Settling for an image

There is an interesting post on one of my favourite blogs today all about the editing process, read it here on the ‘Horses Think’ blog.

I have talked about editing on this blog in the past and I think it is an interesting part of the photographic process, I always enjoy seeing contact sheets and seeing what a photographer decides to keep or decides to leave.


Recent Explorations

Last week I was given access to the upper area of the Waterloo Building in the Tower of London, a place that is probably best known to visitors as the location of the crown jewels. A less well known fact about this building is at one point it held two of the towers most modern of the Towers detainees – the Krays. Although I think many people would like to think that they were imprisoned there for being London’s most terrible gangsters, in fact they were held their for not turning up for their National Service, probably in their formative years before deciding on a career in organized villainy.

The area of their cells is now used for the heavy plant that controls the building aircon and water, cramped and dark it was a very difficult space to photograph but was exactly the kind of space that I have become most interested in while at the Tower, such places raise questions for me about what the Heritage Industry chooses to present as historic as well as what we, as visitors expect to see as representing our nations past.

An idle siege engine in the Towers grounds

An idle siege engine in the Towers grounds




A few years back I went to a talk by the American writer Paul Auster, he was reading extracts from his latest book and answering questions from the audience. His public appearances are quite rare and the hall was packed, all the seats were filled and people were sitting on the steps and standing along the sides of the room. Paul Auster spoke in a similar way to his writing – laid back and enjoyably dry, he spoke about the daily practice of writing and what things interest him and how those things lead him on a meandering journey that will hopefully become a finished story. At one point he confessed to a mild obsession with stationary, in particular, notebooks (in fact one of his novels contained a large section about a character finding a particular notebook and describing it at length). I felt a connection with Auster’s attachment to notebooks – there’s just something about them. I have a stack of old notebooks that stretch back years and I enjoy going back to them to read what was going through my mind at the time. I use them to keep notes on whatever project I am working on at the time, jotting down my thoughts, quotes that i think maybe useful and cut out images of my work or the work of others to use as a reference. I also like the fact that an academic quote I have found  and jotted down will often sit side by side with my shopping list or some random doodles.

At the moment I have been thinking about the Tower project and how text may work with pictures, and in turn how this will work within the Tower.

Here are a few of recent entries in my notebook-

* Photography can be used to separate elements of an everyday reality. This separation and re-presentation (in the form of pictures) offers us the chance to discover new (poetic?) relationships and readings of objects and surfaces.

* Some words (or groups of words) when cut loose from the anchors of their surrounding text move free and are open to broader and more lyrical interpretation.

* In a museum we look at objects and read the text, creating the expected/intended relationship with our presented history.


* may need step ladder? Fix loose grip on tripod.

Peter Marlow

No matter how long you study photography or how much you think you know it seems you will always discover photographers that make great pictures that you have never seen before and one wonders how it is that you have never been introduced to their work before. I had this happen on a recent visit to the Photographers Gallery in London, the gallery is in the process of moving to a new location in Soho and in one part of the gallery they had a display of exhibition posters from the galleries history. I was familiar with most of the photographers and noticed a couple of my favourites (Jem Southam’s ‘Raft of Carrots’ for example) but one poster caught my eye with a great picture of two dogs on the roof of a building by a photographer by the name of Peter Marlow.

Peter Marlow (1989)

Peter Marlow (1989)

This is the image from the poster and is the largest version of it I can find. This photograph really caught my eye and I have started to look at more and more of Peter Marlow’s great work, he has been a part of Magnum since 1981 and makes great images – his website has a great time line of images where you can see how his work has progressed and developed over the years, really interesting.

ITALY. Piemonte project. Racconigi Castello. Hunting trophies in the Attic.2003.

ITALY. Piemonte project. Racconigi Castello. Hunting trophies in the Attic.2003.

Chris at work

I had the opportunity to shadow Chris for the morning. I asked how comfortable he was with me hovering around and how it might effect his work. The process was quickened by my presence but I was able to see what Chris took interest in (the seemingly banal) and what he looks for when framing an image (finding geometric relationships).  He takes considerable time looking at objects from various angles and distances and will consume a roll of film on one object.

Chris is a solo worker and is very aware of his surroundings. He spoke about how when taking a photo you enter a sphere…. I believe he did and I was able to capture it.



