Category Archives: Notes

General rough notes.

Part 4 – Notes

Part 4 – Notes

  1. Sally Mann [accessed 12 March 2017]

In this interview Sally talks about her development as a photographer.  They discuss some of the series of photos she has put together.

For example her series At Twelve looks at young girls at puberty and the stepping stone into adulthood.  Sally explains they need to be seen as a series in order to understand her concept.  On the other hand when viewing The Immediate Family each photograph can be looked at individually to get the narrative behind the photo.  Having said this as Sally states they show the complexity of childhood issues throughout the years.  She also used two different style of photography in these two series with the subjects in the former being carefully posed whereas the latter were candid shots of her family going about every day life.

Sally also understood Barthes concept of ‘punctum’ and wanted her images to stand out or grab the attention.  She wanted people to ‘think and question’ what they saw.

Sally wonders what the ‘truth’ is in photography and feels this can be made up of many layers and that it is her responsibility to try and get to the bottom of the many layers that make up truth.

In the interview it also becomes apparent that Sally is not adverse to trying different types of photography.  From her childhood photos she moved into landscape photography.

She believed that the south of the United States has a complex and varied history given the civil war and other events so chose to make a series called Deep South.  She felt that southern people are deeply ‘romantic’.  In addition as the quote in the course book shows she felt the light was different and had a special quality particularly in the afternoon.

She felt as she travelled round the area a connection with bygone eras and that perhaps the ghosts of slaves and previous army personnel were ever present – she indicates some of these thoughts in the photos entitled Proud Flesh on the website.

This preoccupation with the past and death led to a new series ‘What remains’ and Sally works through these ideas in this series and concludes that the one thing that is everlasting is love.  Sally indicates that the death of her father had a profound impact on her.  In addition Sally herself had a life-threatening riding accident and realised how vulnerable the human race is.  She said this led to the reflection that ‘if you are aware of death you can look at it in 2 different ways: “ Either you are fearful of it and try to guard yourself from it. Or you can live more intensely in the moment.”

Sally has represented all of these themes in creative ways and using monochrome which seems to accentuate what she is trying to convey.  She also talks about trying to make the mundane beautiful – for example a photo of her husband taking off his shoes is particularly poignant for her.

She talks about the need to break social taboos and how if you are brave enough to do this it can make the image that much more powerful.  She states that you need to be patient and be prepared to spend hours perfecting your craft.

Interestingly Sally said she often takes the first photograph without having any particular concept in mind.  She will take the image because there is some visual attraction and then will consider the context.  She feels that those with artistic ability should challenge their ‘intellectual curiosity’ and if possible to make something beautiful out of the ordinary. [accessed 12 March 2017]

In looking at this series of images one can see what Sally was talking about in the interview – the soft, diffused light lends itself to the viewer thinking about days gone by.  The crumbling ruins and pillers of the old southern houses adds to the atmosphere.  In the photo of the tree roots one can see the ghosts of the southern slaves bending over while carrying out menial tasks or being whipped into shape by their masters.  Despite the dark history there is a beauty to this series of images due to the light that Sally has captured so well.


  1. Michael Schmidt

The course book (p. 81) points out that Schmidt actively sought out a flat midday light:

“I prefer to work with neutral diffused light, i.e. to produce an image without noticeable shadows.  The viewer must allow the objects portrayed in the photograph to take their effect upon him without being distracted by shadows or other mood effects”. [accessed 12 March 2017]

I found in looking at this series that some photos were easy to work out what they were but others puzzled me and I spent considerable time trying to work out what they were trying to convey.  Overall in constrast to Mann’s work I did not find this set inspiring – maybe I need mood and shadow to speak to my emotions.  It would be interesting to know if there is a gender difference in viewer’s perceptions of photos and speaking in very general terms males are often seen as having more difficulty in conveying feelings whereas females can be seen as romantics.

