Diane Arbus Revelations

Diane Arbus Revelations (2003). Exhibition Catalogue. Random House Publishing Group.

This book accompanies the exhibition of Arbus’ work by the same name that occurred between 2004 and 2006 in the U.S.A, Germany and London.

The book can be broken down in to three main sections and contains  illustrations based on many of her photos, as well as extracts from her notebooks and correspondence.

The main part of the book is almost an autobiography as it includes extracts from Arbus’ correspondence with family, friends and colleagues; including some of the most renowned photographers and editors of her time. This section covers from 1923 though to her suicide in 1971.

The other main parts of the book are an essay concerning the significance of her work and a description of the techniques she used and the attempt to replicate these by Neil Selkirk following her death. This replication was done as part of producing a book and exhibition that followed her death.

The exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco in 2004 contained roughly 190 of her prints.

Diane Arbus was fascinated by people, particularly where there was something different about them. The body of her work clearly shows this, with very few landscape or still life images. I can’t imagine myself producing work likes hers, simply because of the amount of interaction that would be required with individuals and groups of people.

For me the best part of this book is the opportunity to read Diane Arbus’ own words from postcards, letters and notebooks. Reading what she wrote gives an insight to her mind and personality. Something that hasn’t been as apparent from other works I’ve read about her. The opportunity to read her words provides a chance to try to understand the thought processes and urges that drove someone very important to photography. Being able to do this without going through other people’s filters gives a different perspective.

The other part of the book that I found interesting to read was the extract from her autopsy report. Reading this adds another dimension to her story, something that has been missing from other books and articles.

Seeing the autopsy report contrasts with reading her words in that it turns Arbus into an anonymous female and then into a pile of human organs, devoid of any individuality or personality. It brings home the fact that, regardless of who we are, how wealthy we are, how talented we are; we are at the heart of it a bag of skin that keeps a jumble of bones and organs from flopping all over the place. An organic mass that when animated allows us to move about, manipulate things and shape the world around us; as well as allowing us the chance to document that world through a variety of means that link to our senses.

Feedback on Assignment 4

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

You’ve identified a topical theme (plastic waste) and approached it in a consistent and methodical manner.

From the contact sheets I can see you’ve tried moving the image around in the frame and settled upon a central composition which firmly situates the object but leaves little room for the eye to move around the scene. Whilst this can be a strategy within your work, consider how changing the angle of view might have led to a different relationship to the object.

I’m thinking here of Andy Hughes’s images of waste from beaches around the world. In one image, a lighter is discarded and left upright in the sand, shot from ground level looking up towards the lighter it becomes a kind of monolith and has an impending sense of doom which echoes Hughes’ concerns as an environmental advocate.

The image of the dead bird is very striking as are some of the more abstract compositions of waste from the beach. It would have been good to change the set up a little and add some visual interest to the series by including some of these.

The dead bird was something I would have liked to use but I didn’t think it would fit in with the theme, especially with the number of images we were able to use. I had been contemplating using it as part of a series on dead wildlife/road kill. However, by changing the emphasis on the project to things that are abandoned means I could utilise the images of the bird as well as some of the images of feral cats that I took in Cyprus.  Contrasting things that have been abandoned by man with things that have been abandoned naturally through death, like the bird, or allowing things to get out of control, like the large number of feral cats.

Some of the images look a bit on the dark side and could benefit from some brightening – consider applying a curve and cleaning up some of the yellow/brown tones that spread across the set.

Curves are a really powerful tool for doing this in Photoshop. Have a look through some of Adobe’s online tutorials (beginner > advanced) and find one suitable. Start practicing the application of curves and keep track of before and after shots to see how much better your images becomes once you learn to use them.

The changes I make to images using the curves tool in Lightroom are quite basic so I really need to look at getting more proficient with using tools like this if I’m going to get the best from my photos.

Have you thought much about how you might present or showcase this work and what format would best suit it?

I’d not given thought to how to showcase this work. Contemplating how to showcase it I think I’d want to go down the exhibition route. At the moment I have two sets of images, one from Norfolk, the other from Cyprus. I think it would be good to have another couple of sets of images from other places, preferably countries in order to highlight the global scale of the issue. I also think that continuing with the link to bodies of water: the sea, lakes and rivers, would be a good way to link them together. Taking into account the suggestions above about changing perspective and composition there would be an obvious progression to the images produced.

