Negotiating Access: Portrait of Someone You Know

Alongside our other task of photographing a stranger we also had to take a portrait of someone we knew. Although I had taken pictures of my family I wanted to challenge myself with this task. I was commissioned by a family friend to photograph her daughter’s christening. While I knew the family friend well and her daughter, I had not met her close and extended family. I wanted to capture the natural and happy moments of the day as well as provide her with more formal images of the godparents and close family members with her daughter. This was only the second time I have photographed a big event like this and having very little experience with directing and photographing these kind of events I felt very out of my comfort zone.

Although I was photographing someone I knew I was also surrounded by unfamiliar people and I had the added pressure of producing images which would mark an important time in her daughters life. During the ceremony I found it difficult to get the shots I wanted as the pews were full of her family and friends and I did not want to draw attention to myself and disturb the ceremony by trying to take a close up picture. I was using a wide aperture lens as I knew it would be low light in the church however this did not give me the zoom I needed and often my images turned out grainy.

In addition to this, during the part of the ceremony where they baptise the baby at the font I found it difficult to get a key shot. Although I was very close to the family and the font, children kept jumping in front of my camera and running around me. I did find this frustrating that I could not get the shots I intended due to this situation. However in the future I will try to improve on this and be more confident in telling people before the ceremony that I need to stand in a specific position to get the shots I need.

Overall this experience did challenge me greatly and I believe it will give me more confidence to photograph events and take more portraits in the future. The most challenging aspect of the day was working with a very large group of people I was unfamiliar with and trying to work with the ceremony as well as get the shots I needed.


Summer Task: Rework of Module

One of the tasks we got set to complete over the summer was to remake work from a module in year one. When deciding which pieces of work I wanted to improve what came to mind straight away was the black and white film project we had for the encountering culture module. This was my first university module and my first experience using black and white film 35mm cameras. I did not feel that the project as a whole was very strong and my research was not as throughout as it could be. However I wanted to focus more on pieces of work which I felt I wanted to improve from a more personal point of view and if I had more time would revisit the places.

I began to revisit my project titled ‘Semi-natural’ which was part of the Creative Digital Practice module (151MC) which can be found here. This was a project I felt I had connected with the most and was able to evoke the message I wanted. However I wanted to go back and revisit some of the locations I shot at and photograph the new shoots of heather coming through. The images in the book tell a narrative about the destruction that burning heather in the North York Moors has on the landscape and how this ‘natural’ environment, is heavily managed by humans.

I wanted to show what the Moors looked like when the heather is beginning to grow back again and show the contrast between the burnt areas. If I was to remake the book again and reorder the book I would put these images at the beginning of the book and slowly introduce the scenes of the managed areas. I want to juxtapose the images against each other and show the true scale of this process. In addition to this I also reshot some of the images of the burnt heather and the landscape surrounding the area in order to get a different perspective of the landscape.


One of the other aspects I wanted to improve on for this project was the overall length of the book and the detail in the foreword at the end of the book. In my feedback I was told that ‘The text is well written and indicates thorough research on the topic. Consider how developing this text to include qualified information may add even more rigor to the project. The image and text works of artists such as Allan Sekula and Taryn Simon may be useful to research.’


I began to research further into the statistics the effects burning the heather moor land has. I did not have access to the university library as I did last time and therefore I was unable to gather my information from books and essays. Instead I sourced my figures from the internet, although this provided me with recent information I was skeptical about it and had to decide whether or not it was bias and a reliable source.

Flying Dales fire and regeneration – In September 2003 a fire which burnt for 4 days led to 250ha of moorland being severely damaged. The area is part of Flying dales Moor, south of Whitby. A large amount of peat had been burnt away, along with the seed source and this meant that the natural regeneration process would not be effective. A large scale regeneration project was developed and many partners such as English Heritage and the North York Moors National park Authority helped. The main objectives of the project were

  1. Rapid re-vegetation of the burnt moorland to prevent further soil erosion
  2. Establish appropriate moorland vegetation, as close to the pre-burn vegetation as possible, using local seed sources where possible
  3. Survey and conserve archaeological features and prevent further damage
  4. Monitor to ensure that the above objectives are met

I found that this report from the North York Moors National Park team to be very thorough and it provided me with a break down of all of the attempts and the results of the regeneration.

