28th March 2020

As part of my research my tutor suggested looking at Jo Spence’s self-portrait work, especially ‘Remodelling Photo History, Revisualization’ 1981-1982. Remodelling Photo History is also known as The History Lesson.

However, on beginning my research I have found Jo Spence to be such an inspiration and of interest to me that I will research her and her works in depth.

Crisis Project / Picture of Health 1982

image and accompanying text from Tate website tate.org.uk

Jo Spence (15 June 1934, London – 24 June 1992, London) was a British photographer, a writer, cultural worker, and a photo therapist. She began her career in the field of commercial photography but soon started her own agency which specialised in family portraits, and wedding photos. In the 1970s, she refocused her work towards documentary photography, adopting a politicized approach to her art form, with socialist and feminist themes revisited throughout her career. Self-portraits about her own fight with breast cancer, depicting various stages of her breast cancer to subvert the notion of an idealized female form, inspired projects in ‘photo therapy’, a means of using the medium to work on psychological health.

Although Spence began her photography career in the commercial sector she worked her way to become a notable independent photographer who is an important figure in the history of feminist photography. She was also a British writer and educator who called herself a ‘Cultural Sniper’ who uses a camera rather than a gun.

14th May 2020

Remodelling Photo History

A joint photographic project between Jo Spence and Terry Dennett

Remodelling Photo History was first published in the journal Screen (May-June 1982). There it is presented as a sequence of 13 photographs, and with an accompanying text. In this form it consisted of 7 paired page spreads and beneath each pair of images is a prominent title.

British Photography
The Hyman Collection

Remodelling Photo history is a collaboration between Terry Dennett and Jo Spence. The above link to The Hyman Collection webpage describes the first publishing of the series. I couldn’t find an old copy of the Screen (May-June 1982) to purchase but when reading the content on the website I read that some of the work is in the book that I had just purchased, ‘Putting Myself In The Picture’ Camden Press, 1986 which is a ‘Political Personal and Photographic Autobiography.’

Jo Spence (1986). Putting Myself In The Picture. London: Camden Press Ltd

The opening paragraph about Remodelling Photo History reads:

At this period, Terry Dennett and I attempted to look closely and clearly at the way photography works in our society. The article, which we wrote at the time, explains what our project was about. the photos which follow show the work in practice.


A Collaboration Between Two photographers

Terry Dennett and Jo Spence

Jo Spence (1986). Putting Myself In The Picture. London: Camden Press Ltd
Notes from Jo Spence (1986). Putting Myself In The Picture. London: Camden Press Ltd

Examples of photographs in the Remodelling Photo History series presented with an image from the ‘unique artists book’:



This collaborative work was a means to re-invent how we take for granted genres in the historic and contemporary photography world. Spence and Dennett scripted their work, although allowed for some spontaneity and saw themselves as social actors. As social actors and worker photographers they began to disrupt the well known format for different genres and made strange ‘the everyday institutional practices and codes of the trade’ (Excerpt from Jo Spence (1986). Putting Myself In The Picture. London: Camden Press Ltd). Their photo theatre works were seen as a hybrid photographic genre in its own right and took on themes connected with work and sexuality.

They used large format cameras, tripods and took props to specifically chosen locations and occasionally added sparse text to their images.

I personally became very engaged with this series. I particularly became interested in their use of props to add context to their work. The props either appeared with a figure or on their own as a still life. This is a practice I have used where props were placed together as a three dimensional still life rather than a two dimensional photograph of them. This is another area that I can develop and one I find interesting.

Memorial Archive

These notes were taken while watching the video, Memorial Archive on youTube. This link will take you to the video on YouTube. It was uploaded by SOURCE Photographic Review on April 2012, ‘Terry Dennett, former partner of the artist Jo Spence (1934-1992) and curator of the Jo Spence Memorial Archive talks about Spence’s life and work. In Dennett’s flat, where the archive has been stored, the work has been boxed, ready to be sent to Ryerson University in Canada where it will join the university collection. He shows examples of her working albums, daybooks from her portrait studio, posters and magazines that she produced and books and ephemera from her collection.’

Screenshots from ‘Memorial Archive’ showing examples pf Jo Spence’s laminates

7th April 2020

Jo Spence: The Feminist Photography of a Cultural Sniper

Jo Spence was a British writer, educator and photographer – although she was quite ambivalent about being termed an ‘artist’. In fact, she much preferred to call herself a ‘Cultural Sniper’. But instead of brandishing a gun, Spence used her camera to shoot and expose issues in culture. One of the first woman photographers to confront the anxiety of seeing oneself in photographs, this HENI Talk explores how Spence targeted the media’s representation of women – always coded as young, plucked and perfectly made-up – by laying her own body on the line.


While researching Spence I came across the YouTube video Jo Spence: The Feminist Photography of a Cultural Sniper. I found it a valuable source of information about Jo Spence’s life and works, so much so that I have just found a new photographer that I absolutely admire in concept and content.

Below are my notes from the video. What I particularly like is how they build a picture of Spence from her beginnings as a secretary in a photographic studio through to her final project which is actually titled, ‘The Final Project.’

The video opens with a very powerful image called, ‘A Picture of Health: Helmet Shot,’ 1982. I paused the video and wrote a simple list of how I responded to the image. My response was:

*Powerful image *Black and White * Spence is standing sideways so that the viewer gets to see the scar on her breast *Body outline * Studio set up * Harsh lighting adding to the drama and harshness of the self-portrait and the topic of breast cancer *Unshaven – doesn’t care what she looks like now as shaving for beauty has no meaning now she has breast cancer, or is it a feminist point of view against shaving and having to portray yourself perfect when being photographed?

*What does the crash helmet symbolise? *We see on the side of the negative style border the word ‘Safety’ *Courage for giving yourself to the world, for all to see.

A Picture of Health: Helmet Shot, 1982
image from Pinterest pinterest.co.uk

It wasn’t until I had uploaded the image to this post that I actually realised that the ‘negative type border’ was actually the border of a slide, then I remembered that Spence uses slides later on in her career where she sandwiches the slides together to get a double exposure effect which is also the same as layering images in Photoshop.

Terry Dennet (link takes you to the interview REMEMBERING JO SPENCE: A CONVERSATION WITH TERRY DENNETT, mutual art.com) took many of Spence’s portraits including the above image. I understand the image further now as the video pointed more information out to the viewers, for example while she is standing she is also looking at and confronting the viewer. Her arms are up and over the helmet protecting her head and the helmets viser hides part of her face and therefore hides her identity.

The helmet could also symbolise hiding, where in post care from cancer you are hiding from yourself, your partner and other people.

Jo could be seen as defiant or aggressive in this image because she is wearing a helmet which when seen without a motorbike could symbolise that you are going to do something dangerous.

As with many of Spence’s images she is making a statement about glamour photography, in this photograph her stance like many in nude photography makes the breasts look more pert and in her story brings home the reality of the breast cancer.

One of the concepts that had me thinking is connected with Spence’s ideas around family albums. She said that the images we have in these albums are unified across society in that we put in them photographs that tell stories of happy times and celebrations. These photographs tell stories from adult points of view mainly because they are a reference to how good family life was so they record highlights only. In doing this our albums have large absences within them, gaps of missing life which cannot be filled in. These gaps would be events such as deaths, divorces, conflicts, abuse and illness.

It is this concept that inspired Spence to display photographs of all types of herself, the good and the bad and having Bertold Brecht as an inspiration she used the idea of adding captions to her family photographs. This created an alternative narrative, a commentary on the desires, stories of pain and toil and strife, even trauma, Patricia Di Bello, Art historian.

screenshot taken from Contemporary Photography Index contemporaryphotographyindex.wordpress.com

The video actually ends with a thought about our photography practices today which are accessible to everyone of all ages and cultures. The conclusion to the video comments on the fact that we all take selfies and publicise them to everyone and anyone. The boundaries between private and public, what is personal and shared across the world to strangers is blurred. No longer shocked, the generation of today has begun a new revolution in digital photography and sometimes it is difficult to know which images are fact or fiction.

