PHO701: First Term Reflections

A large part of taking this course, apart from the challenge and the excitement, is in order to come to a clearer idea of what I don’t know, which is the most of it. That is the only place to start from. My impressions of the first term may therefore seem a little baffled, but they are these:

There is no such thing as an innocent or disingenuous photograph, not even a holiday snap. All photographs (all images, in fact, of which photographs are only a subset) reveal far more about both photographer and subject than either may realize.

Independent and well-reasoned criteria exist for assessing a photograph (or image) and placing it in a context. Without those one is at the crude level of ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’. A key text in this regard has been Paul Martin Lester’s lesson in ‘Visual Analysis’ (Lester 2011: 115-132).

There is no such thing as a single, stand-alone photograph. A photograph is always part of a much larger whole. It will have arisen in stream of images and so will have been curated, just as it will have arisen in a steam of time and human experience of which it is only a slice. The photograph will have arisen in a particular era and culture and will have been framed and made by a particular personality. The photograph is like a leaf on a river of ideas that change all the time (Instagram is barely a decade old, for example). A photograph can be de-embedded, of course, and perhaps placed without attribution in an archive on a far-away continent. But in that case its original meanings will have changed completely and the photograph may need to be regarded as, now, a completely different document. Indexicality is both plain and surprisingly slippery.

The photographer is not stand-alone. Far from being a lonely auteur, he or she is embedded in a web of activity – social, professional, artistic, familial. One of the most interesting parts of the first term has been the cooperative assignments and those, like the oral presentation, that involved placing oneself in a web of others.

If the photographer is not stand-alone, then two more words come to the fore: gaze and ethics. The photographer needs to be aware that he or she is embedded in a society that looks at things in particular ways (not all of them desirable) and which organizes itself according to particular ethical and legal codes. Forget all that and one could be in trouble, literally.

And if the photograph is not stand-alone then another word comes to the fore: narrative. A photograph can tell or suggest a story within itself but it is also part of a much larger story which the photographer may choose to tell or to withhold. One of the pleasures of the first term has been discovering the excitement and complexities of stories and narratives – or projects. Two key texts in this regard have been Grant Scott’s ‘The Power of the Personal Project’ (Scott 2015: 82-109) and Alec Soth’s marvellous visual essay Sleeping by the Mississippi (Soth 2017). Both have helped me to appreciate that there is so much more to photography than I once thought.

Finally, this term has shown me that making and viewing photographs is also an experience which, like all experiences, language cannot fully describe. Photographs are all about time and what we may take for reality, but time and reality are very challenging ideas for almost everyone, except perhaps for a great philosopher. We do not really understand them, and perhaps that is why photography has always hovered at the edges of art, news, culture, family, social relations. It is difficult to pin down.

Photography is essentially mysterious. No one can ever ‘capture reality’. We make a mental image of a tiny part of something and communicate the result to a viewer who in turn forms a mental image of what they see. Reality in this regard is a mental construct. It is our mind that turns a 2D print into a 3D world and again our mind that draws feelings and inferences from an illusion on a piece of paper or a screen.

This is the understanding that informs the most interesting book of the term for me, Camera Lucida (Barthes 2000). By withholding the key image of the text – the ‘Winter Garden’ photograph of his mother, if in fact there ever was one – Barthes obliges every reader to create their own Winter Garden, turn it over in the mind, ruminate on it, analyse it, respect it, and by so doing perhaps learn a little more about what photography is, and perhaps about who we are, than simply by reading yet another narrative history of the medium that lays out the story like cold plates upon a table.

BARTHES, Roland. 2000. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage.

LESTER, Paul Martin. 2011. ‘Visual Analysis’, in Paul Martin LESTER. (ed.) Visual Communication: Images With Messages. 5th. ed. Boston, MA.: Wadsworth, 115–132.

SCOTT, Grant. 2015. ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Grant SCOTT (ed.) Professional Photography: the New Global Landscape Explained. New York: Focal Press, 82–109. Available at: [accessed 19 January 2020].

SOTH, Alec, Patricia HAMPL and Anne TUCKER. 2017. Sleeping by the Mississippi. London: MACK.

