week 12 - thinking ahead

I took the opportunity this week to look at the work of a photographer that really stands out to me. I can spend hours looking at her work and each time I am in awe of it. Every photograph has a story so compelling and each portrait really shows the person being photographed. I obtained the kind permission of Tish's daughter Ella Murtha to post this on my website. All photographs are shown with permission ©Ella Murtha.

The 3rd of 10 children, Tish Murtha grew up in the North, South Shields and later Newcastle Upon Tyne. With a large family, possessions were few but resourcefulness and creativity was encouraged. Tish worked in various jobs after leaving school at 16. Four years later she took a photography night course set up by David Hurn (Magnum member) who thought that she should take up documentary photography. Tish Murtha began to photograph the lives of those closest to her. Projects involving communities that were marginalised caught her attention. Forming bonds of trust with communities gained her access with an informal approach. She felt she had an obligation towards people and problems within her environment (such as youth unemployment) and documentary photography could highlight the social disadvantages.

“Behind empty pathetic talk of increased leisure opportunities and freedom from repetitive labour, stands the spectre of enforced idleness, wasted resources and the squandering of a whole generation of human potential. This is vandalism on a grand scale”
- Tish Murtha Essay “Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle”

Tish Murtha’s upbringing and roots to the society gave her great empathy and she could recognise what these people were experiencing. The 1980’s were a tough time for the economy and social conditions. As a child growing up I remember the impact of Thatcher’s political rule and how it effected my own family, our living conditions were far from what I see in Tish's work and it is no wonder she felt such passion and commitment in sharing their experience as it happened in order to raise awareness and make a change.

Photographs in clock wise order, opinions are soley my own:

Girl jumping on car : Tish Murtha. Elswick Kids. 1978. ©Ella Murtha

Making playtime out of abandoned vehicles. That whole site is littered with metal and glass most likely. The children are

contributing to the destruction of their community but most likely unaware that is the case. It’s entertainment for them.

Ladies on a bench with youths: Tish Murtha. Youth Unemployment. 1981 ©Ella Murtha

Two youths probably making a bit of a nuisance of themselves. The ladies have a protective grasp on their handbags but I don’t think they appear threatened. They would probably use those bags to put the boys in order. The boy on the back of the bench has such a careless posture, lying across the bench invading the space. Both boys look at a loose end and whatever that conversation was about it was probably a mere moment of boredom for the youths. The poster in the window behind draws my eye. How the happy, comfortable couple look carefree but in another way. Life is good for them.

Kids jumping out of window: Tish Murtha. Youth Unemployment. 1981 ©Ella Murtha

A whole group of children dominate this scene. The 80’s were a time when children were far more free to play wherever they chose. It is not a park of course but a makeshift playground. The abandoned houses and mattresses also give the sense of the children being abandoned. The doll/puppet in the child’s arms at the foreground of this photograph is unsettling.

Portrait of Tish Murtha. 1956 - 2013. ©Ella Murtha

Youth in Thought: Tish Murtha. Elswick Kids. 1978. ©Ella Murtha

You could say this person is daydreaming of better times. Hopeless, hopeful or just watching something in the distance. It could be read many ways. Seperate from the rest of the group in the background who are out of our vision. The sole person is the focus here with a reminder that they are not the only one in this situation.

For more information and to purchase her books (which I highly recommend) please use this link: http://www.tishmurtha.co.uk/books.html

week 10/11 - Criticality

How do you look at photographs. This opening question really got me thinking. I know what makes a great photograph, the technical aspects that are required to achieve one. Great composition, lighting, mood, posing. But what do I see in the layers beneath all of that? During my practice I understand that not every photograph is understood by everyone. During a photoshoot I am there in the moment. My subject be it human or nature is a part of the process I am working with to capture something that feels special, evokes feeling or mood. A one off, something that means something. Usually for me when working with people it is to get the very best from them. Something happens during a photoshoot when you can literally feel the 'magic' happen. That is when I know I have got the shot that I want. It's a combination of light, pose and expression and it is the most exciting part of my practice. Being in that moment usually has more importance for who was there with me. When those images are shared sometimes the viewer doesn't get that sense because it isn't so personal to them. They cannot relate to the subject matter. The question posed this week allowed me to consider a photograph on another level. Looking at the layers and questioning it's meaning without having been a part of it. It isn't always enough to just 'like' what you see. You have to question why. What does it mean? What did the photographer intend? What does it tell you?