This is a topic that I have actually thought about since I have been making art, sculpture and photography at more of a professional level. How can we produce artworks and images that can grab peoples attention?Let us look at landscapes and seascapes for example, one is so like the next unless there is a narrative running through them. These picturesque images are less widely appreciated now, I believe this is because images are easily captured in their hundreds on mobile phones and people travel more widely now. The only exception being dangerous climates and landscapes and places which can not be easily travelled to. Unless there is a narrative or a concept within the landscape or seascape would we take more than a second or two to look at it?

Jo Spence would take images of herself the good and the bad. In the video she talks about how we should be taking more realistic photographs of ourselves and for women especially, we should stop presenting ourselves as an object of desire and that we should show ourselves naturally. Twenty years on our photography genres still do this. I am bombarded with images on social media of friends, family and even unknown people in all states of naturalness and glamour images are replaced with casual images. From dressing up to dressing down, even nighties and bikini wear is acceptable. However the use of filters are widely used and the ‘real’ person is more often than not, the one that is being presented.

The question for me is, how can photographers push the boundaries now in a world of digital images where a click of a camera is second nature?

8th April 2020

Libido Uprising (1989)

In their collaborative series Libido Uprising, Spence and Martin examine the relationship between mother and daughter. The work focuses on Jo’s vision of a 1950s working class, domesticated housewife, seen from the eyes of a young woman in the 1980s who is exploring her sexual freedom. The series complicates the archetypal woman, one juggling multiple jobs with household chores, whilst maintaining her identity as an independent and sexualised being. The work captures the conflict between the domestic and the erotic and how they co-exist. Rather than a rejection of the mother figure, the series evokes a sense of understanding, acceptance and intergenerational comradery around the socially imposed strictures of womanhood.

Richard Saltoun richardsaltoun.com
Libido Uprising Part I and Part II (1989), Jo Spence with Rose Martin
image from TATE tate.org.uk

Red stilettos are a powerful cliche representing the idea of sexy women. By juxtaposing this cliche symbol with a hoover, Spence has made a statement, she is showing the overlapping demands that women have. It is symbolising how women have to show seductiveness and sexy yet still be able to do the cleaning. The image below therefore represents the perfect housewife.

from the Libido Uprising series (1989)
image from Tate tate.org.uk

Taking control

Jo Spence was diagnosed with cancer in the 1980s. She decided to take a camera into the hospital to document what was happening but she has also said it was to help herself and lesson her fear because it was like having a friend with her. Not only did she use her camera as an emotional crouch but she wanted to keep a visual diary of something that was frightening her. She even had to negotiate to take some of the photographs by lying.

The photographs Spence took helped to her to take control of her own health rather than just relying on her doctors and the work became an influential part of a whole movement of patients rights.

The images from her early diagnosis are powerful and a reminder that living with cancer is a horrifying journey from diagnosis, testing, treating and onto recovery, if you are fortunate to recover that is. The images below are from Spence’s first encounters with cancer.

I have learnt much more about this period in Spence’s personal and photographic life but have kept it for further research write ups in the future when I will be looking in depth at her practices, her work and her life.

The Final Project

When Spence became ill again with leukaemia she knew she was confronting death this time. Her last work is called ‘The Final Project’ 1991. She was still committed however to representing herself and others right up until the end.

This work took on a different creative direction. Spence would sandwich slides taken previously with ones taken specifically for this project giving a similar effect to how layers can be seen in Photoshop projects today. She did this so that she was able to insert her body into different natural settings.

The Final Project is more similar of how I have used my photographs in my own work and exhibitions. It is combined with ‘artistic’ methods such as photomontage and adding three dimensional objects on top of photographs and then reshooting this as the final images.

This work is very informative to my own practices and actually helps me to critic mine more efficiently. Working on my own separate from other artists and photographers actually means that apart from research I have no other influences on my work and I have no one to critique it and help me develop. This is where the OCA has been invaluable, yes I am moving on and my technical skills and knowledge is developing but I now have the support of someone who is able to look at my work objectively and critique it.

The website David Camany davidcampacy.com shows ‘The Final Project Work’ in a gallery setting, exhibition. Seeing how the work has also been presented is also invaluable information. Up until now because my work has always been within a group exhibition and I have not been able to say how I want my work placed, I can actually see that how I have always wanted to show my work would give more dynamic amiss to the exhibition apace and my photographs. Unfortunately for me my work has always been shown in very sterile lines or squares.

The examples of exhibition walls above show different aspects of Spences images, hanging compositions and framing. Framing is also another area that I need guidance in. So far my joint exhibitions have always been over seen by someone and again because they are not professionals in the fields of art and photography, my work has just been framed without thought. They look OK but not professional enough for me.

Further research

I managed to purchase three books by Jo Spence all second hand from eBay. The first, Jo Spence: The Final Project, the second, What can a woman do with a camera – photography for women which she co-wrote with Joan Solomon and Putting Myself in the Picture which is a political, personal and photographic autobiography.

Louisa Lee (2013), Jo Spence: The Final Project. London: Ridinghouse.
Jo Spence (1986). Putting Myself In The Picture. London: Camden Press Ltd
image taken from amazon.co.uk
Jo Spence and Joan Solomon

I have decided not to write any more information on research that I have done for two reasons. The first reason is I already know that for Exercise 4.8 Emulation I am choosing Jo Spence, so there will be more research and write ups within this exercise. Secondly If on the photography degree we get to research in great depth and inspiration I would like to consider Jo Spence for that work, therefore doing too much too soon will be an injustice to my learning and college work.

So although I am reading the books and watching documentaries and taking notes I am keeping these for future use.

This research has been the most influential to my own practice so far. It has made me look more inwards on my own documentation and self-portrait works. Spence has really helped me move forwards in my practice.

2nd May 2020

For this exercise we are able to use images that we have already taken to create our own photomontages in Photoshop.

Where does one start when you have such a mixture of photographs in your catalogue? Which theme? Do you use photographs that have a dynamic or eye-catching image? An image that you are attached to? Conceptual or design?

I had decided on the conceptual approach and after researching Heartfield and Höch I thought a conceptual piece of work about the Coronavirus would be a good place to start for the first work and then a self-portrait connected with my nightmares for the second. By choosing two I could produce an image on a new subject as well as continuing one of my themes on self-portraiture and CPTSD.

The contact sheets for this exercise can be found here.

Coronavirus / Covid-19

You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye

Because I see the world of politics as a game, the politicians the players and the public the audience, I thought I would work with a title related to games. I decided a TV game show would be good as politicians are in the lime light just like the televisions shows are. From here I decided not to choose a game title but a catchphrase.

I wasn’t sure which game catchphrase to use for the title for the first image. I decided to choose “You Are The Weakest Link” from the TV game show of the same name, The Weakest Link, rather than Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’s, “I’d like to phone a friend.”

It was quite a tough choice so I had to really think about the context in which these catchphrases were spoken. I decided on my choice, “You are the weakest link, Goodbye” for numerous reasons:

  • It is demeaning and offending
  • It is a dismissive phrase
  • The host – Anne Robinson – is domineering and intimidating and says the line, ‘You are the weakest link, goodbye’, dismissively.
  • Everybody has to vote for who they think is the weakest link and so everyone is trying to out play the other
  • The walk of shame
  • One wrong answer breaks the chain
  • Elimination of players
  • Strongest link
  • Weakest link
  • Head to head
  • Sudden death

With all of these thoughts racing through my mind connected with politics, the public and the coronavirus, I thought that this was definitely the title to choose.

My final image can be seen below.

You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye

The content reads as follows.

