It’s often that a student will come to me when they are “stuck in a rut“, unsure of where to turn next when aspiring to improve their photography. This usually results when they’ve been shooting the same things for an extended period of time, they’re technically proficient, but feel their images don’t add up to anything, they hold no meaning. They lack character and language.

When given this situation, my aim is to free them up in terms of subjects and scenarios. To re-envigorate their way of seeing the world, and challenge them to produce new work. I’m also “clearing the head“, “shaking things away“, and for some, encouraging them to remember why they began photographing in the first place.

Today, I want to share with you the project that I give to photographers that are experiencing these very same challenges. I use it as a starting point for their mentoring programmes. It’s a very successful first project as it’s gets them “back in the seat” so to speak, but they also have the knowledge that the work they produce will be submitted for my critique when it’s complete. No pressure there then.

The original idea came from a book called “The Photographer’s Playbook” published by Aperture, where a group of thirty-six students each thought of an object, place or scenario to be photographed. The thirty-six thoughts were written down in a list. The list was photocopied and given to all thirty-six students. Each student was given a roll of colour film (thirty-six exposures) with which to make one attempt at responding to each thing on the list. They processed their films at a local lab and brought their six-by-four inch prints to the studio. The prints were laid out in a huge grid, so that vertically you could see thirty-six different responses to the same instruction, while horizontally you might be able to discern each student’s approach or ‘style’. The instructions they gave each other are as below:

A red ball
A tree and a dog
An ugly photograph
A political argument
A kiss
A shallow focus image of a bar of soap
A random photograph
An unambiguous photograph
Grass and concrete
An old fashioned photograph
A futuristic photograph
A blue car and a white car
Timeless beauty
Flowing water
A woman dressed as a man
An empty room
A person crying
A really bad smell
Bright clothing lit by flash
A dangerous place
A cheese and tomato omelette
A boy shoplifting
A plate in the air
A modern landscape
A car park at night
Things in a pile
Things in a long line
A fake photograph
A celebrity
Someone asleep
A classic still life
A smile

Of course, it’s not absolutely necessary to shoot film, digital images will suffice perfectly well. Although the concept of only having only 36 opportunities is decidedly more attractive, for me at least.

Once the students images have been submitted for critique, not only do the resulting images tell me something about the photographers ‘world’ and how photography might fit into it or express it. But they also indicate their knowledge of composition, level of understanding in expressing a visual language and give and indication of what dialogue needs to take place.

Maybe we’re describing how you feel right now, maybe you need a “breath of fresh air” in your photography ? Wherever you are, give the project a try, it’s a fun exercise. Not only will you learn a lot more about yourself and your visual language, but most importantly, it may just remind you of why you love photography so much.


As a side note : I’m pleased to announce that Aperture is launching a series of educational photography titles this year. The initial titles in the new Photography Workshop Series are by photographers Larry Fink, Alex Webb, and Rebecca Norris Webb. “Larry Fink on Improvisation and Composition” and “Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image” will both be released in May. In June, Aperture will release a third title, “The Photographer’s Playbook: Over 300 Assignments & Ideas” by Jason Fulford and Gregory Halpern, a list of assignments and projects designed to help aspiring photographers.


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Victoria Ivanova

The title of the post may need changing, into a question …. “What makes a conceptual photo….. conceptual?”

Conceptual photography is a genre that seems slightly isolated from the rest of photography—or is one that we find mixed amongst the other genres, due to a vagueness of description. This post will be my attempt to try and clarify and define what conceptual photography is by looking at the concept, subject, interpretation, use of symbols and aesthetics found in conceptual photography.

The Concept

Conceptual photography is, first and foremost, about the concept of the photo. A conceptual photographer is trying to bring some message about to the viewer, be it a political message or a social commentary or perhaps an ethical judgement of some kind. There is some level of abstraction, thus, in a conceptual photo: the image is not an explicit example of the concept, but a general expression of the idea.

Use Of Symbols

Conceptual photography makes healthy use of graphical symbols to represent ideas, movements, moods, anything and everything that the photographer might want to include in the message of their photograph. Symbols with strong, well-established connotations are usually used.

Of course, a problem that every conceptual photographer runs into is whether to use symbols that are more universal, that is, whether their photos and the corresponding concepts should aim to be interpreted the same by everyone, or whether to play on ambiguities for a plethora of different meanings. This leads to another major feature of—or rather, distinction within—conceptual photography.

Subjectivity Versus Objectivity

Whether a photograph is intended to be “subjectively” or “objectively” interpreted varies considerably and is dependant upon the photographer in question.

Some conceptual photographers like to claim that their photograph has only one objective meaning, and they strive to make it mean precisely the same thing to all people, regardless of background. While one can play at Jungian archetypes all day, we do have to beg the question, will a photo really mean exactly the same thing to different people?

Other conceptual photographers take things to the other extreme: they attempt to make their photos completely subjective to interpret. To many, this makes more sense, as you could never realistically expect that an image will be interpreted the same by everyone, all having different bias in respect of interpretation.


Minimalism or Multiple subjects ?

Minimalistic conceptual photographs are composed with the focus entirely on a single subject, a single concept, narrowing the viewer in on a single thought. 

The opposite is a little more involved. These are the conceptual photographers who place multiple objects into their photograph, often to the point where there is no clear single subject. Rather, every object, every symbol, is placed to play off of another, creating sweeping conceptual landscapes of ideas that are both extremely specific yet also describe a broad message.


And finally, conceptual photography does not always attempt to be beautiful or even pleasing to the eye. Conceptual photography may present intentionally disturbing images to get an idea across. That being said, many photographers attempt to make their images at least neutral, so as to not distract the viewer from the idea being presented.

So from my small attempt to describe to you what makes a conceptual photograph, conceptual, it’s here that I shall turn the post over to the real experts, and introduce you to a series of short films that will expand on what I’ve begun here. I hope you enjoy them.




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image 424August Sander



As photographers, we all start out shooting JPEGS. Until the day comes when a photographer we admire, shares with us some invaluable advice about the benefits of shooting RAW images. We know the files are larger and more expensive to store, but look at all that data you’re collecting. Valuable information that can be used later to create beautiful images.

It’s actually a little know fact that even if you’re outputting JPEGs, your camera first shoots a RAW image which it then converts to a JPEG, after which the RAW data is discarded. So in actual fact, you’re shooting RAW already, but just letting the camera decide what data it wants to keep, and throwing the rest. This is perfectly fine if all you want to shoot is what we would call “snapshots”, or if your either a journalist or a sports photographer that needs to quickly upload images that need no further editing. But for the rest of us, where image quality is an issue, and where further editing is desired, then we need to keep a hold of that data, and shoot RAW images only.

Now when we look at a RAW image, you’ll immediately notice that it looks pretty drab, in fact it looks a whole lot worse that the JPEG image. To the eye it displays a lack of contrast, colour saturation and sharpness throughout, but it’s all there, we just need to pull it up to the surface.

We do this by using a RAW Converter. Currently there are 3 main players in this market, Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One, and Lightroom, with most users using one or the other. However, bubbling nicely under the surface is Iridient Developer, a powerful converter that just may change your workflow forever.


Click to enlarge

As you can see, the interface is a simple one, choosing to use the floating panels system that will be familiar to Photoshop users, fully movable around the screen so you can place them wherever is most convenient to you during use. It can be fully integrated with your current workflow, I have mine set up to work with Photo Mechanic, and then onwards to Photoshop for my final editing. A quick change in Preferences will set things up nicely for you without any real bother.

So let’s take a look at what it can do.

As you would expect, Iridient Developer offers all of the standard Raw Converter features, those being lens correction, highlight recovery, white balancing, noise reduction, sharpening, exposure compensation, brightness, contrast, hue and saturation etc. These all come as standard, and to be honest the results they offer seem to be on par with any of the competition. It currently supports over 550 digital cameras, and great news for someone like me who has only just started entering metadata in his images, EXIF, IPTC and XMP metadata is supported when exporting to TIFF, PNG or JPEG files. Image resizing for print, batch processing, superb colour management means you have the ability to specify camera or image specific input profiles, RGB working space profiles for image adjustments and final image output profiles. And there’s automatic support for LAB and chroma colour space curves without any manual colour space changes. (Huge !!)

In a moment, I want to show you the features that for me, make it stand out from the crowd. But before I do, I want to just touch on the Black and White Conversion feature, whilst giving you options of converting via a RAW channel mixer, standard RGB channel mixer, a perceptual LAB lightness based conversion, luma, desaturation, intensity, custom duotones as well as other toning options. I find that it’s the one area maybe that some additional work needs to be done. When you are going up against such strong B&W converters as we see in ACR and Lightroom, you need to be at the top of your game. More control is needed in the colour channels to make this a feature that I would use. But don’t get me wrong it’s not all bad, for someone that just needs a quick conversion, there’s more than enough options, and having the ability of using a channel mixer at the raw stage is absolutely fabulous and as far as I know completely unique to Iridient Developer.

So, niggle out of the way, let’s move onto the standout features, starting with Advanced Sharpening and Noise Reduction.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 13.15.22

Iridient Developer offers four advanced sharpening methods, including traditional unsharp masking, difference of gaussians, a unique “Hybrid” sharpening algorithm and an advanced Richardson-Lucy Deconvolution based method. All are processed in a special 32 bits/channel floating point color space to avoid color artifacts and provide amazing detail. Powerful hot/dead pixel filters and new, state of the art noise reduction methods help eliminate noise, especially from images taken with long exposures or high ISO settings. Now I shoot with a Sony A7 and the 35mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE lens, which I consider to be a great paring in terms of image sharpness. Well I did until I saw what Iridient Developer could do with it. The first example, as you will see below has just come in from camera.

Default sharpen

Default sharpen

And here is the same image, but using the Hybrid Sharpening option, set to a level below the maximum, but enough to give you an indication of the level of detail that can be pulled out by using this method. You should click the image to enlarge so you can view in greater detail. It’s pretty impressive.

Hybrid Sharpened

Hybrid Sharpened

The three other options for sharpening seem to offer more subtle results, so for most jobs my preferred method will always be the Hybrid. And don’t forget, sharpening, or at least the level of sharpening that one uses is purely subjective, what works for me may either be too much or too little for your needs. If this was a technical post I’d tell you all about the algorithms used, but it’s not, and to be honest I’m pleased I don’t have to, it’s just a great method of pulling out detail and sharpening images as you can see, we don’t need to use big words here.

Let’s now turn our attention to curves, most of use will be using curves as a way of altering either the contrast levels or colour values of an image, but sometimes we also use an LAB curve to correct a colour cast or to add a colour boost. But in order to do this, we would normally have to change the colour space from RGB to LAB, make the alteration, and then change back to RGB. But with Iridient Developer we no longer need to do this as we can make changes to the RGB and LAB curve at the same time. I absolutely love this feature, and if you’re a photographer that uses LAB, you’ll understand why I love this so much.

Curve Options

Curve Options

And now we move onto the last of the features that I will be using on a regular basis in my workflow, the Adjustments panel.

Adjustments Panel

Adjustments Panel

I love this panel, I love the control it offers, the brightness slider is usually global in most other programs, Iridient Developer has individual sliders that affect highlights, midtones and shadows as needed. You can also change the colour temperature of each, in effect toning the image by tone and not via a global change.

It’s good for us to understand the importance of using a Raw Converter, and specifically one that offers highly sophisticated algorithms to decode our original RAW data. Remember that changes made to an image during post-production i.e. Photoshop, will degrade your image far more than when those changes are made during the RAW conversion stage. So make your choice of converter wisely as it will effect the final outcome of your images.

I’m aware that this review is somewhat limited in terms of technical details, but I wanted, as always, just to speak about the product in terms of what the majority of those reading this would use and consider important. Iridient developer is available to Mac users only, on a free demo basis, and I would encourage you all to take advantage of this. As I mentioned earlier and as I do with many product reviews, our workflows and demands are all very different so give the demo a try and see how it compares to what your currently running. Personally, I would have no hesitation in recommending Iridient Developer to those photographers that need to push things to the max during the RAW conversion process. And as a quick note to all those Fuji fanboys ….. according to a ton of photographers on the various forums, Iridient X-Trans RAW processing is incredible !

Thanks for taking the time to read this review, and I hope that it’s given you at the very least, something to think about in terms how you process your RAW images, and for those that will inevitably change over to Iridient Developer, well done !! It’s an awesome product.




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If one would ask:What is the future of art? The answer is a tautology:The future of art is art. The future of art should be art. Ad Reinhardt wrote it clearly:”Art is art and everything else is everything else.” So “what” is clear. “How” is another question. But even more important:Who poses this question? Art does not. Meaning, art is art and is not concerned with its own future. Why should it be? The question of the future is one of continuity, and therefore of systems and structures that make continuity possible. Art is not an apparatus, but it surely is also “there.” The end of art has happened many times, and so has its future.



Mousse Publishing “Ten Fundamental Questions of Curating“, 2013




The ability to describe photographs and taking photographs compliment each other. In fact I would go as far as to say that they elevate each other. The more you know about the process of taking photographs, the easier it is to understand what another photographer was trying to do and how he or she set about it. And the reverse is true. If you know better how to describe someone else’s photograph, you’ll be better equipped in taking your own. Every photograph you will ever see is made up of three different elements, Intent, Style and Process. Intent is that which the photographer sets out to do, Style is the unique way that photographer decides to it, and Process is about making it happen.

Describing a photograph is simply the ability to deconstruct these three elements, to notice things about it and to tell another, verbally or in print. I think what’s interesting in trying to dissect an image is that we as viewers, or critics, are presented with everything in reverse order. It starts with the result, and it’s our job to figure out what was happening in and around the frame right up to the very second the image was captured. And it’s by pulling ourselves back from the image that we get the context, the situation surrounding the image, what was going on. And it’s a mixture of both these processes that again helps us describe a photograph. Below I have outlined some of the important questions to ask when attempting to describe a photograph.

1. Pay attention to your first impression—what strikes you immediately? First impressions sometimes get closer to the heart of an image and its effect than a lengthy study. It’s important to ask yourself “What is here?”, “What am I looking at?”, “What do I know with certainty about this image?”.

2. What genre of photography does it belong to?

3. What was the intended use? This is not always obvious, and may seem an unfair question to have to consider, but at the same time it can often help you to understand more. For example, a news photograph is shot with some very specific objectives, and in particular circumstances vs an image to be used for say a corporate brochure.

4. What was the immediate situation in which the shot was taken? In other words, what was going on around the photographer? This would be much more relevant in, say, street photography than in a studio. But ask yourself “What was happening before the image was taken as well as after”.

5. Is it an unplanned or planned photograph? From the point of view of shooting this is one of the biggest differences of all. A genuine street shot is totally unplanned, a studio shot is all planned, but in between there is a huge range. And while a studio set-up is always what it appears to be, the same can’t be said for reportage. Photographers are usually trying to make things work according to their idea of the image, and so asking people to move, or do this, or stop doing that, is extremely common. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, unless the image is presented as something it is not. At times, planning and intervention borders on deception.

6. Thinking as a photographer in the same situation, what technical details are obvious? The format of the camera (large, small) for the aperture or shutter speed, have a significant effect on the image. A slow shutter speed, for example, might impart motion streaking, but on the other hand it might be due to camera movement. And in either case it might be deliberate, or just inevitable, or even incompetent.

7. Are there any obvious styles ? Either an artist, movement, time period, or geographical location and is the style recognised by a characteristic handling of subject matter and formal elements ? Do be aware though that style can be much more interpretive than descriptive.

8. What was the purpose of the shot? The photographer’s intent, in other words. Some images have more conscious purpose behind them than others, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of crediting more deliberation than there was. And a good photograph does not have to be intellectual—it could be more visceral, less thought through, and all the better for it.