Chris at work

Eye of the Beholder

In a recent conversation with Alex Drago (which will be posted as a podcast in the near future) I was asked to explain one of my images, why i had taken it and what I meant when I said that ‘it had the feel that I was looking for’.

I actually find this not only a difficult, but also quite an uncomfortable thing to do. On another occasion I was talking to Zinta about this experience and I used the following anecdote to explain why I dont like to unravel my pictures so directly.

A while ago I was asked to provide an image for a group exhibition for a show called ‘Things We Love’ at the Crane Kalman Gallery in Brighton. I supplied a colour picture that I had taken of some plants under cutaway plastic bottles in the Barbican Conservatory. At the exhibitions private veiw I was introduced to the person who had bought the picture. She said that she loved the picture because it reminded her of her Grandfather’s garden shed that he had when she was a child. She then spoke about this place and the fond memories it held. I didnt want to tell her about the photographs actual history and location as this would probably have an effect on her feelings for the picture; a simple picture of a collection of objects in a building in London that had somehow evoked fond memories of a man and his garden somewhere in rural England.

Oddly, I can’t find a copy of this picture on my computer, but i will scan it in and post it in future.

What makes a great image?

Some argue it’s the Composition, lighting, technical aspects or the story. 

The admonition of “Show, don’t tell” was used with fictional writers so that readers can experience the story rather than have it read as a narrative. With photography your experience is used to interpret or make meaning of an image.  Images that let you bring your own thoughts to it. 

What do you think of these?


Photograph by Martin Parr



Robert Frank, 'New Orleans' 1950


A room at a motel near Niagara Falls, Alec Soth



This sunset is courtesy of


What makes a great image? Perhaps it’s the images that stay with you long after you first encounter them. Constantly carrying around minature photos and going through the process of contact sheets seems like a useful habit to get into?


Contact Sheet from Casemates

The Casemates are houses that are built into the outer wall of the Tower of London, this creates a ring like residential area that is off limits to the Tower’s Tourist visitors. One can walk almost all the way around the Tower along the top of this wall giving an interesting view of both the Tower and the areas outside. The Wall Top is also used by residents to hang out their washing, store bicycles and other everyday things that one doesn’t instantly imagine would take place in such a historic building.

Below is a contact sheet of one of the rolls of film I exposed during a recent exploration of Casemates. I wanted to show one of my contact sheets on the blog to hopefully give more of an idea of how I work.

For those of you unfamiliar with photographic film process, a contact sheet is made by laying the negatives of a roll of film out onto a sheet of photographic paper and exposing it to make a single photograph that shows all the frames from the roll of film. I work on 120 roll film using a 6×6 camera (each frame is 6cm x 6cm) which gives me 12 exposures to a roll. The contact sheet works as a guide to what you have on the roll of film, the images are low quality and quite small (so lack detail) but they give you an idea of what’s there, from this you choose the images that you want to print larger.

Looking at this contact (which starts at the top right corner and goes down each column) the first thing you may notice is that I normally take two exposures of each image (sometimes three), there are a couple of reasons for this, the first is I may alter the exposure time or aperture slightly, the second is I may slightly adjust the position of the camera and the last one (and the main one) is insurance. This is a habit I have carried with me since my student days and may now be a bit unnecessary (but I still do it) if I were to take a single exposure of an image and then, at some point during the process of carrying or developing the film that exposure was damaged it may be unprintable – so to cover this eventuality I take two just to make sure, its the closest I get to superstition.


Bigger Pictures

Recently I spent an afternoon working with Andy from Spectrum as we ran off some proofs of a couple of the images from the Tower Project that I like the look of. It was great to see the images as prints rather than contacts (or on a computer screen) and it really helped me begin to consider my next steps. What was strange for me was trying to get the prints to look how I like them while looking at the computer screen rather than working on the images myself in the darkroom. This is the first time I have relinquished the creation of the final prints to someone else, I think its going to take some time to get used to.

Getting out more

I seem to have arrived at a natural pause in picture making, after an initial extended burst of photographing different areas of the Tower. During this pause I have started to think about other elements of the Tower, such as its place in the surrounding landscape. On a recent visit to the Tower I popped out for some lunch and took a rather meandering route back, every so often through gaps in office buildings, and down open streets I would catch an occasional glimpse of the Tower, or small parts of it, in the distance. I used my camera phone to note down some points of interest which I hope to explore more in the future.