Legal issues – Within the National Park 88%  of moorland habitat is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area for Conservation (SAC). In 2007 restrictions were put in place to prevent excessive and destructive burning which means that it cannot be:

• outside the burning season.
• on steep slopes, or on exposed rock or scree.
• fires covering an area >10ha; and
• fires that produce an area of bare soil >0.5ha, or an area of bare soil that extends >25m along a watercourse.

Artist Research

After finding a PDF version of Allan Sekula’s Fish Story 1989-95 I began to explore this body of work further and see how the commentary and text would help my own work. This project explored the historical, sociopolitical, aesthetic, and literary connections among port cities as New York, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Along with the photographs, Sekula included narrative commentaries of his experiences and also presented in depth research he had conducted throughout his time in the ports and ships.

In order for me to do this I feel that I would have to go back and visit the moors a further time and interview the people who work on the moors in order to get their points of view. Ideally I would like to spend time with them and get to know them so they are more comfortable talking to me and sharing their experiences. However during this time period I have been unable to achieve this due to work and limited funding. In order to do this I would need to contact the national parks team and many companies who work for them and in addition to this I would need to use professional recording equipment to interview them. Over the summer I did not have access to this equipment from the loan shop and when testing out using the internal microphone of my camera I found it picked up too much background noise. I feel that in order for me to start interviewing these people I would need this equipment. During the module I interviewed people and recorded them on my phone and then made a transcript of what they said, however I found this method was not very effective and it was very time consuming. I would like to have short extracts/quotes of what the people I interviewed said and I would of liked to make a short documentary style film to accompany my book. Yet in order to do this I would need a camera such as the Canon 5D and professional audio equipment to achieve my goal.

Exhibition Review: Audrey Hepburn – Portraits of an Icon

This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London celebrates the life of one of the worlds most photographed and iconic faces, Audrey Hepburn. Boasting more than 70 images which defined Hepburn’s career as well as rare prints from iconic photographers of the twentieth century, such as Irving Penn and Richard Averdon, it also shows personal images lent by her sons Sean Hepburn Ferrer and Luca Dotti. The exhibition pays homage to all aspects of Audrey Hepburn’s life from her acting career and iconic fashion shoots all the way through to her personal life away from the spotlight which is documented in the form of family albums.

When walking into the exhibition I was immediately confronted with how popular it was, the small and intimate space of the exhibition was packed with people even in a late afternoon viewing. To me this emphasised just how eager people of all ages were to see first hand the images and artefacts which symbolised Hepburn’s career. Decades after her death she is still seen as a timeless icon who is adored by so many.

Set out in chronological order, the exhibition introduces us to Audrey’s early years in the Netherlands and London. It begins with personal family photographs and artefacts from her ballet days such as shoes and a theatre program from her first performance in the London West End. These deeply personal images captured by family members and unknown photographer’s allowed the viewer to see a relatively undocumented side of Hepburn, so much so she was almost unrecognisable. Accompanying each image is a brief description of the image and the context behind it. The use of text within the exhibition was very effective yet not overpowering. It struck the balance just right in providing the viewer with just enough information to understand the image yet allowing them to interpret the image in their own way. Often at photographic exhibitions I find there is either too much text or too little and this is one of the reasons why this particular exhibition worked very well.

Following on from her younger years the exhibition then moved on to show her early fashion shoots and film stills from the pinnacle of her international stardom. These images make up the main part of the exhibition and when moving through the exhibition you get a feeling of progress and the fame Hepburn has achieved in only a short period of time. Fashion portraits by well known photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Norman Parkinson capture the hight of Hepburn’s fame from the 1950’s-1960’s. Yet images by Bob Willoughby, Mark Shaw and Irving Penn captured Hepburn in a more candid and relax manor. Their iconic photography changed the way people perceived Hepburn, yet her timeless style still shines through these images. Pictured in more casual clothes and not in glamorous hollywood dresses and costumes, Hepburn’s style still remains classic. This is one of the main themes I noticed while looking around the exhibition, it was also celebration of her style.

