Creative Black & White – Harold Davis

Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, 2010

I borrowed this book from the local library, just a couple of learning points from it;


  • High key images – look for subject that is well lit and quite bright in tonal values. Set up flower in glass vase on white seamless background lit using a single light source. Intentionally overexposed to create high key dreamy effect. Look for simple, evocative, subtle lines and shapes that evoke a sense of wonder  in the viewer.
  • Low Key – look for an overall dark scene – needs to be lit with intermittent light. Look for subjects that are largely dark with intermittent illumination of significant features, or specific areas lit either by direct light or using chiaroscuro. Don’t take an average exposure reading, but a spot reading of the lit areas of the subject.

Art Photography Now – Susan Bright

Thames & Hudson, London, 2011

General – great book, divided into 8 sections with examples in each

  1. Portrait
  2. Landscape
  3. Narrative
  4. Object
  5. Fashion
  6. Document
  7. City
  8. Transitions

These are the main quotes / learning points I took from the book.

Baudelaire ” we must see that photography is again confined to its real task, which consists in being the servant of science and art, but a very humble servant like typography and stenography, which have neither created nor improved literature.”

The impact of this digital technology has seen some theorists describe the current situation as being ‘post-photographic’. But instead of employing one single overarching term that can never adequately cover the breadth and depth of the medium, it is probably better to think of there being several photographies.


Peter Galassi (curator of photography, MOMA NYC) “…. Showing that what we see always depends in part on what we expect to see.” (talking about Warhol et al use of most banal photos.

The physical act of photographing something can in turn change it’s meaning.


Laden with ambiguity and uncertainty, the portrait is perhaps the most complex area of artistic practice. Used by contemporary artists to explore issues of identity – national, personal or sexual – the portrait has moved away from its commercial roots to become a powerful encounter or exchange between artist, sitter and spectator. Motivations and desires are never really clear and reactions to a portrait can vary enormously. To one it can be exploitative, engaging or ethically uncertain and to another tender, informed and noble. These tensions make portraiture one of the most compelling of artistic genres and also one of the most popular.

In many ways the very best portraits take on board the ambiguities and question what can’t really be articulated or identified of a person in terms of an image.


Talking of the landscapes of Adams, Weston, Stieglitz et al Graham Clarke describes “the play of light and pattern, of texture and contrast, expresses an almost physical presence”.

…… perhaps most fundamentally landscape photography offers the space to explore ever-present artistic and philosophical concerns about our place in the world.

Richard Misrach “In spite of recent trends towards fabricating photographic narratives, I find, more than ever, traditional photographic capture – the ‘discovery’ of found narratives – deeply compelling. It’s astonishing that I can still find, in the commonplace, images that speak so directly to broader themes of culture, literature and history.”


Sucking it’s references from many rich springs, photography is the magpie of all artistic mediums, cherry-picking styles and theories from the other arts and turning them into something resolutely its own. These rich pickings are nowhere more apparent than in ‘staged photography’. This term is the most commonly used for photography which relies on a narrative for its reading.


The  very act of photographing something makes it special and indeed it’s significance and our understanding of it can change dramatically once it is turned into a subject.

Wolfgang Tillmans “The true authenticity of photographs for me is that they usually manipulate and lie about what is in front of the camera but never lie about the intentions behind the camera.”

There is Here–Photographs by Avi Gupta

I visited this exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts today.

The information states that the exhibition presents “a series of photographs of domestic interiors taken in private homes in Washington DC and in Kolkata, India. These poetic images are devoid of people yet filled with human presence, leaving the viewer with the sense that something has just happened or is about to happen. The photographs show found situations, untouched by the artist, yet framed by him to highlight subtle details and unexpected juxtapositions.”

I was fascinated by the photographer’s introduction to the exhibition where he states “I find it critical to produce pictures that provoke contemplation. The resulting images are minimal and quiet, deliberately devoid of people, hinting at their presence through the residue of their absence. The mood is melancholy and nostalgic, yet aesthetically welcoming the viewer to explore the ideas of belonging and identity within the parameters of the home.”

This was a superb display and I learnt a great deal from it which I hope to take through to my own work, like the idea of what to exclude, how framing the photo can have such an effect on dynamics, how images of the mundane and the everyday can be converted into compelling photographs by composition, framing, colour and shade, lighting and focus. How as much can be said by what is not in the image (e.g. people) as by what is.

Some of the images from the exhibition can be seen on Avi Gupta’s website my favourite image is number 4 – but to really appreciate it you need to see the large print at an exhibition. I will try to add this photo to my Analysis section of this Learning Log at a later date.

Gillian Wearing–Whitechapel Gallery

I was lucky enough to join the OCA study tour of the Gillian Wearing Exhibition which was a great way of seeing it as someone from the Gallery took us round and gave background and insight to the various parts of the exhibition.

