Part One – Project 5

Context & Narrative Part One
Project 5 – The Manipulated image.

I have done the suggested reading for this assignment and will come back to add to this post. In the meantime I wanted to report on the exercise which was to create a composite image, although I haven’t worked on a documentary image yet.

I have layered images before in DPP Assignment 1  but this time I wanted to do something different and in colour and the exercise fitted in well with my participation in the:-

The Nearest Faraway Place Project

This Project is ongoing on the OCA Flickr site and was the brainchild of Stephanie, one of the students. Everyone involved submits a 6×4 image, with separate text and attaches it to a book which is in concertina form. It has been travelling the globe for many months and will end up at OCa headquarters. Eileen, another student will also be creating a Blurb book.

It’s a wonderful project and I was thrilled when it arrived with me. I was also quite anxious because it’s precious and a bit fragile and I didn’t want to damage any of it.  I wanted to create something in keeping with the theme of the Project but that represents me – my interest in fairytales, and books. I decided to create a magic carpet. Initially I was going to suspend a small Persian rug from one of our trees and then place a cushion of books on it. However the weather was so bad (we had constant rain for a while) that I decided to do it another way.

I purchased this image of a flying carpet from iStock then placed books on a cushion and photographed them


I extracted the cushion from its stool and background and moved it onto the rug – it took quite some time to get it to a reasonable size – and then to edit it so that it looked as if it belonged (more or less) belonged on the rug. I placed the rug against a background following the same process. I tried this background first but it meant making the flying carpet too small


so decided this was a better one


and here is the result:-

Magic-carpet for web

More to follow on my reading .


3rd December 2014


Project 3


I hadn’t come across the term “reportage” before. ‘On the ground’, “close to the action’ with the implication that it tells a story from the point of view of one person. One picture contains within it a bigger story. The example given in page 31 of the Module Handbook is from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau, Germany, April 1945 stating that this image of a Belgian Gestapo informer being revealed to the crowd is taken at “..a decisive moment, when the press of a button tells a much wider story in an instant” I just saw this on the web this morning  At first I thought it was a fashion image using a deprived area as a background and was ready to be critical, but it isn’t. The image is part of a longer term project by Jane Hahn. The woman was returning home after bathing; not willing to speak, and in a hurry so Hahn took the shot as she was walking away. There’s a quote from Sean O’Hagan

Jane Hahn’s image possesses a beautiful tension, between the surroundings and the subject, ………The woman wrapped in the England towel seems to have arrived in the photograph from another world, her grace and poise as she walks though the shanty town at odds with the ramshackle buildings and debris around her. A great example of the old-fashioned decisive moment, I guess.

It was the colour of the woman’s turban and towel that caught my attention enough to click my mouse on the thumbnail. I’ve been thinking that it might not capture such attention in black and white, but I’ve just done a quick b+w conversion on a screen shot. The image is high contrast whilst having a spread across the tonal range and the composition is striking – diagonals of steps and shanties; those lines contrasting with the cobbled path. And then there’s the slightly tilted posture of the woman as she’s walking along with the towel and its bright contrasts.

I’ve done the same with the Cartier-Bresson image which has a similar spread along the tonal range. Here’s it’s the many faces with all those different expressions and lighter clothing that capture the moment and contrast with the foreground figures of the women wearing dark clothes.

I haven’t done further current research on street photography apart from writing my thoughts on the Co-optic Project, seen at the Brighton Biennial 2014 recently. The photography there was street-style in the sense of capturing the moment; showing some of the idiosyncracies of British life and wide angle/close to the action.

The Exercise

This is to find a street that particularly interests me and shoot 30 colour and 30 black and white images in a street photography style. Taking photographs in the street in my area is not easy. The town guardians of Woking and Guildford do not appreciate it. In fact there was an incident in Guildford in 2012 when two photographers were questioned by the police for taking photographs in the city centre, see here. I had no trips to London planned either. Still I decided to go out with my Fuji camera onto my local shopping street. It wasn’t too successful, there were hardly any people around and those who were gave me curious looks when they saw me taking photographs. Here are the contact sheets of some of the images – colour and those I chose to convert to black and white. I chose the black and white conversions by eye first to see what range of tones I could detect and then checked this through the histogram.