There has always been one image that stands out in my memory. That of Sally Mann, best known for her portraits of her 3 young children and husband. The photographs caused great controversy.

The above image is of her daughter. I discovered this photograph many years ago on pinterest. Having no clue originally to the photographer behind the work. The image is of a young girl posing with a cigarette. I wondered what kind of life that young girl had. It made me feel concern for what had happened to her. The pose is grown up and there is confidence in her eyes. Was she in danger? Was she destined for a destitute life? I made a complete judgment on the surface of what I saw. It turns out this is one of Sally Mann's daughters; Jessie. The cigarette is candy and the wider crop of this photograph shows her siblings playing. The path is long and winding behind them. They are on a journey in this life and we can't see where that leads and neither of course can they.

week 8/9 - Context, meaning + audience

How and where a photograph is viewed can give it different meanings. Different contexts can influence the audience to perceive what a photograph is saying. A tangible photograph in an album shared with family and friends can be discussed with the person who took the photograph and the meaning can be described in the first person. Advertising which uses imagery can use words to influence the viewer in a wider context leaving it open to interpretation but will also be carefully constructed to influence a general opinion of it's choosing. Wider audiences with varying opinions will be more open to debate or difference of views with tabloids, of which we tend to either support or disagree with depending on the topic matter. We visit galleries to view photography that stands the test of time, a body of work that has taken time to produce and curate. This gives it more value and provokes a more considered thought process to the photographs taken. A collection of work shared in this way will give it's audience a story that they can follow, one that they can also decide what it means to them. Given more time to observe, a viewer is more likely to allow the photograph to have an impact upon their thoughts and feelings. Today the stream of social media provides us with a constant source of photography. Much of which is supplied by non photographers. This supply of images and the fast pace that it falls past our vision gives us seconds to decide if we like it or not. It's meaning is lost in a sea of similar posts that are invariably like a social diary of everyday lives. How and where I choose to present my work depends upon the purpose that I feel it is for. I select photographs for my professional website that give an overall feel of the standard of work that I can give my clients. Social media posts are more seasonal giving my audience a view of what they can have for themselves at certain times of the year. They are ones that I feel my audience will interact with. My personal collection of photographs are the ones I print and frame for my home. They are at the moment a fairly private collection and one that I curate to share with my daughters of the life and memories that we have made together.

week 7 - oral presentation | positions and practice

Our brief was to present our past, present, future and introduce our research project for this module. With 8 years experience as a photographer it was a challenge to condense this timeline. The process was really enjoyable, it was a great opportunity to think about where I began, where I am and what I plan to do.


Timing is everything for a photographer. As much as being in the right place at the right time. Chance plays a huge part in what is captured, opportune moments that are spontaneous often produce work that will create a great impact to it's viewers. Photo journalists will often place themselves in areas of danger and conflict to do this. In my own practice I am given an artistic license by my clients which frees me to look for opportune moments. When working in a more restricted environment I look harder and it pushes my creative side.

This week we teamed up in pairs for a micro project. My peer and myself chose 'Colourful Decay'. During the pandemic we are very restricted to our immediate surrounding areas so the theme set felt achieveable. Shooting in a slightly abstract way allowing faux pas to be a part of the project should a shot turn out to be appealing to the eye.

