Category Archives: Part 5 – Removing the figure

Exercise 5.3

While we have been on lockdown there have only been a very limited number of walks I have been able to take. I have walked around my house. Lately I have walked down town to do some shopping. I have gone on some walks around our local park. The journey I have done most frequently and taken most pleasure in has been to walk to the end of our street, cross the road, and walk along the path though the fields. It makes a circle of about 2 miles. I have walked this on sunny days and under heavy, threatening clouds. From early spring to mid summer. I often carry a camera or my phone. I take random pictures but have not previously been organised about this.

I decided that I would try an experiment. I took my Instax Square and allowed myself 10 prints. A whole cartridge. I admit that I did take rather more images as it needed some experimenting. Previously I have only used the Instax for images of people and the lens is wide angle, very suitable for close ups of people – but you get rather more than expected on a distance shot. There is no focus control or choice of f-stop or shutter speed. Point, shoot and hope.

The idea came from the images of Paul Gaffney in Perigee  (Gaffney, 2017) who first went walking with his Polaroid to explore the area before going back under moonlight – but ended up using them as part of the project. I have also recently looked at the work of Laura Letinsky who also used a Polaroid camera for planning images, and then, when they were old and distorted (and somehow strangely beautiful) published them in Time’s Assignation and Other Polaroids (Letinsky and Herschdorfer, 2017).

 The Instax allows for either automatic printing, just as taken, and on the spot, which could work out very expensive, or for manual printing at a later date. If you chose manual printing you have the choice of several filters, one of which is monochrome. I decided to print a set of 10 monochrome images that took me on a walk around the circle, starting with the signpost and ending up with the telegraph post at the end of the path. En route I saw sky and clouds, barley and wheat, thistles (very Scottish) and Rosebay Willowherb, paths and trees. It was difficult to reduce the selection to 10.

For showing on here I am scanning the original prints. I could take the images from the SD card and put to  Lightroom and use from there but I would be tempted to fiddle, and it would loose the effect of the white surround that mimics the old Polaroids, which I like and wanted for this series. The scanned images show the idea of the series but they are not as crisp and do not have the sheer tactile pleasure of looking at the images in the original prints. It is interesting using only the 10 images that you get from one cassette, making the choice and no going back.


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I have just attended a zoom ‘Write where you are’ and used this path as a subject. This is what I wrote:

The path is at the end of my street. In winter it is bleak. The trees are bare, the fields are empty. The sky is heavy, but you can see for miles. Spring comes late here. Yellow flowers along the edges. The earth breaks into shoots. What has the farmer planted this year? Summer changes again. The path is surrounded by tall grasses, by cow parsley and rosebay willowherb. The colour has changed to white and pink. The fields grow barley and wheat. Barley for whisky, wheat for bread. The two essentials.  Last year it was oilseed rape, heavy yellow smells. Soon autumn comes. The fields will turn green to gold. The cycle turns. Sometimes there are poppies but not this year. I will walk again tomorrow and look for the deer, listen to the birds. Be free.

The words tell the other half of the story about theplace.


Gaffney, P. (2017) Perigee. Ireland: Self-published.

Letinsky, L. and Herschdorfer, N. (2017) Time’s assignation. Santa Fe: Radius Books.

Reflection point – Journeys

Ihave been asked to reflect on what I would do if I had a chance (and the money and time) to do a journey on the scale discussed in Journeys – 1  and Journeys – 2.

The first question is where?

Then how?

Then (and most important) why?

When I am thinking about where I dither between exploring somewhere I already know and going somewhere completely new. I love travelling. I would like to travel to China or Japan. However, I am not sure I know enough about either culture to do more than a very superficial gloss over the possible images and the places. I would need a lot of time, and the opportunity to go back repeatedly.

I have had a long-standing interest in the fortifications that surround Scotland’s coast. I took images of some of them for TAOP. They range from early prehistoric ruins, though the middle age castles to the buildings that were put up to protect our coast from invasion in the 1st and 2nd world wars.  I would like to travel around the coast in a more coherent way and map these against the history.

The 3rd possibility is more personal. I would like to explore the journeys my mother took over her life, a modern take on what she might have seen. Starting in Germany to USA – Germany – England – Scotland.

