Category Archives: Research

Assignment 4: Languages of Light – Initial Research

Within this assignment I want to explore further the usage of light as started in Exercise 4 ex nihilio.

Having gained confidence in the technique of building light to highlight shape and form I wanted explore the opportunity of how light can be used to either show hidden shape and form or disguise or camouflage shapes and forms we are familiar with   Therefore is it possible to use light to create these effects either by use of techniques such as a high key imaging effectively giving white upon white, or a camouflaged image where the object blends into the background, by either shape, pattern, colour or even texture.

Therefore the questions that I would hope to seek an answer are assuming what I set out to do is the art of the possible are:

  • Do the images challenge our norms of perception?
  • Are they pleasing images?
  • Do they tell us anymore about the object?
  • How much does light individually play its part in changing those perceptions?

Desired Outcome
My goal is to produce a set of images that primarily answer the above questions, but are technically correct, visually pleasing, and are original in nature.  All the criteria are manageable and under my control but it is the last point originality, which concerns me as I start off this exercise.

Clearly the still life is a genre full of many images and a cursory look through the internet would lead one to conclude everything that could have been photographed has been.  Every conceivable compositional arrangement has been used, and every possible lighting technique has been employed so therefore what room is there still to be original in this space?  Counter to that point is still life images are produced every day especially so in the commercial area.  Therefore my thinking at the detailed level is flawed in that else no new creative output would ever be produced, yet it is.

While I understand at this point during the course I am not going to produce unique images of outstanding creative individuality, I have to be careful not to sit in a comfort zone in which I would end up repeating or copying what has been done before.  I need to break free a little from the more formulaic approach I took to creating the images in Assignment 3 – The Decisive Moment.

When we use the term camouflage today more often than not our immediate thoughts are of the green and brown mottled design as used by the army which has lately been adopted by the clothing and fashion industry.  Therefore we tend to think about camouflage the adjective (e.g. a camouflage T-shirt) rather camouflage the verb (we camouflage ourselves so as not to be seen) or camouflage the noun (camouflage is a means of concealment).  We do not necessarily think about the broad aspects of what the word can mean.

There seem to be varying definitions as to the etymology but most are agreed that it became in common use during the First World War more than likely from the French word camoufler  meaning “to veil, disguise”[1].

Also it seems that camouflage breaks down into a number of subdivisions in that there are:

  • Crypsis – Making yourself hard to see. In other words the ability of an organism to conceal itself, usually from a predator, by having a colour, pattern, and shape that allows it to blend into the surrounding environment.
  • Mimesis – Disguising as something else. The act of mimicking another object; for example a butterfly that has the shape of and looks like a leaf.
  • Motion Dazzle – Through the act of movement and colour of shape the object/organism confuses those that observe; for example when a zebra runs the movement of the stripes confuse any predator.

For the purposes of this Assignment I will focus within the area of crypsis as that is where I feel that what I want to achieve lays.

Research has shown there are a number of practitioners within this field.  They are listed in the order that I ‘discovered’ them and therefore my thoughts are ordered that way rather than arranging them in any historical chronological sequence.

1) Liu Bolin
Is a Chinese artist known as the ‘invisible man’.  To bring social or political issues to the attention of a wider audience Bolin makes himself blend into the background of a picture.  The viewer is then ‘forced’ to look deep into the image to both fin Bolin and the message he wishes to promote.  His work was initially in response to the Chinese Government’s decision to close down and demolish an area for artists where Bolin was working.

Liu works on a single photo for up to 10 hours at a time, to make sure he gets it just right, but he achieves the right effect: sometimes passers-by don’t even realize he is there until he moves”[2].

For me it is very interesting that Bolin is an artist and he uses photography as a recording and broadcasting method rather than photography for photography’s sake.  In other words his message is in the performance he has created.  The photograph is merely a convenient medium for recording and distribution.  It is clear that the message is the prime function of his work.

The question we then raise as a viewer is how much has his work moved on from the early days.  Yes the subject and message has changed but has his work progressed and developed.  Does this matter to us as the viewer.  Perhaps as an artist he does not want to because he is achieving what he wants to achieve through his body of work.

In these days of CGI it is interesting to note that Bolin still creates his images ‘manually’.  I am sure the same effect could be produced by post production software but I would suspect the impact of his message will be less.  It is that fact that he is in his images creating his messages give the greatest impact for me.

Therefore looking at Bolin’s work it has given me ideas as how the object can blend into the background but also gives me concerns I may be creating photography for photography’s sake rather than having a clear message like Bolin.  Something I need to ponder over.

A YouTube Video on Bolin and his work can be found here: Video

2) Desiree Palmen
Is a Dutch artist who produces images with a technique similar to that of Liu Bolin.  Her initial catalyst for producing such art was from the increasing use of “Big Brother” surveillance in that she says.

I’d like people to consider what it means to let the government control our daily lives.  When we are controlled we hand over our individual responsibilities to the state. I wanted to make a suit for the non-criminal citizen whose house is being watched 24 hours by street surveillance cameras. I’m also responding to a wish to disappear.” [3]

For me I like the theme she has chosen and has more possibilities than perhaps that of Bolin.  On observation I notice that the subjects in Palmen’s work are still camouflaged but perhaps not to the extent of that of Bolin.  I suspect that it is response that you cannot 100% hide in a surveillance based society.  No matter what you do you will inevitably be seen.

For me Palmen’s work added to what I have learnt from Bolin but did not move my though process for the Assignment along much further.

3) Holger Trülzsch & Vera Lehndorff
Holger Trülzsch is an artist and photographer who teamed up with Vera Lehndorff (Veruschka) a 1960’s fashion model and now artist in 1970. “they began to use her body as a canvas on which to create a new and startling art form. In their work, Vera Lehndorff’s body is denied its reality. It mimics another – a glamorous film star, a gun-toting gangster – chameleon-like it disappears into its surroundings, transformed into dead or decaying matter, sculpture, stones, trees”. [4]

4) Bence Bakonyi
In a body of work called Transform the Hungarian photographer Bence Bakonyi examines the theme of “is our environment forming our personality?” How much can you prescind from its medium examining the individual? The photographs of Transform can be considered to be a straightforward commitment besides the inseparability of the individual and the environment” [5]   This is done through a series of camouflage images similar to that of Liu Bolin and Desiree Palmen however the difference hear is that the subject is not totally hidden.  Bakonyi sees that we become inseparable from our environment but not engulfed by it hence we can still see ourselves but blend in accordingly.  A limited colour range in each picture also ensures that the subject is not swallowed as a whole by the frame and background and we are easily drawn to the subject.  Again as not being able to see the face of the subject they become very anonymous and therefore can represent anyone of us in our environment.

Transform 1 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

Transform 1 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi


Transform 2 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi


Transform 3 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

5) Jean-Paul Bourdier
Jean-Paul Bourdier is an American photographer and lecturer who has produced a number of images which the act of camouflaging the subject pays a part in his body of work entitled Bodyscapes

6) Filippo Ioco
Ioco is a body painting artist whose work has been used for commercial purposes.  A number of images use camouflage techniques similar to that of Bolin and Palmen.  What is interesting is that Ioco does not see the camouflage image as the end image in itself but just a means to an end.  In correspondence with him he stated “most of my camouflage images are really not intended as a full total camouflage but a slightly one. My concept has always been to showcase the beauty of the nude human body in my work“.

