Square Mile

It feels a little odd starting a subject that is entirely unfamiliar, but here goes…We have been asked to take a series of pictures of our local area, within a square mile. So to start, I’ve decided to comment on each of the photographers we were asked to view for inspiration. (In a few cases, the intended links have already expired, so I’ve googled the relevant photographer, and looked at the images that most grabbed me.)

Keith Arnatt – His work includes informal portraits of people based on a theme, such as dog walkers or gardeners in their back gardens. I found myself immediately liking the warmth of these very human and slightly whimsical images, each one appears to tell a story, but of course we are left to only guess about these people’s lives. Pictures from a rubbish tip is also an interesting subject, and strikes me as quite subversive.

Gawain Barnard – The work was entitled “Maybe we’ll be soldiers”. These are quite gritty urban portraits, and landscapes of the nearby area.

Tina Barney – These are fantastic, camp, cool, quirky, flamboyant portraits.

Venetia Dearden – I particularly loved her book ‘Somerset stories five penny dreams’, my impression is of beautifully shot images, with a great deal of warmth towards her subjects

J H Engstrom – This work looks interesting, although the actual website is limited, as its under construction, I will have to look elsewhere to understand more

Roni Horn – Her talents also extend to sculpture, drawing, and writing too. Her works appears to be quite challenging and stark, perhaps similar in style to Gawain Barnard.

Roni Horn

Tom Hunter – I viewed some dramatic landscape photography which was a bit hyper-real (not so sure about it) But also some very clever portraits (he re-creates some paintings as modern day scenes) I only twigged this when viewing this image, then subsequently realised it was part of a longer running theme, I think his first being on the subject of an eviction notice.

Tom Hunter

As its a re-creation of this painting, Christina’s world, by Andrew Wyeth.

Wyeth, Andrew
Wyeth, Andrew

Karen Knorr – I would guess that her work is more commercially based, there’s some images of 1980s life but I got drawn to this gorgeous white peacock. I don’t know if this is photoshopped, but its beautiful.

Karen Knorr

Peter Mansell – Landscape re-interpreted from the perspective of a wheelchair user. Really personal, political work. Challenges able bodied people to view a different perspective. I like this more than the other socially motivated work, because this is his voice, speaking about himself.

Mark Rees –  I didn’t entirely grasp this work, but may need to look again. It seems to involve artwork, performance and portraiture

Jodi Taylor – She takes us back to her childhood home, and conveys a child’s eye view. I like the images are so ordinary, but affectionate rather than a hard social commentary. I can see them as really special, as they are the places she must have known inside out form when she was a small child. Back then they were her world.

My images

This will be a steep learning curve for me as I have just bought my first DSLR camera, learnt how to charge the battery, and take the lense cap off.

My written analysis

Assignment 1 – Square Mile

As I’m completely unfamilar with using a camera, I’ve been working on the basics, like simply getting a feel for holding it in my hand, and familiarising myself with some of the buttons and dials.

The camera I’ve chosen (Nixon D3200) is particularly light weight, which I really like, though I’m guessing this is entirely down to personal preference.

I have grasped how to take pictures in Auto mode, and that the letters on the dial refer to Aperture Priority and so on. I have taken a bit of time to watch some videos on You Tube aimed at beginners, so I have a tiny bit of knowledge when it comes to camera raw vs jpeg, and the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed. However on saying this, I will probably have to refresh my memory several more times before anything sticks.

How I took my pictures

I simply took some practise shots the day my camera arrived, then continued from there a few days later. As its the end of January, the light in my house is very gloomy, and its been grey and rainy for days on end. Consequently my camera’s flash popped up automatically for every picture, regardless of how many lights I turned on!

I really don’t know the ideal conditons for taking interior shots, but its a fair assumption that my lighting was awful.

What I chose to shoot

Although we were given the brief of a mile, due to health problems my mobility is rather restricted and a mile is a long distance for me on foot. I chose to take pictures mainly inside my house, because this is the most accurate description of my life. But I very much hope to take pictures elsewhere during this course, depending on what I’m able to manage. Some of my plans include my next trip to the hairdressers,  as I’ve already asked permission from them to take some interior shots, as a learning exercise. Yes, I do plan to take outdoor shots too. I live so near dartmoor, it will be possible to drive even a short distance and find beautiful places. If this all sounds rather bland and “nice”, its motivated by my interest in taking pictures suitable for graphic design purposes. I do a small amount of work from home as a web designer,  so I hope to offer some photographic skills for web and print clients in the future.

The pictures I’ve chosen are all about representing different aspects of my small daily living radius. But I also hope that they present quite a varied set of images, which by being absorbed with detail, translates as “this is my escape from four walls”.  Everything pictured is (literally) within shouting distance. The additional reason for focusing on my own home, is that I have just put the house up for sale. It makes you view everything with a fresh eye, and a new appreciation.

The Door


Comments – Because the camera is on auto, I didn’t have much control over the precise point of focus (not that I have any experience out of auto!) . I can see the screw nearest us is sharply in focus, with the left hand side blurring out. This seems to be OK, as the nearest part is sharp, but I’m guessing this could be improved by lighting that reduced the shadow and a little more of the object in focus.