  1. Eugene Atget

The course book (p.82) discusses Atget’s progression from images that again were mostly taken in the midday sun to his latter work which were often taken in the early morning  ‘using light and shadow to create a mood rather than describe a place’.

This suggests a progression in what Atget was trying to convey with his images or perhaps like myself he had realised that bright blue sky does not necessarily make the best photos.  I also now prefer photos that I have taken either at the beginning or end of the day for creating more atmosphere. [accessed 12 March 2017]

This article describes the technical process Atget used for his photography.  He used an old-fashioned camera on a wooden tripod and glass plates for his negatives.  Photos were taken under a black cloth.  When he pressed the shutter this allowed the light passing through to appear on the negative.  He was known for vignetting – having a dark halo round the edge of the image from using lenses with a short focal length.  When printing he would use albumen silver photographic papers.  Atget classified his work by theme some of which he worked on for long periods of time; sometimes with smaller projects within a main theme.  His architectural photography was different from those of others as he made asymmetrical images.

An example of his change to use light and shadow for mood rather than place is shown in the image on the website  Parc de Sceaux.  In this image there is a statue to the right with a grass path leading through some trees which appear to be leaning into an arch at the end with the low light shining through.

  1. Rut Blees Luxemburg

I enjoy night time photography and feel that  there is a beauty inherent in artificial light.  I did some research on the internet and looked at the following website: 04/04/20017.


Luxemberg states: “

A picture can have many layers of meaning, an inherent ambiguity which invites interpretation and can give visual pleasure, so I got more and more drawn to photography.”


She feels it is important within the current ‘image culture’ to be critical and to interpret and analyse images.  She states that she was drawn to the urban denseness and that the face pace means there is always something to draw the senses – rural photography takes place at a much slower pace.  She prefers night time as it is different from every day life and there is a sense of anticipation.  She looks for the ordinary or things that would normally be overlooked.  She feels that this can be marginalised or subversive.  She refers to one particular photo where it appears you are looking over an edge but never falling thus creating a sense of vertigo.  Luxemburg continues to use film rather than digital.


I also accessed the following interview:

In this interview Luxemburg talks specifically about her body of work entitled Liebeslied.


“his elusive writing on the wall which seemed always more than just graffiti or some quick communication. Even when I first saw it was indecipherable. I think that the writer tried to eradicate it. Just after they’d written it. And now it has become a stain or trace, adding to all the other stains on the surface of the city. I like the curves, they are so baroque that they suggest something much more palatial, or sacred, instead of a cold outdoor space.It looks like a very private form of communication, the opposite of most graffiti or street writing which might tend to be a disenfranchised citizen announcing something to the world in general.”


The interviewer and Luxemberg have a conversation about the comparison with street photography.  The interviewer sees the two as being opposite stating that street photography is usually taken in daylight with fast shutter speed whereas night photography requires a slow exposure.  However there is still the common theme of the street with both types ofphotography.


They then move onto look at some newer works where Luxemberg believes she has gone in deeper or closer to the ground.  She sees herself as wandering, usually alone and looking for ‘encounters’.    They discuss her increased use of the river in her images and the relationship of this moving body of water to the sky and the use of reflections.  She feels the use of nature makes her photos more intimate.


They talk in a similar way about the reflections of the glass in the city and how it reflects the city around it and that in this way the city isn’t as ‘impenetrable’ as it seems.


Luxemberg infers that she doesn’t do any post-production but carefully considers and plans before taking her images.  She would rather spend more time on an image.  She believes her use of titling opens up the images in another way.  She does however want to leave some things open to interpretation.


  1. Brassaï (

Brassaï was born in Transylvania in 1899 but didn’t begin his photography career until 1930 and published the book Paris by Night in 1933.  He felt that studying art in the widest sense would help the student developing their photography.   He stated that ‘one doesn’t only photograph with the eyes but with all one’s intelligence’.  It  was his enjoyment of walking around Paris at night that led to his desire to photograph it.