The following two images showcase what Ioco is saying.  Both depict the human body yet our norms of shape and colour are challenged as he takes it out of context.  For me I like Read Me 1 as we see and ‘read’ the whole image as a newspaper yet within the image the subject is reading a newspaper which is not disguised.  Also there are items in the image remain normal to our vision, the food,  the curlers etc. But actually it is these items that look out of place as if they should not be there.

PI 1

Read Me 1 © Filippo Ioco. Reproduced with kind permission of Filippo Ioco

PI 2

Colour in Motion 2 © Filippo Ioco. Reproduced with kind permission of Filippo Ioco

7) Art Wolfe
Art Wolfe is a conservationist and natural history photographer.  In this set of images entitled Vanishing Acts shows natural camouflage in nature.

In this first image shows clearly mimesis (disguising as something else) at work in nature: “the predatory orchid mantis mimics the shape and color of the pastel flower petals upon which it rests, complete with matching nectar guides on its abdomen. Masquerading as an orchid, the mantis utilizes both aspects of deception: camouflage to help catch prey, as well as camouflage to escape capture” [6]


Orchid Mantis, Sawarak, Malaysia © Art Wolfe. Reproduced with kind permission of Art Wolfe Inc.

This image shows crypsis (making yourself hard to see) at work in nature.  the owl has positioned itself in front of an object that resembles its own colouration.


Great Gray Owl, Oregon, USA © Art Wolfe. Reproduced with kind permission of Art Wolfe Inc.

Click here: Art Wolfe

8) Getty Stock Images
A number of images that uses camouflage as the theme where the objects are hidden in shape and colour.  I think that these images are similar to that I would like to produce and are practical to achieve and hopefully to too clichéd or obvious. Click here: Images


Initial Attempts
From the practitioner research above and some lessons learnt during assignment 4.4, I tried a number of differing techniques and differing objects.  My initial thoughts on subject could be

  • All white on white. Perhaps paint up food/items to take out the individuality to reduce their basic appeal so as they just become shapes rather than something we desire and crave.
  • Same colour objects on the same colour background. Perhaps wrapped items on same coloured background as the wrapping paper.  Perhaps flat lighting is then used to hide the objects even more.

1) High Key Images
Here I have created a number of high key images to make the image almost fade into the background.  By both playing with the initial light set up and then the final image exposure differing ways of camouflaging the image can be created.

1a) Towel
Based loosely on the influence of the images of Christian Coigny this subject was chosen because it was white on white and was lit by natural slightly diffused light from a window.  My expectation was that there would be little shadow within this white image and then through Lightroom settings it would produce a high key image.  What actually happened was that the camera recorded all the very subtle shadows within the material making the original a very effective black and white study.  When I tried to ‘high key’ the image in Lightroom it was not very successful.  Although there are no blown highlights the tonal range is very little because I have taken out the blacks and the whites effectively leaving an image of mid tones.  While it sort of achieves what I wanted the image becomes very uninteresting and is on the verge of looking like a poorly exposed picture.  I think that if I repeat this I need play with the original exposure (perhaps a couple of stops exposing into the shadows) rather than just relying on Lightroom to perfect the picture.

Basic Towel

Basic Towel

Basic Towel 2

High Key Towel

1b) Tomato
For this experimentation I tried to see if it were possible to take a subject that contrasts the background and see if it were possible to camouflage.  From what I had learnt from the Towel exercise I repeated this time by over exposing the image (taking the exposure point as the shadows) so everything would become lighter.  Again in Lightroom I lightened the exposure and washed out the shadows.  My view is that this is quite successful in that it gives an appearance as if the subject is in mist or fog, which itself is a great natural camouflage as it reduced the colours and we just see shape.  Again so the exposure is right there are no blown highlights but just a very small band of tones.


1c) Plate
Here I have tried a version of high key imagery in that it is a white object on a white background.  Similar to the tomato exercise this image was all about getting the exposure correct for the effect that I wanted.  Again the image range of tones was reduced using Lightroom.  A couple of points to note in that:

  • This image is actually in colour and not converted to black and white. The exposure and the Lightroom treatment has almost washed them out to give a very light sepia tone probably as a result of colour temperature issues in the original.
  • On closer inspection the depth of field is not sharp over the whole plate. The front is not sharp.  While this was not intentional it does in fact add to the feeling of camouflage as our eye is therefore drawn slowly out of the white ‘fog’ into the centre of the plate.


2 Crypsis Camouflage
Here I have tried a crypsis effect similar to the technique of the likes of Bolin and Palmen where I have tried to disguise an object against the background.  Ideally it would have been great to have the resources and time to create work like these practitioners however It is a case adapting the resources I have to hand.

2a) The Present
For this image I placed an object wrapped up in the same paper as the background.  The purpose here was twofold

  • Firstly to see if the subject could be hidden against the background it matched.
  • Secondly to see if by blending the present against the background whether we stopped seeing it as a present therefore stopped our curiosity of what was inside and started just to think of it as an object.

In the above points I would argue they are embryonically successful.  More work and experimentation would have to be done in order to develop this for the Assignment.

The Present

2b) Tomatoes
Here I have tried to see how a subject that matches the colour of the background would look.  Does something with a similar colour blend into the background? Here a lower key image was given to darken down the whole result for the shadows between the tomatoes to blend in with the shadows created by the placement of the lights.  Again the answer is a reserved yes but in a way was not really the result I was looking for to move ahead with the Assignment.



Lessons Learned and Next Steps
The good news is that I learnt from my research and practical experience there are many ways to camouflage the subject within an image.  That I feel gives me great scope to move ahead with the next stage.  However what is good news is also bad news in that I could end up trying to produce output based on too many techniques and never move forward.  Therefore of what I have produced so far I think I will ‘specialise’ around the technique used in producing The Present.   Clearly far more experimentation is required within this area but I like the results it produces as it makes us question what we are looking at rather than just appreciating a the results of a technical exercise of lighting and Lightroom.

I’m not sure yet if I have answers to my original question set at the start of this writing.  Further experimentation will hopefully determine if different colours, shapes and patterns change will move the discovery of the answers forward.

On a more practical side I see I have to be more precise in in the placement of the object, the way it is prepared for camouflaging (the lighting show up all my the imperfections due to my inability to wrap an object) and lighting which plays a key role is how we finally see the object.



[1] (nd) Camouflage; Your Dictionary  [Online]  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[2] Spooky (2009) Meet the Real Life Invisible Man; OddityCentral  [Online]  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[3] (2008) Spot the ‘invisible’ men and women in artist’s amazing photographs, The Mail Online [Online]  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[4] (nd) Trove, National Library of Australia [Online]  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[5] Frank, Márta Éva (2010) Bence Bakonyi website   [Online]  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[6] Wolfe, Art (nd) Vanishing Act, Art Wolfe Inc. [Online]  [Last accessed 15 Oct 2015]


Research Exercise 4.3: Christopher Doyle, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Brassaï and Sato Shintaro

Christopher Doyle – In The Mood For Love (2000)
This film was watched three times before it was possible fully appreciate the lighting and cinematography employed by Doyle.

  • First time was focusing on understanding the characters, plot and especially reading the subtitles.
  • Second time was then to watch the film with reference to the subtitles
  • Third time was to appreciate the total production value. The film itself is a total aesthetic masterpiece with the actors, costume, lighting and locations all very balanced.

Other than a few scenes the whole film was filmed under artificial light.  When you look all types of lighting are employed back light, rim light, direct light, ambient light and others.  Also there is a mixture of different types of light.  The harsh light of a florescent strip mixes with the warmth of tungsten bulbs.  Doyle lights the scene to emphasise the mood.  For dramatic and intimate scenes then there is use of deep shadows and contrast, for other more general scenes then much less contrasty lighting is used.

