Category Archives: Part 1

Exercise 1.9: Visual Research and analysis – social contrasts

Below are some of the photographers I looked at:

John Thomson

Street Life in London (1876 and 1877) 

This was a series of articles by journalist Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, photographer and the book is regarded as a key work in the history of documentary photography.  The book can be read online here  This book is about people more than place and focussed more upon workers, the  poor or destitute, but it does offer some views of a richer and/or healthier life as here.

“Altogether it will be seen that the commons and open spaces in and about London, are not merely useful in maintaining the health of the population, and as affording some space for recreation; but they also open out new fields of industry for those who earn their living out of doors. On the great holidays, the itinerant street vendors crowd to the Common, and are able to breathe fresh air while still pursuing their ordinary avocations.”

Paul Graham

A1: The Great North Road A documentary series on the life and landscape of this road – created during 1981 and 1982 and providing a picture of life in the 1980s. He used colour photographs here which was a move away from the more traditional black and white. We have continuing discussions on online forums and in Thames Valley group about choices between colour and black and white.  At the moment my view is that if it’s about people then in black and white they become more representatives of other people in similar situations, places, ages etc. In colour they are individual personalities.  With landscape I’m thinking that black and white landscapes in contemporary photography highlight shape, form, structure, layers of living that are like a fingerprint of the land.

His series Troubled Land(1985-86) fuses traditional landscape and war reportage – what seem to be ordinary urban landscapes morph into something else with a closer look.  I visited his Exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in May 2011 and wrote about it here and at the time I commented on how I gained a sense of him being an observer, not connected with his subjects.

Graham’s series The Present (2012) comes from the streets of New York which serve as a stage as people come and go in doubled moments – two images taken from the same location with only a brief moment between them.

Takes me back to Tacita Dean and her views on Landscape – is this street photography, documentary, landscape photography?  I could stand in several green spaces and take such photographs; in moments of time the people might change but would the landscape? It could suddenly rain, the sun could come out, a rainbow might appear – hmmmm.

Simon Roberts

National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect (2014) a series exploring the usage of landscapes in private/quasi-public hands and “how that frames shared experiences of place, a sense of cultural belonging, and the various ways this is claimed in the ways people conduct themselves, and in the company they keep.”

He travelled around the country photographing spaces and places owned on behalf of the nation and capturing ways in which visitors interacted with the landscape. “Presenting an alternative viewpoint to the pastoral idyll, Roberts highlights our shared and sometimes imperfect experience of the landscape, inviting wider questions about private ownership and public usage of land”. Reading that sentence on the Flowers Gallery website  I thought how relevant this is to what’s happening in the area where I live.  There has been outcry over Surrey County Council’s decision to charge for parking at the car parks on Chobham Common  and other Commons and Parks (see here) with parking meters damaged and Petitions raised. I can see both sides of what’s a complicated issue.

Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies Of A Small Island (2017)

Here Roberts conflates the traditional approach to landscape with social documentary, “layering ideas of national character through relationships to both place and particular moments in time. This book was released in 2017 after the Brexit Referendum.

Jonathan Goldberg

I follow Jonathan Goldberg on Instagram having looked at his Project: The Runway Stops Here which documents Grow Heathrow – an eco-village which was set up in an abandoned market garden in 2010 as a direct protest against the extension of Heathrow Airport.  The community is flanked by the runway on one side and on the other by a Holiday Inn, with  25 residents living in homes they have put together using low-impact methods see here and here .  Goldberg first visited in 2011 and his photographs “highlight the intrinsic qualities of a community of people that have chosen a sustainable way of life based on shared values, away from conventional infrastructures”.  His images show the positives as well as the difficulties, including having to live under the threat of eviction at a time when a third runway was backed by Parliament in June this year. 

<p><a href=”″>The Runway Stops Here</a> from <a href=”″>Jonathan Goldberg</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A really interesting project – low-impact community living for an alternative life in opposition to the expansion of a commercial airport. I’m not saying I would like to live in such a way, especially at my time of life, but I admire their aims and dedication to their cause. Goldberg’s series was Exhibited during 2017 in the Exhibition Off the Beaten Track: A Glimpse Inside Low-Impact Community Living at Oriel Colwyn Gallery, Wales . He exhibited alongside Amanda Jackson, whose series To Build A Home  (2013)  is based on the Lammas Eco Village, at Tir y Gafel and the surrounding community.

Two photographs where social contrasts are present within a single image

I only have one at the moment which is one of mine taken in a small square in London.

I’ll add another when I come across it.

