Tag Archives: Henri Cartier Bresson

Ai Weiwei

Last night I watched “Ai Weiwei Never Sorry”*, a remarkable documentary about an even more remarkable man. His art incorporates photography but, then, it incorporates just about everything else as well.

I was struck very early in the film that many of the things he said about art echoed the ideas of Henri Cartier Bresson. Two artists from diametrically opposed cultures, social back grounds, times and places.

Ai Weiwei talks of the simplicity of his ideas, a theme that Cartier Bresson often returns to in his writings, HCB says It is by “economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression”.** Ai WeiWei’s monumental work “Sunflower Seeds” exemplifies the simple approach, a startling 100 million porcelain “seeds” all hand made and hand painted and spread over a football pitch of a space at the Tate Modern in 2010/11. The message that each seed from a distance looks the same but close up is unique, an individual, and how the individual relates to the mass is a simple idea and a simple message about China. Obviously there are many other levels to this work, perhaps the choice of porcelain was important given China’s long standing love affair with this medium, perhaps there are messages about products made in China. The sun was the emblem of Mao Zedong, the seeds the people of China. Sunflower seeds were once the most important staple diet of poor Chinese. Layer upon layer but the basic premise is simple. This is part of the beauty of his work.

Ai WeiWei is, in his own words, engaged in a game of chess through his art. “I am a chess player…I make a move when they do…Now I am waiting for my opponent to make the next move.” In the greatest tradition of art he is trying to change his society through activist art. The dividing line between political act and artistic expression is blurred beyond identification. Were the names of the dead school children listed on his office wall art ? They were a simply made, strong emotional statement that communicated directly with the viewer. A statement that transcended the language in which they were written in as few people outside of china other than people of chinese heritage could read a single name. Calling it art or not art probably trivialises what we are looking at, the names of thousands of children who died needlessly. Children in a single child society who, as Ai Weiwei tells us, were the product of total and dedicated investment by their parents. Not just one only child but over 4,000 only children.

The most creative and moving piece on display was his mural of a dead child’s name constructed from student’s knapsacks and inspired by the photographs of knapsacks after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.

Another link to Cartier Bresson was the idea of a camera as a diary. Cartier Bresson saw the camera as sketchbook. Ai Weiwei sees it as a diary and his portal to twitter, banned in mainline China, where he maintains a running commentary on his activism and his art. He uses moving and still images to express himself as well as painting, sculpture and architecture. Extremes of artistic collaboration around a single artist.

His iconic photograph of the Forbidden City behind his middle finger is the ultimate “selfie”. It is a simple idea, great composition, grainy, a bit fuzzy and presumably taken with an early model smart phone, certainly not overwhelmed by technology. A message so clear and loud it makes sense to anyone who wants to look. Cartier-Besson said that taking photographs was a way of shouting, the middle finger is a shout.

At the end of the film I had filled four pages of my notebook, about a quarter was about Ai Weiwei and three quarters were ideas that he sparked. The strongest idea is not especially insightful – we see this man fighting a repressive, secretive, faceless, control-freak of a government with Gandhi-like calm and non-violent means. He is a man with little or no freedom of speech who has found a hundred ways to say what needs to be said. He tells us that your “acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.”**

Most of us live in a world where freedom of speech is overwhelmingly available and where most of us can think of nothing useful to say, not that this stops us or me. In 2003 Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  when he was speaking.  According the Domosphere website there are 2.1 billion internet subscribers who are posting 6,725 Instagram and flickr photos every minute, that is another 4.5 million photos posted by the time I get up tomorrow morning. This post is just 1 of 347 WordPress posts every minute, 229 thousand before breakfast.

I find this totally overwhelming. Finding our voice is a key objective of this course, being heard is a whole different challenge.


* Klayman, Alison. A Film (2013) Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry, United Expression Media,

** Cartier-Bresson, Henri (1999), The Mind’s Eye, Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture Foundation, New York

*** Robert Klanten  (Editor) , Matthias Hubner (Editor) , Alain Bieber (Editor). (2011) Art & Agenda, Political Art and Activism, Gestalten Verlag

Ai Weiwei official website (first accessed 2013) http://aiweiwei.com

Assignment 1 – Reflection and Objectives Going Forward

I found Assignment 1 to be challenging partly because I am quite literal by nature and nurture, forty years in IT has to have some effect.

