Once more the starting point is an OCA e-Bulletin[1] from Sharon called Photography and Nostalgia.  It covers the work of Jodie Taylor, a 3rd year OCA student who revisits her childhood locations.  Sharon starts with, “The two go hand in hand.  As soon as a photograph is taken the moment becomes a thing of the past, frozen in time for us to ‘remember’.”  Whilst the images on their own do not inspire me as they are simply images of places most of us could capture at any time, I am sure that the way in which they were presented was different and informative.  Also I am sure that many of us would identify with similar places and say that we recall something similar.  So where to now?

I often look at images I have made of events and holidays and places visited with ‘nostalgia’ but do not necessary take an image thinking I will come back to it with this emotion.  I have made many of those images simply because I liked it or indeed wanted to be able to remember.

But, what of the images I take for my course?  These are sometimes very different and up to now, I may never look at them again.  I have to ask, ‘is this good or bad?’  I think the latter as it shows that I am not being creative enough nor involved enough with the topics/subjects.

Stephanie comments on an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography of Chicago entitled Backstory.  This links to a PDF document[2] entitled ‘Backstory’ which starts as follows:

‘The three artists featured in this exhibition—LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ron Jude, and Guillaume Simoneau—tell autobiographical stories by intertwining personal narrative with the social, political, and cultural conditions of place.  Although they draw from their personal archives and backstories, their work is not entirely factual or diary-like. Instead they make projects that provide both specific and universal commentary—their individual histories becoming conduits for exploring collective experience. They also probe the fleeting, ineffable nature of the past and present, as they investigate the capacity of photography to at once promote and destabilize our sense of individual identity.’

A second document[3] downloadable from the MoCP site contains images for use in classroom situations.  This is particularly useful as one is able to study the images.  All three photographers have produced interesting series but I found those of Frazier and Simoneau more interesting than that of Jude.  This is possibly due to the people depicted more than places.

The image below is my favourite.  It captures for me the on/off relationship he had with Caroline Annadale.  They met at the Maine Photographic Workshop in 2000 when they were in their early twenties and travelled the world together before the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001.  After this Annadale joined the US army and went to Iraq.

Guillaume Simoneau,
Flying kiss, Rockport, Maine, 2000

The image of Caroline in 2008 (below) is more distant and less intimate, less nostalgic.

01 Caroline-Kennesaw-Georgia-2008 by Guillaume Simoneau
Guillaume Simoneau. Caroline, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2008

Now back to Jodie Taylor and paintings of George Shaw of the council estate on the edge of Coventry where he grew up, The Guardian 13 February 2011[4].  I have chosen two that are amazingly similar and one has to question whether these have a meaning on their own or only in the series, or possibly with captions.

Taylor3 From Memories of Childhood by Jodie Taylor

Scenes-from-the-Passion-L-005 Scenes from the Passion: Late, 2002
Photograph: George Shaw/Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London

And now an image of my own.

The Town of Bikov, Sakhalin Island, Russia, 10 May 2010 by Doug Bell

Although somewhat more dilapidated due to the harsh environment, it is surprising at the similarity considering that they are on opposite sides of the world.

Yet, how do I view this image?  There is the nostalgic memory of the time there.  The cold, the mud the dilapidated buildings and of course the friends that were travelling with us on that day.

I can conclude then that as soon as I had taken this photograph, the moment becomes a thing of the past, frozen in time for me to remember.

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Deutsche Börse photography prize

Sharon Boothroyd initiated my investigation into this topic through her OCA article[1] publicising a study visit in June.  Although she prompts a question “What is contemporary photography anyway?”  I was not so interested in this but rather what was being exhibited and my thoughts on how they should be categorized.  She refers us further to four other articles in which the entries are discussed:

Guardian (Adrian Searle)

1000 words


Guardian (Sean O’Hagan)

Of the four shortlisted ‘artists’, Chris Killip, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Mishka Henner and Cristina de Middel only Killip is a photographer in the true sense of the word, whilst the remaining three are artists who use photography.

