People and Activity – Initial Reflection on Ex 2.2

For the second exercise in Part 2 of the course I identified two events that I could possibly go along to and photograph. The first was several weeks ago and was a charity event put on in aid of our local hospital, an even that involved a 5K run (or walk for the less energetic) while navigating giant inflatables.

I took part in the event last year and so thought there would be lots of opportunities for photos. On the day I wasn’t up to going and so decided that Plan B would be the event of choice.

Plan B was the British National Ploughing Championships which were being held just outside Taunton in Somerset. The event has been running for around 6 years but is held in different parts of the country in order to make it fair on all of the participants.

In the spring qualifying heats are held with the finals being held in October. Winners from the event get to compete internationally.

We discovered all of this by chatting to a lovely chap who was involved in a horticultural society and apologised as he wandered into one of my shots.

At first glance the event did not seem to be a large one. A number of static displays of small steam engines (not the train variety), a couple of larger engines that were pulling ploughs across a field (something that was fascinating when you realised that there had to be another engine at the other end of the field and the ploughs were being pulled to and from on a long steel cable by wound on drums beneath the steam engine).

Several horses could be seen ploughing in the distance and then there were the trade stands.

For anyone familiar with any of the Great Steam Fairs (such as Dorset) that occur around the country this paled by comparison.

That is until we discovered the three other fields where the ploughing competitions were going on. Although still not a patch on the Dorset Steam Fair the amount of horses, tractors and other vehicles that were pulling ploughs around was enough to make the day interesting. Certainly enough to draw several thousand people for the day.

Looking at the people there were all ages, from little babies all the way up to octogenerians and older.

Dogs abounded, most on leashes, with the one or two that weren’t being exceptionally well behaved.

The day started off a bit cold and overcast but just after lunch the sun came out and it soon became a case of taking off coats because it was too warm. Thank goodness for camera backpacks.

There were plenty of oppotunities for photographs and I took about 340 in total, which made the first pass through to reduce the selection to 50% quite a challenge. In fact I had to go back through after my initial pass and select a few more to achieve the 50%. I realise that I could have stuck with the initial 120 that I’d selected as that would have fulfilled the spirit of the exercise which is to reduce the number of images that you like, then reduce them a second and third time until you have the set that you are going to work with but hey, let’s stick with the percentages.

Second pass will reduce the number to 85 photos with the final selection being about 34 photos. Already I know that there are certain images I want to hang onto. There’s a number of photos of horses, there are a couple of photos of dogs, some people in period costume and lots of photos of ploughing. There are also a set of photos of one of the participants that show just how high the standard that they hold themselves to in the competition.

Finally, there are several photos that are reminiscent of the photographer that I used as my source of inspiration for the exercise, Martin Parr.

So to finish this initial review of the activity here is the result of my preparation and my reflections on the questions from the exercise in the course material

Question 1 – What kind of photographs do I want to make?

Andreas Gursky

Looking at some of Gursky’s images its very difficult to make out individuals people or objects. This is something that I don’t like as much when photographing people. I like to see expressions on faces, to catch those unguarded moments where a person’s personality shines through.

However, his F1 Boxenstopp series do have a look that I find appealing. The groups of mechanics working around the cars provides a good example of how to take photographs of groups of people engaged in an activity and includes a form of repetition because each image contains two teams rather than one, and also contains individuals standing out from the crowd.

Martin Parr

As soon as I went onto Martin Parr’s website (, the first image I was presented with was of a group of people waiting in a queue outside what appeared to be a marquee. The Royal insignia on the marquee suggests to me that this may be a Royal Garden Party or similar event.

The looks on people’s faces as they wait patiently in the rain is what particularly draws me to the image. The slight smile on the face of the chap looking towards where the photographer is taking the photo, the slightly distracted look on the face of the woman in the centre of the image; these are things I want to capture in my images.

Looking through some of Parr’s other work, including his Oxford and Cuba Tourism projects, I found myself loving the way that he manages to capture people without them seeming to be aware of his presence and so behaving in a completely natural way. The image from his Cuba Tourism series of a group of people taking part in a water aerobics style activity while standing in the sea is made all the more memorable by the guy in the forefront of the shot who appears to be taking water measurements or taking a photo of something in the water while unaware that his shorts have slipped and his “bum crack” is on show for anyone to see. It’s these subtle things that make an image for me and Parr is definitely someone whose work I want to explore more.

Robert Frank

Frank’s “The Americans” provides a lot of images of people going about their activities. The images being black and white removes a lot of distraction allowing the majority of the individuals to blend into the background with those that the viewer is drawn to standing out.

The use of black and white for my photographs is something I might explore during this exercise where images might benefit from it. Particularly as a lot of the participants in the charity event will be wearing black tee-shirts.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo

It’s hard to see many opportunities to capture cultural aspects of the events I’m planning on photographing. It’s possible that with the ploughing event there will be more of an opportunity for this.

Trent Parke

As both of the events I’m looking at will be during daytime, the opportunity to frame shots with lighting effects is going to be slim.

Robert Avedon

There will definitely be opportunities to draw individuals out of the background in both events. Reducing the depth of field to blur backgrounds and highlight particular individuals will definitely be something that I could do, particularly at the charity event.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Quite a lot of the photos I take of people are candid and not posed. I find that is when people are at their most revealing but can also be when they are most vulnerable. I’m sure that there will be the chance to take some candid photos throughout the event, particularly at the start and finish areas.

Question 2 – Research the type of photography or photographer that inspires you.

See research into Martin Parr.

Question 3 – Pre-visualise images

I think I need to get shots of people leading the horses while ploughing and close ups of the horses faces when their taking part in events. I also want to try and catch the faces of people who are watching the events, particularly if they happen to be wearing something interesting. Anyone involved in traditional activities would also be a good subject for a photograph.

Question 4 – Equipment

I’m going to need freedom of movement so a tripod won’t be needed, however, a monopod would be useful as it’s small enough to carry all day even if not needed and is quick to set up. Macro and other lenses for close up work won’t be necessary, whereas a telephoto lens will allow the opportunity to get close into the action without needing to be inside the ploughing arena. A prime lens for wider shots would also be useful.

Question 5 – Planning

Travelling to the ploughing event will require a bit of planning as it is about 30 miles away. Taking photographs won’t require permission as the event is open to the public.


2 thoughts on “People and Activity – Initial Reflection on Ex 2.2”

  1. Fabulous research Jenna. I eagerly await to see the photos that you have made.

    I’m begining to enjoy seeing people’s street photography. Not quite true. I really enjoy seeing others street photography and am considering trying it, to experiment a little.


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