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

Assignment 1: The Square Mile. Final Selection

So a return to Eastney Point and the notion of sea defences begins to exercise my mind. Portsmouth is ringed by a series of forts, built on the recommendations of the 1860 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, after concerns about the strength of the French Navy. Considered of questionable military value they were criticised because by the time they were completed, any threat had passed, and because the technology of the guns had become out-of-date. They were the most costly and extensive system of fixed defences undertaken in Britain in peacetime.

On the foreshore near one of these forts, Fort Cumberland, are a number of additional structures dating from the mid 1920s, collectively known as Fraser Range, which specialised in training naval gunnery personnel. Now derelict, fenced off, and with a surprisingly large hole in the fence…

A defence system, increasingly defenceless, at the mercy of the sea, obsolescence, and the hand of others. So maybe there’s the story that my earlier sortie had failed to unearth.

Part I: The Sea

Brickwork... John Callaway [2016]

Brickwork… John Callaway [2016]

Beach... John Callaway [2016]

Beach… John Callaway [2016]

Fence... John Callaway [2016]

Fence… John Callaway [2016]

 Part II: Obsolescence

Broken.... John Callaway [2016]

Broken…. John Callaway [2016]

281.... John Callaway [2016]

281…. John Callaway [2016]

Slow... John Callaway [2016]

Slow… John Callaway [2016]

Part III: The Hands Of Others

Corridor... John Callaway [2016]

Corridor… John Callaway [2016]

Handle This.... John Callaway [2016]

Handle This…. John Callaway [2016]

Fused... John Callaway [2016]

Fused… John Callaway [2016]


Exercise 1.3 : Review & Observations

In the photographs of the jetty used in 1.3 (1) , (below) there is a clear line for the viewer to follow which naturally leads them out of the frame. The choice of the jetty was an attempt (of sorts) to provide a metaphor. In the same way as the jetty directs the viewers eye along its structure, so too does the jetty itself mirror the journey from land out to sea.

The use of the lines informed by the architecture of the forts in 1.3 (2) below seeks to give the sense that the picture is only part of a much bigger whole.  Although I clearly had choice over what was contained within each of the photographs , the jetty images were dependent upon me ensuring that the entire seaward end of the structure remained in view. With the brickwork I was able to select aspects of the wall which could form a complete image in their own right, without needing to show the entirety of the fort.

Cropping vs framing:

Framing is the act of using the parameters of the lens as an indicator of what will appear in the final image. Naturally there are still creative choices to be made by the photographer as they compose the image.

Cropping is the act of removing elements of the photograph which detract from the overall image, in order to strengthen the final image. (The creative choice still rests with the photographer, as final arbiter of the editing process).

Kite. Ijmuiden aan Zee , NL. John Callaway [2016]

Kite. Ijmuiden aan Zee , NL. John Callaway [2016]

Beached... John Callaway [2016]

Beached… John Callaway [2016]

As an illustration, the two images above are cropped versions of the original photographs (below) taken in response to the brief for 1.3(1). I think that the image of the beach huts is much stronger in the cropped version, although I think the kite flyer on the beach image works equally as well both cropped and un-cropped because of the  windblown sand in the foreground.




Exercise 1.3 (1) Line

“Take a number of shots using lines to create a sense of depth. Shooting with a wide- angle lens (zooming out) strengthens a diagonal line by giving it more length within the frame. The effect is dramatically accentuated if you choose a viewpoint close to the line”.

Langstone Harbour. John Callaway [2016]

Langstone Harbour. John Callaway [2016]

Living by the sea, I wanted to try and use the projection of a jetty as a means of creating a sense of depth. There is a large expanse of blue sea and sky in each photograph. The aim was therefore to use the jetty as both the focal point and the sign post into the distance.

I think that both photographs do this quite well, although the second image (below) is a far stronger image, as there are less distractions. I think that the shingle and metal objects in the foreground of the image above still make an interesting photograph, but at the expense of drawing the viewer fully into the picture.

Jetty. John Callaway [2016]

Jetty. John Callaway [2016]