SP1. Ancarno, Abruzzi, Italy, 2011 by Mishka HennerMishka Henner‘s SP1 Ancarno, Abruzzi, Italy (2011) Mishka Henner uses Google Street View images to depict sex workers in ‘No Man’s Land II’.  Although he has clearly spent time in identifying first the locations and then finding an image at that location, this to my mind is neither being an artist nor a photographer.  He is simply finding and appropriating the work of another and adding his name to it.  This is a complex debate of course but when I break it down to this level, I have a big problem with him calling it his work.
Boat repair, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 1983 by Chris KillipChris Killip’s Boat repair, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire (1983) Chris Killip’s entry ‘What Happened/Great Britain 1970 – 1990’ is an excellent documentary exhibit showing changes in Great Britain in this period.  These images gel with me as a photographer and provide a narrative of society at that time.
 Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside, 1976 by Chris KillipChris Killip’s Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside (1976)  
 Adam Broomberg and Oliver ChanarinAdam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin’s Plate 26, George Bush serves a Thanksgiving turkey to US troops stationed in Baghdad in 2003 (2011) Bloomberg and Chanarin provide an interesting set of images although also not their own.  They have taken the book ‘War Primer’ by Bertolt-Brecht and inserted images they have found on the internet partially obscuring the original images yet adding to them creating ‘War Primer 2’.  Brecht’s original work is a collection of photographs/cuttings of the Second World War with his own short verses. Bloomberg and Chanarin have provided a documentary depiction of the war on terror using those of World War II as a basis.  Clever use of both elements yet in my mind would not qualify as their photography.  Certainly, they have done more creative work than Henner in my opinion but not as photographers.
 Cristina de Middel's Jambo from the series The Afronauts, 2012Cristina de Middel’s Jambo, from the series The Afronauts (2012). Finally, there is the work of Cristina de Middel, which uses the concept of Zambia’s space efforts.  This is a book of constructed photographs, drawings and cuttings that combines myth with reality.

In conclusion then I have to say that although I find the Henner work interesting in concept, I am unable to place this in the same category as that of de Middel or Killip.  The work of Broomberg and Chanarin also falls outside of this category buy creates an interesting dialogue.

Am I against the appropriation of work of others?  Not fundamentally, however if it is to be portrayed as ones own then I have a problem with that, as it would then be plagiarism.  This is a debate that has been raging for a long time and I certainly will not solve it here.

The entries have provided me with different perspectives of ‘photographic art’ rather than photography per se and it is this learning that I have to take from it.

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Judith Williamson

This weekend I have spent some time reading three articles by Judith Williamson on the interpretation of advertisements.  What is of interest to me as a photographer is the degree to which one can interpret the advertisement and how it sets about having an impact on the reader.  This is important from my perspective to see how I should both interpret an image and how I may build meaning into an image of my own.

The first article was analysing a ‘Camcorder Advertisement[1] in which she compares it to a similar advertisement some 35 years earlier.  The link with capturing memories is key and the inclusion of children.  I find two other elements interesting:  The fact that the moment to be captured is depicted as being untamed.  The association of having to capture something that is untamed is key.  Also, that the recent advert brings in the element of time being precious and limited.

In A Currency of Signs[2] she describes how linkages are made through colour in adverts.  Examples of these links are “Connecting an object with an object” or ‘Connecting the object and a person” etc.  Although the colour itself is not important, it is the link or correlation that it makes that is important.

“what is important is that ads in all media make these connections, through formal techniques, not on the level of the overt signified but via the signifiers”

She then goes on to expand on her theory through discussing different ways in which the connections are made:  Differentiation, The finished connection:  ‘An Objective Correlative”, Product as signified, Product as Signifier, Product as Currency.

In her analysis she states:

“Advertisements appropriate the formal relations of pre-existing systems of differences. They use distinctions existing in social mythologies to create distinctions between products: this seems like the reverse of ‘totemism’, where things are used to differentiate groups of people: however the differentiating process in advertisements works in both directions simultaneously.”

This seems to be the critical issue, being able to connect elements that we know and have a feeling or emotion to with the product that is being advertised.

Finally, an analysis of Judith Williamson in Critical Social Research by Lee Harvey[3].  This is a particularly good summary of Judith Williamson’s method of analysis and can be summarized as:

“An advertisement, then, makes a connection that evokes meaning for the reader between the object being sold and some referent. This is done through juxtaposition and other formal elements in the advertisement. The link between the product and the referent can be made by colour; by formal arrangement; by linguistic connection, such as a pun, or replacing one for the other in a narrative.”