To try and overcome this limitation I spent a lot of time thinking about and planning this project. I found that slowly leafing through the work of several photographs helped. I have mentioned Camilo José Vergara as a specific inspiration for my pair of graffiti images and, although I did not use the images as part of the assignment, I took several photographs in Aldershot that were influenced by his work.

Sweet Shop - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 125, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 56mm

Sweet Shop – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 125, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 56mm

Sweet shop is one of those photographs and shows two Nepalis outside an Asian fast food shop in Aldershot.

One of my earliest ideas was to base many of the images around an industrial theme. This led me to seek out artists who had used this theme extensively and this took me to Lewis W. Hine. I found a copy of  “Women at Work” second hand but I’m still looking for an affordable copy of “Men at Work”.

Hine’s work is remarkable, in his introduction to Women at Work, Jonathan L. Doherty points out that Hine saw the American Worker as a heroic figure.  Many of his photographs focus on the skill and application of his female subjects even though he is known to have held strong views on poverty and exploitation. As a result his images are very positive, I do not believe that he intends us to feel sorry for the workers, he wants us to see them as people with ability and strength, to celebrate and admire them.

I sought out Hine to see how he photographed machines but came away more influenced by the way he portrayed people in a positive light even if their circumstances were clearly unsatisfactory. An example of this is “Italian Immigrant, East Side, New York City 1910” which is of a women in a run-down district, carrying a heavy load but instead of this being a depressing image it emphasises her strength and purpose. His ability to emphasise the positives has made me think more deeply about street photography and how important it is not to fall into the trap of type casting people by the way you photograph them.

Overall I spent a lot of time looking at black and white photos from great photographers but lacked the confidence to bring much black and white to the assignment. My trip to the military cemetery in Aldershot was to look for many and few or large and small contrasts. I thought the gravestones and the memorials might offer these comparisons. But, I also thought that the older sections would provide strong gothic images that would work well in black and white so I could include this technique in my final set.

I think I captured several images that fitted those criteria but in every case I preferred the colour version.

Grave of a Small Child - 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Grave of a Small Child – 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Grave of a Small Child - 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Grave of a Small Child – 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel - 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel – 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel - 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel – 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

I found Michael Freeman’s Black and White Photography Field Guide immensely helpful and looking at the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Lewis W. Hine and Ansel Adams is also a great help but I have to make major step up in terms of technique to produce even average results in black and white.

As a result only high and low had a monochrome element and I feel those images have several processing flaws. I have asked myself why I included them if I knew they were flawed but I like them as images and believe a “good” print is hidden in there but that I don’t have the black and white processing skills to extract it. It is therefore helpful to post them as a marker that I can look back on to measure whether I am improving these skills.

My first objective moving forward is to improve my ability to capture and print work in black and white so that I am confident to present it in an assignment.

I am very conscious that I lost momentum in the course of completing this assignment. I knew that my instinct would be to produce very literal representations of the contrasts and therefore spent a lot of time looking at the potential meanings of the words, brainstorming ideas, planning locations, taking and analysing test shots and selecting images. This all sounds very positive and it would be easy to spin it as a diligent and efficient process but it wasn’t.

I actually used very few of the dozens and dozens of ideas I had on my mind maps. I spent a second day at Milestones Museum to get one usable image and know that most of the unplanned “test” shots were better than the planned versions. In reality the process was flawed and it took at least three weeks of elapsed time before I changed tack. I was far more effective when I picked locations that might offer opportunity and just went out and took photographs or by just having my camera with me when I had to be in places for other reasons. Italy, MC Motors, Salisbury and The South Bank were all places I went to for work or social reasons; the three locations I used in Aldershot were more planned and the trampoline photos in our back garden were staged.

Overall I feel that I have been working on this assignment for far too long, I was defiantly bogged down and have my daughter, who teaches photography, to thank for getting me out of a lot of blind alleys and onto a clearer path. It is hard to define exactly what I need to do to address this going forward but I do not want to move steadily through the exercises and then stall when I reach the assignments.

