Project 2: Visual Skills: Exercise 1.2: “Point”

“There are essentially three classes of position (to place a single point): in the middle, a little off centre, and close to the edge”. [Photography 1: Expressing Your Vision P22]

So…the object of the exercise is to place a ‘single point’ in different parts of the frame- the ‘point’ being relatively small in relation to the frame as a whole. I’m sure the Rolling Stones might disagree, but with the majority of the frame being taken up by guitar amp, guitar and stand, the ‘point’ became a CD of one of their finest albums, “Sticky Fingers”.

Of the four pictures, the one that works best I feel is Image 3. Despite the CD being such a small part of the frame, the eye is drawn straight to it. The right hand side of the guitar appears to act as a pointer to something which may be significant at the back of the photograph, and to my eye at least there is a symmetry of sorts to the image.

I was striving for a similar effect with Image 1, but the gap between the edge of the guitar and the CD meant that there was no one ‘obvious’ direction to follow.

By lying the CD flat, as in Image 2, there didn’t seem to be any connection between various points, and I don’t think that the image worked at all.

Image 4 was little more than ‘product placement’.

Part 1: Project 1: Exercise 1.1. “Watching The River Flow…”

“Time flows, the moment of each frame is different, and, as the saying has it, ‘you can’t step into the same river twice’.” 

Three exposures of the same scene, taken using ‘burst mode’…

Marginal differences according to the data, but as far as I can determine, no ‘obvious’ differences between each photograph…although the River Meon is undoubtedly flowing…

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Assignment 1: Researching photographers

I found myself gravitating towards photographers who took an interest in some of the more ephemeral aspects of landscape. The ‘square mile’ with which we are most familiar may seem permanent. We may walk the same path, see the same shops, pass the same buildings, travel on the bus or train with the same people, and feel that we ‘know’ our square mile. But perhaps this prevents us from noticing the small, imperceptible changes-the fading of the paint on our front door and window, the slow oxidisation of iron railings, the crumbling of brickwork or asphalt, the graffiti marks on the bus shelter.

In his series of photographs ‘Boredom To Burn’, Gawain Bernard (i) reflects upon wildfire burning that takes place each spring in the South Wales Valleys. Although he suggests that the blackened landscape may appear on one level to act as a metaphor for South Wales’s industrial past, the series concentrates upon small remnants left after the burn- a discarded spoon here, a clutch of burned eggs, the charred remains of a plant. The small details within the bigger picture. Looking beyond the obvious…

In his work “Self Burial”, Keith Arnatt reflects upon the ideas of slow disappearance and disintegration, seeking to understand the “ability of photography simultaneously to document what was there and transform it into something quite different… recording his presence at the point where it becomes absence.” (ii)

Self-Burial (Television Interference Project) 1969 by Keith Arnatt 1930-2008

Self-Burial (Television Interference Project) 1969 Keith Arnatt 1930-2008 Presented by Westdeutsches Fernsehen 1973


(i). (2017). Gawain Barnard. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Mar. 2017].

(ii). British Journal of Photography. (2017). Keith Arnatt: the conceptual photographer who influenced a generation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Mar. 2017].

Assignment 3. The Decisive Moment

“The sectors of a city are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents …”  (Debord. 1961 : @ 8m 37s)

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Ghazzal (2004) suggests that because any object, moment, event or scene can be the subject of a photograph, that the decisive moment may be thought of as a vehicle for the identification of a unique moment, a moment realised by gesture. “The decisive moment is therefore that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture”.

But what if the moment was time itself, and the day that the photographs were taken was not an ‘ordinary’ day, but one that was, if not unique, nevertheless a day where the absence of human activity was evident. The aftermath of Christmas, on bank holiday Monday…

A small series of moments which individually may provide little more than the pitiful documents referred to by Debord, but when viewed together might offer something  more substantive.

I visited the Nicholstown area of Southampton, which is well known to me, being an area in which I have worked for over 20 years. It was a conscious decision to choose bank holiday Monday as I was fairly confident that human activity would be at a minimum, and that I would therefore have a very different perspective from the usual hustle and bustle of a multi-cultural inner city area.I  wasn’t disappointed. The streets, devoid of people at 10.51am when I first started to take photographs, remained largely empty throughout the time that I was walking around the area. To this end, I subsequently started to look for juxtapositions which might suggest indicators of small and unique moments in time.