The director Dir. Wong Kar-Wai plays on Doyles cinematography in that there are link scenes that in other films would get a few seconds screen time yet he chooses purposely to linger of the scene. My favourite is when one of the protagonists Chow Mo-wan is filmed from the back to the camera writing a script smoking with the smoke clearly and slowly moving against a back background rising up to a light just  out of shot.  The balance of what is light in the scene and what is in darkness and silhouetted is perfect. ( In reflection at some point I would like to introduce this concept into some of my images.  Looking at Exercise 4.3 I am not sure that this is the correct place.

Rut Blees Luxemburg
For me the interesting part of Rut Blees Luxemburg’s work is the choice urban night as both backdrop and subject of her images.  Also in the images the absence of humans is apparent yet we see traces of where they have been and the buildings where they live and work.  There is a feel of abandonment.  Again there is a rich goldenness to most of the images.  The usual visualisation of the night colours of artificial light have been transformed into colours we do not see.  It gives the night a far more exciting feel and one we wish to explore rather hop between the shadows created by cold artificial lighting. A couple of excellent examples of this are:


In Deeper (from the series Liebeslied) 1999 © Rut Blees Luxemburg. Reproduced with kind permission of Rut Blees Luxemburg


Viewing The Open (from the series Liebeslied) 1999 © Rut Blees Luxemburg. Reproduced with kind permission of Rut Blees Luxemburg

In an old interview (2001) to the question why do you take your photos at night? The reply is:
“Again it goes back to finding a space. The night is a time where the everyday recedes, and this creates this heightened awareness which I’m after. In German we say someone is ‘Geistig umnachtet’, which means their spirit is covered by the night. It’s used to explain madness, but at the same time for me the idea of the spirit covered by night offers other possibilities of connection” [1]

In another interview she explained photographing at night creates “a different perspective on the city is revealed in its shadows”.  I was curious about this statement and got in contact and asked her to explain further.  In correspondence she kindly replied “it is about an awareness that not only that which is visible is real, that there are activities, structures and conditions which are not yet given a visible presence…and photography, that medium seemingly dedicated to the visible world, can be a tool to uncover/reveal that which is not yet visually manifest“.

I then realised that it is seeing the unseen and seeking  the overlooked.  In a way confirmed by Patrick Lynch an architect in previous commentary on Rut Blees Luxemburg’s work:
“Rut often photographs the city during the night, seeking the overlooked, the abandoned, and the latent potential for imaginative inhabitation. Whereas the urge of most architects and critics is to appropriate the space of the other – usually aimlessly in the mode of the ‘flâneur’ or connoisseur of the exotic or everyday – her photographs open up a space for participation” [2].

I intend to explore this golden concept for Exercise 4.3.  Not quite sure yet how yet to create but the experimentation will be interesting test.

I think it would be fair to describe Brassaï as a reluctant photographer.   Initially he studied painting and sculpture turning to photography to supplement his articles in order to earn money while working as a journalist of sorts in Paris.

“He was completely disinterested in photography, if not scornful of it, until he saw the work being done by his acquaintance Andre Kertész” [3].  As a consequence Kertész initially acted tutor to his fellow Hungarian friend.

Brassaï then started to extend his use of photography as a way of recording what he saw during his nightly walks through the streets of Paris.  What is fascinating for me is that within just a few years he produced the book Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night).  Therefore what was the attraction of the book?  According to by Meltzer (2014):

“It was a stunning collection of black and white images that juxtaposed luminous, dreamlike nightscapes with contemporary documentary images of the night time’s denizens. It was a technical marvel as well, for he was one of the first photographers to shoot extensively at night. In an era of slow lenses and even slower film, few photographers ventured out after dark.  Brassaï relished the darkness and by trial and error learned to get the night shots he was after”. [4]

My belief is that the success of the book was initially not for photographic or artistic reasons but more that of a voyeuristic audience.  The title itself is Paris de Nuit is evocative and the audience has an expectation and anticipation they are going to see something that would not be in their normal lives.  The expectorant audience had a curiosity about what went on in Paris at night and Brassaï confirmed this by showing life as it was.  Prostitutes, inside a brothel, topless dances, lovers in a café while all considered tame by today’s media standards would have been exciting to the audience at the time.  Perhaps through Brassaï’s eyes people saw for the first time what is now common place of the internet.

Once you pass the first layer of the subject matter and look at the pictures from an artistic and photographic perspective they are immensely strong images.  My belief that Brassaï could see as an artist and once he had mastered the technical issues with night photography his vision penetrated the darkness though to the image he saw.  This combined with the fact he knew how to harness the darkness to effect added that extra dimension to his images.

For me his work falls into two subject areas.  Those of people, predominantly inside locations with the subject usually light axillary lighting (such as powder flash), and those of outdoor cityscapes where the artificial light (gas light, electric light or moonlight) and conditions were used to create the image.

Where Brassaï’s pictures contain people we can clearly see that his work is opposite of that of Cartier Bresson.  There is no decisive moment and the subject is fully aware of Brassaï’s presence.  More than likely not only aware but also posed by or even collaborated with Brassaï to get the desired result.  To execute this successfully, clearly Brassaï had an acceptance by and rapport with his subjects.  An element of trust does show through in many images.  Brassaï was never distant to the action as Cartier Bresson.  In fact he wanted us to feel through him we were part of that Paris action.

While Brassaï will be best remembered for his people pictures for me I find the cityscapes most exciting.  They differ from Eugène Atget’s images of Paris in that Atget was recording Paris in a documentary form while Brassaï was creating specific photographic images using Paris as the backdrop.  Brassaï understood as an artist the effect that could be created between the extreme contrasts of bright white lights and dark black shadows.  He understood that those areas that did not have any detail actually conveyed just as much information as those that did.  It makes us curious of what is behind or in the shadows.

In addition weather conditions did not hamper Brassaï.  He used the conditions to his artistic advantage and as a compositional tool.  Fog and rain were to be embraced not to be avoided.  Fog swirling around lamppost or reflections in puddles were all employed in his images none of which had been done before.

Brassaï has been described as “The Weegee of Paris without the crime or grime” [5].  This is a very unfair statement in that other than both photographers used night as the backdrop they actually have very little in common in terms of technique or subject matter.  If a label we to be assigned, my view would be more in the lines of ‘The Kertész of the Night’ as his pictures are far more akin to Kertész’s style and school of photography that anything else which in fairness is hardly surprising as Kertész was his friend and mentor.

For me Open Gutter (from Paris by Night) is the perfect Brassaï night shot and very much from the Kertész school.  The darks to the lights, the shape and form in the composition, and the rain reflecting over the cobblestones capture the essence of the time and the place.

What I find Interesting is that like Cartier Bresson, Brassaï also gave up his photography in later life and returned to art to draw, to sculpt and especially to write.  Maybe he like Cartier Bresson decided that photography had run its course and he could better express himself through different artistic channels.

Sato Shintaro
I had never really considered The Blue Hour as a time for photography.  However seeing the work of Sato Shintaro in his series Tokyo Twilight Zone it has open my eyes to the possibility during this time.  The images are cityscapes of Tokyo taken from high vantage points.  These vantage points overlook the metropolis thus combining all the colours of the city’s artificial light as its inhabitants come to terms with the impending darkness, however much light is still offered to them in the orange or blue coloured sky.  Sato feels there is a specific atmosphere that he is try to capture here and says “in the twilight hours before night falls, this specific atmosphere becomes a subtle transition of light, revealing its spirit even more clearly” [6].