The how depends on the where. The Scottish coast is relatively simple. A camper van would do it. And a lot of maps and research.  If I went to Japan, I would consider doing one of the pilgrimages around the temples. There are many possibilities. This would be on foot. To minimise the intrusion on the place and feelings the photography needs to be simple. One camera. One lens. One shot at each place.  Slow photography. Slow and concentrated. Similar to the walking journey undertaken by Paul Gaffney. My mother’s footsteps would be a major undertaking. Planes, trains and automobiles.

Why? Again, this depends on the where. Following my mother’s footsteps is very personal. She moved a lot. She followed her family. I cannot think of a single place she lived that she chose for her own wishes. This journey would be another attempt to understand her in death as I rarely did in life.

Japan would be personal for me. Something to use as a growing point. The Scottish coast is about the history of a place. This has been looked at many times. Could I add anything? Possibly not – but still worth considering.

Journeys – 2

In the mid-20th Century the mindset appears to have changed. There are still many photographers who travel and take the sort of images described in Journeys – 1.  But there are a group who travel for different reasons. Some travel just to look (and take photographs along the way). Some travel to tell stories about the places, not just the famous places and the rich people but the ordinary places, the ordinary lives, the little things.

Many of the American photographers have been motivated by a road trip. It became easier with the advent of cars and lighter weight equipment available from the early to mid-20th century. The start of this was probably the travelling done with the FSA by Lange and Evans among others. Evans turned his work into the show at MoMA and then the accompanying book American Photographs. (Evans, 2012) He then accompanied Robert Frank on his American trip to make the photo-book The Americans. This was first published in 1959. Jim Casper said, ‘This is the photo book that redefined what a photo book could be – personal, poetic, real’ and quoted Kerouac (who wrote the introduction) as saying ‘Robert Frank… he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film’ (Casper, s.d.). Unfortunately, this is a book I have not seen in its entirety. The images I have seen are stunning. I particularly enjoy looking at Funeral – St Helena, South Carolina, 1955 which shows a group of black Americans standing by the cars. Are they participants? Or chauffeurs?

© Estate of Robert Frank

All the photographers mentioned so far worked in black and white. Stephen Shore chose to move into colour for his book Uncommon Places (Shore, 2014). In many ways it is similar to the work of William Eggleston. Shore also shows small, inconsequential places, untidy crossroads, cars and diners which add up to an image of America in the 70’s. The images that I have seen are objective. The light is clear. A single image is interesting but unclear as to purpose. Looking at a string of them, they build up to tell the story of a particular place – America and a particular time – 1970’s.

3 shore
© Stephen Shore

More recently Alec Soth has travelled the Mississippi and shows the people and places in the early 21st Century. He also utilises the ordinary things of life. Many of his images are vividly coloured. I find the one Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross, Wickliffe, KY, 2002 particularly amusing. It shows four workmen standing around by a decrepit car. One carries a chainsaw. Are they tidying up the surroundings? Or planning to cut the cross down? In today’s climate the latter is entirely possible. Another Bonnie, Port Gibson, MS, 2000 shows a proud lady, seated, showing off her picture of sky and trees in an elaborate gold frame. The type of frame I associate with a museum piece, possibly a portrait in jewel colours.

© Alec Soth

It is not only the Americans who have chosen to use the metaphor of a journey to tell about a place. There are (at least) three books on the rivers in China.

Yan Wang Preston’s Mother River (Preston, 2018) tells the story of a journey along the Yangtze, from source to mouth about 6300 kilometres. She identified points every 100 kilometres along its length and went as nearly as possible to each of these points to photograph whatever she found. She made no attempt to take images at any famous way points unless they happened to fall on one of her predetermined markers. The series traces the social and geographic changes along the river. At one point she was bitten by a dog, at another refused access as (illegal) gold mining was taking place. As part of the project she did a series of performances though which she thought about the locality and the myth of a mother river. For example, she made a hand-drawn red circle, she carved stones and swam in the river. The images themselves vary from stunning landscapes, bleak and desolate, to snatches of dust laden roads. Where she could not reach the spot, she has included a blank page in the book. Sometimes she shows the people, playing pool, lounging in boats. She makes no attempt to prettify the scenes. It is what it is. You travel from the mountains, though plains and cities to the sea.

