Do Not Bend - The Photographic Life of Bill Jay

Who is Bill Jay? Some of you may know of the name, but he is probably one of the most unappreciated writers on photography.

I, for one, knew very little about him until this year. Anyone who has been tutored by me over the years has probably had the book, On Being A Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn recommended to them. Despite being the co-author of this much read title, I had never really comprehended who Jay was. David Hurn was the more well-known of the two authors, from being a Magnum photographer and his involvement with photographic teaching in the UK.

On Being a Photographer has been one of my go-to default recommendations to students, and a book that I have read many times over the years. For a long time, I gave David Hurn almost full credit for the book and had never appreciated the importance of the involvement of Bill Jay.

In March of this year, I was at the National Museum Cardiff and I spotted David Hurn in the photography gallery. Plucking up the courage to go and speak to him, I thanked him for writing On Being a Photographer and explained the impact it had on me both as a photographer and a teacher. He politely accepted my praise and then went to elucidate on his collaboration with Bill Jay, and how it was in fact Bill who should take the credit for the book.

He then took me over to a cabinet which had a selection of drawings/wood cuts by Bill Jay and explained how much he adored them and Bill Jay’s witty sense of cutting to the chase when writing about photography.


In the case was the following caption written by David Hurn:

“I met Bill Jay in the late ‘60s. He edited Creative Camera magazine and later Album. What Bill managed to do was to start introducing another way of looking at pictures other than just being content in a magazine. They were the same pictures but he was simply saying “there is another way of looking at them.” I think that helped to develop a whole new way of shooting pictures, where photographers were more conscious of the aesthetic side of the photograph whilst not losing the content quality of the picture. Bill was the prime mover for that shift, and out of this movement people like Sue Davies set up The Photographers’ Gallery”

A month or so later, one of the photography twitter accounts I follow was promoting a film screening. The film was titled Do Not Bend – The Photographic Life of Bill Jay. Intrigued I clicked the link and read about the film.

Image by Grant Scott

Image by Grant Scott

On Tuesday 8 May I found myself at The Frontline Club in London for a screening of Do Not Bend.

The film is a joy to watch, and fulfils the requirement of being entertaining, informative and educating. There is wonderful use made of archive footage of Bill Jay talking and lecturing. His delivery is infectious, and you cannot help but be swept along for his enthusiasm for all things photographic.

Without wanting to give too much away, the film demonstrates the questioning approach that Bill Jay took to photography. His influence was felt on photographers such as Martin Parr and Paul Hill, who have then gone on to influence many other photographers.

Paul Hill being interviewed.  Image by Tim Pellatt

Paul Hill being interviewed.

Image by Tim Pellatt

Alongside the film, there is an interesting backstory to the making . Grant Scott, one of the directors of the film has a background in art direction and magazine editing. In recent years he has moved to photography teaching and writing about photography. Unfamiliar with who Bill Jay was, it was a chance remark on how he wrote like Bill Jay that started his research. Intrigued by this, Scott followed up the reference and from that point an obsession developed. The resulting film was produced in partnership with Tim Pellatt.

Using a combination of interviews with people who knew Bill from his earliest days involved with photographers in London, to his final years teaching in the USA, plus conversations with family, a narrative of his life is established. By using archive footage and recordings of Jay talking, the directors have been able to use Jay’s own words to narrate the story of his life.

From the outset the film had no structure and each interview led to further interviews which progressed the story further. No one person had a complete picture of Jay’s life and so the film is a piecing together of many elements. By using a technique more akin to planning a publication, Scott was able to use his skill from planning magazines to sequence the footage. The resulting film is a credit to this technique and the skills of the directors to create a final piece that has fluidity to the narrative.

Image by Grant Scott

Image by Grant Scott

There is further screening of the film in Scotland in September this year. If you are able to attend do go. At the end of each screening there is a Q&A with Grant and Tim and this is a great opportunity to ask questions and find out more about how the film was made.

It is eventually planned for the film to be made available via streaming services.

