PHO703 Week 9: Workshops

One of the tasks of this module has been to prepare a workshop or similar event connected with one’s research project. My contribution takes the form of a group photowalk in Oxford after dark on the evening of day one followed the next day by a round-table discussion and presentation of work on a platform like Zoom. I would market this on places like Meetup, Instagram, Flickr, Twitter and Daily Info (Oxford’s popular listings site). Ticketing could be taken care of on Eventbrite.

I have prepared a pdf with descriptions and details of the kind I would give to participants here: Crean-Oxford-Photowalk

Lockdown means this is not going to happen for a few months. However, it has been a useful and enjoyable lesson. The points that have emerged are these:

    • Know your audience
    • Become familiar the technology you will need for the job
    • Research and thorough planning are key to a smooth event
    • Understand and control your costs

It is important to have an audience in mind and to have a good idea of what that audience wants and is capable of. In my case I have done photowalks a few times before, so I know that many participants will want the opportunity to photograph some of Oxford’s historic university buildings, receive a little instruction, and network around conversation with other participants in a good pub. Some will be knowledgeable photographers with good cameras but a fair number won’t be and may come with only their smartphones.

So my proposed route is tailored to what my audience wants, not to what I may want. In that sense it is commercial and a little touristic, but if I want the business I must know my audience. I might want to slip off to remoter or more edgy areas in search of tourism-free images, but most of my audience are not there for that – and there is nothing wrong with their preferences.

Second, it is important to be familiar with current technology. My route can be plotted in surprising detail on Google Maps and the URL for a fully annotated map can be given to every participant (Crean 2020). The URL for the Google map I have prepared is here. They will have the route, the points of interest and the walking directions all on their smartphone. The next day, the round-table discussion, calls for knowledge of conferencing software like Zoom. We are now entering an era where online learning and discussion will become much more predominant, and if I want to serve an audience I cannot afford not to know about these things.

Map 2020-07-28-2
Fig 1: Mark Crean 2020. An annotated Google Map of a proposed photowalk after dark in Oxford. If downloaded to a smartphone, much more detail becomes available including descriptions of what to photograph at each stopping point.

Third, and almost always, it is important to plan carefully and think things through. On any photowalk and especially after dark there are many things to consider. Safety is paramount and needs to be flagged up to everyone. Participant contact details are essential if people are late or get lost and there are plenty of items of kit to remind people to bring with them, if only a rainproof coat, spare batteries and a torch.

Fourth is cost. Does this idea make sense financially? A photowalk and online discussion of the kind I have planned does incur costs and if these are not passed on it must be run at a loss. And in any case, what will the market bear and what do I think my time is worth (always a challenging question)? In this case I think I would price a ‘ticket’ at £15-20 per head, on the basis of a maximum of 8-10 participants (too many participants is a turn-off). There may always be others who offer similar ideas for free, but my plan is to offer something in exchange for something. I am a knowledge worker offering expertise. Besides, the basic psychology is that if someone buys a ticket, they then think it is an event worth going to and they are much more likely to turn up.


CREAN, Mark. 2020. ‘Oxford: A Walk After Dark’. Google My Maps [online]. Available at: [accessed 26 Jul 2020].


Figure 1. Mark CREAN. 2020. An annotated Google Map of a proposed photowalk after dark in Oxford. If downloaded to a smartphone, much more detail becomes available including descriptions of what to photograph at each stopping point. From: Google My Maps [online]. Available at: [accessed 26 Jul 2020].

PHO703 Week 9: Landings

Falmouth University’s annual Landings exhibition is now running (27 July to 03 August) and can be accessed here:

My own contribution is called ‘Silent City’ and is a curation of my work in progress, mostly this module and a few images from the last module (Crean 2020). This is on my Adobe portfolio website and can be accessed here:

Fig. 1: Landings 2020 marketing material using one of my own images dropped into a common template, an effective way of allowing individual artists to prepare their own material to a common theme.

