Talking Pictures, World Wide Webbers

For this post i would like to talk about the writing element to the project. I am not a writer by any means but the writing was given as much time as the photographs, with much assistance from the teachers. After a class discussion about photography we introduced the project itself. Below is the information sheet sent to teaching staff prior to this lesson. After several meetings and emails i had a good understanding of what we could achieve and this allowed me to accurately research and then inform teaching staff;





We will learn how to use photography to illustrate our stories

We will use photography to show a range of human emotions

We will learn camera techniques to introduce light and darkness, to give mood and emotion to our pictures which will illuminate our stories

 We will learn how to capture movement with our cameras

 We will learn how to take better pictures

 Inspire, inform, connect, values for schools, determination, resilience, excellence, community spirit, confidence, leadership, communication, peace, understanding

 We will look at the skills required for each of the sports in the Games and how these are different for a runner compared to a weightlifter compared to a shooter

 We will look at the skills required to become a world-class athlete;

Determination, stamina, confidence, state of mind, diet, training programme

 We will find stories of past Commonwealth games in Scotland (Edinburgh 1970 & 1986)

 We will look to develop our own sport for inclusion in the Commonwealth games which takes it’s inspiration from what we have around us

 We will look at the theatre, drama and spectacle in sporting events

 We will look to the animal kingdom for comparisons in human athletes

 We will look at the cult of winning prizes- is it winning or taking part? What about those who come second? Or third?

 We will think about what equipment is used, how it is made and by whom

 We will look at the human body and it’s capapbilities

 We will look at sport as a tool for revolution

 We will try to imagine how it feels to be at the Games;

Who wins

Who comes second

Who has trained hard

Who have travelled very far to be here

All the writing created by the groups was inspired by the above. The main thing for me was to try and have them see past the obvious Hussein Bolt runs 100m race and wins a gold medal. The children’s imaginitive ideas far surpassed my expectations. They would spend a few hours with me creating their ideas using mind-maps and then writing up their stories on the computer, and adding their proposed image ideas. I did not interfere with their writing process, and the children were more than adept and confident at managing their writing on their own- they actually informed me! I learned about ‘wow’ words for starters!!

As an example, here are the World-Wide Webbers making their mind-map for their idea of the Games being open to people of varying ability…

World Wide Webbers writing their story “My Gran”…

Once the children have written up their word document of story/image/props list/list of tasks i email it to their teacher who then works with the children to ‘upscale’ their story. I provided nice heavy paper and writing pens for the children to write their stories up ready for me to scan and lay on to their images in Photoshop. Below is the World Wide Webbers written text without any editing in Photoshop…

world webbers
The Webber’s finished text written up ready to be scanned and added to their chosen picture…

The writing process is something that is started with me and finished with their teacher in class. Once their story is finished the children then do a test shoot to work out their best angle of view, composition, timing, etc. Below are some of the test shoots done by the Webbers demonstrating their ideas…

world wide webbe_015-copyworld wide webbe_020-copyworld wide webbe_021 copyworld wide webbe_011 copy

These practice images demonstrate composition and help the children work out props and pose- in this series it became obvious which hand the ball should be in and what the crop should be. This informs how they should pose their model for the final shoot. The Webbers chose to ask the school secretary, Mrs. Mockery to pose for their image. It was their responsibility to ask Mrs Mockery, plan her session and organise the props and costume.  This maintains their ownership of the work and reinforces their responsibility.

Here are some of their images from their shoot with Mrs Mockery…

world webs_038- world webs_027- world webs_016-

Below is their chosen final image- they liked the determination in Mrs Mockery’s eyes and the pose was good…You can still make out the symbols showing which country she plays for and what the actual sport is. I should also add that all the teaching staff loved seeing Mrs Mockery in the photographs…

The Webbers working with their teacher Miss Baird to choose their photograph...
The Webbers working with their teacher Miss Baird to choose their photograph…
world webs
World Wide Webbers chosen final image with their text



the ‘selfie’…

I spend much of my time working with children and young people, teaching them various elements of photography and art, and i’ve managed to do this for almost ten years self-employed which i am very proud of. But i am aware that times are changing and in order to maintain a level of interest in children and young people i have had to start to use the word ‘selfie’. If there was any word i could banish from everyday use it would be that. In fact i struggle to even write it here. I detest it. It is a vulgar, narcissistic term used to refer to the taking of one’s own picture using a hand-held device and then, more often than not, sharing that image via social networks. Normally the images are badly taken with camera phones and granted the cameras in phones are considerably better than they used to be, it’s not their fault it’s the people taking them…