Image by Michael Pritchard

Image by Michael Pritchard

For more information on the film and details of further screenings this year:

To read more of Grant Scott’s writing on photography:

For an interview with Grant Scott (the film is discussed about half way into the interview):

With kind thanks to the photographers for permission to use images.

This post first appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.

Thou Shalt Not Age

‘Thou shalt not age’ by Nuala Mahon.

In part three of the Context and Narrative course, students explore the notion of self. Students are asked to produce work in response to a diary. Nuala Mahon explains in the introduction to her work, how the idea of invisibility with age intrigued her. She explains on her blog:

“But the idea of how or why women feel invisible interests me. Is it driven by consumerism that glorifies youth and perfection? Is it that, with age, we are less sexually attractive? Or is it that one really does become invisible with age? I wanted to try to represent this invisibility.”

Being of a certain indiscriminate age (46 if you must ask), and with several of my closest friends a few years older I wasn’t sure how to take being asked to write about this work.

Like the student, I turned grey many years ago. Recently I made a conscious decision to go with it and forgo the battle of hairdressers and dyes. What happened, I felt happier but there was a distinct change in how others approached me in social situations. This was mainly from people that I met for the first time, but I was being treated as old. In business meetings I was taken less seriously, good for making the coffee and baking cakes, my knowledge of technology was often disregarded.

At first, I didn’t realise this was happening. The image Inside I’m twenty from Nuala’s work accurately sums up how I feel as well.



The issue of the aging women has been explored recently by Helen Walmsley-Johnson in her book The Invisible Woman, she writes:

“It’s tempting to align this whole business with the way older women feel they fit , or not, within society as they age, to look at it as a by-blow of the importance placed on female physical beauty, as we currently define it. To put it very simply and generally, with age men become wealthier, more powerful, dignified, and wiser while women growing older sense all of that slipping away as their faces and bodies age and they feel themselves becoming more and more irrelevant, apparently. It might not sound like much but the small stuff, such as not being taken seriously (as a consumer, as an employee …) grinds us down and the further down we go the less cortisol we produce to deal with the stress of being on the lower rungs of the social pecking order.”

Nuala’s work touches on many of these ideas. In the image below the use of the mask creates a barrier between the viewer and subject. The idea of masquerade is well explored within photography.



The series of images is both arresting and interesting. There is a mix of styles and photographic technique, which could lead to the series appearing disparate. However, with the use of the overlaid text, the images are linked one to the next. At the same time, each image is able to stand on its own individual merit. The phrasing on all the images is not questioning but direct. The photographer it seems is instructing us on how we should question our views.

My own views on this work, are of course influenced by my feelings on the wider subject and part of the sharing of this work is to elicit responses from a wider audience.

What do other ages or genders feel about the aging process? Is it culturally specific as well? When I asked Nuala about the work, she cited her personal experience from being in France and Ireland as being very different. In France all ages seem to be happy to socialise together, whereas in Ireland she describes the younger generation as wishing to be totally separate from the older generations


In the final image of the series, we are met by the gaze of the subject. The look is direct, straight at the viewer and the text references a very well know slogan from the beauty industry. The addition of “I told you” is both definite and defiant.

This quote from Helen Walmsley-Johnson seems to encapsulate this work:

“That we will all age is inevitable and inescapable but it doesn’t alter the person we are inside; our character, memories, strength, personality and intelligence are what make us us.”

With kind thanks to Nuala Mahon for use of images.

This post was first published on the WeAreOCA blog.

What's your creative resolution?

For many, the New Year is a time to make resolutions. These often involve responding the excess of the Christmas holiday season to eat healthily or exercise more.

This may have been the time of year that you first thought about signing up for your course with OCA. A new year with new plans and goals.

We asked for some ideas for creative resolutions for 2018 to make it the most productive year.

1. Make time to work

Think what works for you in your day/week. Find slots of time and try to stick to them. If necessary book them in your diary like you would a meeting or appointment. Ensuring that family and friends understand that you are studying and respect your working time is important – after all they would understand if you were attending a college one evening a week.

