Category Archives: Ex 5.1

Exercise 5.1 The Distance Between Us



Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your
learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.  When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4).  In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:

Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t
mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever
you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your
intention, but because it is there

Of all the exercises in EYV I found this one the most troubling – I just couldn’t decide on the right subject matter.  I went through (and photographed for)

~  Ideas about the sea, having had a pretty close relationship with it for the past five years

~  about my immediate surroundings, but that was a bit too much like Assignment 5

~  visitors to the seaside town where I live

I couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for any of them , except perhaps the first, but I have a feeling I will use that idea elsewhere.  Then I was reading an article about diptychs and Sergei Eisenstein and his ideas around juxtaposing imagery.  It was a groundbreaking notion at the time, that cutting one shot against another could elicit a response in the audience which each shot individually could not.

Eisenstein applied Marxist historical perspective to his developing theory of montage, whereby a historical action or event precipitates another event with resulting consequence – in his terms, thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

I thought I could play around with this to make something interesting so I enlisted some local talent to produce the following photographs.












People are talking and they’re somewhat concerned….  they’re talking to each other but they are not talking to you.  So are they talking about you?  Or someone else and they’ve noticed you listening?  What do the direct gazes suggest – suspicion?  Or have they really been talking about you – they certainly seem to be looking knowingly your way.  Or perhaps it’s someone else entirely who’s the subject of their earnest discussion.  Do you know them?

And so on…….

The diptych presentation is intended to produce synthesis from two disparate images, leading the viewer to form conclusions of their own making.

Reflection and learning

This was simple to set up but tricky to edit.  We used a seafront shelter and a couple of speedlights in the failing light (getting the talent together at the same time restricted my options).  All shot from a locked-off tripod to try to keep the image size the same.  The problem in editing was keeping the eyelines at the same (almost) level and the head sizes similar. 

It worked pretty well.  I’m pleased to have got something from idea to print (oh yes, there are prints) in a record short time for me, just a couple of days.  I spend too much time cogitating and need to concentrate on producing more work rather than better work.  Not that it shouldn’t be as good as I can make it but I must stop allowing perfect to be the enemy of good!

Unfortunately in following this idea I have indulged in a bit of ‘brief-battering’ and part of the direction has not been fulfilled – I haven’t made just one select and nor have I chosen a single image with unexpected content.  There is  such material in the contacts, a rather nice moment occurring between the offspring as I was faffing with lights.  Here it is:



Contact sheets:

ContactSheet_001 ContactSheet_002


5.1 – What makes a photograph work?


It’s tempting to assign an undeserved measure of veracity to a photograph;  after all it represents something which actually existed for the duration of the exposure, so surely it can be relied upon to speak honestly of the circumstances of its production.  The flaws in this assumption are carefully exposed by Terry Barrett in his contribution to  Aesthetics. (Goldblatt, D. and Brown, L. (2011).Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall/Pearson Education)  The photograph is inherently ambiguous to a greater or lesser extent and the information it conveys can alter according to the information which surrounds it.

Here is an example of a photograph which is at one end of the ambiguity scale:

Image result for queen  wreath whitehall

How many interpretations can we place on this image?  How far can we stretch the meaning, given the unmistakeable cues?  A certain amount of knowledge is required to interpret the image ‘correctly’ – we need to recognise the main subject and agree that it is indeed the Queen and not a lookalike.  The stonework of the form to the left, the presence of red flowers and the attire of the background figures all combine to reduce the ambiguity level of the picture.  It’s just about credible to assign unsubstantiated meaning – “Queen struggles up cenotaph steps” because we don’t see her gait in the times before or after the exposure and there are any number of other subtle variations which could be sustained, but the main substance of the message is clear:  it’s the wreath laying at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.  It depicts a single  moment so it would be unwise to assume that the rain held off all day, or that Philip was close by, but on the whole the visual elements combine to convey a degree of certainty.



Doug Bubois – My Last Day At Seventeen

Here is an image form Duboi’s series about under-18’s.  He was interested in the improving prospects for this age group and his series examined their social and economic prospects as they reached their majority:  Jennifer is a proud new homeowner, buying with a hefty deposit donation from her father and her girlfriend’s mother.  The house was a bit run down when she and her partner Carol bought it nearly a year ago but it’s in an up-and-coming area and they have worked hard to bring it up to the decorative standards they aspire to.  They’ve transformed the kitchen and main bedroom, the hall and stairway (behind, blue) where they were pleased to find original balusters after removing some hideous panelling.  They are preparing the walls in this room for painting.  She’s wearing old clothes for the dirty work (though she hasn’t got any really old jeans, having donated nearly a dozen pairs to the nearby charity shop).  They’ve filled some damaged parts of the wall and she’s returning from the kitchen with an old pan containing of sugarsoap water for wiping down the walls. The photographer (Dubois) has been in the way a bit and she’s trying to find a way of politely asking him to let  them get on with it.

All of which is nonsense, but not nonsense of course, because the above interpretation is just as valid as that which is inferred when the viewer becomes aware of the context surrounding the production of this series.  On its own the image is highly ambiguous because there are few cues which can be gleaned to form a reliable interpretation.

All photographs fall somewhere on this ‘ambiguity scale’ and the vast majority of them some way towards the ‘nebulous’ end.

Then there is the question of intent – that of the photographer in making the image.  The theory of intentionalism, whereby the meaning of an image is determined by its maker has been generally dismissed by most postmodern photography critics.  It is widely held that an image means what the viewer makes it mean,  an assumption which may be regarded as conveniently excusing the maker of any responsibility for content.  However there is a sound logical rationale for this view in that we, as viewers, cannot help but see an image with both our eyes and our memories.  Pictures at any position on the ambiguity scale can have their meaning modified and the emotional import skewed in the light of the observer’s experiences.

So for the majority of photographs context is a vital aspect of the way in which they ‘speak’ to us, being at the same time perfectly simple yet at the same time immensely complex.