People and the Environment – Living on Water in an Urban Landscape – Submission

In describing the selection for my submission, I am looking to evaluate my progression in the three concepts of narrative, contrast and colour.  I don’t feel my work can be placed against the artists I have researched, I don’t posses the skill or experience of these artists, but will evaluate how I have used the understanding and inspiration I have gained from them.

Narrative has been my weakness through the whole project, with so many test ideas explored I started focusing on technique rather than subject.  This really held me back through the opening weeks of test shots.  As I examined the works of other artists, the skill and thought put into their respective collections to create cohesion and narrative appears deceptively simple, but in practice is far from easy.  Above all else, I wanted my submission to have a narrative and be cohesive. The selection was helped by my class mates and agreed with them.  I believe the collection stands together with a concurrent visual theme:

Without doubt my favorite image and most challenging to shoot was the bridge.


Adams, in my very early research, looked to capture exposure and contrast in his images with astounding skill and artistic poise.  The bridge shot has a large dynamic range providing natural vignetting, but liked the texture of its underside being reflected in the water with strong colours of red and yellow from the barge which make it stand out.  Technically this was the most demanding shot of all, particularly as the passers by could have been out of shot quickly while setting the correct exposure.  I wanted as much in focus as possible so stopped down to increase depth of field, but had to adjust shutter speed to capture motion.  Contrast and colour come through in this shot and overall very pleased with the image.  Making greater use of filters (polarizer) may have helped with the muddy mid ground water and possibly waiting a second for the walkers to have followed the path for second later may have balanced the image better (Cartier-Bresson, capturing the fleeting moment).  I like the scene this image sets, with a clear introduction to subject matter of urban life in the background and waterways in the foreground.  The shot of the three swans and three children was excluded as really both shots were a similar subject and the bridge I felt was a better shot and stronger composition.

Conveying subject was key to narrative and was pleased with the image of the water.


Images of water can be quite bland and so decided to move this into black and white to give the shot greater contrast, with a more ephemeral and abstract feel.   This image is quite central to the narrative and took at least fifteen shots while on location.  Exposing for the highlights was my aim and ultimately achieved what I was looking to capture.  Initially I had hoped the grittier, harsh realities of living on water were all going to be conveyed in black and white.  I deliberately left out the shot of the water bottles, despite the importance of their message (the irony of not having fresh running water while living on a barge).  In both colour and black and white the shot was poorly framed and lacked impact.  Koudelka placed his subjects in context for maximum impact and this image had no context at all.  If I had broadened the shot to include more context and focused on the reflection more, the water bottles shot may have been usable.

The harsher side of living on water was better captured by the smoking barge:


This image I debated including for some time.  In isolation I don’t feel the image is strong.  Again, it has a high dynamic range, with deep blacks in the funnel extending to the highlights in the background giving significant contrast.  The framing and angle of subject lets this image down, however, with a more sweeping angle of the barge and the rubbish and wood more off centre it probably would have worked with better balance.  It has been included as it fits with the narrative, something I am learning more and more about.  I recall the evocative works of Koudelka, his images all had balance, massive impact and said something powerful.  This image probably represents a missed opportunity for me to say more visually in a more compelling way.  I do see this as a great positive though, my awareness of impact and attributes which make images stand out has moved from a stance of ignorance to learning how I might better convey statements through my images in how and what I shoot.

There appeared a nice bridge in the working life on the water, in black and white, and the colour images through the man on the barge:


Maroon, from my investigation on colour, has large amount of black in its composition and felt worked well in juxtaposing black and white with colour in the final selection.  I was a little disappointed with the main character being ‘too central’, but had limited framing options with this shot in the spur of the moment.  The spray of the water with smoke from the barge represents the only image with significant movement.  With a higher than normal shutter speed I was happy in the main, my only wish was that I had a telephoto lens with me to focus on the main figure and exclude the noise created by the barges in the background to make the subject really stand out.