2. Do first, think after

Start work, don’t analyse or reflect on what you are doing. Write that first sentence, take a photograph, draw a line in a sketchbook, play a musical note. Don’t hesitate and dive straight in.

3. Push out of your comfort zone

If you are visual arts student, go to a music concert or read literature/poetry that you wouldn’t normally access. If you are music or creative writing student, go to see some textiles or illustration. If you work in two dimensions, go and look at some three-dimensional work.

Cross the boundaries and see where that takes you (and remember to include the experiences in your learning log).

4. Get organised

Find a system that works for you to track your progress. Diaries, wall charts, whiteboards all can work. Set yourself deadlines to pace your workload. Be realistic and allow for busy times and setbacks.

Creating a good pace on your course is very motivational as you can create a rhythm to your work. Track what you have done – there is nothing like crossing ‘to dos’ off a list to make you feel a sense of accomplishment.

However, do avoid the trap of spending hours and hours creating beautiful time planners without actually doing any work …

5. Give all ideas equal consideration

Never reject an idea at first. Teachers often say there are no such things as stupid questions … the same principle applies to ideas. Sometimes the ideas that lurk around in the background become the most fruitful.

Use the time on the course to experiment, to play, to take risks with your work. Often students focus on the final outcome and describe a seemingly linear approach on to how they got there.

The creative journey is often anything but linear and will twist, turn and sometimes frustratingly you end up at a dead end. Remember to document this work journey. It is often the process of producing work that we gain the most from, rather than the outcome.

6. Backing up

If you don’t have a back-up system in place then start one NOW. Not tomorrow or the day after … It is one of those neglected tasks that gets relegated and neglected, with the thought it won’t happen to me … but if data failure does occur (and it does) you will be kicking yourself for not taking action.

There are many options – cloud based, external hard drive, NAS drives, USB sticks, DVD. Whatever you choose to do, the advice from IT professionals is to use two different sources to back up to. So, what are you waiting for, get your files on your computer organised and regularly back up images, word documents and other computer files.

Don’t forget about web based content – blogs/websites. If you are typing directly into the blog/website – a simple way is to copy and paste the information into a format you can save elsewhere.

7. If you fall off the wagon …

It happens, we make a resolution and we don’t stick to it. First of all, don’t beat yourself up about it. Second, dust yourself down and start again. Think why it didn’t work and make adjustments.

In the words of Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Happy Creative 2018

This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.

A Green and Pleasant Land

Disclaimer: This is not an exhibition review!


On recent trip to the south coast I visited A Green and Pleasant Land exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne.

The exhibition sets out to show how the British landscape has been interpreted by artists since 1970. From the exhibition preamble, the show is described as:

“Considered as a whole, the exhibition shows that the British landscape is unpredictable, contested and interdependent. It also demonstrates the important role that artists play in articulating these concerns”

As you view the exhibition, the images are not shown in chronological order. Walk through the doors and straight ahead, the towers of Agecroft Power Station taken in 1983 by John Davies loom as a large-scale print. As you leave the exhibition there is an image by Fay Godwin from 1976. In between a varied selection of work and artists is shown.

Exhibitions from collections function on several levels. In the first instance, they are a great way to access the work of many different photographers. For the student, you can explore a variety of work to then follow up on any photographer/artist that you found particularly striking. We can view real prints on display, getting a feel for scale, presentation and use of captioning. The selection of artists allows for each photographer to appear within a context of contemporaries. As a viewer of the show, a narrative establishes of the progression and response of photography to the landscape.

Beyond this experience, we should take a more critical viewpoint and consider who is shaping the interpretation that we are being shown. If we take a further step backwards, travelling beyond the landscape we gain an insight into how photography in its widest sense is being viewed within the established gallery/museum sphere.

We should always consider how the curation of such shows leads to an established timeline and story of photographic history.

In this case the images are, in the main from Arts Councils own collection and the selection of material is in therefore constrained by what is held in this collection.