Although taking photographs digitally, I decided that I would allow myself a maximum of 36 shots, to simulate a roll of analogue film. Although not particularly profligate when photographing digitally, I wanted to minimise the opportunity for ‘point, shoot and see if it works later’. I also elected to use a prime lens (Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN prime lens) with a fixed focal length, with the intention that the images when presented would be un-cropped.

The final selection of photographs were sequenced in the chronological order that they were taken. On this blog post I have presented the images in the form of a slide show in order to highlight the sequence. Each of these images therefore captured a moment that was a stop on the journey. They became moments along the way from which something more substantive might emerge. This process was akin to something which Bauer (2016) referred to, when describing how she approached the decisive moment in her work.

The photographs and my rationale for them ‘fitting’ with the notion of a decisive moment:

  • @ 10.51am. The first photograph of the day, and the start of my walk. Derby Road, ordinarily a bustling street, with a vast number of local shops open, all serving the local community. Not so on this day, and therefore, if not unique, then at least a very unusual occurrence.
  • @ 10.53am. The invisible hand that pegs the washing out on the line. The bin containing household waste. Both impermanences in a street view which might otherwise be considered to be relatively unchanging.
  • @ 11.00am. More bins, as above. However, I was struck by the sign on the phone box, saying ‘heartburn?’, which within the context of the Christmas period, seemed somewhat ironic.
  • @ 11.17am. Solitary man on his way through the underpass. Something of a rare occurrence on the day in question…and with the light behind him, it just seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
  • @ 11.20am. Plastic bag containing a shopping trolley at the side of the phone box. Lighthouse centre fenced off from the public, and inaccessible. Further impermanences in a street view, and the idea of the lighthouse, a beacon of light to guide others, being unavailable suggested another ironic counterpoint.
  • @ 11.49am. Zone Ends. Despite all of the seemingly permanent fixtures of the Zone Ends sign, the brick wall and the fencing at the end of the road, the small, portable road sign on the pavement opposite facing away from the camera, suggests the invisible hand at play
  • @ 11.53am. Shopping trolley against a fence bearing the logo ‘primesight’-anything but!

Contact sheets

Of the photographs that didn’t make the cut, the rationale for most can be ascribed to one of the following:

I felt that landscape orientation offered stronger images, regardless of subject matter, and therefore these were rejected from the point that I reached the decision. This therefore ruled out 3815, 3816, 3824 & 3825.

I did like the portrait (3826 & 3827), but self evidently it didn’t fit the narrative. I was however delighted to meet up with AB, who I knew as a former resident of a supported living scheme in the area that I used to manage, and was keen for me to take his photograph .

To my mind there was very little story in images 3807, 3808, 3811, 3812, 3813, 3814, 3817,3818, 3828 & 3829.

3821 was badly out of focus, whilst 3832 & 3833 were closer crops of the final image chosen.

With hindsight I probably didn’t need to have had the camera set up to take a 2 shot ‘burst’ given the static nature of the photographs.


In any event, as HCB himself suggests in citing from the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1717) in the epigraph of his first major book of photographs (Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. 2016), “there is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment”. 



Bauer, A (2016) Cited in ‘In Experimental Photography, Is There Ever a Decisive Moment?’ – Aperture Foundation NY. Available at: (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

Debord, G. (1961) Critique de la séparation / critique of separation (1961). Available at:,2205.html?lang=en (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (2016) Press Kit for Exhibition “Henri Cartier-Bresson-Images à la sauvette” (2016) Available at: (Accessed: 15 January 2017).

Ghazzal, Z. (2004) Decisive Moments. Available at: (Accessed: 27 December 2016).

What is the ‘Decisive Moment”?

The decisive moment has come to be defined as a black and white image, composed meticulously, framed and shot at the precise moment that all of the elements are perfectly aligned with one another (O’Hagan. 2014). The recognition by the photographer of a certain symmetry of the subject, which informs a narrative; a narrative which requires some work on the part of the viewer to imagine the ‘before and after’. The man leaping over the puddle in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 1932 photograph (below) is forever suspended, and ‘because this picture is not part of a sequence, it is the viewer who must imagine what came immediately before and…what happened next’. (Bull. 2010).

Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. Henri Cartier-Bresson [1932]

Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. Henri Cartier-Bresson [1932]

Time and patience become watchwords, and indeed I recognise this in some of the photographs that I took whilst living and working in Nepal between 2010 and 2012. The image below is ‘typical’ of Nepal: men sitting on the temple steps, talking with each other. I sat for several minutes watching them deep in conversation, sometimes animated, sometimes in silence and thought.