In addition to this, one thing which I found particularly interesting about these selection of images was how differently the photographers chose to compose, frame and treat their subject, meaning each image of Hepburn is unique in its own way. In turn this created a new persona for Hepburn. For example Irving Penn’s image taken in 1951 shows a new style of portraiture which at the time would of been considered daring and obscure. The image is tightly cropped and against a neutral makeshift background. This close up shot of Hepburn shows an intense character study by Penn and the happy expression on her face gives us a truthful portrayal of her character. Penn allows the subject’s nature to show through by accentuating an expression or pose; the neutrality of the background left Hepburn nowhere to hide. In Penn’s images he strips away all the fuss that photographing well known figures tends to elicit and what we are left with is only the simplistic and truthful portrait of the subject. The main focus is on her facial features and as a viewer we are not distracted by elaborate and designer dresses which she is often photographed in. Another photographers work within the exhibition that also focuses on Hepburns face rather than her as a whole is Richard Avedon.

Further into the exhibition images from behind the scenes of filming and stills of her films are shown. The images show Hepburn in yet another light and in some of her most iconic cinematic moments. One of the images which stood out the most for me was the image by Howell Conant which pictured Hepburn in her role as Holly Golightly in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. All of these images showed Hepburn in many different lights and stages of her life. As a result the exhibition begins to questions how much control Hepburn really had of her own image.

Towards the end of the exhibition we are able to see Hepburn in later life and the legacy she has left behind. On a wall before exiting the exhibition was a collage of images that shows all her cover shoots in LIFE magazine. Alongside this is a brief introduction and two images of her later philanthropic work. In my opinion this part of the exhibition was disappointing. I felt that the exhibition did not focus enough on Hepburn’s humanitarian work, especially her work as an ambassador for UNICEF where she spent long periods of time in countries such as Sudan and Somalia. It would have been interesting to see yet another side to the icon and see more than two images of her hands on approach to the role of ambassador. Overall the exhibition encapsulates the adoration the public have for Hepburn and the legacy she has continued to leave even after her death in 1993.

Exhibition Review: Shirley Baker ‘Women, Children and Loitering Men’

This solo exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery in London curated by Anna Douglas showcases a decade’s worth of work by street photographer Shirley Baker. The exhibition showcases a rare and intimate perspective into 1960-1980’s street life in Salford and Inner City Manchester during the times of slum clearances and social and economic hardship. Baker developed an intimate and trusting relationship with the residents of these working class communities, despite being born into a higher class herself. She spent many years building up this trust with the residents and this close relationship is evident within her work.

The exhibition starts with a bold quote on a wall that expresses Baker’s views towards the slum clearances and provides an insight into why Baker produced the work in the first place. The quote is as follows: “My sympathies lay with people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years whilst demolition went on all around them.” Around the corner from this quote is a small dark room which contains a tv screen and headphones where the viewer can watch an interview by the curator Anna Douglas. I found that the video played a significant part in understanding the exhibition. This combined with information about the social background on the wall in the middle of the exhibition furthered my understanding of Baker’s work and its significant from a social history point of view.

Often documentary photography can be very one sided and the power balance more in favour of the photographer rather than the subject, however Baker gives the subjects the power. The images within the exhibition were mainly black and white, however her colour work also made a small appearance towards the end of the exhibition. In addition to this, the images were in clusters which all had a similar theme and subject. For example there was a section with children playing with makeshift toys in the streets and then a section on the elderly and then women going about their daily routines such as hanging washing out. Without these clusters the exhibition would have no clear structure, as the images were not laid out in chronological order but rather allegorically. This is perhaps one of the only criticisms of the exhibition I have. I believe that the colour work should have been displayed on its own and not mixed in with the black and white images. I believe they are stronger on their own and distract you from the black and white images.

The children interacted and engaged with the camera and during an interview Baker recalled that the children used to plead with her to have their photo taken. Being from a working class family they were likely to have never experienced having their picture taken before and to them this would of been intriguing and exciting, the curious expressions on their faces in the images reinforce this. Baker managed to capture the carefree nature of the children yet simultaneously document the poverty they grew up in and the rapidly changing world around them. While walking around the exhibition the sounds of street life and children playing echo around the space and bring to life the images. The sounds worked well within the space and recreated the atmosphere of the busy inner city areas. However I feel that without the sounds the exhibition would have been just as effective.

In the centre of the exhibition was a clear glass cabinet which contains ephemera items such as newspapers and contact sheets which form an archive of the behind the scenes and the background of her work. One of the more interesting items inside the cabinet was the camera that Baker used for all of her images. It allowed the viewer to gain a further insight into how she produced the images. Baker used a Rolleiflex while photographing the slums and unlike in DSLR camera’s or even 35mm cameras, the viewfinder of the camera meant that you had to look down. This allowed her to be fully present and engage with her subjects while taking her images.