Weeks 10 and 11: Reflections

Weeks 10 and 11 shot by and were much taken up with preparing my portfolio of work in progress and my research project proposal. The result is that I have not been able to spend as much time on an introduction to critical theory as I would like.

I liked the Preface by Mark Durden to Fifty Key Writers on Photography (Durden 2013: xviii-xxii) in the week’s readings. It has given me a good place to start, a book to read and the beginnings of a map to guide me. I also warmed to his awareness of the issues and ideas now thrown up by the digital age: “there is the sense of a growing new body of writing attentive to the ways in which photography becomes integral to the global flow of digital information” (Durden 2013: xxi). This sounds much more interesting to me than having to plough through what I suspect may be but hope won’t be the rather turgid writings of dry and dusty academics. It is where we are today and may be going tomorrow that fire me up even though, of course, we also need to understand how we got here.

The articles on Tierney Gearon (Gearon, 2001) and Sally Mann (Mann, 2015) were sad, in a word. The issue seems the same in both cases: consent. They were making their children the centre of a very public photographic practice, but children cannot give informed consent. This is bound to run into difficult ethical issues which remain whether one likes or dislikes the images and subject-matter. More interesting to me were the dates – this was something from the 1990s mostly. I wonder whether society had got slightly ahead of many artists at that time. The artists were still embedded in a traditional fine arts world, but in society at large there was a general but semi-conscious awareness that huge changes were coming as the result of the internet and, now with hindsight, the social media tsunami that rolled in less than a decade later. New and much more careful ethical considerations were going to be needed.

The last of the week’s readings, the interview with Laura Letinsky, is full of ideas and connections (Farstad, 2004). I found it fascinating and l hope I’ll re-read it a few times. What emerges for me is the importance of a healthy interest in lots of different things, not just in a single pursuit – lateral thinking needs variety, and in fact that can come from a plate of leftover food (in Letinsky’s own example) just as much as from a Caravaggio. And also that like others, Letinsky found using a 4×5 field camera changed her practice by forcing her to slow down and take a different approach. I have never used such a camera but I am noticing more and more references to large-format film photography in my reading at the moment. Perhaps someone is trying to tell me something …

DURDEN, M. (2013) Fifty key writers on photography. London: Routledge (Routledge key guides).

FARSTAD, J. (2004) ‘Interview with Laura Letinsky’ in Mouth to Mouth. Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2019).

GEARON, T. (2001) ‘Where is the sex?’ Available at:… (Accessed: 1 December 2019).

MANN, S. (2015) ‘Sally Mann’s Exposure in The New York Times’. Available at:… (Accessed: 2 December 2019).

Week 9: Research Project Development

I was able to get out and shoot at night a couple of times this week. The weather cleared a bit allowing me to make some time-lapse and longer-exposure images which I had been waiting to do. Contact sheet attached.

I think I have worked out a reasonable way of progressing the project. Oxford can be disassembled, if you will, into four distinct parts: the old university city, the Victorian expansion, the interwar expansion and 1930s estates, and the newer postwar areas including the 15-mile Oxford ring road.

I will need to study these areas and work my way through them systematically, keeping in mind three key themes: the impact of the university and the new global elitism of the city centre, the neon and general commercial blare of the modern city at night, and the impact of the first two on those who live among them but who are often marginalised or prevented by lack of opportunity or wealth from full participation.

It is clear that I am going to need more skills to make a proper job of this. These include a knowledge of psychogeography and of transient and liminal contexts, and better portrait skills for any candid documentary work. So there are some items to add to an agenda.

Mark Crean (2019): Week9-ContactSheet-1
Mark Crean (2019): Time-lapse photographs in central Oxford.

Week 9: Reflections

The week shot past much taken up with my portfolio of work in progress. However, the coursework involved two of the most helpful readings so far.

The first was Hans Obrist’s “The Kitchen”, his account of mounting an exhibition in his own home. (Obrist, 2015: 81-87) There was a lovely chain of circumstances. First, an unlikely but very convincing connection made by an economics professor between medieval alchemy and paper money. Then an idea for an exhibition which wasn’t conceived by Obrist himself but suggested to him by his friends. And then an exhibition which by this stage was a group exhibition too.