I like the colour and subject of this picture, as I think the monkeys sit well against the stripes and blue wall.



Again, I think the background works well to show off the shine of the utensils. Theres a dark shadow top left which I would photoshop out (I haven’t made any digital tweaks for this assignment)



I like the contrast of lights and darks here.



I’m reasonably happy with this, its in focus, and the composition is OK. Its hard to comment about what could be improved with my very limited knowledge

After cycling


You could easily argue this should not be part of the set, but these are all close ups of my life, and this one is my partner arriving back from cycling, having put his bike away in the shed. It was unposed, just taken in the moment.

Perfume bottle


I think this one worked quite well?! I wanted to contrast the two kinds of glass.

Bedroom window


You can see the flash has caught the rain on the window. This is probably a bit rubbish, but I thought it was an interesting effect.

Now I’ve reviewed these images, I’m not sure if I should have gone a bit Tracey Emin, and showed some grittier stuff – dirty laundry, unmade bed etc?! I do like “pretty” images though which is possibly a bit embarrassing but its true. I seem to get drawn to colour, texture and shine, so I went with it.

Since posting this I’ve done some research to see how these images could be improved. What I’ve gathered is that in proper studio photography I would need to place my objects with multiple light sources, to eliminate harsh shadow, and if taken in situ, I would need a flash that can be bounced off the ceiling. (Probably preferable if it is an external one?)

My only other option at the moment would have been to turn off the flash.

Contact Sheet


Tutor Report:

View PDF of tutor report here

Reflection in response to tutor feedback

I think my response to the brief was good in terms of talking about my thought process and the work of others, which boosted my confidence. As I understand it, I think my tutor was trying to explain that creating images can be about communication of ideas, impressions and mood, regardless of technical ability.

It is interesting to learn that ‘on camera flash is a signifier of vernacular photography’. Its hard to have the confidence to run with this, as I wouldn’t be choosing to be ‘rough and ready’ – but I can certainly take on board the principle that not all photography aims to be ‘pretty’ or technically ‘correct’.

My tutor has asked that I re-write my captions, moving away from the formal qualities of colour and subject, and focusing on a personal narrative. And to look at Barthes’ definition of ‘punctum’ from Camera Lucida.



“The punctum: that aspect (often a detail) of a photograph that holds our gaze without condescending to mere meaning or beauty…[to] embrace the subjective”

My Images Explained

The half open door – This door leads to freedom and the outside world, but is only ever half open for me (this is a theme I return to later in the course). The door itself is special, as its handmade by my partner, and although we bought this particular iron latch, I always notice ironwork, as my uncle is an Art Blacksmith. I really like traditional crafts that go back centuries – this contrasts with the relatively new invention of the camera. I hope that someone might imagine the cool feel of iron and the reassuring noise of the latch. As it is in close up, we probably ask few questions about where it leads to. I think pictures of whole doorways are probably more successful in adding mystery.


Two friends – These monkeys are clearly buddies, though the one further away may be a little depressed?! Or just a bit tired. I chose to photograph these two as I have a weakness for anthropomorphising just about anything. I lived alone for a long time, and the creatures probably have a similar function to Tom Hanks ‘companion’ when he’s ship wrecked.


Pink Metal – I had a goth phase as a teenager, and I only wore black. As I type, I’m wearing pink, and the wall is painted pink. I have discovered quite a few women decide they actually do like pink, having felt they really ‘shouldn’t’. So that my challenge, accept what makes you happy and go with it.


Lantern – the fireplace is victorian, the lantern is modern…OK sometimes there just isn’t a narrative. I think maybe I could be forgiven for arguing its OK to choose subjects on the basis of being drawn to colour, contrasting tone, texture and shapes. This is an emotional response, and its part of what draws humans towards creativity. Its what made our ancestors drill little holes in stones and make jewellery. I can’t be sure they had a message, but they liked to decorate!


Boots – There was a time when I didn’t have much use for foot wear, as I was bedridden for over a decade. To find these are worn is wonderful.


After cycling – I think I’ve explained this one already but it was interesting to capture an unstaged moment of domesticity.


Perfume bottle – I like to collect perfume, and have some antique bottles too which might have been a better choice. What is this trying to say? Well, its really responding simply to the reflections, in the same way as I would view objects in order to draw or paint them. The more you look, the more you get lost in the subject. This kind of meditative state makes me think of my Grandpa – he once recorded the sound of dripping tap, just because he liked the sound of it. (He would have been a mature man by the era of Bob Dylan et al, so I don’t think we can put it down to drugs!)


Through the window – If you spend a lot of time in your home, the view gets pretty familiar. Its raining, it does that a lot in Devon. Really, sometimes there just isn’t much more to say!


In conclusion, I think a person more familiar with photography would have chosen subject matter within the home that is indeed more ‘Tracy Emin’, however, this approach requires some degree of knowledge and sophistication about the subject of photography which I don’t really have at this point!