Baker’s work changed the typical style of street photography and her disconnection with other photographers made her work extremely personal and she did not feel compelled to photograph people and places in ways that were popular amongst other street photographers and photojournalists. Instead her work is unlike any other work during that time period and the exhibition highlights how without her work on the slum clearances there would be very little documentation of it.

In a male dominated industry, Baker stood out as a female photographer and faced many rejections from newspapers. However this did not deter her from creating her own body of work. Her unique images provide a record of social history during post- war Britain and show the strength of community and the determination of people to get by with very little. The dilapidated houses and bleak environment become almost secondary when viewing the images; it’s the subjects and the relationship Baker had with them which draws you into the image.

Although Baker was less well known compared to that of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, she was determined to change the way street life was documented and the types of images that were published in newspapers. She did not set out to create nostalgic and sentimental images, rather to produce images that give a true representation of the people who lived there and their everyday lives. This meant photographing even the mundane and trivial aspects of their lives and celebrating the youth and innocence of the children growing up in the slums, as well as the close-knit communities that had been built around this hardship. Overall the exhibition was very enjoyable and insightful. It gave an empathetic yet candid portrayal of inner city areas facing hardship that I have not seen captured like that before.

Negotiating Access: Portrait of a Stranger

For one of our summer tasks subtitled ‘Negotiating Access’ we had to produce two new portraits. One being of someone I know and one being of someone i’ve never met before. This task was meant to challenge us to work outside our comfort zones and to reflect on the different skills we have used in order to product these different portraits.

Initially I found myself over thinking when taking portraits of strangers and feeling too awkward and shy to approach them and ask them to take their portrait. I ended up with a lot of images of the back of their heads or people cutting across my images. I have never been comfortable with street photography or taking portraits and as a result I generally tend to stick to landscape and still life photography.

However this task has challenged me and I have built up more confidence when approaching people and strangers in order to take their photo. While I still think I need to improve on my confidence and the technical side of my images I am pleased with the results of my first attempt. After more practice I believe my portraits will improve significantly.

I attended the ‘Steam Punk’ festival in Lincoln as I believed this was a great opportunity to take a portrait of a stranger for this task. People have travelled from all over the UK and even from around the world to attend this event and dress up in steam punk costumes for the two day festival. This meant that there was a wide variety of ethnicities and styles. I was very intrigued by the costumes people had put together and I wanted to capture their creativity and the character they were portraying.

Many of the people I approached to ask if I could take their portrait were very open to the idea and friendly about it, this put me at ease and I was able to focus more on the technical aspects of the image. In previous attempts I would find myself rushing the image and it would not turn out how I intended the shot to be. I found taking pictures of this event was enjoyable and the more I did it the more I began to become comfortable shooting portraits. The large amounts of interest in the costumes and the event meant that it was relatively easy to start a conversation with the person I photographed. I believe that this made both me and them more comfortable while taking their portrait.

The people in this image were very open to having their portrait taken and the smile and the pose of the lady in the image shows how comfortable she was with having her portrait taken. In turn, this makes the image look more natural and we are able to focus on the eccentric costumes.


In addition to this I also went to another themed event while in Yorkshire. This time it was a 1940’s themed day and again people dressed up in clothes of the era. There was also many events on such as swing dancing and singing which posed a good opportunity for me to capture people in action. I wanted to photograph these images in a more candid way. My main inspiration for this was Lee Frielander and his street photography work.

For some of the images I approached the people in the images before taking their portrait, however for the images of the people dancing I was part of a larger crowd, many of which were taking photos themselves. There was not an opportunity to ask the people if I could take their portrait, however because it was a special event and performances were taking place, the people would of expected their picture to be taken. However, this did mean that I did not have as much control when shooting.

For these images I shot them in colour and then changed them to black and white afterwards. I have included a colour version of an image below however I believe that the high contrast black and white versions look better. They fit in better with the time period of the event and they draw the viewers eye to the subject. The colour for me drew the eye more towards what was going on in the background of the image. I took these images on a busy street and i found it difficult to get a clean and uncluttered background even whenI was using a 50mm portrait lens.

If I was to reshoot these images I would perhaps try photographing just the top half of the persons body, mainly focusing on the face in order to get more detail. This would also stop the background on the image from looking cluttered.