Jumping to conclusions

It’s often that we want to judge first, and express our first statements as either approval or disapproval. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with judging first as long as judgements are informed and relevant information is descriptively accurate. Whether we judge first and then revise a judgement based on description, or describe and interpret first then judge, is a matter of choice. The starting point is not crucial, but accurate description is an essential part of holding defensible critical positions. Interpretations and judgements that omit facts or are contrary to fact are seriously flawed.

Comparing and Contrasting

A common method or critically analysing a photographer’s work is to compare and contrast it to other work by the same photographer, to other photographers works, or even to works by other artists (non-photography).

Internal and external sources of information

Many times critics will visit external sources to gather descriptive information that will aid to their understanding of a photograph. However, the test of including or excluding this information is one of relevancy. The critic has the responsibility of deciding what to describe and what to ignore by sorting the relevant information from the irrelevant, the insightful from the trivial and distracting. When doing criticism, however, one would not want to substitute biography for criticism or to lose sight of the work amid interesting facts about the photographer.

Description and interpretation

Here’s one of my favourite sentences, coined by Terry Barrett, “It is probably as impossible to describe without interpreting as it is to interpret without describing”. Isn’t it great !

A critic can begin to mentally list descriptive elements in a photograph, but at the same time he or she has to constantly see this elements in terms of the whole photograph if those elements are to make any sense. But the whole makes sense only in terms of it’s parts. The relationship between describing and interpreting is circular, moving from whole to part and from part to whole.

Description and evaluation

It’s rare, in written criticism, that the descriptions made by critics are not laden with their own values. Whether they are positive or negative about the work, critics will use descriptors that are simultaneously descriptive and evaluative to influence our view of the work. However, with practice you should be able to decipher the value-laden from value-neutral descriptions, leaving you with the ability to intelligently agree or disagree.

It’s important to remember that description is not a prelude to criticism, description is criticism.


Again, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post, in the next we’ll look at “Interpreting Photographs”. I hope you’ll join me.




Barrett T (1996). Criticizing Photographs.


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Czar Kristoff

Carl’s Hands, 2014


I often find it difficult to write reviews of products, I’m always worried that I’ve left something important out, or not explained something in enough detail, or sometimes too much detail. And as photographers, our needs are varied, what I find important may not be so valuable to you, and vice versa. So getting the mix right is important.

As many of the regular readers will know, when I review a product it’s normally written without all the technical jargon that comes with much of my peers writing. I prefer to write from the standpoint of my own work, and to write honestly and in a way everyone can understand. And for this post, things will remain that way.

The goal of this post is to introduce you to two new products that I’ve recently added to my workflow. In actual fact, the word “added” is an untruth in relation to one product, as the item in question has actually fully replaced a highly popular Adobe product in my workflow.

So with the mention of the word workflow, lets begin there. Let’s begin with the problem and then we’ll talk about the solution.

Whilst I am a big fan of Adobe products, I kinda get the feeling that many of us, including myself, have become a little complacent in respect of what is, and who offers the best products to satisfy our photography needs. And I’m also wondering if an “all in one” product or manufacturer is best. Or is it simply one of convenience or a lack of education about other solutions on the market ?

I mentioned earlier a problem, my problem lies with using Bridge as my image browser, as my means of image import and keywording tool (yes that’s important to do actually). I haven’t used Lightroom since moving to Photoshop a few years ago, so I’ve been keeping everything “in-house” by using Bridge, ACR and Photoshop as my preferred workflow. But that’s all changed. Or at least the first part has, as I’m now using Photo Mechanic as my image browser.


I’ve never been a huge shooter in terms of numbers, or at least that was the case before switching my Nikon tank for my beautiful Sony A7. Ever since I made the transition my shot rate has gone through the roof. Instead of spending precious time deciding what lens to use, I’m now simply shooting. And loving it I must say. But with this brings the need for speed when dealing with the images out of camera. Importing, naming, editing, and exporting has now become a task that can either be pleasurable or painful. Painful in terms of using Bridge, but pleasurable when using Photo Mechanic.

Now in true Antony style, I’m steering clear of all the technical stuff and will just tell you why I think many of you reading this should probably buy this product.

CameraBits, the developer, markets Photo Mechanic as “The fastest professional photo workflow solution on the planet”, quite a statement hey ? But one that I’ve found to be true in every sense. It’s simply an amazing piece of software that will save you an enormous amount of time, effort and money. So how does it work for us both ?

Step One – Ingest

Took me a while to get used to this word, found it rather an odd choice, but one that will be replaced by my usual dialogue of “import“. And that all it is, Ingesting is importing images from your cards.

Ingest dialogue box

Ingest dialogue box

As you can see there are many different options you can take advantage of when importing and naming your files. The important ones for me, and probably for you too, is that you have the ability to import (or Ingest) from several cards at the same time, can easily assign your Primary and Secondary (Usually your Backup) Destination Root Folders, and add your IPTC or Metadata immediately. For those that prefer to “cull/edit” their images before adding Metadata, you can simply ingest then cull, then add your information. No problems there.

Below is the Stationery Pad for adding the IPTC/Metadata, pretty self explanatory and one that you’ll be pleased to hear, can generate presets.

IPTC Stationery Pad

IPTC Stationery Pad

Once you’ve Ingested nicely, and at a speed that will leave you gasping for air. You will now be introduced to the “Contact Sheet”. I absolutely love this place, and maybe some will just say it’s me being nostalgic or even silly, but just the fact that it’s called the Contact Sheet makes me excited. I feel like I’m working the same process as the likes of Bresson, or Kertesz, or Adams did all those years ago.


Contact Sheet

If you click on the image above you’ll be able to enlarge it to reveal more of the workspace, it has all the options that are available in Bridge, you can rotate, preview, copy, delete, tag, watermark, rename, resize, and add IPTC metadata to photos both individually and in batches from here. But everything is done in super quick time, no waiting for everything to load, it’s all there. Immediately. I find editing to be a far easier task in Photo Mechanic where I can see an greater overview of the images. Again, saving time. I will typically use this as the “first pass”, where the obvious “non keepers” will be taken out of the batch. The next task is to take the remaining images, one by one, into the preview window for closer inspection.



Unfortunately, because of my limited column width on this page, the actual workspace got a bit squished, but you can get the gist, images run along the bottom, data on the right, including a Histogram that isn’t actually shown due to squishiness, sorry about that. Once an image from the bottom row is clicked you can view at up to 800% in full resolution, great if you like admiring them pixels, and use the split screen facility to compare two images at once.

I like the fact that I’m unable to run any editing whatsoever, apart from a little cropping maybe, as this is what normally slows me down. I’ll choose an image to take a closer look, it will end up in ACR and then I’ll start editing in Photoshop, and before I know it the night is over. But because Photo Mechanic is exclusively an image browser, I no longer run into this problem. Preview is used to get the numbers down even more, and to my “Final edits” stage. And it’s only then that I take the images into Photoshop.

So should you buy Photo Mechanic ?

I love it. I wished I’d bought it a long time ago. If you only shoot a minimal amount of images, then this may be a little too rich for you. But if you shoot regularly upwards of 100 or so images per shoot, then Photo Mechanic will be a great investment. I know that it’s normally used by Photo Journalists, and Sports Photographers, those that need immediate action on their images, but what about those that just shoot a lot ? I can already think of a few genres as well as a few photographer friends that would qualify for use here.

What you’ve just read has only scratched the surface of what the programme can do in terms of customising and naming your filing systems, and I’m also aware that the developers are currently working hard at building a Catalogue system which is really exciting for the future.

So in closing I’d like to express how much I enjoy using Photo Mechanic, and again emphasise how much time you will save by using it, it’s effectively cut my workflow time in half, of which my wife is very pleased.

Camera Bits currently offer a free 30 day trial, so do take advantage and see for yourself, how it could really improve your workflow as it has done mine.

At the top of this post I mentioned two products that have changed my workflow, we’ve just looked at the first and in the coming days I’ll write about the second, Iridient Developer, a powerful RAW image convertor that just may give the big boys a run for their money.



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Criticism vs Critique

The first question I would like to address is that of the difference between criticism and critique. Many, in fact most, photographers that I know believe that the two terms have the same meaning, when in fact they are very different from each other.

Criticism isn’t just about expressing likes and dislikes, it’s much more than that. If we were asked to create a definition, it would be: Criticism is informed discourse about art to increase understanding and appreciation of art. With “Discourse” including talking and writing, and “Informed” being an important qualifier that distinguishes criticism from mere talk and uninformed opinion about photography.

Criticism teaches the value of looking longer, more carefully, and more intelligently. It gives the ability to read the visual environment and the learning of skills needed to choose among competing values. It builds character through learning how to take chances in offering interpretations and judgements about photography and coping with disagreements.

Where criticism is for the reading public, critique is for the working artist. It’s goal, the evaluation, or judgement, of the artists work. I’ve discovered that it shares many different, but similar meanings, ” To show students how to make their work better”, “To help find the strengths and weaknesses in their work”, “To correct what was wrong” ” To show flaws”, “To show their failings”. Whereas criticism is to inform and discuss, critique is to simply “Help others make better art.”

Procedures of Criticism

Critics describe the photograph, they interpret it, they evaluate it, and they theorise about it. We will learn about these processes individually in future posts, but for now it’s important for you to understand that they are used as a way of slowing the viewing encounter with the photograph, and aid premature judgement. The critics job is primarily one of publicity, to inform viewers of specific works of art. Which is why, contrary to popular belief, critics more often than not are positive in their judgements. It’s important that the critic looks at the work objectively, as a potential member of the artists audience. And that he/she asks questions about meaning more than aesthetic worth. Pinpointing in words what the photograph provokes them to feel, think and understand.

To become informed about photographs is to critically think about them. The more time we spend with a photograph or group of photographs, the deeper our understanding will be, which frequently results in positive appreciation. However, there are two main components that need to be combined to achieve this understanding and appreciation, thought and feeling. Because criticism is not a purely intellectual undertaking.

The value of Criticism

The value of reading good criticism is increased knowledge and appreciation of photography. Reading about photography with which we are unfamiliar increases our knowledge. If we already know and love someone’s work, reading someone else’s view of it may expand our own if we agree, or it may intensify our own if we choose to disagree and formulate counterarguments.

In doing criticism we bring ourselves closer to the photographer’s thoughts, writing being an instrument of thinking, allowing us to discover more logic, more reason. As I mentioned before, one of the valuable aspects of criticism is that of slowing the viewing process down, or prolonging the time we spend with a photograph. With many of us making a judgement on an image within the first five seconds of viewing, I find the process of critical questioning of huge value. And it’s the viewers that consider photographs as a critic would that will likely increase their own understanding and appreciation of photographs – which is of course the goal and the reward.


I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post, in the next we’ll look at “Describing Photographs”. I hope you’ll join me.




Barrett T (1996). Criticizing Photographs.
Feldman E.B (1970). Becoming Human through Art.
Feldman E.B (1973). The teacher as model critic.




tony-ray-jonesA hand-written note by Tony Ray-Jones, who spent the latter part of the 1960′s travelling all over England photographing what he saw as a disappearing way of life. Much the same as the infamous Martin Parr, Tony was fascinated by the eccentricities of English social customs.


Sadly, Tony died from leukemia in 1972, aged only 31; his book “A Day Off” appeared in 1974, a book he never actually saw. The power and originality of his vision has endured beyond that of many longer-lived artists. The National Media Museum in Bradford, England, which houses his archive, included Ray-Jones in its “The Lives of Great Photographers” exhibition in 2011, proof, if any were needed, that his work continues to speak to successive generations of viewers and photographers.


crj-137-hi-res-web Exhibition-620x413 FS_9423 H0027-L16412435 Life’s+a+beach+scenes+from+Blackpool-2 ray-jones_bournemouth_19691-1024x687 Tony1965W
Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr” is currently running at the National Media Museum, Bradford, UK until June 29th : Free Admission. I’m hoping to treat myself to a visit, maybe I’ll see you there ?



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Last night I watched the documentary “Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington”, directed by Sebastian Junger which looks at the life and work of Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist and filmmaker from England, that was always searching for the humanity within wartime conflict. Named world press photographer of the year four times and an Oscar nominee, Tim Hetherington was one of the most respected members of his profession. Yet like so many of his colleagues who have placed themselves in the field of conflict in the name of photography, his relentless drive to document the impact of war cost him his life, killed alongside American journalist Chris Hondros in a 2011 mortar attack in Libya.

Between 1999 – 2003, Hetherington spent five years developing a series of images which depicts young men and women at the Milton Margai School for the Blind in Freetown, Sierra Leone. And it’s through these moving photographs that I would like to reflect Hetherington’s humanistic approach to the depiction of warzones and conflict.

The civil war in Sierra Leone left many people with serious medical conditions. In 2004, Hetherington wrote that in addition to amputations, “the fighters of the Revolutionary Front (RUF) also terrorized people by cutting their eyes out. Others lost their eyes to shrapnel or as a result of being caught up in combat. Many simply lost their eyesight because they did not have access to a doctor and therefore a simple medical condition developed and went untreated.”


Moved by the courageous young people he met there, Hetherington became a champion of the school where he was known as “Uncle Tim.” The artist dedicated his efforts to improving the educational programs of students and established a charity to benefit the school, which he continued to support until his death on April 20, 2011.

In a forward to an unpublished book about the school, Hetherington wrote, “While exploring for myself the shades, textures and shapes that exist in the lives of the children…I have found that … they learn to live with blindness and to survive in their respective environment while seeking an education and guidance that will help them throughout their lives….Many of them have an intense desire to communicate their experience and connect with people outside their day-to-day lives.”

Milton Margai Portraits Sierra Leone Warblind NYC121174 NYC121177 NYC121191 Blind school Milton Margai Portraits Blind of Sierra Leone Untitled,_1999-2003_(young_boy_with_army_shirt)

If you have the time and would like to find out more about Tim and his work, below you’ll find the documentary I mentioned at the beginning of this post, (I assure you it’s definitely worth watching) and in addition you also click here to go to his official website/trust. 


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Beach patrols measuring the length of women’s bathing suits in the 1920s.

Beach patrols measuring the length of women’s bathing suits in the 1920s.


Suzanne Opton’s images of soldiers were distributed on billboards in eight American cities between 2008 and 2010. For her project, titled “Soldier,” her aim was “to look into the face of a young person who had seen something unforgettable”; with this goal in mind, she asked nine members of the U.S. military between tours of duty to place their heads on hard tables. While she arranged her 4-by-5 camera and lights, the soldiers posing for her tended to let down their guards. “Some of them look serene and some of them look shell-shocked,” says Opton. “They’re all terribly vulnerable.”

With the images, the photographer provides raw information to as to the number of days they have served, and where.

Bosiaki, 364 Days in Iraq
Bosiaki, 364 Days in Iraq
Claxton, 120 Days in Afghanistan

Claxton, 120 Days in Afghanistan

Neal, 427 Days in Iraq

Neal, 427 Days in Iraq

L. Jefferson, Length of Service Undisclosed

L. Jefferson, Length of Service Undisclosed

Birkholz, 353 Days in Iraq, 205 Days in Afghanistan

Birkholz, 353 Days in Iraq, 205 Days in Afghanistan

Morris, 112 Days in Iraq

Morris, 112 Days in Iraq

Dougherty, 302 Days in Afghanistan

Dougherty, 302 Days in Afghanistan

For me, these images offer a unique way of “seeing” the tragedy of war. Due to the immense daily bombardment of images I feel I’ve somewhat lost the ability to see, or at least become slightly immune, to the intense, painful, and violent images that are shown in tradition media that depict wars and conflicts. I find myself less and less affected by what I see as determined by picture editors, and more from the work of photographers that are not journalists. It seems that the images the media thinks I want to see, are in fact the images I don’t see at all.

More of Suzanne’s work can be found here



Former newspaper photographer, Bob Lee, dedicates his time and talent teach the blind how to take photographs. A beautiful presentation on how it’s important that we shouldn’t take things for granted, and always believe in ourselves.



Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Manuel Alvarez Bravo



We’re all familiar with the term, ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, meaning that it’s outer surface is often not a true reflection of the quality within. And in the case of Kōzu.Vol.1, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

This new and exciting publication has brought some of the world’s best long exposure photographers together and placed their images in the hands of what I can only term as a “master printer”. Greg Stewart, the 4th generation of printer in a family business called Wells Printing based in the UK, is bringing the beauty and experience of viewing a photograph back into your hands, where turning each page is not only a pleasure but a way of forming a more intimate relationship with photographs that many of us haven’t had the chance to experience before now.

The concept is simple, to combine two passions, photography and print, and in both cases use the highest quality there is. The Vol.1 photography is stunning, featuring the work of :

The paper Greg uses is like nothing I’ve experienced before, (300gsm GF Smith Heaven 42), with each page displaying the characteristics of a print in itself. The character of the book reveals that the main focus is the image, with the only text being the introductions to the photographers. The tonal reproduction of the photographs is simply beautiful, and like finding a new best friend, you’ll want to spend as much time in their company as possible.

I’m really pleased to say that Greg is planning to build on Vol.1′s success and to make Kōzu a regular monthly edition, helping talented photographers gain the recognition and exposure that’s so desperately needed in today’s crowded marketplace.

Having experienced the book and chatted at length to Greg, I believe Kōzu is a winner, and will definitely be the benchmark for other photobook publishers. So if you’re a photo book collector, or just someone that appreciates looking at great photography presented in the most exquisite way, then this is definitely a book you need to add to your shelves.


To buy a copy of Vol.1, before they sell out, you can do so by clicking here.




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Anthony Rosario stares out of the cell he remains in for 23 hours a day. "They are rejects of society and warehousing them in prison isnt the way to go. Most of them dont have life sentences - they will get out some day." says psychologist Dr. Tanya Young. "What do they do when they get out? There needs to be something else to absorb them or take them in," she adds.

A week ago, I watched the “Bearing Witness” Symposium streamed by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), that considered the shifting conditions of photography in contemporary culture and why the medium matters now more than ever. And it was during one of the sessions that Pete Brook, editor of prisonphotography.org, spoke about “What Can Photography Do for Prison Reform?”, drew my attention to a piece of work by photographer Jenn Ackerman. A project from 2008, called “Trapped” that highlighted the problem of increased imprisonment of the mentally ill in the US.

Now the intent of this post isn’t to start an in-depth dialogue about prisons, or mental health issues, but to simply direct you a body of work that has moved me tremendously. The images are raw, deeply haunting, some disturbing, and many sad.  With only a few holding any feeling of hope, of humanity even. To accompany the ‘stills’, Jenn shot many short films and interviews with the staff and inmates at the Kentucky prison featured in the project. The main one you’ll find at the bottom of this post.

I wanted to write about the work, but felt the best way for you to absorb it, is through understanding the project with the eyes, mind and heart of it’s author. In this way, the true intent shall remain without any potential redirection from me.

About Trapped, written by Jenn Ackerman

My primary goal with Trapped is to accurately portray the reality of living with mental illness for prisoners in an effort to call attention to the increased imprisonment of the mentally ill in the US.

This project started after reading an article in the New York Times that mentioned the growing population of mentally ill inmates in the US. After weeks of research, I called a couple of prisons and after speaking to the warden at the Kentucky State Reformatory, I decided to make a visit and see if it was a project I wanted to pursue. After seeing the men and the conditions, albeit one of the best in the country, I knew it was something I had to do.

I began photographing inside the prison in 2008. I worked hard to gain trust and during that time, I was granted unprecedented access into the mental health wing in the Kentucky State Reformatory. After a couple of months photographing inside of the prison, I was given a staff badge and unrestricted access to the prisoners at the facility.

My intention was to make that made the viewer feel what I felt when I was inside the prison. I took a more personal and emotional approach to this project than I ever have. I listened to the inmates and the doctors and set out to take photos of how I felt when I was there. I wanted to show weakness, despair, hostility and vulnerability that I saw when I was there. I left the prison everyday wanting to help these men that have nowhere else to go. There were days that I was extremely scared and others that I left thinking how much someone on the outside missed them. Some days, I had to remind myself that many of these men had done heinous things. There were also days when I was reminded that some of these men have faded into the system with no hope of getting out.

I saw them cry. I saw them hit themselves so hard in the head that they bled. I saw them throw their feces at the officers. I saw a world most people don’t even know exists in America. There were hard days but mostly rewarding ones. For most of these men, they have been outcasts of society and rarely heard. So they had a chance to share their story and have someone listen that actually cared to listen not just focused on treatment or safety.

My intention is to spark calls for reform for the treatment of the mentally ill and the prison system in the US. Since beginning on the project, I have produced a film about the subject and have spoken at numerous prison conferences throughout the country. My work has been used as an educational resource for prisons and law schools and I continue to speak for mentally ill inmates throughout the country. My hope is that the project exposes the injustice, spreads awareness and encourages a needed policy change about imprisoning the mentally ill in the US.

An inmate on max assault status and a 23-hour lock down talks to himself in his cell. The max assault status is issued to inmates who have assaulted officers or treatment staff. The inmates have been known to throw a mixture of feces and urine, spit, hit, kick, punch or cut.

An inmate on max assault status and a 23-hour lock down talks to himself in his cell. The max assault status is issued to inmates who have assaulted officers or treatment staff. The inmates have been known to throw a mixture of feces and urine, spit, hit, kick, punch or cut.


After smearing his feces throughout his cell, an inmate wipes it from the cell window.

After smearing his feces throughout his cell, an inmate wipes it from the cell window.


Danny Castile holds up drawings and writings he says is invaluable to the Department of Corrections and the judge who sentenced him to life.

Danny Castile holds up drawings and writings he says is invaluable to the Department of Corrections and the judge who sentenced him to life.


A man looks out the window at the end of the hall to the world outside.

A man looks out the window at the end of the hall to the world outside.


Correctional officers hold down an inmate to secure him in cuffs in order to give him a shower. "When an inmate is in a psychotic episode or being disruptive, their strength is amazing," says  Sargeant Rioux.  Often it takes three to four officers to get his hands restrained.

Correctional officers hold down an inmate to secure him in cuffs in order to give him a shower. “When an inmate is in a psychotic episode or being disruptive, their strength is amazing,” says Sargeant Rioux. Often it takes three to four officers to get his hands restrained.


An officer holds the hand of an inmate while he cries.

An officer holds the hand of an inmate while he cries.

About The Photographer

Jenn Ackerman received a bachelor’s degree in social research from James Madison University, studied photography at the Danish School of Journalism and received a master’s degree in visual communications from Ohio University. Jenn takes a documentary approach to her work, getting as close as she can to her subjects. She likes to work in intimate settings and bring viewers into situations and stories that rarely are told. Her photography is raw, intimate and emotional which requires honesty and trust from the people she photographs. “Her intention is to peel back the veneer, revealing unguarded emotions, irony and incongruity without betraying her subjects” (PDN, March 2012).

You can see and read more about “Trapped” here


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This weekend, thousands of photographers all over the world will pay a visit to their local camera store to rent digital cameras, and lenses. Either thinking about a future purchase, have a project in mind that requires specific equipment to do the job, or for some, just getting an idea of what new technology feels like.

For many photographers, they’ve been born into the ‘digital age’. Had no experience of any other form of photography other than digital. In short, they’ve never experienced analogue. Never shot a roll of film, or experienced the thrill of collecting a set of prints that reveal how successful they were, let alone having their nostrils engulfed by the smell of chemicals in a darkened room.

Admittedly, I’m not a prolific film shooter, but when I do I find it to be a beautiful experience, and feel the same as many do when I have an analogue camera in my hands. I’m just more engaged in the process, in control, and more thoughtful of what I’m shooting. I love the “feel” of film stock and the act of putting the roll in the camera. I guess overall it’s a more tactile experience compared to digital.

So it was with these thoughts that I was led to the question, have you ever rented or bought a film camera, just to try it out ?


To continue with my series of posts looking at “Introductions to photo books. Here’s the “First draft of Jack Kerouac’s “Introduction” for Robert Frank’s The Americans, 1957. Click to enlarge.




Today see’s the launch of Black and White – The Masterclass, a 4 week mentoring programme designed to help you understand and master the art of Black and Photography.

  • 4 Weeks Personal Mentoring

  • 4 Assignments

  • 4 Critiques

  • 4 Live Webinars

and now including 4 Individual 1-2-1 Coaching Sessions, (Each 2 hours in duration)


By taking part in this Masterclass you will gain the following skills :

Learn how to read a photograph

The ability to identify the qualities of a good photograph

Pre-visualisation TECHNIQUES

Successful image composition and how to get the best exposure every time.

Understanding your Histogram and the tonal values of an image

Raw Conversion, B&W Tool, Channel Mixer, Curves, Masks, Noise Reduction, Sharpening, Dodging & Burning, Portrait Retouching, Toning, and much more.



Each week you will be given an assignment that will not only test your understanding of the Black and White image, but will also enable you to further express your creative vision by producing images according to the set boundaries of each assignment. Once these images have been submitted, I will individually critique them and offer detailed feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your work and, where necessary, provide suggestions and examples of how we can improve them. These take place via a weekly 1-2-1 online mentoring session. (Normally around 2 hours in duration)

Our weekly assignments end with the live webinar, a time where we, and your fellow students, will openly discuss the work submitted for that week. The webinar is not only a great place to meet other photographers, but also a good opportunity to learn from the work of others.



The first assignment will take an in-depth look at the various black and white conversion methods.

The second assignment is focused on developing your composition skills, framing, visual language and use of adjustment layers during post production.

For the third we will create some beautiful black and white portraits.

The fourth and final assignment will give you the opportunity to add “mood” and “feeling” to your images.



1           MON 31ST MARCH      SUN 6TH

2           MON 7TH                   SUN 13TH

3           MON 14TH                 SUN 20TH

4           MON 21ST                 SUN 27TH

The Black and White Masterclass is suitable for anyone that is looking to completely transform how they produce black and white photographs. From pre-visualising the shot, composing the elements, expressing your intent and creative vision, and finally onto mastering the art of black and white post production techniques.

Due to the level of individual mentoring and instruction that is given, the course is limited to 5 students only.

The price per student is €90, and you can to book your place by clicking the button below.




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I really like Olga Cherysheva’s (Russian, b. 1962) series of mutely toned photographs entitled Anabiosis: Fishermen Plants (2000), singles out of the snow-covered ice, solitary Russian fishermen wrapped in fabrics to protect themselves against the freezing cold.

The word Anabiosis means ‘a state of suspended animation.’

olga-chernyshova-44-68 olga-chernyshova-44-69 olga-chernyshova-44-70 olga-chernyshova-44-71 olga-chernyshova-44-73


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I love artist talks. I’m invited to indulge in context, which for me is an integral part of my understanding a photographer’s work. And without context I often feel like I’m only getting half the story. I respect the relationship that’s created with the photographer through this open dialogue, and the sharing of experiences associated with the creation of the work that allows me admittance to personal spaces, thoughts, emotions and processes, not usually open without these invitations. And it’s here that I also invite you, to explore and form relationship with the work of Elinor Carucci.

Israeli born photographer Elinor Carucci’s work is known for its intense intimacy. She photographs herself, her parents, her husband and most recently her children during moments of closeness but also times of discord. She captures the deep love, vulnerability and occasional animosity that are inextricably connected to close familial relationships. Whilst remaining an account of the relationship between Elinor and her loved ones, her images trigger in us a sense of the universality of these bonds and moments in life. Her work is a conscious paring down of detail, such as dress and miss-en-scéne, that would date or overly particularise a photograph. This approach keeps the symbolic readings of her depictions of her personal relationships to the fore.

Last week The Aperture Foundation presented a beautiful artist talk with Elinor, the first 2 parts looking at her collective work, the 3rd being a Q&A. In them, and as always, she openly shares herself and her work with us. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.


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Mitch Mishler

Ever since I have known Adam, he has been a B&W long exposure photographer, so when he presented me with his latest project to look over, I was full of surprise and excitement to see that he had moved away from his normal style of shooting, into the beautiful world of portraits. As a way of introducing you to each other, I chatted briefly to Adam about his new work, “The Blane Project”

Can you give us an introduction, some background ?

During the fall of 2012, I was in the middle of a photojournalism class at The Art Institute of Colorado. One of the assignments I had was to shoot a story of someone we admire in society. A year or so before then I had heard an interview on the radio with a WWII vet. After hearing the interview I remember talking over dinner with my wife about it. “How great would it be to photograph some of these vets” I told her. She agreed and life carried on as it so often does. It wasn’t until almost a year later when I was charged with this assignment that the notion of photographing vets came back to me. After some research and what seemed like dozens of phone calls I finally came in contact with Jim Blane. A former Marine who helped take the island of Iwo Jima. I met Jim at his home and photographed him in the library as he spoke of his time in the service. After we were done, film was developed and prints made, I asked Jim how can I get one of these prints to you? “Meet me at the coffee shop tomorrow and give it to me,” Jim said. The following morning I walked into the Daz-Bog coffee shop in Denver, Colorado and saw a table filled with WWII veterans. Jim introduced me to everyone at the table and The Blane Project was born. Since that first meeting I have met the same guys at the same coffee shop every other Wednesday.


Cye Smailing


The Browns


Max Brown


Shep Waldmen

What do the subjects think of the project ?

The guys are always excited to hear about the latest progress with the project. They enjoy helping and talking about their service to the country. And in true fashion to the greatest generation, they do it selflessly. What I mean is that these men have become like family to me. I celebrate with them over anniversaries, awards and birthdays. And cry with them at funerals when one of our group falls. They are always the first to ask me, “How are you doing? How’s the project going? Do you need anything else?” In the absence of my grandfather’s they have interceded. As a result their excitement for the project seems to be as much about helping me the way a grandfather would be excited to help a grandson; As it is helping preserve history.

How do they feel about being photographed ?

I think this is one of the most interesting parts of the project. I have only been turned down once and that was only until I had photographed his friend for the project first. Other than that they are all happy to be photographed. When I do go to photograph them (usually in their homes) I let them wear what they want and often times they pick the location. Which is really a window into who they are. I want this to be about who they are now. Not just what they were then. Some of the men, like Bill Brunger, Mitch Mishler and Jim Blane wear their service on their sleeve. Which really shows in their pictures. Others are more reserved. Like Shep Waldmen and Lenny Frankenthal. Their pictures outside of the context of this project, you would not be able to tell they were veterans. So I am glad that their personality is reflected in the photographs.


Joe Lehnier


Louis Zoghby

I bet they enjoy seeing the finished product, the print ?

Yes, every image I make of them gets printed and handed to them at the next coffee meeting. “Wow,” is the usual reaction or “How did you do that?” For some of them it has been several years since they have been photographed. I have photographed this whole project with film. I always felt the grit and character of the film was appropriate for his project. The guys are always excited to see me pull out film also. They feel familiar with it and is often a source of conversation.


Jack Bodie


Jim Blane


Bill Brunger

I expect they have some stories to tell ?

The guys are always full of jokes and there are a lot of funny stories to tell. But there is one that I would like to share that has impacted me more than most. A couple of weeks before Christmas I was sitting in the coffee shop enjoying a morning with the boys. A young mom walked over to the table with her small son. She leaned down and whispered in the boys ear. With a grin on his face the young boy stood tall at the edge of the table and said with as much confidence as a 4 year old can have, “Thank you for your service guys.” Now as touching and powerful as that moment was, it was it was soon overshadowed. Shep, was sitting on my right. He leaned over, both hands on his cane and said to me, “You know…(he paused) I think some people might really still care.” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. So I simply said, “I think most people do care Shep, maybe they’re just a little intimidated and unsure of what to say.” That was a powerful moment. I always try to thank the guys from that point on. Not only for their service but also to remind them that I enjoy so much because they first gave so much.