I have enjoyed putting this together. It is good practice for a mini-exhibition and forces me to address my intent and clarity of concept. It has also brought out the fact that Oxford (any city, in fact) presents so many different faces over so many historical eras that it is probably better to divide my work into sub-themes or chapters which is what I have done with my Landings work.

Other lessons here are the importance of collaboration, planning and marketing. Landings is a ‘we’ project, not a ‘me’ project. No one could possibly have done it all on their own and the result is immeasurably stronger for being a collaboration. I have also admired and enjoyed taking part in the marketing on Instagram, Twitter and so forth. I know from comments from followers not connected with Falmouth that this material found an audience.


CREAN, Mark. 2020. ‘Silent City: Landings 2020 Exhibition’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: [accessed 26 Jul 2020].


Figure 1. Landings 2020. 2020. Marketing material using one of my own images dropped into a common template, an effective way of allowing individual artists to prepare their own material to a common theme. From: Instagram [online]. Available at: [accessed 27 Jul 2020].

PHO703: Silent City

After some thought, I have decided to rename my project Silent City and to concentrate solely on black and white photography. I think this is a better fit for me and for the whole project, for the reasons I gave in a previous post.

This somewhat simplifies my agenda. I will need to educate myself about black and white photography and to learn how to ‘see’ in black and white. What I mean by that is learning how to judge a potential image’s shapes and patterns, its graphical content and range of greyscale tones when colour information is removed. Some images work well in black and white but some do not work well at all. The punctum of an image may be all about colour – a red umbrella against dark blue, for example – or the image may be rather busy with detail and without colour information we cannot adequately decode the content and construct a 3D image in the mind. We are more likely to see a tangle. I need to be proficient enough to understand this before making the image and not leave it to the contact sheet stage when it is too late. But what is the point of doing this course without taking up a few challenges?

I will also need to learn about post-processing for black and white, since all my images emerge in colour to begin with because I have a digital camera. I would also like to learn about silver gelatin emulation, if this is possible on digital. The quality of a good silver gelatin film print is simply wonderful. Black and white needs that careful attention to tonality. I have noticed that Metro Labs in London offer a service for silver gelatin from digital files, so we will see.

The photographer and essayist Ming Thein has some helpful articles on the differences (both practical and psychological) between shooting in colour and in black and white (Thein 2020). I have also found helpful his instructional videos on creating an effective workflow for black and white photography using Adobe Photoshop and other software tools.


THEIN, Ming. 2020. ‘Technique’. Ming Thein [online]. Available at: [accessed 30 Jun 2020].

PHO703: Matt Black

Matt Black is an American documentary photographer with the Magnum agency (Magnum Photos 2020). He is known for his projects revealing the poverty and deprivation across much of the United States, especially in more rural areas. They include projects like The Geography of Poverty, The Black Okies and The Dry Land (Magnum Photos 2020). Black’s practice is relevant to mine because part of my intention is to show the scale of inequality here in Oxford. It is also relevant because Black photographs in black and white.

Black has a phrase that has stuck in my mind: ‘The work of a photographer is to reveal hidden things’ (Magnum Photos 2020). Things may be hidden for many reasons but what I have picked up here is the importance of looking beneath appearances and also of paying attention to details. A fleeting gesture, as in Fig. 1, can be recorded or missed in a few seconds.

Fig. 2: Matt Black 2015. El Paso, Texas.
Fig. 1: Matt Black 2015. El Paso, Texas.

Details may show the extraordinary in the ordinary, in Stephen Shore’s formula (O’Hagan 2015), but they may also reveal hidden truths we may or may not wish to see. So details matter, a lot. In terms of my practice, details are a way of introducing suggestion and anticipation. They suggest human presence by its absence. That is important to me because I am deliberately not introducing people into my images. If there is a person in the image then the story changes and becomes all about them. That is not the story I want to tell. My story is about a silent city – what is left when human presence is suggested, but not stated.

