‘Boring’ Photographs…

Or, Interesting Visions?

By Kieran Bennnet (23rd August 2021)
‘Ordinary, everyday objects can be made extraordinary by being photographed. Because we may ordinarily pass these objects by, or keep them at the periphery of our vision, we may not automatically give them credence as visual subjects within art’s lexicon’ (Cotton, 2018, pg.115)
Peter Fraser (2002) from Materials

The bad is becoming the good, the elite is becoming the generic and the boring is the interesting. The photography world is extending the idea of “art” into the lesser observed or overlooked. Neville Wakefield stated, “Bad photography now reigns […] it makes for good art at times when good photography witnesses only the flow of technical virtuosity into addictive banality” (Wakefield, 1998. pg.238-247). The common place, the banal, the amateur and the boring is becoming fascinating though a post-modern scope. This essay explores what constitutes boring in the photographic world

Stephen Bull stated “[The] image‐world fragments ordinary life: it encourages vicarious experience, stimulates material desire and determines the demands placed upon reality” (Bull, 2020. Pg.351). In terms of vernacular photography, Shafran an artist (Figure 1), captures a pile of receipts in the domestic space, boring right? However, the receipts draw you into questioning why they are piled, why they are needed and why so many? The most mundane becomes a mystery, the reality that nothing “boring” is there. Our own minds attribute boredom to the subject when we perceive it as dull. Shinkle defined this form of boredom as a “temporal concern; a forced inactivity of mind; a temporary slowdown of the normal flow of perception” (Shinkle, 2004. Pg.168). The mind makes you bored, but in fact there is nothing that could be said to be universally boring, boredom is a subjective response to a stimulus or lack thereof.

Figure 1: Nigel Shafran (2016) from Dark Rooms

To be bored is a natural emotion, but it depends on individuals, what constitutes boring. Some suggests boredom has positive aspects, “boredom motivates pursuit of new goals when the previous goal is no longer beneficial” (Bench & Heather. 2013). Others emphasize how boredom is a space between interests, anybody can experience, it is just subjective to what extent boredom is experienced. Walter Benjamin had suggested “boredom helps to develop a critical aware-ness of those activities which are ordinarily too banal or repetitive to merit attention” (Benjamin. 2002. Pg.216). Shore (Figure 2), has used a milk carton to highlight the beauty of the domestic and usually quite dull space. This endless red void and the carton which appears to be floating but in fact is just sitting on the table, this piece of rubbish becomes acknowledged, intriguing to view.

Figure 2: Stephen Shore (1972-73) from American Surfaces

Within the photographic world, a photograph can highlight what is normally unseen or ignored, it becomes noticed and therefore is no longer boring. Sontag suggested “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality as a recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote” (Sontag. 1979. Pg.120). A photograph makes a dull moment seem more worthy of attention. When one accepts that boredom is the place between ideas, you readily agree that something of interest is out there but is yet ignored or undiscovered.

The scene (Figure 3) from American Beauty pushes this idea of the unseen delicacy, turning our gaze from something boring, into something beautiful. In this scene Ricky (Wes Bentley), is showing a video that he recorded to Jane (Thora Birch) saying “Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I ever filmed? […] this bag was just… dancing with me … like a little kid begging me to play with it.” (Bentley, Wes. 1999). The character reveals this beautiful side to life, through a bag. Thereby proving “boring” or something to be defined as that, is a social construct. There is always more to discover in the mundane and the lens brings into focus how beautiful the everyday truly is, opening our eyes to the world’s hidden treasures.

Figure 3: Sam Mendes (1999) from American Beauty

Case Study: Laurence Stephens Bored Tourists (2018)

The traveller can be a prime example of boredom, their journey to a destination to find something more interesting than their mundane day to day life. Laurence Stephens’ Bored Tourists explores the complexities of boredom and the mundanity of tourism Referring to Figure 4, he stated that “Juxtaposed against the beautiful architecture was an array of bemused, disillusioned tourists, bored, half-asleep, unintentionally waiting to be photographed,” (Stephens, 2018). He projects the obvious boredom of these subjects into clear view, transforming these quite interesting and foreign locations into moments of pure mundanity.