I focused on planting but tried to photograph it in a different angle to how it would usually be seen. It was good to take a look at how beautiful plants actually are once their growing season is over. The raspberry leaves were the biggest surprise to me. So rich and a green line along them. The shadows the beans produced reminded me of Le pilier du Métro Corvisart and I wished I had been able to explore that idea more. The white line across the onions is a faux pas, a shot that would usually most likely be rejected but it is the reflection of a greenhouse so I quite like it. The stormy wind played a big part in my shots and I felt it brought some of them more to life.

Once I looked at my shots I decided to order them in a colour theme in the presentation, placing the blues, browns and reds together which gave the shots cohesion. They are in capture order here.

week 5 - power and responsibilities

This week we looked at the work of Jeff Mitchell and how his photograph was used by UKIP in a campaign. As staff photographer for Getty Images, Jeff deferred his sense of control of his work.

'my job - telling the story of the migrants - had been done. It’s just unfortunate how it’s been picked up' - Jeff Mitchell

How a photograph is interpreted by others is clearly subjective, but allowing the publication of your images when it's use goes against everything you believe is different. Some photographers may not feel that passionately about their work; the situation or it is just a job, press photographers do have a story to tell but since the story is more often written by a journalist the view point becomes that of more than one person which does dissolve an amount of control over how that photograph will be used. The photographer comisioned may feel their work in part is complete.

How and where we choose to publicise our work can have it's risks but ultimately guarding the copyright of the image is so important. It's a bit of protection of our values and work.

This also makes me think of Steve McCurry's image 'The Afghan girl' (not many knew her name..) one of the most iconic images ever. I don't think she benefitted from the global fame of this photograph one bit. Sharbat Gula's portrait represented the suffering of children in war. It was only years later when Steve McCurry returned and photographed Sharbat in her 30's that The National Geographic created 'The Afghan Girls fund'. There was a renewed interest and it did reach a vast audience but you have to question the ethics behind an image that launches a photographers career and should that person photographed also benefit in some way? In turn the release of those images did make a change for the better (eventually). He was 'just doing his job' too I suppose. This subject has me torn, if that were us what would we do and is the photographer only responsible for capturing the image that creates the conversation, taking a step back to allow audiences to act upon it?.


week four - collaboration

Used to working solo, this weeks project a collaboration would be different to my norm. Usually I have creative control over my projects determining their outcome and their success or fail are mine to own.

Over the years I have collaborated in various projects. With filmmakers to suppliers in the wedding industry. It is a great way to build a gallery of images for both parties to use.

Collaborations with film makers in my experience are far more creative. Story boards are made prior to the shoot and a narrative is formed. The finished result will be with music or a voice over. I really love this kind of collaboration. Film makers have a vision as do photographers when working on a project so it is always good to work with those whose work will compliment your own.

This week I collaborated with one of my peers. First obstacle was a time difference as he is based in Canada. I took some time to look at his work online and liked his use of light and how the colour tones he uses gives his imagery a warmth. His work has a high fashion edge which couldn’t be more different to my lifestyle work.

I thought it would be interesting to work with someone whose work is so different to my own and to see what outcome we would both have once we had set upon a theme.

The theme decided was 'A modern love poem'. We threw some ideas into the pot as it were and decided we would take our own images in our own vision and see what comes out. The interesting part being a male / female perspective and living in two different countries. One theme with two versions.

Starting off I struggled. Conceptual photography doesn’t come naturally to me. I am out of my comfort zone. Along with the restrictions the pandemic has added. It was good to be free to photograph without having to please anyone in particular and to focus on something different hoping for a good outcome and that our work would compliment each others. I was surprised that it did.

We both had to work quickly and take in the time difference so a bit of patience was required on both parts but we both managed this really well. a bit of a nod to a relationship that is give and take.

week three - rethinking photographers

Photography has opened many doors for me as a practitioner. Previously a shy person with little confidence the camera was a tool to talk to people and also made me more approachable to others. The rewards are great. When you photograph a family with a reluctant member and they enjoy the experience, learning about different people and the lives they lead, when you send a gallery and receive a message that they are over the moon with what you have given them.