Black comes from a community similar to those he photographs. I like his bluff, no-nonsense approach that places a premium on honesty and integrity. This is a timely reminder of the importance of ethics in my work. People will not trust you, and have no reason to, if you are untrustworthy with them. Building trust takes time. The good images only come after your subjects allow you in, otherwise the photography will always be from the margins, the outside, and it will show. In Black’s words,

‘My approach is the same: I put what I am doing on the table, I tell people why I’m there and why I think it’s important. At this point, I have the benefit of clarity. Being clear helps when it comes time to explain.’ … ‘But the bigger point is this: language, culture, looks and appearance, all of that melts away when you’ve built a real understanding with somebody. People really communicate on a totally different level than language. You’re credible, you’re not; you care, you don’t – that’s how people size you up. That’s been my experience’ (Alexia Foundation 2012).

Black is also good on the importance of becoming fully involved. If you want results you have to give it your all:

‘ …my work in general, and I think the broader role that documentary photography should play, is in pointing out those uncomfortable realities. … You do experience things differently as a photographer. You experience things more viscerally and directly, you go places that other people don’t go. That’s what it does, it immerses you even more deeply in an environment. … To me that’s one of the great rewards of doing this work, you get to see things on this basic, human, observational level, and it informs who you are as a person. … Photography is the voice I have and when you accept a voice or you accept a medium to work in you also inherently accept its limitations. So I focus on what I can do best … ‘ (British Journal of Photography 2015).

This is good to hear and not dissimilar to what Larry Towell has said. Perhaps all really good photographers would say it. Black again,

‘The main thing I’ve learned is that you have to give up thinking you’re in charge of your work. You’re really not, so I don’t get frustrated when things aren’t going the way I thought they might. I’ve learned to remain open.  … To become your own photographer takes time, and a lot of hard work. That’s what the challenge is: keeping true to something when you don’t really know what’s next’ (Alexia Foundation 2012).

This is eerily similar to my path through Falmouth: to find my voice, which requires hard work and not trying to manipulate outcomes, and then to remain true to one’s voice. This requires clarity, which Black considers extremely important

What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
To tell a truth as simply as possible.
(Behrmann 2020)

Black’s voice stands out among the poor and migrant communities whose stories he tries to tell. To me he is inspirational. As Black says, ‘ … you can’t talk about poverty in isolation without talking about everything else. It’s a part of a social structure, therefore everyone is involved. You can’t objectify into “us” and “them”. … Everything is separating, becoming more unequal – and the whole idea of a common country seems to be coming apart’ (Genova 2018). I feel exactly the same about my country and the demagogues who run it.

Fig. 1: Matt Black 2014. Fallowed Tomato Fields, Corcoran, California.
Fig. 2: Matt Black 2014. Fallowed Tomato Fields, Corcoran, California.


ALEXIA FOUNDATION. 2012. ‘Interview with Matt Black’. Alexia Foundation [online]. Available at: [accessed 19 Jul 2020].

BEHRMANN, Kai. 2020. ‘Matt Black: “Let The Pictures Come To You”’. The Art of Creative Photography [online]. Available at: [accessed 21 Jul 2020].

BLACK, Matt. 2020. ‘Matt Black’. Matt Black [online]. Available at: [accessed 22 Jul 2020].

BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. 2015. ‘Matt Black’s “Moral” Photography of America’s Sprawling Poverty’. bjp-online [online]. Available at: [accessed 20 Jul 2020].

GENOVA, Alexandra. 2018. ‘The Geography of Poverty in America: Matt Black’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jul 2020].

MAGNUM PHOTOS. 2020. ‘Matt Black – Photographer Profiles’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: [accessed 19 Jul 2020].

O’HAGAN, Sean. 2015. ‘Shady Character: How Stephen Shore Taught America to See in Living Colour.’ The Guardian [online]. Available at: [accessed 4 Mar 2020].


Figure 1. Matt BLACK. 2015. El Paso, Texas. From: Magnum Photos. 2020. ‘Matt Black – Photographer Profiles’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: [accessed 19 Jul 2020].
Figure 2. Matt BLACK. 2014. Fallowed Tomato Fields, Corcoran, California.  From: Magnum Photos. 2020. ‘Matt Black – Photographer Profiles’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: [accessed 19 Jul 2020].