Y25-1 preston
Y25 – © Yan Wang Preston

The Yellow River has recently been photographed by Zhang Kechun, where he shows a series of images that contrast the massive countryside with (usually) tiny people. In his description of the series he says ‘Mountains and rivers are very significant for the Chinese people. In this country there is a cultural awareness that says mountains are “virtuous” and rivers are “moral” …..I decided to take a walk along the Yellow River in order to find the root of my soul (Kechun, s.d.).

zhang kechun
© Zhang Kechun

The Yangtze has also been photographed by Nadav Kandar who also chose to show humans as small against the vast surroundings. He is aware of the speed of change occurring in China, the beginning of a new era, the ‘smallness of the individual’ (Kandar, s.d.). He, like Kechun and Preston, has taken images of places that have been since changed beyond recognition by construction work.

© Navad Kandar

These three works on China are talking about travelling, about change, about finding yourself against the backdrop of a vast land. They are almost the opposite of the American series discussed above. The immense versus the small, the country versus the individual. The impersonal versus the personal. Preston comes nearest to linking them with her images of the people she finds on the way, the bedrooms and eating places.

There are as many ways of photographing journeys as there are photographers who are willing to undertake them. These are a small snapshot, and mainly of   the epic journeys. The ones that take years, and multiple visits. Small and private journeys can be equally revealing of the place, the people, and the photographer. In Echo Mask (Levitt, 2019) Jonathan Levitt shows images, mostly black and white with a few colour, interspersed with blocks of text that read as prose poems. They were taken in the Maritime Northeast of Maine and Newfoundland.  Many of the images are blurry. They evoke a mood. A memory.  They tell a different type of story, but it is also a journey, this time in the mind.

563_img_3439 jonathan
© Jonathan Levitt

The work of Paul Gaffney in We Make the Path By Walking is also a slow meditation on time and space. He talks about the experience of moving slowly though the countryside, being in a ‘continuous dialogue’ with it.  His latest work Perigee was made at night, under moonlight having previously documented his travels by Polaroid. In an interview for ASX Gaffney talks about the difference between the western approach to landscape as a linear perspective rather than the Eastern approach of trying to get across the essence of the place (Shinkle, 2016).  His images are superficially simple. But the longer you look the more you see. This is something I would want to be able to do.

Paul Gaffney -Perigee – Polaroids – © Paul Gaffney


Casper, J. (s.d.) The Americans – Photographs by Robert Frank. At: (Accessed 22/07/2020).

Evans, W. (2012) American photographs. (75th-anniversary ed ed.) New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art.

Kandar, N. (s.d.) Yangtze: The Long River. At: (Accessed 24/07/2020).

Kechun, Z. K. | (s.d.) The Yellow River. At: (Accessed 24/07/2020).

Levitt, J. (2019) Echo mask. Turkey: Charcoal Press.

Preston, Y. W. (2018) Mother River. Ostfildern: Hatje/Cantz.

Shinkle, E. (2016) An Interview with Paul Gaffney. At: (Accessed  25/07/2020).

Shore, S. (2014) Uncommon places: the complete works. (2nd revised edition) (s.l.): Thames and Hudson.






Journeys – 1

Victorian and early 20th Century travels.

Journeys and travelling have been associated with photography from its very early days, well before Jack Kerouac’s work On the Road was conceived. In the Victorian era it was common to take a Grand Tour, and not unusual for the tour to be accompanied by a photographer.

One of the most famous of the tours was that of Queen Victoria’s son, the future King Edward VII. He took a major journey around the Middle East and was a accompanied by the photographer Francis Bedford (1815-1984). A book of images from this tour has recently been published Cairo to Constantinople (Gordon et al., 2013) which shows many of the images accompanied by a travelogue and short excerpts from the Prince of Wales diary. One typical example shows the mosque Hagia Sophia alongside the comment, [the Prince thought Hagia Sophia] ‘the finestI have seen in the East. It was formerly a Xtian church’ (p.199). It is interspersed with maps showing the journey and gives a real feel for how the wealthy English found the Middle East in that era. Some of the pictures include people, although, unless famous they are rarely the focus of the image and may well have been included simply to show the massive scale of the monuments. On return to England the pictures were made into a portfolio produced by Day & Son and were also published more widely. This was definitely a commercial venture by Bedford, given extra kudos by the presence of the Prince.