Figure 4: Laurence Stephens (2018) Selfie Sticks Are Everywhere These Days

He highlights how dependent these tourists have become on their cameras needing to document every event that has happened, rather than enjoying that moment in the real world. Richard Chalfen once noted “It has even been suggested that some tourists pay so much attention to photographing places, sites, etc. that they have to wait until they get their pictures back to see where they’ve visited.” (Chalfen. 1987. Pg.101). Stephens suggests that tourists recently (with the rise of smartphones) look at an image of the place rather than the place itself. As he stated, “Along with our need to record what we are doing while we’re travelling is the fact that with our smartphones, we have a constant stream of entertainment to draw us away from our ‘real life’ experiences.” (Stephens. cf:Hardy, 2018).

Figure 5: Laurence Stephens (2018) Modern-Day Explorers.

The act of ‘fulfilling a goal’, (Bench, 2013), is one aspect that I see in Stephen’s work. Take for example Figure 5, the people within the frame appear to be comedic or novel in their appearance, emphasising their position as characters placed into an unknown situation. The woman looking down the path, the man pointing a camera at what appears to be nothing and the couple looking lost in the field behind, all come together as if they are looking for something interesting to end their boredom. Stephens has shown a different perspective to tourism in its mundanity, by revealing the individuals as those escaping a mundane life to explore one of a foreign land. They search for the interesting to alleviate their boredom but are never successful to find a goal, overcoming their boredom. Stephens uses vibrant colours mixed with crowding of the frame and using a flash, clearly identify a point of focus; but despite this, there is arguably still nothing interesting’ to show, besides bemused tourists. Stephens emphasises the boredom and never-ending cycle of boredom, no matter what you do or where you go.

Laurence Stephens (2018) from Bored Tourists
  • Baker, Tora. (2018). ‘Bored Tourists: a colourful, ironic look at tourists on holiday, documenting their odd behaviour’ in Creative Boom (31st July 2018). Available at: https://www.creativeboom.com/inspiration/bored-tourists-a-colourful-ironic-look-at-tourists-on-holiday-documenting-their-funny-behaviour/ [Accessed 5 February 2021].
  • Benjamin, Walter. (2002) The Arcades Project USA: Harvard University
  • Bryant, Eric & Neville, Wakefield. (1998) Veronica’s Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography New York: LAC
  • Bull, Stephen. (2020) A Companion to Photography New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell
  • Cotton, Charlotte (2018) The Photograph As Contemporary Art London: Thames and Hudson
  • C41 Magazine (2018) ‘The Bored Tourists of Laurence Stephens between Spain and Portugal’ in C41 Magazine (20th August 2018) Available at: https://www.c41magazine.com/laurence-stephens-bored-tourists. [Accessed 12 February 2021]
  • Dixon, Richard (2011) ‘Paul Theroux’s Art of Travel’ in The Guardian (4th June 2011) Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/jun/04/paul-theroux-questions [Accessed 6 February 2021].
  • Mendes, S., Bentley, W. & Birch, T. (1999). American Beauty [Film]
  • Shinkle, Eugénie. (2004). ‘Boredom, Repetition, Inertia: Contemporary Photography and the Aesthetics of the Banal’ in Mosaic Vol.37, No 4.
  • Sontag, Susan. (1979) On Photography London: Penguin
  • Theroux, Paul. (2008). Ghost Train to the Eastern Star Boston: Houghton Mifflin
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Showcase Portfolio: Glenn Porter

GlenN Porter

Glenn Porter first studied photography at the Sydney Institute of Technology and has a mix of art, science and photography qualifications. He also holds several postgraduate qualifications including a Graduate Diploma in Science from Sydney University, Masters of Applied Science (Photography) from RMIT University and a PhD in Communication Arts from Western Sydney University. Glenn has also been recognised by the Royal Photographic Society with an imaging science distinction as an Accredited Senior Imaging Scientist (ASIS) and a Fellow (FRPS) of the society. He is currently studying on the MA Photography at Falmouth University. Glenn has exhibited his work in several group exhibitions and has his first solo show in China in 2022. Glenn’s work has been recognised in several prestigious awards as finalist including the Head On Portrait Prize, the Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture and the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize.