Exercise 1.8 and Project: The Zone System

Notes from the Module Handbook:

  • Cameras still cannot cope as well as humans with dark and light simultaneously
  • Early photographic emulsions were considerably more sensitive to blue light than to other colours on the spectrum of visible light. This meant landscape photographs, particularly on clear days, had completely blown-out skies, resulting in absence of detail in the (positive) print.
  • One solution was to have a library of photographs of clouds and skies which could then be layered with a negative
  • Ansel Adams and Fred Archer developed the Zone System – a way to visualise hot visible tones could be rendered more effectively. This was an eleven-point scale of tonal range, ‘)’ being pure black and ‘X’ being pure white.
  • The Zone System reminds us that a light-meter (hand-held or built into a camera) is objective. Wherever you point it perceives and provides an exposure value at middle grey (Zone V). Therefore the photographer must decide where in the scene they wish Zone V to be.
  • Landscape is generally a slower paced, more patient and, in some senses, meditative practice. As such, its viewers and critics are much less forgiving of technical mishaps and expect more from the photographer.
  • With digital photography one modern method is to combine several images of the same scene made at different exposures.


Notes from experience and reading:

  • One piece of early advice was, to focus the camera view finder on one’s hand or on grass (which is near to mid grey) use the AE Lock button (marked with an asterisk or star icon *). This button ‘freezes’ the exposure so that if the camera is moved to another area, the auto exposure system won’t change aperture/shutter speed values.
  • If I use evaluative metering and one-shot AF mode exposure is automatically locked so all I need to do is to press the shutter button half-way down to lockand can then move the camera if necessary.
  • A white balance/grey card can be used to focus on within a scene first.
  • You can use exposure setting/bracketing
  • Most cameras deal better with shadows than highlights and so, with bright light and clear days I sometimes focus on the darkest/bluest patch of sky I can find.
  • If the dynamic range really is too high for any of the above to work I go away and come back on a better day if possible.
  • Post-processing with Photoshop can be very useful indeed. Using the White Balance tool or more complicated methods such as shown in the video below. This can all take ages though!

It isn’t to do with exposure and the Zone System but this is a very useful article about colour contamination which is quite relevant when photographing people in landscape where you’re surrounded by green. Daylight comes through the trees and bounces around all the foliage before it hits your subject.

Exercise 1.8

Demonstrate your awareness of the principles of the Zone System and your ability to take accurate light readings by producing three photographs taken in relatively high dynamic range. Make sure the exposure choice renders as much detail as possible in the brightest and darkest areas of the photograph.



PS This site is a useful one as well–photo-5607

Exercise 1.7: Assignment Preparation

extract from an email to my tutor of 1stAugust

“So far as Assignment 1 is concerned I may have gone off on a tangent – I’m not sure. What happened is that, as I was out in our local small wood I really took notice of one of the signposts that has recently been erected there.  One of its arms points towards “Viewpoint” so I followed it with more intention than I have before.  When I arrived at the “Viewpoint” it struck me that, although it has two benches for spectators the only view is of some shrubs because there has been so much growth there in recent months.  A stranger I met kindly agreed to sit on the bench with her back to me, to admire the ‘view’ although I may direct my husband to photograph me.

To date I have attempted to provide a view in several ways, including compositing other views within it – ones taken by myself in the past – and views I considered at the time to be beautiful or sublime. I can analyse these because I actually follow the view that the Sublime is an emotional response on the whole, is in the eyes of the beholder and so difficult to evoke.  I have also acquired a Claude mirror and experimented with this – which was a failure – and used a prism to see if I could provide a rainbow.  The prism didn’t provide a rainbow because it’s difficult to get a clear view of sky and the sun does not shine directly on that location at the times of day I have visited.  However, it provided some interesting photographs.  I have also been thinking about some kind of video of a Google Earth view of this landscape or creating a video to evoke the slight giddiness/vertigo which can be experienced when riding in a hot air balloon. Something I experienced a few years ago over the Valley of the Queens in Egypt.

Having written all this I’m now wondering whether I’m flogging a dead horse and sticking too closely to an idea.  On the other hand, I’m certainly exploring the concepts of Beauty and the Sublime.  Please let me know what you think and whether you think I should continue along these lines or not.”