Bhaktapur. John Callaway [2010]

Similarly in the photograph below, the architecture, the clothing and the woman with the broom are somewhat archetypal of Kathmandu. And yet, with both photographs, the story isn’t clear, and hopefully (maybe), invites the viewer to ask what is going on.

Szarkowski (2003) suggests that the decisive moment has been mis-understood and that the thing which happens at the decisive moment is not a dramatic climax, but a visual one. Perhaps there is no (hidden) story behind the three men in conversation, or the woman and the security guard contemplating the pile of rocks. Maybe they just work visually…

Thinking... John Callaway [2010]

Thinking… John Callaway [2010]

As a counterpoint to this, for Ghazzal (2004), the decisive moment may have become something of a cliché, albeit one that has made ‘an unconscious impact on photojournalism to be dismissed too easily’. He observes that many photographers today have to operate in a repetitive and increasingly empty urban environment, where the opportunity for gesture and the ‘small and unique moment in time’ are much diminished.

Worth bearing in mind as I work towards the completion of my own decisive moment for Assignment 3….


Bibliography & References

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Ghazzal, Z. (2004) Decisive Moments. Available at: (Accessed: 27 December 2016).
O’Hagan, S. (2014) Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed | Art and design | The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 27 December 2016).
Szarkowski, J. (2003) ‘Introduction to the photographer’s eye’, in Wells, L. (ed.) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 97–103.

Reflections on ‘L’amour de court’

Henri Cartier-Bresson: the name is synonymous with the idea of the ‘decisive moment’ in photography. The point at which all of the elements are perfectly aligned with one another (O’Hagan. 2014). HCB’s 1932 photograph ‘Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint-Lazare’ has long since been emblematic of that idea. In ‘L’amour de court’ (2001), a documentary by Raphaël O’Byrne, HCB talks about how his view of the world underpins his photography, whilst O’Byrne seeks to draw parallels between HCB’s creative processes, and those in other fields of creativity.

Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. Henri Cartier-Bresson [1932]

Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint-Lazare. Henri Cartier-Bresson [1932]

The cornerstone of HCB’s process is the importance of looking, allied to an emphasis on form and geometry (the golden section), and an element of chance. He seems to revel in describing the element of luck involved in taking the above photograph (@ 17m 06s). The implication being that this alone is what counts. ‘When you want it, you won’t get it. Wanting won’t work’ (@ 17m 28s). Perhaps this is humility, perhaps this is disingenuous, or maybe its the sense of humour of a man playing to the camera, but I can’t help but think that it is possible on occasion for the two to operate in tandem, providing that you are willing to wait and be disappointed.

Maybe it is indicative of HCB’s desire to impugn teaching, and to learn by doing, rather than intellectualising the process. Towards the end of the documentary (@ 58m 08s), there is a moment of reflection about the images taken whilst HCB was travelling, which perhaps hints at what he was driving at. “True travelling is not about seeing new things-it is about seeing oneself as temporary against a permanent background, which leads to a deeper vision than leafing through the pages of an art book”. Or as HCB said…“I just lived”. As good a maxim for taking photographs as any… and one that I’ll return to when I’m struggling for inspiration.

Rickshaw, Kathmandu. John Callaway [2011]

Durbar Square, Kathmandu. John Callaway [2011]


Magnum photos photographer portfolio (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 28 December 2016).

O’Byrne, R. (2016) H. Cartier-Bresson: L’amour tout court. Available at: (Accessed: 28 December 2016).

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed | Art and design | The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 27 December 2016).

Assignment 3. The decisive moment- a not so decisive idea…

Get out of your comfort zone, and use colour! One of the challenges issued to me for my next assignment.

I go to a fair number of gigs over the course of a year, and have tried to take photographs which capture something of the performance. I’m just your average punter with a Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN prime lens which doesn’t look too obtrusive, and I don’t use flash, instead trying to use the stage lighting to best effect. This means that I need to get pretty close to the stage. I tend to convert to black and white, partly because I live in hope of coming close to what I think is the definitive rock image…Pennie Smith’s cover shot for “London Calling”, by the Clash, and partly because in my view, the colours used in stage lighting  tend to detract from the image.

So what I normally end up with is this….

The Damned @ Portsmouth Pyramids, December 1, 2016. (40th Anniversary Tour…and yes I did see them 39 years ago too!)