Each link in the chain made something more of the original idea and a combination of artists made the whole greater than its parts. Besides, as Obrist pointed out, citing the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, there is a long and successful tradition of the home as a theatre for the arts. It happens here in Oxford every year when scores of artists open their homes for the ArtWeeks festival in May.

The second reading was Grant Scott’s “The Power of the Personal Project”, full of grounded, knowledgeable, practical suggestions. (Scott, 2015: 82-109) He set out not only why personal projects are very important – because they nurture creativity which feeds back into professional work – but how to approach, conceive and execute one. I value his distinction between emotional projects and intellectual ones. I liked being introduced to the work of Jim Mortram, a great example of what can be achieved even within a short radius of one’s own home.

Two things emerge here for me. The first is the importance of lateral thinking. New ideas can come from the most unexpected directions so it is important to nurture a range of different interests and activities. Nothing should be ruled out and an obsessive interest in just one thing is likely to dull you.

The second is the power of the network and especially in both these cases the human network. The internet can be hugely helpful but is not enough and as we all realize by now it can become a trap. Nothing beats the richness of human contact. Neither Obrist nor Mortram would have been able to do what they did without other people. There would have been no exhibition in Obrist’s case because the idea came not from him but from his friends. In Mortram’s case there would have been no subjects and no human interest – and it is the human interest in his story that has made his project such a success.

So, overall, very productive readings which will help my practice a lot, I hope.

OBRIST, H. U. (2015) ‘The Kitchen’, in Obrist, H. U. and Raz̤ā, A. (eds) Ways of curating. London: Penguin, pp. 81–87.

SCOTT, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Scott, G. (ed.) Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109.


Week 8: Research Project Development

I’ve been out shooting a few times this week for my Oxford at Night project but torrential rain, gales and the rest has spoiled at lot of it so there are not many images I am all that happy with. Contact sheets are appended below.

I have, however, worked out a provisional framework for how to take my project further over the next few months. Details will follow in a Week 9 post because they are also involved with preparing my portfolio of project work in progress.

In addition to the set coursework this week, I have also looked at some books from the library as background material for the project. By far the most impressive has been Magnum Contact Sheets. It is all about curation and curation is exactly what I need to do. Without curation, I am likely to amass hundreds of digital images which are not coherent and which fail to pick out the stories I am trying (or hoping) to tell. So, taking curation seriously will help me to think more carefully. And the book offers plenty of memorable quotations to ponder from some of the world’s great photographers and, even better, they don’t all agree.

“I don’t always like to look at contact sheets because it’s work and you can make mistakes, but it’s part of the process. You have to do it … because very often you don’t see things the first time and you do see them the second or third time.” – Elliott Erwitt, p.70

“You can’t be hung up on what you think your ‘real’ destination is. The journey is just as important.” – Steve McCurry, p. 297

“A contact sheet is a little like a psychoanalyst’s casebook. It is also a kind of seismograph that records the moment. Everything is written down – whatever has surprised us, what we’ve caught in flight, what we’ve missed, what has disappeared, or an event that develops until it becomes and image that is sheer jubilation.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson, p. 18

I have also looked at a collection of Werner Bischof’s images. It is so sad that he died at a young age. Something he is quoted as saying in the Introduction resonates with me:

“What are regarded as ‘fine photographs’ are often static, and when you concentrate on composing perfect pictures you are likely to fall into the trap of losing touching with life, with its colour and movement […] Yet why not tell a positive ‘human story’ through beautiful pictures?” – Werner Bischof, quoted in Introduction by Claude Roy

Finally, I have started working through Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography by Jesse Alexander. It’s worthwhile anyway but I’ll admit that a fair part of the reason for my interest comes from a tip in Grant Writing for Dummies, namely do some research and get to know the work of those you will be applying to.

ALEXANDER, J.A.P. 2015. Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography. London: Fairchild Books.

BISCHOF, Werner. 1989. Werner Bischof. London: Thames and Hudson.