Extract from my tutor’s  reply of 3rdAugust

“That’s a lot of ideas! Which is great, but I can imagine quite overwhelming!
I think the ‘view’ image you talk about is interesting… the ideas of manufactured beauty spots or viewpoints that are then ironically overgrown… might be difficult to get source a few of these to make a series of obscure portraits (or back portraits), although if you can, it could be a neat submission.
Whilst coming from different ideas, your description made me think of these works:
Lauren Jury (now Aldridge) (these are self-portraits)

Helen Sear – works Inside the View and Beyond the View (albeit close ups, and photomontage, the compositional elements of the figure looking out at the landscape is more what I was comparing here) There’s good reading on Helen Sear.

I am less interested in the Google Earth idea as expressed in this email, but that’s my personal opinion. If the prism images have created a coherent set of images that you are pleased with technically, whilst not exactly what you were hoping for, they potentially could provide a solid basis for the A1 submission….
It really depends on what you would prefer, I would urge you not to worry too much about the first assignment if it is hindering your progress, if you make sure you reflect on your decision making process and ideas then it gives us plenty to discuss in feedback.”


I looked at the work of Lauren Jury/Aldridge on the Source website which I found very appealing.  Square images of a small, lone feminine figure in the landscape; looking up into or searching amongst very tall trees, with the red of her jacket singling her out for attention – film I think.   Unfortunately the website link on Source no longer works, although I found a little more here 

The colour red or orangey-red clothes seems to be used quite often in photographs of women in the landscape. During Context & Narrative I looked at the work of Susan Trangmar  In her series “Untitled Landscapes” (1985) a woman gazes into the landscape with her back to it, which encourages us to think we are looking at it through her eyes at the same time as she obstructs our view. I’ve alsopreviously written about Elina Brotherus and her similar approach here.

(Google image search screenshot. 12.09.2018)

Helen Sears is one of my favourite photographers. She puts us “Inside the View”  (2004-2008) here and also in her video work such as “Company of Trees” with the girl in the red dress

<p><a href=”″>Company of Trees 2015</a> from <a href=”″>Helen Sear</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I’m presuming using red is to link us with the story of Red Riding Hood. Also, of course, If we have red blue and green we have primary colours and RGB colours. Red, particularly an orange-red is like Autumn – ripeness, almost past its peak, the colour of change into Winter. Green leaves also reflect near-infrared light – the light which is just beyond our vision. I’m pleased my tutor reminded me of Helen Sears because she has been very much in the back of my mind for her approach to landscape photography and her video work.

I have been searching for more ‘back’ views and viewpoints to photograph, albeit pretty unsuccessfully so more to come – including y concurrent search for that which we cannot see with our naked eye.









Exercise 1.6: The Contemporary Abyss

This exercise asked me to read Simon Morley’s Essay “Staring into the Contemporary Abyss” published on the Tate website for an overview of the sublime as a theme within visual culture.  Then choose any body of work that I feel explores the sublime, and write at least 300 words describing how I believe this work relates to the sublime, using Morley’s text to support my argument. There’s much to explore within the essay so, having done the reading, I created a mind-map.  A PDF is below.

S. Morley mindmap

I want to do more than just write about a body of work for this exercise because I also want to reflect on my understanding of the sublime. I’m interested in how the word “sublime” becomes very grand and important when the ‘s’ becomes “S”. Just as in ‘real’ and ‘The Real’ which I wrote about here. I don’t intend to go into detail here on beauty or on the sublime and the difference between the two but there’s a useful piece here.  Maybe one of the difficulties is that both are subjective so each of us could well have a different response to the same event. I’m expecting to write more when I come to the Assignment.

The Latin origin of the word ‘sublime’ means something that is ‘set or raised aloft, high up’ which has ‘the quality of such greatness, magnitude or intensity, whether physical, metaphysical, moral, aesthetic or spiritual, that our ability to perceive or comprehend it is temporarily overwhelmed’. Edmund Burke’s 1757 definition in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful focuses on experiences where our reaction is defined by a kind of pleasurable terror. However, the ordinary usage of the word is of something wonderful, perfect.

Simon Morley asks the question, “Is the word an empty signifier – one to which we can simply attach whatever meaning we need?”, a bit like the word “nice” I guess. On that basis I must try to be clear about what the word “sublime” means to me. For me, beauty is about the form of something I see – shape, dimensions, composition of individual aspects. However, a sublime experience involves is a visceral response; one that makes me gasp in astonishment; hits me in the diaphragm; brings tears to my eyes; or fills me with fear – an experience where I briefly lose a sense of myself and become suspended in a moment.  I’ve written before about the first time I entered into St Marks Basilica in Venice. I looked up and was suddenly struck by such a feeling of awe that I felt tearful. It was a shock because I’m not religious. However, on a later visit I felt nothing when I went in – it was just a large space. Thunder and lightning are frightening for me; I feel defenceless in their fury.  Yet, a rainbow always seems miraculous and my heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said. The shimmering colours are always a wonder to me. Then, there’s water – sometimes calming in still depths yet terrifying at other times when I look down at a raging torrent. I’m not surprised at all that people used to worship Nature’s elements as Gods who needed to be appeased and/or pleaded with. When it comes down to it we are still at the mercy of the elements despite our advancements in technology.