PHO703 Week 8: More on Photobooks

This week I have really enjoyed two video presentations on making photobooks published on Vimeo by Self Publish, Be Happy.

The first is How To Design a Photobook by a designer and publisher, Brian Paul Lamotte (Lamotte 2020). The second is How To Edit and Sequence a Photobook by an editor and publisher, Bruno Ceschel (Ceschel 2020).

I found both absolutely fascinating and, running to a couple of hours each, full of very useful information. So far, they are the find of the module. Lamotte covered all kinds of photobook design, often highly experimental and creative. I simply had not realized how much variety there is and how much is now possible working with printers, binders and designers. He offered a clear breakdown of the steps involved at the start of any book project:

  • Who is this book for?
  • What does this book consist of?
  • Where does this book need to thrive?
  • When will this book be produced and published?
  • Why does this book need to be made?
  • How will this book be made?

Lamotte also said that successful books were designed for the smallest number of people (primarily, the artist, designer and editor). Surprising, perhaps, but I think correct: one has to have a particular kind of audience in mind. Designing a book to satisfy every audience will dilute the final outcome. After that, he divided the planning into three distinct stages: reference, collaboration and process/production.

Ceschel covered the curation and editing of images. I liked his comparison of sequencing to following the arrangement of a piece of music (he illustrated this by breaking down the blocks of a pop song) or the techniques used in cinema narration. He also went into sequencing by using the tones in an image. Both Lamotte and Ceschel emphasized the importance of pulling in the reader right from the very first page and then keeping them entranced deep inside the world of the book with astute shifts of mood and approach. ‘The world of the book’ as something to be created in itself is emerging as a key concept here.

These videos are causing me to rethink what a photobook can be and how to approach it from the ground up. I am very glad I have found them. Not long ago, Ceschel wrote Self Publish, Be Happy : A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto (Ceschel 2015) and I will try to find a copy.

These videos are a helpful counterpoint to Jörg Colberg’s Understanding Photobooks (Colberg 2017) which I read a week or two ago. That is really helpful too but in a different way. It is more formal and is more concerned than are Ceschel and Lamotte with clarity of concept, identifying an audience, marketing the work and selling it, the other and equally important side of the coin to the editing and design process.

Nick Sethi Khichdi (Kitchari)
Fig. 1: Nick Sethi 2018. From his book Khichdi Kitchari (Dashwood Books, New York), designed by Brian Paul Lamotte. The idea, here, is to convey the chaos and life of the Indian streets – the world of this book, a world created by close collaboration between artist, designer and printer. It was nominated for the Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation First Photobook Prize.


CESCHEL, Bruno. 2015. Self Publish, Be Happy : A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. New York: Aperture.

CESCHEL, Bruno. 2020. How To Edit and Sequence a Photobook. Self Publish, Be Happy video. Available at: [accessed 21 Jul 2020].

COLBERG, Jörg. 2017. Understanding Photobooks: The Form and Content of the Photographic Book. New York: Routledge.

LAMOTTE, Brian Paul. 2020. How To Design a Photobook [Film]. Self Publish, Be Happy video. Available at: [accessed 21 Jul 2020].


Figure 1: Nick SETHI. 2018. From his book Khichdi Kitchari (Dashwood Books, New York), designed by Brian Paul Lamotte. The idea, here, is to convey the chaos and life of the Indian streets – the world of this book, a world created by close collaboration between artist, designer and printer. It was nominated for the Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation First Photobook Prize. From: Brian Paul Lamotte. 2020. How To Design a Photobook [Film]. Self Publish, Be Happy video. Available at: [accessed 21 Jul 2020].

PHO703 Weeks 6-7: Work in Progress

I have now moved on from photographing the Thames as it flows through Oxford. Instead I am covering the Cowley area of East Oxford which is a mixture of retail, residential and light industry with some pockets of dispiriting deprivation. However, it is all part of the same urban world: a city after dark.