He was influenced by Goethe and tried to include his objectivity into his photography.  He also talks of being influenced by other painters and writers including Picasso.  He wasn’t as strict about not cropping and did at times light the subject.

Brassaï believes that it is important not only to know how to compose an image but also places importance on the subject matter – the two go hand in hand.  He doesn’t want ‘disorder’ or chaos in a photo.    He very much saw photography as art.  He didn’t want to make fashionable photos but ones that were made to last.

Many were of people on the streets at night.  ( accessed 09/04/2017).

And to finish with a quote that encapsulates Brassaï and his work:

“Fascinated by the night, which he found disconcerting, enigmatic, and suggestive, Brassaï photographed its every aspect, from police to prostitutes to the homeless to socialites, all in a dreamlike and mysterious manner”

( accessed 09/04/2017)


  1. [accessed 09/04/2017]

These photos are of Japanese city streets with all the brightly lit street signs.  Many include cycles.  I find them rather cluttered but then perhaps this is representative of a highly populated country and particularly Tokyo.


































































Notes on Henri-Cartier Bresson and ‘The Decisive Moment’


  1. O’Hagan, S. (2014) Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed.  ( accessed on 6/12/2016)

O’Hagan begins his article with a quote suggesting there is ‘nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment…and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.’  This sentiment was undoubtedly shared by Henri Cartier-Bresson (hereafter referred to as HCB) when discussing what became known as ‘The Decisive Moment’ (the French version of the book was known as Images a la Sauvette or Images on the Run).

O’Hagan argues that this concept has gone out of fashion due to advances in technology and staged scenes using models along with the use of photo editing.  The book itself contains 126 images and is divided into two sections which are geographically based and based on chronological order.  As in the videos (see under research point) O’Hagan refers to the importance of form to HCB.  As a photojournalist HCB was also concerned that his images conveyed a social and political message.

O’Hagan states that the Decisive Moment as outlined by HCB in his book is best encapsulated in the following quote:

“Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

O’Hagan believes that the Decisive Moment has come to mean the absolute right time to press the shutter and that perhaps this is more in line with other photographers who undertake street photography looking for the right combination of ‘light, action and expression’ rather than HCB’s emphasis on geometry.

O’Hagan refers Gaby Wood who believed that there was an impersonality to HCBs photos now perhaps due to them becoming over familiar and he feels there needed to be more of a rawness to the photos or that they should be a bit more ‘indecisive’.  Would we then even know about HCB given it was these very photos that led to his fame as an influential photographer?

O’Hagan asserts that this style of photography is historical and belongs to a previous generation of photography in that it is in black and white, has a seriously considered approach and that the composition is excellent but it is prior to the advent of ‘colour and conceptualism’.  He believes that there are other photographers who have signalled the future.

  1. Bull, S. (2010).  Photography.  London: Routledge

Bull describes HCB’s decisive moment as ‘action is caught at precisely the right fraction of a second to summarise the whole event in an aesthetically balanced image.  He enlarges on this to say it was the taking of an image that makes some sort of ‘ordered scene out of the chaos of the ongoing world’.

He discussed that the modern equivalent has been the taking of still images from what has been initially taken as film and can involve editing after the event rather than as it happens.  In HCB’s era it began to become easier to get close to the action or to capture movement or expression in a composed image.  Bull refers to what HCB also talks about in the videos regarding the role Surrealism has played in his photography, i.e. of ‘chance encounters’.  He queries how ‘chance’ some of these encounters really are and how after some images have been challenged it has been determined that in fact they were staged.

Another argument centres on the subjectivity of the viewer –as soon as we see something it is an object of our individual experience and interpretation.