The pictures are of cityscapes yet there are no humans present.  They are rendered so small by the vantage point or traces of them that could be are lost in the moving light trails of cars or the brightness of office windows.  For me there seems to be a sadness or loneliness in each picture.  Perhaps with the artificial light emphasised against the natural light maybe it is just reflecting the amount of energy we consume to create our own artificially light world trying to mimic that of the beauty of the day.

I have now consciously looked for this Blue Light time and while only lasting a short while (definitely less than an hour) it will form the basis for Exercise 4.3.

Counter to Tokyo Twilight Zone is Sato’s series Night Lights series.  Here the shots were taken at street level as opposed to a high vantage point.  What it takes a few minutes to notice is that these are taken in one of the busiest cities in the world but like Tokyo Twilight Zone it is devoid of people. The nearest view you get to a human is a mannequin and that even looks at unease in this environment. It is if life has abandoned the city.  We see a neon lit ghost town. It is a strange viewing experience in that all that has been made available for humans but not a trace is present and the mixed lighting adds to this experience.

Again I like the idea of having mixed artificial lighting without the trace of a human where we would expect them to be.  Again thoughts for Exercise 4.3


[1] McCarthy, Tom (2001) Interview with Rut Blees Luxemburg, artist. INS Interviews [On line] [Last Accessed 19 June 2015]

[2] Lynch, Patrick (nd) Architecture: Spaces Within Photographs [On line] [Last Accessed 19 June 2015]

[3] (nd) Brassai, Atget Photography [On line] [Last Accessed 17 June 2015]

[4] Meltzer, Steve (2014) The Piercing Eye of Brassaï: the Stunning Work of a Master French Photographer, Imaging Resource [On line] [Last Accessed 17 June 2015]

[5] Benson, Robin (2012) Book Review: Brassaï in America, Parka Blogs [On line] [Last Accessed 17 June 2015]

[6] Gerasimenko, Ksenia  (2014) Sato Shintaro: Tokyo Twilight Zone, Bleek Magazine [On line] [Last Accessed 17 June 2015]



André Kertész – BBC Master Photographers (1983)

The interview documentary filmed about two years before his death is a retrospective of Kertész’s work.  It seeks to enlighten us in trying to put a framework around Kertész’s technique of composition and perfect timing so we can understand his seeing eye.  From viewing the documentary I get the sense that Kertész feels the interviewer is somewhat patronising with his questions and many at time either a question with a question.  In a way this is Kertész at his best, the non-conformist image maker always striving for his style and what he sees as right, and not what other people think he should do.

In my opinion although the interviewer struggled at times, when asked the question what makes a great photographer Kertész was in no doubt and immediately quoted Brassaï and said “There are two qualities that are essential for a great photographer: an insatiable curiosity about life and precise sense of form”. [1] Throughout the film it becomes apparent that key to Kertész’s success is he discovered he had both of these from a very early age even though he claims it was only learning by his mistakes is why he improved.

Kertész’s photographic road to fame has been long and varied.  Successful in Hungary and Paris, and initially less so in the US.  In fact Kertész moved to the US escape the growing persecution of Jews in Europe only to find himself a few years later as a Hungarian declared as an enemy alien during which time he gave up photography for over 3 years.

During his early time in the US he was almost destitute as he refused to bend his style to suit that of American magazines.  He felt that the picture editors did not understand his photographs nor his style and thought they treated his work with indifference.  My interpretation from the documentary was that Kertész was somewhat bitter and resentful of this time where his work was out of line with editorial requirements.  Although now described as one of the great pioneers of photography he felt that America appreciated him far too late.  While not entirely true, as he was exhibited on a number of occasions, much of this feeling was also down to his stubbornness and pride. “For a man whose wounded pride so often caused him problems, there is surprisingly little ego in his photographs”. [2]

From pictures shown in the documentary and further research I think Kertész is what I call a ‘straight observationalist’ in that he composes full frame and rarely cropped his images.  While he did occasionally experiment with distortions and surrealism he did not manipulate his images like his friend Man Ray.  When asked in the documentary, did he know what his pictures would look like he replied emphatically “absolutely” [1]

I believe this forward vision is down to, as mentioned earlier, Kertész’s the ability to sense and see form. When you look through his images over the years seeing eye does not seem to have changed that much over time.  The style and subject matter remain constant.  This is not a criticism but more of a confirmation that Kertész was a natural at seeing and never stopped seeing.  Perhaps it is his belief that the subject finds him rather than him finding the subject that gives this constancy over time.  As a result many of the pictures are about capturing chance encounters and reminiscent of the style further developed Henri Cartier Bresson decisive moment genre.  In fact Cartier Bresson said of Kertész’s  technique “Whatever we have done, Kertész did first” [3]

Kertész’s also states that he sees most photographs on his doorstep.  They are there to be seen if you take the time to look.  In taking his images he also states that he is a very patient man in that if he feels the for instance the light is not right he will return many times until he is happy.

Kertész in the Digital Age?
A question I have always asked myself is how the Master Photographers would have embraced the digital age.  In this case would have Kertész approved of digital equipment and techniques or would he have seen it as something that interferes with the seeing eye?  From initial research I would conclude (as he tried his hand with Polaroids) he would have taken it in his stride in that he was all about the image however it was produced rather than the equipment.

Rather than be subjective I thought I would test my theory and contacted Robert Gurbo who is the curator of the Estate of André Kertész to see if he could substantiate my conclusion.  Mr. Gurbo had the privilege of knowing and working alongside Kertész for the last seven years of Kertész’s life so I considered him to give an expert answer.

In fact In an email on 13 July 2015 Mr. Gurbo gave me a very full answer which is reproduced in full here.  It both answers my questions and give some fascinating insights into Kertész’s life.

“Yes, I believe André would have embraced the advances of the digital camera.  He always embraced technological change as a force to reinvigorate his work through every phase of his long career.  His first camera was a smaller format than what everyone was using and despite slow film, he taught himself how to use it as a handheld device. During WWI his brother sent him a camera that had a cassette that held 7 glass plates allowing him to photograph without changing the film holder.  Then, in 1928 it was the Leica – which was a camera he had mentally envisioned long before it was available.   In the 60’s he switched to SLR cameras as he was shooting with long lenses out his window and the rangefinder was not the tool for this.  Then in the 70’s used an Olympus SLR’s because they were lighter and easier to carry as he aged.

After his wife Elizabeth passed away he used the [Polaroid] SX70 as a tool to mourn with.  I believe he chose to use the SX70 because of its immediacy , intimacy and because he would work in privacy.  He worked through his grief without having to send a roll of film to the printer and wait days or weeks to see the results.  He defined it as a primitive device that frustrated him at times. When I asked him how he managed to get such quality out of the SX70 and he said something that gave me a greater understanding of how he worked throughout his life.  I am paraphrasing but he told me that one had to learn the limits of a camera and work on the edges or boundaries of those limits. If you look at his life’s work, he pushed every piece of equipment way beyond the boundaries of what they were capable of doing”.

Mr. Gurbo then goes onto say specifically on his thoughts on the digital age:

“On one of my last visits before he passed way, he was sitting a card table that had become a makeshift desk in his dining room – he was examining a first generation consumer auto focus camera that was gifted to him on his last trip to Japan.  It was a simple piece of equipment.  A rangefinder Camera, auto exposure, it had a slow grinding sound (which was the focusing mechanism) and a few second delay when one pushed the shutter.  Sometimes I am a little slow on the uptake – it looked like a piece of junk to me – totally a consumer product.  Almost mockingly, I said “What would you do with that?” He looked up at me and just said “I want to see if it can help me with what I do.”  So yes, he would have embraced the digital age – would have learned its limits and figured out how to use it as a tool to reignite his work”.