The vivid use of colour I have been able to adopt in part, particularly in the yellow barge door:


The framing, saturated colour and vibrancy of this image was a central concept I was looking to shoot.  It really stood out beyond all the other scenes when on location.  The shots of the working barges I didn’t feel fitted the narrative well, given the working side of water way life was represented in black and white, so the commercial sign shots were excluded.

The last two images included were those of the ‘Waterside Cafe’ and ‘Bobs your uncle’.  Both elicited strong use of colour, with the café sign having nice shadows from the railings emphasizing its urban setting and ‘Bobs your uncle’ had a slightly humorous feel to it, in a art deco kind of way (a glimpse into the past, which I saw in the black and white shots to some degree).  I was disappointed to exclude the shot of the duck, I really enjoyed the full contrast of colours and represented one of my favourite shots from the day.  I think stylistically it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the images.



All seven shots carry a narrative of water in an urban landscape which has been my major struggle with the first project.  I do believe the submission carries cohesion, which for me is a success.  I am pleased I have been able to incorporate contrast and colour to good effect in the shots and felt the use of a four element prime lens helped significantly.  Without doubt all these areas can be improved, specifically how I convey statements and ideas through images.  In the final submission, the landscape shot was also dropped, it didn’t fit at all stylistically or in the narrative.  What’s interesting to me is reflecting on how my awareness in photography is changing and am starting to adopt concepts and be influenced through the works of Koudelka, Adams et al. Exploring new ideas in colour has been really interesting, something a few months ago would have been alien.  Examining colour theory, namely colour harmony, has forced me to look at a scene completely differently and I think is telling when comparing my test shots with the submission.












People and the Environment – Living on Water in an Urban Landscape – Short list

My research has led me to explore contrast, colour, but above all, narrative through the final submission for project 1 ‘People and the Environment’.  Choosing a subject which gave me the most photographic opportunities was key, in being able to provide a narrative to the shots.  Following my ‘Don’t give up’ moment, I settled on shooting ‘Living on Water in an Urban Landscape’.  While not a particularly provocative subject, I felt my research and development in photography was best supported through choosing a more simple subject which could allow me to develop the ideas that have hit home the most over the last few months.

Most of the photographers I have researched have used medium format cameras to allow various facets of their respective work to be best demonstrated to the viewer.  Shooting with a digital SLR, I decided to use a medium focal length prime lens as this would have far fewer elements, providing greater colour saturation and tonal range.

Armed with a 135mm lens (only 4 elements) from the 1970s and a modern day wide angle (so I could revert to my photographic comfort blanket), I headed for Little Venice, close to Paddington station in London.  My aim was to provide a narrative to the back drop of life on water (Adams, Koudelka, Freeman) but explore contrast and colour (Eggleston, McCurry, Lachapelle).  I was minded of Cartier-Bresson’s comments of a splice of time and the rather melancholy moralistic view ‘On Photography’ of Sontag as I travelled closer to the waterways.  Below are the shortlist shots from that day:

In exploring the themes of contrast, colour and narrative the latter has posed the biggest challenge, but something which can’t be ignored, and ultimately pleased to have grappled with.  This particular element of a cohesive work is embodied and second nature to all those artists I have explored and feel those shots in the submission shortlist are cohesive, with the exception of the sunset landscape shot (my preferred area stylistically and in this case not a great image anyway).  As I started reviewing the shots for submission, I became acutely aware of how my photography is changing.  The narrative through the shortlist has been a success for me personally as I came to terms with this crucial concept.  In the final submission post for the first project, I will reference my research on narrative, colour and contrast and evaluate the shots for submission in this context.

Criteria 2,3,4,5

‘Don’t Give Up’ – High Contrast and Colour within a Narrative

The influence of Ansel Adams on photography generally has been enormous. Initial research into the work of Adams has been a joy, examining both technical and artistic contributions to the medium. His ability to frame a composition in the most vivid terms strikes the viewer while also leaving a legacy from his technical treatise on exposure, ultimately giving rise to modern day digitized ‘matrix metering’. Different avenues of photography, such as high contrast and Chiaroscuro photography with their associated pre-eminent artists, have opened my eyes to a creative world that have left me intrigued and at times intimidated. As someone who has personally focused so much of their photography on landscape shots and my natural predilections towards this subject matter, perhaps only naturally, Adams was the obvious starting point given the brief ‘People and the environment’.


