Simon Lewis

OCA Learning Log


Eugène Atget

French (1857–1927)
Eugène Atget

Mostly strew scenes. People a rarity. Documents place and life. Resulting images are a real recording of how life was experienced in rural and cosmopolitan France at that time.

The 'place images' are just as strong without people as those that include them, perhaps because of the detail which provides us with the opportunity to imagine the spaces populated. Even the shop windows tell us something of the inhabitants of the villages, towns and cities where these were shot.

Bert Tuenissen

Dutch photographer (1959)


Tuenissen's quote summarises his Domestic Landscape series: "I found that when local traditions disappear, most of their visible aspects are also lost. When a small farmer stops slaughtering, the open fireplace becomes redundant. Sausages and hams will be dried artificially and smoked in a factory losing their original flavour and appearance. And when a small farmer stops farming, the stables are converted into storage or living spaces, the stable doors are replaced by windows, the cement floor by parquet, the hayloft is altered into bedrooms, the kitchen moved to the former parlour, and slowly all rooms and spaces will have lost their original meaning and significance."

For all that Tuenissen is a master of composition and natural lighting. For me his series on domestic landscape really encapsulates the “People and Place" module. He's managed to show people at one with their surroundings in a way that adds equally to the sitter and environment. His use of light is masterful. One cannot tell how much retouching, if any, is applied to today's images but the sense one has when looking at Tuenissen's photography is that the light was captured as he saw it. Shadows and highlights become an integral part of the places he photographs. The light is as much part of the environment as the space and decor. The light is as much part of the environment as the sitter.

Tuenissen Has a more structured approach to composition than some of the other photographers reviewed here. That's possibly because we are now into the realms of photographing place than street photography. Yet he's managed to bring out the personality of individuals simply by having them look into the lens. We are not witnessing intimate moments (Goldin), capturing tiny fragments of life (Brown, Maier et al). But we are seeing people in the context of their lives. To us, their lives are richer for the inclusion of those backgrounds.

This work is far more pleasing to me than many of the other images reviewed so far in this section. Suffice to say Tuenissen has inspired me to work much harder on my “People and Place" work.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

American art photographer (1951)

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

These images seem to have far more of a structured format to them than Goldin's. Many appear posed–even staged. Composition is carefully thought out. Colours are beautiful and the overall effect is somewhat 'polished' or even cinematic.The lighting is often beautiful.

Again, these images illustrate a slice of life; a moment captured. But somehow these moments are perhaps distant observation, a remote comment on what is being seen.

Nan Goldin

American photographer (1953)

Nan Goldin

There are no shortage of Nan Goldin images on the Internet and many of these are self portraits. Goldin does not appear to spend much time composition, framing or the other 'niceties' of formal photography. She doesn't spend time on lighting using whatever is available to her but without modifying or shaping it. Instead she concentrates on recording personal, intimate and sometimes private moments, unmodified, as they happen. Most of these are interiors. Strangely her approach is not in a voyeuristic or intrusive way. Goldin observes in a way that allows her, and asked by extension, to participate in the moment. Interesting…

Vivien Maier

American amateur street photographer (1926 - 2009)
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- Just a small selection of images shown – these with faces hidden. Many others exist with faces in clear view.
– Despite the faces he being hidden, meaning in each image is apparent. Here the lack of facial detail adds to the story.
– Less emphasis on composition and framing, more on capturing the unique moment.

The image of the sleeping couple above made me think of a photo I took a few years ago of a sleeping businessman on a high-speed train in Japan

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Robert Doisneau

French photographer (1912 - 1994)
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There appear to be 2 key strands in Doisneau's work. The 1st is very strong composition as the 1st image above indicates. Strong triangular arrangements and leeding lines move our gaze around this image deliberately.

The 2nd strand is in capturing just the right moment. Like Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau was a master in knowing exactly when to press the trigger. The classroom scene above demonstrates this perfectly with a whole range of expressions caught all the boys' faces, particularly the boy in the foreground. In image 3 the photo is made by the almost startled expression of the passerby.

And the same is true of the kissing couple below. The strength of this image is not just the couple in the centre of the frame but the sense of how they are oblivious to life going on around them.


Harry Borden

American photographer (1965)

Harry Borden

A selection of images featuring Martin Freeman.


– All of the above studio based although Borden also shoot on location
– These are an interesting combination of images with and without props. Props, such as the cat, seem to give Freeman freedom to move. However Freeman always seems to need to play up for the camera.

The image below is from Borden's series on the Holocaust. What's special to me here is the vast area of blank space on the wall above the subject's head combined with the dust sheets over the sofa. It's as if the subject, Holocaust survivor Ruth Barnett, has decided to leave the physical presence of the world behind for an ephemeral void. She has a dreamy gaze but we know from her experience in the Holocaust that these were not good dreams. She's lost in thought, lost somewhere between her body at the window to her right. Somehow it's only the figurine on the windowsill that holds her spirit in the room. The figurine has something of a sardonic expression on its face which says as much to us as Barnett herself.

Her quote reads “our planet is as beautiful as the Garden of Eden, so why do we make weapons and slaughter each other instead of enjoying it?"


Henri Cartier-Bresson

French photographer (1908 - 2004)
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"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression." - Henri Cartier-Bresson.

I'm sure this is an often quoted sentiment from Cartier Bresson however it neatly sums up the requirements and skill needed by a street/social photographer. Take the 1st image above is example. Would it have worked quite so well had the struggling faces not been so legible? Probably not. Yet it is an image where there is little “obvious" composition. There is no depth, there is no careful framing.The faces and bodies are merged together And perhaps that's the entire point of the image–to show the people en masse rather than as individuals.