The title, ‘You Are The Weakest link, Goodbye ‘- instead of the walk of shame for the weakest links who are our politicians they are being burned alive as a form of shame punishment. I particularly like how Boris Johnson is shouting out. I did not want them all shouting as I thought it would be a little cliche, so I chose specific facial expressions depending on what was happening around the individual politicians heads:

  • Boris Johnson – Shouting, screaming out
  • Donald Trump – Puzzlement, asking a question because he has the claw around his neck
  • Giuseppe Conte – Look of realisation as he comes to terms with the absurd reality that so many are dead because of (supposedly snakes and bats).

(1) Xi Jinping is being beheaded in the background. Decapitation in traditional China was seen as a disrespectful form of death. This is because our bodies are gifts from our parents and our ancestors and because they are being returned to the earth dismembered this is offensive and upsetting to our families those both alive and dead. Therefore Xi Jinping has been given a dishonourable death because he lied at the beginning of the virus’s outbreak about the happenings in Wuhan and the figures connected with the infected, deaths and the spread of the virus. He has caused much suffering because of his lies and his delays in telling the rest of the world about the truth of what was happening.

(2) Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Giuseppe Conte, as well as bats and snakes are all being burned alive along with bodies in the castle to the right of them. The bats and snakes represent the supposed unknown beginnings of the virus in Wuhan.

I therefore searched for a suitable burning of bodies illustration for my background and found an artwork from Germany, 1955 that showed some witches being burned at the stake, ‘Witch burning in Derenburg, Germany, 1555’ which can be seen below. The background would have the heads of the politicians within it along with the addition of surgical masks, a plague mask, bats and snakes all symbolising things to do with Covid-19.

Witch burning in Derenburg, Germany, 1555
image from Gizmodo io9.gizmodo.com

The burning of the politicians is connected with the medieval Black Death which in the 14th Century is known to be one of the deadliest plagues. The connection I am making here is the way that the Cover-19 has spread so fast and that it also affects the lungs and breathing like the pneumonic plague. They would burn the bodies of minorities such as people they thought were witches or the Jewish, all of which they thought had caused the plague. Therefore my image sees the politicians burning as they are a minority that the general public think didn’t act quicker enough so caused the virus to spread and kill more people than necessary. There is also the other conspiracy theory that the virus is indeed man made and has been allowed to spread to cut down on the growing population.

Scientists at Public Health England in Porton Down, argue that for the Black Death to have spread so quickly and killed so many victims with such devastating speed, it would have to have been airborne. Therefore, rather than bubonic plague which is transmitted to humans through bites from infected rat fleas (and then can be transmitted between humans, according to some research), they concluded that this must have been a pneumonic plague that made its way into the lungs of the infected and spread through coughs and sneezes.

History history.com

The Black Death was also when quarantine was invented.

As for how to stop the disease, people still had no scientific understanding of contagion, says Mockaitis, but they knew that it had something to do with proximity. That’s why forward-thinking officials in Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until they could prove they weren’t sick. 

At first, sailors were held on their ships for 30 days, which became known in Venetian law as a trentino. As time went on, the Venetians increased the forced isolation to 40 days or a quarantino, the origin of the word quarantine and the start of its practice in the Western world.

History history.com

Another link that I made was Bill Gates quote, “now people realize, OK, there really is a meaningful probability every 20 years or so with lots of world travel that one of these [viruses] will come along.” from the Financial Times. This is the same amount of years that the Black Death kept resurfacing in London, roughly every twenty years from 1348 to 1665, forty outbreaks in 400 years, History history.com

By the early 1500s, England imposed the first laws to separate and isolate the sick. Homes stricken by plague were marked with a bale of hay strung to a pole outside. If you had infected family members, you had to carry a white pole when you went out in public. Cats and dogs were believed to carry the disease, so there was a wholesale massacre of hundreds of thousands of animals. 

The Great Plague of 1665 was the last and one of the worst of the centuries-long outbreaks, killing 100,000 Londoners in just seven months. All public entertainment was banned and victims were forcibly shut into their homes to prevent the spread of the disease. Red crosses were painted on their doors along with a plea for forgiveness: “Lord have mercy upon us.”

As cruel as it was to shut up the sick in their homes and bury the dead in mass graves, it may have been the only way to bring the last great plague outbreak to an end.

History history.com

Due to the fact that the virus supposedly started in Wuhan’s animal market, I edited a photograph which can be seen below by taking out the Wuhan sign and placing it at the left side of my image behind the burning politicians.

The last addition to my photomontage were the masks. Here I used the historical plague Drs mask and hat and the modern day NHS mask. Both the doctors are seen stoking the fire in which the politicians are burning.

5th May 2020

Double or Drop

I remember one particular children’s television series as if it was yesterday – Crackerjack. I loved this show. It ran from 1955 to 1984 and ‘… one of the games was a quiz called “Double or Drop”, where each of three contestants was given a prize to hold for each question answered correctly, but given a cabbage if they were incorrect. They were out of the game if they dropped any of the items awarded or received a third cabbage.’ Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org

For this photomontage I decided to include the politicians, a Dalek and objects that were being bulk purchased in the frenzy buying. To add a little drama the Dalek is present as if people have deserted the shop because it will exterminate all the other customers to get to the items first. To complicate matters the Dalek has to play the Double or Drop game and that is why it is balancing objects which include the shows iconic cabbage item.

Double or Drop

I took the background image myself as I purposefully went out before lockdown to shoot some images of the fruit and vegetable and meat sections in the local Morrisons. The image should speak for itself although I was hoping the coconuts would still be on the shelves so that I could have given the idea of the coconut shy and people throwing balls at the politicians. however the idea of the politicians heads being melons works just as well, I mean after all politicians are ‘melon heads’, aren’t they?

Self portrait

The Nightmare Trap

I made this image a little bit more complicated by using layers as well as whole images and parts of images. I also used a pencil cross-app self portrait to set the scene of the nightmare as well as other portraits of myself and an ex, a cross-app scan of me shouting and cut out skull images.

The Nightmare Trap

The contact sheet showing the full photographs which were cut to form this image can be seen here.

This image went through many different processes unlike the first two photomontages which were simple cut and composition works.

I began with a background image that I took at the Tate Britain at Rachel Whitereads exhibition which ran from 2017 – 2018. Whiteread is one of my favourite sculptors. The reason I chose this image for the base of my nightmare is that it reminded me of stair illusions, examples which can be seen below. These illusions are a nightmare that you cannot escape, you are caught, trapped, forever walking around in your own maze of stairs.

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Stairs) 2001
image taken from Tate Britain website

Once the background had been set I added a whole layer over the top of it of me crying. I had been crying because my mum had died during the week and I wanted to capture some grief images. Once positioned I began to sort through my photographs for self portraits that had a nightmarish feel to them, an animal skull, a photograph of a Lino print that I had completed with the word Guilty on it and I re-used my shouting mouth image. To set the scene and give the feel of a nightmare I took the photograph of me looking upwards, protecting myself with my hands and arms as well as it showing me screaming and performed some cross-app work on it until I gained lines only.

Once all of the images and image parts had been collected I began to piece the composition together. It took many trials of sizes and positions as well as the opacity each part would have in the image to find satisfactory parts that would come together well as a whole. Finally after three days of manipulation and trials I had completed the composition.

I used words which are commonly connected with domestic abuse. I decided on Bully, Liar and Manipulator characteristics we all know well.

From here I added the word Survivor. I still see myself as a victim as I am still early on in my recovery but my fellow domestic violence acquaintances, support worker and counsellor keep reminding me that I am a survivor and not a victim. I blurred the red word as the line between victim and survivor to me is blurred.

Not happy with the final image because the colour was very bland for a nightmare representation, I began to convert the image into black and white and then tried some other colour properties.

I decided the black and white image was not effective enough, the harshness and peculiarity of a nightmare was just not there.

After experimenting further I decided to haphazardly place a little colour into the black and white image.

Why haphazardly? In my nightmare I have no control and I wanted to try and put a little disorderly colour within the image to symbolise the lack of control.