I am also experimenting with black and white in my practice. At least for this module I will be submitting my work in progress in black and white rather than in colour. I think it is more suited to the gritty nature of what I am currently photographing, and also more expressive of the uncanny. In this I am following earlier photographers such as Bassaï and Brandt. But … this is only an experiment, so we will see.

I may also change the title of my project from Hometown Nights to Silent City. Although I quite like it as a title and it does carry an echo of Summer Nights, Walking by Robert Adams, Hometown Nights has a jolly air to it that is not really in accord with the sobering reality of disadvantaged urban areas in the midst of a pandemic.


Figures 1-12. Mark CREAN. 2020. From Silent City. Collection of the author.

PHO703 Week 7: Publications and Pages


This week I have nearly completed my work for Landings 2020. This will take the form of an online exhibition at my Adobe Portfolio website, with a parallel one at my account on Flickr.

The form I have chosen is to take this module’s work in progress, together with a handful of images from the last module, and divide an edited selection into three sections: Water, Earth and Fire. Water means the River Thames as it runs through Oxford. Earth is the modern world of what is made from earth, namely concrete and steel. Fire is what is fired from the earth, namely brick and the old age of coal and the nineteenth century – the age of fire. Thus Fire covers Oxford’s Victorian, brick-built areas and a few remaining old iron structures.

I have converted all the images to black and white, my current mode of expression. I am calling the exhibition Silent City. Photographs are silent, and our cities during lockdown have been unusually quiet. At night they are very quiet indeed. So in a way I have been photographing silence, perhaps even stillness, though still permeated with indications of human presence. The interplay is between presence and absence.

I will post links in a separate journal entry once the Landings 2020 exhibition has started.

Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2020. Splash page for my Landings 2020 exhibition at my Adobe Portfolio website.


The other subject I have looked at this week concerns photobooks and the history of the genre. This is a huge subject but after reading Gerry Badger (Badger 2014 A, Badger 2014 B) three key things have stood out for me.

First, there is the move away from the very formal photography book, which takes the form of a presentation of fine art, often landscape presented as art, and, in many cases, documentary too. Works by many practitioners still take this form. Some photography books by William Eggleston, Sebastião Salgado, Mark Power and Richard Misrach come to mind beyond old favourites like Ansel Adams or the documentarists of the 1930s and 1940s.

Second there is the more recent rise of the diarist model and of questions of identity. These are probably the dominant forms today, especially if one extends identity to include race, gender and equality issues. It summarized by Badger:

‘So two distinct trends emerged in photography. Firstly, there was the diaristic mode – photographers using the medium to make a “diary” of their lives and experiences, not simply to make autobiographical images but utilizing personal photography to reflect society’s experiences through their own. Secondly, the question of identity – both individual and collective – became an  important subject for photographers and the photobook (Badger 2014 B, 214).

Badger cites a key photobook here to be Nan Golding’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency of 1986 and its ‘snapshot aesethetic’ (Badger 2014 B, 214). The honesty and lack of pretension of Golding’s work were and remain a hugely freeing gesture.

Third, there is the increasing exploration of the photography book as a physical, tactile object, in the form of all kinds of shapes and sizes, designs, papers, bindings and covers, tip-ins and so forth. This is all part of looking at the image as an object in space, not only through it (in the traditional reading of the image), and it is also all part of seeing the photobook as its own, self-sufficient world and not merely as an adjunct of something else.

Badger cites the influence of postmodernism here, breaking up traditional categories, making art more democratic and moving firmly towards ‘decentring’ and away from the author-centred model and ghastly good taste of a previous era.

When one adds in the enormous amount of experimentation in Japanese photobook culture (Vartanian 2009), the whole subject becomes fascinating and very exciting. These texts have certainly changed my view and understanding of what a photobook is and the possibilities of the genre.

