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].

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.

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”

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

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]