This has been quite an easy exercise for me as I am use to working this way. I still have areas in which I have to practice, for instance colouring specific layers or pieces within the composition if they disappear into the image and get lost amongst the other information.

However, this will come with time as I am learning, you cannot learn every technique in one go.

I bought this book in response to a post I have written about Nan Goldin and her work ‘The Ballad of Sexual dependency.’ While researching I found that Goldin’s biggest influence was the work ‘Tulsa’ by Larry clark, she stated in an interview, “Larry Clark’s book that was published in the 70’s called ‘Tulsa’ and, that had a huge influence on me because he was shooting and publishing work from his own life, And there weren’t people doing that at that time.”

Below book blurb taken from Amazon’s introduction to the book:

When it first appeared in 1971, Larry Clark’s groundbreaking book Tulsa sparked immediate controversy across the nation. Its graphic depictions of sex, violence, and drug abuse in the youth culture of Oklahoma were acclaimed by critics for stripping bare the myth that Middle America had been immune to the social convulsions that rocked America in the 1960s. The raw, haunting images taken in 1963, 1968, and 1971 document a youth culture progressively overwhelmed by self-destruction — and are as moving and disturbing today as when they first appeared. Originally published in a limited paperback version and republished in 1983 as a limited hardcover edition commissioned by the author, rare-book dealers sell copies of this book for more than a thousand dollars. Now in both hardcover and paperback editions from Grove Press, this seminal work of photographic art and social history is once again available to the general public.


‘Tulsa,’ Clark’s photography book, was published in 1971. Between 1963 to 1971, Clark photographed his own and his friends drug use creating harsh documentary images that showed their activities such as domestic violence, drug misuse, holding guns and even death of a baby.

These images were so controversial that Tulsa, where the images were taken, refused to hold an exhibition of them because they didn’t want to be associated with such negativity and drug use.

The book itself is intriguing and graphic, should I like these photographs? Should they make me go “Wow!” Does that mean there is something psychologically wrong with me if I think these high contrast, film like images are actually artworks created with true feeling and meaning?

The harsh darkness of the images have a film like quality, in fact on opening up the fist couple of pages I was reminded of James Dean, those iconic photographs of him and the amazing film, ‘Rebel Without A Cause.’

The Book – Tulsa

The cover was printed on some very soft black smooth like paper however this became easily marked with finger prints and scuffs. After bending back the spine a couple of times a page fell out, spine quite cheaply put together unlike some previous editions which were sewn together.

It has 64 pages in total with around 56 images depending how you would classify some of the pages with sequences.

Unfortunately there is a very strict copyright for this book so I cannot post images but I have found a YouTube video that shows the pages within the book which can be found below:

Tulsa by Larry Clark, uploaded by CAMERA

I have taken a few notes from the above video and added views and information of my own from reading about Larry Clark’s Tulsa and viewing my own copy of the book. My notes can be read below:

I would recommend this book the images as portraiture, as narrative, as sequences are an excellent source to learn from and they are just beautifully shot, the contrast and the grain is amazing.

The above YouTube video was inspirational because it shows you how, on the 40th anniversary of the book ‘Tulsa’ a group of artist showed the work in an abandoned ballroom in Tulsa. Tulsa would not hold an exhibition of the work because they felt the negativity would be bad for them, drugs and guns isn’t a good image for a town to have.

Those that put the exhibition on, blew the images to poster size and pasted them to the dilapidated walls. The outcome is truly amazing and suits the images well, you can see from the stills from the YouTube video below the expressive outcome.

I would love to have my street art exhibited this way in the town/ place the images were taken – brilliant concept!

The completed set up for the exhibition

I have found this book has moved me quite a lot. It is truth, life, living, death and victims of drugs. The images haunt you, entice you to want to know more and give a story of lost hope. As the youngsters life story unfolds, the images go from happy go lucky, strong friendship groups with love and laughter to a desolate, argument, drug filled isolation. The impact on the group and individuals is shocking to see especially with the death of one couples baby.

But it shocks me in another way. It shocks me because the images are beautifully shot. They are reminiscent of old black and white teen films with handsome men and beautiful women. The contrast in the shots add to the feeling of Hollywood film stills helped along by the grain present in some of the shots.

It is an honest life story not a coffee table chat book but a life lesson, raw, beautiful and moving.

My hand written nots above contain more information.

28th January 2020

How would you make a formal portrait of someone, that tells the viewer about that person’s character, life and interests but remains subtle and restrained?

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg 116

To begin my research on formal portraiture I performed a google image search. I was questioning the difference between how the search images were predominantly head and shoulder shots which contradicted the OCA folder’s description which states, “It’s generally a full-length portrait of a person showing their whole figure deliberately posed to be the main subject of the composition.” OCA Foundations in Photography course folder pg 116

Below I have taken two screen shots of the first images on Google when searching the phrase, ‘a formal portrait.’

This contradiction has made me very eager to research formal portraiture further – as if I needed an excuse to research more!

30th January 2020

Now that I am researching further I started with the Google search again with the phrase, ‘A formal portrait.’ The focus description on the Google landing page states that a formal photograph is,

A formal portrait is a posed picture of a person or a group of people. … Formal portraits are different from informal ones, which show the subject in casual poses, possibly looking away or engaged in some activity. It is a long-standing method to capture professional-looking images.

Google landing page, ourpastimes.com Our Pastimes

This description is the same as the OCAs but it does not state the photograph has to show the full length of the subject.

I have decided that if I look at the webpages that discuss formal portraits in order that the Google search has presented them, I may be able to decipher what a formal portrait means in real life terms.

  • Digital Photography Review dpreview.com COMPOSITION: FORMAL PORTRAIT A portrait is an image of a person’s face that clearly displays their likeness and may often display some aspect of their personality. A formal portrait is not a snapshot but a carefully arranged pose under effective lighting conditions.
  • Expert Photography expertphotography.com THE TEN DIFFERENT TYPES OF PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY YOU SHOULD KNOW … A sub-genre of the traditional portraits are formal portraits. Formal portraits use the same posing and studio setting, but with formal or business attire. 
  • Portraits, Inc portraitsinc.com INFORMAL ‘V’ FORMAL PORTRAITS … the subject’s personality, achievements, status, interests and manner… Formal portraits don’t necessarily mean the subject must appear stiff and lifeless. Informal doesn’t have to mean unprofessional, but often means natural. Even if the subject is dressed in a formal manner, the end result can still be more casual. For example, a friendly, laid back businessman might wear his buttoned up suit for the portrait, but a natural, relaxed pose at his desk can make the portrait informal.
  • Pinterest pinterest.co.uk FORMAL FAMILY PORTRAITS
Formal Family Portraits pinterest.co.uk

Did this searching help clarify things in my mind? NO because the Pinterest collection shows full body shots as the OCA course folder has informed us while the other websites have just commented on specifics such as facial expressions and poses, and the images show head and shoulder to half body shots.

The National Geographic webpage states,

PEOPLE PICTURES FALL into two categories: portraits and candid. Either can be made with or without your subject’s awareness and cooperation.

Settings—The Other Subject

The settings in which you make pictures of people are important because they add to the viewer’s understanding of your subject. The room in which a person lives or works, their house, the city street they walk, the place in which they seek relaxation—whatever it is, the setting provides information about people and tells us something about their lives. Seek balance between subject and environment. Include enough of the setting to aid your image, but not so much that the subject is lost in it.

National Geographic People and Portrait Photography Tips nationalgeographical.com

A formal portrait is any portrait where the shot has been deliberately set up, as opposed to a candid shot… However, formal portraits don’t have to look posed – you can still get your subject to pretend and set up the shot to look like you’ve caught someone behaving naturally. For any type of pose to be successful, you need to try to relax your subject and get them to be themselves. Try to get a rapport going.