My current thoughts are that I need to carefully manage the time spent planning and the amount of process and get out there with a camera more quickly. I feel that my best work was when I put myself in a good location, with the assignment objectives in my mind, and just took photographs that felt right. By doing this I took some photos that I liked but that didn’t fit the assignment but also found photos that did both.

The desk work that really did help was looking at top photographer’s work. Looking at the thousands of images that Google can find only helped to confuse the issue. I need to focus my attention on gaining inspiration from great photographers and to strive to learn from their skills. Although it didn’t directly impact the assignment I felt that reviewing Vergara’s work on a Saturday led to me taking better photos on Sunday morning.

My second objective is to focus my research on gaining inspiration as a creative fuel and to use this fuel by moving quickly to capturing images.


Hine, Lewis H. (1981) Women at Work. New York, Dover Publications

Exercise 12 – Cropping

Fig 1 - Druid Original Image 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 1 – Druid Original Image – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Exercise 12 requires the re-cropping of a selection of existing photographs.

I endeavoured to select a variety of different subject types and to to try one or two different crops on each one.

This is an interesting exercise as it  forced me to look again at a small selection of old images. I did not want to just look at recent photographs and as a result they range from 2000 to 2012.

I have mostly restricted myself to 3:2 or square proportions whether landscape or portrait. The exception are two faux panoramic crops. I am questioning whether using traditional proportions is a sign of a lack of creativity or force of habit. Rightly or wrongly I have always cropped to 3:2 or square. This might be a bit of OCD, or we used to have the cardboard cropping guides to mark up 35mm transparencies for printing and they only worked in these proportions.

At the end of the exercise I can see that there were better crops available for at least 2 of the 4 images so I am clearly looking at these photographs in a different way. More telling was that I found a different and previously un-edited original of the sardine chef that would have be a much better edited image back in 2000. I see this as as more fundamental shift in my ideas, I was always seeking perfections and would exclude things from the frame that spoilt the image I wanted to see. I now realise that the litter on the ground, or in the case of the sardine image, the chef having a cigarette in the background, are the imperfections that potentially make the image. Studying the work of Cartier-Bresson, Lewis Hine and Sebastiao Salgado has been a revelation in this regard and I am now looking at opportunities and my old images in a very different way that I hope, over time, will lift my work.

My first choice is a picture of a druid, not just any druid but Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge & Britain. I photographed Mr. Maughfling at the Stonehenge winter solstice in 2012 and originally framed the image as seen in fig.1.

I wanted to include his hands which I found interesting, to hint that he was in a crowded place but to isolate him as he appeared to be deep in thought.

Fig 2 - Druid Crop 1 - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 2 – Druid Crop 1 – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

My first, alternative crop focusses attention on his face. I have positioned him to fill the frame from left to near the right hand edge.

Fig 3 - Druid Crop 2 - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 3 – Druid Crop 2 – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

In fig.3 I have stayed in close but cropped into a landscape frame. The intent is to have him looking into space.

Fig 4 - Druid Crop 3 - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 4 – Druid Crop 3 – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

The final crop is halfway between the original and the tight frame of fig.2. to show a little of his costume.

On balance I would be happy to use the original, or fig. 2, crop 1. The choice is between an interesting bearded face or a druid with an interesting face. I took the original as part of a study of people at the solstice so showing that he was a druid was important to that set. If I met him on the street I would probably prefer fig. 2, crop 1.

Fig. 5 Wreck at Anegada Original - 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 5 – Wreck at Anegada Original – 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

The second image, Fig. 5, dates from 2000 and is of a wreck on the island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. My original image was probably framed to put the wreck into the context of the beach and to include the windswept tree to the right which gives a sense of how strong the winds can be and why wrecks happen in these beautiful islands.

Fig. 6 Wreck at Anegada Crop 1- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 6 – Wreck at Anegada Crop 1- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

The first and most obvious crop was to try a portrait frame as in fig. 6. This focusses the viewer totally onto the wreck under a darkening sky.

Fig. 7 - Wreck at Anegada Crop 2- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 7 – Wreck at Anegada Crop 2- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 7 is tending towards a panoramic shape. I wanted to retain the sweep of the beach and to include the boat and the tree within the frame.