So, maybe there’s some value in turning the camera on the audience instead? Not sure whether these work , or indeed whether I’m going to pursue this further, but I came up with a few interesting shots, although quite honestly, I was more interested in watching the Damned, and its somewhat difficult to be in the middle of it, and keep any sort of focus…but I did leave everything in colour, and the only editing was to crop to 10×8 dimensions. Probably works as a tiled mosaic, and I’ve got a few more gigs in the pipeline before the next assignment is due, might be onto something… probably just need to go to gigs of bands I don’t like…!

Assignment 2: Collecting- Post submission reflection

So…first video tutorial following my submission of Assignment 2, “Collecting”, and I’m pleased that my tutor thinks there’s potential for submission if I continue to apply myself. Her feedback has signposted a few things to build upon, and perhaps most importantly she’s challenged me to get out of my comfort zone….!  (I think its a fair assessment in truth).

Narrative is important to me, and the ‘collecting’ of landscapes bearing the scars and evidence of human activity was what underpinned my final selection, but with more reflection I recognise that some of the images selected for inclusion have been ‘safe’, and perhaps my choice has been influenced by an over attachment to a photograph. The church at Idsworth (below) is a good example.

Idsworth. John Callaway [2016] f9.0: 19mm focal length (35mm equivalent @28mm): ISO 200

Idsworth. John Callaway [2016] f9.0: 19mm focal length (35mm equivalent @28mm): ISO 200

With hindsight, its probable that I was always going to include the image, or at the very least struggle to find a good reason to exclude it. I planned to go and photograph the church, and having done so, well I was going to make it fit. Don’t get me wrong…I like the photo….but, as my tutor said, some of  (my) ‘images are currently too quiet and simply a document’.

And maybe that’s the next step on this journey…recognising that although the image might be balanced, well composed, and have subject matter that might be ‘interesting’, its not enough within the context of this course. I don’t believe that means that I have to explain and justify everything to the viewer, but I recognise the challenge of provoking a response that is more than ‘nice photograph’…

I was pleased that the image below was identified by my tutor as being one of the strongest images, in that it suggested unease, and prompted questions as to what the story was. The idea of margins has always appealed to me, and the blurring of boundaries between what is ‘man made’ and what is ‘natural’, was what I was trying to convey. But there are other layers to this photograph that don’t appear in the church photograph. What does the barbed wire signify? What is to be found amongst the reeds. Not exactly Heart of Darkness, but you get the idea.

Farlington Marshes. John Callaway [2016] f16: 1/200: 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 34mm: ISO 250

Farlington Marshes. John Callaway [2016] f16: 1/200: 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 34mm: ISO 250

And why black and white? Has it become something of a default setting for me? Quite possibly. I’m comfortable with black and white, and although on the face of it, I didn’t think that I shied away from colour, my portfolio over the years might tell me otherwise. Would this assignment have been ‘better’ in colour. I don’t  necessarily think so. Did I select influences and subject matter that would steer me down the black and white route? Quite possibly!

So…for the next assignment… “…work in the now, show me your technical skills and challenge the way that you think, by shooting in colour”

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Album covers have often been an entry point for me to photographers…and so it was with Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose work graced the cover of U2’s No Line On The Horizon. Part of a collection of images entitled Seascapes’ for which Sugimoto travelled the world for some 30 years photographing its seas. Seeking to compose each photograph identically, the repetition of each meeting between the sky and sea nevertheless resulted in no two horizons appearing exactly the same.

So…a test photograph for a possible later collection of my own?

No line on the horizon... John Callaway [2016]

No line on the horizon… John Callaway [2016]

An article by Thessaly La Force in Apollo, an on-line arts magazine revealed Sugimoto to be a collector himself, as well as a former antiques dealer. Referring to a series of  photographs taken by Sugimoto of diaoramas of scenes of life on display at the American Museum of Natural History, La Force observed that ‘Sugimoto is a master of the long exposure and the large-format camera; the scenes are static and preserved, but in the true black and white tones of his gelatin silver prints, they are not entirely lifeless, either. Sugimoto’s ability to trick the eye – even in just an instant – juxtaposed with his open acknowledgement of the scene’s artificiality, demonstrates both his playful curiosity and also his rigorous technique. ‘The stuffed animals positioned before painted backdrops looked utterly fake,’ Sugimoto has said before of the Dioramas photographs. ‘Yet by taking a quick peek with one eye closed, all perspective vanished, and suddenly they looked very real. I’d found a way to see the world as a camera does. However fake the subject, once photographed, it’s as good as real.’