I found it a challenging exhibition, it certainly made me think – why had she done this and why had she done it in this way? The video installations wee perhaps the most stimulating  – children’s words spoken by adults, adult words spoken by children. Some of the topics were mundane, others horrifying tales of bullying, abuse and self-loathing. In some ways, if you closed your eyes you could have been listening to a social documentary programme on the radio – if you then opened your eyes and saw that the child’s words were spoken by an adult or the adult tales were told by those who experienced them, but from behind the anonymity of a mask –  did this change the view of what was being said? It was intriguing and perhaps allowed the original subjects to be free in the tales that they told – but what was the subject – the words? the people? or the masks or actors?

The Signs exhibition was interesting – people approached in the street and asked to write down what they were thinking about and hold it in front of them to be photographed. An interesting concept to explore what is on people’s minds as well as the expressions on their faces.

I was intrigued by the concept of the photographs of the artist dressed and behind the true to life masks of members of her family and other artists who have influenced her. Impeccably constructed and with the artist’s own eyes peering through each mask – but to me the least successful of all the exhibits in stimulating thought.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the exhibition and hear what others thought. There are further thoughts on the We Are OCA Website.

Inevitably I drew comparisons with the Zarina Bhimji exhibition I viewed a few weeks earlier on another OCA study visit. Two very different artists, although bot using photographs and video. I tried to capture the words that came to mind when thinking of the two exhibitions.



Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Natural History Museum

I visited this exhibition, as I have done for several years now. I like many of the images produced, but often it is not the action shots but those in the ‘Plants and Fungi’ category that I find most appealing.

However I found this year’s winning photo absolutely stunning. ‘Still Life in Oil’ by Daniel Beltra shows the effect of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eight pelicans are huddled together in a wooden pen. They are going through the first stage of cleaning to get rid of the oil they became immersed in. The dark background and rumpled, stained floor cloth all add to the sense of being smothered by oil. The ripple in the floor cloth leads the eye in to the huddle of pelicans. The birds would not survive without this treatment, but the innate elegance of the birds comes through. A devastating critique of the effects of the disaster in just one photograph.

Zarina Bhimji–Whitechapel Gallery

I joined the OCA study visit to this exhibition.

Zarina Bhimji is best known for her film work – her first ‘Out of Blue’ was shot in colour on 16mm film stock and was showing at the gallery. Also showing was her latest film ‘Yellow Patch’. I sat through both films (probably the first time I have done that!) and found them very moving.

I was particularly taken by some of the photographs which were on display, many of which were taken in preparation for her making the films.

I really liked the photograph taken in the derelict airport, the first photo in the series in the following link, it was called Bapa Closed His Heart, It Was Over (2001-06), to me it summed up a whole host of feelings – departure, loss, memory and the transient nature of life.

Mary Webb – Journeys in Colour

I visited this exhibition of works by the artist Mary Webb when it was on at the Sainsbury Centre. Journeys in Colour.

Her work is described in the catalogue as “abstract and striking, the designs composed of squares and rectangles using a bold palette of colours. Colour is evenly applied within each section and the shape of her work is always square. Webb has the sensibility of a landscapist, much of her work produced as reflections on her travels”.

A lot of her work is experimenting with colour, I particularly liked her Spring Colour Study, 1991.

The Spring Colour Series came from generating ideas in her studio  and setting the question ‘What Would Happen If….?’ She explains that the “choice of colour was an attempt to find a red red, a blue blue etc” and that the black lines around the shapes were “the result of curiosity about what would happen if I put them there”.

All in all a very rewarding visit and to see how an artist uses colour was useful to me as I was studying the colour module of my course at the time. I particularly like the quote above about posing the question ‘what would happen if?’ – perhaps I could do more of that.

Exercise; Colour into tones in black and white

This is an exercise to help understand colour and how in black and white imagery it gives powerful tonal control allowing emphasis on some objects in a scene while suppressing others.

First of all I took a colour photo of a still life scene containing the four colours red, blue, yellow and green.

Then, using Photoshop, I converted the colour image to Black & White. Following this I converted the image another four times, each time simulating the effect of a different coloured filter – red, blue, yellow and green.

Fruit colourThis is the original colour picture showing the four colours and including a standard grey card on the right hand side.

FruitB and W 

On the right hand side is the same photo, converted to Black and White.

Fruit blue filterOn the left is the original photo but where a blue filter has been used.

As can be seen the blue background has been rendered almost white, whereas the three other colours have been darkened considerably.

Fruit red filterThe photo on the right here is the original photo again, but this time a red filter has been used.

The blue of the background has been turned much darker, but the green and yellow turned lighter. The red of the tomato in the centre has turned much lighter.