Fig. 8 - Wreck at Anegada Crop 4 - 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 8 – Wreck at Anegada Crop 4 – 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Seeing fig. 7 on the screen whilst writing up my notes made me realise that the wide expanse of beach was, in fact, un-balancing the image so I tried a tighter crop as shown in fig. 8 and I think this works much better than fig. 7. The boat and tree balance each other well and the sunlit portion of the beach still links the two. I did also try a square crop but this was uninteresting. I like fig.8 crop 4 as it feels a better balanced image than the original.

Fig. 10 - Sardines Original - 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Fig. 9 – Sardines Original – 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Sardines, fig. 9, also dates from 2000 and was taken in Portugal. The original image I found in my “portfolio” was cropped as a square. At that time I was still using a Bronica medium format film camera and although this image is taken with a Nikon D1 it is not unusual for me to crop images, especially portraits into square frames. I suspect my logic was to include all the sardines along with the chef and, as will be seen in fig.11, there was a distraction to the left. This is all about the chef and the fish.

Fig. 10 - Sardines Crop 1 - 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Fig. 10 – Sardines Crop 1 – 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

In the interests of this project I tried a portrait crop as shown in fig. 10. It is workable but, of the two, I prefer the original. A few years ago I could have sounded very “grumpy old man” and said 1:1 was a very underused format and that it had a lot to offer as an alternative to 3:2. I do not, by the way, hold myself up as an expert in composing in that or any other format. However, since the advent of Instagram, there are now thousands of people successfully using the square format  everyday and there are companies printing Instagrams in the style of the old polaroid instant photos and sending them back boxed.

Fig. 11 - Sardines Alternative Original - 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Fig. 11 – Sardines Alternative Original – 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

When I went back to my originals library to retrieve the exposure information for fig. 9 I noticed  this original image (fig. 11) that was never edited. I was obviously not interested in the chef’s assistant having a crafty smoke and took the next shot excluding him. Now I would choose fig.11 as the more interesting photo. I have used it here with no cropping and just the smallest tweak in photoshop. It might deserve a bit more effort to adjust the shadows and highlights.

Fig. 12 - Table Mountain Original - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 12 – Table Mountain Original – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

My final choice is a photograph of Table Mountain behind Cape Town taken in 2008. The composition is framed to include the cloud pattern that adds some interest to the sky and the transparent sea inside the reef. I have framed this to create a nearly symmetrical balance.

Fig. 13 - Table Mountain Crop 1 - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 13 – Table Mountain Crop 1 – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig.13 is a much better crop, less sea and more sky brings a better overall balance to the image  and the viewer is led in to the photograph more effectively.

Fig. 13 - Table Mountain Crop 2 - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 14 – Table Mountain Crop 2 – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

The panoramic crop in fig. 14 is also quite effective and would work well as an internet or blog header or a banner in a printed article. I cropped to try and make the breaking waves the key component.

Fig. 15 - Table Mountain Crop 3 - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 15 – Table Mountain Crop 3 – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

In fig. 15 I wanted to try a square format again. I have cropped to include the breaking waves to the left as this gives some life to the image. this has broken up the semi-symmetrical pattern of the clouds and moved the mountain slightly off centre. I don’t dislike it but feel more comfortable with fig. 13 which I think is the best balanced of the set.

Research on Positions in the Frame

Fig. 01- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 1- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Having completed the image capture and preparation for the exercise of positioning an object in different places in the frame, but before logging the results, I want to spend some time researching the basic principles of composition.

The Mind’s Eye, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1999), includes an essay on composition in which he makes some fundamental points of principle, the first being that composition must be one of our constant preoccupations and that it can only stem from intuition. He goes on to say that application of the golden rule is made by the photographer’s eye and not by geometric tools. This is the key, we survey a scene, point, compose and shoot using our instincts, yes, we do now have the option of dividing the view finder into the rule of thirds, a day that Cartier-Bresson hoped he would never see, but it is still our eye and our instinct that sees the shot.