So what’s next Adam ?

The project is still growing. I hope to find more vets that want to participate in the project first. Eventually I will put this altogether into a book and publish for everyone to enjoy. I want to say a special thanks to Fuji film for helping me with this project. They have stepped up big and supplied all of the film I am shooting for this project.


Bill Brunger

If you want to see more of Adam’s work, I can highly recommend doing so, you can visit him here. And if you also have a photography project that you would like to share, please do get in touch.


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Today I want to talk about Charles Harbutt and the essay he wrote for his book “Travelog”, a volume that appeared in 1974, and one that has often been described as “one of the greatest photography essays ever written”.

For those not familiar with Charles Harbutt, for the first twenty years of his photographic life, he was a photojournalist, working mostly through Magnum Photos (of which he was twice president) for magazines in Europe, Japan and the United States. Eventually becoming a full-time Professor at Parsons School of Design in New York. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American History, the Corcoran Gallery, the U.S. Library of Congress, George Eastman House, the Art Institute of Chicago, the International Center of Photography, the Center for Creative Photography, and at the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Beaubourg, and the Maison Europeene de la Photographie in Paris. So as you can see he is pretty well celebrated.

“My photographs are both real and surreal,” Charles Harbutt writes of Travelog, containing some 120 examples of his work. “For a while I called them superbanalisms. I don’t think of this book as a portfolio of my best work, but rather as an integrated set of photographs that express where I have been psychologically, emotionally, physically. In a way it is Bloom walking the world. The loneliness, alienation, and fears, the lusts and sexual sorrows, the difficulties of sustaining emotional relationships. The damage people do to each other and the delight they can and do give one another. Throughout the desire to break free. At the same time it is about what is specifically photographic about photography….”

1988_65 Charles Harbutt 4 flymarin Harbutt-buildings Providence_3000

I’m building this essay up for a reason, and a good one at that. Because it’s amazing, and will have a direct and lasting impact on your photographic philosophy.  It’s the type of essay I’ll come back to for ideas and inspiration, and one that I’m sure you will too. So enough of me, I’ll now hand over to Mr Charles Harbutt …..


I Don’t Take Pictures; Pictures Take Me

Fifteen years ago, I stopped being a writer and became a photographer. On a sweltering New York August day, l was writing about winter in Japan. Writers, it seemed, didn’t have to go to the places they wrote about because there is no relationship between the written word and anything that ever existed except the imagination of the writer: nothing in the medium, in the nature of the act of writing.

I became a photographer because photographers did have to be wherever they wanted to take pictures, or at least their cameras did. And because there was some connection, inherent in the nature of the medium, between that place and its picture. And the viewers, despite any pitfalls or roadblocks put in their way, could still to some extent be there too. This has always struck me as somewhat amazing. That magic little black box enables one to leave, in a small way and for a short while, one’s own time and space and to occupy, maybe only superficially, another time and space: a then and there that really existed as well as a here and now. Photographs are both real images and imaged realities. This is both unique among media and new in human experience.

The nature of any artistic medium consists in a particular human action on certain materials to produce a new thing. Every medium uses unique means designed to achieve its goals economically: no one sculpts with a paint brush even though marble could be eroded into some form eventually. And these means and acts define not only the nature of the final product, but its uniqueness as a medium and therefore its raison d’etre.

Photographs are made with cameras. Cameras have three parts -lens, film, and shutter- each of which leaves its mark like a chisel on the final image. These parts in turn define the kind of act necessary to produce a photograph both in physical and philosophical terms.

Cameras see differently from people. Lenses have monocular vision and so are unaware of depth and cannot render volume as in Renaissance painting. Lenses relentlessly see everything in front of them, they do not have minds concentrating like search lights on details within their angle of view. And again unlike people, lenses are unaffected in their vision by sound or hearing, smell or memory.

But unlike other media, the lens requires something other than materials and maker in order to function. A writer can write in a void (many do). Beethoven was deaf. Sculptors can sculpt and painters paint miles and years from the sources of their vision. But camera lenses require both light and some real thing external to materials and maker. If a photographer, with the best film and camera, stepped into a seamless sphere and there was no light, he could produce one black picture -true to the reality of the sphere, but his later work would be boring. If that same seamless sphere, that void, were now lit absolutely evenly, he could produce true pictures called “white” and quite a few called “gray” and even possibly one called “black.” But they would only be tinted paper and not really identifiable as photographs because there would be no evidence of the lens’s chisel mark: the ability to limn detail, to delineate some real other thing.

Photography is the result of a balancing act of film, lens, shutter, and light bouncing off something. The photographic image derives directly from, in fact is caused by, whatever objects are in front of the lens. But by this very act, a lens sometimes distorts the lines of the object. And even without this distortion, the lens makes an image which has a separate physical reality from the real object which caused it. So at the same time, a photograph is an experience in and of itself and can preserve some aspects of the direct perception of reality and in fact of reality itself. Photography is the only two-dimensional visual medium, that simultaneously has this inherent relationship between thing made and thing in reality, and its uniqueness springs from the tension between image and reality.

We are now confronted with a medium that can do something no other medium can. Photography can give us a two-dimensional delineation of the real world. It is the closest human technology has come to reproducing (and therefore sharing) that aspect of life known as visual perception. A photograph is able to preserve, like the memory, the raw material, the input data of one human’s experience of life or at least what one person considered memorable enough to point a camera at.

This fact helped painters realize that not only need there not be, but there is not any inherent relationship between painting and reality. Painting is putting paint on a surface; sculpture is making three-dimensional shapes out of various materials; writing is putting words in sequence on paper. Photography is causing images to be made by reality. And since that doesn’t seem to be art, photographers have been fleeing that fact since the first click.

None of this is to deny the reality of the imagination, of the subconscious, or of the dream. Nor is it “invalid” to try to make objects that symbolize the dream. But to deny the reality, the value of the external, given world, also lead to insanity. Photography is the only medium that can deal with this external world directly in away that is inherent to the medium. It is partially a question of economy of means, of not sculpting with a paintbrush. It is very easy to achieve some surface semblance of reality in a photograph and literally impossible to photograph one’s dreams, fantasies, and imaginings. All that can be photographed of the interior world are suggestions, approximations. associations, and, on the most banal level, staged recreations of the dream, not the dream itself. In other media, it is literally impossible to “get” reality (without incorporating it totally, as in Nevelson sculpture), and easy to get the imagination; in fact, there is nothing else. As James Agee pointed out, there is no need for willing suspension of disbelief in photography.

Photography is a reality high. It comes from that impulse which makes one turn and say: “Hey, did you see that?” On one level, It is the photographer’s experience of reality speaking directly to his viewer’s experience of reality. Art is the imagination of the artist speaking directly to the viewers imagination.

Photography is not art. Atget had the right idea when he refused to exhibit his photographs in an art gallery. He had a little sign on his door saying, “Documents pour artistes.” Although photography freed painting from its need to depict reality and so unleashed art’s century-long exploration of itself, photographers adopted the standards and strictures of the French Academy. When that style became passe, photographers began their pell-mell, helter-skelter, Keystone Kops chase of artists down through art history – through romanticism, impressionism, dadaism, futurism, abstractionism, pop, op and now into conceptualism. We’ve had shows of photography as printmaking and as sculpture, as eggs and as tacos. Unfortunately, the “art” photographers are suspiciously behind the painters by a few years. This “me-too” approach is not only undignified, not only visually and morally bankrupt, but anti-photographic in a very deep way.

I say two-dimensional because of the Plastercaster groupies who made casts of that part of the anatomy they most admired in rock stars. But I hear that was a pretty uncomfortable medium. And there are death masks. And taxidermy. And the tape recorder. And film, which is a marriage of tape recorder and camera. Susan Sontag, the critic, stated all this when she postulated in her book Styles of Radical Will that the highest use of the film medium is the documentary, the reproduction of an audiovisual moment in time and that all the rest of what is called cinema is the recording of theatrical events which can be properly criticized only as theater, with a slight nod to production values.

Photography’s lack of self-respect would of course annoy George Bernard Shaw, who wrote: “When the photographer takes to forgery, the press encourages him. The critics, being professional connoisseurs of the shiftiest of the old makeshifts, come to the galleries where the forgeries are exhibited. They find to their relief that here, instead of a new business for them to learn, is a row of monochromes which their old jargon fits like a glove. Forthwith they proclaim that photography has become an art.”

Photography is not art; it is something totally new in human experience, something people have not been able to do before the last century or so. And art critics and philosophers have reacted like the Pope to Galileo. Since the fact doesn’t fit the theory, jettison the fact.

Photography is not art because the basic impulse of the photographer is diametrically opposed to the basic impulse of the artist at least in one large respect. The artist tries to bring into existence something new that never had concrete existence before. The photographer tries to bring into existence something new that preserves something that already has concrete existence but will cease to exist in just that way in the next moment or day or year. And for Goethe, at least, the imagination for the real was imagination’s highest form, Perhaps photography is simply a higher stage in humanity’s artistic evolution from that first hand-drawn, cave-hidden deer. And critics are known to be dinosaurs.

The concept of preservation is significant in photography not only because cameras have lenses, but also because they have shutters. A shutter is a timing mechanism. Time means change. Two successive pictures cannot be made of a person and be line-for-line the same, unless that person is dead. And then it can be done only for a while, not for all time. Photography is deeply related to time. It wants to stop time. It wants to lay claim to immortality. To cheat death. In a way, because photographs of Lincoln exist, not all of him dies. We can still reclaim some surface parts of a particular moment of his Iife. His real face produced the lines in the image. All art has is the artist and his impressions, not really, really Lincoln. If photography had existed in Christ’s time, we might have been spared some atrocious religious art.

Photographers acknowledge time over and over again in their book titles: Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment, Lartigue’s Diary of a Century, Penn’s Moments Preserved. All photographs can be precisely dated to the very fraction of a second when they were made and all great photographs contain some attitude toward time: either real time -the Thirties, Saturday morning, peak action-, or camera time- only at this moment were these masses in equilibrium, double exposures, or even personal time: this moment reminds me of my childhood, or of a dream or a feeling.

To sum up the materials of the photographic medium (which in turn defines the act): A photograph is the result of the action of light bouncing off something in reality other than the artist (usually) as these rays are focused by a lens into an image for a long enough time (which is controlled by the shutter) to allow the light to change the chemicals in the film. When this is done the linear detail of reality is etched onto the film and the real thing’s tonal scale is approximated chemically in the tonal scale of the film-print-transparency.

To understand the nature of the photographer’s act, it is important to understand how cameras see (since cameras take pictures) and what that corresponds to in human experience. When Jacques-Henri Lartigue was a little boy and ran out of film, he would blink his eyes at anything he saw that he wanted to remember and then sketch it in his diary. The reverse is more like a camera. If you close your eyes, turn your head left or right, up or down, then, saying click, open and close your eyes very quickly, you will experience the photographic moment. It’s like that inside a camera when the shutter clicks. When I tried it, I noticed a sudden rush of light and a jumble of objects. A student once said that more than noticing that the world was still there, she noticed that she was still there. I see therefore I am. Closed eyes are the state of dreams; only interior visions are possible then. When the eyes are open, an awareness of dreams and the interior life is stilI possible, but awareness of the external world is possible only with open eyes. And therefore, the fullest experience of life is possible only when one is awake and with open eyes, out on the streets of the world.

This sense of quickness, of being alive on this earth, of simple orgasmic sense perception, is the point at which great photographs are made. Photographs come from that moment in the process of cognition before the mind has analyzed meaning or the eyes design and at which the experience and the person experiencing are fully, intuitively, existentially there. Such images look like photographs, not paintings, there is a tremendous sense of stopped time, of the blinking shutter, of being alive and still there, of discovery (rather than analysis), of chance, not design, of quick emotion from an uncertain cause. Photography is at its best when it deals with the very act of seeing in itself and not with recollections in tranquility or dilettantism of design.

The moment of creation in photography is similar to a state of consciousness very much sought after in yoga. Or Gestalt therapy. It is to be at the exact center of one’s being, where an awareness of everything going on inside oneself -in fantasy, memory, emotions and thought- is balanced by sensitivity to what is happening outside the person and what it means and feels and is. If a photographer can become sufficiently aware of this continuum and have the energy to push a shutter when inside and outside click together, that camera might produce some very fine photographs indeed. And they would be unique and original (good or bad) because the particular way the world would fall into space from that camera angle could not be seen by any other camera. One couldn’t occupy the same physical place. And because that particular continuum is totally personal, And because a person is different from moment to moment. As is the world. But all one’s photographs would share that unique personal way of being alive, and it is this being aliveness that viewers can respond to.

William Faulkner inadvertently wrote a fine definition of photography when he said: “The goal of every artist is to stop movement, which is life, by artificial means and to maintain it fixed so that one hundred years later, when a stranger may gaze at it, it will once again move, because it is life.”

How is this continuum of photographer, world, and camera achieved? Each person must find it individually, but for me it has flowed from the realization that I don’t take pictures, pictures take me. I can do nothing except have film in the camera and be alert. My adversary, a photograph, stalks the world like a roaring lion. Pictures happen. One can only trust one’s sensitivity, the bounty of the world, and the chemistry of Kodak. This is the photographic method. And Grandma knew all about it. There was Junior in the summer sun looking gorgeous in his diapers. Grandma was bursting with love. How could she consume the baby and still have him? Click. Now nothing: not age, not trouble, not dope, not long hair, not the wrong girlfriend or boyfriend, not death, not anything: no thing can take that moment away from Grandma, And when she looks at the picture, all the emotion will come back. She might sigh a little, but it will come back. And if she was any way a good photographer it might even come back for all of us, who don’t even know Junior, after she is gone.

This existential approach to photography raises two problems. Meaning and design.

Most of us come at the world with a set of preconceived notions. whether from church, school, past experience (and neuroses.), or the media. These constitute a mental set, a Weltanschauung which explains-and sometimes explains away-reality. But reality comes without adjectives, it just is. The photographer’s problem is to come to see the real world as it really is, like the boy hero of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In some ways, all photographers must become cavemen. Or aliens. Or children.

The basic problem is to find out what things mean through direct perception of what is, even though that perception will be colored by what we think we know. We cannot escape who we are, but we can make an effort to let reality be itself, to be open to what the world outside our heads is on its own terms. Again, it is the continuum and all its parts: the photographer is really there with all his mental and emotional baggage; the camera is really there with all its needs technically and visually; and the world is there to be discovered. Each moment is a new moment: to assign old meaning to a new moment may be to rob it of its meaninglessness. Nor is it a photographer’s business to change the world, literally or politically-the former is fascism, the latter propaganda even if of the noblest sort.

The problem of photographic design is very similar to that of meaning. Good photographs must show the evidence of how they were made, of the lens, shutter, and film, of the unique ability among print media to “render” fine detail in continuous tone. But since photographs are not rendered by hand, concepts for handmade design cannot be automatically applied. When design class rules are superimposed on reality, the design kills.

The significant point is that if we are as open to reality as a camera is, that is as totally as a blank film to light, we in fact perceive meaning or feel emotion through reality’s own form. Any thing we see which we understand, or which moves us when we see it, at that very moment has a form which is already “designed” in reality to cause us, with our programmed set of responses, to understand it or have that feeling. The photographer’s job is more to discover reality’s forms and meanings than simply to project his own (although he must respect and be aware of his meanings and feelings). And to discover not only reality’s forms and meanings as well as his own. but the camera’s special ways of seeing. Only by following this route has the great visual inventiveness of photography been achieved.

Photographic design is more related to jazz than to formal, classical composition. It is a spontaneous, instinctive, even subconscious act, not rigidly thought out. Yet the final print must have both form and content welded with a certain inevitability. Photographic graphics is the product of the medium’s ability to combine fine detail in continuous tone, to deal with chance events and accept them into the design only because they are there, to transmit the sense of a moment isolated in flux, to accept the acute angle destroying the geometry of the rectangular frame and the buzz-saw tendencies of the frame itself, Photographic graphics delights in purely photographic “mistakes”: the tilted horizon, the cropped-out head, the out-of-focus masses, overexposure and underexposure, halation.