Kertész History
Also Mr. Gurbo gives a word of caution in that many of the historical facts in the early books documentaries are not terribly accurate. Evidently Kertész created a good number of sagas to tell his story. While some were generally true – many were conflated stories, some were three events rolled into one others are outright fabrications.

Mr. Gurbo adds that “It is fascinating to get into the psychology and reasoning behind how these stories were started and perpetuated but I wanted you to know that a lot of the stories were corrected in the National Gallery of Art catalog André Kertész that accompanied the 2005 retrospective. And to some extent, the stories are corrected in Michel Frizot’s catalogue that accompanied his 2009 Jeu de Paume exhibit”.

Kertész’s Influence on My Work
In the late 1970’s as part of my research for my photography A-Level I was first observed a sample of Kertész’s work at multi-photographer exhibition in London.  The picture in question was The Fork (1928).  It stopped me in my tracks.  Firstly and very naïvely I remember thinking there was a photographer who saw what I saw and did, in partially abstracting everyday objects into an image, and secondly realising the image had been taken back in 1928.  For me this image is all about line, form and shadow with the objects happening to be as simple and mundane fork and plate. If you can create beauty from that then there must be beauty in every image. I think it was in the day following day I was so inspired that I created this image which I entitled  ‘After André Kertész’

1502_RI_Homage to André Kertész

Being now familiar with the broad output produced by Kertész it is probably his street and city scenes that have influenced my style over the years.  For Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment looking back on the images in all three groups the style probably owes more to Kertész’s ‘chance encounters’ and rather than Cartier Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’.

My particular favourites of Kertész’s vast output are:

Boskay Ter, Budapest, 1914
Firstly Kertész was only about 20 when he took this image and confirms to me that he had a natural seeing eye.  The strong contrast between the light on the building against the darkness of the night behind, and the powerful lines of the roof of the house all in place as background for the subject walking past.  In addition of the perfect position of the man what is interesting for me is that the shadow is projected forward by the artificial light rather than expecting to have a shadow behind us as in daylight.  In addition the lights inside the house give the dimension of depth.

It is possible to over analyse a picture but Kertész’s equipment then would not have allowed a ‘grab shot’ of today so clearly it was planned.  Was the subject a ‘chance encounter’ or was it staged it does not matter because it works.  What I also find fascinating is the light source itself.  I do not think it was flash but clearly not just a streetlight but a bright harsh light to give both a sharp shadow and enough light to give the right exposure without too much movement in the subject.


Boskay Ter, André Kertész. Copyright courtesy of Estate of André Kertész © 2015

Chairs, Champs Elysées, Paris, 1927
I like this shot for its simplicity and arrangement.  Again in my opinion it is ahead of its time for the choice of both subject matter and location.   Kertész confirms this in that he says

“At the time photography was zero — only the ordinary commercial kind of shots with little or no artistic value. Nobody photographed the chairs in the parks, in the Luxembourg Gardens, and in the Tuileries. I did. Of course, at that time I did not know that this was modern or unique.” [4].

The graduation from light foreground to dark background give this image depth.  Kertész does not try to include the whole of the front two chairs but dissects them with the frame boundary.  Also on further looking that although the position of the chairs seems random there exists an irregular pattern additionally emphasised by a couple of different style of chairs.  In a way for me there is a picture within a picture here.  The lady walking past the chairs is perfectly positioned against the sequence of trees.  Much like the shadow in Boskay Ter that faces against the ‘wrong way’ in this image Kertész has the subject walking out of the picture, breaking the standard compositional norms.


Chairs, Champs Elysées, André Kertész. Copyright courtesy of Estate of André Kertész © 2015

Arm With Fan 1937
An abstract design of a different type demonstrates what Kertész calls his chance encounters.  Clerkly he did not go looking for this image it was a case of right place right time.  We do not know what the man was doing or why.  Reaching for something or just resting it does not matter.  The fan itself almost becomes as a substitute of the man’s face.   Perhaps a Kertész’s view of industrialisation that man and machine become one?  Perhaps but I would suspect he just saw a great image.


Arm With Fan, André Kertész. Copyright courtesy of Estate of André Kertész © 2015

Washington Square, Winter, 1954
Kertész says he found a city (in this case New York) to be a rich enough subject in matter and claims that he did not have to go looking for a subject but somehow the subject always finds him. This picture is testament to that statement.

Also this image is a great example where Kertész often utilized high viewpoints.  He said “I like high shots. If you are on the same level you lose many things” [5].  And in an excerpt from J. Paul Getty Museum commentary of the picture confirms this in:

“Photographing from the high vantage point of his apartment window on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Kertész silhouetted leafless trees against the snow in Washington Square Park. He released the camera shutter to perfectly capture two pedestrians in midstride through the wintry landscape, introducing an element of dynamism to the carefully constructed composition” [6]


Washington Square, Winter, André Kertész. Copyright courtesy of Estate of André Kertész © 2015

Rainy Day, Tokyo, 1968
This image is confirmation of Kertész’s statement that the image comes to him, however you always do need to look.  Again from high vantage point from a window he gets a perfect composition of essentially a crowd of people with umbrellas.  What I find intriguing about this image is that you cannot see the faces of any of the people, just their bodies and the umbrellas looking like a large caterpillar being directed by a large arrow at the front to show direction.  It is a clean image in the sense there are no other distractions within the background. Kertész himself says of this image

“You do not have to imagine things; reality gives you all you need. I was in Tokyo. It was a rainy day, and I had just bought a new lens. I took some test shots out of the window of my hotel when I saw these people crossing the street – a perfect composition” [7].  He knew instinctively he got it right even before pressing the shutter.


Rainy Day, Tokyo, André Kertész. Copyright courtesy of Estate of André Kertész © 2015

Martinique, 1972
This was the second Kertész image I encountered and was so surprised that it was by the same photographer as The Fork but taken about 45 years later.  I also believe this is a self-portrait or rather Kertész is the shadow.  It is a very powerful image and perhaps it reflects his feeling still of resentment of not having the recognition he deserved in the earlier years in America.  Here he is but we the viewer cannot see him as he now purposefully hides from us.  The composition is very simple with very few elements to arrange and the mood of the dark clouds giving a very sombre feel.


Martinique, André Kertész. Copyright courtesy of Estate of André Kertész © 2015

As an afterthought that because of the time lapse between The Fork and Martinique I wondered if I could create another image what would be about 38 years after my take on The Fork. Kertész ‘s ‘chance encounter’ entering the prepared mind perhaps, but as luck would have it, the very first picture of the day resulted in an alternative rendition of The Lost Cloud, New York, entitled The Lost Cloud, Aosta.




[1] André Kertész – Master Photographers (1983) video recording, BBC TV, UK. Produced by Peter Adams [On line] [Last viewed 10 June 2015]

[2] Fallis, Greg (nd) André Kertész,  Sunday Salon with Utata Tribal Photography [On line] [Last accessed 10 June 2015]

[3] Siple, Ashley (2006) André Kertész: On Reading, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago [On line] [Last accessed 10 June 2015]

[4] [5] Doug (2011) Quoted from André Kertész, Kertész on Kertész [On line] [Last accessed 10 June 2015]

[6] (nd) Washington Square, Winter, J. Paul Getty Museum [On line] [Last accessed 10 June 2015]

[7] Doug (2011) Quoted from André Kertész, Kertész on Kertész  [On line] [Last accessed 10 June 2015]

Death Of The Photographer? –Perhaps Not

A Critical Review of Roland Barthes’ The Death of Of The Author

While there are many themes within Barthes’ The Death of The Author the core of his writing centres around the argument that “a literary work should not be analysed by the information about the real-life person who created it” [1].  Atchison emphasises Barthes’ standpoint by confirming “There can be no real level of independent thinking achieved by the reader if their thoughts are dictated by the Author’s opinions and biases. For this reason there needs to be a distance between the Author and those who read the work”. [2]

Therefore within the context of this essay we will assume the author is the photographer, the book is the image and the reader is the viewer and subsequently explores if Barthes premise holds true for photography.