The Holga Experiment began as a method of approaching photography from a more instinctive position and being free from technical equipment and fixed ideas about content. It was initially an experiment in opening up my awareness to the environment around me and to shift my photographic vision from being a farmer to a hunter of images – moving out of the studio and into the world with just a single lens and camera. The simplification of the approach to my photography was liberating and the work began to get stronger as I became comfortable about shooting by feeling rather than planning. Henri Cartier-Bresson suggested “Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see. Your own personal technique has to be created and adapted solely in order to make your vision effective on film” (Cartier-Bresson 1999). Cartier-Bresson also applied a simplistic approach to his photography using the same camera format and focal length lens with the majority of his work. Keeping the method simple, allowed me to explore the purpose of the work from an internal perspective and to develop my work more intuitively.

Glenn Porter (2021) Crow Flying Over Hill, Dorrigo

The work is about my personal connection with photography and my experience with creative practice. It connects me spiritually and symbolically with two ancient Japanese philosophies; ikigai and wabi sabi. The simplification of the photographic process with a hyper-awareness of the environment around me is what this body of work attempts to capture. The work displays an ephemeral moment of my life’s journey with images that celebrate the beauty of the everyday with the imperfection of life.

Glenn Porter (2021) Motel Room, Mittagong

Mitsuhashi (2018) suggests the word ikigai (pronounced iki – guy) is a combination of two Japanese characters iki 生き meaning life and gai 甲斐 meaning value or worth. However, Japanese philosophy is often difficult to translate into western values and language. Mogi (2017) also provides a translated meaning close to Mitsuhashi’s and indicates iki literally means to live and gai reason, while Garcia and Miralles (2017) claims gai translates to worthwhile. The concept of ikigai is for people to find their ikigai by living life while practicing something that gives them a sense of purpose that also derives from personal pleasure. Ones ikigai does not have to be materialistic, success-driven or financial. It is often simplistic values like cooking, growing vegetables, art, fishing and even cleaning.

Glenn Porter (2021) The Jumper, Nepean River

Wabi sabi 侘寂 is another type of Japanese philosophy that examines how we perceive and live life. It is also a combination of two complementary phrases; wabi which is the personal process of finding beauty and sabi which is the joy of things that are imperfect or the decay of things due to the passing of time (Fujimoto 2019). Fujimoto explains how these elements combine to form wabi sabi; “together, these notions form a sensibility that accepts the ephemeral fate of living: celebrating transience and honouring those cracks, cervices and other marks that are left behind by time and tender use” (Fujimoto 2019 p.33). Kempton (2018) describes the wonderment of wabi sabi as feeling the moment “of real appreciation – a perfect moment in an imperfect world” (Kempton 2018 p.5). Wabi sabi can be experienced anywhere and has a lot to do with the awareness of the feeling and environment. Fujimoto (2019) claims “describing an aesthetic consciousness bound up with feelings of both serenity and loss, wabi sabi might be found encapsulated in a simple Japanese garden” Fujimoto 2019, p.33).

This project uses an inexpensive plastic Holga lens attached to a DSLR camera body. The Holga lens attached to a digital camera is a variation of the original medium format film-based Holga cameras, nevertheless, the lens is the same as the plastic film cameras and produces similar artefacts. The project also set down some rules; i) the image must be taken with a Holga lens, ii) the lighting must be available light and iii) the image must be cropped square. The Holga lens is a fixed focal length of 60mm with a fixed aperture. Exposure adjustments can only be made using the shutter speed and/or ISO setting.

Glenn Porter (2021) Corella Squadron, Aberdeen

Holga cameras were developed in the early 1980’s in Hong Kong as an inexpensive plastic medium format camera for the Chinese market (Malcolm 2017). Holga’s are often referred to as plastic toy cameras with a low-priced plastic meniscus lens. Images display overt artefacts such as film fog or light leaks, low-fidelity images with strong vignetting.  The image imperfections, caused by the inexpensive manufacturing and lens design, has produced what is referred to as the ‘Holga aesthetic’ and has become highly celebrated. Bates (2011) notes that other plastic cameras like the Diana also produces a similar aesthetic to Holga cameras.