  1. Jeffrey, I.  (1981).  Photography: A Concise History.  London: Thames & Hudson

Jeffrey asserts that HCB photographed ordinary, everyday figures that could appear mundane and concentrating on ‘affairs of the moment’ (p.191).  To demonstrate this idea he refers to an image that is of a group of people having a picnic beside the river with their backs to the photographer.  Jeffrey feels that HCB believed that humankind needed to be represented undertaking some kind of action even if it would appear trivial to the viewer.  In the picnic image it is the placing between the participants and the difference between them and their boats that provides the meaning to the photo.  These action images imply that life goes on and that the moment can change in an instant.  Jeffrey feels that HCB’s image epitomise ‘the prudential nature of his subjects (p.193).

In terms of HCB’s book The Decisive Moment, Jeffrey comments that it “encapsulates the history of ‘human interest’ photography from an initial discreet mode … onwards through heroism and suffering into the tradition-conscious art of the late forties and fifties.”

  1. Badger, G. (2010).  The Genius of Photography. London:  Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Badger explains that for HCB a successful image was  when everything came together – this is particularly relevant to photography of moving things.  While it appears that HCB often shot his street photography on the move, other street photographers will hang out in a spot and wait for something to happen.  Badger is somewhat sceptical that some of this type of photography is in fact posed and not as spontaneous as it appears.  He feels that the concept of the decisive moment seduces the viewer into thinking that the photographer has captured a ‘fleeting moment’ of significance in the continuity of life.  Often it is thought that the decisive moment refers to the capturing of a fraction of life but in fact it was more about a situation where all the elements come together in harmony or in Badger’s words:

“The decisive moment is better defined as the moment when form and content come together to produce an image in which the formal, emotional, poetic and intellectual elements have substance – in effect, where they give an image a real meaning.”


However, this isolating of the image from the surrounding context which may lead to an erroneous significance being placed on the subject.

  1. Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Clarke endorses much of what has already been outlined above.  He talks of the importance of observation and continued monitoring of the scene in order to compose the best image possible – a fraction of space may make all the difference – all of this evaluation takes place in the briefest period of time.  ‘Any moment is possible’ (p.207).  The way in which HCB presents the image is what makes it stand out and rise above their ‘historical and cultural contexts.  He often does this through a sense of humour but often making the viewer reflect on the image to try and gauge its meaning.  In this way he opens the world to the viewer rather than having a narrow frame of reference.

  1. Grange, A. (2013) Basic Critical Theory.  Burlington: Focal Press

Chapter 3 of this book give Susan Sontag’s On Photography theory.  Sontag sees HCB’s work as an ‘intellectual paradox’ … a form of knowing without knowing …’ (p.50).  She feels there is a superstitious belief amongst the photographic fraternity regarding the element of chance.  Many modern photographers in a backlash to this theory will point out how images can be made different.  Certainly in the past photography was seen to be a truthful record of events/things while still attempting to show this in a different way to anything that has gone before.  This movement was known as realism and was about not what was really there but what the photographer really sees and their revelation of this reality.   She states that the use of basic equipment allows for the ‘creative accident’.

According to Sontag HCB’s use of black and white was  part of a tradition.  It was seen as ‘…more tactful, more decorous … less voyeuristic and less sentimental or crudely lifelike’ (p.53).

  1. Chéroux, C. (2008).  Henri Cartier-Bresson.  London: Thames & Hudson

This book covers HCB’s life and development in photography.  He discusses the concept of the Decisive Moment on p.96 stating:

“the expression represents a sort of apogee: at one precise moment, things arrange themselves in an order that is both aesthetic and meaningful.  It is a kind of photographic Kairos (Greek: ‘opportune moment’) in which there is a formal balance and at the same time a revelation of the essence of things.”


This requires a heightened sense of perception so decisions are made in a split fraction of a second.  This idea led to photography being considered as art.

However, while many latched onto this concept it also came under criticism particularly from a new generation of photographers who used the technique of staging or narrative stories to disprove the idea of a ‘decisive moment’.  They didn’t use geometry and also didn’t subscribe to HCB’s dislike of cropping.