BROWNING, Beverly A. 2014. Grant Writing for Dummies. Fifth edit. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

LUBBEN, Kristen. 2017. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson.

Mark Crean (2019): Week8-ContactSheet-1
Mark Crean (2019): Week8-ContactSheet-1

Mark Crean (2019): Week8-ContactSheet-2
Mark Crean (2019): Week8-ContactSheet-2

Week 8: Reflections

I am a little puzzled by this week’s topic, that of Context or in the case of one of the weekly readings “Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning”. It seems unremarkable that the meaning of something will change according to how and where it is presented, how and by whom it is made, and how and by whom it is seen. I wonder if there is any need to make a big deal out of this or to ensnare it in a thicket of intellectual sophistry.

It’s always been known. The first words of the most classic of all Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada, are

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.

In other words, reality is a mental construct. The only reality we really have access to is mind. We see the world we want to see, according to the Buddha (and to his contemporaries in India too no doubt). So to a greater or lesser extent we create our own contexts. Many might think it unlikely that there is a fixed context or reality “out there” which trumps all else.

There are 1001 variations on these ideas. One is “Go, litel boke, go, litel myn tragedye”, Chaucer’s envoi to his poem Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer was paying modest homage to a literary tradition that had been going strong since classical times, an acknowledgement that once a work is created and released, the world makes of it what the world will. The work’s creator may have fierce hopes that the right eyes will see it in the right context, but ultimately world and time will decide what becomes of any creation and the result is beyond the creator’s control. As with children, we never really own our creations. They never did belong to us. We just look after them for a while, and perhaps that context is privilege enough.

So while context cannot be avoided, and while it is very important to be aware of context and of the audience for a work, trying to make context “sticky” and to control it strikes me as an exercise in futility. Much better, I think, to accept that reality is contingent and fluid and to accept that any work will be experienced in a potentially unlimited number of ways. From this arises the habit – or need – of many artists to reinvent themselves. Much of their work lies in eluding the trap of “sticky” contexts and thus evading the circumscribed and pigeon-holed.

The arrival of the digital world in photography has thrown all traditional contexts up in the air. Digital is a greatly democratising influence. What might once have taken a crew of 70 and a million-dollar budget can now be done with a handful of people for a modest outlay, if any. An increasing amount can simply be done with a smartphone, almost for free – not only stills but video, mixed media, micro-sites, ezines and more. So, in a way, context has centralized round the app. That’s good because it is so democratically available, but also not good because the risk is handing agency and ownership to the large international brands behind the app whose only interest is profit. More traditional contexts like the fine-art print and the upscale gallery are still there but my impression is that they are now a specialty and not mainstream. How could they be, when the second most popular website in the world is YouTube.

Is it possible to identify an audience but to forget about context? Or, at least, to avoid being taken prisoner by it? Possibly. The life and work of David Bowie was a ferment of invention and reinvention, for example. Or there is the earlier work of Picasso who experimented endlessly and made his way through -isms and periods until he found his true vision, that which only he could express. History is surely full of artists who were misunderstood at the time because their audience remained stuck in contexts the artist had long surpassed.

So there is the shock of the new, but perhaps there is also the shock of the old, the point at which time has erased all context and left us only the work. Take Palaeolithic hand stencils – hands outlined in blown ochre. The cultural contexts of Palaeolithic cave art have vanished, leaving us only with the physical: pigment on rock, now many thousands of years old. But this context serves only as a beginning. The power of these works is not in their physical context, one might argue, but in the mysterious and sometimes thrilling message they send out across time, in fact defying time. But the message is not fixed. It is what every generation chooses to receive, and perhaps every generation chooses to receive a different message. For Antony Gormley on seeing a Palaeolithic image reaching out to us across ten thousand years, for example, the message is “What does it feel like to be alive now?” So I suppose the question here is whether in the end there is only one context, and one we don’t really understand anyway: time.

In a way context is a paradox. It cannot be avoided, and it may be a necessary starting point, but perhaps to create something fresh one has to try to avoid it as much as one possibly can.