Glenn Porter (2021) Twin Trees, Pine Forest, Armidale

This body of work is a result of my own ikigai, my passion for creating images that resonate with my personal creative vision. The application of the Holga aesthetic works perfectly for experiencing a sense of wabi sabi with the imperfections clearly witnessed within the images. The loss of fidelity due to the inexpensive plastic lens demands an approach that focuses on form and tone as a compensation for sharpness. The square format is in keeping with the original Holga tradition. The body of work is an eclectic set of urban and natural landscapes that connotes my personal concepts or notions of ikigai and wabi sabi which becomes a highly personalised visual statement. The work intends to provoke a sense of stillness, reduction, tone, form and self-reflection, and to also harmonise with the Japanese aesthetic and its traditions.

The notion of ikigai is an important one within this work, not only as an internalised purpose for life, but more so for the joy this purpose brings to me personally. My ikigai, is largely about the production of a body of creative photography work which brings me great joy. Cartier-Bresson describes this concept of joy when practicing photography in his The Mind’s Eye autobiography. He exclaims “To take photographs is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” (Cartier-Bresson 1999, p.16). Cartier-Bresson also describes the notion of feeling the image during the hunt for images rather than seeing or taking a more analytical viewpoint when shooting. This is a significant point of difference when considering ikigai as a philosophical notion, which impacts how I feel spiritually rather than how I think. Cartier-Bresson further suggests; “To take photographs means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second – both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis” (Cartier-Bresson 1999 p.16).

Glenn Porter (2021) Road Caution, Uralla

Cartier-Bresson is explaining what it is like to work intuitively and reducing or simplifying the equipment helps promote the notion of working from feeling and gaining the intellectual and personal joy that comes with this approach. I have experienced what Cartier-Bresson is describing throughout this project. It is my connection with photography through my spirit and ikigai. Cartier-Bresson further indicates; “It’s a way of life” (Cartier-Bresson 1999 p.16) and this can be interpreted from a Japanese philosophy perspective as ones ikigai. Nathan Jurgensen (2019) also mentions Cartier-Bresson’s thinking regarding the personal joy photography offers practitioners. He also refers to Jean Baudrillard’s suggestion that there is a certain joy in the transformation of the real into a document within the concept producing a condition of hyperreality (Jurgenson 2019, Baudrillard 1983).

Glenn Porter (2021) The Pontoon, Nepean River

Several theorists like Sontag, Barthes, Jurgenson, Bates have described the condition of photography through how the audience may perceive the work as an extension of reality or reality through the lens of modernity. The intent of this body of work, while it may be interpreted through this lens, is a more egocentric focus on my connection with photography as my ikigai. It does not try to raise issues about the world or society, it is simply a way of expressing how I feel about photography by using photography. The work does however, raise questions about what is photography and what is art?  Cotton (2014) examines these questions primarily from an aesthetic theory position but also explains how phenomenology plays a role in how the interaction between the viewer and the photographs operate within different viewing contexts including gallery, newspaper, billposter, family album, screen etc.

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  • Bates M., (2011) Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity, 2nd edition, Focal Press, Oxford.
  • Baudrillard J., (1983) Simulations, MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • Bunnell P.C., (1994) Introduction, essay found in Michael Kenna: A Twenty Year Retrospective, (2011) Nazraeli Press, Portland.
  • Cartier-Bresson A., (1999) The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers, Aperture, London.
  • Cotton C., (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Fujimoto M., (2019) Ikigai & Other Japanese Words to Live By, Modern Books, London.
  • Garcia H., Miralles F., (2017) Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hutchinson, London.
  • Jurgenson N., (2019) The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media, Verso, London.
  • Kempton B., (2018) Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life, Piatkus, London.
  • Kenna M., (2017) Holga: Photographs by Michael Kenna, Prestel, London.
  • Kenna M., Meyer-Lohr Y., (2015) “Forms of Japan” Prestel, Munich.
  • Malcolm F., (2017) Beyond the Visible, essay found in Holga: Photographs by Michael Kenna, p.5-13, Prestel, London.
  • Mitsuhashi Y., (2018) Ikigai: Giving Everyday Meaning and Joy, Kyle Books, London.
  • Mogi K., (2017) The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life, Quercus Editions, London.
Glenn Porter (2021) Little ‘Big Chook’, Moonbi
Routledge Award Winner: Summer 2021