Fruit yellow filterThe image on the left has used a yellow filter. The effect is similar to the red, but  not as strong – the blue background is still dark, the red tomato is lighter than the original B&W photo but not as light as when the red filter was used. The greens of the limes are a little lighter.

Fruit green filterThe final photo shows the effect of a green filter. The blue background slightly darker than the original B&W photo, but not as dark as those produced by the yellow or red filters. The green of the limes is lighter in tone than the original and all the other filters. The yellow of the banana is lighter than both the original and the blue filter, but a darker tone than that produced by the red and yellow filters.


What have I learned from this exercise? I had, many years ago, used red and yellow filters in black and white film photography, but had forgotten most of what I had learned. This exercise brought those lessons back!

Exercise; Colour Relationships

This exercise is in two parts; firstly to produce one photo for each combination of primary and secondary colours; secondly to produce three or four photos that feature colour combinations that appeal to me.

Part 1 Combination of each primary and secondary colour

Red: Green


In this case the colour combination of red and green is shown in Holly berries and leaves. Frost had just melted on them so they have a glossy look to them.

The proportions of red and green should be equal and I think that is roughly the case in this photo.

The red is particularly vibrant here whereas the Holly leaves are dark green.


Orange: Blue


Here the combination is provided by the blue of the sky and the clouds which have been turned orange by the setting sun.

The colour balance should be Orange:Blue 1:2

It is difficult to judge exactly, but I think I have achieved roughly the right balance in this image.

I tried to add interest to this photo by using the trees to provide a frame to surround the sky and clouds.



Yellow : Violet


In this instance the colour relationship of yellow:violet is shown i9n a close-up photo of a pansy using my 85mm macro lens.

The ideal proportions for this colour combination is Yellow:Violet 1:3

I think that I have come close to achieving this in the image with the yellow occupying about 1/3rd of the area.



Part 2 Colour combinations that appeal to me


The following images were all taken on a recent trip to Southwold where I was able to photograph the beach huts. There were many colour combinations there, the following appealed to me.


I like the red and yellow combination in the beach hut on the left and also of how this works with the green/blue hut on the right.

The red/yellow hut really does stand out against its neighbour and the colour dominates the scene. Somehow I think the yellow boards on the beach hut mitigate the dominant red and bring the scene into a bit more balance.

I also like the contrast in this picture of the bright new paint on the red hut on the left and the old, faded, peeling paint on its neighbour to the right.


DSC_4244This is a close-up of a beach hut window boarded up for the winter.

I like the green:yellow combination here. I would say the  green takes up over half the space of image. Perhaps there is more yellow in this photo than would be ideal, but I think that it works well. Perhaps the direction of the lines in the colours (vertical in the green, horizontal in the yellow) has an effect in helping the photo to seem balanced.




From a distance, a photograph with a number of different colour combinations.

I think it is the very mix of colours that make this an attractive image.

The yellow and the red huts particularly stand out, but the amount of space occupied by each of the colours is quite small and therefore none of them are overly dominant.


Something a little more different.

Img_0771This photo was taken at the Tacita Dean exhibition at Tate Modern in London.

The exhibition was a film, about 11 minutes long, projected on to a huge screen.

There were many colourful shots in the 11 minutes, but I particularly like this one. the two shades of blue, orange circle and green edges make a wonderful combination.

Sadly the little prints on here can’t do the colours justice compared to seeing them on a large screen.




DSC_2785Finally a green orange combination.

I noticed the lichen growing on a brick in the garden and thought the colours worked well together.

Perhaps the earthy colour of the brick and natural green of the lichen explain why these two colours appeal to me.





What have I learned from this exercise? This exercise has made me think a lot more about colour combinations, especially in found settings as opposed to still life arrangements. It was a challenge to go out and find particular combinations but i learned to see things ‘in colour’ i.e. just looking for the colours rather than the photograph as a whole.

Exercise; Primary and Secondary Colours

This exercise entails finding scenes, or parts of scenes that are each dominated by a single one of the primary and secondary colours. With each colour vary the exposure slightly (as done in the previous exercise).

For each of the series of photos below the exposure compensation is -0.7; -0.3; 0; +0.3; +0.7 when viewed from left to right.



In this photo I think that the shade of green that most closely matches the colour wheel is the second one        (-0.3EV)



For the blues again I would go for the second photo (-0.3EV).



In the case of yellow I think the exposure that most closely matches the colour wheel is the 4th image (+0.3EV)




In this case I think that it is the 4th image again (+0.3EV)




For me the second image best reflects the colour (-0.3EV)




Here I think the fourth or fifth, probably the fourth image best reflects the colour (+0.3EV)


What have I learned from this exercise? The first lesson was to go out and look for the primary colours, then, as with the previous lesson, appreciate the effect that exposure can have on the colour.