A dummy

In practical terms, my approach is this: I have ordered a large number of work-in-progress prints from a lab. When they arrive I will attach them to A4 sheets and start on a process of editing and sequencing. Likely everything will be laid out on the floor rather than a wall. I will then fold the result into an Adobe In Design document. This will form the basis of a sample or dummy which I intend to have printed by Saal Digital (Saal Digital 2020). I will try to use good boards and cover material and paper of good quality too. This should provide a reasonably accurate dummy of what a final submission could be like if an online printer is used, the only difference being that the dummy will be about 40 pages instead of 100 or more. This is really a decision on cost grounds because using online printers like Blurb or Saal can quickly prove expensive. I do not plan to rush this. I would prefer to give it my best shot. This I am aiming for a good dummy by the start of the next module but not, say, by the end of next week. There is an awful lot I need to learn in the meantime.


BADGER, Gerry. 2014 A. ‘Photobook’. Grove Art Online [online]. Available at: [accessed 16 Jul 2020].

PARR, Martin and Gerry BADGER. 2014 B. ‘Chapter 7 Looking at Ourselves’. In Martin PARR and Gerry BADGER (eds.). The Photobook: A History, Volume III. London: Phaidon, 212–41.

SAAL DIGITAL. 2020. ‘Professional Photo Products in High-End Quality’. Saal Digital Fotoservice GmbH [online]. Available at: [accessed 07 Jul 2020].

VARTANIAN, Ivan. 2009. ‘Chapter 2. The Japanese Photobook: Toward an Immediate Media’. In Ryuichi KANEKO, Ivan VARTANIAN, Lesley A MARTIN, and Kyoko WADA (eds.). Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s. New York: Aperture, 11–23.


Figure 1: Mark CREAN. 2020. Splash page for my Landings 2020 exhibition at my Adobe Portfolio website. From: Mark Crean [online]. Available at: [accessed 15 Jul 2020].

PHO703: Edmond Terakopian

On 10 July I took part in an online seminar come workshop with Edmond Terakopian (Terakopian 2020 A), part of a series that can be referenced on his blog (Terakopian 2020 B). Edmond is a veteran press photographer, photo-journalist and teacher. The occasion was largely to celebrate 31 years in his profession. Several things emerged for me about the skills required in professional photography today.

  • In order to put people at their ease and stop them ‘posing’ for the image, one needs to learn how to relax with people in all kinds of situations and walks of life.
  • One has to be super adaptable but still know how to produce images clients will want. Edmond’s round can take in fashion and events, music and arts, disasters and news stories, portraits, advertising photography and his own longer-term projects.
  • One has to be creative enough to think on one’s feet. A client might say they like your style, then ask you to come up with a photographic proposal for a marketing pitch for a new product, all of which has to be done to a very high standard in about two weeks. It is all down to you and your creative ideas.
  • One has to be canny enough to know the difference between a good image and an image that will make the front page of a newspaper or magazine. Many photographers might arrive at an event and then make quite similar and perfectly acceptable images, but the image that makes the front page will almost always have a telling detail or nuance the others do not have. It might be a gesture, an expression, an angle of view, a small child intruding into the frame, etc. A talented photographer needs to be alert to these perhaps small, fleeting gestures that in the end make all the difference.
  • One needs to be a ruthless curator of one’s own work, particularly under tight deadlines. That can only be done if one has a clear idea of what makes a powerful image and a clear idea of one’s intent in making the image throughout the whole process.

I realize these ideas are perhaps not what art photographers are looking for but they do appeal to me as an amateur flâneur and street photographer. The seminar with Edmond has rekindled my interest in photography and reminded me of some important points it is easy to forget.

Terakopian. Child at Tate Modern. 2018
Fig. 1: Edmond Terakopian 2018. ‘A child runs around whilst bathed in rays of sunlight in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, during a heat wave Bank Holiday. Bankside, London, UK.’ This image was shortlisted for the British Photography Awards.


TERAKOPIAN, Edmond. 2020 A. ‘Edmond Terakopian: Photojournalist’. Edmond Terakopian [online]. Available at: [accessed 14 Jul 2020].

TERAKOPIAN, Edmond. 2020 B. ‘Photo This & That’. Edmond Terakopian [online]. Available at: [accessed 14 Jul 2020].