The classic formal head and shoulders crop, where you compose so the subject is cropped across the shoulders just below the collar line , is effective and looks clean. But you don’t have to stick to this. Full body portraits can be equally as effective, particularly if you want to convey a character trait, perhaps through flamboyant clothing, for example.

Harman and Jones (2005), The Digital Photography Handbook, London: Quercus pg74 Formal portraits

Logged on, Zoned out

I was quite upset because completing this exercise had been postponed twice as I was let down by a sitter. The idea with this sitter was to have her sitting in the window of our local Weatherspoons, hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and staring out at the passers by. The work would have had the title, ‘Coffee Watching.’

After the postponed dates, which meant a week and a half of not being able to get on with this work I had to resort, yet again, to asking my daughter to sit for me. I made some notes (below) which relate to some of the points I had researched.

Brain storming

If anyone talks to me on the phone and says how quiet my house is knows that my youngest daughter is on the computer. It is her go to area where she can put headphones on and shut out the world and all of its noise and confusion. Being on the autistic spectrum not only does she like to separate herself from unwanted stimuli that we cannot pick up on but she likes to use the computer for anything and everything from gaming, listening to music, watching YouTube and doing her home ed work.

One thing which is known about poppy she multi-tasks. She likes to have a youTube video running in the background while she is working or playing games and sometimes she can be doing four separate activities at once but all with concentration. Does one thing distract her from the other? No it doesn’t, in fact her concentration is very intense and often she will look as though she has completely left her body and zoned out while she is working and playing.

I thought for a formal portrait that captures Poppy’s character we would indeed shoot a daily ‘computer’ scene.

I had actually cleaned the studio a couple of days ago and apart from poppy’s messy table the room was unnaturally clutter free. So to set the scene I threw a lot of the stuff back on the floor and on my desk in the background.

I am not ashamed to say we both work in a chaotic environment because I also work on multiple things at once and the layers of work and books quickly pile up, BUT we know exactly where everything is. So yes, it may look chaos in the room but it is organised chaos.

Poppy is in that time of life where as a teenager there is no chance at the moment of keeping her work space clean and clutter free. However the objects that were on her desk were re-arranged, for example the two empty water bottles were stood up to add to the composition rather than just laying haphazardly on the table, getting pushed and moved around when my daughters working space needed to change.

Other objects were left where they were as I thought they lay in appropriate places to add to the composition and to also move our eyes around the picture plan after we look at the main subject.

Next I asked Poppy to put her favourite top on, which was a very striking lime coloured jumper with stripes. I was a bit worried that the photograph would begin to be quite a challenge on the viewers eyes, with the chaos of the objects, the vivid lime green and the stripes all playing for equal attention which would mean the subject might not get noticed as the main area of interest.

I was determined to set the scene though as naturally as possible so I asked Poppy to sit relaxed with her hands in her usual way on the keyboard and mouse.

Once this was was set up I let her continue playing a game so that I could capture her concentration which would be seen her eyes and neutral facial expressions.

The shots I took are in the contact sheet below. I used different viewpoints from behind the subject matter, to the side of and in front of as well as above and below the subject.

I thought afterwards how silly it was to shoot a formal photograph from behind as you cannot see any of the face at all, but I have learnt!

Contact sheet of shots

From the contact sheet I chose two images that I thought were especially strong.

These images are both from different sides of the subject and one is a shot of the side of the face so that the eyes become the pre-dominant feature that tells the viewer of her concentration as opposed to the shot on the left which shows more facial expressions and also the hunching of her body which she does when she is relaxed.

below are the two chosen shots which I then converted into black and white.

Once I had brought the images onto the screen I was able to critic them more. I found quite a lot of disappointing errors which were present because I wanted the ‘natural’ look. These errors are connected with the lighting especially in the image on the left where we can see that I had left my daughters overhead table lamp on which gives a distinct orange glow to the image. This glow is not present in the second image because I had remembered to turn the light off so the lighting is more natural here all be it ‘dull.’

My second criticism is the composition on the image in the left did not take into consideration the window with its intense light which although contrasts well with the remaining image allowing specific different light and dark areas it does bleach out part of the background.

The window light does not impact the second image on the right mainly because it is not present in the photograph as I am not directly shooting towards it but also because as I am taking the photograph my body is blocking out the light going towards my subject. This has caused the image to be quite flat as I feel I need a few highlighted ares to contrast with the overall tone of the image. Maybe I could dodge some of the areas to lighten them? I shall give this a go and see if it helps the image at all.

In the image below I have used the Dodge tool to lighten specific areas that I thought had lost their natural light colour such as the wall, book and bowl. After reviewing the adjusted image I thought that the skin also needed to be lightened slightly so this was my next task to complete.

The new adjusted image definitely looks more brighter and cleaner so this allows me to take note that my lighting and exposure was not handled well. I feel I have lightened the wall far too much and it now actually looks too white and informs me that some of the objects also need lightening up.

So although I have caught the concentration within Poppy’s facial expression and eyes the overall completed image is poor due to the lighting and exposure creating quite a mid tone image.

I have made many technical mistakes in this exercise which I am not too pleased with and I also am still unwise to know if this portrait does indeed fall into the formal portrait category.

I am also still puzzled to whether the coloured images or the black and white images suit the subject the best. The colours and striped pattern are quite vivid to the eye and the overhead lamp causing the orange glow has taken the ‘reality’ shot a little too far because it looks just like a home snap rather than a staged photograph – or does it? Perhaps I staged it too much?

My final image for this exercise is therefore the one below and I have titled it, ‘Logged On, Zoned Out.’

Logged On, Zoned Out – Colour
Logged On, Zoned Out – B&W

I chose this as my final image for the reasons below:

  • Half body shot
  • Facial expressions show concentration
  • Foreground shows her interest (computer) and her using it.
  • Table props/ objects symbolise that she is a teenager and shows her natural working environment
  • Mid-ground continues the theme of concentration amongst chaos
  • Background light adds contrast to the foreground blacks

I am pleased with the image but I am not very sure as to whether this is a formal portrait because those that I have researched seem calm and clean in environment.

I am hoping to really get some nitty gritty feedback on this one and some further research ideas as this is the opposite of my candid portraiture that I am used to and I found it very hard.

25th January 2020

Think of a place that holds meaning for you. Note down the reasons why it matters. (For reasons of practicality, choose somewhere accessible – see Exercise 3.10)

Think about how you could photograph that place in a way and in a light that reflects its meaning to you. Is there a particular viewpoint in your minds’ eye? A particular time of day? Make a photograph exactly as you have pre-visualised it and try to convey its special meaning to you in the photograph.

Does the photo reflect your memory at all? Do the colours seem right? If not, change them – and anything else that would help the photo resonate more powerfully.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg115

I am always writing about the abuse side of my relationship with my ex because at the moment I am trying to forget those magical times, they make me mourn and I cannot stand it. My ex and I were soulmates, there is no doubt about that but some days, weeks and months were unbearable. I will always love him and to be honest I do not think I will ever want anyone else. The psychologists, counsellors and well meaning friends and family keep on about trauma bonding and Stockholm syndrome but for me to get through this I have to say it was love mixed with tragedy after tragedy otherwise I will go insane.

One of my favourite places, and I have begun crying as I write this, is lowestoft sea front. Three years of walking, holding hands and laughing, sitting and just being in the moment, photographing things and talking by the sea, God I miss him.

I have decided because this is connected with memories I will photograph the areas that I remember talking to him about with my Polaroid cameras because, to me, they give off a timely dated feel to the images they produce. So they will look like an old memory – well hopefully.

I have decided to use my Fuji Instax Wide 300 and shoot in black and white and colour with this model and my Instax Mini which will all be black and white images.

Due to this special place being a collection of memories because it is a journey along part of the promenade in lowestoft, I have decided to approach the end image slightly different than just a single image.