Mosque of St Sophia - from the Hippodrome [Hagia Sophia, Constan
Mosque of St Sophia – from the Hippodrome [Hagia Sophia, Constantinople – Francis Bedford

John Burke (1843 – 1900) traveled widely in Afghanistan where he took many images of the British forces during one of their earlier invasions of that land. Burke took pictures of the landscape, (devastated by war), some rather beautiful images of the countryside and portraits, both of the English soldiers and the local people. In From Kashmir to Kabul (Khan, 2002)  Khan shows many of the images but also points out the the attribution of many of the images is unclear as another photographer, William Baker, was his partner and they published (and sold) images jointly as Baker & Burke. The images have recently seen recreated in spirit by Simon Norfolk in Burke and Norfolk  (Burke and Norfolk, 2011) where he returned to Afghanistan in 2010 in a plan to respond to Burke’s Images. There is a fascinating interview between Norfolk and Paul Lowe which explains his aims in detail (Lowe, and Norfolk, s.d.).

John Burke
Group of the Amir Shere Ali Khan, Prince Abdoollah Jan and Sirdars

Francis Frith (1822-1895) also travelled widely abroad across the Middle East but his main focus was Great Britain. His plan was to take accurate records of as many of the towns in Great Britain as possible, and then sell them to people looking for souvenirs. Although he took many images himself, he also employed a team of people to both take some of the images and to sell them. His work was continued after his death by his family and has now been formed into the Francis Frith Archive (Francis Frith: Old Photos, Maps, Books and Gifts, s.d.).

Bridges in Newcastle – Francic Frith

More locally to me, Erskine Beveridge (1851-1920) who was an industrialist and an amateur photographer/historian travelled widely in Scotland, documenting the building as and the people. It is surprising how little many of the places have changed over 100 years. He succeeded in his wanderings of building up a record of the places and both the important historical and domestic architecture. See Wanderings with A Camera in Scotland (Beveridge and Ferguson, 2009) for a record of his images.

Crail Harbour, Fife – Erskine Beveridge

Although all these early photographers travelled widely and took many photographs, it seems likely that for many of them this was their business. It is difficult to know now how much they were inspired by the love of exploring rather than the needs of the business. One exception to this may have been John Thomson (1837 – 1921) who travelled in China and was fascinated by the place and the culture, taking images of both scenery and the people.

John Thomson
John Thomson

Travel in this period was difficult, expensive and the cameras were all large, heavy, and cumbersome. They all initially used wet collodion plates, which needed to be developed immediately, and even when that technology moved on, glass plates were fragile, and many were broken in transit. In reality, it is surprising that we have as wide an archive of the early photographers travels as we do.

Unlike later photographers these images are about the specific place. They are rarely loaded with emotion. They tell a story, but it is limited. It says, “I went there”, “I did that”, “I met those people (usually the well-off)”. They showed the strange and different, the things that would excite the people who had never travelled. The images that would sell. And the images that would make their names by being included in important research publications such as those of The Royal Geographical Society.  The Victorians and early 20th century population had just started to travel en masse. It was no longer kept to the very rich. They wanted to see where they might go. They wanted souvenirs. They liked the picturesque. Catering to this need was the reason many of these images were made. Nowadays, they are historically interesting. The changes over time are important to see. Sometimes, like the `Burke images of war in Afghanistan they give a frightening view of how things have not changed. But they come from a different mindset and type of photography than the journeys that are taken now.


Beveridge, E. and Ferguson, L. M. (2009) Wanderings with a camera in Scotland: the photography of Erskine Beveridge. Edinburgh: RCAHMS.

Burke, J. and Norfolk, S. (2011) Burke + Norfolk: photographs from the war in Afghanistan by John Burke and Simon Norfolk. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publ.

Francis Frith: Old Photos, Maps, Books and Gifts (s.d.) At: (Accessed 22/07/2020).

Gordon, S. et al. (2013) Cairo to Constantinople: Francis Bedford’s photographs of the Middle East. London: Royal Collection Trust.

Khan, O. (2002) From Kashmir to Kabul: the photographs of John Burke and William Baker 1860-1900. Munich: Prestel.

Lowe, P. and Norfolk, S. (s.d.) Burke + Norfolk – In conversation. At: (Accessed 22/07/2020).



Exercise 5.2

Brief: to read Georges Perec’s book ‘An Attempt at exhausting a place in Paris’ (Perec and Lowenthal, 2010). To repeat his exercise and think about the results.

 I chose to sit on my balcony and look out over the street. It is a quiet backstreet in a residential area, so I was not expecting much activity. I was surprised.

An attempt at exhausting the view from my balcony.

DATE:  21 July 2020

TIME: 11:50 am.