I also intend to complete a PADI open water diving qualification over the summer and following on from there a 2 day Underwater Photography course, when it’s next run at the diving centre. Diving is something I’ve not done since I was at Polytechnic but it was fun and I enjoyed it. Combining that with my photography seems like a great way to take things forward and add a new element to my work.

Learning Logs


It would be good to see reference to some contemporary examples of photographic work (see recommendations below) and your thoughts in response to it. Beware of reading too many technical/how-to style photography books. Whilst these are helpful in mastering technique, they rarely discuss the wider context of the work produced or the language of photography itself.

I’ve noticed that in recent months I’m picking up more books that highlight the work done by various photographers as well as giving some background to their lives.

I’m currently working my way through Diane Arbus – Revelations, which in addition to a chronology of her work based around her notebooks, letters and other writing, also includes essays concerning the relevance of her work and another on the techniques and methods that she used. This carries on from my earlier interest in Arbus and her work.

I’ve also  just finished reading Women War Photographers: From Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus, something I picked up after coming across the work of Gerda Taro. I have books about Taro and her relationship with Robert Capa on my current reading list.

Also just added to my reading list is the exhibition catalogue for Mandy Barker’s Altered Ocean exhibition, which I didn’t manage to visit when it was on in Bristol. In September I’ll be visiting the Cindy Sherman retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery as I have to be in London for a workshop related to my day job.

Suggested reading/viewing


Andy Hughes – http://www.andyhughes.net/

Looking at Hughes website and the particularly the projects page (http://www.andyhughes.net/site/projects-2-2/) there are a number of images that leap out at me.

The first is the image of the figure that is surrounded by orange paint splodges. The splodges remind me of caterpillars or millipedes. Looking at this image it reminds me that no matter how great mankind thinks it is, even the smallest of creatures will overwhelm us eventually. We might be able to shape our world to suit us but we all face the prospect of being “worm food” eventually.

The second image that leapt out at me was of the discarded condom. Looking at it reminds me of Lampreys. The abandoned condom could be seen to symbolise how mankind attaches itself to the planet and feeds on it. If we are careful we won’t destroy our host, if we aren’t then we could kill it and then have to find another host to latch on to. Except in our case, we don’t have another host to move on to.

Like the lighter image mentioned in the feedback above, the image of the lightbulb (http://www.andyhughes.net/site/portfolio-2/uncategorized/italy-cities-cultural-heritage-digital-humanities/) shows how changing perspective alters how things appear. I love the way that the curved shape of the bulb mirrors the curved ceiling.

Finally I love the images where Hughes as placed an upside down bottle on a object, like a stick, giving the impression that something is pouring out of the bottle.

I think Hughes’ book Dominant Wave Theory will be something I add to my reading list.

Edward Burtynsky  – Anthropocene Project: https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/the-anthropocene-project/

The trailer for Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is interesting and brings the effect that we are having on the world around us, and the creatures that inhabit it with us, home. The final show of the piles of elephant tusks being burned is particularly shocking. How many hundreds of elephants perished just so people could have the ivory from their tusks?

Mandy Barker – Altered Ocean: http://www.rps.org/exhibitions-and-competitions/mandy-barker

 I can’t really comment on Barker’s Altered Ocean exhibition. From the little I’ve seen of it, image-wise, it looks impressive. I’ve ordered the exhibition catalogue and am looking forward to viewing the work that she has produced that way.

Dead Bird

I had a bit of time to take another look at the images of the dead bird. In the end I decided that only one of the ones I’d originally used I still liked and two of the images that I’d rejected I preferred.

I’ve included these below.

Assignment 4 - Bird-7917

This is one of the original images I considered using but didn’t include in the final selection. I’ve adjusted the image so that you can see some of the markings.

Assignment 4 - Bird-7915

This image was one I rejected initially but on revisiting decided it was better than the full body image. I like this image because it has the whole of the birds head and you can just about make out some of the ants that were crawling on the dead body. Again I adjusted the image so that the white and black flecks are visible.

Assignment 4 - Bird-7916

If I was to select one of these images to use then it would be this one. Although it doesn’t have the full beak and one of the ants from the previous image has moved out of shot, you can still see other ants, particularly the ones that are crawling over the eye area. You might have to look closely to see them, black ants on black feathers don’t stand out massively.