I have decided that my single image will contain a collection of images in instant photograph format. I want to get across that ‘snap’ of moments we do when we are out and about on a date, those little fragments of images which do not have to be in focus, a perfect composition or have the best lighting because they are recording a personal precise moment and are not therefore necessary flawless. How many times has the sun caught your eyes and you get the dreaded sun blindness in what you are looking at, a quick turn of the head and what you see is only partially taken in and out of focus? Those images are real and how exciting if you can reproduce those.

Below are some close up shots of my chosen images in instant photographs, I have placed them on a black portfolio for the background and shot with a house ceiling day light bulb directly over head. The reason I shot it this way is because this is another way of making these real, as though a real person is taking the photograph of them for FB or any other online platform, light glare and even the shadows of my hands etc… are all part of my composition within the smaller cropped images. The larger one I will leave shadow free to make a statement – ‘This is it, this is my significant place!’

Below is my final image, title: ‘This is it, my significant place, hidden within’

I have made sure with the final image that it isn’t picture perfect, again because I wanted it to be real so I have not re-shot it to take out any flaws. Life isn’t perfect after all and this exercise is about a life moment. I have left the glare in and white acrylic spots on my background and even the finger prints on the top right photograph because the fingerprints where I have clumsily handled them also make this photograph personal, after all it had to hold meaning for me.

25th January 2020

The following photographs are my final selection for this assignment. To view the research and preliminary work the link is here and the contact sheets, here.

It was very difficult to choose a specific image as the final ‘one only.’ However looking on other peoples blogs some students had presented three as their final selection. So I had filtered the final images to the following three, ‘Getting Ready’, ‘Call Out’ and ‘Here We Go Again’.

I chose these three shots as they are very different in feel and finish however within each image I am naked for two specific reasons. The first is I wanted the images to provide a feeling of vulnerability which the naked body provides, I am flesh and the scissors, sharp, cut my flesh by my own will. It is also how I sleep so this is true to how the scene would have looked.

Getting Ready

‘Getting Ready’ shows me in bed with the bedside lamp as light source. The light highlights objects on the cabinet and part of my body and face. The hand holding the scissors is silhouetted just off centre of the image and our eyes are drawn towards it straight away. The lighting is high contrast and the darkness hides the figure who is getting ready for the abuser to enter the room.

Call Out

With ‘Call Out’, the narrative is obvious by the look on the face, the hiding behind a pillow, scissors in hand and the phone used to call out for help. Although this is a narrative to show the idea of domestic abuse this photograph does not show a scene that would have taken place within my house because if I had ever got to the phone it would have been taken off me and smashed.

Here I particulalry like how the contrast works, the lightest section by the lamp in the top left hand corner and the darkest shadow in the bottom right hand corner. In between we have a gradient of shade from one to another with enough light still falling on the face for the viewer to read the victims facial expression.

Here We Go Again

The final chosen image has been left in natural colour with out any adjustments being made. I wanted the scene to look as though the viewer is in the room with the victim, looking at her crouched figure and unable to make out much of the facial expressions. The hands and the scissors form enough of a silhouette that the eyes can work out what is going on.

The conclusion for this assignment are these images do tell a narrative story because of the specific clues which are:

  • The bedroom scene
  • Naked body crouched and or hiding within the dark
  • Facial expressions
  • Hands holding scissors
  • Hand holding a phone up to a mouth that is in discussion.

However, the theme that I was trying to get across may not be easy to detect unless the viewers know my back story, or if these images are shown in an exhibition that has more work on domestic abuse/ violence within it.

The images first glance could be mistaken for a vulnerable women in bed who heard a noise, opened her drawer in the cabinet to get scissors out for protection.

So although the postures, facial expressions, scene setting, props, composition and lighting may be how I had planned the end story will ultimately be up to the the viewer to conclude.

25th January 2020

Self Harming as Protection

For this assignment we were able to choose one of two areas in which we could shoot, a staged photograph or a narrative sequence.

Self harm as protection seems a contradictory term, how does that work. When my ex use to run after me, to get me, I would run upstairs to my studio, but his sheer strength meant I couldn’t hold the door shut. One day I grabbed a pair of scissors as he entered and pointed them at him as a warning not to come closer, I turned the scissors on myself and he laughed. I said, “If you come a step nearer I will cut myself!” His smirk began to fall and he was hesitant, I took the plunge and cut myself on the lower arm area near my hand and he turned around very fast and left, slamming the front door behind him. This is how my self harming for protection began.

I placed scissors strategically around the house including my bedroom side drawer, as most of the abuse was hidden in the bedroom which was at the opposite side of the house to everyone else so nobody got to hear as much. It kept him away but he used it as an excuse to make me look mentally ill (well I must have been to do this) telling his mum about how I am a self harmer and I was ill and needed professional help but not telling anyone the reason I was doing it which was to keep him away from me.

I took a picture of the last time that I had self harmed, which can be seen below.

Cuts made by light cutting with scissors

To begin the project, I decided I wasn’t too sure on how the lighting should be. In realistic terms I would have the table light on beside me but I was wondering how it would look with the bedroom light on or a flash illuminating the scene. I thought the flash might imitate a split second, the being caught in headlights saying.

The first three images below show the bedside lamp, the following 6 shots show different flash intensities, the 10th image shows a combination of overhead bedroom light and flash and the final two shots show bedroom light only.

Because the bedside lamp highlighted only a specific part of the picture and the remaining was quite dark, I chose to use this method for its atmosphere and the bonus is, this is how the lighting would have been during a threat attack.

I asked my eldest daughter if she would use the shutter release cable and take the photographs of me. I showed her the lighting photographs that had been taken and explained what I was hoping to achieve. I would break and review the images with her discussing things like the exposure and composition and if my facial expressions were coming through to her. In some places I decreased the f-stops so that the images were darker and repeated the shoot but with different settings.

Working out light source and strengths

My next step from here was to begin to take images in different places and of differing body language and facial expressions akin to what would have happened during a threat attack. I also had the drawer open as it would have been. I held the scissors in different positions including a few shots where the scissors lay across my lower arm as if going to begin the act of self harming.

I also altered the cameras height so that when I was in bed it was at my eye level but when I was cowering on the floor I adjusted the tripod so that it was above me, looking down like he would have been. However, I was always hiding in bed when he threatened or attacked me in the bedroom so I used creative license for the shots out of the bed.

The contact sheets of these images can be seen below.

Once I had looked through the images, I looked for particular images that grabbed my attention, gave me the feeling of unease and made me look into the image so that there was more focusing on the body and face. I put these five images on their own contact sheet, seen below.

Once these five shots had been chosen as possibilities for my narrative photograph, I converted those that I thought would benefit into black and white images. I then followed this up with further adjustments in levels until I was satisfied with the outcomes, seen below.

From the final adjustment images I chose the three below as ones that I thought were to the point. However, although the first image, ‘Getting Ready’ shows me in bed getting ready for him to come into the bedroom after a night out, while I am getting ready to begin to cut myself, you cannot feel the same urgency and fear as in the second image called ‘Call Out’ as I am hidden and so too are my facial expressions.

Getting Ready

In ‘Call Out’ I am on the floor hugging the pillow which is a barrier between me and the outside world. Scissors in one hand and the telephone in the other which I am talking on, trying to contact help in the outside world. Concern and worry is on my face. The second image is not true to life because I would never had been able to make a phone call as he always managed to snatch the phone out of my hand, wether it was the house phone or my mobile phone and smash them. In the last week when he was arrested he lobbed my new mobile phone three doors away in the back garden so I couldn’t call for help.

However, out of the two photographs the first one is more realistic to the scene that you would have walked into and the high contrast is very dynamic.

Call Out

The last image that I like hasn’t been adjusted. It is in colour as you would have viewed the scene as if you were present at the time. The image is called, ‘Here We Go Again’ and is below:

Here We Go Again

I like the above photograph because of the natural colours which are all very neutral apart from the blue towel flung over the radiator. With this image our eyes are drawn first to the over exposed light area and the miscellaneous contents on the bedside drawers. From here the eyes are drawn down into the open drawer and then up to the hidden, shaded face and hands, and you can make out the distinct handle shapes of the scissors. I chose this one because it is raw and honest. I would often hug the wall, crouch myself against it whether standing, kneeling or sitting in a chair. It was as though gravity had gone haywire and was pulling me to the side and the wall.

