photographs she comments on, Passerby (1996) and Insomnia (1994), are both photographs I have viewed before but I find that it is still interesting to look at them again as they both hold drama and intrigue and, again, prompt the viewer to construct a narrative to surround them.

I had to revisit certain sections of this chapter, Once Upon a Time, to try to differentiate between tableau photography and the photographic practices discussed in If this is Art. I could appreciate that tableau photography has a strong storytelling focus. However, in If This is Art, the practice is described as,photographs that have evolved from a strategy or happening orchestrated by a photographer for the sole purpose of creating an image’. Surely this could also apply to tableau photography? Further reading helped me to appreciate that with tableau photography the photographer is akin to a film director, creating narrative fantasies while working with a cast, crew, actors and a staged setting.

3. Deadpan

This category of approaches couldn’t be more different from the tableau style of photography discussed previously.

Cotton (p81) states that deadpan aesthetic is one of the most prominent and frequently used styles of photography. Deadpan is describes as a cool, detached and keenly sharp type of photography. The photographer, while engaging with emotional subjects, is seen to have emotional detachment and command. The emphasis is on viewing beyond the limitations of individual perspective.

Several of the examples discussed in this chapter such as Power Supply No.1, (1989-92) by Lewis Baltz and Grünkohlfeld, Dusseldorf_ Kaarst, (1999) by Simone Nieweg didn’t appeal to me at all. Perhaps, due their subject matter, an industrial interior and agricultural landscape which seemed, to me, somewhat unexciting and dull. I did get the feeling that I was missing something and was unable to see the artist’s vision. Maybe I am not ready for a deadpan approach and require more emotional clues in order to interpret an image?

I found the work of Andreas Gursky to be of interest. Especially in learning that when employing the deadpan aesthetic to his photographs he often find a signature vantage point, usually at a distance. The emotional distance and physical distance from his subject is seen in Chicago, Board of Trade II, (1999). The distance removes the viewer from the scene encouraging the viewer to be detached and critical. The people in the photograph are miniscule, packed tightly together in a busy work environment. While I did find the photograph interesting the details are difficult to make out viewing it in the book, making me think that viewing the original image at it’s size of over 3m x 2m must be a far more satisfying experience.

The section ends on a look at how deadpan has been used in portraiture. I felt more comfortable reading this section and viewing the images here, particularly the street portraiture. While the subjects expression are unsurprisingly neutral, I did find myself trying to read their expressions and draw clues from their body language, clothing and surroundings to help me read the photograph.

4. Something and Nothing

This section looks at the ways that non-human; often quite ordinary, everyday objects can be made extraordinary by being photographed. The objects are altered ‘conceptionally’ because of the way they have been represented.

The initial image in this chapter is Quiet Afternoon (1984-85) by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The photograph shows a tabletop assemblage of a grater, carrot and courgette arranged, through fixing and balancing into a simple sculptural form. Cotton (p116) describes the sculpture as a consciously unsophisticated temporary structure. For me, I didn’t see intrigue or beauty, nor did it prompt any strong emotion.

Further on in the chapter, however, I did find photographs of ‘ordinary, everyday’ objects that appealed to my individual aesthetics.

Nigel Shafran’s Sewing kit (on plastic table) Alma Place (2002) was one such image. Shafran’s photographs make observations about they way we conduct our lives through our unconscious acts of ordering stacking and displaying objects. The domestic scene centres around a sewing box stacked on top of a small, round table. Above it there is a window with light pouring through. At the edge of the frame there is a TV, on a stand, with a VCR on top of it. Opposite we can see the edge of a sofa, and a box containing neatly stacked CD’s/DVD’s. The room has an organised, though minimalist feel to it. It did make me consider what observations could be drawn from the way the objects in my home are displayed, stacked and ordered.

Sabine Hornig’s Window with Door (2002) also sparked my visual curiosity. Hornig’s photography concentrates on the spaces between the image and the object. I had to look at the image for quite some time to understand I was looking at a door, at the far side of a room, being photographed through a window, from outside. The reflection on the glass of the building and trees behind the photographer add to the unfamiliar perspective. This offers us an unusual and imaginative view of view of the everyday world around us.

5. Intimate Life

This chapter looks at how narratives of domestic and intimate life have been presented in contemporary art photography.

Cotton (p138) notes that American photographer; Nan Goldin has had the most direct and obvious influence on the photography of intimate lives. Goldin began taking pictures of the events and situation among her bohemian   ‘family’ of friends and lovers in the early 70’s, although her work did not receive international acclaim till the 1990’s.

Cotton (p143) also discusses the work of American photographer and film director, Larry Clark whose explicit portrayals of teenagers and young adults have also been influential on contemporary photography. His photograph Untitled (1972) shows a man lying on his back while injecting a needle into the extended arm of a young, virtually naked woman who is straddling his body. It is a graphic photograph and while I couldn’t say I ‘liked’ the content I would say that I found it interesting, particularly as Clark’s photographs are autobiographical. Like Goldin’s work, they are records of the events of his/her world and experiences of their friends.

