Category Archives: Project 1 Photography – art or science?

Exercise 2 – what makes a photograph artistic?

  • Take some that are purely ‘utilitarian’ – to show someone who lives elsewhere what your town centre looks like, for example. Now try and produce something more ‘arty’.

I did this a bit backwards, and asked my husband to go out and take a few photographs to see which ones I thought were artistic and which ones were utilitarian. It’s really interesting to realise that my husband enjoys the mundane- everyday, whereas I would be looking for something different.

What I’ve realised, from looking at these pics, is we lives in a place where to everyone in the West, everyday pics are unusual, we’ve just grown used to it. People wouldn’t believe that most women wear conical hats, everyday, it’s not just on postcards, or the amount people carry on the back of their motorbikes, it’s just become normal to us.

The conclusion,what I came up with, was, the photos which were artistic were the ones Ben thought about, and were not purely not off the cuff, quick, and un-planned.

All rights to photographs belong to Ben Gray 🙂


The end of our road – not artistic
I think this was an off the cuff picture – so I’d say not artistic.. has good perspective though
The tree creates scale and interesting silhouettes, so I’d say yes
The sense of movement, and specifically perspective is great here, so I’d say yes, I love this photograph — especially the shadow
The colour and light are wonderful — I’d definitely say yes! — one of my favourites
I’m sure my husband intended on this being artistic, but I’d say otherwise, there’s not enough information.

In conclusion, we all see things differently, and are inspired by amazing photographers.

Open on one of my browsers I found a NY times article Ben was looking at with a link to William Eggleston — see here

Then looking more at the photograph Ben took, I can see where his inspiration came from. I often see so many comparisons to Ben’s work when seeing famous photographers exhibitions. Like any art form, there’s never an original idea, it’s all about how the individual sees through a lens, taking inspiration from those who came before.




Research point — dealing with the flood


Referring back to Walker’s point about photography being a currency, I do think inflation is a threat when it comes to social media.

On the other hand, it’s great for cataloging events in time, referencing places, and people.  I do not think it’s a tool used for art, more of a self expression of daily experiences, to share with those far away.

That’s how I look at it, living at least 1000 miles away from most people I love, in a country which inspires me in unconventional ways, I love to document it, because like so many thing, it’s going to change, and quickly.

Ho Chi Minh is a city of change, it’s only been open to the West since 1990s and only recently has been open to international trade/property etc.. meaning that on every corner, next to most houses, on every street, or turn, a house/building is being demolished, and another is built within the month. Such flux and change is parallel to an emerging young generation, who have money — a new concept in a what was, developing country.

With so much change, I do believe that photography, whether art or otherwise, should always be used as a tool to remember.

What you had for lunch, less so important.

Exercise 2

  • Flick through a photo album – yours or someone else’s. Pick out any photos that you consider to be ‘artistic’. In your learning log, note down what it is about these particular images that makes them more like artworks than some of the others.

    On Sunday I went to the equivalent of a Sunday Market, in Saigon — it was mostly full of old watches, lighters, glassses, and clocks, but I did find this suitcase full of black and white photograph, I thought perfect for this exercise.

After negotiating a very unfair deal for myself — £15 for a handfull of prints, the man had one leg, it was fine, I was happy to own a small portion of time.

Most of the photographs look as if they could be film stills, but I’d like to imagine them being really time life situations.


Suitcase of photographs found at the Sunday market, District 11, Saigon [6-8-17]
That moment you wait / hope for mail
The wind blowing her long dark hair over his shoulder – love the pattern of the iron gates (so common here in Saigon)
I love this photograph, she’s so beautiful, framed in a reflection
I love these two in particular — she is holding a painting of the man, who is photographed below, maybe a soldier who died in the war, he face says it all.
Just look how he’s wearing that army jacket, like a model

Imagine if I found a Robert Capa original in that box of photographs in a Vietnamese suitcase — wouldn’t that be something
Real war photograph? Or film still?
I love the composition of the paintings and the model
The lighting is particularly etherial
The look and body language of the boy, tells a story
Captures the moment behind the screen so perfectly
I’d really like to imagine the converstion these guys were having
Stunning light / contrast — form
The lighting again is incredible, with the figuring in the background, perhaps the same thing he is creating

Research point — John A. Walker’s essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’

These are points which stuck out from Walker’s essay I’d like to take time to write about.


The frame of the photograph encloses a space, a world, which we can enter (in our imaginations)

I’ve never fully considered what may lay on the other 4 sides of a photograph, always taking that frame as the total. It’s incredibly interesting to think about what has been cropped out, and what the image would be if an extra inch or two would to be added, would it shift the initial thought, or could it change it completely.


In the distant past, paintings and sculptures were generally produced for specific locations and were designed as integral parts of architectural structures.

Images, man made, would apart of the environment, they were not transient nor replicated elsewhere.  If you wanted to see the image, you could do only within the confines of that exact location, or place. As per to John Berger’s “Way’s of Seeing” seeing a famous painting in a museum oppose to seeing a postcard image at home.


