Informing Contexts Week 1 Activity: Photography, Photographies

This week we were asked to consider what a photograph is through studying the viewpoints of Szarkowski, Shore and Squires with the two former being more traditionalist and the latter encouraging experimental approaches. I have found it challenging to place my own opinion in the contexts of theirs. When I think I am relating well to the classification systems proposed by Szarkowski (the thing, detail, frame, time, vantage point) and Shore (physical, depictive (flatness, frame, time, focus), mental) as I like structure and definition I reflect on my images and recent experimentation which, although not as extreme as some of Squires exhibition examples, veer towards a freeing up from traditional and perhaps more comfortable containment.

So in answer to where my views lie and where does my style of image taking fit I think it would be right to say that I am traditionalist in feeling safer abiding by conventions but have a yearning to be more experimental in order to see what creativity is waiting to emerge and how far I can go with this ‘breaking out’.

Sarah Newton 2017
Sarah Newton 2017

Two plastic bags one ‘as taken’ and one digitally processed. The former shows the problem with littering but seems boring and is like thousands of other seen in recent times The latter could be considered more artistic and might be preferable as a wall hanging or fabric design but does not give out messages such as ‘take your litter home’ or ‘ban single use plastics’ in the same way or to the same extent.

When I first looked at this activity I turned it around to first examine what my views of a photograph are and how the three aforementioned authors fitted into my conceptual system rather than seeing how my work fits into theirs. Some hours later I now have a working grid (my liking of structure and neat containment) and have placed their view into my squares! Several points have emerged:
1. Szarkowski and Shore are primarily focussed on the photographer’s intention to take the perspective of recipient/viewer when taking photographs to be viewed whereas Squires appears to place emphasis on the photographers inclinations and intentions and need to express themselves whether or not this accords with engaging viewers.
2. Szarkowski and Shore seem to focus on two senses, vision and emotion. In my conceptualisation I include all the senses as important in a photograph. An image can invoke experiences relation to seeing, hearing, taste, touch and feeling/emotion. Some experiences may be bound by the capability of our imaginations and will have been shaped by genetics and lived experiences, hence minimal or no effect for some viewers and intense experiences for others in relation to the same stimulus. Sensual experiences are for me also heightened according the way in which the image is presented. For example, in Unseen Amsterdam 2017 I was drawn to and intrigued by forest landscapes stretched over shaped blocks of wood (Sylvie Bonnot, 2017), the puzzling wooden images of Theis Wendt (2017) and the sculptured landscape portrayals of Michel Le Belhomme (2017).

Sylvie Bonnot 2017
Theis Wendt 2017
Michel Le Belhomme 2017

3. Squires promotes the potential inclusion of more senses (sounds and touch as well as vision and emotion) as well as evidencing the position of the photographer showing something of their memory/lived experiences, their drive to give pleasure, to challenge the status quo, to tell a truth, improve skills/creativity, freeze a moment of personal/potential shared significance and secure and actualise commercial gain.
4. Light and colour, particularly in relation to actualising and enhancing the sensory experience when viewing an image/creation are important to me. Squires opinions are perhaps most likely to accord with mine in this respect.
Shore postulates about the ways in which technological advancements have enabled frozen and stilled moments in time, this being more in accord with Squires frozen moments than Szarkowski’s visual climax.
5. Time is the feature that binds all three viewpoints and mine. Placed on a time-line there is development synchronous with technological advances and social evolution. For me this is akin to developments in the art world where traditional ways of painting and sculpting diversified over time. The ‘old’ ways are still relevant and not negated by the more extreme or recent productions and I think this is true for the continuing experimentation, growth and diversification in photography.

This is a reflective work in progress and I can ‘see’ that I will have these various and overlapping translations of what is a photograph in mind as well as continuing to have urges to with increasing confidence challenge conventions when out and about taking images.

Bonnot, Sylvie. 2017. Mues. Available at: [accessed 11-02-2018].

Le Belhomme, Michel. 2017. Les deux labyrinthes series, 2014-17. Available at: [accessed 11-02-2017].

Shore, Stephen. 1998. The Nature of Photographs. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Squires, Carol (ed.). 2014. What is a Photograph? New York, International Centre of Photography.

Szarkowski, John. 1966. The Photographers Eye. New York, Museum of Modern Art.

Wendt, Theis. 2017. Cinnnamon. Available at: [accessed 11-02-2017].

Informing Contexts Week 1 Photography: The Shape-shifter

Through my planned research project my name has become associated with rubbish over the past two modules, specifically debris found on beaches and other waterside locations. With Blue Planet II and government policies across the world highlighting the concerns and advocating remediating action now I find I am riding an ever-growing tsunami of photographic images and films. On the one hand there is, unfortunately, no end to subject matter to photograph while on the other it seems increasingly challenging to find a way to present my images that would merit a unique selling point.

I am delighted with the creatives talents evident in others depictions of rubbish and although I may have had similar ideas, I have not yet been able to or had the means to execute them. Mandy Barker and Andy Hughes are two such artists who have made a great impression on me. I mean to continue with this project encouraged by the responses I am getting to my posts on Instagram and the places it is leading me to. I have already visited an incinerator and also plan to visit and photograph recycling at centres locally.

I am experimenting with ways of taking and presenting my images. Getting down low and making the piece of debris large against a landscape/seascape is my attempt to try out a viewpoint used by Andy Hughes. However I have not quite mastered the technique or visited a local electrical shop to purchase a battery operated lighting system (a step up from my torch I hope).

As some will know I was also in a little bit of a dilemma last module wondering whether to focus more on sea and landscapes, that is the settings in which debris is found. I feel that I am at an early stage in this area but hope that my portrayals are improving as I move through the course and develop greater confidence to experiment.

Whether Instagram responders and likes are in any way indicators of reasonable photography work I have found it interesting to see that two images in this category have apparently gained more ‘votes’ and comments than any of myrubbish ones! The first was of a sunset and while I like the clean lines and relative simplicity of the image I would have thought others would have dismissed it as another sunset/sunrise postcard image.

The second was a first outing to the beach with my new crystal ball. I had seen some images on line posted by others and wanted to try it out with rubbish but tried its with a moving seascape first. Taken on my iPhone I had not noted the breeze or predicted the shakiness of my hands holding it while being ready to jump to rescue the crystal if it rolled off its perch! Hence the strange effect of moving rock. See @sarahnewtonphotography on Instagram for version with movement and sound.

Production of tangible goods relating to both beach debris and seascapes resulted in a series of cushions, jute bags and flip flops bearing my images. Well received as gifts I have yet to see whether they are marketable. I hope to source more recyclable materials and investigate adding images to them, if possible, without the use of plastics.