Simon Lewis

OCA Learning Log


20th Century Portraits - Dmitri Kasterine

mw193130 JBPriestly
Dmitri Kasterine (1977) JB Priestly. [photo] n.k. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].
Kasterine really seems to engage with his portrait subjects. Strong eye contact often locks the viewer in to create a silent but nevertheless direct dialogue with the viewer. One image I particularly liked was of JB Priestley, above. At first glance a central rule appears to have been broken: notice how Priestley’s head is ‘skewered’ horizontally and vertically by the wooden frames window frames behind. This is something we are taught to try and avoid. But notice how these frames match the horizontal eyeline and are vertically aligned with Priestley’s left eye. Then add an imaginary line along the length of his walking stick to meet at exactly the same point. Coincidence? Unlikely...

An Englishman in New York - Jason Bell

Jason Bell (2006) Phil & Dennis Roach, commercial divers, [photo] n.k. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].
I enjoyed this exhibition. What I liked most was how each image was accompanied by it’s own photographic style and identity. In many cases the style matched the subject - such as with the image above where the tilted angle reflects the instability and unpredictability of the divers’ world. In all cases the images were evocative and had an atmosphere all their own.

Camille Silvy - National Portrait Gallery


Camille Silvy (1858) River Scene [albumen print] Private collection. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].
Camille Silvy (1859) Studies on light [albumen print] Private collection. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].

I visited the Camille Silvy exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on my birthday. It was absolutely fascinating! In today’s modern world of DSLRs and Photoshop it’s easy to forget the real pioneers who were able to achieve similar results with nothing more than sunlight and chemicals! Studies on Light: Twilight, for example, was produced using an early equivalent of HDR - 4 images, shot at different exposures, combined into one image. In River Scene, Silvy replaced the sky with one shot on a separate occasion. (The oval crop hides mistakes made on the photographic plate). Silvy had over 40 employees churning out carte de visites in their thousands during the height of his popularity in the mid 1800’s.

Aside from the technical achievements, I really enjoyed studying the exhibition and looking at how Silvy framed and posed his subjects. Some - particularly the aristocrats - were rigid and formal, but others - such as the theatrical series - less so. Among over 100 exhibits, I did not see a single smile on the sitters faces! There must have been an element of social grace to be taken into account at that time: sitting for photos must have been a very formal affair. This was no doubt emphasised because many photographers of the period were asked to photography deceased infants as lasting keepsakes for the bereaved family. Silvy’s use of natural light to illuminate his images as well as mirrors to frame using reflections are just two further examples of how he really was a remarkable pioneer of his art.