Here, as with ‘Call Out’ the camera is positioned above the figure so we get the feeling of the body really crouching. The important facial features, gestures of hands and the details of the scissors are lost in shadow like the person themselves.

I have enjoyed this exercise, a staged photograph and while I have been writing the work up I had thought that to extend this work I could repeat the composition of the images but use the torch and paint with light as in Assignment 2. This means I could be hidden in darkness waiting for the event to arrive and unfold, highlight specific parts of the face and facial expression, the hands and the scissors etc… There would be many compositions that I could experiment with and it is quite exciting as I think of it.

12th January 2020

Oh God, love his work!! Don’t know where to start!!

I do not usually cut and paste lots of quotes preferring to read and research and write a little on my findings. However, Beaton’s work is such an important part of the history of portraiture and quite vast in styles and themes that I have taken some excerpts from the National portrait Gallery, UK, past exhibition blurb. The extracts are below:

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) is one of the most celebrated British Portrait Photographers of the Twentieth Century and is renowned for his images of elegance, glamour and style. His influence on portrait photography was profound and lives on today in the work of many contemporary photographers including David Bailey and Mario Testino…

Beaton acquired his first camera aged 11…

Beaton received the ultimate establishment seal of approval when he was commissioned by the Royal Family in 1939…

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Beaton devoted himself to his work as an official war photographer…

In 1956 Beaton started work on the costume designs for the first version of My Fair Lady for the American stage with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison and was to continue with the production in its various forms until his own Oscar-winning work for the film version starring Audrey Hepburn in 1964…

In the 1950s Beaton produced many of his most famous portraits of women including Audrey Hepburn, Maria Callas, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman. Male subjects included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, John Betjeman, Sugar Ray Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin…

It is testament to Beaton’s flexibility and skill that he reinvented his photographic style for a new decade. In the 1960s he was revitalised by working with some of the era`s brightest cult figures such as David Hockney, Jean Shrimpton, Rudolf Nureyev and most importantly Mick Jagger. Up until a paralysing stroke in 1974,…

npg.org.uk National Portrait Gallery, London, UK
  • Baba Beaton: a symphony in silver 1925 © Cecil Beaton Archive, Sotheby’s London/Collection National Portrait Gallery
  • Marlene Dietrich 1935, Courtesy Sotheby’s
  • Marilyn Monroe 1956, Courtesy Sotheby’s
  • Twiggy at 8 Pelham Place 1967, Vogue © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd/Courtesy Sotheby’s

As you can see just from the four images above that are taken from The National portrait Gallery, London, UK, website, each image is distinctively different from the next. Beaton develops his style continuously and I find his work very appealing in many different ways. I have written a list of qualities that his work emulate, in no particular order these are:

  • Elegance
  • Sophistication
  • Beauty
  • Cinematic
  • Theatrical
  • Imaginative
  • Capturing personality
  • Creative
  • Artistic
  • Era defining

You could say he is a master of all trades, my eyes do not know where to fix themselves on the Google image search and that is saying something!

Due to the fact there are so many photographs and so many different styles of Beaton, I am going to search the internet for specific images that have caught my eye, which may or may, not come from one particular area or genre.

One website that has a various selection of Beaton’s work on one page is artnet.com. Here you are able to compare styles and genres more easily than surfing through various pages at once.

Below are some chosen images that have caught my eye:

The portraits above are of Edward James a friend of Beaton’s. For me the image is very clever, we have the sitter, a man’s physical body, but he is presented to us behind fabric which is delicate and fragile and which diffuses the harsh lighting. The two contrast with each other. James becomes semi-hidden, a mystery to be unveiled and the image invites us to look closer at James to try to decipher the portrait clearly without the fabric, to use our imaginations.

In one shot James looks straight at the viewer and the second he is looking out of the picture frame. The backlighting gives the viewer a sense of abstractness making the image of James a piece of artwork and the shadows as equal to the light in the composition.

In the image on the right James holds the frame so he becomes part of the prop and his hands become disjointed as they are not shrouded by the fabric but are a still life in their own right.

I really like the use of the frame, fabric and back lighting because it gives a different and artistic feel to the portrait. The frame idea is used so much these days that it has become a style in its own right, I am wondering if this is where the style originated?

The fabric used as a shroud is brilliant when juxtaposed with the backlighting. It creates very striking shadows in different tones and within different parts of the composition, for example on the front of the sitters face and body their is the darkest shadow and then their is a lighter one that seems to grow out of the sitter like a demon in a horror film.

This creative technique definitely is worth me looking into and using with my conceptual photography to do with hiding. I have read that he uses not only fabric within his creative works but other unusual backgrounds such as cellophane, silver foil and paper mâché which he made complex sets with which gave his images a sense of Surrealism.

Below – Titles of photographs above taken from The British Journal of photography website:

  • Merle Oberon wearing a pearl headdress designed by Cecil Beaton and costume by Oliver Messel, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1934, courtesy of The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby’s copy
  • Portrait of the Soapsuds Group by Cecil Beaton, 1930 © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
  • Daisy Fellowes, wearing her commissioned ‘Collier Hindou’ or ‘Tutti Frutti’ Cartier necklace, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1937. Courtesy of The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby’s copy

The above photographs are taken from The British Journal of Photography online article called ‘Cecil Beaton and more star at the Fashion and Textile Museum‘ by Diane Smyth, 2018.

It is an excellent article that show cases 15 photographs by Beaton and is well worth looking at for the images. It is written to promote a past exhibition: Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs and Cecil Beaton: Thirty from the 30s – Fashion, Film and Fantasy are on show at The Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF from 12 October 2018 – 20 January 2019 www.ftmlondon.org

I have chosen the above three images for different reasons, all three have different wow factors and are stunning.

The first image of Merle Oberon is a close up high contrast portrait. The composition of her hands and head coupled with the background drapes, head wear, rings and make up give that 1930’s film glamour feel. The sultry look of the actress combined with her beauty make you want to hug her and tell her everything is going to be OK. The drapes are made from different materials therefore producing different textures and patterns within the composition. The jewellery and head gear is big, powerful and glitzy providing a contrast to the darkness of the portrait with its darkness of make-up, hair and clothes.

The second portrait which is of the Soapsuds – Baba Beaton, Wanda Baille-Hamilton and Lady Bridget Poullett – has a theatrical feel to it. They have been surrounded by cellophane which at this time was a new material. Then we have the white synthetic smoothness of the balloons against the backdrop of the softness and beauty of the women. The balloons curves echo that of the women and they are draped in the cellophane which reminds me of a sexy neglige that covers a women’s form. I am thinking that the backdrop is tinfoil by the way the light bounces off it and it is crinkled.

Lastly, the third portrait is of Daisy Fellowes who was a French socialite, novelist and poet, Paris Editor of American Harper’s Bazaar, fashion icon, and an heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune. This was chosen because it is a two-thirds body shot and uses the arms and hands to add expression to the composition. The material and metal frame which is on the right of the figure is used to frame the body.

Below is an extra shot of Daisy. I chose this image because how Beaton has posed her body, her hands are very expressive and the way they have been placed with the head, frames the famous necklace which is central within the shot.

artier Daisy Fellowes wearing her Tutti Frutti necklace, from the Cartier Collection, 1936 © Cecil Beaton, Courtesy Sotheby’s, London
(image: fromthebygone.wordpress.com From the Bygone, Exploring Arts and Fashions from the Past Two centuries)

Below is an extract from the BBC4 programme, Seven Photographs that Changed Fashion. In this extract photographer Rankin recreates Cecil Beaton’s Hat Box.