Figure 1. Edmond TERAKOPIAN. 2018. ‘A child runs around whilst bathed in rays of sunlight in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, during a heat wave Bank Holiday. Bankside, London, UK.’ This image was shortlisted for the British Photography Awards. From: Flickr [online]. Available at: [accessed 05 Jul 2020].

PHO703 Week 6: Exhibitions

This week has been about thinking what an ‘exhibition’ really means and perhaps whether what we think of as an exhibition is really the best thing to be doing at all. In the end, one is offering one’s work to an audience and there are many ways of achieving that beyond the traditional gallery-style art exhibition. Installation art and participatory art are two of them, although the terms are double-edged. Is one going to allow the viewer to decide what the art is or is one going to impose an idea of art upon them?

I do agree with Brian O’Doherty (O’Doherty 1999) that the traditional gallery exhibition can be a trap. These spaces can impose an idea of what ‘art’ is and, in fact, their day may already have passed. In his words about these specialized and denuded places, ‘The ideal subtracts from the art work all cues that interfere with the fact that it is “art”. The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself. … Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial – the space is devoted to the technology of aesthetics. Works of art are mounted, hung, scattered for study. Their ungrubby surfaces are untouched by time and its vicissitudes. Art exists in a kind of eternity of display’ (O’Doherty 1999: 14-15).

And, one might say, in an eternity of boredom, as a visit with teenagers to a large gallery or museum will soon reveal. I suspect that audiences today want more than these traditional forms of ‘high art’ that fix what ‘art’ means in the definitions of 150 years ago. They want an experience and they want to be involved. Pictures on a wall offer neither to most visitors. That might well not have been true before the era of mass media. Today, however, one can visit any gallery anywhere and view any work of art online. So the question is, what does the real, physical version have to offer that is compellingly different?

One answer is suggested by Claire Bishop who emphasizes that installation art is an experience of being there and being in it, something than an online offering cannot match:

‘Installation art therefore differs from traditional media (sculpture, painting, photography, video) in that it addresses the viewer directly as a literal presence in the space. Rather than imagining the viewer as a pair of disembodied eyes that survey the work from a distance, installation art presupposes an embodied viewer whose senses of touch, smell and sound are as heightened as their sense of vision. This insistence on the literal presence of the viewer is arguably the key characteristic of installation art’ (Bishop 2005: 6).

Another aspect of installation art is that it is decentring: ‘fantasies of “centring” perpetuated by dominant ideology are masculinist, racist and conservative; this is because there is no one “right” way of looking at the world, nor any privileged place from which such judgements can be made. As a consequence, installation art’s multiple perspectives are seen to subvert the Renaissance perspective model’ (Bishop 2005: 13). I think the same would probably apply to participatory art, community art, events and happenings, and in most contexts in which the viewer’s involvement is integral to the nature of the artwork being offered. And in the era of Black Lives Matter and the yearning for true equality among peoples, an awareness of centring and decentring is more important than ever.

No doubt there are other ways of approaching photographic art and its display. Charlotte Cotton (Cotton 2014) looks at many contemporary artists whose work combines different media and is very far from the nature of a traditional print: a flat rectangle with a probably indexical image inside, against a bare white wall. As she says, ‘In combination with other media, photography becomes just one phrase in an overall statement, subjected to a consciously ambiguous but highly specified treatment’ (Cotton 2014: 229).

How might these ideas affect my practice? I am not yet sure. A conventional gallery-style exhibition of my work at Falmouth has never figured in my plans, largely because exhibitions here in Oxford are difficult and expensive due to lack of suitable venues. However, a participatory event or an off-gallery collaboration of some kind might be easier to arrange and sounds far more attractive and enjoyable. So, I am glad to have had these new ideas put before me.

I think the challenge is this: how to offer something that allows the viewer to make their own choices about the ‘art’ involved, that engages and involves the viewer as an experience, and that does not offer the traditionally indexical photographic image as the be-all and end-all of the affair. To sound a little cheesy, perhaps, how does one allow the viewer to fall in love with the experience and remember it as an event that was really worth turning up for?