Once again I adjusted the image so that the white flecks among the black are visible. I think the level of detail with the feathers and the inside of the beak are something I’m really happy with and if I was to display this as part of an exhibition then I’d want it to be at least A4 size in order to allow for some of the details to be seen clearly.

Some initial ideas for Responding to a Theme

Lunch by the sea
Lunch by the Sea

Last summer I started thinking about what I wanted to do for the 4th assignment in the course. The theme was man’s impact on the environment and with that in mind I took some photos while out walking near the sea while we were in Norfolk.

I don’t think that the photos meet the brief for a still life, however, they did give help me refine some ideas around what I wanted to do.

Although my original intention to collect some of the things that people leave on a beach and use them to make a still life didn’t happen, it’s amazing how clean beaches can be at the end of the season, during a recent run in the countryside I noticed so much rubbish that people just abandon. Looking at some of the items it’s not people accidentally dropping things, it’s people deliberately throwing them from vehicles.

So the next time I go out that way for a run will be with a rucsack and some gloves to collect the more interesting items that I can then use to make some still lifes from.

Still here

The last few months have been touch. Having got the first assignment out of the way I managed to work on a number of the exercises for part 2 of the course. Having reached exercise 2.9 everything ground to a halt.
Part of the problem is that I found myself without a willng, or sometimes not so willing, subject for portrait work. It’s proven a bit of a challenge. It’s taken me a while but I have managed to find a way to complete the exercise, if albeit with a bit of a stretch when it comes to the brief.
The photos I have at the moment explore the use of high ISO as well as light sources when it comes to capture an image.
I’m hoping that by the end of next week I’ll have been able to complete the exercises and with a bit of luck have some work I can submit for assignment 2. At that point I can move on to part 3 which will hopefully be something I can get through a lot quicker and get everything back on track.
Despite the lack of progress with the course I’ve been doing some work around my photography. I’ve been exploring Publisher and have produced a short book based around my son’s experiences in his last few months. That book is with someone who writes a weekly column in a local newspaper as well as being involved with our town literary festival. I’m hoping to get some useful feedback from her as how to get it to a state where it might be possible to publish it, something I’d like to do with the help of some artist friends who can hopefully turn the images I’ve used into illustrations.
I’ve also booked some space at an arts, crafts and hobbies exhibitions that our church is putting on in February to showcase the talents of members of the congregation. I’m going to exhibit some of my photographic work from the last couple of years.
And finally, I’ve just bought a Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 optic, which I’m getting my head around and enjoying the effects that the lens produces.

2018 will be a busy year for me as I have a lot going between work, a lot of running and triathlons from March through to October and performing with the burlesque troupe I’m part of at a local music festival in June. All of which will, hopefully, provide some great photographic opportunities.


Missed Opportunity

A few weeks ago I was in Bristol with my family. Tracey, my other half, had an appointment at the eye hospital.

My son has terminal cancer and needs to use a wheelchair to get any real distance outside the house. As we only had about 10 minutes to get from the car park to the hospital, Tracey headed off while I got the wheelchair out of the car. Rhys and I followed behind at our own pace.

Walking down from the Galleries down the hill through Broadmead towards the hospital I noticed a few homeless people taking refuge in a doorway. As we reached the bottom of the hill my attention was drawn to the opposite side of the road.

There lying on the ground was someone who looked like he was passed out from drinking, a bottle clutched in his hand. The majority of people just walked passed him. I assume that seeing someone like that is such a common event around there that people don’t pay it any attention.

One person, however, did stop. A cyclist. He knelt down and I watched him speak to the guy, checking that he was OK.

It was at that point, as I was watching the two interact in the middle of the busy street that I wished I had my camera readily available. With my hands holding the wheelchair I didn’t even have the chance to get out my phone.

Even now, several weeks on, the image haunts me. I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been the best photo in the world but it would have been one that spoke far more than any I’ve taken to-date. And I missed it.

A few years ago I received a compact camera as a Christmas present. Sitting here writing this the camera is on charge. It’s small enough that I can carry it on me at all times. It’s not going to capture really detailed images and I’ll be limited with what control I have over the photos I take, it really is just a point and click job, but it will hopefully mean that the next time I see a scene like that I won’t miss the opportunity.