  1. Plantell, C. (2012).  The Present.  ( _Present.cfm accessed on 11/02/2017).

Plantell reviews a recent book by Paul Graham called The Present and in this review states that the concept of the decisive moment misses the point of our contemporary situation , that is in this day and age if one undertakes street photography what you see is a street ‘with moments so decisively indecisive that we don’t really know what we are looking at or looking for’.

This raised the question of what we are really looking at or looking for – it’s as if we expect some action so will flick back and forward through the photographs trying to find the meaning in the images.

Plantell implies that Graham’s images of New York are mundane; the people are not glamourous and everything appears pretty run down and doesn’t invoke feelings of nostalgia or romanticism.  They are going about their everyday business, looking harried and stressed.

It is ‘an existence that appears deprived environmentally, emotionally and culturally’.


Ghazzal in this article discusses what he calls the ‘indecisiveness of the decisive moment’.  He believes the concept of the decisive moment is more of a hackneyed phrase than a real idea these days  and even questions that HCB’s own images all displayed this idea.  However, he acknowledges the influence of HCB’s work on modern photojournalism and the backlash by a new generation of photographers who are using sizzzling colours in order to make mundane urban landscapes more noticeable.

He defines the decisive moment as a ‘small and unique moment in time that cannot be repeated and that only the photographic lens can capture’.

He goes on to discuss the importance of gestures and how each image in its own right tells a story which has made the photographers’ pressing the shutter a meaningful action.  He believes that as it is impossible to completely replicate body gestures these are the true ‘decisive moments’ as no two gestures are exactly the same.  Alongside the photographer’s pose is also unique to the image although not captured.

Others would critique the concept as having an over reliance on gestures.  I would argue that this argument loses some of the critical elements of HCBs decisive moment, i.e. of geometry, framing, lack of cropping and the use of black and white.

He contrasts HCB’s work with that of Walker Evans who photographed the American landscape where the images are static but also are serial inviting the reviewer to look at and compose a narrative around a set of images.  Any one image that may have a decisive moment disappears into the context of the whole series.

Modern cities are lacking in a centre so it becomes much more difficult to frame – he points us in the direction of modern photographers such as Friedlander who get around this by the use of mirroring through facades, shops and the use of neon lights without ending leading to a lack of meaning.

Where I stand on the decisive moment

For me it depends on what is meant by the decisive moment and the type of photography that is being undertaken.  At the point I am reflecting on this I have undertaken several attempts at capturing decisive moments.

I think there are some parallels in wildlife photography although even here much can be planned (see my notes on the wildlife exhibition I visited in London) but otherwise you need to be somewhere, where if you are lucky, you might capture a ‘decisive moment’.  I certainly found it harder and probably similar to what is described above when trying to capture ‘decisive moments’ on the street in urban Edinburgh and Douglas on the Isle of Man.  My switch to taking photos of children was more successful.

I think modern technology and the use of digital has also led to a reliance/expectation of images being in colour rather than black and white.  The vast and quickness of getting news around the world tends to de-sensitise the general population so images have to be vibrant to capture the attention.

Interestingly I attended a photo workshop yesterday.  There was a student at the workshop who is studying photojournalism at the local college.  It was our tutor’s view that the advent of improved digital technology in smart phones such as the Iphone and the availability of lens for these phones is likely to change the world of photography yet again.  I think it will be a ‘case of watch this space’.

Other types of photography such as portrait and still life are much less likely to lend themselves to still life.  Fashion photography is likely to consist of staged sets.









Ruff’s Jpegs

Review: jpegs by Thomas Ruff.