There are some notable inclusions. As you travel along the timeline, more women photographers are included. The work becomes more experimental.
Through the show, we see the introduction of digital technology, the growing proliferation of moving image, mixed media and installations as part of the photography art world.

As with all history, we should be critically aware of the sources used to formulate established histories. Over time a conformity of memory establishes, as each curator and historian references that which has become before. Works of art and artists become ingrained in the established historical cannon of photography.

In the essay “The Judgement Seat of Photography”, Christopher Phillips writes about the succession of Head of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Phillips describes how the various approaches to curation have ultimately shaped galleries/museums approaches to displaying photography.

For all of photography’s perceived democracy we are still establishing its history through the curator’s eye.

A Green and Pleasant Land
Towner Art Gallery
Ends 21 January 2018

This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.

Small Town Inertia

Photograph by J A Mortram

Photograph by J A Mortram

Some years ago, I came across a photographer on Twitter. He was based in Dereham in Norfolk, not a million miles away from me. The images he was posting stood out. Stark black and white documentary photographs that echo a tradition that starts in the slums of Manhattan with Jacob Riis. This work however, is not historical, this is now. These are images from my country, from a town that less than 70 miles away.

Jim Mortram is not a professional photographer, he is self-taught and a carer to his mother. The camera became a tool for him to reconnect both with himself and those around. For over the seven years, he has been photographing people in his town, his friends and telling their stories. This work has been recently published via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign in the book Small Town Inertia.

As a backer of the Kickstarter I was familiar with Jim’s work and his approach. However, nothing quite prepared me for the resulting book.

The images switch between the various friends that he has photographed. Each image is accompanied by a small piece of text, normally in the subjects own words. As you progress through the book, the stories piece together to form a narrative on each of the people photographed.

Jim shoots medium format and 35mm black and white film, which are hand processed and printed by himself. The process of working in traditional black and white, builds in time for review and reflection on the work. Something that we can often loose when working with digital.

Mortram’s work functions on many levels. On social media platforms, he is vocal about politics and the policies that have resulted in changes to the welfare state provision. The book has essays which frame the context of the work. However, to view his work as just political is not in any way to do it justice. The student of photography and visual art will have much to gain on how to approach storytelling, and form a narrative from singular images.

To photograph family and friends is something that is rarely done with such accomplishment. The resulting images can often fall into sentimentality or veer towards the family album aesthetic. Mortram has instead produced images that are refined and considered. The photographs manage to combine being personal and empathetic and at the same time allow the subjects to have space within the frame to tell their story with dignity and as an equal.

The book is also a reminder that photography projects are all around us. To have something that is on your doorstep, that you can return to time and time again, allows for a photographer to refine their practice. To work and rework an idea allows for leaps in both technical and aesthetic skill development.

For an introduction to Jim discussing the book.

An early article discussing the project from The Guardian

BJP Interview from May 2017 with Jim Mortram

To follow Jim Mortram:

Twitter @JAMortram

Instagram @smalltowninertia

Image credit: Jim Mortram

This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.

Get Familiar With Your Local Gallery

Yesterday I was in my small town and passed the doorway of our local gallery and saw this poster.



Karl Blossfeldt, really I thought, THE Karl Blossfeldt? With 20 minutes spare, I popped in. Inside were 40 wonderful original prints by Karl Blossfeldt. The printing process he used gives the images an exquisite tonal range this combined with his method of photographing allows many of the images to appear three dimensional. My spare 20 minutes quickly disappeared and another visit planned with more time allowed.

This exhibition is at the end of its tour, but a quick Google search reveals that it has been on a very varied journey around the country.

This made me think how it is quite easy when planning exhibition visits to focus on the major galleries and look for big shows. Many students plan a ‘big day out’ and try and capture as many galleries and shows as they can – sometimes dragging somewhat reluctant family members with them.

While this type of trip is a great way of experiencing a range of art forms, it can be overwhelming by trying to absorb so much information in one day.