‘BBC Two – Antony Gormley: How Art Began’. 2019. [online]. Available at: [accessed 18 Nov 2019].

CHAUCER, Geoffrey and B. A WINDEATT. 1984. Troilus & Criseyde : A New Edition of ‘The Book of Troilus’. London: Longman.

FRONSDAL, Gil. 2005. The Dhammapada: A New Translation. Boston, MA.: Shambhala Publications.

WALKER, John A. 1997. ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’. In Jessica EVANS (ed.). The Camerawork Essays: Context and Meaning in Photography. London: Rivers Oram, 52–63.

Weeks 6 and 7: Research Project Development

My research project development in Weeks 6 and 7 has mainly consisted of study rather than going out and shooting, which I’ve only managed once.

However, I have been able to sit down with some large-format photography books and study how a successful project is put together. Learning how a successful project works is important for me because I have almost no experience of it.

Among several I’ve looked at, the stand-out is Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi. It is a wonderful body of work anyway, but what has become clear to me – apart from the need for impeccable production values – are these items:

  1. A strong idea. The Mississippi river is just that, providing a natural linking and flow to the images.
  2. Keep an open mind and be alert to possibility. It is clear from reading around that some of the many characters in Soth’s story are the result of chance encounters. But these were seen as opportunities and taken.
  3. Everyone meets as an equal. The portraits are the strongest feature of the work, for me. To a degree they are posed because with a large plate camera they have to be. But Soth is never less than on the level with his subjects. He shows them as they are, in all their uniqueness and humanity. There is no judgement. There is compassion in these portraits, in fact. This is very important.
  4. Find sub-themes and interests or allow them to emerge naturally. Beds are famously one for Soth, but when they are present in images they are treated with subtlety. They always signify something else – a beginning, an ending, a conception, a fall from grace, human presence, an absence, and so on. There are other themes in this story: mementos and graffiti, textures, Christian symbols, snapshots on a bedroom wall – all adding up to something more.
  5. Tap into myths and archetypes. Soth is fortunate, because America’s foundation myths are still so strong. The pioneer, the explorer, the homesteader – they are all here. So too are the preacher man, the outlaw and the narrowly ex-slave. The capstone image of the essay – Johnny Cash’s birthplace, a humble weatherboard cabin – is a story out of the lives of Washington or Thoreau. And overall there is in the insistent melancholy of another American myth: that America’s settlers came to an Eden, but their ungodly ways have turned it into a hell. Robert Adams in Los Angeles Spring uses the same approach.

So I am very glad to have got close to Sleeping by the Mississippi. This is the way I should be heading.

Two other essays I have much enjoyed are Hidden by Paul Seawright and Dust by Nadav Kander, both very different from Alec Soth. I looked at them mainly because of their treatment of colour – delicate (Kander) and bleached (Seawright). Finding a colour palette is something else I need to do. I liked a similar approach in both books – tiny humans, vast landscapes, vast events, but presented with very careful and sophisticated composition and framing. The result immediately puts a question mark over time and human significance. Kander’s collapsed concrete structures at former Soviet nuclear sites already look as old, and as irrelevant, as anything left by the Kings of Assyria two or three thousand years ago.

Setting Sun : Writings by Japanese Photographers has some very interesting ideas. This observation by the book’s editors is fascinating:

“The Japanese have a unique understanding of landscape. The term of ‘landscape’ in Japanese is fukei, which combines the notion of ‘flow’ or ‘wind’ (fu), and ‘view’ or ‘-scape’ (kei) – hence ‘flowing view’. Landscape is thus not considered static, but transient, ephemeral, never stopping.

“The flow of time is a vital part of this understanding: in the Japanese arts, time’s passage in nature, and the changing seasons, are central motifs. …

“Fukei photography is by no means restricted to natural subjects: it can be about cities, people and architecture. Whatever its subject, the fukei photograph is a paradox: a fixed view of something that is understood to be by definition in flux.” (p. 42)

Below are the books I’ve looked at and following are two contact sheets from my one project development walk in Weeks 6 and 7.

Earth. 2009. Prix Pictet. Kempen: TeNeues.