As a student of photography it can be argued that when we look at an image by a known established photographer we immediately form a framework within our minds based on our knowledge of photographer.  Thus when we know the image is created either by Adams, Lange or Beaton we immediately compartmentalise and start to judge the picture on the framework we understand.  This may might be the photographer’s political views, historical context, or other biographical or personal attributes that shapes or actually give bias to what we see.  Does the fact that a picture is taken by Avedon mean it is any more or less good visually pleasing (however that is defined) compared to that of an anonymous photographer.

While it certainly would be refreshing that no picture ever published would be attributed to a photographer, “Detaching writing from a source releases the text from an anchor, an author’s intention”. [3] in the real world especially that of the professional world, it would be all but impossible.  The name becomes synonymous with a standard or style of work by which the professional photographer does much to protect, as this initially is a source of income and then for the fame and recognition.

Barthes also argues that the author is never original what he has written.  The author is not an author at all but just a ‘scriptor’ who pieces together knows phrases, ideas and texts to make the end result.  Extending the thinking it means every photographic image contains and idea or thinking of something created previously.  We then have to ask ourselves how much that we see just repeats previous ideas, styles and themes.  Are Capa’s war photos so divorced from Brady’s American Civil warpictures?  Does Capa even subconsciously have these in his mind as a reference point?  If so there is a DNA that carries through and Barthes argument holds true.

Also Barthes by rejecting the idea of authorial intent means by default the reader response is key.  So by removing all vestige of knowing who took the picture and by definition the context of which it was taken can we truly be liberated from intent and see the picture for what it is.  But can we truly appreciate the image without understanding the author’s intent?  I am sure that Barthes would argue that a perfect image taken accidently by a monkey with a camera is equally important in our eyes compared to a photographer whose canon we are familiar.  We would have to look at the image and see what we would see.  Barthes might even argue that the monkey’s image is the purist because it has been taken with absolutely no preconceptions nor copies anything that has gone before.  Therefore there is a great weight on the viewer’s response to the image, that is – what we see, how we interpret and possibly act as a response. We the viewer become most important.

This concept clearly worries authors and songwriters whereby their name is so ‘big’ it could be argued that whatever they publish or record their fan base will adore regardless. Take for instance JK Rowling after the success of the Harry Potter series.  Where do you go from there?  In this case she chose to publish the book The Cuckoo’s Calling as an unknown under the assumed name of Robert Galbraith and was moderately successful perhaps again confirming Barthes point.  However someone recognised her writing style and she was ’outted’ and the book became a best seller.  Again doubly confirming Barthes point.  Although with not too much hard fact I am not aware of know photographers doing similar to Rowling, therefore as said before the photographer and picture become synonymous.

Barthes argument does hold water but I am less sure for a photograph.  While the Death of the Author may be true I would suggest The Death of The Photographer is somewhat premature.  For a book the author has many pages to convey thoughts and beliefs and each word has to be read so we understand.  For a photograph being a two dimensional object it always seen as a whole and complete.  Even if a picture is worth a thousand words we make out mind up in a matter of seconds as to our opinion therefore we need all the assistance required to help our understanding in this short space of time.


[1]. (2015), The Death of The Author: Roland Barthes and The Collapse of Meaning  [Online]   [Last accessed 6 June 2015]

[2] Atchison, Jacquelyn (nd) Critical Analysis of Roland Barthes “The Death of the Author” Jacquelyn Atchison’s Blog  [Online] [Last accessed 6 June 2015]

[3] (nd) Barthes, Roland – “The Death of the Author” [Online] [Last accessed 6 June 2015]

Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment: Thoughts After Many Shoots

Knowing that I was taking too long over Assignment 2, I was also working on Assignment 3 in parallel.  My logic here was that for the Cartier Bresson type images I was looking for would probably not manifest themselves in the space of a week but would take time to find.  To find these images would necessitate being in different locations and keep observing.  As the weeks progressed I felt that the number of images I was taking was reducing but the relative quality of seeing and timing improved.  In other words where I may have tried six or seven exposures to get something right, by the end the majority of the time I was hitting what I wanted in one exposure.

Again those of the earlier sequences tended to be more of the simple compositional decisive moments.  In other words I tended to place the subject along on the intersection of the Rule of Thirds.  I was initially pleased with these as it was a departure from my photography comfort zone, however I went back to look at Cartier Bresson’s canon and while I was pleased with my images fell far short of what I saw.  The difference was how Cartier Bresson structured his images with the subject fitting in that framework.

Armed with that knowledge the rate at which I both saw possible locations and subjects within slowed right down in that the opportunities were few and far between.  What I tended to do was snatch the image when I saw a desirable scene.  A sort of premediated grab shot, if there is such a thing.  Again I was somewhat unhappy with many of the results because the subject had moved while I was thinking or the camera was focusing/setting itself and the picture had ‘uncomposed’ itself.

After further reading regarding how Cartier Bresson approached this, my technique evolved again. For many of his shots he sorted out the compositional geometry first and hoped/assumed/knew that someone or something would happen within scope within the image.  In other words he waited for the image to produce itself rather than just stumbling upon an event. Sometimes he would only have to wait a few seconds other times it would be a long wait.  I tried this and produced what I feel are my best results.

Two great examples of this are the following pictures.  It is also interesting to not they were taken nearly 30 year apart yet the technique of anticipation of what is going to happen has not changed.


Hyeres France.1932


Sifnos, Greece. 1961

 All images reproduced with the kind permission of Fondation HCB

 So far with what I have taken I have to conclude it is still possible to create the decisive moment in society today.

Taking what I have said above into account I would break my images down into the following three groups.

Group 1
These are decisive moments in the truest sense; those that I have caught an event just at the correct point in time.  There is no thought of geometric composition.  If there is any it is more by accident that design.  I would class these more as serendipitous – chance entering the prepared mind rather than how we imagine ‘true’ Cartier Bresson images.


Group 2
These images have been seen with geometric composition in that there is perspective, framing of the subject, rules of thirds, vanishing points etc. to create the picture.  They were not planned in the sense that I would wait as Cartier Bresson likened himself to a hunter stalking his prey before I took the image.  The images were just there and I was aware of the surrounding geometry and recorded the picture.

Group 3
The final group is where I have composed the scene first and then waited for a subject to enter the frame at then release the shutter at the right time.  To me these are the most reminiscent of Cartier Bresson’s work.

Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment: Research

In today’s society where everyone is far more picture and image conscious I would like to understand if there is still potential for these images to exist or is the genre passé now superseded by the versions of the ubiquitous selfie.

