First Portraits

Just a quick post before I go for the train – busy day today, Im going to see the excellent B&W printer Robin Bell ( check his website and just have a look at his client list) and then I have to get over to the Tower to prepare for tonights portrait project with a group of youngsters for a local youth group. Last week we worked with the first group on this project and they were great, hopefully show you some images from their project soon.

I thought you would like to see a couple of pictures from my first portraits of the residency. Both the pictures are of Kathy who is one of the costumed interpreters from the company Past Pleasures. Im hoping to photograph more of the talented people that help to bring the Towers history to life, the idea is to photograph them in their everyday clothes instead of their historic costumes, in a similar way that I am photographing the buildings of the Tower that lack their historic veneer. kathy-2



Inside & Outside the Frame

Photography is all about the frame. What stays in what stays out. Photographs ‘work’ when the elements inside the frame are separated from whats outside the frame and through this separation begin to create new relationships with the things that are with them inside the frame. Thats it.

The photographer can control many elements of a subject or scene, but his main tool is how he/she frames a scene, where he/she decides to draw a line around things and seperate them from the rest of the visual world.

Today I’ve had a brief look through the early days of Alec Soth’s blog and I read a piece about one of his favourite photographers Peter Hujar. I then discovered that a picture I know from the cover of an album I love by the band Anthony & the Johnsons was taken by Hujar (below).

Candy Darling on her Deathbed - Peter Hujar

Candy Darling on her Deathbed - Peter Hujar

Then I noticed on google images that the Guardian and the Times had used versions of this picture in articles about Hujar and had heavily cropped the image (see below)
from the Guardian Website

from the Guardian Website

from the Times website

from the Times website

As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about what stays in, and out of the frame (as I’m sure Hujar did) this cropping of his original square image annoyed me. Im sure the designer just though it would fit the page better as they do with every image that goes into a newspaper, but both these articles were about an exhibtion of Hujar’s work – I’m sure they wouldn’t trim a bit of the top and bottom of a Monet (actually Im not that sure).

Anyway, last week I started work on a series of portraits as part of the project at the Tower, I havn’t done a lot of portraits in the past and I’m finding the process very exciting, I will post the first images as soon as I get it back from the lab. With my mind on portraiture and looking at Hujars work I found this wonderful picture of Edwin Denby.

Edwin Denby by Peter Hujar

Edwin Denby by Peter Hujar

Chairs and Tables

If you remeber a few posts back, I had made a second visit to the upper salt to re-take a couple of pictures. I thought I would post the new images, the one of the table is slighty diferent to the original shot and I’m still trying to work out which one I prefer.


I have also taken a slightly different version of the photograph of the chair and the blanket.


I think Im drawn to pictures of wooden chairs (as I may have mentioned before) but during my time at the Tower they have taken on a darker meaning as for me they are now linked to the execution of Josef Jacobs in 1941 (the last execution at the Tower of London). You can read more about Jacobs in Alex Drago’s previous post – here. The injured Jacobs seated execution in the Towers rifle range is a well known part of the Towers History, well written about and widely refered to in tours of the Tower. What is less widely known is the fact that all prisoners who ended up in front of the firing squad in the Towers rifle range had to be executed sitting down due to the hieght of the protective wall that stops bullets continuing on through the walls of the building. This, I hasten to add is not the chair, in fact the actaul chair is probably long gone, as with many artifacts there are probably several chairs in the world said to be the chair of Josef Jacobs. But for me any chair I photograph in the Tower has something of that story about it.

Yeoman Warders Club

In one of my last posts before Christmas I mentioned my visit to the Yeoman Warders Club and the fact that I didn’t find it very easy to make a photograph in such a visually complex space. The image below is taken from some of the few images I made on that visit. The walls of the club are covered with memorabilia from all over the world given to the Yeoman Warders as gift from visitors. I was particularly drawn to this corner that seemed to be made up from gifts from the USA; it seemed fitting to post this on the morning that America has woken up with a historic new President.


What’s Going On?

Yesterday I was speaking to a student about how to keep up to date with what is going on in current photography and I thought it may well be a good thing to share on the blog. So here is a brief list of some of the websites I use, some are blogs, some are online magazines and some are organisations that have useful mailing lists. I may remember some more later on so this could well be ‘Part 1’ (click on the sites title to go to the web page).

PURPOSE – is an online magazine based in France and has been one of my favorite discoveries of last year. Each edition has a theme and the chosen artists are interesting and varied.

LENS CULTURE – another online magazine with an accompanying blog. I like lensculture because it shows a very broad range of styles/artists and has an excellent archive of audio interveiws.

FOTONET – is based around the south of England and lists events, exhibitions, awards as well as the occasional online portfolio, it was through this site that I got the chance to show my work to the German Artist Gerhard Stromberg.

PHOTOWORKS – a magazine (print, not online) and funding organisation based in Brighton. Sign up for the mailing list to keep up to date with their projects.

WE-ENGLISH BLOG – the blog of photographer Simon Roberts for his current project about ‘The English’. I like this blog because much of Simons interests in identity and history overlap with mine and his ‘net’ of research is wonderfully broad.

ART JOBS (UK) – an email mailing list from the arts council. If you are a student looking for work experience this is a good thing to sign up to as many of the requests for practical photographers are unpaid.

SEESAW – an online magazine that has some very interesting articles and a broad range of styles (as well as being very supportive of young photographers).