Many have sought the sublime through writing, painting, meditating and the use of chemical substances that induce altered states of consciousness.  It can be evoked from within or externally and involves a transformative experience that occurs in the here and now; takes us beyond ourselves, hits us like a punctum in a photograph, and is hard to describe.  I don’t intend to go into the nature of religious belief except that, however, it manifests itself, it does involve a belief in and sense of connection with something outside of ourselves.

Simon Morley distinguishes five different ways in the word Sublime  is now broadly used, some of which are inter-connected and he includes the role of technology in this as providing ‘our strongest sense of the sublime. I must say, though, that he does add in other descriptions along the way. The notion of the disappointed sublime, the thwarted transcendence, quite appealed to me (perhaps like my second visit to St Marks). Morley refers to the problem of the unrepresentable and that most ‘sublime’ artworks tend to be installations because it’s becoming harder and harder for painting to elicit the effects. There’s something else that occurred to me, that I’ve often wondered about anyway.  These wonderful cathedrals built to the glory of God. How much are they a glory to the architect? Think of Gaudi’s grand vision of the cathedral in Barcelona. The Sagradas Familias which has been evolving organically since 1915 with completion not expected until 2026.

James Turrell’s “Roden Crater”  is a large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone. It began in 1977 and is constructed to last for centuries as an above ground observatory for specific celestial events.  A wonderful achievement. Is it more wonderful than travelling to see the Northern Lights – the ‘natural sublime’ and stand beneath them?

Tate Modern Turbine Hall

Morley describes the Turbine Hall as a laboratory to explore the ways in which artists invited to tackle the sublime there succeed or not and, of course, technology plays a large part. Three successes, according to him, are Olafur Eliasson’s man-made sun, Anish Kapoor’s huge maroon ‘trumpet’ and Miroslaw Balka’s abysmal container. I particularly looked at the first two.  Before I write about them, though, I do want to pose the question, “Do artworks evoking the sublime have to be huge to achieve their aims?”, the reason being that, as I’ve referred to above, we might get lost in the grandness of the work, awe and admiration for the artist as opposed to getting a sense of the feeling of the sublime.

Olafur Eliasson’s installation “The Weather Project” (2003) looks extraordinary and the photograph of people in its presence  evokes for me the memory of how people gaze upon an Eclipse or, in October 2017, the deep red sun and eerie glow created by the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia as it dragged in air and dust from the Sahara . An Eclipse must have been such a frightening experience for prehistoric humans – an example of what Morley terms, the “terrific” sublime. In 2012 Eliasson also turned his talents towards a more practical use by developing Little Suns (2012) with the engineer Frederik Ottesen –  small solar-powered torches with which people could explore the galleries  in the dark at Tate Modern.  This was not only ‘artwork’ but a means to draw attention to the 1.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to mains electricity and provide a means for them to do so.

Thinking of rainbows, I’m also interested in Eliasson’s colour experiments when he was investigating the spectrum of visible light beginning by working with a colour chemist to mix in paint an exact colour for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum. He produced twelve columns of six canvases each to produce a series of circular monochrome paintings where the progression of hues loops through the entire range, as here.  Eliasson then went on to create his “Turner Colour Experiments”  producing a series of doughnut shaped canvases, each a painted colour wheel, depicting the palette of colours used in each of seven paintings by Turner that he had analysed.

The reason I’m so interested is because of the blue paint used in the work by  Arthur Bellin TheLobsterers Landing Place, Sark(1887) that I referred to in an earlier exercise.   My aim is to see if I can reproduce this colour in Photoshop or, even better, perhaps I can ask one of our OCA art students if they can reproduce the colour with paint.