In other words, there is a need to examine the life of an image as well as its birth, to consider its circulation, its currency, as it moves through time and space from context to context,

The idea that photographs have parallels with currency is a really interesting one. The fleeting images from mobile phones hold little to no value, and are deleted at will, until the desired vanity is achieved.  On the other hand limited edition prints by famous photographers, would reach into the thousands.  Considering where they are born, is another interesting concept– who took the picture, on what kind of camera, and how/ where was is developed and circulated.

A baby photograph from my birth is worth so much to me, as they cannot be replicated (other than a digital scan) which makes it a sentimental object, rather than just an image.

It is, however, problematic to judge the impact of a single image when we are exposed to a veritable flood tide of visual imagery daily, in addition to all the other kinds of experience which form us ideologically. To many people it seems that imagery is having no effect at all

I think this comment in a sad but true observation of the millennials, although I do not use it, but something like snap chat, where there are countless images shared and deleted, almost constantly.  Imagery is becoming numb sensation…

until we begin looking up from our devises, real life, with hope, will become more exciting.


It has often been pointed out that the Front are photogenic, as were the German Nazis before them. Their facial expressions, body language and clothing connote a set of values – toughness, masculine virility, aggression, latent power – which are perceived by the Left as negative values but which may appear positive to Front members. It may, therefore, be politically more valuable for the Left photographer to stress the weak and pathetic aspects of the racists rather than to celebrate their toughness.

It’s interesting how a photographer holds the power, to which the viewer is at the mercy of.  You can depict anyone, anywhere, and any situation in a contrived way through manipulation, angles, lighting etc..  misinterpretation is common and perhaps, sometime the objective. Propaganda, fashion, dieting, marketing– these all use optical illusions to better sell an idea/product



What, in your view, makes photographs unique as an art form?

Photographs can be unique as an art form,  under certain circumstances.  Looking back on Part 1, what makes art, art, I explored the idea of the person behind the work, who they are, how they live their life, their past experiences, the bigger picture behind the work, the story.  Only then can we look a photograph as a form of art. I don’t know of any times, where a random person took a picture, without previous experience, or education, and that photograph was rewarded a place in a gallery. On the other hand, if a famous artist, with years of experience, lives a life, for example in the appellation mountains, with the sole purpose to document the lives of the people, and the photographs are a result of that undertaking, than I consider that art.  Instagram and social media are not art, they are shallow, convenient ways of capturing too many moments. They are in some ways fake news, staged, and glamorized.

Going back to the idea of photographs being unique as an art form, it’s about seeing the world in a different way, the same as a painter, or sculptor would depict what they see.  Some may argue that its easier to take a picture, just a push of a button, but when you begin you understand the science and technical side, especially when developing your own prints, you discover how you can manipulate a negative with light and exposure.

You only get a split second to capture a moment, and without experience, education, and hard graft, I do not think it’s possible to do it so haphazardly to the point it was just a happy accident.


Think of the production of artworks in relation to time: photographs are always in the present – they are captured not synthesised.

The interesting thing about multiple exposure, of motor drives, even film is — you can capture more than one moment, create a contact sheet, and choose the one which is right to expose. In that way, there are more than one moment, but in a whole they represent a time linearly, which we can experience in the present, to look back upon.

I found it interesting looking at colorized iconic black and white images, because, you almost imagine the past to be so, like the wizard of oz.  Once you see them in colour, you can relate them to today, and their meaning changes, they are more present, than past.

Think also about what we mean by ‘photographic image’. Does it have to be something permanently fixed?

A photographic image is fixed, but also can be manipulated with colour, as mentioned above, to change its quality with filters– to look like a Polaroid, black and white, grainy, techno colour etc… which all hold a different time as to how film was produced and processed.

Does a photograph have to exist in hard copy? Is there a difference between a printed photograph and a digital image that sits virtually on someone’s device, for instance?

Jon Berger’s ways of seeing reminds me how you relate to images in the surroundings, for example, how different photographs feel in a photo album, next to others, perhaps taken the same time– they are a series of time which tell a story. When you see a photograph printed to it highest quality, enlarged, and frames in a gallery with white walls, it holds more importance.  Digital images feel temporary, so easily deleted, or flicked through on a computer, or device– on a News feed, or in thumbnail grids, or perhaps on a slide show.  They are miniature files of data built up from tinier bits of information which light and colour make pixels– they feel ultimately transient.


William Henry Fox Talbot’s ” The Pencil of Nature” is an apt name of the first beginnings of photography, although I feel like it was chemistry, more than nature, trying to find the right concoction.

When I think about the idea of photography being an art, from the beginning, I tend to agree.  For me, it’s all about finding solutions to problems, so we can witness the world in different ways.

Anna Atkins, a bit late than Talbot, produced the first photo book, using the “photogenic drawing” technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitized paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image)– this feels a bit more like drawing by nature, using the sun, and plants.

Public Domain,