Exercise 2.2 – People and Activity Research

Before you begin shooting, ask yourself what kind of photographs you want to make. Will they be candid photographs like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s or distant views of activity like Andreas Gursky’s? Will you seek out key gestures, facial expressions and telling relationships like Martin Parr or make ‘snapshots’ of characters in the maelstrom of life like Robert Frank? Will you try to frame the activity in a specific lighting effect like Trent Parke or will you seek to capture cultural details like Manuel Álvarez Bravo? Go online and research these well-known practitioners.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) renowned for being the developer of candid street photography. The decisive moment, setting up the shot, waiting for the action to present itself. Used small, often unnoticeable Leica with 50mm lens. People were therefore more natural and not playing up to or avoiding the camera. Often got very close to his subjects. Black and White. Decisive moment  more visible in Soviet Union, Moscow, 1954. Excellent composition, and often creates tension between subject in opposing thirds (diagonally). Leading lines, people, space, good tonal range. Dignity. Are these photos to aesthetic? Does he really photograph life as it is? (the aesthetic beauty suggests otherwise?) Founding member of Magnum Photos.

INDIA. Punjab. Kurukshetra. A refugee camp for 300.000 people.  Autumn 1947.Fig. 1. A refugee camp for 300.000 people (1947)

Andreas Gursky (1955) Oh my gosh. What can I say about him. He is a photographer and digital artist. Some of his photography appears very crisp, and detailed, with small aperture, and others don’t appear to have any clarity what so ever, and are  deliberately abstract. I get that he explores the effects of capitalism and how it impacts upon people and the natural environment. It has taken me a while to get to grips with his photography, with an initial repulsion that I had to wait to settle down, and the ntake another look.

My mind had certain preconceived ideas about what photography is, and Gurskey shatters these, and that’s why it has taken me a while to adjust. The other thing to consider is that I am only impacted by his photos based upon what I see upon a TV screen, and his art/photography may be 2 meters by 10 meters. I would love to experience being involved in photography with that proximity.

He is a master of digital manipulation and will blend different photos of the same scene together, so that the image is distorted in some way. He uses a variety of other pixel painting, digital over painting, pixelate and blur techniques, in order to alter his images.

I am writing this preparing for exercise 2.2, so I am not completing a thorough review here, but I would like to come back to him. At the moment his work is a little to abstract for what I have in mind for my planned shoot.

Hauptversammlung-I,-Diptychon,-2001Fig. 2. Hauptversammlung I, (2001)

Martin Parr (1952) One of the things that I try to get right with my photography is tidiness. Cropping at the edges to remove distractions, being aware of other distractions within the frame. This doesn’t bother Parr. His photos have parts of clothing where people are walking out of the frame, the edge of cars, litter etc. I do not believe this is an accident. He makes use of this to confirm the roughness that he presents, it is a prop for him to add impact to his photography.

It’s hard to look at Parr’s traditional photography, without being aware of the criticism that has been levelled against him, “Parr’s depiction of New Brighton holidaymakers was viewed by some as a grotesque and cold satire that ridiculed the working class” (Hacking, J, 2012; p455) I have seen interviews previously where he has defended his photographic style of showing what is there, however, when you view his more recent work you can see the criticism has impacted upon his photographic style. He has gone from being edgy, cutting edge, pushing the boat out and taking risks, to producing technically good photos at events where he has clearly been invited, and people know who he is and why he is there. It’s no longer candid, nor a challenge to view and interpret.

I find it quite interesting that I have this response. As somebody who is not comfortable with candid street photography, I prefer those earlier series produced by Parr.

If I was going to draw on Parr for inspiration for this exercise, then I could use both candid and more staged photography. I intend to be shooting in an environment where the staff know that they will be photographed on a regular basis, and without needing to gain permission, and combine these with photos of the public that are candid for large groups, and with consent for individuals and small groups.

I am reviewing photographers regularly now, and can see that you don’t have to make technically correct and aesthetically pleasing photos all of the time. With Parr, juxtaposition is more important than aesthetics. There is clearly an element of Cartier-Bresson in the photography that Parr produces. The juxtaposition is how he captures the decisive moment. His desire to capture human expression, which borders on humiliation of individuals, is paramount. Parr clearly has a vision of what he wants to capture. I do not believe he wants to humiliate the working class, but rather to show the disparity between life for those of different classes. There is a strong humanitarian impulse in his photography, although you need the inner space to consider this without preconception and prejudice.

London Undergorund and bus stops 1994Fig. 3. London Underground and Bus Stops (1992)

KENYA. Nairobi. The Karen Country Club. Table service outside the club. 2010.Fig. 4. Karen Country Club (2010)

Robert Frank (1924) The Americans 1958 – Frank is a photographer who I will explore more fully in the future. A renowned street photographer who was influenced a little by his friend Walker Evans, but more so by the Beatnik poets and writers. He moved to America in 1947, and his trips around America during the mid 1950’s gave him the opportunity to explore and present Americans as an outsider. He was curious to explore what was a new culture to him. (Wikimedia Foundation Inc, 2017a)

The facial expressions are key in Frank’s candid street photography, and I can see why he has been suggested in the brief for exercise 2.2. I see dignity, and contemplation throughout the series The Americans. Maybe Frank’s curiosity and contemplation of a society that was unfamiliar is why he chose the photos that he did (only 83 out of 28,000). The three photos that I have selected all capture emotion and leave me with a sense of feeling, sadness, perhaps anxiety as well. I am looking at these photos with an understanding that street photography is about capturing mood, however Frank was one of the first photographers to use emotion to make his photos, rather than to provide technically astute and pleasing “documents” (Kim, 2013). I have not seen many of Frank’s photos, but I can pick up on a racial tension. It is through the reading of articles that I become aware that the truly challenging nature of Frank’s photography was that he explored, photographed and presented the sides of America that were kept hidden, and showed the depths of despair that was felt in many communities.