There are hundreds of smaller galleries across the country showing a wide programme of work. They may feature local/regional artists or show touring exhibitions. It is well worth getting frequented with the galleries in your local area and subscribe to their mailing list to keep up to date.

Don’t forget to do the research to see what is on in an area prior to trips away (and of course there is always the joy of planning a trip to take in an exhibition that appeals further afield).

During the summer months, many areas of the country run Open Studios schemes. Visiting artists in their working environment can inspire many ideas. There is the added bonus of seeing process put into practice and having conversations with working artist. Read OCA tutor Jim’s post on Open Studios here.

Taking an hour or so to visit a smaller show can be really productive. By seeing less, you can spend more time absorbing the work and give yourself time to think it over.

Remember to be open and explore a variety of media, your ideas can come from anywhere. Visiting smaller shows can allow you to explore outside of your chosen area of study – be open to other creative disciplines and you will be surprised by what may inspire you.
If you are interested in the Karl Blossfeldt exhibition it is on at Broadway Gallery, Letchworth Garden City until 10 September 2017.

After that it travels to Art Gallery, Beverley from 23 September 2017.

If you find a hidden gem of an exhibition please share it below.

This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.


I have just finished speaking to a student as part of a telephone tutorial. He is at that mid point in a project and the conversation was about taking the next steps forward.

There were a few points that he made in his discussion that made me confident that he had achieved clarity and a sense of direction on the project that he was working on.

“It is how I see it” was his comment to me. This was a definite statement, not a proposition, not a question. “It is how I see it” – here was a moment of realisation at the point he is it currently at.

This got me thinking about the process of making work. The point of realisation when the work starts to become your own. That point where your personal voice starts to take over and mold and shape the images.

“It’s only after looking at lots of books and exhibitions that this happened” he went onto explain.

For students on any course, this process of research and reflecting on the work of others is pivotal to finding your own way forward. Art of any kind is not created in a vacuum but in response to a constant dialogue with the world at large.

If you are struggling with finding your own way with a topic, immerse yourself in research. Don’t get hung up on the biography of the artists but instead think about how you respond to the work. Ask yourself – why does this work have this effect on me?

This is the time to be specific, maybe only discuss one or two images. Avoid the sweeping generalisations about a style of working and really get into the detail of what has attracted (or conversely what you really don’t like) about an image. Sometimes this is easier to do by annotating an image: use arrows, bullet points, overlays as shortcuts to get yourself interacting with the work of others. Don’t be a passive observer but be active in your response.

This active engagement can feed directly into your creative process.

Too often we get hung up on the technicalities of image taking. Our decision making process is taken up with the equipment needed to shoot and then more decisions on technology needed for the post-processing. The creative process can easily be lost sight of. Again this is a time to get active in your reflection on your own work.

To get a project going we often have to shoot a lot of images. Then we need to reflect and edit our images. Take the time to sift through those early shoot images. Our brains need to distill them in terms of ideas and subjects as part of our creative thinking.

To aid this process, it is a really good idea to have small prints of your images. Lay them out and play around with the sequencing of the photographs and see how images relate to each other. Using annotation to record this process and include it as part of your learning log. If it is easier to work on paper, and you have an online learning log, simply photograph your notes to include them.

From these juxtapositions, connections can be made and this is when the leap forward can happen and you can experience your own “how I see it” moment.

Now think back to your research into the work of others and make links to the research and any planning that you have done. Your work may well have gone off on a tangent but that is not what this process is about. It is all about the journey, one connection leading to another, however disjointed.

This is the process that allowed my student to develop his personal voice – what has worked for you?

This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.


I dread to think how many words have been written on camera and associated equipment reviews. The photography industry is constantly reworking camera and lens models. It feels as if the pressure is always on to upgrade and add more and more pixels. The magazine and online journals seem to profligate this message (of course fueled by the advertising revenue from said equipment companies). It is easy to get caught in a spiral of ‘if only I had this lens my images would be better’.