EVANS, Harold. 1997. Pictures on a Page : Photo-Journalism, Graphics and Picture Editing. Rev. London: Pimlico.

GRUYAERT, Harry. 2015. Harry Gruyaert. London: Thames & Hudson.

KANDER, Nadav and Will SELF. 2014. Nadav Kander : Dust. Dust. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz.

SEAWRIGHT, Paul, Mark DURDEN and John STATHATOS. 2003. Hidden. London: Imperial War Museum.

SOTH, Alec and Hanya YANAGIHARA. 2019. I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating. London: MACK.

SOTH, Alec, Patricia HAMPL and Anne TUCKER. 2017. Sleeping by the Mississippi. MACK. London: MACK.

TUCKER, Anne, Ivan VARTANIAN, Akihiro HATANAKA and Yutaka KANBAYASHI. 2005. Setting Sun : Writings by Japanese Photographers. New York : London: Aperture.

Mark Crean (2019): Oxford at Night
Mark Crean (2019): Oxford at Night – Research Project Development

Mark Crean (2019): Oxford at Night
Mark Crean (2019): Oxford at Night – Research Project Development


Weeks 6 and 7: Reflections

Weeks 6 and 7 have flown by largely because my time was taken up with preparing the oral presentation and that has left me quite tired.

The coursework introduced some big subjects – chance, surrealism, psychogeography, subjective versus arbitrary, creative strategies – which will take a long time to digest.

Psychogeography is something I have probably done without realizing it. For example, in 2017 and 2018 I made regular trips to London in order to photograph the Regent’s Canal section by section. Typically, I would choose a nearby walk from an excellent series of guidebooks, London’s Hidden Walks, and concentrate on that and the nearby section of canal. So, London and the canal explored neighbourhood by neighbourhood, fitted into an afternoon stroll with a camera. It would not be hard to make a more formal extension of that into full-on psychogeography. It’s also something I have in mind to redo, this time as a proper project.

Chance, serendipity, surrealism and photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson are close to my heart so I warmed to that part of the coursework. However, I suspect there are a couple of potential traps here.

The first trap is that one cannot copy someone else’s sense of the surreal; it is unique to them. Attempts to emulate Cartier-Bresson will fail, in my view; he was completely sui generis. We each have to find our own path on that journey or we risk ending up like Robert Doisneau with too many sugary and faked (because set up and posed) images in the catalogue.

The second trap is thinking that it’s all about becoming some super-strength auteur with an eye so unerring it is almost snap and go. Notwithstanding William Eggleston saying “I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two”, it’s clear that many other photographers do not work in this way. One can see it instantly in, for example, Magnum Contact Sheets where one can watch the photographer taking frame after frame, circling round, trying this and that, zeroing in on the image that eventually defines the set when curated later. So for many of us (and certainly for me) getting those 50 images I am happy with probably means making around 5000 images, 4950 of which will hit the bit bucket. Even in the days of film this would still have meant a couple of rolls not a couple of frames.

I liked the reading about John Baldessari but I am unsure about how much arbitrariness I really want in my practice. It’s very important to stay open and open-minded, but it strikes me that imposing arbitrariness, which is what Baldessari often did, is no less an act of control freakery than manipulating the finest detail. It’s a mirror image but not radically different. And there was something quite cold and unemotional about the results which didn’t attract me.

I enjoyed the micro-project which in my case was the brief “Upside Down”. There is almost too much subject matter in this town. The frustration – I suppose my perfectionism – is that it was tough to fit it into a couple of hours give or take. I append the results at the end of this post.

I have done some study for my development project in the past two weeks but that will follow in a separate post.

LUBBEN, Kristen. 2017. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson.

MILLAR, Stephen. 2014. London’s Hidden Walks. 3 vols. London: Metro Publications.

TUCKER, Marcia. 2010. ‘John Baldessari: Pursuing the Unpredictable’. In Margaret IVERSEN and Whitechapel Art GALLERY (eds.). Chance. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 137–9.

Micro-project: Upside Down
Mark Crean (2019): Results of the Weeks 6-7 micro-project to the brief of Upside Down.