Much is said and written about the interpretation of photographs and the use of metaphor in images.  Having read these articles provides me with some insight into this and how the process of interpretation may take place.  By no means so I fully understand this nor am I able to apply this theory fully in practice, but at least I have a starting point and the beginnings of an understanding of how to proceed.

[1] Judith Williamson in the Autumn 2012 (Issue 72) of SOURCE magazine.

[2] Williamson, Judith. A currency of signs. In Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars, 20-39. Reprinted with the permission of Marion Boyars Publishers Inc.

[3] Harvey, L., [1990] 2011, Critical Social Research , available at, last updated 9 May, 2011, originally published in London by Unwin Hyman

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I realised this weekend how little I am writing up in my blog.  I look at all sorts yet do not document this as I should.  So, having watched John Cleese discussing creativity, herewith my notes on that lecture:


Lecture by John Cleese

This classic lecture dates back to about 1991 in which, he provides pointers on what he believes is required to enable your natural creativity to flourish.

The lecture is, as may be expected, filled with humour and examples.  However, I have attempted to extract the essentials.

Firstly, he dispels any idea that creativity is linked to talent or IQ.  Rather it is a way of operating to allow creativity to flourish.  It is an ability to develop a mood where our natural creativity flourishes.  More simply, it is the ability to play, and to play simply for the sake of playing without any pressure.

Analysing this we see that there are two modes: Open and closed.

  • In the Open mode there is less pressure, one is curious and natural creativity flourishes.  In this mode one develops an idea.
  • Closed mode:  Creativity is not possible in this mode.  It is a more purposeful mode and one needs to be in this mode to implement ideas.  We are naturally in this mode most of the time.  Once we have taken the decision needed, we should switch back to the Open mode to review it.

There are five requirements conditions needed to be in the open and creative mode:

  1. Space:  One needs to have a quiet and undisturbed space.  There should not be any pressure and it should be sealed off, quiet and peaceful.
  2. Time:  One should set aside a specific period of time with as beginning and an end to enable you to shut yourself off.  This means you have your space for a specific time – about 1½ hours is about right.  This gives you 30 minutes to settle down and ‘enter’ the creative mode and about an hour in that mode.  One is therefore creating a space with borders of space and time.
  3. Time:  One should stick with a problem until it is solved.  This means tolerating the discomfort of not making a decision for a longer period.  As a result you have more pondering time, which usually results in a more creative solution.  By making a decision only when it is needed and not before, one has more pondering time.
  4. Confidence:  While playing one should not fear making a mistake.  You are free to play or not and there is no wrong when being creative.  The essence of playfulness is being open to whatever may happen.
  5. Humour:   This gets you into the open mode quickly.  It is an essential part of creativity and spontaneity.

One needs to keep your mind gently around the subject.

It is easy to be creative if you have people to play with.  However, you must like and trust them.

Need as free an atmosphere as possible

Being creative is linking two separate and different frameworks where the link has significant meaning.

One can start with random connections.

What does this mean for me?

The advice of OCA tutors is regularly to ‘get out there and take photos’.  Tying this in with ‘play’ one can see where the benefits may be.  By making photos without concern about making mistakes one could develop some open mode creativity.  Setting aside time to do this is probably the pivotal element for me as it would mean that this activity is structurally built into my activities rather than being something that may be done occasionally if time permits.

In summary:

  • Make time
  • Make images
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Assignment 3 – Colour


This is the third assignment of TAOP and should demonstrate my command of the use of colour in photography through using different colour relationships. (Link to Full Assignment)

I decided to base this assignment around the safety of ones possessions and person.  The theme is thus developed along the lines of how fences, walls and locked doors have become second nature in South Africa.  Barricading ones possessions is commonplace and no longer seen as abnormal.

Meeting the brief whilst sticking to this theme has been challenging and at times interpreted more freely rather than strictly.  As a result, I have felt uneasy about the assignment and how well the images I have made meet the brief.  I considered starting again but after reviewing this with my tutor decided to continue with this theme.

Use of colour has certainly been emphasized in this assignment and I have seen how it can be used in various combinations.  However, strictly following a defined set of rules may not always be the best option, but knowing that one is deviating from a convention is important too.