ContactSheet-001 black and white

I walked down the street again, late afternoon, when I had my larger camera.


They’re not what I would call street photography because, as I’ve already written, to me that’s close up and involves people. I have taken photographs more in that style when I’ve been in London (or on holiday). I don’t personally have a preference for either set although generally I prefer colour even though I can appreciate the structure and composition in black and white.

Because I felt pressure to do the exercise I did take the Fuji with me when I finally got up to London a couple of weeks ago to see the Elina Brotherus Exhibition. It was raining on my way there and I was in a hurry to get back home so no photographs were taken. I’ve promised myself that I will do some actual street photography the next time I go to London, whenever that is. The alternative is to fasten the Go-Pro camera I have around my chest and do some covert photography locally. We’ll see!

28th November 2014


Projects 1 and 2


My pocket Oxford English Dictionary informs me that the origin of the word “Document’ is the Latin documentum – ‘lesson’ and documentary is (1) consisting of documents and other material and (2) using film, photographs and sound recordings of real events to provide a factual report. This misses out ‘writing’.

Lewis Bush, asked the question “What is Documentary Photography?” here . Having pointed out that all photographs necessarily document something he states “the worth of that document is an entirely different question”. This is what we’re concerned with I think – what is the worth of something put forward as fact?

A fact is something that is known to be true. Well, truth is a slippery creature conforming itself to whatever interpretation is given to ‘facts’. I could say that nothing is true unless I’ve seen, experienced, heard it for myself.

There was a demonstration by the English defence League outside Liverpool Station in London

I was there, I saw and photographed it from a distance! However, I wasn’t standing too close – maybe it was part of a film. Best not to venture into the philosophy of truth; phenomenology etc!

We start from early photography and “ …. the implicit confidence in the objective truth of the camera’s vision” in the context of the mid C19th with its passion for documentation and taxonomies, inventories and physiologies. (A. Solomon-Godeau, p. 155). Solomon-Godeau points out that this belief, “ …. In the definitive truth of the photograph is a curious phenomenon. …….and its obvious (to us) deficiencies were discussed almost exclusively in the context of the critical debate regarding photography versus painting.” It was there from the beginning then. The need to believe that a photograph is true against a belief that it isn’t.

Having begun with definitions, I’m now going to move on to giving myself a quick snapshot of reading/learning I’ve done on the topic since beginning with the OCA. Much of this has been brought into focus again by a Symposium I went to on Saturday 8th November on Fiction and Photography : Imagining Reality. I’ll be writing more on that in another post – hence the brevity of this one.

Project One – Eyewitnesses; Documentary and Social Reform

There’s so much here, with daily, almost hourly accounts from ‘eyewitnesses’. There’s the use of social media and smart phones during the Obama election campaign to spread the word, including professional photographers using iphones so as to appear more spontaneous. I know also of a Facebook campaign Da Begad ? ده بجد to expose social media and lies . More information here .  What do I believe? Difficult to express as that varies according to the image and I tend to be cynical of what I’m told to believe.

Here’s a screenshot of an image accompanying an article on Yahoo news today concerning a Police probe of the South African President

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 10.35.40

more information here . One could assume that this photograph is of the President answering questions about this but there’s no indication of place or date. Obviously there are lots of photographs of President Zuma but why was this particular one chosen in the first place. It has a certain angle to it that makes President Zuma look as if he is beginning to topple over. And so it ‘fits’ the story of the police probe. Is this important? Is it going to add to the seriousness of the story, incline someone to a stronger belief in it? From another point of view, the US Government chose not to publish photographs of the death of Osama bin Laden so as not to incite further violence. With no photograph there are some people who are bound to say that her is still alive, or, if there was a photograph they might say that wasn’t him and the image has been manipulated/photoshopped. Officials did release videos of bin Laden that were recovered in the raid. The latter shows he existed – although I’ve read articles stating that he never did.