For now, I’ll just briefly mention Anish Kapoor. Marysas (2002) was an enormous maroon trumpet – 150 metres long and ten storeys high – too big to be viewed as a whole object . When I explored this more it seemed to me to be more about size and splendour than the sublime.  However, I discovered that this was recreated in ‘smaller dimensions (each end 25x8m, length 85m) as Dismemberment, Site 1 (2009) at Gibbs Farm, Kaipar’a Harbour, New Zealand. , with a title inspired by the Greek myth captured in Titian’s painting The Flaying of Marysas (1576) – capturing the terrified sublime of the satyr flayed alive by Apollo for playing the flute better than the god. How dare we humans aspire to be like gods as you cannot compete with them!    Kapoor’s aspiration with this was to make body into the sky and an outdoor location seems such a more appropriate location  The installation was compared to the trumpet that Joshua used to spy on Jericho in the Bible story. Some observers thought it represented a large sized vulva whilst others though it represented the head and nucleus of a large bright flower. There’s a lot more comment on it here .

Bill Viola

Bill Viola was one of the earliest artists to explore the potential of the video camera and “has consistently exploited its rapidly changing technology to create over 150 artworks over the last 40 years: ( To begin with Viola used video art like a controlled experiment but then chose to adapt to the rapidly changing technologies by using the opposite approach of opening his work to the spontaneity and routine of real life. He views the video camera as a “microscope for being”, creates highly immersive environments, with installations usually incorporating sound and typically created and presented in either a darkened/otherwise barren exhibition space. One example is Five Angels for the Millennium (2001)  consisting of five video sequences showing a male figure submerging in or remerging from water, playing on our primal fear of drowning whilst introducing passages of wonder.

The Royal Academy will be exhibiting Bill Viola/Michelangelo from 26thJanuary to 31stMarch 2019 so that’s one for my diary. This Exhibition draws links between Michelangelo’s drawings seen by Viola at Windsor Castle in 2006, and his own works which ask us to consider the thresholds between birth, life and death. “Both artists harness the symbolic power of sacred art, and both show us physical extremes and moments of transcendence.”

Further notes are to follow, including work by female artists.




Exercise 1.5: Visualising Assignment Six – Transitions

So far I’ve contemplated three possible projects:


Our Garden

I’ve already documented,(at the bottom of this post here  my misadventure with the idea of having a backdrop for the tree so it would be more of a portrait of the tree as it blossoms, fruits and dies down during the year. The scar on my leg still hasn’t faded!

My other idea is to photograph almost the whole of the garden. This is the simplest as I only have to step outside.  The main reason I thought of this is because our garden is opposite a local shop whose back wall is painted an off-white colour but this colour changes according to time of day and there are also some lovely sunset skies.  I’ve done some test shots using a prime 50mm lens which I thought would be better than using my zoom lens.

After the first couple of shots I realised that my vantage point needed to be slightly more to one side because as the trees began to grow their leaves the back of the shop could hardly be seen. I’m not sure whether this will have enough interesting about it to sustain a series but will wait and see. I’m also thinking a wider lens could be needed, plus a tripod will be required for late evening shots especially as the days shorten. if I am going to take and, if I’m going to seriously consider this then I will make notes on day, date, weather conditions etc.


I’ve visited allotments in the past on Open Days and I love to see the growth there.  It would be great to be able to follow one through a year. I need to consider whether I would just choose one allotment on a site or cover the whole site. I’ve written to the secretary of an Association not too far away which was formed in 1917 and is also now a members of the National Open Garden Scheme.  They have two sites (the newest being created in 2012 ) and documents going back to 1917 which are lodged with Surrey History Centre.  I haven’t had a response yet so keeping my fingers crossed.

Housing developments

In this post here  I referred to the prospect of three large housing developments being developed around the area where I now live.  These will not only impact upon green belt land but place strain upon available health and education facilities. The new development will necessitate potential sweeping alterations to the creaking road system and the three different Boroughs involved have been required by Surrey County Council to produce a feasibility plan (again currently contested by the local residents and businesses) One of these developments is proposed for a site currently occupied by Fairoaks Airport which originally opened as a private airstrip in 1931.  The current owners plan to close the airport, with an original plan to build 1500 housing units – now reduced to 1000.  There is much local opposition to the plan, including refuted suggestions of private deals between two of the Councils involved to support each other’s schemes (see here )

The smallest contested development is proposed on land where I spent much time on my previous Module photographing poppies – all of which disappeared last year as the soil was turned over and barbed wire fencing installed (see here ) presumably in expectation of the plans going ahead.

Now all these planning applications, discussions at County level and necessary involvement of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) who just happens to be the MP for the Borough wherein Fairoaks Airport stands) will take some considerable time to show an outcome.  I’m pretty sure that houses will be built but will building begin before I finish this Module?  Even if building hasn’t begun, is there any way I can somehow incorporate this wider environmental/social debate into the project I choose to create for Assignment 6?