As with the previous assignments I have learnt from this one and hope that I can apply my learning in future work.  I enjoy working in colour and have not felt the draw that some have for black and white.  This may well be because I processed my own black and white in a darkroom at home in the 1960’s.

Reflecting on this assignment and my doubts, I think there is some value in the hard deadlines that one has in full time studies.  With those in place I am certain I would have had to submit my work and not sat around procrastinating.  Also however, there are advantages in the OCA flexibility.

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Colour Exercises

I have now completed the third section of TAOP on colour and submitted my assignment to my Tutor.  This post points to the exercises and I will add another to link to the assignment per se.

The exercises have helped in focusing on the elements of colour and my understanding. I have nevertheless found this section difficult.  This was somewhat of a surprise to me as I have always liked colour and its use in images.

I have reviewed my catalogue of photographs and found some in which I think colour works well.  These are not submitted as part of my work as they were never taken with this course in mind.

A dull day in Russia is offset by the bright balloons.

The bright green grass contrasted with the red bricks in this military barracks in Copenhagen.

Inara in Japan.  Orange at its best.

Cherries in Sault in France

However, there are also times when I think colour is awful and here is an example.  This image I did make while doing my assignment!

The question is however, does it work well in this image?  No easy answer because the context is so important.  If indeed it was in order to sell the house than I would have to conclude that in my opinion it does not work.  The image was a possible one for my thematic approach to colour regarding safety in which case it would be much better in that it offsets the gate well.

I will I am sure continue to use colour in my images but now hopefully with more insight.

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Two Books I have Recently Read

I have recently read:

I include a brief summary here with more detail in their separate pages which are linked to the titles above.  Although the texts are certainly not easily comprehended by someone new to this I do find some common themes recurring.  I am sure that as I read more and become attuned to the vocabulary and concepts they will become easier to understand.  How these concepts will be useful in my studies I am not yet sure, but then when I started with arithmetic I had no idea how I would use my ‘sums’ in the future.

Susan Sontag


Although photographs capture events, the pollutant nature of the enormous numbers of photographs insulates and anaesthetises us from these events.  Photographs are however, a means of possessing another.
Since this book was written, in 1977, the ease of capturing an image has resulted in an exponential proliferation of photographs instantly available.  How much more is the effect of insulating us from events?

There is no doubt that photographs inform us to an extent not previously possible – one only has to think of recent photographs of the galaxy and those of Mars.  These are highly processed data that are transmitted many millions of miles.  How different is this really to manipulating images in a computer?

Since writing in the mid 70’s there has been enormous development in digital cameras and the manipulation of images.  The ‘beautification’ of images is common and no longer is the maxim, a photograph cannot lie’ true.  There is no doubt that when looking at a beautiful photograph of a model that there is a tendency to assume that the model actually looks like this, which is almost certainly incorrect.

Finally, how often do we see images that horrify us.  These can be from al sorts of events.  However, one has to question how often are these staged?  And because of this we hardly react to them.

There is in my mind some evidence that, due to the changes in photography with the advent of digital cameras and digital manipulation, we need to carefully review how we interpret an image and this may well be different to the way of interpretation of 35 years ago.

John Berger

In his seven essays Berger provides a context in which to read oil paintings.  Largely, Oil Paintings are about possessions, whether these are things or indeed women and landscapes.  In advertising, they relate to possessions that one desires compared with what one has in traditional oil paintings.  Historically, oil paintings were part of the rich but today they are more readily accessible in museums etc.

The arguments made in the text are understandable and make sense.  However, I would not arrive at these myself and indeed the pictorial essays are more difficult for me to read as some degree of knowledge is in fact required to make sense of the pictures he has chosen.

So, how does this relate to reading photographs?  Not sure how to apply this to photographs.  I am sure that many of the photographs of women have the same sort of interpretation – things of beauty to be desired and owned.  This interpretation may be limited to that by men.  There are however some that deny this interpretation.

With regard to other photographs, I am sure that many are not about possessions although advertising is.

Based on this will I be in a better place to interpret photographs, I am not sure, but I will certainly look at them through different eyes.  There is a long way to go to reading photographs or paintings with any degree of accuracy!

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