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-What to include…

I’m still following my ‘rules’ for how the finished images should be presented. Namely black and white landscape with dimensions of 10 x 8. The rationale for this was outlined in an earlier post. And I’m more or less settled on the idea of what I’m trying to convey. Structures which in some way suggest the passage of time, either through their slow decay, or through their seemingly having been part of the landscape for centuries.


Meon Valley. John Callaway [2016]: f11.0: 1/200s: 16mm focal length: ISO 200

However, the more I get out and photograph, the more difficult it becomes to make the final selection. Not so much what photographs make it from contact sheet to become black and white images but which ones work best as a collection.


St. Hubert’s, Idsworth. John Callaway [2016]: f9.0: 1/640s: 19mm focal length: ISO 200

If the two photographs above are archetypes of either slow decay or seeming permanence, then does every other image have to be in the same vein?  How rigorous should I be in following a set of rules?  Although not aiming for a series of near identical images such as those produced by the Bechers, how much compositional variance could there be without compromising the overall coherence of a series of between 6 and 10 photographs?

Does this fit?


Meon Valley. John Callaway [2016]: f11.0: 1/200: 25mm focal length: ISO 200

…or this? Still a work in progress.


Wickham. John Callaway [2016]:  f3.5: 1/25s: 16mm focal length: ISO 250

Serendipity:  A couple of hours after posting the above, I was reading an article in the current issue of 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]

Assignment 2: Collecting- Possible direction…

I wrote in an earlier post about Fay Godwin being a photographer who I’ve been aware of for a good few years, citing as a particular inspiration 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….)

Chesapeake Mill, Wickham. John Callaway [2016]: f5.6: 1/800s: 16mm focal length: ISO 200

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

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

Early days yet, and this may not be the direction that I ultimately take, but I do have a job which affords me travel to substantial parts of the county of Hampshire. Travel which takes me through landscapes which bear the scars and evidence of human activity.


Bishops Waltham Social Club. John Callaway [2016]. f5: 1/125s: 22mm focal length: ISO 200

At the very least, the broad heading of ‘views’ implies the need to travel and get out and about.

Mindful of the need to reflect a single coherent idea, and that ‘the ….fragments which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details although they need not be like one another ‘ [Walter Benjamin: Quoted in EYV p52], my first sortie out with the camera gave me these three images (amongst others).

I’m not quite sure what the unifying theme is yet, but there’s enough ( I think) for me to continue down this avenue for a while longer.

Footnote: 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’ve therefore  decided on the following ‘rules’ in shaping this assignment.

1: Black & White

2: Landscape

3: 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’

Killing Joke…or Sonny Boy Williamson?

In 1916 Ferdinand De Saussure first postulated the existence of a general science of signs, or semiology. In viewing language as a social phenomenon, he considered it as a structured system that may be viewed both synchronically and diachronically . In his own work he focussed on the synchronic relations, (the structure created by like and differing signs, or signifiers). This idea was further developed by Roland Barthes in 1964, in Elements Of Semiology.Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign’, declares C.S. Pierce. Anything can be a sign as long as someone interprets it as ‘signifying’ something – referring to or standing for something other than itself.

In his work, the Rhetoric Of The Image, Barthes considers an image of pasta used in an advertising campaign. He posits three orders of meaning in this image:

:a linguistic message
:a coded iconic message
:a non-coded iconic message

In ‘reading’ the image, consideration of these three discontinuous meanings is required. It is the interplay of these three message-types (signifying orders) which conveys the intention behind the image.

Killing Joke... John Callaway [2016]

Killing Joke… John Callaway [2016]

Came across the above the other day, and thought that the cross and the graffiti ‘Killing Joke’ made for an interesting juxtaposition, and (maybe) was illustrative of what Barthes was referring to. It was taken with an i-phone at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire.

Whatever…like Sonny Boy Williamson sang…

“Don’t start me talkin’
I’ll tell everything I know
I’m gonna break up this signifyin’
’cause somebody’s got to go…”




Robert Frank aka “I was down in Georgia…”

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”

It’s something of a leap of faith (perhaps) that draws parallels between Frank’s ‘outsider’ view in The Americans and the singularity of vision of Patti Smith. Her photographic exhibition (Land 250) at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain may, as one critic has suggested, “remind you…, if only in their studied self-consciousness, how assured Smith (is) in creating her own mythology, her own iconography”.

From "Land 250": Patti Smith [2008]

From “Land 250”: Patti Smith [2008]

And yet…isn’t ‘personal significance’ one of the touchstones of any photographic image?

And as for the title of this post? The opening line of “Summer Cannibals”, from Patti Smith’s 1996 albumGone Again.

Video by Robert Frank.