Many photographers will tell you that they are asked more about the kit they use than the creative process. However haven’t we got this the wrong way round? It is not the photographers’ ability to utilize the equipment as part of the creative process that makes the image, not the equipment per se.

If you are always carrying a full kit bag you may find that your creative decisions are overtaken by equipment decisions, what lens to use, tripod, filters, flash before you even get onto thinking about camera settings and eventually post-processing decisions.

What happens when you don’t have your fully kitted out camera bag with you … for whatever reason you have to improvise. Here enters the camera phone.

“The best camera is the one you have with you”

I was first aware of this quote by Chase Jarvis an American lifestyle photographer. He was an earlier adopter of plugging phones to take images and published a book of his iPhone images in 2009.

We are seeing an ever-greater proliferation of images taken on phones. For many people this is the only way that they take and consume images.

However some photographers will dismiss the camera phone as not being a proper camera, and denigrate the camera phone for only being able to produce selfies for social media feeds.

But don’t be too quick to dismiss the camera phone, as there are some very strong projects that have been created with just these devices. At The Photography Show in March I saw talks by several photographers talking about their camera phone work.

Jo Bradford is an art photographer based on Dartmoor, her work is based around cameraless photography. In January 2015 she was on maternity leave and wanted to keep taking photographs. She started a 365 project based around Dartmoor where she lives. Taking her two small children with her meant that she could not carry her full kit as well as a supply of baby food, nappies etc. So she used her camera phone, posting one image a day to Instagram. The project gained momentum and ended with a following of 56,000 followers. The project ‘A Love Letter to Dartmoor’ features the landscape of Dartmoor and every image is taken on an iPhone. By being freed from equipment worries, the use of the iPhone allowed Bradford to concentrate on the creative process of taking the images.

Julian Calverley is an advertising photographer. He started using his iPhone for recce shots when scouting locations. The ease of using the phone plus its ability to log GPS coordinates meant that a whole area could be scouted quicker. He found that the focal length of the iPhone camera was similar to the lens for his large format. Over time the iPhone images become their own project and now have been published and exhibited. Calverley says that there is something about the spontaniety of the little device that freed up his picture taking. More than once he had revisited a scene with his large format kit but could never match the image taken on the phone.

All three of these photographers have been able to use their photographic skills when switching to the camera phone. Their images, regardless of the camera taken on, show considered understanding of the basics of photography.

The camera phone has alleviated some of the technical decisions over kit and allowed the photographers to concentrate on taking photographs and being creative. The camera phone images have become projects in their own right, developed their own direction and impetus, separate to their regular photographic output.

So is it not about what camera you have; it is all about using the camera you have to hand? Or is that just an excuse to be lazy…


This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.


I stumbled across this film on Twitter last week. I was at home ill in bed and normally I save links to watch at a later stage. However this one I watched all the way through to the end and then I watched it again.  The images have haunted me ever since.  Being familiar with the work of Chris Killip, I wanted to explore the work further as he is a photographer that I often recommend to students.In the 1980s, British photographer Chris Killip photographed an isolated fishing community at Skinningrove, North Yorkshire.  Skinningrove is nestled on the coast between Whitby and Redcar.  It is one of those places that unless you were heading for it, you would never find it.

Over a period of years Killip photographed the community however only four of the images from the series were ever published.  If you are familiar with Chris Killip’s work In Flagrante you may recognize them.

In the film Killip talks about the images from Skinningrove, his relationship with the community and the people that he photographed.  What we gain from the work is a wonderful sense of place and its inhabitants.  Look past the faded fashions of punk rock and the cars of the time, and the images become far more than a historical document.  Combined with the commentary from the film we have a sense of the personal history of the participants and the images are put in context.

In the 1980s, British photographer Chris Killip photographed an isolated fishing community at Skinningrove, North Yorkshire.  Skinningrove is nestled on the coast between Whitby and Redcar.  It is one of those places that unless you were heading for it, you would never find it.

