Road to wherever


November 2012

Funny I thought…

During my Photojournalism MA we had a small group discussion about a picture one of my classmates took for an editorial project. I can’t remember what the picture was of, in fact you’ll see that this isn’t important: A debate erupted which led to my tutor dismissing pictures with a sense of humour as ‘cheesy’. Well, that’s how I interpreted it, and while I agree photographs are often judged in this way, I think it’s wrong to dismiss them – they have a place. Have a look at Matt Stuart. His work is very playful, and he clearly works very hard to develop his ability to see and capture these moments.

I went to the Japanese photobook exhibition at the Photographers Gallery. An excellent show, but the point is that I was lucky enough to arrive when a free talk was going on. The speaker, doctorate student Jelena Stojkovic specialising in Japanese photobooks, spoke briefly about the fact that in Japanese culture photobooks existed of ‘cute’ animals. And this was accepted, not viewed as tacky, chesesy in Japanese culture. This implies, and I think most would agree, that it is viewed as tacky in ours.

It’s interesting that these rules exist culturally. Is it because we think images that are funny or of cute animals don’t challenge us? Because these pictures are considered some kind of folly?

And please don’t misunderstand me, I love well researched an meaningful projects, but is there no room for something which just perfectly or creatively captures a moment?

Here’s a picture of my friends daughter. She was two the next day and we took her to the South Bank. I think its the best portrait I’ve taken this year. It captures her well, and something of the experience of being a child.

New design folio

Portfolio 2013 v1_Page_19 Portfolio 2013 v1_Page_03I have been whittling down my graphics portfolio every year. What i thought was refining left me with TWELVE measley pages of work from a career spanning over 10 years.

You can see the folio by clicking this link: folio 2012

I went over all the work I gad saved from previous jobs and projects. Which was by no means all of them. It was a mammoth task!! But i have a 24 page folio. It ranges from packaging through to exhibition and brochures.

Well happy…


Tests from my ongoing project

I have been looking at how to make a project about London. It’s a work in progress about both my relationship with it and how its like a machine that almost swallows us up. London has a network of surfaces, built environments and underground states, a human Habitrail.  The idea is muddled at the moment, with occasional flashes of what I want (see my pictures above) – this is how projects usually are at their inception. Is it architectural? Is it street photography? Its it something else? What about the references to the photography of the 1920’s / 1930’s and 1940’s. Such as Margaret Bourke White pieces and how these work. I want this to come to fruit, but I’ll have to be very careful on how to proceed…

There are many other references to this that have been on my mind. Paul Graham / the Present, take on the street and the way our attention moves from moment to moment, it also often suggests our introversion while being in a city. (the printing and depth of colour in this book is stunning).

I also bought Adam Hinton / Shibuya – where he seems to talk about our personal relationships with city in terms of work, commuting and smoking. You’ll notice these two works have a very differing approach to the scale they operate on.

And then there’s the question of beauty, London can be beautiful, sometimes in a way that is terrible. But some opinions leave me feeling an image that shows beauty is often unjustly treated as a meaningless. This is a popular theory and something I disagree with, I dont really care if that’s unfashionable. To go back to Saul Leiters statement on the subject:

“I must admit that I am not a member of the ugly school. I have a great regard for certain notions of beauty even though to some it is an old fashioned idea. Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.” – Saul Leiter

Graphics: Credit where it’s due…

Obviously we all want to present ourselves well when looking for freelance work, I’ve been tired of my online graphics folio as I have been showing the same things again and again. So I went over all the work I had done over the last 7 or 8 years, too re-appraise what i’ve done and see if i have missed anything.

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It’s strange how the perception of work can change over time. Looking at the work I did for Source Communications in Deptford I think that was the most enormous period of growth in terms of my graphic design. I owe a lot to Toby Leetham – he was my manager and friend while I was there. He is an amazingly talented designer and helped led me through ways of working and approach that improved the way I worked. Funny how you don’t realise these things at the time.

I’d also like to mention Alistair Crane – another solid designer who i worked with at Audio Partnership.

More work

As of yesterday I have had four day jobs offered between now and Christmas, which is great. Three are corporate work I do for various arms of a large Educational institution. this will take the total i’ve covered since my MA to seven. Now obviously these are for specific purposes. Often for client websites for example. Which is great!