Therefore I want to explore if it is still possible as according to Price (1996) like Henri Cartier Bresson

“to lay in wait for all the messy contingency of the world to compose itself into an image that he judged to be both productive of visual information and aesthetically pleasing”[1]

I would argue that perhaps decisive moment pictures are still created more by accident than design. This is just down to sheer volume of picture recording devices sold.   According to Ahonen (2014) he outlines the following facts:

“Of the 4 billion cameras in use, 440 million (11%) are stand-alone ‘traditional’ digital cameras and 3.56 B (89%) of all cameras in use on the planet today are on mobile phones/smartphones as camera phones”.[2]

He goes on to say:

“The average stand-alone digital camera user takes 375 pictures in 2014 while the average cameraphone user snaps 259 pictures this year. When multiplied across the total user bases, that produces 1 Trillion (1,000 Billion) photographs taken this year by digital camera owners. That brings humankind’s cumulative picture production total to 5.7 Trillion photographs taken since the first camera was invented”.[3]

It can be logically concluded that with all these devices out in the world there is a greater statistical chance of more people being in the right place at the right time to produce the right image. However as counterpoint to this as Freeman (2011) states

“Ease-of-use and ease-of-taking guarantees that there will always be a huge majority of ordinary, uninspiring photographs”. [4]

In spite of the huge volumes of devices out there my first-hand experience (Assignment 2 Crowds) in this image conscious society I found people very suspicious when I was photographing with a traditional camera. Yet when in the same situation I used a camera phone I observed that hardly anyone noticed and those that did seemed not to care. The difference device debate can wait for another time but the point I make here is that perhaps the Cartier Bresson of today his medium of choice may well have been the camera phone, just as his discrete Leica was in his day.

It could be argued that perhaps Cartier Bresson himself realised that the decisive moment had run its course. While there is scant evidence to support this statement Cartier Bresson gave up photography for the last 30 years of his life and returned to his first love, art. Although he saw the camera just to be a way to instantly draw he may have considered he had exhausted all possibilities with this medium.

When we think of Cartier Bresson we immediately associate him with a very clean composition style in that there are very few extraneous details within the picture. However what I find interesting is that when you look through his body of work there are many where the composition is not as clean as we would first think. Observation shows there are people cut in half on the edge of the frame, backgrounds that look like they have not been controlled. Example of this are:


Ahmadabad, India, 1966

Ahmadabad, India, 1966. Half cut off cattle.

Visite du Cardinal Pacelli, Montmart'e

Visite du Cardinal Pacelli, Montmarte. Head in bottom right, people looking the ‘wrong’ way.


Bride on Swing

Title Unknown: (The Newly Weds?). People in background, weighing scales and a hand on the right hand side.


All images reproduced with the kind permission of Fondation HCB

The question then arises that if the composition is not clean does this distract from the image as a whole? My view is no, providing that the subject matter has a strong enough weight to overcome this. The point here is when I create my images while I will try and keep the images clear of these extraneous details I will not be overly concerned if the odd non-distracting element does appear in the image.

Linking Series
Prior to starting this course my ‘portfolio’ of work consisted of a set of individual stand-alone images some with a loose supporting theme but none ever taken consciously as a set with a linked purpose. Assignments 1 and 2 have set me on the road to thinking more about themes, sequences and sets. However I am aware that I have much to learn. In Assignment 2 Crowds I knew that the images would have to form a set but each was still taken as a single image in the hope that it would all come together at the end. What I will aim to do for this Assignment is try and consider the image in the context of the theme before the shutter is pressed. How successful I would be will be reflected upon later.

We see Cartier Bresson’s images today as individual items yet it must not be forgotten the majority of these were taken as part of reportage and photo documentary assignments. Effectively his images today have been rebranded and repurposed. According to Jacobson (1988):

“By extracting individual images from the context of the stories they belonged to, and re-presenting them in exhibitions and books, he has allowed himself to become best known as a photographer who produces single images” [5].

I would suspect that a purist would argue against this but at present I see no reason why this cannot be the case. Maybe there are parallels with other media, a song integral to an album that has now be lifted and used as part of a soundtrack in a film or the music in a commercial. We accept this.

The question to which I do not yet have the answer is does every picture in the series have to be a standalone perfect image or can as being part of a set, one image be individually weaker in terms of technical and compositional ability yet be strong as it supports the underlying theme. I would suspect the answer is yes but there must be a point within the body of work that too many of these images starts to distract and weakens the series as a whole.

To keep in the spirit of Cartier Bresson I will represent the images in black and white. Although Bresson chose purposely for his images to be in black and white, and therefore used black and white film.

“Cartier-Bresson was notoriously disparaging about colour photography and made only a few forays into the field, mostly in the late ’50s-early ’60s, when it was still developing as a medium. He saw colour as technically inferior and aesthetically limited” [6]

It will be interesting to see that if any of my images do work better in colour as modern digital cameras afford us the luxury of postponing the black and white verses colour choice until the post production stage.



[1] Price, Derrick (1996) Surveyors and Surveyed P73 Photography A Critical Introduction. Edited Liz Wells, 4th Edition, Routledge

[2] [3] Ahonen, Tomi T (2014) [Online]  [Last accessed 01 Apl 2015]

[4] Feeman, Michael (2011) The Photographer’s Vision P13 Focal Press

[5] Jacobson, Colin (1998)   Cartier-Bresson: What’s the story? [Online] [Last accessed 01 Apl 2015]

[6] (nd) Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour [Online]

Assignment 2 Collecting: Practitioner Responses

As part of my original investigation I contacted a number of practitioners to canvass their views and experiences on photographing personal space. In the review of Assignment 2 my tutor recommended that I post the detailed results of this investigation, which are now detailed as follows:

I randomly viewed a great number of street photographers’ images on the internet and selected a number that seemed to have contained elements of recording aspects of personal space. The list was further refined by those that I could contact by email. Not being knowledgeable in the genre of street photographers only a couple of the names were known to me. After my mail was sent my expectations were very low it terms of responses but I was pleasantly surprised by both the number, and quality of the responses.  The mail was as follows:


I am a little way through my photography degree course I wonder if you could help me with some information.

For my next project I am looking to explore the theme of personal space in crowded outside situations. Not the space between the photographer and subject but the space which individuals regard as psychologically theirs. I am finding very little reference points on this subject but cannot believe I am the first to explore this. Therefore is this an area you have ever investigated or tried? If so perhaps you could point me in the direction of some of your images.

If you have not I would be interested as to your views as how you might approach such a task.

Many thanks in advance and I hope that I am not being either too forward or demanding on any of your time.

Thanks and regards


1) Thomas Leuthard
A Swiss based street photographer who has written a number of ebooks on the subject. To me many of his images are in the style of Henri Cartier Bresson. (

I’m not sure, if I understand your question. I always try to compose a photograph in a balanced way and sometimes I leave a lot of space in front of a person. Keep the situation clear and be sure you put the main subject to a third of the frame.

My portrait distance is the “Personal Distance” were I will as close as 122cm to the subject. Have you seen my YouTube videos? Although they are very old, the show exactly how I do it:


Reflection: This was a good pointer how to handle street photography. I found the two short videos informative and gave me some courage of how to take street portraits.

2) Markus Hartel
A New Yourk City based street photographer whose images focus upon everyday life. To me many of his images are in the style of Robert Frank. (

“Thank you for your interest in my work… I actually look quite a bit at spatial relationships between people and the patterns that emerge from it. Manhattan, and especially the subway can be a great example of how people manage to protect their personal space, which normally tends to be at least 2-3ft. or so, but in crowded situations the principle gets turned on its head. This becomes imminently clear, when people do have the space to spread out.

I hope this helps & best”

Reflection: Gave me a pointer to some sample images which samples are used in the original research. (Assignment 2 Collecting: Research)

3) Neil Ta on behalf of Eric Kim
Eric Kim is a Californian based street photographer studied Sociology and combined it with his passion for photography to make statements about society through photography.(

Interesting topic, Roland. Eric has not explored this idea. As you probably know, that personal space differs from culture to culture and place to place. I don’t know how you would visualize that idea through images.

