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’.

The Distorting Lens. Exercise 2.2

“Select your longest focal length and compose a portrait shot fairly tightly within the frame in front of a background with depth. Take one photograph. Then walk towards your subject while zooming out to your shortest focal length. Take care to frame the subject in precisely the same way in the viewfinder and take a second shot” 

So…first of all, make sure to read the instructions! This is not a background with any substantive depth. So the only real change in the background is the detail in the stonework over LGC’s right shoulder. Still, I like the photos, and it was our 30th wedding anniversary on the day it was taken!

Slightly counter-intuitive in some ways walking towards the subject and zooming out too.



Assignment 1: The Square Mile-Initial thoughts

Portsmouth has been my home town for some 30 years. One of the most densely populated cities in Europe, it is an island (Portsea) within an island (Great Britain). Pompey has the sea coursing through her veins. Maritime history is writ large in the guise of HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson and Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose. Today it remains the home of the Royal Navy as well as being both a commercial and cross-channel ferry port.

Vintage Poster Advertising Southern Electric Railways by Kenneth Shoesmith

Vintage Poster Advertising Southern Electric Railways by Kenneth Shoesmith

The city wears its history with pride, and attracts a considerable number of visitors. Yet even in such a compact city, where certain landmarks loom large, there are still one or two less visited margins that are off the beaten track. Places where the history is neither polished nor themed, but where it is slowly falling into disuse and disrepair. Locations that still after 30 years, keep drawing me back.

Danger..... John Callaway [2016]

Danger….. John Callaway [2016]

And so emerged the plan to go to Eastney Point and just see what happened…

Below are a few of the first sortie. I think they give something of a sense of the place, and few of my favourite themes were in there: open water: emptiness: rust: graffiti and symbols (locks, ropes and objects that are ambiguous in their use and purpose).

But what was the narrative? I wasn’t unhappy with the  photos, but  a further visit seemed to beckon…

To see EXIF data, click on each of the images above..

The Distorting Lens. Exercise 2.1

“Find a scene that has depth. From a fixed position, take a sequence of…shots at different focal lengths without changing your viewpoint” [Expressing Your Vision: P40] 

Exif Data: Camera Sony Α6000 : ISO 200 : Aperture f 5.6

Harts Farm I     : Shutter Speed 1/1600 : Focal Length 16mm
Harts Farm II   : Shutter Speed 1/640   : Focal Length 33mm
Harts Farm III  : Shutter Speed 1/800   : Focal Length 50mm

Not much to add to this, beyond confirming that the ‘perspective geometry’ of all three shots remains the same. The camera is not a DSLR, but a mirrorless camera, so the image that is closest to the perspective distortion of human vision is Harts Farm II at a focal length of 33mm.

From an ‘interest’ point of view, I think that Harts Farm II is the most balanced image. The reeds in the foreground are not overly distracting, the other components of the image seem somehow more proportionate to each other, and there’s not an over preponderance of sky or river. But hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… 😉

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

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 (2) Line

“Take a number of shots using lines to flatten the pictorial space. To avoid the effects of perspective, the sensor/film plane should be parallel to the subject and you may like to try a high viewpoint (i.e. looking down). Modern architecture offers strong lines and dynamic diagonals, and zooming in can help to create simpler, more abstract compositions.”

Early evening walk around a couple of the Palmerston Forts built during the Victorian period on the recommendations of the 1860 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom.

The works were also known as Palmerston’s Follies, partly because the first ones, around Portsmouth, had their main armament facing inland to protect Portsmouth from a land-based attack, which gave the impression that they faced the wrong way to defend from a French attack. Also because they were considered of questionable military value. The images above are from the inward facing walls of Forts Widley and Fort Purbrook.

I like the  abstract quality of the brickwork and slowly decaying windows and iron work and thought it would be a good source of a flattened image because of the large expanse of brickwork.

Wasn’t expecting the dog, but quite liked its juxtaposition with the CCTV camera!

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]