Pictures of young girls with their cheeks puffed up, one hip jutting out with their hand resting on it, drunken, regretful nights out in the pub, or boys with their tops off showing how hard they have worked down the gym. Just a few of the more common examples of what has now become a whole new phenomena in social networking being used by presidents, actors, tourists and just about everyone. The pictures they take say ‘look at me, look where i am, aren’t i having a great time?’ Very few emotions (apart from the standard gormless smile/provocative pout) exist in these images and so the visual cues come from what else is happening in the picture- what time of day is it? Can we tell what type of room the image was taken in? More often than not it turns out that there is, in fact no depth to the image  and what you see is what you get- just a quick shallow skim across the surface of someone’s life. It can be argued that you catch a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors but i would argue that the images tend to be staged and give few clues- only what the taker wants us to see.

The article above places some good context around the ‘selfie’ phenomenon (there are also some errors- Atget was not the crime scene photographer is was Wegee) but all things considered it gives good perspective from an arts point of view. Below is a quote from Kyle Chakya from the National #selfie Portrait Gallery;

““It’s less about narcissism—narcissism is so lonely!—and it’s more about being your own digital avatar.” Chayka adds, “Smartphone selfies come out of the same impulse as Rembrandt’s … to make yourself look awesome.””

They just used the word “awesome” and Rembrandt in the same sentence. I don’t think that was really what Rembrandt was thinking. I hope someone corrects him and perhaps does so in person and manages to take his phone off him so he sits and listens for three minutes.

As a portrait genre it is here to stay for the foreseeable future and so i have resigned myself to the fact that i will have to spend time correcting people when they say ‘selfie’ and ask them to use either self-portrait or auto-portrait. Whether i have worked with a group for several hours/week/months it makes no difference. I can enlighten them as to what it means to take pictures of people, and show them how to do it, and how to treat photography as a skill, an art form, and a tool for communication. But as soon as they go home and engage with social media and their friends, it’s back to the puffed up cheeks and duck face. I am happy to make a joke about this when i am working but it is part of a bigger picture of how to connect with people and how to maintain a sense of authenticity in one’s life when technologies are outstripping the need to or want to meet with people face to face and experience the sponteneity of conversation.

And here endeth today’s lecture. Because authenticity is too big a subject for now…


Brocken Spectre


I keep a running list of favourite words and things (mainly in my head) and sometimes I get the chance to use them as a basis for a series of images. I have been utterly obsessed with brocken spectres for several months (if not years) but haven’t been able to work them as an idea in to a project.

A brocken spectre is, in effect a selfish rainbow. It is the enormous magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. They were first observed in 1788 by Johan Siberschlag in the Harz mountains in Germany. They are an optical illusion created when  sun shines from behind an observer who is looking down on to cloud or mist. The light projects their shadow which falls on to droplets of water at varying distances from the eye causing a halo of colour like a rainbow. Because of the angle of view only the observer can see this rainbow effect and this is what makes it a selfish rainbow.

When I first learned about brocken spectres it reminded me of the selfishness and illusionary nature of social networking and digital technologies; of how we lack the technical knowledge and understanding of how networks are created, as if they are some sort of ethereal experience which they are not. I have developed a deeply cynical view of social networks and am an unwilling participant (I am not a luddite)!

I have wanted to produce a series of images of people interacting with technology and the one idea I keep coming back to is that of the sitter being lit only by the light of the device they are interacting with. I like to imagine how Velazquez or Poussin or Rembrandt would have worked had they lighting choices other than candlelight or daylight?

My Thursday group and I visited the National Museum of Scotland a few months ago and whilst there I took the photographs below. I was struck at how the light from the small screens brought out the features of those in the image, and I also rather enjoyed the space landscape in the background- a simulacrum which only adds to the idea of modern life as rubbish (Baudrillard). The images below are simply ideas- they are not formed finished images but just the start. I get the irony of shooting these pictures with an iphone, and I will shoot the finished project with my DSLR which will only add to celebrate the selfishness of technology, But, lest we forget, once upon a time photography in it’s infancy was cutting edge technology, as was the development of ready mixed paint available in tubes, or the use of perspective…