Exercise 5.3

Exercise 5.3

“Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare


It seems the pivotal point of this photograph is the frozen step. My eye moves from the striding man, to the reflection, around the ‘white space’ of the water and back to the man.

Before I started this course, I hadn’t actually even heard of Bresson, so my response to his work is still reasonably fresh. Its really unsurprisingly he is so celebrated, as his images are ridiculously beautiful. I feel a sense of time travel, particularly when viewing this picture, as this is certainly a frozen moment. The sense of atmosphere and balance of dramatic light and dark tones add to the drama. I’m curious – was Breton himself influenced by previous artists or photographers? Well, his contemporaries included other pioneering folk such as Robert Doisneau and Brassaï but what went before is usually the more formal portraiture we associate with the Victorian era.

There are a few ‘natural’ moments captured before Bresson. This picture is of course a static pose, but what a lovely glimpse of her personality.

And again here – this is posed, but more playful and imaginative than the standard images we are used to seeing from early photography


Casting further back, Bresson would have been familiar with the tradition of narrative painting, for example, a classic plot device, the letter…

Vermeer, The Letter


And dramatic tension!

Artemisia Gentileschi Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes


Hogarth’s Gin Lane shows an alarming decisive moment, due to the perils of drink


Some victorian social documentary photography captures a moment. Here’s some examples from ‘Street Life of London’ (1876)

by Radical journalist Adolphe Smith in collaboration with photographer John Thomson.


These images – such as this poor little girl searching for her parents amongst the drunken customers, were deliberately intended to shock, and highlight poverty and social inequality.


So was Bresson concerned with social issues? Probably not in quite the same way. But I have read criticism of him as being ‘cold’ because his composition is so perfect and elegant. I really disagree, I think he loved humankind and had a empathy for his subjects.

Bresson has influenced so many people since, it’s hard to condense so much ‘post Bresson’ work. However, as an example, using a form of ‘visual haikus’ Rinko Kawauchi is concerned about capturing ‘A moment about to happen. This feeling of catching the tail end of a whisper or the beginning of a storm is more important to her than planned composition.’ – Lucy Andia

Her work differs from Bresson, in that it is more about the story, and less about the perfect shot. I get the feeling that many modern photographers feel that ‘perfection’ has been done, and its time to move forward with a more edgey approach. Kawauchi seems to almost serve as an opposite to Bresson – if he presents a perfect pure note, she counters with a challenging discordant one. And so any art form shifts and explores subject matter in different ways, sometimes referencing what has gone before, sometimes rebelling against it.

Untitled (from the series: Uatatane), 2001
Untitled (from the series: Uatatane), 2001

I think Bresson had an extraordinary eye that cannot be ignored to this day. His framing, and pure instinct for capturing this moment made the camera his perfect medium.


Exercise 5.2

Exercise 5.2

“Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?

Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.”

I’ve chosen to look at landscape photographer, Rachel Burch. She has kindly allowed me to display some of her images here.





Rachel Burch trained before digital took hold, at a time when all photography students learnt to use a dark room and produce their own images from scratch. She tends to publish her images without post processing, avoiding techniques such as image stacking, or altering the colour balance. The light captured is natural, and to me totally suited to the subject matter. ‘Hyper-real’ images can look stunning, but I think its sometimes a technique thats over used, and can perhaps be a little cliched.

The mood of these images vary. You can see the first two are in bright, rich sunlight. I’ve deliberately displayed them changing in tone as you scroll down the page, where they become more softer and more dream-like as you go on. Its is this quality of natural light that I’m responding to – the lovely reflective nature of the water lying on the sand, gently sparkling sea,  the light diffused through cloud, and entering the mouth of a cave. I think it shows a love of the natural world, and captures a stillness and sense of atmosphere that is understated.

This is what I hoped to try and capture, especially as I now live less than 10 mins drive from the sea (or estuary, strictly speaking). It was lovely to be able to get outside for this one and enjoy the gorgeous view. I just had to take pot luck when health allowed – but I got very lucky with a beautiful day!

Here are the results:


Rachel Burch inspired images

I had to include this picture, simply because I loved this house nestling in the dunes!






For these last three images, I’ve got the sun behind me, and these lovely boats are conveniently arranged on the sand! This was taken mid afternoon – inevitably the light quality is different from some of Rachel Burch’s photos, but I hope I’ve managed to capture the mirrored quality of the water…


Perhaps more so in these last two.  I like the drama better with this image, but I think the smaller boats are a little distracting.


Final Choice

I did notice my horizon is pretty much half way up this picture, not ideal… Despite cropping this one,  but I didn’t want to loose too much land or sky! I quite like the way it heightens the horizontal sweep of landscape though, being narrower.






Exercise 5.1

Exercise 5.1 The Distance Between Us

“Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.”

I had a little trouble choosing my subject for this one as I couldn’t think of an object I had empathy with…then I realised the most obvious choice is to take pictures of my partner. This was quite challenging, as he is currently madly busy doing up our house, which meant I grabbed my camera with no preparation or time to think.

Its quite irritating having someone waving a camera around when you are in the middle of working, so I just had to get on with it. but I think this caused me not to over think what I was doing and maybe that helped my creativity. As you can see, some of the images are underexposed. I used my on camera flash as a spur of the moment fix.

contactsheet-001 contactsheet-002

Unexpected things

This is a mistake I like: I know this is underexposed, but I like the tinge of blue back light.


I’ve been telling him Crocs are evil for quite some time, but he still wears them… I prefer the stance of the feet facing front, though I’m not sure why. Maybe its because you know the subject must be facing you, but we are looking at his feet. You can see the light by his left foot has blown which isn’t ‘good’, but its pretty (to me!) Other details have crept into the frame – workbench,  chairs and his bike.


Cropped close up. The more images I took, the more I got drawn into looking at texture. Can I get away with the frame being in focus not the person? I hope so…I like that he’s frowning!


Completely distracted now…I was drawn to the wood, metal and flaky yellow paint


The background is very mottled and grainy – but I love the patina on this old pipe. pipe

Through a gap in the wall again – this time ignoring texture and having my subject in focus


Love the texture again here – and the blue paint with the ‘orange’ tones of the brick and his face


I should add this is not staged; he was in mid phone call which allowed me to get a more natural facial expression




The ISO is up to 800 on some of these shots, and I did have difficulty taking pictures indoors with limited light, also the exposure was particularly tricky when shooting through the hole on the wall. I did up the exposure in photoshop for some of these images. If you’re being picky, I gather some people would re-work the catch light – to add one to both eyes and re-position at two or ten o’clock.

As I type this, the hole in the wall is already boarded up, and the opportunity to return to the same view point has gone. I got really drawn into this subject, it was so interesting to see what happened within the frame, and also how much I was drawn to texture every bit as much as capturing my partner…Using the relationship between him and his surroundings,  allowed me to shift emphasis from him to the fabric of the building and back again.