I recently read about “The Angel of Kobane” . Who is she; where does she come from; does she exist.? Think of the back-story. A young, attractive Kurdish fighter; in uniform, no veil; blonde hair – a symbol of resistance against Islamic State. Where does the photograph come from? The Swedish journalist, Carl Drott, provides us with a different story. The BBC story reads like Chinese Whispers and that particular photograph obviously enhances the story but does it prove that it’s true.

Project Two – Photojournalism

I wrote about Martha Rosler’s 1981 essy In, Around and Afterthoughts here . I was very interested in Rosler’s views on the need for a new form of such Documentary that I think extends to Photojournalism also and I’ll come back to that later.

Do I think that socially driven photographs can be exploitative or patronising. Yes – I think they could be and I came across this on the web  as an example. In term of manipulation of photography to represent ‘truth’ there are so many examples. Can photography change things – I think it can. Tom Hunter’s work is an example of this. I’ll note other as they come to mind. John Mraz,  for one, has written about this in relation to digital photography and photojournalism here . Mraz’s conlusion states,

In sum, digitalization seems to be as unavoidable as globalization. However, as important as acknowledging the victory of computer over chemical photography is the examination of its implications. Does digitalization necessarily include alteration? Will the documentary esthetic of discovery, of research, of receptiveness to chance disappear with the chemical process? I would argue that — despite the many instances of direction, alteration, or manipulation in chemical photography — the medium invented in 1839 made available to the world a new form of communication and a new way of preserving the traces of the past: technical images. This medium led to the development of a new esthetic, which we have come to call “documentary,” that is somehow bound up with the real world in a way different from that of other forms of representation. If we make the mistake of throwing this baby out with the bathwater I fear we will all be the poorer for it.

I identify with Sontag’s views on “Compassion Fatigue” as I’ve felt it myself. With so much tragedy and violence happening in the world what can I do about it? It seems that no matter what is done it still continues. And my view of human nature as such is that it will still continue because human beings are innately aggressive and it’s social conditioning in all its forms that exerts a leavening influence – well, depending on the type.

I read an interesting article a while ago on the Duckrabbit blog here  offering further context – “Victims turned into works of Art” – the recent prize winning image of father carrying his dead child comes to mind. The question quoted by Magda Mis “Can we understand war without looking at blood? And without seeing blood, would we know what war looks like?”

This year artists gathered together in Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province “ to unveil a gigantic portrait of a local child whose parents and siblings were allegedly killed by missiles fired from a U.S. drone.” Their aim was to dehumanize war and they wanted those distant drone operators to see what they were aiming at and how they were not playing games with their computers. Here is their website . There has been a move towards ‘late’ or ‘aftermath’ photography portraying war landscapes in different ways – Richard Mosse , winner of this year’s Deutsche Borse Prize with Enclave.  Luc Delahaye moving away from photojournalism towards Fine Art and staging vast landscapes with figures in what The Guardian terms “an uncomfortable art” and representations of the effects of war through more conceptual methods as in the work of Alfredo Jaar with The Eyes of Gutete Emerita .  I remember as well how moved I felt to see the work of Broomberg and Chanarin in War Primer 2 .

Concluding thoughts

Not so much a conclusion perhaps but rather a ‘work in progress’, gathering my thoughts together. Where does my reading so far leave me with these issues of evidence truth, integrity, representation and manipulation? I know of my own ambivalent thinking – on the one hand feeling cynical about images that purport to tell the ‘truth’ and, on the other hand, wanting to be truthful in my own work whilst knowing that the viewer will make their own ‘truth’ of it. I think I can only start from the basis of my intention to be honest and to acknowledge when I might be stretching the truth or manipulating it in other ways, bearing in mind that I’m very interested in the idea of fiction in photography and how it can portray universal truths whilst telling stories.

10th November 2014


Solomon-Godeau, A. (1991) Photography at the Dock, University of Minnesota Press

Web [accessed 10.11.2014]