The review is written by Joerg Colberg (2009).  He starts off by saying that Thomas Ruff is one of the most creative photographers in the current environment but that some might disagree with this as his series of jpegs is not ‘orthodox’ photography.  Ruff’s own negatives from 9/11 came back blank so he took pictures from the internet but due to the low resolution decided to try and do something different by blowing them up leading to the pictures becoming pixelated.  A Google search shows some of the first ones the Ruff undertook with images of the twin towers burning on 9/11.  One can be found at this link:


These were initially shown as large prints at the Zwirner gallery but latterly have been turned into a book.  While Colberg acknowledges the photos as being beautiful he appears somewhat sceptical of the technique and seems to want ‘more’ but then is unable to define what this is.

Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel by David Campany

In contrast Campany seems much more positive about the value of what Ruff is trying to do with his photography.  He also sees the photos as beautiful but also believes they challenge us intellectually.  He feels they solicit both ‘individual and global responses’.  One that I found particularly beautiful from the images in the google search can be found at

Campany points out that Ruff is not the first photographer to adapt found images in order to comment or make sense of culture.  He points to the movements of Dad, Cubism and Surrealism.  He says the way the image is presented and the conversation around it may help with psychological and political health.

He talks about the organisation of this type of archival information and the difficulty of keeping some kind of organisation given the sheer number of images available not to mention the ‘unpredictability’ of them.  He speaks of other movements where the grid is paramount and then states this is present in Ruff’s work in a number of ways.  He does this by each photo being unique in its own way but also being part of a wider group (as in Exercise 1.4).  In looking at the images we compare them with each other.  Campany enlarges on this idea of archive in that Ruff has stated all his images come from the internet and asks if the internet is an archive or is made up of a series of archives.  Memory is also involved here both collectively and individually.

Campany sees that Ruff’s work shows the art of digitised images and believes that this may be the first time they have been seen in print form.  He also likens the art of blowing up the pixels as being similar to the old noise/grain of film and how in certain situations noisiness was seen as adding to the photo by making it more ‘authentic’.  However he doesn’t see pixels as having the same effect due to their grid like nature.  His exception seems to be the way in which Ruff has made the ordered turn into chaos or unpredictability leading to ‘tension or drama’.

Both the above authors seem to appreciate Ruff’s work as being beautiful but Campany seems to appreciate it more as an art form that creates tension and needs interpretation while Colberg seems to suggest that it is more about technique.

The course book suggests we should add one of our own compressed images so I tried it with this one of a Manx longhorn sheep:


I think this second photo gives more of the pixelated effect:


BIBLIOGRAPHY accessed on 31/10/2016 thomas_ruff/access on 31/10/2016.

Framing and Cropping

The course book asks us to reflect on the difference between cropping and framing and quotes Szarkowski as identifying ‘the central act of photography as a decision about what to include and what to reject, which ‘forces a concentration on the picture edge…and on the shapes that are created by it’ (Bloomfield, R. 2014: 26).

This statement to me would be a definition of framing where the photographer has made a conscious choice about what to include in the photo and what to exclude.  It is likely he has considered rules such as the ‘Rule of thirds’ or other factors such as leading lines.  This photo which is one of Szarkowski’s seem to me to be a carefully considered faming of the road and houses each side.


A second example from Walter Evan’s again seems to suggest careful framing in this picture:


Cropping to me suggests the idea of cutting something out of a picture or not including it.  Again a picture by Szarkowski seems to illustrate this:


It appears to me that he has decided to crop the shutter on the left hand side so only half is showing – this does draw attention to that side of the photo first.

A further example from Walter Evans shows what initially seems a carefully framed shot but one’s eye travels to the part of the bike that is showing and wonders if Evan’s deliberately cropped out the rest of the bike – many today in post production would be tempted to crop this out but it does ensure the whole photo is looked at.

Evans, Walker


Bloomfield, R. (2014).  Photography 1: Expressing your Vision.  Barnsley: Open College of Arts.

Caspar, J. (date unknown) John Szarkowski Photographs.  Accessed 30/10/2016.

I undertook a google search for the images by Walter Evans on 30/10/2016 –




Next two pictures are from Walter Evans