Showcase Portfolio: Louis Stopforth

Louis Stopforth

Strangers (2018) is a social documentary looking at street skateboarding sub-culture. The presentation of this work as a low quality newsprint zine formed a tactile and sensory viewing experience which reflected the rawness of the subject matter. Utilising the poor quality of a 35mm point and shoot camera, resulting in grainy images which highlight the rough terrain and movements of those recorded. This combination of imagery and material presentation created a visceral and dynamic series of images that ‘interact with one another and form an eye-catching, compelling picture story’ (Kobré, 1996, P.132). Alongside documenting the act of street skateboarding in an environment un-suited to it, the zine interspersed the zine with portraits of those that were part of the sub-culture during this period. Inspired by Larry Clark’s Tulsa (1971) I worked on this project as an insider, presenting the perspective not of an observer but a participant. ‘I wanted the audience to be eavesdropping on a world they had no chance to enter’ (Clark, 2015). It was this insiders perspective that allowed me to honestly and accurately depict a group otherwise not understood for its creativity and innovation in regards to their environment.


‘everything takes form, even infinity’ (Bachelard, 1964, P.212).

Concept of Space (2019) is a photographic investigation of space, in a metaphysical sense, and the relationship between this intangibility of subject and the representational nature of photography. The medium of photography is limited in the sense that something must physically exist before the camera in order to create a readable and representational photographic trace; photography deals ‘with the actual’ (Szarkowski, 2007, p.8). Exploring the abstraction of the photographic image itself I present minute extracts of photographs which exhibited variations in colour, shadow and form, and thus suggestive of depth and dimension. This is an abstract interpretation of a ‘non-subject’ yet derivative of imagery that showed clear and descript spaces such as rooms and corridors. As singular images one section of this project was titled monoliths, and the other, layers. The latter section is comprised of multiple singular abstractions overlaying one another and was developed as an ode to cubism and the belief in merging perspectives to better represent the three dimensional when challenged by the confines of a two dimensional medium. This issue is a discussion which goes beyond this project and speaks for all photography presented in its typical flat surfaced, depictional form.

Both sections of Concept of Space are printed onto transparent acetate, a material comparable to that of photographic film. However it was the tactility of this material and its transparent attributes that drew me to work with it. The transparency of the acetate means that the viewer can simultaneously experience their surroundings as well as the image, eliminating the simple act of looking at a print that discusses an idea but doesn’t physically interact with it. The works can be experienced both as an image and as an object in themselves; they are ‘both images and physical objects that exist in time and space’ (Edwards and Hart, 2004, P.1).

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‘New Topographics’ | George Eastman House | 1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at The George Eastman House (1975)

Visual Detachment & Political views?

By Amy Miles (16th Decemeber 2019)
‘Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography that elevated the natural and the elemental’ (O’Hagan, 2010)
Robert Adams (1973) Mobile homes, Jefferson County, Colorado

The International Museum of Photography New Topographics (1975)  was pivotal in the development of American landscape photography. Gone were the romantic,  sublime visions of an unspoilt American frontier. Rather, the artists included in the show (Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel) projected a version of America full of tract houses and industrial estates, a more anthropological, objective view of human imprint on the American land.

‘Looking at the work, what comes to the fore is the predominant spirit of the solitary road trip as a working model. The photographs evoke Evans’ American Photographs (1938) and Frank’s The Americans (1958) as much as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and the Dennis Hopper-directed Easy Rider (1969)’ Many of the series were products of cross-country journeys, and all showed the conflict between the frontier spirit of traversing the majestic countryside and the stark reality of the pale, dank sprawl of motels, shops and houses that they encountered (Lange, 2010)

this session could be run in conjunction with:

Traditionally, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of landscape photography, might be something similar to the work of Ansel Adams – a romantized and idealic view of the American land. However these photographers didn’t follow in these footsteps at all, and started to capture what our landscapes really looked like. The curator of New Topographics, William Jenkins, aimed to show an America from a more neutral and non-biased stance, removing the photographers specific emotions or styles. Whether or not this accurately described the artists’ intentions, in retrospect we certainly have a more politically aware view of this ‘man-altered landscape’ (Rosa, 2010). Heavily influenced by the work of Ed Ruscha (strangely not included in the show) Jenkins muses;