Im sure more will follow.

In line – on line

Over the last few days there have been a couple of news stories that have brought attention to online photo-sharing. Yesterday the BBC had news story that linked in with the report on the US airline pilot who manged to miraculuosly ditch a plane into the Hudson River without any loss of life. The link story looked into the photograph of the ditched plane that was put onto the online  photo community Twitter by a person on one of the ferries that went to the planes rescue. The man in question took the image and posted it online immediately using his camera phone. Within the hour the image had been seen all around the world while news agencies struggled to find their own images for the breaking story.

In another (all be it, less urgent) story, I read that the Prado have created a link on Google Earth where you can click on the gallery through googles stunning software and see a selection of the Prados masterpieces in close up detail.

All this highlights how we interact with images in a very different way since the introduction of the internet, we may not realise it but our relationship with images is constantly changing.

I decided to investigate the Tower of London on Google Earth and had a look at some of the images that have been tagged to the location by visitors. The way this works is pretty simple – you go somewhere take some pictures and then using a picture sharing site called Panoramio upload those images and then tag them to a map of where you took them and (if they pass Google’s selection process) they are attached to Google Earth for all the world to see. The image below is from Google Earth’s image of the Tower of London – the blue squares are image tags.

The Tower on Google Earth

The Tower on Google Earth

As I have mentioned before, the Tower gets over 2 million visitors a year, all of whom take pictures – so it makes sense that Google must control what they put onto their online representation of the Tower. Here is their list of what will stop your images being selected for worldwide online access:

Not selected photos in Google Earth include:

  • People posing, portraits or persons as main subject. Exception: photos where people are an unavoidable part of the place
  • Car, plane or any machine as the main subject. Same exception as above.
  • Pet or animal as the main subject. Exception: animals in their natural environment showing the background.
  • Flowers and details of plants. Exception: forests, big trees and photos that show the background.
  • Close-ups: details, inscriptions, signals…
  • Underwater or aerial photos similar to the satellite images from Google Maps
  • Events: exhibitions, concerts, parades…
  • Interiors: everything under a roof is usually not accepted. Exception: photos with a wide perspective inside churches, mosques, train stations…
  • Text: large copyright notices and advertising text / URL. Exception: very small and discrete copyright notices are OK as long as you are the author.
  • Frames: only very thin and simple frames are accepted.
  • Too small photos under 500 pixels in height and width are not selected. For example, 640×240 and 800×600 are OK for Google Earth, but 480×240 is not OK
  • Low quality photos; extremely blurred, under 100 Kb size, too dark…
  • Not real photos: paintings, logos, digital images, collages…
  • Photos taken from the interior of a car.
  • 3D photos
  • Photos that don’t fit with the general Photo Acceptance Policy of Panoramia

Having read this I realised that my work as ‘Official Photographer in Residence at the Tower of London’ would not actually be accepted by Google Earth. A lot of my images are interiors (oh dear) and the one below is outside but of a machine (I think a siege engine still counts as a machine). I posted them anyway and will tell you if I am successful or not in the near future.

You can see the 4 images I uploaded onto the Panoramia site here


Back to Salt

Yesterday I made a return visit to the Upper Salt Tower to try and re-photograph an earlier image I had made. The image below was one of the first pictures I made early in the residency that caught my attention and became a kind of anchor point for my continued explorations. Some images begin to hold your ideas in place; when you work with a camera in one location over an extended period of time you become drawn to certain objects that act as pintpoint references to your thoughts and ideas. The picture (below) held my interest but I soon realised that it was flawed, at first I thought it may be a problem with the original scan of the negative, but when I checked the frame on the neg I noticed the marks were faults on the film.


If you look at the area I have cropped (below) you can see that the shadows of the table leg extend through the floor. I’ve not seen this before and Im sure there is a logical answer for it, but when I mentioned this to some of the people at the Tower I was told about strange , ghostly markings that have appeared in peoples photographs taken in the (apparently haunted) Salt Tower.


But whatever had caused them, these marks meant that I had to return and try and reprise this particular picture. Over the years I have heard many different thoughts from various photographers about going back to try and re-capture an image for whatever reason, many think it doesnt work, and in many cases it may be impossible (the fleeting moment has passed) but my pictures very rarely rely on a ‘decisive moment’, they are more about inaction than action so we will see if my return was a success when I get the contact sheets back.

On my return to the room in the upper salt everything was as I had left it several months ago,  I even found a small paper band from one of my rolls of film (im usually very careful not to drop these things) which made me think about the continuing addition of everyday history to the Tower of London, small, almost unnoticed moments that leave the slightest mark.

A slight return

Happy New Year and all that, I hope you all had a good Christmas.

Over the break I have had a chance to think about the next step with the work at the Tower, my thoughts are buzzing around the actual exhibition, final edits, location and display ideas. Also I am beginning to see the end of the project loom closer and its an odd, unsettling feeling of excitement and anticipation tinged with a touch of fear. I am reminded of the Truman Capote quote:

‘Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.’

Tomorrow I’m back at the Tower and I must admit I’m really keen to get back into it and pick up the camera again, this role I have at the Tower is a great honour and although sometimes I feel under pressure from the expectations I genuinely feel very lucky to be able to be doing this project. I hope that over the next couple of months as the project builds momentum that some of that excitement will be evident through this blog.

Early thoughts on the edit

Thinking over the edit with a coffee