Detroit 1955Fig. 5. Detroit (1955)

Funeral St Helena 1955Fig. 6. Funeral St Helena (1955)

IndianapollisFig. 7. Indianapolis (1956)

The capture of emotion and the people’s expression are pleasing to me, and something that I can capture a little of during the exercise. I will shoot in colour, but as I am capturing something of the historic, then I may convert to black and white in the developing process.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902 – 2002) His photography is crisper, cleaner and more artistic than that of Robert Frank, and although Striking Worker Murdered (see below) is graphic and bleak, his photography doesn’t have the emotional impact of Frank. I believe that as he photographs as an insider he does not allow his documentary photography become street photography. However his influences were different. His interests in art, cubism, abstract, and architecture can be seen throughout his photography and over 70 years of making photos. Many of his images are made collaboratively with the people that he photographed, they were either posed or semi staged so as to appear natural. It is apparent that most of the people who he took photos of, knew that they were being photographed. He makes good use of a small aperture and large format camera to bring out the details of the people and buildings that he shoots.

Striking-Worker-Murdered-1934Fig. 8. Striking Worker Murdered (1934)

Figures in the castleFig. 9. Figures in the Castle (1920’s)

The above photo has good composition and lighting, but the interest comes from the reflection of the domed ceiling, along with the stairs. It reminds me of a bird-cage, and the two women are standing on the perch. I wanted to include this image because it is a representation of the artistic influence of Bravo’s education and before he had contact with other photographers. Bravo was a self-taught photographer (Wikimedia Foundation Inc, 2017b) and I find this quite exciting. Because he was not influenced by other photographers, he had an eye for what felt and looked right to him, and without the need to photograph properly. I admire the artistry of his photographs.

How can I allow his influence in the exercise? The keys here are using your eye. What looks good to me? Does something look artistic? How can I capture the texture best? Depth of field – What is appropriate for the shot.


Figure 1. Cartier-Bresson, H; 1947; A refugee camp for 300.000 [Gelatin silver print on paper]; At: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN#/CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN&POPUPIID=2S5RYDPXT0R&POPUPPN=3 (accessed on 09/10/2017)

Figure 2. Gurskey, A; 2001; Hauptversammlung I [C – Print]; At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/andreas-gursky/hauptversammlung-i-diptychon-a-0FrC9PrRmiKHjIXN-uF4dw2 (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 3. Parr, M; 1992; London Underground and Bus Stops; At: https://www.martinparr.com/archive/exhibitions/signs-of-the-times/ (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 4. Parr, M; 2010; Karen Country Club; At: https://www.martinparr.com/2014/ (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 5. Frank, R; 1955; Detroit; At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 6. Frank, R; 1955; Funeral St Helena; At: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/robert-frank-the-americans#slideshow (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 7. Frank, R; 1956; Indianapolis; At: https://aperture.org/blog/separate-cars-open-road-robert-frank/ (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 8. Bravo, MA; 1934; Striking Worker Murdered; At: https://www.manuelalvarezbravo.org/english/thirties-A.php#nogo (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Figure 9. Bravo, MA; 1920’s; Figures in the Castle; At https://www.manuelalvarezbravo.org/english/twenties.php (accessed on 11/10/2017)


Cartier-Bresson, H: 1954; Soviet Union: Henri Cartier-Bresson; Online at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN#/CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN&POPUPIID=2S5RYDFPJD0&POPUPPN=33 (accessed on 09/10/2017)

Hacking, J; 2012; Photography The Whole Story; London; Thames and Hudson

Kim, E; 2013; Robert Frank’s “The Americans”: Timeless Lessons Street Photographers Can Learn; Eric Kim Photography; Online at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/01/07/timeless-lessons-street-photographers-can-learn-from-robert-franks-the-americans/ (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Wikimendia Foundation Inc; 2017a; Robert Frank; Online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frank (accesses on 11/10/2017)

Wikimedia Foundation Inc; 2017b, Manuel Álvarez Bravo; Online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_%C3%81lvarez_Bravo (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Also Viewed

Andreas Gursky; Online at: http://www.andreasgursky.com/en

Gagosian; Online at: https://www.gagosian.com/artists/andreas-gursky (accessed on 11/10/2017)

Magnum Photos; Online at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN#/CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN&POPUPIID=2S5RYD1TROZJ&POPUPPN=20 (accessed on 09/10/2017)

Wikimedia Foundation Inc; 2017; Henri Cartier-Bresson; Online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Cartier-Bresson (accessed on 09/10/2017)

Scharf, A; 1998 (re-edited up to 2017); Henri Cartier-Bresson: French Photographer; Online at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henri-Cartier-Bresson (accessed on 09/10/2017)

Tate; Online at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/andreas-gursky-2349 (accessed on 11/10/2017)

7 Replies to “Exercise 2.2 – People and Activity Research”

  1. Richard,

    Unusually I have to take issue with you! Martin Parr. Have you seen his latest collection ‘Oxford’? Sure there are some straight portrait type photos, but others in the collection are as edgy as ever. Take a look. My favourite is the one of a tutor/professor holding court at a formal dinner whilst there are two girls opposite. One looking on in bemusement, the other eyes shut. The whole collection is rife with underlying social commentary, perhaps more subtle than New Brighton, but equally intriguing. Of course, it is good to have disagreements on matters of artistic interpretation. I guess it shows we are thinking and forming 🙂

    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

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