I am only now discovering Cartier-Bresson’s work beyond the most recognisable and iconic images. I am intrigued that image after image follows a pattern of composition where the golden rule or golden section has been applied and, no doubt, applied instinctively. I understand that he did not crop and thereby re-compose his photographs in the dark room so what we see is what he saw in his viewfinder. Sir Ernst Gombrich (1978), the eminent art historian, wrote in his introduction to the Victoria and Albert Museum archive of Cartier-Bresson’s work that nearly all his photographs exhibit the visual balance and the secret geometry of a formal composition. We know he trained as an artist and Gombrich (1978) tells us that, in his older age, he painted and sketched more than he used a camera.

It comes as something of a relief that Michael Freeman (2007) reassures us that the photographer does not need to be concerned with the exact proportions calculated by the ancient Greeks and the painters of the renaissance, the golden rule. The important point is that each of the ways, generally devised by painters, to divide the frame recognises that we respond positively to certain proportions in a picture, a harmonious division. The photographer seeks a balance in composition, a balance between the space occupied by the subject or subjects and the space not occupied by the same.

The easily understood basis of the golden rule is that it is what nature appeared to have intended we use, it is apparently repeated time and again in natural design but, perhaps, the most telling fact is that the human face is divided into sections that follow the rule. Regardless of the mathematics it seems obvious that the human brain will be geared to recognising the human face and that we feel comfortable looking at something that mimics those proportions.

Fig. 01- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 2- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 1 is a picture I took in 2006 and shows my original crop of a photo of a neighbour in the middle of his field which had become an ocean of poppies. As a reference point I have re-cropped the image in Fig. 2 to place Pepe on the intersection of golden sections.

The rule of thirds is sometimes described as a simplified version of the golden section. It was apparently named much more recently, most sources I found cite John Thomas Smith (1797) in his book Remarks on Rural Scenery quoting a previous work by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It appears that Smith (1797) was making an observation that great painters tended to divide their canvas into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The sky often occupied a third and the land two thirds, he continues to say that he found that the ratio of two thirds to one third more pleasing that the precise formal half or any other proportion. For the none mathematician this is instantly more understandable and I am drawn to the idea that it was an observation on existing work rather than the application of a formula.

Fig. 3- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 3- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

In Fig. 3 I have moved Pepe to the vertical intersections created by the rule of thirds.

My summary of this short piece of research is that the golden rule and the rule of thirds have more similarities than differences. Both say that we respond positively to visual balance and that we can divide a composition into proportions that are harmonious and satisfying. However, neither can be a rigid rule of composition, and neither will direct us to a single perfect point to position the subject. In a scene where there is a single subject within an even background there are many potential points of position that follow the rules.

To bring this back to the exercise in hand Michael Freeman (2007) says that when we are photographing a single and “obvious subject” and where we have made the decision to allow free space around the subject, we have to decide where to place that object within the frame.  Assuming that the subject is going to take up a reasonably small part of the frame we are left with many choices. The golden section and the rule of thirds are useful tools to help make these choices but we are reminded by Cartier-Bresson (1999) that the camera is an instrument of intuition and spontaneity. The message must be to hone our instincts to find the harmonious balance so we point, compose and shoot without tedious calculation and delay.

Fig. 4- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 4- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

This little research project has given me a reason to revisit my original photo of Pepe and his poppy field and I have concluded that the most pleasing crop is the one in Fig. 4. Although as Freeman (2007) points out, free placement is never guaranteed, I wish I had included more poppies to the left as I would like to see a crop with Pepe even further to the right with the red poppies stretching further out behind him in two directions. However, I am pleased I was reminded of this image and came back to it and maybe even improved the composition.

A a small piece of non photographic information. The amazing display of poppies proved to be a once off event. Pepe had ploughed this field in preparation for planting young oak trees whose root balls had been impregnated with truffle spores. He must have ploughed at the perfect moment for poppy seeds as early next summer this wonderful display appeared. Soon after the photograph was taken he turned the soil again and planted his young oak trees. I am not sure whether the truffles have arrived yet, they say it takes seven to ten years, so maybe soon.

Research Towards a Sequence of Composition

1/640 at f/5.6 - ISO 100

1/640 at f/5.6 – ISO 100

We were blessed with beautiful weather last weekend and although I had not completed writing up “Fitting the Frame” it was a golden opportunity to visit Winchester which has a bric-a-brac and a farmers’ market on the first Sunday of the month. This would be a good location to work on “A Sequence of Composition”.