Interestingly, the candid and explicit style of Goldin and Clark’s work inspired the 1990’s trend in fashion photography for ‘grunge’. I recall seeing the magazine covers, which saw thinner, younger models cast in unglamorous sets with minimal make-up and styling. This prompted an outcry of media criticism which accused the fashion world of using ‘heroin chic’ to promote drug taking, eating disorders and the exploitation of children.

However, it seems that contemporary art photography escapes the same criticism that was directed towards the fashion world. The autobiographical and diaristical nature of intimate life photography links the photographer’s life with the photograph and this adds an authenticity that fashion photography simply does not hold.

6. Moments in History

Contemporary art photographers have, on the whole, taken an anti-reportage stance. This section looks at how, rather than being caught up in the chaos of an event or first hand witness to pain and suffering, they photograph what is left behind in the wake of such tragedies. In the introduction at the beginning of the book cotton refers to it as ‘aftermath photography’. The section also looks at how contemporary photographers create visual records of isolated or marginalized communities.

The work of two artists discussed in this section caught my attention. The first of whom is Simon Norfolk. Norfolk’s image Destroyed Radio Installations, Kabul, 2001 (2001) is taken from a high perspective and looks across a bombed-out, deserted desert landscape, towards hills in the distance. Despite the rubble and ruins, the low-lying mist (or smoke) offers softness to the image and to the sense of quiet and stillness. Perhaps, a sense of the calm after the storm? Cotton notes that the image makes a pointed reference towards the fact that; as a result of the devastation of war the ancient and culturally rich land has been returned to a premodern state.

Fazal Sheikh has concentrated on human subjects who are individuals and families living in refugee camps. In Halima Abdullai (2000) a woman sit holding her 8-year-old grandson on her lap in a Somali refugee camp. They both stare into the camera with no readable expression on their faces. Cotton (p172) notes that this deadpan style of photograph, previously discussed in the third chapter, is used widely when projects concentrate on human subjects and consequences of social crisis or injustice. Sheikh provides the viewer with text, which tells the history of his subjects, and I found that this really helped me to mentally and emotionally connect with the photograph.

The use of captions or text to accompany the photographs in ‘aftermath photography’ was evident in the project of British/Egyptian photographer, Laura El-Tantawy, titled Casualty, which I viewed recently. The project focuses on Egyptian woman whose sons, daughters and husbands were killed by police during the revolution. The photographs are accompanied by extracts from interviews, each relaying the story of each family’s loss. Cotton (p172) notes that when quotes from subjects are displayed it gives them a voice and also confirms the role of the photographer as mediator.

7. Revived and Remade

In this section of the book Cotton (p191) considers the ideas of postmodernist thought, that views photographs from the standpoint that their significance or value centres on our pre-existing knowledge of images and acknowledges social and cultural coding.

On reading the chapter, I was interested in the work by American artist, Cindy Sherman, whose work Cotton (p192) describes as a ‘prime exemplar of postmodern art photography’. The image Untitled #48 (1979) is from the series Untitled Film Stills (1979), which show the artist portraying a number of feminine types from movies. The black and white image show Sherman standing alone at the edge of a deserted country road, looking away from the camera, along the road’s length. She wears a below-the-knee skirt, modest blouse and flat, sensible shoes with ankle socks. A suitcase sits nearby. Sherman intends for the series to show how femininity is a popularly constructed notion and, for me, this image shows quite clearly a damsel-in-distress figure, awaiting rescue. The scene also could convey the narrative of a small town girl escaping in search of adventure, both themes common in many novels and films.

The chapter notes that many contemporary art photographers revisit and restage the work of artists, exhibitions, events etc. such as Vik Muniz, whose Action Photo 1, (1997) is a photograph of his sticky, drippy chocolate sauce recreation of a photograph of Jackson Pollock taken by Hans Namuth.

I found the approach that Hans-Peter Feldmann’s used in constructing his book Voyeur (1997) also helpful in understanding post-modernism in photography. Voyeur is a small flip book containing juxtapositions and repetitions of found, stock and gathered anonymous images. The page from Voyeur which Cotton (p210) shows 6 photograph of no particular theme or genre which I found appealing as I then began to search the photographs and my conscious for ways to connect them. The absence of captions or date means that the images can only be viewed through the viewers’ own bank of prior knowledge and experience and in relation to each other.

8. Physical and Material

This chapter focuses on photography where the very nature of the medium is part of the work. Contemporary art photographers are making conscious decisions to highlight the physical and material (hence the chapter title) natures of photography and are responding to the changing modes of photographic dissemination.