Cecil Beaton (left) and Rankin’s Hat Box
(image http://ashleigh-chapman.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/rankin-seven-photographs-that-changed.html)

Cecil Beaton’s ‘Hat Box’ was created in 1934, using a 10 by 8, large format film camera. To watch how Ruskin recreates the image using Sophie Ellis Bexter as his model, I have included the video extract below. Below the video are quotes from it by Ray Harwood who was an assistant to Beaton.

It was quite a distinction to be photographed by Cecil Beaton. When he came in, it was his studio, his set, his shoot.

Behind him he has a whole studio of assistants, a whole darkroom of processors, tremendous back up.

Ray Harwood Assistant to Cecil Beaton

There are far too many works of Beaton that have caught my eye. They are not the style of portraits that I would consider taking because glamour photography of today hasn’t got that elegant touch, which I think is because everything is so sharp, colourful and dominant to the eye compared to the subtle glamour photography of yesterday year. However, Beaton’s works have elements within the composition that I could use for different types of work and they have given me ideas on how to present sculpture and installation work.

This has been another inspirational research task as the works differentiations from the street photography and conceptual portrait photography that Usually read about, so it has been a very pleasant research time for me.

10th January 2020

Look online at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg111

Bernhard “Bernd” Becher, and Hilla Becher, were German conceptual artists and photographers. They are best known for their extensive series of photographic images of industrial buildings and structures, which were often organised in grids format.

The pictures were made over a period nearly five decades – they started collaborating in 1959 and continued until Bernd Becher’s death in 2007 – using a large format camera in the neutral lighting of overcast weather. The structures are viewed straight on, so that verticals remain vertical; the large format camera helps here but the Bechers also worked from raised viewpoints so that we are looking at the structures as directly as possible.

The Tate website is an excellent information source on the Becher’s and their work. I have put different links below to different types of information which include Tate papers and essay, etc…

Who are Hilla and Bernd Becher? This link will take you to the Tate website which has an excellent introduction to the Becher’s and their work. Below are two of the images from this website:

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher Pitheads 1974 
Tate© Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Gas-holders Germany, Belgium, France, Britain, USA, 1966–93
All photographs courtesy Bernd and Hilla Becher

These are links to other pages on Tate’s website connected with the Becher’s.

Tate Papers: The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher


Cruel + Tender, artists, Bernd and Hilla BecherGerman, born 1931 and 1934

Tate Website

Essay: The long look



I am actually quite interested in how the Becher’s have taken their photographs and then presented them. Also, due to the nature of their images which is industrial buildings and structures, there is a very satisfying subject of geometry and line running through their work. The abstraction of the forms are enhanced by the black and white tones.

I am particularly fond of their water tower series of which there are many. They remind me of sci-fi films, tv series and comics from the 1950’s where there are dome like structures that either the human race in the future are living or other worldly homes of aliens.

The apartment building shot that opens most episodes of The Jetsons (1963)
(image from smithsonianmag.com)

If you Google Becher’s Water Towers you are taken to a page which in itself looks like a patchwork of geometric images which are presented this way as one piece of work. The type of images you will find presented within the search when Googling is below:

The square above which is constructed by images of their work put together in one space, is attractive in its own right. What makes them powerful and gel together as a series, as written in the OCA’s introduction, ‘Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together’ is the reason that they can be presented as a whole together as well. I actually find the composition above very exciting and stimulating to my eye and it has given me ideas on how to present some of my work in the future. I find the text within the above composition adds to the overall feel of the work and this in itself gives me much scope to work with if I produce such a series of work in the future.

To accompany the above research I have managed to find a short documentary on YouTube called, ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher – Water Towers, 1972.’ This video can be found below with accompanying notes that I have made about the towers taken from the video and my own observations.


End of 1950’s they travelled the world taking photographs of industrial structures and buildings, for example, mine heads, blast furnaces, gas tanks and water towers.

Image captured from the above video – Water Towers

The Bechers called them objects to be admired and called them ‘anonymous sculptures,’ They took their photographs in a precise way so that each image was concise with the next and they called these ‘families of objects.’

They would use raised vantage points and took each photograph at the same distance so that people could get a sense of scale and understand how big they actually were. The breacher’s would also use large format cameras and long exposures so that they gained sharp, detailed and crisp images.

They displayed their images in grids and rows and would end up with series of images that were like catalogues of structures. Presenting the images in this format allowed the viewer to compare similarities and differences in the structures . However, water towers are not built anymore and many of the ones that appear within their work have been pulled down and therefore the Bechers have documented their existence.

Below are a couple of examples of their work.

  • Image 1 left: View of blast furnace head A of Metallhüttenwerk industrial plant, Lübeck-Herrenwyk, Germany. 1983 (image from cca.qc.ca Canadian Centre for Architecture)
  • Image 2 right: Blast Furnaces 1980-1988 (image from c4gallery.com C4 contemporary art)
  • Image 1 left: Cooling Tower, Germany (image from Pinterest)
  • Image 2 right: Cooling Towers Wood-Steel, 1959-77 (image from imageobjecttext.com IMAGEOBJECTTEXT Ann Jones – Art and Writing)

The information below includes details from an interview with Hilla Becher which I accessed on YouTube, the interview is from: San Francisco Museum of modern Art. The video can also be found below.

Using large format cameras – which is how Hilla was taught and had began her photography career with – the end images were presented in ‘typology’ form which was Hilla’s idea as she was collecting book illustrations that had to do with biology and typologies. With the cooling towers they had noticed a construction pattern which was repeated time and time again with very little differences – statice engineering and architecture. The images were like making a movie/ flip book. The best photo typologies, the best structures were those that were symmetrical.

Preferred to shoot in soft light, if the light was too harsh they would wait for cloud or wait for winter or dawn. These conditions meant that the construction was separated from the sky. This technique is very similar to that of Karl Blossfeldt who we studied for this course, the link is here. He put white card behind his subjects so that they too would stand out from any background.

I absolutely love the grid format with their subject matter due to the fact these purposely built industrial constructions become sculpture of geometric shapes and lines.

Water Towers (image from broad.org The Broad)

The Bechers completed over two hundred comprehensive documentary collections, each ranging from fifty to one hundred images – amazing!

03rd January 2020

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.


The final selection of images for this exercise can be seen below.

The image below was chosen because it gives a series of images that tell a narrative that when combined with the quote on its right lets the viewer into someones person story. In this instance, it is my world as it is a self-portrait, therfore I am giving the viewers a little of me within this piece.

The second image was chosen for its strength. There is no misinterpreting what the image is portraying. The mouth is open wide and is shouting out for all to hear a message, and that message is given to the viewer in the form of a quote which again is on the right hand side of the composition. It is then up to the viewer to interpret the two from their own perspective. What does the quote conjure up from within? What does the viewer want to shout out about so they do not die wishing they had spoken up on subjects that matter to them.

The final piece of work for this exercise uses the abstract, specifically the unknown to entice them into deciphering their own conclusion for the composition. What is hidden in the image which is important? What is hidden within them that is important? is it important enough for them to speak out about or will they just let life take its course while they stand and watch in silence?

I have enjoyed this exercise. I use text in most of my work both my cross-app photography, sculpture and 2d works. What I found the most difficult though within this exercise is finding quotes to work with that are not part of an ongoing theme I am working on, or part of an exhibition I am working towards.

I think this is why I had started with a self-portrait on the theme of abuse and then moved onto recovery as a theme, primarily because I am working on a couple of exhibitions for the future with these as themes.

I did however progress away from these themes and thought about how I could portray an image with the quote which would be neutral so any viewer that looked at the work would be able to interpret it in their own individual way.

If I had more time I would have liked to think more about the quote more, its font, sizing and positioning, maybe even its colour. This is because when coupling the text with a photograph rather than a creative piece of work or a creative photograph (manipulated), the text needs to be dynamic in its own right yet compliment the image. Both the text and image need to work together in unison so that one does not distract from the other.