Photographic graphics is designed to say: This is camera made, not handmade.

Implicit in this entire thesis is a new set of criteria for judging photographs. First of all, a photograph must be obviously a photograph, that is, it must look like one. It must achieve to the fullest extent what it is uniquely capable of being. It is very fine if the photograph achieves this goal in a uniquely or at least amusingly photographic way. It is even finer if a photograph comes along which achieves photography’s goals in an original way.

The photographic goal, flows from the nature of the medium. Photography is the only medium that originates in and is caused by the real, historical. time-space event of a collision between a man, a camera and reality. But the photograph itself occupies its own time and space and is a separate thing from that real-time collusion. Most photographers see only one or the other of those aspects of the medium. Documentary, news, and street photographers see mainly the reality, the content or subject. “Artistic ” and academic photographers see mainly the image, its style, technique, and fantasy associations. Great photographs exist not so much where image and reality meet and balance, but in the electric tension between real and unreal. The good photographer skates as close to the brink of total real ism, while still honoring the otherness of the image, or he skates as close to otherness-the sheer, unique, two-dimensional object-while never leaving the direct realism of which the medium is capable. But the great photographer skates close to both brinks simultaneously and, in the process, frequently states new ways the problem can be perceived if not solved, new ways the rules can be broken it not observed. The result is a two-dimensional image that is a separate experience in itself while totally authentic to the real continuum which gave it birth.

Beyond that, for me, it is a question of how much, Was it worth doing? How many photographic balIs was the photographer able to juggle at once. How deep a perception of being alive? How rich an emotion? How sensuous an experience? How elegant a Iine or tone or technique? Or how inelegant? How real? How unreal? How surreal? A camera is a filter through which the reality of an existential moment (the world plus the camera plus alI of the person) pours onto the film, which preserves the visual aspects of that moment as photographed from where you are, physically as well as in terms of awareness and depth.

Writing about a visual medium tends to make the simple complex. If you want to make photographs, all you do is point the camera at whatever you wish, click the shutter whenever you want. If you want to judge a good photograph, ask yourself: Is life like that? The answer must be yes and no, but mostly yes.


If you are in the Chicago area, The Center for Creative Photography is celebrating Charles Harbutt’s photographic work, and its relationship to the printed page. The exhibition will feature a complete set of prints from Harbutt’s newest publication, Departures and Arrivals, sequenced as they appear in the book, along with a short video in which Harbutt and Joan Liftin describe the book’s creative process. You can find all the details here, and the show runs until May, 2014. 



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Occasionally, I’m asked to review photography products, nothing so glamorous as shiny new cameras, but for me, products that are far more important in developing you as a photographer and artist. Which is why I was so excited when my friend Joel asked me if I would review and share my thoughts on his latest set of video tutorials “Exploring Vision”.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Joel Tjintjelaar, he is an award winning B&W fine-art photographer from the Netherlands. His work has been published on many online websites and in magazines like American Photo, Black + White Photography Magazine UK and Dutch magazine Digifotopro to name but a few. He is also somewhat “the face of” Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, being used in their recent promotional video for the worldwide release of Pro 2. His work and training continues to make a huge impact on photographers all over the world. And this new set of tutorials is no different. But before we move onto the review, let’s enjoy a few images from Joel.

Empire-State-Building Frozen-Music-I Shape-Of-Light-IV---Erasmus-Bridge Visual-Acoustics-III---Silence-and-Light---Tour-EDF



So as you can see, Joel is rather good at this stuff, so let’s explore his latest set of video tutorials in a little more depth. “Exploring Vision” is a follow up from Joels’ highly successful Black and White Long Exposure Masterclass, a complete step-by-step guide through his Black and White workflow using his own self developed methods of shooting and post processing. A course I cannot recommend highly enough if you simply want to learn how to create, from start to finish, images like the ones featured above. So what is the next course all about, and does it meet the high standards set by his previous one ?

Many of you will already know that I offer mentoring programmes to photographers that want to learn how to express themselves and their visions through their photographs, so I can speak with some authority as to the effectiveness of Joel’s new course on Vision.

Vision is the art of seeing the invisible. It’s not just seeing, it’s not just “sight.” Instead, vision is insight. It’s the ability to see something that only you can see, it doesn’t have a physical reality. It exists only in your imagination, deep within yourself.

So discovering and expressing your vision can be a challenging process, oftentimes a process that you have to go through essentially by yourself. But this is where Joel’s new course comes into play, giving you essential signposts on how you can explore, discover, and share your vision with the world. The course consists of 10 individual videos lasting over 3 hours in duration, so this will give you an indication of how detailed his instruction is.

Here’s an overview of the course contents :

Vision as the basis for your photography, and how it helps you create better images.

Preparing for Your Photo Shoot
Use tools like Google Maps & Google earth to scout locations and arrive well prepared.

Architectural Composition
How your vantage point, angle and crop can change the visual story of your image. Plus an explanation on using tilt/shift lenses to get the desired look.

Selecting Your Shots
Make every exposure count so that selecting the best one will be easy.

Exploring the Potential of Your Image
Experiment with different styles in post to determine which one fits your vision.

Creating Selections
Selections are important, learn the different methods to create them quickly and accurately.

Vision as the Basis for Post Processing
How to translate your vision in post processing to create a strong image. Learning which techniques to apply to get the result you envisioned.

Shaping the Light
Observe how light and shadow define shapes, and use this to create depth in your image.

The Magic of the Shadows
Create magic and mystery using shadows. Also use shadows to eliminate visual noise without cloning.

Know which combination of filters and aperture settings give the desired results using Joel’s own 5MF8 method.


So my views on the course ?

To be honest, anyone that can speak about vision for over 3 hours gets my vote. Therefore, it’s a marvellous addition to any photographers training library. Although the content is heavily weighted towards long exposure shooters, many of the questions posed are also relevant to other genres of photography, not just Joel’s B&W Fine Art style.

Joel’s instruction is clear, detailed and enjoyable to receive, and with the visual examples being of the highest standard, the learning experience is a pleasurable one.

I’m expecting everyone that bought Joel’s Masterclass to buy this ‘follow up’, as having both sets of tutorials is really the best way to get the most from Joel’s teachings. But saying that, I can also expect first time buyers to start here, and then move onto the Masterclass which is less vision and more post processing. But whichever way you begin, you’re certain to end with the same result. A clearer and more intimate understanding of how to express your vision and create images that you can be proud of.


You can order “Exploring Vision” here for just $99.00

or the “Black & White Long Exposure Masterclass” here for just €59.95

Joel also has an amazing website that’s packed full of information regarding B&W Long Exposure Photography that you can visit here.

I hope you enjoyed this review and as always please feel free to share with others. And if anyone from Hasselblad is reading, I’d be more than happy to write about the new H5D-50c if you would like to send me one.



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The parallel extends to editing—and this is why amateur photographers can be “better” than professionals. Pros must shoot and edit based on an exogenous—outward-oriented—standard. They have to provide pictures that conform to a standard, accepted idea of what’s “good,” so as to please their clients and their clients’ broader constituencies. Amateurs, on the other hand, beholden to no one but themselves, can afford to be much more idiosyncratic—as idiosyncratic as they like, actually. And sometimes, the more so the better. I’ve always considered it a sign of emerging maturity when a student first becomes able to reject conventionally “good” and “perfect” shots from the raw mass of his or her shooting, and begin to choose less perfect, less standard, but more personal and expressive shots to work with.

Mike Johnston



I am acutely aware that my ‘never ending artistic crush’ on Roger Ballen and his work, may be more than a little obvious right now. But when we are able to experience work of this calibre, it would be rude of me not to share with others.

Today, Roger Ballen unveiled a film he has made to accompany the release of “Asylum of the Birds” his latest book, shot entirely within the confines of a house in a Johannesburg suburb, the location of which remains a tightly guarded secret. The inhabitants of the house, both people and animals, and most notably the ever-present birds, are the cast who perform within a sculptural and decorated theatrical interior that the author creates and orchestrates.

The resulting images are compelling and dynamic, existing somewhere between still life and portrait. They are richly layered with graffiti, drawings, animals, and found objects. In a world where photographers seek to avoid definition, Roger Ballen is a true original who not only defies genres, but has defined his own artistic space as well.

A selection of photographs from the book.

Blinded-1244_2005 Ethereal-2011 Headless-2006 Mirrored-6176_2012 Ritual-6127_2011 Transformation-876_2004




Even as I begin to write this post, I’m already wondering if this is going to be a good idea. You see the subject is a tricky one, and one that I’m sure will cause reaction, some will be good, some bad.

I’d like to question something, to find out if my observations are to be of concern to me, or if I’ve got it all wrong.  I’d like to discuss the subject of men photographing women, and in particular the style they are shot in, and the conclusions I’m left with.

As a photographer, and especially a teacher, almost every day I’m sent images from photographers all over the world, both male and female, for me to critique and comment on. And one thing I’ve noticed is that a substantial amount of the images that the men send me contain a half naked girl, often in the most ridiculous of situations where it’s so obvious that the half-hearted attempt at a story, statement, message etc, is in fact just an excuse to shoot the girl with no clothes on.

On many an occasion I’ve asked the photographers via their emails what the image means, and also had many an argument on Facebook as a result, but sadly have never really found out why they feel the need to shoot the women in such a way. At this point I would have really liked to include some examples, but the photographers I asked declined to offer me any images, or be mentioned in this post.

Some did indicate that the way they shoot the models is to express the beauty in the female form, which I understand fully. But the images I’m seeing aren’t supporting this at all, if anything they suggest the ‘cheapening and degradation’ of the women. For me, there’s nothing believable in the image, I mean how does a woman, sitting on a wooden bench, in a studio, wearing only a see-through bra, with an open book in her lap, and a cat eating from a bowl of food at her feet, convey the beauty of the female form ? Or am I missing something ? And why are the photographers unable to explain the image ? Surely as photographers we should be able to explain our work.

It would be easy for me to fall over here, and suggest that some male photographers may be using the camera for means other than to create art ? But I’ll not, as I’m also wondering how much the subjects themselves are involved in this process, even who’s the exploited one, the subject or the operator ?

I’m also led to ask if this is even photography at all, or is this whole process more to do with some kind of fantasy or play acting for the participants involved, as I see very little evidence of this ‘beauty’ the photographer talks about ?

This post is in no way intending to be either a statement or a conclusion, but more of a starting point for a discussion as to why do so many male photographers seem to photograph women in this way ? Bill Brandt and Edward Weston never felt the need to do so ……

artwork_images_141091_795939_bill-brandt nude no.62, 1958 bill-brandt-nude-baie-des-anges-france-1958


Last night I found myself in a beautiful place, I’d finished working for the day, and I felt like disappearing into someone else’s words. Usually, anything past 10pm means either a podcast, or in this case, a quick flick through YouTube, where I tend to lean towards photographers lectures or discussions as opposed to anything else, and this night was to be no different.

I began with a talk called “The Role of the Critic in Photography” between Roger Ballen and the well known critic, Shelley Rice, but unfortunately the audio was seriously bad, so I gave up after a short while.

I then discovered a lecture given by Ballen during a recent visit to Germany, in it Ballen walks us through his photographic career in a style I’ve never experienced before. Packed full of philosophical questions, and oftentimes dark and disturbing images, it’s one you really don’t want to miss. Moving between images of those on the fringes of society to sometimes extreme surrealism, Ballen continues to produce thought provoking work.

01Roger_Ballen_Cat_catcher_1998 04-shadow-chamber-3-2000 A4-Eugene-on-the-phone-2000-P307-RTM-A4 bigPhoto_247 roger-ballen-2005-boarding-house-cut-loose Roger Ballen: Dresie and Casie, Twins, Western Transval, 1993

Although born in New York in 1950, Ballen has lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, for nearly thirty years. Working as a geologist, Ballen began to photograph the homes and white residents of rural South Africa before developing his more theatrical and expressive style in the late-1990s. His books include Boyhood, Dorps, Platteland, Outland and Shadow Chamber. His work is included in the collections of the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York).

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The first video you can see here, is more of an introduction, as he discusses “Psychology, metaphor and controversy in the art of photography.” And the second is the lecture itself. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.


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Concealed within a west London house is a huge archive, largely made up of vernacular photographs but also including all manner of other unexpected objects with stories behind them. Timothy Prus and Edwin Jones explain the origin of the collection and pick out some randomly selected examples to give an impression of the extraordinary range of images the collection contains, from Polish airplane manufacture and Victorian microscope slides to Indian film posters.



A chronological list of 400 films featuring photography

1895 – 1909

Le Photographe (Louis Lumière 1895)
Chez le photographe (Alice Guy 1900)
The Big Swallow (James Williamson 1901)
La Statue (Alice Guy 1905)
Photographie d’une étoile (Pathé frères 1906)
Beim Fotografen (Johann Schwarzer 1908)
Les Mésaventures d’un photographe (Georges Méliès 1908)

1910 – 1919

L’Homme qui ressemble au Président (Jean Durand 1910)
L’Intrigante [The Schemer] (Albert Capellani 1911)
The Chamber of Forgetfulness (Etienne Arnaud 1912)
Fantômas: Le mort qui tue (Louis Feuillade 1913)
Max fait de la photo (Max Linder 1913)

1920 – 1929

L’Hirondelle et la Mésange (André Antoine 1920)
Der Flug um den Erdball, 6 (Willi Wolff 1925)
The Crowd (King Vidor 1928)
L’Effet d’un rayon de soleil (Jean Gourguet 1928)
Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (Marcel Carné & Michel Sanvoisin 1929)

1930 – 1939

Le Mystère de la chambre jaune (Marcel L’Herbier 1930)
Prix de beauté (Auguste Genina 1930)
Le Million (René Clair 1931)
Allo Berlin… Ici Paris (Julien Duvivier 1932)
Coeur de lilas (Anatole Litvak 1932)
The Ghost Camera (Bernard Vorhaus 1933)
La Maternelle (Jean Benoît-Lévy & Marie Epstein 1933)
La Tête d’un homme (Julien Duvivier 1933)
Fashions of 1934 (William Dieterle 1934)
Charlie Chan in Paris (Lewis Seiler 1935)
Desire (Frank Borzage 1936)
Love On the Run (W.S. Van Dyke 1936)
Angel (Ernst Lubitsch 1937)
Le Rail à la conquête des cimes [The Railway Conquers the Summits] (Charles-Georges Duvanel 1937)
Young and Innocent (Alfred Hitchcock 1937)
City In Darkness (Herbert I. Leeds 1939)

1940 – 1949

Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock 1940)
Island of Doomed Men (Charles Barton 1940)
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles 1941)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston 1941)
The Glass Key (Stuart Heisler 1942)
In Which We Serve (David Lean 1942)
Titanic (Herbert Selpin 1943)
Untel père et fils (Julien Duvivier 1943)
Cécile est morte (Maurice Tourneur 1944)
Cover Girl (Charles Vidor 1944)
Le Retour (Henri Cartier-Bresson 1945)
The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks 1946)
Cloak and Dagger (Fritz Lang 1946)
The Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles 1947)
Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton 1947)
My Favorite Brunette (Elliott Nugent 1947)
Panique (Julien Duvivier 1947)
Quai des Orfevres (Henri-Georges Clouzot 1947)
The Naked City (Jules Dassin 1948)
The Petrified Dog (Sidney Peterson 1948)
Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius 1949)

