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

Project 3: Surface & Depth

“Today the question of surface and depth has to some extent been replaced by the debate between the virtual nature of the digital screen image and the materiality of film and print” [“Expressing your vision” P32]

In an article in the Guardian from June 2009, Thomas Ruff was moved to state that the image below, an image taken from his hotel room in Kyoto was his best shot.

“I was …looking out of the window, and I saw the scene as a symbol of how mankind changes his environment: the traditional way of living with nature, juxtaposed with modern life. I took the picture through the curtain, as a tourist, without thinking what I would do with it. Only later did I realise it would fit in perfectly with the Jpeg idea, in which a pixellated square is ugly, but if you present it in the right context it can become beautiful”.

Image (c) Thomas Ruff: view from a hotel room in Kyoto, Japan [2002]: jpeg kj01

Image (c) Thomas Ruff: view from a hotel room in Kyoto, Japan [2002]: jpeg kj01

But is it photography? A debate that Joerg Colburg, in reviewing Ruff’s work entitled Jpegs, suggests is something of an intellectual cul-de-sac. In this article, Ruff himself described the images in Jpegs as being ‘terribly beautiful.’; large, extensively pixillated images of the aftermath of 9/11 created from low resolution photographs which, despite their poor image quality were of aesthetic merit. Yet for all of their beauty, Colburg retains a nagging doubt that Ruff’s idea is overly dependent upon technique.

Thomas Ruff jpegs Book cover

Thomas Ruff jpegs Book cover

And I’m left with the nagging doubt that it is the subject matter which gives the 9/11 images their terrible beauty. I can’t quite put out of my mind that the image is a fortuitous accident borne out of the use of camera equipment that cannot quite record the detail of the moment.

Below is a photograph that I took with my mobile phone a couple of weeks ago whilst in Amsterdam. The quality wasn’t great to start with, and once I’d cropped it to get rid of the extraneous material on the periphery, I was left with the image that I wanted in terms of picture composition. It probably still works as a composition, but I can’t help but think that the beginnings of pixellation detract from, rather than enhance the image, although in order to test the hypothesis fully, I should probably make a large print of this. As David Campanay notes at the end of his article “Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the pixel, “(his) JPEG series doesn’t work very well on the internet or computer screen: the images need to be experienced as printed matter, moving from screen to page or wall”.

Benched.... John Callaway [2016]

Benched…. John Callaway [2016]

Cropping still further renders the image little more than the semblance of a man. Is it interesting? To me not really. Does it illustrate the point that Ruff is making? Well to a degree yes, insofar as the pixellated squares are certainly ugly…

Crop.... John Callaway [2016]

Crop…. John Callaway [2016]

Campany suggests that the pixel has replaced the grain of photographic film, and that the pixellated image does not yet have the authenticity afforded to analogue photography. “Today it is almost a cliché but for a while at least grain became a sign of the virtuous materiality of the image and of the virtuous, embodied photographer”. 

I probably need to reflect on this a little more…..


David Campany: “Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel” IANN Magazine No. 2, 2008

Joerg Colberg: Review: jpegs by Thomas Ruff”  Consciencious Website, April 17, 2009