Over a period of years Killip photographed the community however only four of the images from the series were ever published.  If you are familiar with Chris Killip’s work In Flagrante you may recognize them.

In the film Killip talks about the images from Skinningrove, his relationship with the community and the people that he photographed.  What we gain from the work is a wonderful sense of place and its inhabitants.  Look past the faded fashions of punk rock and the cars of the time, and the images become far more than a historical document.  Combined with the commentary from the film we have a sense of the personal history of the participants and the images are put in context.

This context is both geographical in that the lay of land is clearly shown; and personal as the stories of the people portrayed are told.  Families and friendships, rites of passage are all told through the series.  Photographed over a period of three years the work builds up a resonance that only this type of time period can give.  The inhabitants get to know the photographer and get used to him being around.  It is this working relationship between the subjects and the photographer that creates the ease within his images.


For my own interest I wanted to place Skinningrove, the North East is not an area that I am that familiar with.  I searched on Google maps, having found it, I felt further intrigued, zoomed in and picked up the yellow figure to use the Street View function to explore the village. Views from Killip’s images were quickly spotted, now in colour rather then black and white. Little had seemed to change; the boats were still kept on the beach giving evidence that fishing was still part of the way of life here.

On my way back through the village, a group of people was spied on Chapel Street, a road that leads from the boat sheds. Excitedly I zoomed in hoping to see if I could spot resemblances to those in Killip’s images but this time the faces are not visible due to the blurring of the Google privacy policy. I left Google Street View lacking any more knowledge then I had gained from the series of Killip’s.  I felt disappointed at not being able to see the faces of those pictured and it confirmed that this was the exact power of Killip’s images.  It is his engagement with those he photographs.  By using a large plate camera Killip was in no way discrete in taking his images.  His are not surreptitious photographs but blatant and obvious in having the consent of those he is photographing.

For students this type of engagement gained over such a long time frame is hard to factor in with the pace of assignment deadlines. However, there is much to be gained from having a default location or subject matter that you can use. You may photograph the same group of people or it could be a familiar location, the work could feature just abstract details but where each time you photograph different elements are revealed in the work.The key is a subject matter that you can return to time and time again. Having this default can be a backbone to your personal work, allowing you to try out new techniques, equipment or ideas.

Chris Killip currently has work on display at Tate Britain (until 28 September 2014).

Watch the film here

Image Credits: Chris Killip, Skinningrove; A film by Michael Almereyda

This post originally appeared in full on the WeAreOCA blog.


I read with interest Eva Wiseman’s article in The Observer on Sunday 22 December 2013 titled “Our addiction to photographing our lives”.

There has been a long fascination with photography and its function in relation to memory.  In my academic writing I have investigated both the process of remembering and that of forgetting.

This article follows on the general theme of recent discussions around vernacular photography.  Many of these view our ‘addiction to photographing our lives’ in a negative way.  In this article Wiseman quotes the study of Dr Linda Henkel titled ‘Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour” published in the journal of Psychological Science.

The study abstract informs us:

“Two studies examined whether photographing objects impacts what is remembered about them. Participants were led on a guided tour of an art museum and were directed to observe some objects and to photograph others. Results showed a photo-taking-impairment effect: If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them.”

 It is from this passage that Wisemen takes her article.  Her argument is that the photograph stops us from remembering.  What Henkel calls the ‘photo-taking-impairment effect’. Reading this I am referred back to “Camera Lucida” where Barthes describes how the photograph

“… actually blocks the memory, quickly become a counter-memory.  One day, some friends were talking about their childhood memories: they had any number: but I, who had just been looking at my old photographs, had none left.”


The photograph has become cast as the evil memory blocker.  But before you throw your camera phone apps to the wall there is more to this.  Henkel’s study investigated further and this is not mentioned in Wiseman’s article.  The abstract continues:


“However, when participants zoomed in to photograph a specific part of the object, their subsequent recognition and detail memory was not impaired, and, in fact, memory for features that were not zoomed in on was just as strong as memory for features that were zoomed in on. This finding highlights key differences between people’s memory and the camera’s “memory” and suggests that the additional attentional and cognitive processes engaged by this focused activity can eliminate the photo-taking-impairment effect.”