‘the pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion … [this was[ rigorous purity, deadpan humor and a casual disregard for the importance of the images’ (Jenkins in Hershberger, 2013, p.236)
Ed Ruscha (1963) from 26 Gasoline Stations

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to consider a history of American landscape photography and a shift to a more political approach. How are photographers influenced? Is thiss political approach inherent today? Has there been a polarisation in the way we visualise the land between vernacular and gallery contexts?
  • For participants to take a critically informed personal stance to evaluate exhibitions / works and the curatorial rationale and intent.
  • To reflect on the nature of the gallery context and questions of taste, value and judgement. Is it ‘good’?
  • Participant Outcome: To critically evaluate an exhibition of thier choice, considering curatorial intent, selection of works, and reviews. Would thier own practice fit into this and why? *Participants could also be encouraged to ‘curate’ thier own exhibition / include thier own work in this and consider the curatorial rationale.
Walker Evans was also a clear influence for this new generation of photographers. His work refused to romanticise poverty, to create perhaps a more realistic (but certainly more objective) view of the American Depression.
Walker Evans (1941) from Let Us Now Priase Famous Men

However, Evans images have been debated (e.g. Whitman, 1975, Tagg, 2003, Tedford, 2017) upon whether they were taken from a detached point of view, or whether he was sgiving his subjects dignity (if not sympathy). Frank Gohike emphasises Evans influence on his practice, most importantly, the detached viewpoint, that ‘The attempt to make a photograph from which the photographer seems to be absent is a strategy whose value and power all of us I think primarily learned from [Evans]’ (Gohlke in Salvesen, 1975, p.17).

Frank Gohlke (1975) from Grain Elevators

presentation: New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (George Eastman House, 1975)

Robert Adams work is evidently based on this subjective relationship between man and the landscape. His work could be interpreted in a way that shows his emotional opinions towards how the landscape has changed and affected the environment.

Robert Adams (1983) On Signal Hill overlooking Long Beach, California

For example, Dennis (2005) critiqued this image as: ‘The tree in the foreground is not only dwarfed by the enormous sprawl of the city behind it, but also acts as a lone and pathetic reminder of what has been displaced by urban development.’ That said, there is still evidence of an emotional / visual detachment in the outcome. It is not implausible to suggest that the image posits an subjective position towards the ongoing march of man.


One might argue that the work of Lewis Baltz were taken from a similarly detached and clinical viewpoint, but yet that that the ongoing march of human development around him made he, himself, feel detached – expressed also visually (and subjectively).

Lewis Baltz (1974) from New Industrial Parks

Gosney (2013) posits this view, that ‘Lewis Baltz’s stark images juxtaposed the contrary ugliness inherant in industrial tracts and national parks…symbolising what many saw as problems of the modern age’ (Gosney, 2013). However, it must also be noted that Baltz’s images are paradoxically akin to social research.

New Topograhics exhibition in 1975 was not just the moment when the apparently banal became accepted as a legitimate photographic subject, but when a certain strand of theoretically driven photography began to permeate the wider contemporary art world. Looking back, one can see how these images of the “man-altered landscape” carried a political message and reflected, unconsciously or otherwise, the growing unease about how the natural landscape was being eroded by industrial development and the spread of cities’ (O’Hagan, 2010)

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Ask participants to conduct in depth research into the work of at least 2 of the practitoners included in the New Topographics exhibition
  • Do they have any similar reference points / visual or conceptual infuences? What are the commonalities? What are the differences? Why do you think William Jenkins curated them in the same show?
  • If you were the curator: Of the practitoners included in the show, which work would remain? And which would be rejected?
  • If you were the curator: How you adapt the show today? Are there any new works you would include? By whom and why?
  • Would you include your own photographic practice? Could you make work in this detatched yet politically present way? Of what, and why?
‘We are, perhaps, never more frustrated than when the photograph fails to tell us what it means or is about something other than what it is as a picture.’ (Dennis, 2005).
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Showcase Portfolio: Amy Miles

Amy Miles

Goods Inwards is an observational study of how the purpose of Industrial Estates have changed and evolved over time. The work shows characteristics of the area which may be overlooked, making the viewer notice the un-noticeable. In the context of New Topographics, Baltz is significant when he posits: ‘What I was interested in was the phenomena of the place. Not the thing itself, but the effect of it: the effect of this kind of urbanization, the effect of this kind of living, the effect of this kind of building.’ (Baltz in Campany, 2015). Goods Inwards is a progression on from the intent of New Topographics – rather than looking at the immediate effects of the industrialization, it studies the effects of societal development in terms of how the area has once thrived, and now declined – maybe much like the circle of life.