I captured plenty of sequences and will work on editing those photos and writing up the exercise in the early part of next week. Good markets bustle with people and Winchester is no exception so I inevitably took plenty of people photos over the course of the morning. As I began to sort through the raw images I began to think about how best to crop and edit the people pictures that might not fit not the current exercise but were images that I would like for myself.

This started me thinking more deeply about street photography and street portraits in particular and whether there were patterns in the way experienced and skilful street photographers presented their work.

I have researched the internet for striking street portraits that will help me answer this question. The internet is a powerful research tool but a lot of time can be wasted sorting the wheat from the chaff so I tried to quickly home in on a small number of photographers. Firstly, I selected an iconic name from the history of street photography – Henri Cartier Bresson, one modern American, professional photographer, Clay Enos, whose “Spontaneously-made portraits of random passersby” appealed to me www.clayenos.com/streetstudio and a Greek photographer, Markos George Hionos whose images caught my eye but who appears to be neither a professional nor well known www.facebook.com/MarkosGeorgeHionosPhotography.

(Important amendment, posted 23rd October 2013. I owe an apology to Markos George Hionos. I have done him a disservice and should have said that he was not previously known to me. Mr. Hionos has kindly written to me and provided me with links to his work. He is indeed a professional photographer born in Greece but now working as a freelance photographer and living in London, his work has been published in several magazines and he has written two books. His website can be found at  www.mindstormphotos.com. and his blog at markosgeorgehionos.wordpress.com)

I also spent some time looking at Lee Jeffries’ work. His powerful images of street people in London and Los Angeles are strong enough to be disturbing which I presume is exactly the effect he is aiming for and whilst I am very taken by his work I will save them as input for another day. www.paranoias.org/2011/07/lee-jeffries-photography/.

My method was to look through images from the above photographers and screen shot those that fitted into a theme of street portraits and that had an instant visual impact on me. I pulled these together into simple collections and printed them for my sketchbook. I have obviously not looked at all the work of these three men and am therefore not going to comment on their wider work but by printing out all the images that I had selected and looking at them together there was a clear pattern.

In the photos I had selected by Henri Cartier Bresson he had the subject or subjects in the context of their setting whilst both Enos and Hionos tightly framed their subjects. The second obvious observation is that Cartier Bresson and Hionos’ images were all black and white whilst Enos used both mediums. My review of current street photography suggests that a high proportion is monochrome. I am unsure whether this is because the subject works better this way or whether it has become a trend and photographers are associating street subjects with black and white. For Lee Jeffries’ work Black and white is the obvious choice, it focusses all the attention on the subjects’ complexions, underlines the dirt and the wear and tear most of them have suffered. His are dark subjects and perfect for monochrome. In contrast Clay Enos uses both colour and black and white, his work is generally much lighter but I like the fact that he is choosing which works best based on the subject.

I selected a small number of the street portraits that I had taken last Sunday and followed a process of preparing a copy with a fairly wide framing and then trying tighter crops that were closer to Enos and Hionos’ work.

1/100 at f/5 - ISO 110

Fig. 1 – 1/100 at f/5 – ISO 110

I took a series of photos of this market trader. Fig. 1 is the first photo taken after he noticed me and I liked the way he is responding to the camera. He obviously knows I am there but he is not posing in any way. I like the movement in his hand as he raises his cigarette. A satisfactory image but there is a lot of dead space around the subject.

Fig. 2 - 1/100 at f/5 - ISO 110

Fig. 2 – 1/100 at f/5 – ISO 110

I have cropped much more closely in fig.2 but have kept enough of his wonderful plaited beard and the glimpse of his tattoo. This is a much more effective crop dispute losing so much of the beard and his hand. I could have potentially cropped even tighter to focus on his face but I think the subject believes his beard is an important statement about himself and it had to be in the photo.

Fig. 3 - 1/100 at f/5 - ISO 110

Fig. 3 – 1/100 at f/5 – ISO 110

I converted the same image to black and white in fig.3. For me, this changes the feel of the image quite significantly. Both Fig.1 and Fig. 2 are bright, cheerful images, I find this a little more moody, nearly sinister, in black and white. The colour images work better for me in this instance.