This second part of the abstract describes  ‘zooming in’.  For us photographers there is hope for our memories, provided we work in the abstract.  As a photography teacher, I have always urged students to get closer to the subject.  The words of Robert Capa were written in permanent pen on the whiteboard in my classroom:


“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”


(Rather less frequently do I alert students to the fact the he lived and died by this maxim!)

So it seems that in order to preserve (and possibly enhance) the memory recall capability from your photographs you should explore the subject.

Get in close, abstract, distort, look up, look in, look across, look down and whatever you do, leave plenty for the imagination to play with.  What’s stopping you?


An article in The Guardian from 10th December 2013 challenges the research further.


This post first appeared on WeAreOCA blog.


On Wednesday 27th November 2013, an image appeared in The New York Times that caused wide scale debate in the US.  However, on this side of the Atlantic there barely was a mummer.  In fact, if I hadn’t been forwarded the piece it would have passed me by unnoticed.

The front page on 27th November featured an image of a female torso.  The head is cut off – the frame cuts through her neck. She is placed at a slight angle with a garment covering part of her chest.  On one side her shoulder is exposed and the garment covers part of her breast with the top most part of the areola exposed.  Above this a scar, and above this, on the indentation of the shoulder, is a Star of David tattoo.

The story is about a push to screen for breast cancer in Israel.  A World Health Organisation report has identified Israel as having one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world.  Jews from central and eastern European regions have a high risk of carrying genetic mutations for both breast and ovarian cancer.

The image gives us this message clearly:

Woman – shape of body

Jew – Star of David tattoo

Scar – medical procedure/injury

Breast – relating to this part of the body

Black – death

The image is stark.  It strikes you, the viewer boldly.  The tattoo, scar and partly exposed nipple vie for your attention.  There is no face, no eye contact with the subject; she is anonymous.  We are seeing an image that confronts us with the evidential scars of both the subject’s medical history and religion.

The image does have other connotations, it references on many levels, and it has struck a nerve in the USA.  For the readership of the New York Times, it caused a reaction strong enough for many to voice an opinion and to warrant a follow up piece in the paper, explaining more about the image and a comment from the subject of the photograph.

Many of the later comments defend the image choice but even within the New York Times newsroom the image provoked discussion on its use.

So what is it, in this image; that has provoked the reaction.

 For some the reaction could be around the tattoo, the use of religious iconography which some refer to in the comments as branding and a reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust.    For others it could be the hint of the breast that is seen, but the photograph hardly seems to be pornographic.   Is it the scar itself, the cutting of tissue in the breast that causes the sensitivity.

Or is it caused by the lack of identity with the subject.  We can’t see her; there is no facial recognition.  Compare this to images of women that stand out as prolific photographs, three spring to mind straight away – Lange’s Migrant Mother, Nick Ut’s image of Kim Phuc from Vietnam and Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl.   All feature ‘ordinary’ women not celebrities, whose visual identities have become part of our history.   They all gaze out of the frame whether it is directly or indirectly and we can picture their faces clearly in our minds.

Another image appeared on the front page of the New York Times five days earlier and gives us further insight into the reaction.   This time the story is on the shooting of Michelle O’Connell.

Like the previous image, there is no face for us to identify her; the dismemberment is to save the viewers from the gore of her untimely death.    The frame again cuts through the neck as her body lays twisted on the ground.  There are guns by her side, providing a clue to how she died.  At the top of the frame, a bag, purse and shoes, which along with the carpet provide the evidence of a domestic setting.  To the right hand side a figure stands, the legs and shoes evident.

Again this image has drawn strong comment for its use on the front page.  For some of the commentators the two images, within the same week have proved too much.

In an image saturated world, where death and destruction are commonplace it would seem that it is headless women that cause consternation.

This post originally appeared on the WeAreOCA blog.