Samples follow:

Training day at the Jerwood Space
PR shots of a client box at Twickenham


Wedding Shoot

I have photographed many events; concerts, orchestras, theatre, conferences and the like, I did my first wedding shoot a couple of days ago. There’s a lot to learn covering a wedding, for one a civil service is very short, It’s also good to get an assertive guest to help you organise the groups, the sense of responsibility is huge and to plan ahead. I have avoided doing weddings until now. I took extra care to get some good shots.

Also I was very fortunate to have such an attractive couple to shoot. Many thanks to Paul and Abigail – I wish you both a long and happy future together.

Stefan Sagmeister “Things I have learned in my life so far”


Buy it

“Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid, I have to live now”. So Stefan tells us, despite the fact I think he’s right I couldn’t ever tell you how to categorise this book. In fact the maxims for living Stefan Sagmeister offers all seem to make sense, if not at first the story behind each may just change your mind.

Stefan Sagmeister is an Austrian Born typographer and graphic designer, operating from New York who often works on albums including those by David Byrne, The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed. His book, despite being well designed and unconventional in its appearance, is thoroughly accessible, as it’s essence lies in tested methods to improve his life. I would defy any reader not to identify with at least a few of them. As well as “Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid, I have to live now” he offers; “Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses” and “Assuming is Stifling”. But to give them all away would ruin the joy of this book, as its also about the viewer finding out how these maxims are revealed that is part of “Things…” appeal.

It’s close to an artists book in its constriction. Each maxim is singly bound and illustrated with a combination of photography / typography which is applied as if their marriage was always this harmonious. The ‘stories’ have no hierarchy no order as if to say that ‘none of these are more important than any other’. Gather them up and they all fit inside a box with a filigree / die cut Sagmeister face, changing the order they’re stored changes the cover of your ‘book’. His typography is in no way limited to a traditional electronic font database. In this book alone he uses tape, frankfurters and salt amongst many other things to convey his observations. These are revealed in this combination of text and photo word-by-word, page-by-page though each booklet.

Each section has a story which highlights his thinking for these life rules, these drive his reasoning home; they are entertaining, illuminating, funny and sometimes a little difficult. Look out particularly about the lecture from Quentin Crisp and an experience in an AA meeting.

I won’t put many images up from this book, as I think it has to be experienced. If you’re desperate to understand how it works he has asked the public to submit their own illutsrations of what they have learned, some of them are excellent – and some not so much. Judge for yourself here.

As stated this is a unique beautifully put together book. I really enjoyed it, in fact I bought it over two years ago. But I’m going back to it today just to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

BOOK REVIEW : Image credited Stefan Sagmeister / Things I have Learned In My Life So far

Saul Leiter – Early Color

Photobook Review | 05 April 2012

A question of boundaries

Leiter, Saul. (2006), Early Color, Third edition 2011, Steidl, Germany – See Images from the book below:

Looking at Early Color I was instantly drawn to one image, early in the book, ‘Dog in doorway, Paterson, 1952’. Its construction was so simple, but rather than being a chance shot it’s very carefully considered. Taken through a rear car window, seen as a hook of black framing the picture, it contains a shop front that looks like its been converted into a residence. The whiteness of the title dog pops out from a palette of muted greens, cast in the same flat American light used by the painter Edward Hopper.


Dog in doorway

At it’s best street photography has the ability to show daily life, provoking a range of responses from the viewer, among them an appreciation of humour, honesty, beauty, or perhaps inspiring a sense of awe or even clarity. The photographs in Saul Leiters book are street photography, at least in the literal sense. As slices of time captured on of the streets of New York these pictures search for a semi-representational beauty in the everyday. There’s no doubt Leiter’s motivations are to create beauty and joyful images. He even stated this as his intent in 1959:

“I must admit that I am not a member of the ugly school. I have a great regard for certain notions of beauty even though to some it is an old fashioned idea. Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.”

Early Color gives the subject away through its title. It would a shame to pass by this innovative and surprisingly early collection of colour work, especially as it’s been rediscovered recently. (Leiter having been exhibited sporadically in the US until 2006, after which his photography began to be shown on an International level to much acclaim).

Personally I find two things particularly interesting about Leiter. Firstly, although having influential friends and contemporaries, he’s had a distinctive approach that clearly draws from his two reference points, painting and photography. This seems to be achieved without conflict. Secondly, as he embraced colour photography in its infancy, he was open to its anomalies and developed his own techniques.