Update November 2018

After discussion with my tutor I decided not to proceed with the idea of the Allotments as I would not be able to gain easy access. I have also decided to shelve the idea of the Housing developments for the time being because the planning application process is still ongoing. Two other ideas I had were Great Windsor Park in Virginia Water which isn’t too far away as I am now a member there or Ottershaw Memorial Fields which I visit everyday.  I regularly take photographs in both those places but have made the choice of Ottershaw Memorial Fields.


Exercise 1:4 – What is a Photographer?


Read the essay, summarise key points; write down responses and consider whether these questions are still relevant today, including where you , as a practitioner, stand on this issue.


Marius de Zayas was a Mexican-American Caricaturist Publisher and Gallery Owner. The context here is that he was a contemporary of Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen both of whom, with others, rejected Pictorialism an approach which was most active between 1885 and 1915.  Pictorialists believed there was too much preoccupation with photography as science and, instead, wished to use it as an expressive, subjective medium.  They achieved this through manipulation of the printing process and the use of alternative processes such as cyanotype, bromoil and gum bichromate.

Stieglitz and Steichen, as Modernists, rejected Pictorialism and believed that photography should embrace the intrinsic qualities of the camera as opposed to attempting to emulating the look of other types of art.  Their aim was a celebration of form – natural and man-made.  Modernists wished to achieve as much clarity and tonal detail as possible although in the early 20thCentury their photographs were not found in serious art institutions.  Stieglitz, who considered himself an artist, met Steichen in 1900 and Steichen was the most frequently featured photographer in the journal “Camera Work” which Stieglitz began printing in December 1902. Stieglitz formed an Exhibition Society “The Photo-Secession” and Stieglitz and Steichen together opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession  (known as “291” after its address) in November 1905 where Stieglitz  also introduced modernist painters and sculptors to America.

Marius de Zayas showed at Stieglitz’s “291” gallery and then became a scout for new artistic talent. He became very much influenced by Cubism and so began to include more abstract ways of representation of his subjects. He wrote some of the most provocative and theoretical essays in Stieglitz’s magazine “Camera Work”, particularly The Sun Has Set”(1911) which he began by announcing “Art is dead” – believing that modern art was floundering in a society that valued industrialism and capitalism. The essay to be read now Photography and Artistic-Photography was published in 2013.

The Essay

It isn’t long but I found it quite tortuous to read.  Here is what I gleaned.

  • The difference between Photography and artistic photography is that, in the former, man tries to get at that objectivity of Form which generates the different conceptions that man has of Form, trying to represent something that is outside of himself- free and impersonal while the second uses the objectivity of Form to express a preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion. Tries to represent something that is inside himself – systematic and impersonal representation.
  • When a man picks up a camera without preconceiving a final result and points it at a subject to represent it as reality he is “doing Photography”, “pure photography”. Looking for objective reality by just pointing the camera – as the camera is mechanical and so has no intention

Marius de Zayas gives the word form a capital letter – “Form”, which appears to connect with Greek philosophy  (objectivity is associated with ideas such as reality , truth and reliability something that exists outside of the subject’s perception of it). Is that what he means or is he thinking of physical structure – as with Ansel Adams and his series of photographs of the Yosemite range.  The latter makes more sense to me,  plus in the 1930s Adams criticised the Pictorialists because they were attempting to mimic other art forms (and that’s another use of the word ‘form’.)  However one also has to take into account that in the 1930s Modernists also began to utilise aperture size in the lens they used which meant they were  anticipating the final outcome, plus Edward Weston cropped into views to create more abstract photography and Ansel Adams utilised the Zone system.

The view of de Zayas is that Steichen has ‘carried to its highest point the expression of a system of representation: the realistic one” so presumably he believes that Steichen is ‘doing photography” although Steichen was previously a painter and so brought his artistic skill to photography. On the other hand, Stieglitz is searching for ‘the pure expression of the object” – doing this synthetically with the means of a mechanical process (using the camera as a medium) as are ‘some of the most advanced artists of the modern movement trying to do analytically with the means of Art. To be honest, at the moment I can’t make much sense of that, except that de Zayas doesn’t seem to be elevating one approach over another – so long as the photographs demonstrate the desired qualities of clarity and tonal detail through embracing the intrinsic qualities of the camera rather than manipulating an image in post-production.  To him, photography is an art in itself.  The assumption seems to be, though, that the photographer just goes out with his camera with no idea of what he wants to photograph and then just points the camera with no allowance being made for choice of subject and vantage point.  I could well have misunderstood so will wait to be advised.