The environment is cool with a slight breeze, noisy with seagulls and the chattering of sparrows. A seagull flew past me

Someone just walked up the street carrying a backpack and entered number 20 (the house with a bright Irish green door). Another man with a blue shirt walked down the street from right to left.

In front of me there is the balcony with  broken tarmac, the balcony railing, ornate white and heavily rusted, the top of tree in the front garden, an Acer just starting to turn colour,  the road with parked cars, front gardens of the terrace opposite, the terraces houses and  the sky, bright blue with clouds.

12:00: Heard voices and conversation from next door. A female walked along the street, probably connected.

21 cars are visible; 2 white 4 red, 2 light blue, 3 grey and the rest black. A white Belfield van drove past the end of the street.

It’s getting warmer I might have to take my jumper off

The hydrangeas next door are out, a deep pink, the orange hanging basket opposite is beautiful, there are pink flowers in pots on the fence shielding the dustbins at number 16 with the grey door.

A white van (unmarked) drove up the street.

Next door has a football in the garden and a mat, a bracelet, a penny and a BIC pen on the adjoining balcony.

I cannot see any TV discs and only two aerials, so I suppose most people have gone digital.

12:10:   A boy with a blue hoodie and a black dog on a lead walked down the street from right to left, probably heading for the park

The seagulls have settled down. The sound always reminds me of childhood.

Sparrows are chirping. A pigeon (or dove as I cannot see it) is cooing. Blackbirds are singing rustily. Somebody started up either a hedge trimmer or a mower, very noisy but not disturbing the birds.

A pigeon just flew over. Now a blackbird. Now a sparrow.

A woman in a white top spotted with blue walked left to right carrying a bag of what seemed to be rolls.

All the chimney pots vary. You could do a study of that alone.

Hearing a car, but distant, the hedge trimmer has stopped.

There is a seagull perched on one of the chimneys opposite but it’s quiet.

I need to learn more about birdcalls, there are two I can hear but not see. I can hear geese flying over but not see them.

12:20: Next door’s two children came home. Waved at me. Carrying bags but no idea what was in them.

A black car, a saloon, drove up the street.

The sun temporarily obscured by the clouds has come out again.

A dark red hatchback drove down the street. Now a UPS van has arrived with the parcel for number 7, the van is diesel and very noisy. The spaniel started barking. It’s a 13 number plate so shouldn’t be so noisy.

Three people walking down the street on the opposite side of the road, 2 males one female, in probably their 70s, they have been walking, wearing backpacks, and carrying walking poles. They said they had come from the Dean plantation and are on the way home.

12:30: The sun is gone in again.

A dark grey estate car drove right to left. More pigeons are flying over.  The keys on my door are swaying with the breeze.

There would be different ways of explaining this visually: the layers you see in space or the layers you see in time.

A young man with a ponytail and black tee shirt ran right to left at the street.

The sounds are important and the breeze, now slightly chilly on your face.

A dark blue De Rose van drove down the street followed by a small white nondescript van then a small silver hatchback. The street is busy all of a sudden.

12:40: Quiet again except for the birds.

Two men in about the late 60s or early 70s separately walking dogs went down the street. One with a white Westie, one with some form of a spaniel. Neither appeared to be looking at anything except the ground.

The sun is out again.

The geese have flown over again, but it is against the sun so I cannot identify the type, probably Canada Geese.

The seagull has flown away from the chimney pot, I did not see him leave.


Reflections on the exercise:

  • I read the Perec book almost in one sitting. It is short. The translation is fluent. It becomes a meditative exercise. There is a combination of direct observations and the thoughts that the observations have produced. A prose poem.
  • I was surprised at how much I saw in one hour. I was also surprised how enjoyable it was.
  • This exercise could easily be transformed into a photography project. In fact, the possibilities ran though my head while sitting there and I have done so (see below).
  • The problem with changing it into photography is you then miss many of the stimuli. The sounds of the birds and the cars, the people talking, the wind.
  • From where I was, above the street there was no problem with discretion, my camera phone would not have taken the images I wanted, so I used a zoom, wide-angle to telephoto lens to get all the subjects I wanted. I considered going downstairs and into the street to get the details, but it would not have reflected my experience of the hour spent. I could take a lot more images from the same place – but thought these gave the flavour of what I had seen
  • I considered changing the images to monochrome, which would echo much of the street photography done in the era the book was produced but felt much of the experience was enhanced by the colour. That was the way I saw things. I noted colour at several points, the cars, the clothing, the flowers. Black and white would give a totally different feel – not a bad feeling, but different.
  • The writing is important to the project. To me, the images and words go together. They play of each other. If I was making it into a book, I would intersperse the images between sections – but you could separate them. I would need to try both options and see what made most sense.