Yet composition and framing is paramount to the 2nd image where children are at play in the back streets of Seville. There's debris and dereliction all around, yet had this image been shot out in the open rather than through a broken wall we'd not have perceived quite the same sense of all encompassing damage and devastation as we do.

Image 3,
Henri Cartier-Bresson's street scene (Hyeres, France, 1932) shows his masterful composition in action. The stairs lead our eyes downward to the street just in time to see the cyclist go by.

And in image 4, (
Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico City) we see a wonderful sense of balance and symmetry matched equally with comparison and contrast (my notes superimposed below).


John Gay

British documentary photographer (1909 - 1999), born Hans Göhler in Germany
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After attending college in Germany, John Gay moved to the UK in 1933 where he pursued his passion to social documentary photography. What I particularly like about the images above is how much information is conveyed by photographing people from behind. I've always been fairly disappointed with images I've shot showing people's backs but its gaze sense of location and context would really bring these pictures to life.

The 1949 image of the family paddling in the sea is clearly taken in Blackpool: the tower sets the scene. However it's the family itself which provides interest. Of course our ability to look back into history and compare hairstyles, dress codes with today's modern equivalents is always fascinating to do but it is the interaction of the family itself which I find enjoyable. The body language, the posture of the fact they are in such shallow water tells us so much–yet we don't see their faces.

The same is equally true with the lady and policeman. This appears to be a village fair of some sort, yet again the background is only relevant as a visual clue. The real interest comes in the form of the policeman and his posture. What is he saying, what is the conversation about? It's impossible to know and yet the image is all the more enjoyable for that.

In the mail room we clearly understand what is happening and although we don't see the face of the boy we understand what he's doing. Here in essence is a man (boy) at work. It is the environment, the ingredients and the product of his work which is so interesting here.

Jane Brown

Jane Brown CBE, British portrait photographer (1925 - )
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Cilla Black, David Hockney, John Lennon
- Posed portraits showing little more than the heads and faces of her subjects.
– Natural light.
- Non-descript background–usually plain or black. This puts the emphasis on the subject and his or her face.
– Natural light cast strongly across the subjects face. No artificial lighting.
– The image of Cilla is unusual. Her pose is all angles and joints.
– Brown's images are all about the subjects look or glance at the camera it's this and this item alone which makes the photo. Consider the image of Hockney and Lennon above. Their personalities and characters are perfectly captured. No external clues or context is required.

Willy Ronis

French post-war photographer (1910 - 2009)
“I have never separated form and content. The photo should have a meaning. But my photos are also more or less well constructed. If they had false notes, they stayed on the contact sheet.” - Willy Ronis

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I picked out 2 images from the vast array I could find on Google which support this photographer's quote. In the 1st image, Belleville (1959), we're somehow drawn to the boys playing beneath the stairwell. Somehow they gain exposes the soft underbelly of this French street scene. The clutter and complication of the scene above ground–with its multidirectional staircases, railings, lamps, cars and buildings give way to a simple naiveté below. Here form and content combine beautifully.

In Nuit au Chalet (1935), Ronis has again worked form hand-in-hand with content. There is a pleasing graphic horizontal symmetry between the clutter on the table in the upper half of the image of the person in the lower portion. The top half is well lit, the bottom half deep in shadow. Yet the symmetry does not just extend to the physical content of the image. We have the impression in the upper section of a busy time or event which is counterpointed by the relaxed, contemplative tranquillity below.

Steve McCurry

American photojournalist (1950- )
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Although “Afghan girl" is perhaps Steve McCurry's most famous image, I selected the 3 above from my research into his work as I really like the rhythm, composition and framing. His backgrounds are often so full of context and local colour. McCurry clearly gets to some unusual places and has access to all sorts of interesting people so I wondered whether his work was produced as a result of the places he visits or something else. I found an interesting video (accessed on 17 September 2012) on the web link which follows. It's a short explanation by McCurry himself on how he tackles Street photography: essentially he takes his time to blend in and notice what is happening around him.

I enjoy McCurry's use of colour in his images and also note how many of his compositions could easily be cropped depending on the requirements of specific publications. For example, the image of Monks above could be cropped square or portrait if necessary without changing the message or sentiment. The same is also true of the other images.

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Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand American street/social photographer (1928-1984)
“I could say that I’m a student of photography, and I am, but really I’m a student of America.”

These are two of my favourite images by Winogrand. In the first, I like the way so many people with so many 'purposes' are crammed into one place. This image was taken at the Centennial Ball in New York (1969). There are clearly plenty of people here - but no one person is connected to or relates to any other. They are all in isolation of one another. Witness the dancing girl; her presence, posture and mood it totally disconnected from the men around here. Likewise the men are each disconnected from one another.

In the second image I like how this image initially appears to be about joy or laughter. On second glance though there could be far darker emotions taking place. Fury? Hunger? She looks like she's about to take a bite out of the man's neck! This fragmented moment has caused this woman to appear very scary...

Alexander Rodchenko

Russian artist, sculptor, photographer and graphic designer (1891-1956)

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Rodchenko often shot his subjects from odd angles - particularly low ones. In some cases the extreme angle adds an abstract feel to the image. My 'Stamp' picture in Assignment 2 is reminiscent of this style…

There's a great biography of his life and work at which I accessed on 12 Sep 2012.