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Campany, D. (2015) ‘Fast World, Slow Photography’ in The Financial Times Magazine (16th May 2015) available here

Doug Rickard’s ‘Pictures’?

America according to doug Rickard 

By Emily Jane Scott (13th December 2019)
‘(Photography) promises a view of the world, but it gives us a flattened object in which wrecked reminders of the world are logged’ (Elkins, 2011, p.17)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture

Doug Rickard produced his series A New American Picture, by utilising the vast visual archive of Google Street View. He iimportantly reminds us to challenge preconceptions about what photography, or ‘photographies’ can be, especially when it comes to digital imagery. Rickard spent an extensive amount of time (2009-2011) exploring stereotypically ‘subordinate’ urban neighbourhoods and rural areas across the USA, from the comfort of his own computer desk. He would then photograph the composition on his computer screen with a digital SLR. Whilst many photographers aim for the most transparent process possible, Rickard includes blurred faces, pixelated distortion and warped perspective which reveal the digital origin of his photographs.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Perhaps Rickard’s process reflects the beginning of an age where human beings are reduced to data, constantly being observed, being monitored?

Yet, paradoxically, Rickard returns humanity to this data by picking out individual stories and adding them to the overarching and ongoing narrative of the American working class. The sense of distance provided by Rickard’s multi-layered technique adds weight to the images- reminding us of how distant we might be from these people and places; both on a geographical, cultural and socio-economic level. And so, Rickard is no more of a visual appropriator than any more ‘traditional’ photographer: he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside. The images included in A New American Picture only became photographs (dare we say ‘art’?) once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised and published by Rickard.

‘Doug Rickard… is interested in the American content and its haunting, visceral power. “I was interested in photographing America in the same context, with the same poetry and power, that has been done in the past” (in Appleyard, 2011)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Rickard’s work blurs the lines between technology and reality, the image and the world around us. His practice challenges our view of what photography is, and could be in this new, digital age.

Although Rickard is drawing from a collection of images which have already been ‘taken’, His practice, to me, cannot be considered to be a ‘pure’ form of artistic appropriation (despite appropriation being a completely valid way of producing powerful work, which can eloquently distil a cultural mood). The original mages within Google Street View are not, in my opinion, photographs. They were objectively, methodically collected by a vehicle-mounted camera driven down every street; they have no nature of subjective selection.

Rickard is no more a visual hunter-gatherer than any photographer. he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside which is, itself, layered with constructed imagery.

Szarkowski’s (1966) discussion of photography focuses on the idea of selection. A photographer chooses what to include within a frame, and what to leave out. It is impossible for the ‘photographer’ to be truly objective, as a truly objective image is not a photograph, it is only visual data. so where does that leave Rickard, or indeed, his source material? A New American Picture only became subjective photographs once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised. One might even liken his work to that of a ‘readymade’ sculptor; he turns something completely banal and utilitarian into a different practice merely through recontextualization. But yet paradoxically, despite its source material, we should still frame this practice in the tradition of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Paul Graham – or even Edward Hopper, as an equally visual / critical and subjective commentary on the state of thier own America.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
‘Any doubts as to the artistic – rather than ethical or conceptual – merits of this new way of working were definitively settled by Rickard’s pictures. It was William Eggleston who coined the phrase “photographing democratically” but Rickard has used Google’s indiscriminate omniscience to radically extend this enterprise – technologically, politically and aesthetically’ (Dyer, 2012)

The idea of photography as an accurate representation of the real world is mythological. Whether it be an artist’s concept, a news story, a memory, an advertisement, an illustration or investigation, all photographs feed into a false narrative of some kind. Yet, Rickards photographs are aesthetically pleasing, insightful, emotive and harrowing. The sense of distance provided by his multi-layered technique adds weight to the images, reminding one of how distant we really might be from these people and places, on geographical, cultural and socio-economic levels.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
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Showcase Portfolio: Cicely Oreffo