(Ansel Adams, Half dome merced winter yosemite national park California, 1938)

“I hope that my work will encourage self expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us.”
—Ansel Adams

My research however, brought my attention towards artists who use high contrast to make a statement, such as Koudelka.  Josef Koudelka ( has documented people and the environment since the early 1960’s. So much of his work has been acclaimed by showing the human spirit in unforgiving landscapes. Gypsies (1975) particularly struck me, as the harsh Romani life in Europe is captured through high contrast black and white images, giving mood and exemplifying texture within his shots (josef-koudelka-gypsies).


(Josef Koudelka, Slovakia Klenovec Gypsies, 1967)

The viewer is not left with any ambiguity as to how harsh an environment can be. Exiles (1988) is not for the faint of heart either. Many of the images have a deep sense of foreboding and clearly reflect some of his own experiences having left native Czechoslovakia, applied and lived through political asylum. The courage Koudelka demonstrated in documenting the Soviet military invasion of Prague in 1968 was truly inspiring (Prague).  His images have a strong sense of narrative, something I was battling with in choosing a subject for our first submission.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Prague. August 1968. Warsaw Pact troops invade Prague.

(Josef Koudelka, Prauge, 1968)

Michael Freeman delineates the need for narrative to provide a sense of cohesion in a collection or body of work. Much of the collective written work on narrative in my research, has commented on the relationship between context and subject. In particular, Barthes talks of this interplay as the two central concepts of photography; ‘stadium’ and ‘punctum’ (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography by Roland Barthes (1980)). While reading excerpts, in the back of my mind was the old adage ‘fill the frame’, giving all or at least most of the attention to subject either through framing, colour or other photographic means to provide visual punctuation.

Colour theory we discussed in class and was explored and utilized extensively by William Eggleston (, something we later investigated following the exhibition at the National portrait gallery ( ‘Greenwood’, or more commonly referred to as ‘The Red Ceiling’, is a celebrated but prime example of rich saturated colour, a theme which permeates all his work. His influence extended far beyond his own medium, with musicians and filmmakers, such as David Lynch, drawing on the creative outputs of Eggleston. Sean O’Hagan, July 2004, interviews Eggleston with some surprising comments from the artist, revealing someone humble and understated given the impact of his work (


(William Eggleston Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973)

In my follow up research on colour theory I was particularly interested in how colour harmonies (e.g. Monochromatic, Analogous, Complementary, Split complementary, Triadic, Tetradic) can emphasise subject ( , McCurry, as a celebrated investigative photographer (, uses colour creatively to enhance subject regularly. His most celebrated work, ‘The Afghan Girl’ employs complementary colours from opposite sides of the wheel and to great effect. The modern commercial photographic aesthetic, however, increasingly looks for colour utilized to its fullest effect, in which the entire palette is on display. David Lachapelle in particular ( fills his work with vibrant colour from all areas of the colour wheel in the same shot.


(David Lachapelle, from Delirium of Reason, 2009)

It was clear to me that my first submissions requires a narrative to hold the shots together. Contrast and colour were key elements I was looking to explore, having initially looked at high contrast in test shots and subjects. After so many test shots and scrapped ideas, I decided to put the camera down and reflect on narrative, my research, what they mean to me and attempt putting all these pieces into practice. Eventually resting in a coffee shop, ‘Jailbird’ by Primal Scream was played over the radio and remembered the album ‘Don’t Give Up’. A shot from ‘Troubled Waters’ by Eggleston was used by the band for the CD cover, a happy coincidence and poignant given my search for subject.


(William Eggleston, Untitled from ‘Troubled Waters’, 1980)

Criteria: 1,2,4,5