1950 – 1959

Death Is a Caress [Døden er et kjærtegn] (Edith Carlmar 1950)
Gunman in the Streets (Frank Tuttle 1950)
Lady Paname (Henri Jeanson 1950)
Quicksand (Irving Pichel 1950)
Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock 1950)
Les Miracles n’ont lieu qu’une fois (Yves Allegret 1951)
Sous le ciel de Paris (Julien Duvivier 1951)
Femmes de Paris (Jean Boyer 1952)
La macchina ammazzacattivi [The Machine That Kills Bad People] (Roberto Rossellini 1952)
The Thief (Russell Rouse 1952)
Venetian Bird (Ralph Thomas 1952)
Act of Love (Anatole Litvak 1953)
Dangerous When Wet (Charles Waters 1953)
I Love Melvin (Don Weis 1953)
Leur Dernière Nuit (Georges Lacombe 1953)
Roman Holiday (William Wyler 1953)
Rue de l’Estrapade (Jacques Becker 1953)
La Signora senza camelie (Michelangelo Antonioni 1953)
Les Statues meurent aussi [Statues Also Die] (Alain Resnais & Chris Marker 1953)
L’Air de Paris (Marcel Carné 1954)
The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1954)
Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzot 1954)
Naked Alibi (Jerry Hopper 1954)
Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock 1954)
Voyage to Italy (Roberto Rossellini 1954)
Confidential Report [aka Mr Arkadin] (Orson Welles 1955)
Le Crâneur (Dimitri Kirsanoff 1955)
Du rififi chez les hommes (Jules Dassin 1955)
Les Grandes manoeuvres (René Clair 1955)
House of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller 1955)
Kvinnodröm [Dreams] (Ingmar Bergman 1955)
Les Mauvaises Rencontres (Alexandre Astruc 1955)
Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael Anderson 1956)
Cette sacrée gamine (Michel Boisrond 1956)
En effeuillant la marguerite (Marc Allégret 1956)
Funny Face (Stanley Donen 1956)
La Mariée était top belle (Philippe Gaspard-Huit 1956)
Slightly Scarlet (Allan Dwan 1956)
Loving You (Hal Kanter 1957)
Moskau 57 [Jazz im Kreml] (Peter Schamoni 1957)
Rafles sur la ville (Pierre Chenal 1957)
Silk Stockings (Rouben Mamoulian 1957)
Une Parisienne (Michel Boisrond 1957)
Djamilah (Youssef Chahine 1958)
Le Dos au mur (Edouard Molinaro 1958)
Le Miroir à deux faces (André Cayatte 1958)
The Young Lions (Edward Dmytryk 1958)
Europa di notte [Europe by night] (Alessandro Blasetti 1959)
Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk 1959)
Jakten [The Chasers] (Eric Lochen 1959)
Les Liaisons dangereuses (Roger Vadim 1959)
North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock 1959)
Les 400 coups (François Truffaut 1959)

1960 – 1969

A bout de souffle (Jean-Luc Godard 1960)
L’Amérique insolite (François Reichenbach & Chris Marker 1960)
La dolce vita (Federico Fellini 1960)
Peeping Tom (Michael Powell 1960)
Le Petit Soldat (Jean-Luc Godard 1960)
The 1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse (Fritz Lang 1960)
Tirez sur le pianiste (François Truffaut 1960)
Tire au flanc ’62 (Claude de Givray & François Truffaut 1960)
Un couple (Jean-Pierre Mocky 1960)
Zazie dans le métro (Louis Malle 1960)
Adieu Philippine (Jacques Rozier 1961)
La Bride sur le cou (Roger Vadim 1961)
The Devil’s Messenger (Herbert L. Strock 1961)
Les Distractions (Jacques Dupont 1961)
La Fille aux yeux d’or (Jean-Gabriel Albicocco 1961)
Gorgo (Eugene Lourie 1961)
Le Monocle noir (Georges Lautner 1961)
Night Tide (Curtis Harrington 1961)
Rennen (Alexander Kluge & Paul Kruntorad 1961)
Le Temps du ghetto (Frédéric Rossif 1961)
Un coeur gros comme ça (François Reichenbach 1961)
L’Amour à vingt ans: Munich (Marcel Ophuls 1962)
Dossier 1413 (Alfred Rode 1962)
Hatari! (Howard Hawks 1962)
Mondo Cane (Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi 1962)
L’Oeil du malin (Claude Chabrol 1962)
Dossier 1413 (Alfred Rode 1962)
The L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes 1962)
Snobs (Jean-Pierre Mocky 1962)
Vie privée (Louis Malle 1962)
Vive le tour (Louis Malle 1962)
L’Amour à la mer (Guy Gilles 1963)
La Belle Vie (Robert Enrico 1963)
Les Carabiniers (Jean-Luc Godard 1963)
In the French Style (Robert Parrish 1963)
Landru (Claude Chabrol 1963)
Primo la revoluzione (Bernardo Bertolucci 1963)
The Punch and Judy Man (Jeremy Summers 1963)
Scum of the Earth (Herschell Gordon Lewis 1963)
Strip-tease (Jacques Poitrenaud 1963)
Alerte à Gibraltar (Pierre Gaspard-Huit 1964)
Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117 (André Hunebelle 1964)
Cover Girls (José Bénazéraf 1964)
De l’amour (Jean Aurel 1964)
A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester 1964)
Fantômas (André Hunebelle 1964)
Godzilla vs Mothra (Ishiro Honda 1964)
La Mort d’un tueur [Death of a Killer] (Robert Hossein 1964)
Paparazzi (Jacques Rozier 1964)
La Peau douce (François Truffaut 1964)
Une femme mariée (Jean-Luc Godard 1964)
La Vie à l’envers (Alain Jessua 1964)
Yoyo (Pierre Etaix 1964)
Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard 1965)
Il boia scarlatto [Bloody Pit of Horror] (Massimo Pupillo 1965)
Darling (John Schlesinger 1965)
Help! (Richard Lester 1965)
The Knack… and how to get it (Richard Lester 1965)
Our Man Flint (Daniel Mann 1965)
The Railrodder (Gerald Potterton, John Spotton, Buster Keaton 1965)
Viva Maria (Louis Malle 1965)
Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 177 (Michel Boisrond 1966)
Avec la peau des autres (Jacques Deray 1966)
Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni 1966)
Cartes sur table (Jess Franco 1966)
Casino Royale (Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish et al. 1966)
Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (Jean-Luc Godard 1966)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone 1966)
Heat of Madness (Harry Wuest 1966)
In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks 1966)
Masculin-Féminin (Jean-Luc Godard 1966)
Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus (Jean Eustache 1966)
Persona (Ingmar Bergman 1966)
Qui êtes-vous, Polly Magoo? (William Klein 1966)
The Sandwich Man (Robert Hartford Davis 1966)
Si j’avais quatre dromedaires (Chris Marker 1966)
The Silencers (Phil Karlson 1966)
Trans Europ Express (Alain Robbe-Grillet 1966)
A coeur joie (Serge Bourguignon 1967)
Anna (Pierre Koralnik 1967)
Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn 1967)
Col cuore in gola (Tinto Brass 1967)
Diaboliquement vôtre (Julien Duvivier 1967)
In Like Flint (Gordon Douglas 1967)
L’Inconnu de Shandigor (Jean-Louis Roy 1967)
Lucky, el intrépido (Jesus Franco 1967)
Mahlzeiten [Lust for Love] (Edgar Reitz 1967)
Peppermint Frappé (Carlos Saura 1967)
Poor Cow (Ken Loach 1967)
Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville 1967)
Smashing Time (Desmond Davis 1967)
All the Sins of Sodom (Joseph Sarno 1968)
The Bliss of Mrs Blossom (Joseph McGrath 1968)
El coleccionista de cadáveres [Cauldron of Blood] (Santos Alcocer 1968)
Negatives (Peter Medak 1968)
La Prisonnière (Henri-Georges Clouzot 1968)
La prova generale (Romano Scavolini 1968)
Sebastian (David Greene 1968)
Separation (Jack Bond 1968)
Slogan (Pierre Grimblat 1968)
Wonderwall (Joe Massot 1968)
A Time of Roses (Risto Jarva 1969)
The Big Switch (Pete Walker 1969)
Deux fois (Jackie Raynal 1969)
The Magic Christian (Joseph McGrath 1969)
En passion (Ingmar Bergman 1969)
Il seme dell’uomo (Marco Ferreri 1969)
La Sirène du Mississippi (François Truffaut 1969)
Le Sorelle (Roberto Malenotti 1969)
Un tranquillo posto di campagna (Elio Petri 1969)

1970 – 1979

A Swedish Love Story (Roy Andersson 1970)
Bird with the Crystal Plumage [L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo] (Dario Argento 1970)
Le Cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville 1970)
Le Clair de terre (Guy Gilles 1970)
Colossus: the Forbin Project (Joseph Sargent 1970)
Domicile conjugal (François Truffaut 1970)
Le Fou (Claude Goretta 1970)
The Man Who Haunted Himself (Basil Dearden 1970)
Ned Kelly (Tony Richardson 1970)
La Pacifista (Miklós Jancsó 1970)
The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (Kevin Billington 1970)
Boulevard du rhum (Robert Enrico 1971)
Les Deux Anglaises et le continent (François Truffaut 1971)
Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton 1971)
Erika’s Hot Summer (Gary Graver 1971)
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento 1971)
The Infatuated Camera (Ed Van Der Elsken 1971)
Juste avant la nuit (Claude Chabrol 1971)
Nostalgia (Hollis Frampton 1971)
Out 1, noli me tangere (Jacques Rivette 1971)
La Salamandre (Alain Tanner 1971)
Such Good Friends (Otto Preminger 1971)
Boxcar Bertha (Martin Scorsese 1972)
Cosa avete fatto a Solange? [What You Done To Solange] (Massimo Dallamano 1972)
Lady Sings the Blues (Sidney J. Furie 1972)
Roma (Federico Fellini 1972)
Le Sex Shop (Claude Berri 1972)
Smile Before Death [Il sorriso della iena] (Silvio Amadio 1972)
Terza ipotesi su un caso di perfetta strategia criminale (Giuseppe Vari 1972)
Tout va bien (Jean-Luc Godard et Jean-Pierre Gorin 1972)
Baba Yaga (Corrado Farina 1973)
Casual Relations (Mark Rappaport 1973)
L’Evènement le plus important depuis que l’homme a marché sur la lune (Jacques Demy 1973)
F For Fake (Orson Welles 1973)
La Grande Bouffe (Marco Ferreri 1973)
The Killing Kind (Curtis Harrington 1973)
O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson 1973)
Ostrov [Island] (Fyodor Khitruk 1973)
Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich 1973)
Scorpio (Michael Winner 1973): Nikon
La Société du spectacle (Guy Debord 1973)
Alice in den Städten [Alice in the Cities] (Wim Wenders 1974)
Chinatown (Roman Polanski 1974)
Eugénie de Sade (Jess Franco 1974)
Ici et Ailleurs (J-L Godard & A-M Miéville 1974)
Mossafer [The Traveller] (Abbas Kiarostami 1974)
La Venganza de la llorona [Vengeance of the Crying Woman] (Miguel M. Delgado 1974)
..a tutte le auto della polizia (Mario Caiano 1975)
Den Muso [The Young Girl] (Souleymane Cissé 1975)
Lèvres de sang (Jean Rollin 1975)
Les Liaisons perverses (Jean-Paul Savignac 1975)
Profondo Rosso [Deep Red] (Dario Argento 1975)
Réfutation de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles, qui ont été jusqu’ici portés sur le film ‘La société du spectacle’ (Guy Debord 1975)
Rolls-Royce Baby (Erwin C. Dietrich 1975)
Tommy (Ken Russell 1975)
L’Argent de poche (François Truffaut 1976)
Le Corps de mon ennemi (Henri Verneuil 1976)
La Dernière Femme (Marco Ferreri 1976)
Lipstick (Lamont Johnson 1976)
M. Klein (Joseph Losey 1976)
The Man Who Fell To Earth (Nicolas Roeg 1976)
Néa (Nelly Kaplan 1976)
Sweeney! (David Wickes 1976)
Unmade Beds (Amos Poe 1976)
The American Friend (Wim Wenders 1977)
Blood Relatives (Claude Chabrol 1977)
L’Homme qui aimait les femmes (François Truffaut 1977)
Un autre homme, une autre chance (Claude Lelouch 1977)
Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner 1978)
Girlfriends (Claudia Weill 1978)
Guerillere Talks (Vivienne Dick 1978)
La Maison des phantasmes (Claude Bernard-Aubert 1978)
Superman (Richard Donner 1978)
Violette Nozière (Claude Chabrol 1978)
Charles et Lucie (Nelly Kaplan 1979)
Snapshot (Simon Wincer 1979)

1980 – 1989

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Jean-Luc Godard 1980)
Superman II (Dick Lester 1980)
…All the Marbles (Robert Aldrich 1981)
Blow Out (Brian de Palma 1981)
Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix 1981)
La Femme de l’aviateur (Eric Rohmer 1981)
The Territory (Raoul Ruiz 1981)
Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam 1981)
Tau Ban No Hoi [Boat People] (Ann Hui 1982)
White Dog (Sam Fuller 1982)
Double Exposure (William Byron Hillman 1983)
Ein Bild (Harun Farocki 1983)
Mortelle randonnée (Claude Miller 1983)
La Vie est un roman (Alain Resnais 1983)
Vivement dimanche (François Truffaut 1983)
Notre histoire (Bertrand Blier 1984)
Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone 1984)
A Zed and Two Noughts (Peter Greenaway 1985)
Police (Maurice Pialat 1985)
Rouge Baiser (Véra Belmont 1985)
Sans toit ni loi (Agnès Varda 1985)
37’2 le matin [Betty Blue] (Jean-Jacques Beineix 1986)
Agent trouble (Jean-Pierre Mocky 1987)
Dances Sacred and Profane (Dan & Mark Jury 1987)
Raising Arizona (Joel Coen 1987)
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders 1987)
Cannibal Tours (Dennis O’Rourke 1988)
Histoire(s) du cinéma 1B, ‘Une histoire seule’ (Jean-Luc Godard 1988)
Trois places pour le 26 (Jacques Demy 1988)
La Bande des quatre (Jacques Rivette 1989)
Chameleon Street (Wendell B. Harris Jr 1989)

1990 – 1999

‘The Black Cat’ (Dario Argento), in Due occhi diabolici (1990)
Cry Baby (John Waters 1990)
Henry and June (Philip Kaufman 1990)
Plaisir d’amour (Nelly Kaplan 1990)
Tatie Danielle (Etienne Chatiliez 1990)
The Two Jakes (Jack Nicholson 1990)
Allemagne année neuf zéro (Jean-Luc Godard 1991)
Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott 1991)
Zefiro Torna or Scenes from the Life of George Maciunas (Jonas Mekas 1992)
L’arbre, le maire et la médiathèque (Eric Rohmer 1993)
J’ai pas sommeil (Claire Denis 1994)
Le Bonheur est dans le pré (Etienne Chatiliez 1995)
Douce France (Malik Chibane 1995)
Le Fils de Gascogne (Pascal Aubier 1995)
Smoke (Wayne Wang 1995)
Chacun cherche son chat (Cédric Klapisch 1996)
For Ever Mozart (Jean-Luc Godard 1996)
Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh 1996)
Un air de famille (Cédric Klapisch 1996)
La Iena (Joe d’Amato 1997)
The Danube Exodus (Péter Forgács 1998)
L’Ecole de la chair (Benoît Jacquot 1998)
High Art (Lisa Cholodenko 1998)
L.A. Without A Map (Mika Kaurismäki 1998)
Les Convoyeurs attendent [The Carriers Are Waiting] (Benoît Mariage 1999)
Le Vent de la nuit (Philippe Garrel 1999)