In considering the artists and work in this section I found it helpful to compile Cotton’s (p10) overview into a short list which highlights the decisions, photographers discussed within the section make, as concerning

  • The use of analogue technology rather than digital
  • To act as curator, investing new meaning in images
  • To use photography as just one element of their practice, with photographs becoming components of installation and sculpture work
  • To use the Internet as a tool in reaching a larger and more varied audience.

To review this chapter I will consider an artists work from each of the above points.

Zoe Leonard began a 10-year project in 1998 entitled Analogue. The project documented shop displays of modest goods and advertising signs, initially in New York, then expanding around the world. Leonard used a vintage camera, a Rolleiflex, to capture the images. She merged the deteriorating place of local business and analogue photography, making the nature of the medium part of the work. Her photograph TVWheelbarrow, (2001/2006) shows a well-used metal wheelbarrow sitting at the side of a road. Inside the wheelbarrow, sits a large cushion, on which an old TV set sits. While the TV is representative of technology from a time past, I wondered if the wheelbarrow is a metaphor for change or movement which make it now history, redundant. I found that the setting for the image gave it an overall charm: cobbled street, decorative grille, showing that although something may be ‘old’ it can also hold beauty.

Sherrie Levine noted the materiality in photographs when she appropriated classic photographs by Walker Evans (1930-75), Edward Weston (1886-1958) and Eliot Porter (1901-90). Levine boldly re-photographed images from pages of exhibition catalogues, mounted, framed and presented them in contemporary art galleries. On reading this my initial thought was one of puzzlement. Why would this be permitted? Surely Levine could not profess to be the ‘owner’ of these images? I also wondered what creativity this could possibly show? Cotton (p221) refers to the image After Walker Evans (1981) by Levine to explain that she was not proposing ownership of the image nor had she ‘revived or remade’ the image. But that in order to explore the images further Levine had taken on the roles of editor, curator, interpreter and art historian, again making the nature of the medium part of the work.

Michael Queenland, an American artist, used photography along with other art materials to transform everyday objects and experiences. Cotton shows a photograph of Queenland’s exhibition Bread and Balloons, (2007) which shows photographs displayed alongside sculptures of bread and balloons alongside more abstract sculptures. Reading about Queenland was usefully in understanding what photograph as a component of installation and sculpture work could look like, However, I didn’t quite grasp what significance the objects had or how they related to the photography. Perhaps, the objects are supposed to ambiguous? Also, I would imagine that to experience the installation would have more emotional and cognitive impact that looking at 2D small image in a book.

Cotton briefly discusses 2 websites, which utilise the technology afforded by the Internet as a tool for photography to reach a larger, and more varied audience. is a hub for contemporary photographers set up by Tim Barber in 2005. Barber portfolio is displayed along with the work of established and emerging artists and submission by website users.

I hadn’t heard of this site before and was surprised to see it holds the portfolios of literally dozens of photographers. The site is no longer open for submissions (possibly due to the number of contributions?) but is still aiming to reach a wide and varied audience through its free iPhone app. shows the work of Jason Evans. The site in very simply designed and displays a single image for a day’s duration of ‘something that made me happy’.

I frequently use websites to view the work of photographers from all over the world. I find it interesting, informative and often inspirational. The international aspect also shows subject matter that is often not accessible in my part of the world. I will bookmark the above 2 sites and add them to my list which includes


Reading and digesting this book has taken me quite some time, however I have learned a substantial amount in the process that I hope this review shows. Awareness of the different approaches, motivations and overlaps (such as Moments in History/Deadpan) will help me to further understand and ‘read’ photographs. The book will act as a future reference guide of how photography is represented in contemporary art and also of the vast number of artists and their work that is discussed

Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd

Photograph references

Lewis Baltz (1989-92) ‘Power Supply No.1’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p89

Larry Clark (1972) ‘Untitled’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p143

Andreas Gursky (1999), ‘Chicago, Board of Trade II’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p84

Sabine Hornig (2002)Window with Door’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p135

Zoe Leonard (2001/2006) ‘TVWheelbarrow, from the series Analogue’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p231

Sherrie Levine (1981) After Walker Evans, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p221

Vik Muniz (1997) ‘Action Photo 1’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p191

Simon Norfolk (2001) ‘Installations, Kabul, 2001’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p171

Simone Nieweg (1999), ‘Grünkohlfeld, Dusseldorf_ Kaarst’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p100

Michael Queenland (2007)Bread and Balloons’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p228

Cindy Sherman (1979)Untitled #48’ In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p (193)

Fazal Shiekh (2000), ‘Halima Abdullai”, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p173

Nigel Shafran (2002) ‘Sewing kit (on plastic table) Alma Place’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p120

Jeff Wall (1994) ‘Insomnia’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p50

Jeff Wall (1996) ‘Passerby’, In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p48

Gillian Wearing (1992-93) ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p30

Shizuka Yokomizo (1999), Stranger (10), In The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed) by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, p32



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