Perec, G. and Lowenthal, M. (2010) An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris. Cambridge, MA: New York: Wakefield Press.



Reflection Point for Project 2

The question is how often do you see people totally absorbed in their phone or other electronic device rather than looking at what is going on around them? They may be reading, texting, searching the internet, social messaging (in a zillion possible variants) or watching themselves though the phone and taking selfies in a place instead of experiencing it. In earlier work in IAP – Exercise 2.2 – Covert  – I looked at just that, taking images of people who were more interested in their phones than what was going on around them – this was in spite of the fact that they were on the streets in the Edinburgh festival, and there was a lot going on to see.

My family have been known to comment that I am attached to my camera and only see things through the lens. Is this different? I once spent a long (7 hour) train journey taking pictures though the window every 30 minutes and at every stop (they are not very good photos). This did make me focus on what was happening outside. My normal habit would to have been to get out a book and hide from the world.

When I sit and think about it, many, (most?) people are attached to their electronic devices. I have been trying to reduce the use of them. To spend an evening unattached. To leave my phone behind. To use paper and pens to make notes. It is very hard. To be fair, they have been a godsend during Covid and the inability to get outside. I have used them to have conversations, to build up friendships, to see things that I cannot otherwise get to.

The problem with electronic devices is that while you can read or listen to music you do miss out on input from the other senses. They cannot (yet) let you smell things. You do not feel the wind. You do not touch the rusted rail to check out the texture. They are also extremely focused. If you are reading a real book, you feel the pages, but you are also more aware of the environment around you. If you are listening to live music you feel it on your skin, it vibrates though you, you see other people’s reactions.

Life is becoming more digital – yes, there are some advantages. Two days ago, I was on a zoom with someone in Canada. Today I have been looking at an exhibition in London. Tomorrow – who knows where I might be. But – it is equally important to live in the real world; to smell the roses, feel the rain, see the whole picture, the glances out of the corners of your eyes – not just the view though a phone lens. Concentrate on one thing at a time – if you are walking in the park – look at the flowers not your texts. If you are having a coffee – smell the aroma (then maybe read your book).  Look at the world. Look a second time. Absorb it. Then maybe take your pictures.

Exercise 5.1

Brief: Produce a series of still life pictures that show traces of life without using people.

 I have responded to this brief in two different ways.

  1. The journey of an egg.
  2. The death of flowers

The journey of an egg was inspired by the random finding of an egg in my egg box that still had a feather attached. This set me to thinking about what happens to eggs and how they can be used. Eggs can either hatch, produce chickens and then more eggs (the circle of life) or, more frequently they are eaten. I make a lot of scrambled eggs so decided to make a series of images visualising this. I started to try to make a vernacular series using my camera phone but ran into some practical problems – it is difficult to cook and use a phone safely at the same time and I had limited space and could not get far enough away to get good images. So, I decided to make a more formal series with my camera set up on a tripod. I like the eventual effect but still feel that the subject matter might have fitted better with a snapshot ethos, possibly including some more distance shots of the kitchen as well.







The death of flowers is a very traditional series of still life inspired by both the Dutch masters and the works of Tom Brill, Penny Klepuszewka and Sam Taylor-Wood that I looked at in my research. I have been thinking about change and death a great deal recently. I have always been interested in the way flowers change as they die, some just drop their petals, some dry up and survive long-term, others develop mould. I felt that this series was best matched to a formal approach. The flowers were placed in a plain (old) glass vase against a black background. I took them with a slow exposure, I had considered flash, but did not want the shadows that flash would produce. Once taken I adjusted the effect in Photoshop to deepen the black. This had the secondary effect of increasing the apparent vibrancy of the colours. I am aware that this is an often-done series but found it interesting to do. I also tried making images against an antique screen, but this gave a rather confusing effect. I plan to extend the series by starting with some flowers in bud, then taking images using the same set up every day until they totally collapse or dry up and stop changing.






Learning points:

  • Different approaches are more suited to different subjects
  • Consider taking images around the main theme to extend the story
  • Think about being playful, what would be fun for the viewer to see?
  • Think about your setup – I had to redo all the flower images as creases in the cloth showed.
  • Still life takes time – ideally the flower series could be extended over several weeks.