The collector photographing the collection perhaps…


Birds of South Georgia [2012].  (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto

Assignment 2. Final selection…

Research & influences

Fay Godwin is a photographer that I’ve been aware of for many years, an interest kindled by her work to accompany the poems of Ted Hughes in “Remains of Elmet”. In a similar vein, George Tice’s work is something I often return to. His book “Stone Walls, Grey Skies: A Vision of Yorkshire” has been on my bookshelf since the early 1990’s, having been lucky enough to have seen his work at the National Media Centre in Bradford. (Back when it was called the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television….)

Both collections have probably seeped into my subconscious over the years. Black and white images have a timeless quality to them, preserving the moment in the raw without distraction of colour. I’m not sure that it is possible to ‘see in black and white’, but I do find myself composing photographs with a view to them being in monochrome.

The work of both photographers offers a singular interpretation of the landscape, and given that I have a job which affords me travel to substantial parts of the county of Hampshire, the ‘collecting’ of landscapes which bear the scars and evidence of human activity began to take shape. Landscapes that despite their beauty were raw, scarred and imperfect. Black and white imagery seemed to enhance the remoteness and isolation of the image whilst the depth of field seemed to support the view that “deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is…given the opportunity to edit the scene…(and) to select the aspects of it to which he will attend” [Andre Bazin: Cited EYV p48]

And if the task of selecting  between 6 and 10 images seemed a little onerous, then I was in good company. ‘It is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere – easily found, not easily selected and interpreted.’  The words of Robert Frank in his application to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to photograph across the United States. Between 1955 and 1958, Frank spent his time on the road documenting an outsider’s perspective of a country riven by social and racial tensions.

From the many thousands of photographs taken by Frank over this period, he selected just 83 to be published in his book The Americans. Widely celebrated as one of the most important and influential photography books since the end of the second world war, it was met with critical hostility when first published because of “the snapshot spontaneity of Frank’s photographs, and their disenchanted view of America”

The final series…

Eight images which hopefully have some semblance of coherence, and are sequenced in a way that creates a narrative. Although, perhaps serendipitously, I was reading an article in the British Journal of Photography– an interview with David Molina Gadea. The final paragraph seemed too good not to cite here…

“I’ve asked many famous photographers to help me edit and they say, ‘Well, this photo goes with this one, and what’s the story by the way?’, and they put them in a different order and then I go home and do what I fucking want!” [British Journal of Photography Issue 7851: September 2016: p43]

One of the elements of feedback from my tutor for assignment 1 was to select landscape or portrait format, and not a combination of the two. I therefore  applied the following ‘rules’ in shaping this assignment.

  • Black & White
  • Landscape
  • Final image to be 10 x 8 in dimension. (Partly because it mirrors the preferred format of Tice and Godwin, but also because it means I have to think more about composition. I don’t have a camera which allows 5×4 or 10×8 images, and there’s something to be said for framing an image with the knowledge that I have to apply a crop in order to follow my ‘rules’


Broadmarsh. John Callaway [2016] f5.0: 1/3200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm: ISO 200

f5.0: 1/3200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200. Langstone Harbour

Farlington Marshes. John Callaway [2016] f16: 1/200: 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 34mm: ISO 250

f16: 1/200: 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 34mm): ISO 250. Farlington Marshes

Idsworth. John Callaway [2016] f9.0: 19mm focal length (35mm equivalent @28mm): ISO 200

f9.0: 19mm focal length (35mm equivalent @28mm): ISO 200. Idsworth

Meon Valley. John Callaway [2016] f11: 1/200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200

f11: 1/200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200. Meon Valley

“Where Nature is ever hidden, and cowers under mist and cloud, snow and darkness, there man feels himself master; he regards his desires, his works, as permanent; he wants to perpetuate them, he looks towards posterity, he raises monuments, he writes biographies; he even goes the length of erecting tombstones over the dead. So busy is he that he has not time to consider how many monuments crumble, how often names are forgotten!”

― Rabindranath Tagore

f13: 1/200: 25mm focal length: ISO 250. Farlington Marshes

f13: 1/200: 25mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 38mm): ISO 250. Farlington Marshes

Wickham. John Callaway [2016] f3.5: 1/25: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 250

f3.5: 1/25: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 250. Wickham

The Nelson Monument, Portsmouth. John Callaway [2016]. f7.1: 1/800s: 16mm focal length: !SO 200

f7.1: 1/800s: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200. Nelson’s Monument, Fareham

Langstone Harbour. John Callaway [2016]

f4.5: 1/800: 27mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 40mm): ISO 200. Broadmarsh

Technical details:

All images taken with SONY ILCE-6000 camera, using Sony EPZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 lens.

Individual settings shown as captions underneath image