1/100 at f/5.6 - ISO 640

Fig.4 – 1/100 at f/5.6 – ISO 640

The second image I have chosen, fig.4 , is of an older man who first attracted my attention because his tee shirt appeared quite out of keeping with both his age and the rest of his clothing. This crop was the photo I first saw, with the mannequin’s head holding the left and my main subject holding the right.

Fig.4 - 1/100 at f/5.6 - ISO 640

Fig.5 – 1/100 at f/5.6 – ISO 640

In fig. 5 I have cropped to a portrait and the way he is looking straight at the camera has become the dominant feature of the image. I left his hands and the tee shirt in and I like the way they relate to each other. On balance the landscape with the market around him is a more interesting photograph. I tested black and white on this image but it did not add anything.

1/100 at f/9 - ISO 1000

Fig.6 – 1/100 at f/9 – ISO 1000

By this stage I was beginning to develop a theme for my sequence of composition exercise and was positioning myself behind market traders and their stalls and focusing in on their customers. I have picked fig. 6 out as a street portrait because the trader’s back, the shop window and her colourful scarf create a strong frame for women’s face and she has become the dominant subject.

Fig.7 - 1/100 at f/9 - ISO 1000

Fig.7 – 1/100 at f/9 – ISO 1000

In Fig.7 I have cropped in more tightly on the women. She does not fill the frame so is still a long way from either Enos or Hionos and I have left in the back of the trader which explains the photograph. It is a shame that someone walked behind her as it would have been a more striking photograph if the shops had been the only background. There is a lesson here and I should review the captured image more often as there probably was the opportunity to take another shot once the passerby had gone. Black and white added nothing.

1/100 at f7.1 - ISO 180

Fig.8 – 1/100 at f7.1 – ISO 180

Fig.8 - 1/100 at f7.1 - ISO 180

Fig.8 – 1/100 at f7.1 – ISO 180

In this close up of part of a street band I caught one of the musicians obviously enjoying his colleague’s performance. This is tight on the two subjects but because of the depth of field the focus is all on the expression of the man at the back. Cropping down to the one man would be pointless as the subject of his pleasure would have gone. In fig.8 I have converted the image to  black and white to see whether this would impart a more “street feel”.  I prefer the colour version but either seem to work.

1/125 at f/2.8 - ISO 100

Fig. 9 – 1/125 at f/2.8 – ISO 100

Fig. 9 was the first photograph that I edited after uploading the raw files. I felt that this was a strong composition with the trumpeter’s white shirt helping to make him stand out from the dull and out of focus background. In a perfect world the doorway would have been empty but I do not believe that the two figures detract too much. Another example where, if I had reviewed the image on location, I would have had a second chance.

This is the photograph that started me thinking about how other photographers frame their street portraits. Should I stay with this composition which seemed strong or frame much tighter?

1/125 at f/2.8 - ISO 100

Fig. 10 – 1/125 at f/2.8 – ISO 100

The tight crop in fig. 10 works better. The diagonal of the trumpet and the direction his eyes are looking become the two most dominant features. I much prefer this image.

Based on reviewing internet images street portraits are more often then not tightly framed. The subject is often the whole subject and the photograph is mostly printed in black and white.

On the other hand Henri Cartier Bresson focuses all our attention onto an individual or a group but leaves them in context, even when the background is fairly plain. I picked out 10 of his images. The selection was solely on the basis of the image being primarily about an individual, i.e. a portrait and that it instantly appealed to me. In 8 out the 10 the subject is placed left or right of centre (rule of thirds) and the rest of the image provides context. Sometimes the context is another person observing the subject. The other two images possibly fail my own criteria anyway. One is is of a group of three probably attempting to find their way from a map and the other is of a group in a park.

Returning to the small selection above, my favourites are the trumpet player (fig. 10) where a tight frame has helped the composition and the older man with the mannequin (fig. 4) where showing him in context creates the most interesting image. Black and white added nothing to any of the images I tested. For me, tight or wide is dependant on what makes the most visual impact, or what makes the more interesting composition. I feel that there is a risk of following a modern trend without asking what makes the best composition and I would like to avoid this trap.