Penny Klepuszewka

Living Arrangements 05 – © Penny Klepuszewka

in Living Arrangements has considered the changing social face of out time which leads to many elderly people living alone. She says in her artists statement ‘The home is often regarded as a place of shelter but for some in later life if can decode an island of isolation’ (Penny Klepuszewska, s.d.) . In this series she uses small details, barely visible against a black background to show what might be present in someone’s home. There is a folded blue rug, part of a cooker, remains of a meal on a tray, and, most poignant of all, folded hands on a lace cloth with a pair of glasses. The images are gentle but telling. They describe a visual isolation that is terrifying but unfortunately common. The black emphasises the isolation, the paucity of the images that the elderly are often invisible in our society.


Penny Klepuszewska (s.d.) At: (Accessed 17/07/2020).

Research point 2

Historically, still life was considered to the lowest ranked genre within art. Up to the 20th century art was often ranked according to its perceived cultural value. This ranking tended to follow the hierarchy developed by Andre Felibien (1619-1695). History (or mythological) paintings ranked highest, followed by portraiture (including self-portraits), genre (scenes showing everyday life), landscape, then still life. Still life was considered lowly because it was ‘devoid of human figures and more demonstrative of artistic skill than imagination and intellect’ (Huntsman, 2016). The images were often small and hung in private spaces rather than on grand public display. However, there have been multiple examples of famous still life paintings over the years ranging from the vanitas images of the early Dutch and Flemish artists to Frida Kahlo’s Viva la Vida, painted in the last year of her life. Still life continues to be a rich subject for exploration today.

In photography, still life images were some of the first explored, simply because they were still, and therefore relatively easy to portray with the long exposures needed. Talbot demonstrated images of vases in The Pencil of Nature and Anna Atkins cyanotypes showed a wide range of botanical specimens. More recently, Mapplethorpe, who is probably better known for his portraiture, produced a stunning series of still life photographs, mainly of flowers, but also of the traditional memento mori object of a skull.

© Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe

Still life can be used as a formal series without including other genres or mixed with portraits and landscapes to broaden the story. A recent example of this is the work by Øyvind Hjelmen (Hjelman, s.d.)who, in his recent work, Moments Reflected, shows an unexplained cone on a desk, and a lightbulb hanging from a ceiling amongst a series of hazy images of people and animals. He is (according to Laura Serani in his artists statement) telling about the past and the present, memories and dreams. Another example of this mixture of still life, portraits and landscapes is shown in Bed and Breakfast by Susan Lipper .

© øyvind hjelmen

Still life images can be made from ‘found objects’, used as they are, in their environment, such as in Making Do and Getting By by Richard Wentworth and Dingbats by Chris Wylie (Wiley, s.d.) where he takes images of close-up details seen on buildings and objects and shows them in a  formal setting against a vividly patterned frame. He says ‘ the works in this series are concerned, at least in part, with the concept of the ersatz – a descriptor of things that strive to be something other and better than they are, whose existence is defined by being like rather than simply being….Photography is like the real, but is not the real’ (Cotton, 2015).


Dingbat – © Chris Wiley

Other photographers choose to take the objects out of the environment and make elaborate ‘sculptures’ which they then photograph. Sarah Lynch with her carefully balanced objects, suspended with wire and thread and the Laura Letinsky images of left-over things and torn out, repurposed items show this. Another example is the work of Tim Brill (Brill, s.d.) whose Still Life series draws of 17th Century Dutch and Spanish masters. On his website he says, ‘The term Still Life is essentially oxymoronic and in this body of work I look to animate that stillness by removing the quotidian nature of the objects’. He uses fruit and vegetables set against a simple black background on a marginally visible dark surface. Sometimes the items are suspended, sometimes lying on shelves. The colours are intensely vibrant, almost unreal. In a further series Teddy Bear he uses a similar technique and places an old teddy bear with a variety of fruit, broken toys, a skull. He then adds a simple statement is a chalkboard style typeface such as ‘is it time?’ (with the very dilapidated teddy and the skull). He describes this series as exploring the loss of innocence. Tabea Mathern undertook a personal project to produce 52 still life images, one a week for a year. She shows them all on her website (Mathern, s.d.), they vary from collections of found objects to elaborate staged sculptures. All come with the date and an explanation, some long, some just a sentence.

