Informing contexts - Week one task

Inherent characteristics and contexts of the ‘photographic’ nature of your own practice. My studio photography practice of playing with portraiture in a more historical but conceptual manner. My images were always based on a nostalgic viewpoint but blinkered, purely what parents might want to see on their wall or facebook page. I started wanting to expand on my knowledge of light from the gold age and dutch masters like Rembrandt, but something this MA has enabled me to do by contextualisation and seeing where I am in the market place but also with seeing other work is that I am slowly becoming stronger in direction and intent. Critical viewing albeit new to me is helping me to stand back and look at what I have done in the past and where I want to travel to and who has been there before me. It has also made me appreciate what I do.

I was lacking in self-belief when I started the MA but evaluating what I do has made me see that actually I can take a darn good photo but also to see the negatives and where it needed to improve, like for example adding story. That action in itself has seen me open to explore photography and works as a body of work, it is okay to change it up. I was pretty focused on branding before and so most of my images said Gail Timms. It's refreshing to be able to experiment. My website is my CRJ is

Szarkowski names five things and feels that photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one's cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography, the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite.

To quote out of context is the essence of the photographer's craft. His central problem is a simple one: what shall he include, what shall he reject? The line of decision between in and out is the picture's edge. While the draughtsman starts with the middle of the street, the photographer starts with the frame. The photograph's edge defines content. It isolates unexpected juxtapositions. By surrounding two facts, it creates a relationship. The edge of the photograph dissects familiar fonns, and shows the unfamiliar fragment. It creates shapes that surround objects. The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the world through an imaginary frame. This frame is the beginning of this picture's geometry. It is to the photograph as the cushion is to the billiard table. Within my own work, unless I use outside space or composite outside then the idea of the image having an outside the image role won't really exist unless I show pull back images. But when I take the photograph I almost see a frame in my head. I am very aware of ‘things’ being inside the frame or look at where things sit inside the frame that I never actually personally wonder what is outside the frame.


What the photographer taking the picture and the historian viewing it must understand is that while the camera deals with recording factual things and events that form the subject of the photograph, it only produces a perceived reality that is remembered after the thing or event has passed. While people believe that photographs do not lie, this is an illusion caused by the mistaken belief that the subject and the picture of the subject is the same thing. Because we see reality in different ways, we must understand that we are looking at different truths rather than the truth and that, therefore, all photographs lie in one way or another. Today's technological advances in the digital manipulation of images that the public sees regularly in photographs and films now only make it easier to understand what has always been true.

Although with the advances in post-production the ability to alter vision is very easy. And although it has been consistently done since around 1860 if you look at the Lincoln image, the images today that are composites are even harder to tell real untouched for composite.

Composite by Mathew Brady


If the scene selected by the photographer shows too much, he has only to isolate those facts (to lie?) that will best support the truth. The camera's lens records the trivial with such clarity that the interpreter of the scene must carefully select the clues which, because they make things real, act as important symbols more than as storytellers. If a photographer cannot easily record a concept such as the "social class" or "economic condition" of a family or community or region, he can record a partial view that will allow viewers to select details that will help illustrate the truths or lies he is intending to convey. Does the photographic image contain symbols that mean "poverty or plenty," "lower or middle class," "squalor or comfort?" Photographs of domestic interiors can, with careful reading, include as much useful data to answer those kinds of questions as written academic descriptions or official reports and can also generate an emotional or intellectual response. What other details did the photographer capture, on purpose or by accident, that will help the historian identify the subject or decipher the circumstances under which it was recorded? Does a careful examination, perhaps with a magnifying glass, reveal names on street signs or store windows, advertisements on billboards or posters, fashions from clothing or hairstyles, dates from auto license plates or calendars, or other pieces of evidence that help make this image part of a story as well as a picture? But then the need for text outside the image may well need to tell the viewer that there is more to see with magnification or they would never know. With my own images, I plan from the look of the model to the costume, making my own backdrop and textures and more and more looking at what info is in the image to create a story. I use mostly children in my images, no other reason than I enjoy it.


The photographer selects rather than conceives a picture by choosing what will be inside and outside the four edges of the frame in his camera's viewfinder. Those edges take things out of context and define the content of the subject. The image of a politician speaking to potential supporters could be perceived quite differently if the photographer took a tightly composed close-up view showing only an attentive crowd and the speaker or if he framed a larger view from the back of a large meeting hall that showed the same small group along with a sea of mostly empty chairs at a sparsely attended event. In this case what was left out of the frame was as important as what was included within its borders.


Unlike other kinds of visual records, the photograph is always made in the present time. The slice of time that the photographer preserves instantly transforms the present into the past. Another photograph taken a moment later is of a slightly different subject and is a different photograph. The camera, however, can serve as a time machine in a way that no other instrument of communication can, making it a valuable ally of the historian. Throughout photography's history, as the technology improved, the length of time necessary to trip a shutter or expose the film continued to shorten so that the blurs and shakes evident in the beginning gradually were decreased. Nevertheless, the process is still not instantaneous, and all photographs are, in a sense, time exposures. The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson tried to indicate the importance of choosing the visually correct instant to make an exposure by referring to it as the "decisive moment." Is the picture of a steeple falling from a burning church the same as the picture of the burnt remains? Viewers should also ask themselves how an image would be historically different if it had been taken earlier or later. How differently would a photograph of street life look were it taken at first light before the morning rush hour or on the same street at mid-afternoon? How different the same scene in January or July or from decade to decade? When time is stopped it creates a slice of time, a picture rather than a whole story. That would be more relevant to documentary images, as the more posed portraits I do don’t really have a moment in time, they have more a correct pose or glance I am looking for.


When the photographer is out of his studio and cannot move his subject, he must move his camera. His vantage point for seeing his subject can be from above or below, from in front or in the back, and from any of the other angles we are now used to seeing, thanks to the creativity of photographers. Often the point of view calls attention to subjects or details that we might not have thought important otherwise. The foreshortening caused by the use of a telephoto lens, for example, can make a viewer aware of the seeming density of some urban architecture or traffic on a city street by making things look closer together than they appear with a wider lens or with the human eye.

Vantage points are very important in my portraits although due to the small studio space I am limited inside to full front, left or right a little or asking the model to back to me. In a landscape or street, you have much more scope to get the advantage point right.

I do agree with his five points and it helps me even further with looking at my own work and how I plan my images as well as if I can do anything else to expand on angles or even assist with different lenses used.

John Szarkowski - from The Photographer's Eye by John Szarkowski, former director of the photography division of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

John Szarkowski, On Photography by Susan Sontag, ISBN: 0385267061, Page: 192

Lincoln -

#informingcontexts #szarkowski

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