I certainly think these arguments are still relevant today and there seems to be endless debate as to whether photography is an ‘Art”, also whether documentary photography, for example, should appear on a gallery wall.  I am also aware that, in recent years, some practitioners of photography are describing themselves as “visual artists who use a camera as their primary medium”.  I think that I probably fall within that latter camp but use my camera and process the results in different ways according to the effect I wish to achieve and what seems most appropriate.  I have also been experimenting with alternative processes such as cyanotype, photo- polymer prints and chlorophyll prints. Additionally I have used different types of cameras such as polaroid and infra-red.

Alexander J A P ( 2015)  Perspectives on Place London. Bloomsbury Publishing.
De Zayas, M. (1913) Photography and Artistic-Photographyin “Camera Work 1939, No. 42/43.




Exercise 1.3: Establishing Conventions

In the press release for the Exhibition Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography MOMA (1981) Peter Galassi refers to the paintings and drawings on view being landscapes primarily from European collections and by artists such as Constable and Coret and some talented but less well-known contemporaries – many of whom had never been seen before in the United States. Remembering that Galassi’s aim was to show that photography was “a legitimate child of the Western pictorial tradition”, I wondered if he would have chosen paintings to ‘prove’ his view, plus paintings which were well-known or viewed as similarly talented might also be likely to follow styles of painting deemed by critics to be ‘Art”.  Although, of course, I could well be doing him an injustice there.

With those thoughts in mind, I decided to throw caution to the winds and just do an internet search on 18th and 19thCentury Landscape paintings which lead me to Wikimedia, apart from one painting which I discovered by another route when I was looking for information on Woking in a separate search. I allowed my eyes and responses to be ‘in charge’ of choices which means that I have followed my own tastes in choosing paintings as opposed to being lead by ones which are well-known and I’ve had some surprises as a result!

All images are Copyright free except the one by Arthur Bellin, the painter from Woking, but the Manager of Huddersfield Museums has given permission for me to use the image.

My observations are in note form and in chronological order according to the date of the painting as I wanted to see what changes might have occurred through the century. 

Eighteenth Century Landscape Artists 

These are all male and European.  I looked for female landscape artists but could only find portrait painters at this juncture.


  1. “Illustration of the Fable about the lapdog and the donkey”  Unknown.  Around 1700

2. Franz Anton von Steinberg(1684-1765) “Fishing on Lake Cerknica” 1714

3. Antoine Watteau(1684-1721) “La Perspective (View through the Trees in the Park of Pierre Crozat) c 1715

4. George Lambert (1700-1765) “Box Hill, Surrey, with Dorking in the distance” 1733.  Also a scene painter.

5. Canaletto(1697-1768) “The Thames from the Terrace of Somerset House, looking towards St. Paul’s” c.1750

6. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)  “Returning from Market” c. 1771-72. Preferred landscapes, painted portraits for economic reasons. Influenced by French rococo style learned from Gravelot. Learned the language of landscape.  Probably never painted directly from nature. Later was influenced by Peter Paul Rubens.

7. Johan George Müller Detail of a prospect by Johan George Muller of farmers from Fana entering the city gate Stadsporten, Bergen, Norway (1796)


The colours are muted, with a sense of being painted from a distance.  I noticed the layering of landscape in (2) and (4) through use of different tones. Any people depicted are in the foreground and quite small in the frame (to scale?) apart from No. 7 which is a detail from a larger painting.  The painters appear to be emphasising the grandeur of the landscape (or building) whilst drawing the eyes to the small figures through use of light colours and placement in the frame – usually in one of the bottom corners. There is an order and formality about them even in No. 7. One of the reasons I was attracted to No. 7 was due to its larger figures, architectural composition and leading lines of perspective. I’ve been unable to find any information online of any Johan George Müller living at that datethough apart from an entry on the University of Bergen website which refers to a prospectus.

Nineteenth Century

Having failed to find women landscape painters of the 18thCentury I was pleased to discover them in the 19thand have included four of them.

8. John Constable (1776-1837) “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds” c. 1825. Commissioned by John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury and as gesture of appreciation Constable included the Bishop and his wife in the canvas. Entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1799. Inspired by Thomas Gainsborough, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci.  Took up portraiture to make ends meet.

9. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) “The Fighting Temeraire” Oil painting.  1839. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839 but kept in his studio until his death.