Leiter’s work is very different to other American colour photographers, such as Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz or William Eggelston, in its delivery. A pioneer of colour work his photography work was produced much earlier, between 1948 and 1960, so his links to photography are older. Leiter states Henri-Cartier Bresson as an influence and was also personally acquainted with Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus – who lived opposite him. As well as using black and white these photographers had a completely different approach to Leiter, their work being more literal, various kinds of documentary photography.

So where are Leiters roots? At the time of the first images in this book Leiter also exhibited abstract expressionist paintings alongside Willem De Kooning and Philip Guston. For someone who is now receiving so much acclaim for his photography it’s curious that Lieter still believes himself to be more of a painter than a photographer. Leiter also says he never felt a part of any school or movement. There is an argument for looking further into the relationship the photographs in Early Color have with painting. For example, while painters and photographers may take inspiration from an artist like Edward Hopper, look at ‘Dog in Doorway’ again and it seems very likely Leiter is one of them. There’s also a direct reference to Piet Mondrian in ‘Mondrian Worker, 1954’. An image which humorously draws a comparison between a Mondrian De Stijl painting and a workman hanging rectangular boards of different shades, as if the worker’s assembling one of these artworks. But the most striking parallel is the cover image to Early Color, ‘Through Boards, 1957’. This photograph has richness in construction and colour highly reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s late period which began ten years before. As a practicing painter working with abstract expressionists, Leiter would have been aware of all these artists and their work. Though the book seeks and explores subjects rich in colour, these could be represented on a sliding scale, at one end realism (Postmen, 1952), and at the other abstraction (Walk with Soames, 1958). His work deftly negotiates both, never fully committing to either.


Walk with Soames

The images in Early Color also have many signatures that create ambiguity. For example exteriors shot through glass misted with condensation, street scenes taken through gaps in boards or under awnings and fragments of type from shop fronts or advertising. Even Leiter’s figures are often obscured by shadows or reflection, out of focus or shot from angles that force people into a generic form. This refuses any direct empathy between the viewer and the subject as an individual. The character of his images is instead created by colour, evocative and rich, even when the palette is minimal. Leiter also uses techniques that apply further degrees of ambiguity, resulting in something greater than the sum of its parts. Again and again he also layers the abstracted colours and shapes he creates to pull a new order and unity in these photographs, for example on the lead image ‘Phone Call, 1957’. Leiter has a command of colour, using it in various ways; muted, complimentary, bright or contrasting with rich and varied results. It’s interesting that in considering himself as a painter he was able to embrace chance and avoid the constraints of conventional practice. He uses emerging colour technology without fear of losing control of the outcome, as in its early years colour-processing results were unpredictable. Leiter also encouraged mutation by seeking out expired film stock to use for shooting.

There’s no doubt to define the boundaries of a good ‘street photograph’ is problematic. An approach that succeeds capturing one type of image is often not going to work on another. This is something that Leiter’s work illustrates. If a photographer or artist defines themselves in those terms only, surely this must constrain some of their creativity? ‘If I am a photographer, must all my influences be photographic?’

Robert Adams claims in his book Beauty in Photography, “For a picture to be beautiful it does not have to be shocking, but it must in some significant respect be unlike what has preceded it, (this is why an artist cannot afford to be ignorant of the tradition within his medium)”. Looking at Leiter’s pictures, I don’t know of anything similar that preceded them. As his work has only recently reached acclaim I don’t yet know anything that bears their influence, though I’m sure this will happen. Regarding ‘tradition within his medium’, this is only part of the argument, as Leiter’s work illustrates. There’s no doubt that Leiter has knowledge of photographic arts, at the very least through his photographic peers. He is also a photographer, as he takes pictures. Yet he also draws frequently on visual influence outside his chosen medium, looking to his roots in fine art. This may well be what makes this book so compelling. His work comfortably straddles between painting and photography, through it Leiter has caught the daily beauty of a city.


Leiter, Saul. (2006), Early Color, Third edition 2011, Steidl, Germany

Adams, Robert. (1996) Beauty In Photography, Aperture Foundation, New York.

Adams, Robert. (1994) Why People Photograph, Aperture Foundation, New York.

Howarth, Sophie & McLaren, Stephen, (2010). Street Photography Now, Thames and Hudson, London.

Postmen, 1952

Walk with Soames, 1958

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