BISHOP, Claire. 2005. ‘Introduction’. In Claire BISHOP (ed.). Installation Art: A Critical History. London: Tate, 6–13.

COTTON, Charlotte. 2014. ‘Chapter 8: Physical and Material’. In Charlotte COTTON (ed.). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 218–49.

O’DOHERTY, Brian. 1999. ‘Notes on the Gallery Space’. In Brian O’DOHERTY (ed.). Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 13–34.

PHO703 Week 5: Three ‘Surfaces’

I have spent most of this week preparing for the Landings exhibition and looking at commissioning a book dummy. I have also read Jörg Colberg’s Understanding Photobooks (Colberg 2017) and Ralph Rugoff’s ‘You Talking to Me? On Curating Group Shows that Give You a Chance to Join the Group’ (Rugoff 2006).

Both were really helpful, especially Colberg’s book. After 25 years working in commercial book publishing, I know from my own experience that his key points are spot on. The points that emerged for me are

  • Who is going to buy this book? Without a convincing case for an audience interested enough and large enough to support the work by buying it, one does not have a project.
  • Collaboration is very important. A book is a team effort in many respects. It is a collaboration between reader and photographer. It is also a collaboration among the design and production team. A good curatorial eye from, say, an experienced graphic designer is very important.
  • A photobook must be conceived from the start as exactly that. It is not just a book that happens to contain photographs.
  • Clarity of concept and intention are absolutely vital. Without them, one cannot make a coherent case to the market about ‘Why buy this book?’ or ‘What subject section should the book go into?’ One cannot tell a strong story either, nor make a convincing marketing campaign (and marketing is key to sales).
  • Good curation and sequencing are absolutely vital, too, and are a much more nuanced affair than one might think. Good curation is an art in itself. It takes time and it also takes standing back from one’s own images enough to make informed judgements about what works and what does not work in a sequence. This means that part of the skill of a good photobook is skill at elimination at the editing stage. Most of what one does as a photographer will end up being left out. Yes, one has to learn to kill off one’s own babies sometimes.
  • The photobook represents an entire body of work in its own world. It is a place, a venue, somewhere to welcome in the visitor and let them explore. This means close attention to every detail of the world of the book – design, paper, size, binding, the cover, et al.
  • Compromises are inevitable. One is not aiming for the ideal book but for the very best book that can be made in the circumstances. Budgets (particularly) and deadlines are part of those circumstances.
  • Know your strengths and your weaknesses. If what you are really good at is making the images, then concentrate on that and find or hire the best advice you can to cover all the things you don’t know about. Otherwise, you are likely to end up with a rather amateur effort and in commercial publishing, at least, the amateurs almost always end up being dished by the professionals.

Ralph Rugoff’s essay was sparky and very enjoyable (Rugoff 2006). I am not sure how useful his points will be for my work at Falmouth, but I can already see how useful they will be for my work with Oxford Photographers (the collective to which I belong) since we usually hold a joint exhibition each year as part of the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival. I love his emphasis on an exhibition as an experience, something we are in, respond to, move through. It is not just about pictures on a wall, devoid of all context – although that is what people often think of when they think of ‘art gallery’ or ‘museum’.

I particularly like Rugoff’s distinction between the story that an exhibition purports to tell – often its theme – and the story it actually tells which emerges from interactions among the works displayed and which might be quite different from the ostensible theme. In his words, ‘The best group shows thus take on some of the qualities of installation art: rather than a chance to contemplate isolated objects, they involve us in an implied yet elusive narrative that we end up putting together ourselves as we move through the exhibition. … Finally, and most importantly, good theme shows take risks in how they address their audiences’ (Rugoff 2006: 48).

So, overall, a week rich in new ideas.


COLBERG, Jörg. 2017. Understanding Photobooks: The Form and Content of the Photographic Book. New York: Routledge.

RUGOFF, Ralph. 2006. ‘Chapter 4: You Talking To Me? On Curating Group Shows That Give You a Chance to Join the Group’. In Paula MARINCOLA (ed.). What Makes a Great Exhibition? Philadelphia: Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, 2006, 44–51.