2000 – 2009

Attention aux chiens (François-Christophe Marzal 2000)
Esprit de bière (Claudio Pazienza 2000)
La Faute à Voltaire (Abdellatif Kechiche 2000)
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (Agnès Varda 2000)
Keep the River On Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale (David Shapiro 2000)
Where the Heart Is (Matt Williams 2000)
Yurika (Shinji Aoyama 2000)
Powder Keg (Alejandro González Iñárritu 2001)
Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat (Rajiv Rai 2001)
Sex and Lucia (Julio Medem 2001)
War Photographer (Christian Frei 2001)
Femme fatale (Brian de Palma 2002)
Kaante (Sanjay Gupta 2002)
Notre musique (Jean-Luc Godard 2002)
One Hour Photo (Mark Romanek 2002)
A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto 2002)
Tout contre Léo (Christophe Honoré 2002)
De tweeling [Twin Sisters] (Ben Sombogaart 2002)
Vozvrashcheniye [The Return] (Andrei Zvyagintsev 2003)
Ab-Normal Beauty [Sei mong se jun] (Oxide Pang Chun, 2004)
Au large de Bad Ragaz (F.-Christophe Marzal 2004)
Fallen Art (Tomasz Baginski 2004)
Girlfriend (Ryiuchi Hiroki 2004)
Shutter (B. Pisanthanakun & P. Wongpoom 2004)
Viva Laldjérie (Nadir Moknèche 2004)
Girl in a Mirror: a portrait of Carrol Jerrems (Kathy Drayton 2005)
The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma 2006)
The Caterpillar Wish (Sandra Sciberras 2006)
Comme des voleurs (Lionel Baier 2006)
Ghost Photos: the Cursed Images (Kota Yoshida 2006)
Ne le dis à personne [Tell No One] (Guillaume Canet 2006)
Sixty Six (Paul Wieland 2006)
Le Temps qui reste (François Ozon 2006)
Helmut by June (June Newton 2007)
Love Exposure (Eon-hie Lee 2007)
Entre les murs (Laurent Cantet 2008)
I Am Von Höfler (Péter Forgacs 2008)
Palermo Shooting (Wim Wenders 2008)
Visual Acoustics (Eric Bricker 2008)
Nang Mai [Nymph] (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang 2009)
People Love Photos (Christian Klinger 2009)
The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Stephan Komandarev 2009)


Basquiat the Radiant Child (Tamra Davis 2010)
Click (Sangeeth Sivan 2010)
Film socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard 2010)
Made in Dagenham (Nigel Cole 2010)
Mademoiselle de Paris (Hervé Bodilis 2010)
Mosa (Ana Moreno 2010)
WTC Haikus (Jonas Mekas 2010)
My Little Princess (Eva Ionesco 2011)


An element of a photo book that I’m always interested in is the “Introduction”, the path that leads to the photographs themselves. Some are informative, others barely literate and/or even funny. Many are full of deep academic or art speak, often confusing for the average reader, and some carry a description of the work to come, or the artist, all used as a way of setting the scene and pace of the book itself. Introductions also tend to change depending on what type of book it is, ranging from thematic, to monologue, to a larger study. And of course are largely influenced by the capabilities of the writer themselves. I begin this series of posts by looking at Introduction To The Photographers Eye – John Szarkowski (1966) CS10435

The Photographer’s Eye

John Szarkowski, Introduction to the Catalog of the Exhibition

This book is an investigation of what photographs look like, and of why they look that way. It is concerned with photographic style and with photographic tradition: with the sense of possibilities that a photographer today takes to his work.

The invention of photography provided a radically new picture-making process—a process based not on synthesis but on selection. The difference was a basic one. Paintings were made —constructed from a storehouse of traditional schemes and skills and attitudes—but photographs, as the man on the street put it, were taken.

The difference raised a creative issue of a new order: how could this mechanical and mindless process be made to produce pictures meaningful in human terms—pictures with clarity and coherence and a point of view? It was soon demonstrated that an answer would not be found by those who loved too much the old forms, for in large part the photographer was bereft of the old artistic traditions. Speaking of photography Baudelaire said: “This industry, by invading the territories of art, has become art’s most mortal enemy.” And in his own terms of reference Baudelaire was half right; certainly the new medium could not satisfy old standards. The photographer must find new ways to make his meaning clear.

These new ways might be found by men who could abandon their allegiance to traditional pictorial standards—or by the artistically ignorant, who had no old allegiances to break. There have been many of the latter sort. Since its earliest days, photography has been practiced by thousands who shared no common tradition or training, who were disciplined and united by no academy or guild, who considered their medium variously as a science, an art, a trade, or an entertainment, and who were often unaware of each other’s work. Those who invented photography were scientists and painters, but its professional practitioners were a very different lot. Hawthorne’s daguerreotypist hero Holgrave in the house of the seven gables was perhaps not far from typical:

“Though now but twenty-two years old, he had already been a country schoolmaster; salesman in a country store; and the political editor of a country newspaper. He had subsequently travelled as a peddler of cologne water and other essences. He had studied and practiced dentistry. Still more recently he had been a public lecturer on mesmerism, for which science he had very remarkable endowments. His present phase as a daguerreotypist was of no more importance in his own view, nor likely to be more permanent, than any of the preceding ones.”

The enormous popularity of the new medium produced professionals by the thousands—converted silversmiths, tinkers, druggists, blacksmiths and printers. If photography was a new artistic problem, such men had the advantage of having nothing to unlearn. Among them they produced a flood of images. In 1853 the New York Daily Tribune estimated that three million daguerreotypes were being produced that year. Some of these pictures were the product of knowledge and skill and sensibility and invention; many were the product of accident, improvisation, misunderstanding, and empirical experiment. But whether produced by art or by luck, each picture was part of a massive assault on our traditional habits of seeing.

By the latter decades of the nineteenth century the professionals and the serious amateurs were joined by an even larger host of casual snapshooters. By the early eighties the dry plate, which could be purchased ready-to-use, had replaced the refractory and messy wet plate process, which demanded that the plate be prepared just before exposure and processed before its emulsion had dried. The dry plate spawned the hand camera and the snapshot. Photography had become easy. In 1893 an English writer complained that the new situation had “created an army of photographers who run rampant over the globe, photographing objects of all sorts, sizes and shapes, under almost every condition, without ever pausing to ask themselves, is this or that artistic? …They spy a view, it seems to please, the camera is focused, the shot taken! There is no pause, why should there be? For art may err but nature cannot miss, says the poet, and they listen to the dictum. To them, composition, light, shade, form and texture are so many catch phrases…”

These pictures, taken by the thousands by journeyman worker and Sunday hobbyist, were unlike any pictures before them. The variety of their imagery was prodigious. Each subtle variation in viewpoint or light, each passing moment, each change in the tonality of the print, created a new picture. The trained artist could draw a head or a hand from a dozen perspectives. The photographer discovered that the gestures of a hand were infinitely various, and that the wall of a building in the sun was never twice the same.

Most of this deluge of pictures seemed formless and accidental, but some achieved coherence, even in their strangeness. Some of the new images were memorable, and seemed significant beyond their limited intention. These remembered pictures enlarged one’s sense of possibilities as he looked again at the real world. While they were remembered they survived, like organisms, to reproduce and evolve.

But it was not only the way that photography described things that was new; it was also the things it chose to describe. Photographers shot “…objects of all sorts, sizes and shapes… without ever pausing to ask themselves, is this or that artistic?” Painting was difficult, expensive, and precious, and it recorded what was known to be important. Photography was easy, cheap and ubiquitous, and it recorded anything: shop windows and sod houses and family pets and steam engines and unimportant people. And once made objective and permanent, immortalized in a picture, these trivial things took on importance. By the end of the century, for the first time in history, even the poor man knew what his ancestors had looked like.

The photographer learned in two ways: first, from a worker’s intimate understanding of his tools and materials (if his plate would not record the clouds, he could point his camera down and eliminate the sky); and second he learned from other photographs, which presented themselves in an unending stream. Whether his concern was commercial or artistic, his tradition was formed by all the photographs that had impressed themselves upon his consciousness.

The pictures reproduced in this book were made over almost a century and a quarter. They were made for various reasons, by men of different concerns and varying talent. They have in fact little in common except their success, and a shared vocabulary: these pictures are unmistakably photographs. The vision they share belongs to no school or aesthetic theory, but to photography itself. The character of this vision was discovered by photographers at work, as their awareness of photography’s potentials grew.

If this is true, it should be possible to consider the history of the medium in terms of photographers’ progressive awareness of characteristics and problems that have seemed inherent in the medium. Five such issues are considered below.

These issues do not define discrete categories of work; on the contrary they should be regarded as interdependent aspects of a single problem— as section views through the body of photographic tradition. As such, it is hoped that they may contribute to the formulation of a vocabulary and a critical perspective more fully responsive to the unique phenomena of photography.

The Thing Itself

The first thing that the photographer learned was that photography dealt with the actual; he had not only to accept this fact, but to treasure it; unless he did, photography would defeat him. He learned that the world itself is an artist of incomparable inventiveness, and that to recognize its best works and moments, to anticipate them, to clarify them and make them permanent, requires intelligence both acute and supple.

But he learned also that the factuality of his pictures, no matter how convincing and unarguable, was a different thing than the reality itself. Much of the reality was filtered out in the static little black and white image, and some of it was exhibited with an unnatural clarity, an exaggerated importance. The subject and the picture were not the same thing, although they would afterwards seem so. It was the photographer’s problem to see not simply the reality before him but the still invisible picture, and to make his choices in terms of the latter.

This was an artistic problem, not a scientific one, but the public believed that the photograph could not lie, and it was easier for the photographer if he believed it too, or pretended to. Thus he was likely to claim that what our eyes saw was an illusion, and what the camera saw was the truth. Hawthorne’s Holgrave, speaking of a difficult portrait subject said: “We give [heaven's broad and simple sunshine] credit only for depicting the merest surface, but it actually brings out the secret character with a truth that no painter would ever venture upon, even could he detect it… the remarkable point is that the original wears, to the world’s eye… an exceedingly pleasant countenance, indicative of benevolence, openness of heart, sunny good humor, and other praiseworthy qualities of that cast. The sun, as you see, tells quite another story, and will not be coaxed out of it, after half a dozen patient attempts on my part. Here we have a man, sly, subtle, hard, imperious, and withal, cold as ice”

In a sense Holgrave was right in giving more credence to the camera image than to his own eyes, for the image would survive the subject, and become the remembered reality. William M. Ivins, Jr. said “at any given moment the accepted report of an event is of greater importance than the event, for what we think about and act upon is the symbolic report and not the concrete event itself.” He also said: “The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true and it would end up by believing that what it saw a photograph of was true.”

The Detail

The photographer was tied to the facts of things, and it was his problem to force the facts to tell the truth. He could not, outside the studio, pose the truth, he could only record it as he found it, and it was found in nature in a fragmented and unexplained form—not as a story, but as scattered and suggestive clues. The photographer could not assemble these clues into a coherent narrative, he could only isolate the fragment, document it, and by so doing claim for it some special significance, a meaning which went beyond simple description. The compelling clarity with which a photograph recorded the trivial suggested that the subject had never before been properly seen, that it was in fact perhaps not trivial, but filled with undiscovered meaning. If photographs could not be read as stories, they could be read as symbols.

The decline of narrative painting in the past century has been ascribed in large part to the rise of photography, which “relieved” the painter of the necessity of story telling. This is curious, since photography has never been successful at narrative. It has in fact seldom attempted it. The elaborate nineteenth century montages of Robinson and Rejlander, laboriously pieced together from several posed negatives, attempted to tell stories, but these works were recognised in their own time as pretentious failures In the early days of the picture magazines the attempt was made to achieve narrative through photographic sequences, but the superficial coherence of these stories was generally achieved at the expense of photographic discovery. The heroic documentation of the American Civil War by the Brady group, and the incomparably larger photographic record of the Second World War, have this in common: neither explained, without extensive captioning, what was happening. The function of these pictures was not to make the story clear, it was to make it real. The great war photographer Robert Capa expressed both the narrative poverty and the symbolic power of photography when he said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough you’re not close enough.”

The Frame

Since the photographer’s picture was not conceived but selected, his subject was never truly discrete, never wholly self-contained. The edges of his film demarcated what he thought most important, but the subject he had shot was something else; it had extended in four directions. If the photographer’s frame surrounded two figures, isolating them from the crowd in which they stood, it created a relationship between those two figures that had not existed before.

The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge—the line that separates in from out—and on the shapes that are created by it.

During the first half-century of photography’s lifetime, photographs were printed the same size as the exposed plate. Since enlarging was generally impractical the photographer could not change his mind in the darkroom, and decide to use only a fragment of his picture, without reducing its size accordingly. If he had purchased an eight by ten inch plate (or worse, prepared it), had carried it as part of his back-bending load, and had processed it, he was not likely to settle for a picture half that size. A sense of simple economy was enough to make the photographer try to fill the picture to its edges.

The edges of the picture were seldom neat. Parts of figures or buildings or features of landscape were truncated, leaving a shape belonging not to the subject, but (if the picture was a good one) to the balance, the propriety, of the image. The photographer looked at the world as though it were a scroll painting, unrolled from hand to hand, exhibiting an infinite number of croppings —of compositions—as the frame moved onwards.

The sense of the picture’s edge as a cropping device is one of the qualities of form that most interested the inventive painters of the latter nineteenth century. To what degree this awareness came from photography, and to what degree from oriental art, is still open to study. However, it is possible that the prevalence of the photographic image helped prepare the ground for an appreciation of the Japanese print, and also that the compositional attitudes of these prints owed much to habits of seeing which stemmed from the scroll tradition.


There is in fact no such thing as an instantaneous photograph. All photographs are time exposures of shorter or longer duration, and each describes a discrete parcel of time. This time is always the present. Uniquely in the history of pictures, a photograph describes only that period of time in which it was made. Photography alludes to the past and the future only in so far as they exist in the present, the past through its surviving relics, the future through prophecy visible in the present.

In the days of slow films and slow lenses, photographs described a time segment of several seconds or more. If the subject moved, images resulted that had never been seen before: dogs with two heads and a sheaf of tails, faces without features, transparent men, spreading their diluted substance half across the plate. The fact that these pictures were considered (at best) as partial failures is less interesting than the fact that they were produced in quantity; they were familiar to all photographers and to all customers who had posed with squirming babies for family portraits.

It is surprising that the prevalence of these radical images has not been of interest to art historians. The time-lapse painting of Duchamp and Balla, done before the First World War, has been compared to work done by photographers such as Edgerton and Mili, who worked consciously with similar ideas a quarter-century later, but the accidental time-lapse photographs of the nineteenth century have been ignored—presumably because they were accidental.

As photographic materials were made more sensitive, and lenses and shutters faster photography turned to the exploration of rapidly moving subjects. Just as the eye is incapable of registering the single frames of a motion picture projected on the screen at the rate of twenty-four per second, so is it incapable of following the positions of a rapidly moving subject in life. The galloping horse is the classic example. As lovingly drawn countless thousands of times by Greeks and Egyptians and Persians and Chinese, and down through all the battle scenes and sporting prints of Christendom the horse ran with four feet extended, like a fugitive from a carousel. Not till Muybridge successfully photographed a galloping horse in 1878 was the convention broken. It was this way also with the flight of birds, the play of muscles on an athlete’s back, the drape of a pedestrian’s clothing and the fugitive expressions of a human face.

Immobilizing these thin slices of time has been a source of continuing fascination for the photographer. And while pursuing this experiment he discovered something else: he discovered that there was a pleasure and a beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do rather with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement. Cartier-Bresson defined his commitment to this new beauty with the phrase The decisive moment, but the phrase has been misunderstood; the thing that happens at the decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one. The result is not a story but a picture.

Vantage Point

Much has been said about the clarity of photography, but little has been said about its obscurity. And yet it is photography that has taught us to see from the unexpected vantage point, and has shown us pictures that give the sense of the scene, while withholding its narrative meaning. Photographers from necessity choose from the options available to them, and often this means pictures from the other side of the proscenium showing the actors’ backs, pictures from the bird’s view, or the worm’s, or pictures in which the subject is distorted by extreme foreshortening, or by none, or by an unfamiliar pattern of light, or by a seeming ambiguity of action or gesture.