10. Julie Hart Beers (1835-1913)  “Hudson River at Croton Point” 1869.  One of very few professional women landscape painters in C19th America and the only one to achieve renown.  Born Julie Hart, daughter of Scottish immigrants. Two older brothers were both painters.

11. Arthur Bellin  (1852-1925)     “The Lobsterers Landing Place, Sark 1887. Kirklees Museums and Galleries. In adulthood Bellin was living in Woking in The House in Wood (1911 census).

12 Helen Allingham (nee Paterson)  (1848-1926) English watercolourist and illustrator. Born in Swadlincote, died in Surrey. Illustrator first and then turned to watercolour after getting married in 1874. She became famous for her picturesque farmhouses and cottages of Surrey and Sussex as well as rural scenes in other parts of the country. Helen Allingham’s scene from Venice is unlike her more well-known watercolour paintings in terms of subject and composition.

13. Elisabeth von Eicken(1862-194) “Deutsch” 1890.

14. Lucy Bacon (1857-1932) “Garden Landscape, 1894-1896”  (1895). Californian artist known for her California Impressionist paintings of florals, landscapes and still lifes. Studied under the Impressionist Camile Pissarro. The only one known to have studied under any of the great French Impressionists.


What struck me most was the use of more intense colour which adds a sense of drama even to the more intimate/domestic scenes by Elisabeth von Eicken and Lucy Bacon plus giving the sense of a lushness of vegetation.  Skies appear to have a lighter hue compared with the paintings from the previous century.  Turner’s painting creates a raging, hot effect, whilst the acqua of Bellin’s sea and misty background  adds a haunting quality to  the lobsterer’s rocky climb from his boat.  Again there is use of a triangular composition to draw attention to the Cathedral (8), ship (9), lobsterer (11) and walking people (12). Overall there is more sense of a freedom of expression and the influence of the imrpessionists is noticeable in the paintings by Elisabeth von Bicken and Lucy Bacon.

Brief background

Having made my own selection and thought about the differences, I then briefly researched the history of landscape painting to get an overall sense of the way in which it was impacted by cultural changes and events and to check whether my choices were in line with these.

Landscape painting as such did not begin until after the era of Renaissance art in the 16thCentury as scenery was merely background for human activity, and it ranked low in the hierarchy of painting genres which were set out in 1669 by Andre Felibien, the secretary to the French Academy. This hierarchy constituted history painting; Portraits; genre (scenes of everyday life); still life and landscapes

By the 18thCentury new topological traditions had appeared in England reflecting the practice of landscape gardening and the reordering of nature to suit aristocratic patrons, with order not drama being the dominant motif.  Landscape painting became one of the most popular types of art after the French Rvolution (c.1789-93) and two major traditions emerged – English and French, both of which influenced landscape painters throughout Europe and North America.

In the early 19thCentury the Norwich School of landscape painters extended the Dutch Luminist tradition, producing scenes from around Norfolk and preferring outdoor painting to studio easel work.  The Suffolk artist John Constable portrayed man and Nature existing in perfect harmony at a time when agriculture was in depression and there were countryside riots.

Joseph Mallard William Turner became the youngest ever full member of London’s Royal Academy in 1802 and his scenic views became much more dramatic and romantic. His landscape and seascape art became increasingly free, focussing primarily on atmospheric effect, and his paintings had become almost abstract in composition by the early 1840s. He anticipated Impressionism in his treatment of colour and light, with his dramatic artworks being in contrast to the pastoral, often religious-based landscapes of his contemporaries . The Newlyn School became established in Cornwall from 1884 onwards, specializing in landscape and rural/fishing genre scenes.

In the early 20thCentury artists used the medium of photography to create interpretations of the land through pictorialist effects and, later, through formal compositions of close-up, cropped views of the landscape.

Landscape photographs from any era that conformed to 18thand 19thCentury conventions.

A few examples:-


Ansel Adams : triangular composition and use of leading lines in perspective as in “Yosemite Valley: Thunderstorm

Edward Weston: His series of  the Dunes of Oceano   layering of landscape through use of different tones and his aim to “present objectively the texture, rhythm, form in nature without subterfuge or evasion in technique or spirit…”

Jem Southam and his series, “The Shape of time: Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds (2010) and the use of triangular perspective


John Gossage ”The Pond” (1985) There is an impressionist feel to some of his photographs of the pond as here  and he talks in this interview  of wanting to reference Thoreau’s vision in “Walden Pond” of nature being a respite from the city

Helen Sear “Pond” (2011)  . Again an impressionistic approach.

Jem Southam “The Painter’s Pool” (2002)  again with an impressionist feel.