Refection: It would have been great to hear from Eric but this reply did not move my knowledge forward.

4) Michael Ernest Sweet
A Canadian writer, poet and photographer. I was very much struck by his book The Human Fragment that as the name suggests has street images where the main subject is never fully shown. Limbs, faces and torsos are always just out of frame. (

Nice to hear from you. I’m not sure I can be of much help however. I have not done any formalized studies in photography, nor do I have any theoretical interest in it. My work, however, does represent some of the elements you describe. My work in the Human Fragment project (as well as my Coney Island color work… the book is not out yet) both probe at the idea of personal space in public. In both of those projects I get up very, VERY, close to people (within inches) to make the photographs. Am I invading personal psychological (or even physical) space? Perhaps. Does one really have anything personal or private while they are in a public space? Should they be entitled to such? Does someone’s privacy in public prevent someone else from enjoying their public space? These are things to think about. If someone does retain personal space in public where are the boundaries? Is there really any difference between me photographing you up close in public and someone else sitting next to you in a cafe and eavesdropping on your conversation? Why is one more aggressively attached when they both seem somewhat equally invasive?

I seem to have provided you with many question and no answers. This may be of some help to you or it may just merely complicate things.

All the best with your study. If you find any interesting results feel free to send them my way. It’s never a bother to hear from people who appreciate my work.

Reflection: As said I very much like The Human Fragment. I had never considered including only partial parts of people but could see that this worked well. Michael made a point to ponder in that why is photographing someone in a public space and difference than eavesdropping on a conversations. One is actively invasive while the other is a passive. Interesting viewpoint.

5) Marie Laigneu
Is a London based street photographer whose “current work explores the relationship between people and the city they belong to, either consciously or unconsciously”.(

Marie also put me in touch with Professor John Suler (see next entry)

I have not personally investigated this space, although it could be interesting. I have looked at crowds, and can definitely point you to some of my and others pictures where I see some interesting take on the subject. The way as I see this, though, is that photography can only be the medium to reflect / highlight individual psychological spaces. You would need to start with understanding what psychological space means from other disciplines, especially psychology. This is only then that you can introduce photography as an illustration and representation of this initial thesis. Don’t forget that photography is a medium, not a creator of psychological or philosophical meaning. Of course, it may be that a photographer analysed this more than others, but you would still need to compare his work / approach to a common understanding of the topic. If you do not have a strong foundation to explore, your work will be empty and superficial.

So I would start with reading a lot of psychology papers on the topic. I would then work to identify how this topic is represented in photography – as an image of our society, or as a process to unveil some psychological truth. Photography works in both ways. It can be true and reflective, or it can be manipulative and staged – and therefore can trick the mind to see things that the photographer wants you to see (so a construct of the reality focused on conveying a specific message or trigger a specific reaction). The former allows you to illustrate or contrast existing theories, albeit anecdotally, the latter may offer deeper insights into our psychology if you clearly understand the intentions of the photographer.

I have invited my friend – and famous psychology researcher John Suler, who also has a keen interest and understanding of photography. Hopefully, he can point you out to some existing sources.

Reflection: Good information was contained within this. I looked up a number of papers around this subject and must admit that being of a scientific nature these papers did get a little to heavy and complicated for what I was try to achieve. If what I was trying to achieve was a major body of work then I think I would have gone in to the weeds of detail, but I must admit I gleaned the appropriate details a summary level.

6) John Suler
He is a writer, researcher, photographer, and Professor of Psychology at Rider University in the US. He is an internationally recognized as an expert in emerging fields of psychology, and published works on, psychotherapy, creativity, cyberpsychology, and photographic psychology

That’s a very interesting project you’re working on, Roland. I’m not aware of any photographer who specifically focuses on exploring personal space, but Marie offers a good suggestion about reading the literature in psychology about that topic. Some things to keep in mind are:

a) Personality style affects the size of a person’s personal space (e.g. paranoid people have a bigger space)
Situations affect personal space (being in a bar versus on the street)
Emotions affect personal space (being anger versus feeling loving)

Marie also makes a good point of being careful about how photographic technique can affect the perception of personal space. For example, a telephoto lens will compress distance in the background, giving the illusion that people are closer to each other than they really are. Generally speaking, for any subjects who overlap each other, it will be difficult to determine just how close they are. My guess is that the best way to take photos of personal space will be from ABOVE the scene.

As Marie suggests, also think about what it is exactly about personal space that you hope to capture with photography.

Good luck with your project!

Reflection: What John did highlight is that he was not aware of any photographer who had specifically investigated personal space. The alarm bells should have rung for me here in that I was moving into uncharted territory and the work would take much longer than I had originally expected. Also he guided me to look at the location of space thus how a person regards space in a bar as opposed to on the street do differ. This is something I looked out for while shooting images.

7) Nailya Alexander Gallery on behalf of Alexey Titarenko
He is a Russian based photographer and artist.

I would suggest for you to read articles about and interviews with Alexey Titarenko. This will be most insightful for you. Also, you could enjoy the recent book “The World Atlas of Street Photography” with a very good essay about Titarenko’s work. You will find all the information you need and more!

With best wishes

Reflection: As suggested I did read a couple of interviews with Alexey which were very interesting but did not move me much forward for this project.

8) Charalampos Kydonakis (aka Dirty Harry)
A Crete based street photographer. Many of his photos are images people and animals at night, “instilled with a surprised and sometimes nightmarish vision”. (

I don’t know what exactly you want to shoot and tell through it. Instead of telling you how I see a subject it’s better I think if you show me what you have already done about it and I can tell you my opinion to your view (my critique is rough and I never do it except if someone’s asking for it, but if you want it I promise to tell you the truth)

Reflection: Again great to get a reply but did not move me forward. I have not (or dare not) yet have sent off my work for critique as offered.

9) Alex Coghe
Currently based in Mexico a photographer and editor with a love of the love the streets who describes himself as a “visual provocateur”

No…I didn’t investigate it personally and I don’t see a lot of references out of here.

There is a publication on the internet you could find: Escaping Into life by Andrew Stark. It is also a publication from the point of view of a street photographer but I think there is the psychological aspect that could be interesting for you.


Reflection: I did not get a copy of Escaping into life by Andrew Stark as recommended by Alex because after reading a number of reviews prior to purchase I am not sure if it was the book I was looking for. May well be wrong.

10) Daniel Hoffmann
A Danish based street photographer who has published ebooks on the subject

It is not a question I have thought about. But I have taken photos on Time Square, New York City. Here is the space on course small and it is possible to use wider lenses like 24 mm full frame lens.

In my home town Viborg with about 40.000 citizens in the town area – the space is bigger, than in NYC and a 35 or 50 mm full frame lens is better.

But the human space is not an issue I know a lot about. I am a street photographer in my spare time and I just get as close possible to people and shot normally from the hip.

That is all I can say. But anyway – you are welcome to ask again, if you think I can help you in another way.

Best regards

Refection: Again great I got a reply with some good information but this did not move me on.

11) Martin Parr
Is a British documentary photographer (

” am a bit confused by your criteria, as I only think of photos in terms of what they describe, i.e. street photography or a place or time.. So your agenda is too intellectual for me to comprehend, and thus I am wrong person to speak to.

Reflection: It was great that Martin took the time to reply but I was a little confused by his answer in that looking at his work there are many examples of personal space at work. Perhaps I should have worded my question in a different way.


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