Ivins wrote with rare perception of the effect that such pictures had on nineteenth-century eyes: “At first the public had talked a great deal about what it called photographic distortion… [But] it was not long before men began to think photographically, and thus to see for themselves things that it had previously taken the photograph to reveal to their astonished and protesting eyes. Just as nature had once imitated art, so now it began to imitate the picture made by the camera.”

After a century and a quarter, photography’s ability to challenge and reject our schematized notions of reality is still fresh. In his monograph on Francis Bacon, Lawrence Alloway speaks of the effect of photography on that painter: “The evasive nature of his imagery, which is shocking but obscure, like accident or atrocity photographs, is arrived at by using photography’s huge repertory of visual images… Uncaptioned news photographs, for instance, often appear as momentous and extraordinary… Bacon used this property of photography to subvert the clarity of pose of figures in traditional painting.”

The influence of photography on modern painters (and on modern writers) has been great and inestimable. It is, strangely, easier to forget that photography has also influenced photographers. Not only great pictures by great photographers, but photography—the great undifferentiated, homogeneous whole of it—has been teacher, library, and laboratory for those who have consciously used the camera as artists. An artist is a man who seeks new structures in which to order and simplify his sense of the reality of life. For the artist photographer, much of his sense of reality (where his picture starts) and much of his sense of craft or structure (where his picture is completed) are anonymous and untraceable gifts from photography itself.

The history of photography has been less a journey than a growth. Its movement has not been linear and consecutive but centrifugal. Photography, and our understanding of it, has spread from a center; it has, by infusion, penetrated our consciousness. Like an organism, photography was born whole. It is in our progressive discovery of it that its history lies.


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As many of you will already know, I recently swapped my entire Nikon system for a single camera. But not just any old camera, it was for the A7. The new, full frame mirrorless supersexy offering from the boys at Sony. And for a while I’ve been wanting to write something to describe my first impressions and thoughts on the little tiger, but because I have such great students that keep me busy, it’s only until now that I’ve had the chance to put pen to paper as it were.

But before I begin, I want to start with a quick disclaimer, this review is not going to be one that’s full of technical data, there’s more than enough already circulating internet land. This is going to be a review by a photographer for a photographer, but without the science. We already know that the camera is pretty much capable, in terms of technical abilities, to meet all our needs, so I’m going to focus on the other dimensions of the camera, the ‘other’ things that you would think about if you were buying a new camera. So with all that said, let’s stop with all this preamble, and get to the juicy stuff.

Immediately, I know what you’re thinking, “Why not the A7R?”, well I’ll answer that question straight off the bat, quite simply, I don’t shoot images that need the detail that the 36megapixel sensor delivers, and I certainly don’t need the extra costs of buying new memory cards and hard drives to cope with the image files. The A7R is best suited to an advertising/architectural photographer, or someone that shoots images that are put on billboards, that’s not me, so the little brother got my vote in the end. Also in favour of the A7, there’s mention of better ISO performance and focusing capabilities, but these I have to test for myself before really making comment.

Now let’s talk about size, many people I’ve spoken to that are considering switching from a bigger DSLR body to the smaller A7/7R have expressed a concern about the ‘feel’ of the camera in the hand. And my response to them is sure, it did feel very much smaller when I began using if for the first time, it’s bound to, but after using it for an hour or so, everything felt natural. I also bought a Gariz Half-Case, which gives me another 3/4 inch on the body which really helps to pad things out in my hands, and as you can see, it looks fab !!


Now I’d like to talk about straps. I don’t know about you, but I’m always disappointed with the straps that come with the camera, and boy did Sony let me down here. If you’re listening Sony, if I’m spending the kind of money you’re asking for such a piece of equipment, the least you can do is include a decent strap ! And if I was really honest, I’d rather they didn’t include the strap at all, and instead just lower the price. I mean who actually uses the weak plastic-feel straps with their name plastered all over it ?  (I bet I get a comment on that one).

I really wanted a subtle, yet strong, reliable, and comfortable strap that wouldn’t break the already broken bank. So naturally I turned to Leica. Yeah I forgot about that last bit of the previous statement.

After a few hours of research I finally decided to treat myself to the Leica Carrying Strap with Anti-Slip Pad for R & M Series Cameras.


Is it possible to fall in love with some non slip rubber and strapy kinda material ? It certainly is in this case, the German engineering is fantastic. It’s a simply beautiful strap, meets all my criteria, and then some. And the best bit is if you search hard enough you can sometimes find it at a good price, especially if you live in the USA, as I found that most them live there for some reason.

Weight wise, well what’s to say ? I sometimes forget I’m even holding the thing it’s that light. It’s just another reason for my liking this camera so much, and such a contrast from what I’m used to, the bulk’s gone and so releases me into this new world of possibilities. I’m able to shoot so much more, as it’s always on me, and totally non-threatening. I’m now the old bloke with what looks like a point and shoot. No one takes any notice of me and I can come and go as I please, virtually invisible.

The EVF definitely needs a mention, I love the EVF, it’s much better than the one I’d been using on the NEX7, and the focus peaking for manual lenses is simply awesome. It displays sharpness from corner to corner, and performs amazingly well in low light which was always a concern for me. I wasn’t sure about it when I was using the NEX7, but on the A7, it’s some serious state of the art technology.

A few people in the photography forums of the world have moaned about the buttons being awkward, too many, and in the wrong places, but I have no problem with the buttons and dials, and like most cameras you can use the Custom Button settings to adjust what does what. For this I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed, I had too many buttons and could never remember what each one did, so I cleared them all out, and now only use 4 buttons and 2 dials for everything. The main reason I bought into this system is to simplify my photography, so I only use what I need.

The menu system itself is extensive, very extensive, but again, as with the Custom Button settings, you can have your camera do all sorts of weird and wonderful things if that’s your bag. I don’t need Toy Camera filters, or Face Detection, and I don’t use any Scene modes, so once I set up the basic, Colour Space, Focus Settings, Drive Mode, Metering etc, I was done in 10 minutes. No fuss and no one got hurt.

You all know the screen pulls out and wiggles around right ? Now I seriously can’t remember a time since I’ve been photographing that I was faced with the situation that led me to say ” Man I wished my screen pulled out and wiggled a little, you know I just can’t get this shot without it”, so I’m not sure how much that will be used.

A feature I really do like is the Zebra’s, a function that allows you to see where certain areas of brightness in the frame may be “blown out,”. When this happens at a certain level, the Zebra Stripes show up on that area to indicate that it may be too bright. It’s like “live” blinkies, so when you see them you can adjust your settings to remove them, and the brightness, prior to shooting the frame. Brilliant !!

Onto image quality now, errrrrm, it’s pretty much a no-brainer, put a Zeiss on it and it delivers ridiculously good results. But that’s not always affordable for everyone I know.

Of course I’m very aware that I’ve just moved up from the D700 with it’s 12.1 megapixels to what seems like a colossal 24 megapixel sensor on the A7, but really, when I’m using the FE 35mm F2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens it’s scary sharp. I also just bought the FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* which is even worse on the scary sharp scale ! I’ve not been able to do any real testing yet, but will aim to do so on some ‘real people‘ during the coming days. Unfortunately the kind of images you see below don’t really do it for me when I’m learning about my lenses.


It’s the Raw shooters that will love it, and the jpeg shooters that will be disappointed, with the in-camera noise and sharpening algorithms producing less than perfect results. Which could be a factor to think about if you’re use of the A7 involves shooting for something like a social media stream, where images are shot on location, uploaded and immediately shared with followers.

The A7 is able to shoot continuously at just under 5 fps, though the camera will be locked up for 10-20 seconds while the buffer is cleared, so not the best choice for the “action shooter”.

The AF takes just under a second to lock in, and I have experienced a few problems with it being unable to detect contrast, especially in low-light situations. You have the option of using the AF illuminator, but I prefer to have my subjects not look like “rabbits in the headlights”. I’ve been using the Flexible Spot focus with a small target, but now I’m going to try things using the DMF focus setting, a mixture of AF and Manual, just to see if it improves things.

It’s best to keep the maximum setting of ISO at 6400, just to be sure of a decent image to work with. According to the DPR experts at ISO 128,000 details start to disappear. But who really shoots that high ?

If you shoot Auto-ISO in low light, be aware that for some reason it has a distinct liking for 1/60 sec shutter speed, so depending on what focal length your using and if the subject is moving, there’s potential for a blurry image.

It’s a camera for photographers that want to appreciate the benefits of full frame in a very small and portable body, and that don’t shoot fast moving subjects. For sports and crazy children you can pretty much forget about it. It’s for those that have the luxury of being able to take their time when composing an image. And of course those that have a cupboard full of old lenses, and those that want to shoot video. (I do hear the video function is awesome but as I’ve never shot a video in my life, I’m definitely not the best person to talk about such things).

It’s kinda weird that when I’m taking photographs with the A7 I do have the feeling that I’m really a part of the moment though, the scene in front of me seems to slow down as I wait for all the elements to meet at that point of excellence, when everything comes together at the “decisive moment”. I also really like the sound of the shutter, boy I can be shallow sometimes. But seriously I do, I love the sound it makes, especially when the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter is turned off. I’m reminded of the “Arrivals and Departures” film by Jacob Aue Sobol, a Leica M shooter. You can watch below to find out what I mean.

So, getting back to the review, apart from the strap, what other things need improvement  on the A7 ?

The big one for me is using my older manual Nikon lenses, even with the brilliant Novoflex NEX/NIX adapter I simply can’t get the resolution. When I first put the two together I was expecting a little less than perfection, after all there’s nearly a 50 year gap between them, but I was expecting more. Now I’m not saying that all legacy lenses will produce bad results, but mine were lacking contrast, focus, overall sharpness, and really looked their age. I have seen images produced by other photographers that look way better than mine did, but you can tell, the adapters will always take away from the image, not add to it. Sure you can have some fun with the old lenses, and if that’s what you want, then great. But for someone that wants to create the best images possible. Using adaptors and old lenses on the A7 is not the right way to do it. It’s like putting cheap petrol in a Lambourgini, it does the job, but with consequences.

This was a bit of a kick for me, as I was excited to be able to use my old lenses, like many people I presume. But they’ve now all been sold in order to buy the Zeiss.  I’ve lost a lot of focal lengths, but in a strange way I’m kinda happy as I’ve now got less choices to make when packing my bag, oh and much better images of course.

Batteries, the A7/A7R uses the same ones as the NEX 6/7 so if you’re upgrading you’re in business, but overall the life of them is pretty poor, getting @350-400 images per charge. I also really disliked having to charge the battery by connecting the camera to my computers’ USB slot, having no native charger included in the system package. Very frustrating if you have limited slots available. Also the time it takes to charge is very long, 250 mins, which is 4.1 hours so as you can expect I’ve just bought the dedicated Sony charger and will let you know how I get on with that, I’m hearing that the time to charge is around the same, but at least it releases my USB slot for other things.

The A7 offers a pretty slow response time overall, and if I’m honest, I’m really embarrassed at this statement as I wonder when I began to demand such importance on the speed of such things as turning the camera on, returning to shooting mode from a menu, or changing the focus point manually. But it’s just a general feeling that things could go faster. But, and it’s an important but, at the same time, I’m enjoying the feeling of being slowed down, that every shot counts, I’m feeling more connected to the process of making photographs. So with this one I’m unsure really of what side of the fence I’m on.

So to conclude, it’s true that we’re all unique, and that we operate in many different ways, have different tastes, habits, and personal preferences. And this is why we use different tools to do the same job. The tools aren’t aware of any hierarchy awarded to them, that’s what we do, they just do as they’ve been built to do, and in the case of the camera, “to record and reproduce to infinity that which has occurred only once”.

My choosing the A7 wasn’t based exclusively on the technology supporting it, it was also based on my personal needs.  As I mentioned earlier, when you look at cameras in this performance level, the specs are very similar, give or take a few things, so deciding on which system suits you best is becoming less about the technical ability and more about how you wish to use the camera.

For me, I simply wanted a small full frame mirrorless system, that fits well in the hand, doesn’t weigh a ton, something I can take everywhere, that delivers superior images, and that I can afford. The Sony A7 is fantastic, and I absolutely love it because it’s so much more than just a camera, put simply, it’s a reason to fall in love with photography all over again. So if you’re like me and want to take your time and enjoy the process of making an image, then the Sony A7 is a great buy. If it’s speed your after, then think again.


I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I hope that it gives you a little more ‘insight’ into the A7. I don’t think I’ve written anything that hasn’t been written before, but sometimes it’s good to hear it from someone with a slightly different voice. As always, your comments and questions are welcomed, and if you want to find out more about what I do as a photography mentor, click here.



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Photographers are supposed to be artists, creative people right? So why do we struggle when naming our photographs?

Why do we feel the need to apply these deep and oh so very poetic titles like, “The search for the soul”, or “Emotions of light”, “Faith, Breathe, Alone in the Storm” or, here’s a great one,  ”Timeless memories of an experience once forgotten by the passion that hides within me”, when I’m looking at a picture of your dog?

I just don’t get it.  Why does the creative process fall down so spectacularly when it comes to naming images? And what impact does this naming have on the viewers experience of our photographs?

Let’s begin by discussing what happens when the viewer first looks at one of our photographs. (Sorry if it sounds a little scientific, but this is how I learnt this stuff)

When people first see a photograph, immediately they get a “gut feeling” as to whether or not they like the image. Long before the brain has had the time to carefully evaluate and process the content of the picture, our subconscious has already decided what information we should pay attention to, and what we can discard.

The experience then involves the conscious brain, where it executes a schematic, or relating process of comparing the image with familiar patterns that are stored in our memory. On the first level, it will recognise objects that are familiar to us, a famous landmark, or a family members face, and on the second it’s able to fill in what’s missing by drawing on background knowledge. For instance, in the image below, we don’t necessarily need to see the whole photograph to know what we’re looking at.


If what we see matches with our memory, something called schema congruity takes place. (Stick with me, it’ll be worth it). During this process, we register the information immediately, but because it matches exactly with what we’ve seen before, we effectively “shut off” from the image, we no longer have any need to continue looking at it.

It’s only when something in the image deviates from our schema that we’re called to take notice, we engage more, and our attention is heightened. But there’s also images that struggle within this process, where the visual information differs so drastically from our schema that we have the tendency to reject these images. We can’t make any sense of them, and as a result they’re considered to be schema irrelevant, abstract or blur being strong examples.

New or unanticipated images reach out to our attention, and images that are boring or too busy will lose it. Our eyes seek fresh and exciting content and composition, if the image is one that we’re over familiar with, our eyes will move on quickly.  At this point I’m very tempted to add some writing about the importance of perspective and “point of view” in our images, but I’ll save this for another time and stick to the subject in hand.

So let’s get back to the naming of our work and it’s impact on the experience we’ve been discussing. Now there’s probably some kind of research somewhere that indicates that by adding a specific title to an image we’re able to draw the viewers eye to certain elements in the photograph, to create a specific mood, or make suggestions. But why, when we know the power of words, do we in some instances add statements that instead of enhancing the viewers experience, they in fact detract from it? Put simply, they let the image down.


As well, is it a true statement that an image should “speak for itself”, where no name is necessary, or that the naming adds to, or confirms the intent of the photographer? And if the latter is most accurate, what does the name “Untitled” imply?

These and many more questions will be the subject of lengthy debates over many a year to come, but for now maybe it would be a good time to allow ourselves some time to reflect on how we name our photographs, and how those decisions will impact the viewer.

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this subject, I’d love to hear them, so please do comment below.


Additional note : Just by writing this I’m most definitely not exempt from blame, and will confess that in the search for others recognition as to my artfulness and creative brilliance, I for one have certainly added some ridiculously arty-farty names to my images in the past, but from now onwards I’ll be keeping a closer eye on how I present my work.




Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

via Creative people Say No – Thoughts on Creativity