I have met thousands of people over the 8 years as a photographer; from all walks of life, from the homeless to the very wealthy. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone is completely unique and that is what I find absolutely fascinating. Should I win the lottery tomorrow I would still be a photographer. It is more than a profession, it is a lifestyle choice for me.

The profession is challenging, if you have trained and invested well you will have put incredible amounts of work and effort into what you are doing. Others may emulate your style coming along out of nowhere and setting up following your lead. Photography as a career is more than making money. Sometimes you won’t make a penny. Your passion for the practice has to come first to survive the hardest of times. It is a fairly isolating occupation. When out shooting you will be full of energy and putting your all into the shoot. When you are not shooting and editing it can feel quite a lonely place to be. Occasionally glamourous but first and foremost heart and soul.

week two - Interdisciplinary Approaches

There is a metaphor used by Peter Wollen used to describe how the photograph stops time.

'Photography is motionless and frozen, it has the cryogenic power to preserve objects through time without decay. Fire will melt ice, but then the melted ice will put out the fire' - Peter Wollen (Fire and Ice/1984)

It describes the freezing of a subject for an instant exposure. No image is more apt for this than that of Capa’s Spanish Civil War soldier as he is captured falling. Motion is captured like a pause in time. This image has been seen world wide and reproduced many times. It implies the entire atrocity of War in one single image without narrative.

Film makers look at documentation through history for reference for use in their own work. Major historical events such as these have been recreated into films. Robert Capa’s D day landings are said to be a reference for Steven Speilberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998). Photographers and filmmakers often take inspiration from one another and have an ongoing relationship. Stills are used in films to intensify a moment, create a thought provoking response or to reveal a truth. Photographers may look to films as a source of inspiration. Scenes played out; lighting, angles, colours, trends can all lead to enhancing a photographers perspective and inspire a whole body of work. The combination of both can be very powerful to the viewer.

'Most of the photographs that surround us operate somewhere between fact and fiction, between history and memory, between the objective and the subjective' - Photography and Cinema by David Campany 2008.

week one - The global image

Photography with it’s new technology and processes became increasingly popular since this first exposure taken by Nicephore-Niepce in 1822. Commercial studios were set up all over the world. Photography was used for various purposes and it expanded into the military, geographical, topography and propaganda use. Journalists and travellers captured their own images of far flung places reaching masses of people enabling them to see the world from their own homes. Sitting for a portrait was still a fairly time consuming business but compared to that of sitting for a painter for hours on end it was a much quicker result and the photograph produced could be kept or given to a loved one.

Newspapers released war photographs to the public, bringing home the true horror of what was happening many miles from home. The demand to know more fuelled the media as it does today with global events, celebrity culture and a desire to see what is happening for ourselves.

The move from film to digital was not embraced by all but no doubt has had a huge impact on how a photograph is captured and can be instantaneously shared via social media channels. Photography has become even more accessible; almost everyone of every age group can have access to a camera of sorts ensuring it’s global medium continues to grow and develop.

From the moment I am commissioned to the point where I share my images, my work is relating to the global nature of photography. As a professional I am contributing to the number of photographs out there in the world.

There are parallels between the historic spread of photography and the transmission of digital imagery today. Photography remained a fairly expensive interest until the invention of smartphones which are fairly accessible to all. People use them to document their lives daily to share with others. The difference now is popular culture favours the aesthetic rather than the more soulful meaning behind a photograph.

As the speed at which photography moves increases, quality becomes less, with the abundance of people taking pictures. it is too accessible in a sense and images can be captured that portray something happening that can be mis-interpreted across the globe in an instant.

With masses of digital files online, the number of printed photographs dwindle. I am hoping that our appreciation for great photography doesn't.

"The Most Photographed Generation Will Have No Pictures in 10 Years!"

-Mike Yost 2015