Week 5: Research Project

I opted to get myself sorted out with membership of the Bodleian Library this week and therefore to concentrate on some study. The Bodleian is an incredibly useful resource to have on my doorstep and I intend to use it a lot more now.

To become more familiar with night photography, since my research project is Oxford at Night, I ordered up and then sat down and went through the following books. I am not going to write immediate off-the-cuff impressions here but I have made notes and jotted down quotable quotes too. I will say, however, that being able to study the practice of Robert Adams, Todd Hido and Rut Blees Luxemburg from their original large-format photography books is a joy.

Adams, R. (1986). Los Angeles spring. New York, N.Y.: Aperture.

Blees Luxemburg, R. (2009). Commonsensual : the works of Rut Blees Luxemburg. London: Black Dog.

Brandt, B., Haworth-Booth, M. and Mellor, D. (1985). ‘Bill Brandt: behind the camera: photographs 1928-1983’. In Behind the camera. New York: Aperture.

Brassaï. (1988). ‘Brassaï : Paris le jour, Paris la nuit’. In Paris le jour, Paris la nuit. Paris: Paris Musées.

Hido, T. (2016). ‘Todd Hido – intimate distance: twenty-five years of photographs, a chronological album’. In Intimate distance. 1st edn. New York: Aperture.

Moriyama, D. and Maggia, F. (2010). Daido Moriyama : the world through my eyes. Milan: London: Skira.

Sparham, A. and Ellams, I. (2018). London nights. 1st edn. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Week 5 Reflections

What surprised me about Week 5 was that there is much more to say about the ethics of photography and codes of practice than I thought there was.

Like many perhaps I’ve muddled along with a rough-and-ready code which generally means not breaking the law (so far as I know it), not making photographs of distressed or vulnerable people (ditto animals) and keeping away from situations that just feel wrong. Vague, I know – a pretty ad hoc following of the ethics of the Golden Rule.

A more thought-through code would be useful as my practice in cities raises questions of privacy, of tense situations, and of putting people on the spot who may not want to be photographed – foreign nationals, unlicensed street traders, members of religious groups or of ethnic minorities, etc. A stroll through say Whitechapel Market in East London might well raise all of these issues. So the basic message is I need to be more aware, and that comes down not only to respect for others but to research. I won’t be aware of the nuances and particular social codes that may operate wherever I am unless I have first done some study.

I’ve looked around at a few standard codes of ethics, such as

The NUJ’s Code of Conduct

The British Press Photographers’ Association Code of Conduct and their resources page.

US and European outfits have parallel codes.

Photographers Without Borders have what strikes me as a very useful code of ethics for when on assignment overseas, particularly in remote tribal areas where there’s a high risk of cultural misunderstanding and exploitation. However, the same ideas apply close to home and anywhere that is multicultural and ethnically diverse. The PWB code can be found here: Code of Ethics

There is also the Royal Photographic Society’s code for nature-lovers: The Nature Photographer’s Code of Practice

I have come across some requests for a code of practice for the environment more generally – stewardship, the impact of mass tourism, leaving wild places undisturbed. These are increasingly important issues.

There is a lot out there but so far I have not found a single code which covers it all.

Codes of ethics can be tricky, however. Potentially, they can become over-complex and burdensome. The risk is they would then be disregarded. So while I think codes of ethics are very important – more so than I thought at the start of the week – some kind of balance and understanding needs to be employed. We live in a very uncertain world and people are going to make the wrong calls from time to time. Some moments are incredibly hard to read.  A lot more thought is required, at least by me.

Self-awareness based on research – that is the takeaway from this week.

The following books cropped up:

Evans, H. (1997). Pictures on a page. 2nd ed. London: Pimlico

Kennedy, L. and Patrick, C. (2014). The violence of the image : photography and international conflict. London: I.B. Tauris.

Kobre, K. (2008). Photojournalism, the professionals’ approach. 6th ed. Waltham, Mass.: Focal Press

Lester, P. (2015). Photojournalism: an ethical approach. London: Routledge

I have done some work on my research project in Week 5 but that will follow in a separate post.