Week 52
Number fifth-two. My last stilllife. A year is a bag full of weird, beautiful, scary, precious, dangerous, exhausting, empowering things, people, stories and encounters. I’m thankful for it. Happy 2015! © Tabea Mathern

It is clear from this very brief overview that still life images can be used to illustrate all parts of life, from childhood to extreme old age, from dreams to memories. A rapid Google search came up with 4,660,000,000 results and an almost equally massive number of images. Most (at a quick scan) seem to be the classic images of fruit, jugs, silverware and skulls. Many of the colours are luscious, the backgrounds often dark. If I am going to add anything of meaning to this array it needs to be personal, to represent something that I care about, and something that will add extra value to the topic. A big ask, but worth exploring.


Brill, T. (s.d.) TIM BRILL. At: (Accessed 16/07/2020).

Cotton, C. (ed.) (2015) Photography is magic. New York: Aperture.

Hjelman (s.d.) Oyvind Hjelmen. At: (Accessed 16/07/2020).

Huntsman, P. (2016) Thinking about art: A thematic guide to art history. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Mathern, T. (s.d.) STILLLIFESTORIES. At: (Accessed 16/07/2020).

Wiley, C. (s.d.) Chris Wiley – Dingbats. At: (Accessed 16/07/2020).



Susan Lipper

Susan Lipper is an American photographer. The majority of her work has involved travelling around America to record the events that can occur in the rural areas, playing on the trope of the documentary travel photography and the cross-country travelling that frequently occurs in American photography. Much of her work has centred around the small area of Grapevine Hollow in the Appalachians, where she initially took a series of images of the houses and the people between 1988 and 1992. The images are black and white, sparse and do not glamorise the area. She clearly had a good relationship with the people although I suspect outsiders are rarely welcome. She returned to Grapevine between 2006 and 2011 to make a further series Off Route 80 (Lipper, s.d.).  In contrast these images show the countryside, still in black and white. They remind me of the images by Robert Adams in An Old Forest Road (Adams, 2017). Few show any traces of life other than rough tracks. One shows a motorway (freeway) bridge – presumably the eponymous Route 80. Between the two series she tells the story of a place that is, to an extent, left behind. The cover image for the book Grapevine (Lipper, 1994) shows a deer, hung from a baseball hoop, with cars and a house in the background.  Another image shows a smiling girl with her Halloween pumpkin, yet another a snake on a bed. According to O’Hagan (O’Hagan, 2010), while her characters are real, the scenarios may often be staged. It tells about the poverty and the background of alcohol and violence that this both causes and contributes to.  There is a tension in the images, anything could happen. In the book Lipper also records some of the conversations she had with the people, a narrative to give depth to the story. When talking about the later images she describes then as ‘Nature viewed as lush and enveloping—almost biblical, a found Eden. However also lawless, scary and threatening.’ (Williams, 2009).

from Grapevine © Susan Lipper

Bed and Breakfast  (Lipper and Chandler, 2000) is a very different series, it is in colour, it is much gentler on the surface. The book was made as a commission by Photoworks in response to the George Garland Collection of photographs of rural England. The images seem old fashioned and out of place for the time (1998) and place (West Sussex). Some remind me of B & B’s I have stayed at, the folded towel, the kettle. Others are somewhat disturbing; the picture of the groping hands on the wall, sex scratched on the bathroom door, the terrifying landlady. This is a place I grew up in, a time I have lived though, but I find it surprisingly difficult to recognise.  As Chandler notes in his introduction to the book ‘Lipper’s account of West Sussex is a purely subjective one, it is her response to a particular formation of English country life. Others will inevitably see things differently’. I am one of those who remember it differently.

from Bed and Breakfast © Susan Lipper


Adams, R. (2017) An old forest road. Exhibition. Köln: Walter Konig.

Lipper, S. (1994) Grapevine. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

Lipper, S. (s.d.) Off Route 80. At: (Accessed 15/07/2020).

Lipper, S. and Chandler, D. (2000) Bed and breakfast. Maidstone: Photoworks.

O’Hagan, S. (2010) ‘Myth, Manners and Memory: Photographers of the American South | Photography review’ In: The Observer 02/10/2010 At: (Accessed 15/07/2020).

Williams, V. (2009) ‘Susan Lipper, Collisions of Experience’ In: Photoworks May 2009 (12) pp.56–57. At: (Accessed 15/07/2020).