Cicely Oreffo

Mindfulness aims to discover peace and contentment in frantic times. It is about being aware and present, whilst at the same time, acknowledging that ‘life only happens here – at this very moment’ (Williams and Penman, 2014, p.108). Mindfulness focuses on the mundane, exploring places and objects that provide comfort and happiness but are often overlooked. The images have a sense of melancholy and nostalgia, with a focus on ubiquitous and overlooked subjects; there is a mix of sharp and unfocused photographs, and images with bolder colours; this is to prevent a lull in the audience’s attention, as mindfulness is about maintaining awareness. As part of this project, engagement in mindfulness practices such as conscious breathing and walking meditation was important, yet another connection with not only the subject, but the world around us,

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Williams, M. and Penman, D. (2014) Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World London: Piatkus

A Walk on The Wild Side

(timed) Travels with a Camera

‘We cannot claim to have really seen anything before having photographed it’ (Zola in Sontag, 1977, p.87)
Todd Hido (2016) from Bright Black World

This session encourages participants to ‘notice’ the world around them, as well as ‘seeing’ it in individual / subjective and  photographic terms. Through a single walk / trip (with timed alarms for photographing) it encourages participants to notice the world around them, explore the role of aesthetics, framing, vantage point and depth of field, and investigate the idea of a more subjective ‘photographic’ voice as the ‘group’ walk / experience of the world is transformed / constructed into an individual and subjective vision.

Photographs substitute for direct encounter; they act as surrogates, mediating that which was seen through the camera viewfinder’ (Wells, 2011, p.6)

This session could be run in conjuction with:

Hamish Fulton (1985) Wind through the Pines

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to notice the world around them in a subjective manner and explore the nature of a ‘photographic’ way of seeing and framing the world. Are you merely photographing? Are you constructing? Are captions / text important?
  • For participants to consider the ‘intent’ of thier work: What are you ‘saying’ about the world around you?
  • For participants to conduct in depth research on the work of Robert Frank and apply these ideas to thier practice
  • Participant Outcome: 5 6×4 digital prints

Research: The Work of Robert Frank

‘Robert Frank…he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world’ (Jack Kerouac in Petrusich, 2019)
‘Seeing THE AMERICANS in a college bookshop was a stunning, ground-trembling experience for me. But I realized this man’s achievement could not be mined or imitated in any way, because he had already done it, sewn it up and gone home. What I was left with was the vapors of his talent. I had to make my own kind of art’ (Ed Ruscha in Casper, 2019)

You will need:

  • A planned / dedicated walk of a local area (with printed maps)
  • A planned study visit / school trip to a designated location (with printed maps)
  • Timers (egg timers or phone alarms will suffice) for timing of when participants will make thier photographs on the ‘walk’
  • You need to decide whether participants will photograph all at the same time / in small groups / individually
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using analogue cameras, Camera phones, Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessment
Uta Kögelsberger (2007) from Getting Lost

Preparation Work:

  • To design your walk / trip and provide maps. Walk the area yourself in preparation and note the times / any interesting features
  • Create a Google Map of your walk.
  • To identify alarm timings for participants taking photographs (either all together / in small groups / on thier own)
  • Ask participants to read Jelani Cobb (2019) ‘How Robert Frank’s Photographs Helped Define America’ in The New York Times (11th September 2019) available here
  • Ask participants to investigate the nature of the ‘road trip’ and watch the Aperture Foundation video The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (2014) available here
  • Ask participants to independently research the work of Robert Frank
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it (6×4) make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors

Presentation Ideas: Travels with a Camera

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Introduce the session / walk and the importance of really looking at the world around them, considering what they are trying to say about the object / scene / person etc and consider scale, composition, angle, vantage point, depth of field, etc
  • Give the presentation Travels with a Camera (or devise your own) to introduce particpants to the idea of photographing on a journey etc.
  • Ask participants to set thier alarms to go off every 5 minutes (if you want them all to photograph from the same point) / provide individual times (if you want them to photograph at different times along the walk)
  • Walk / photograph – give examples of what you might do and again remind participants of visual variety / typology etc.
  • Make a note of location on the map every time you photograph. You might use Google Maps here
  • Upload / edit / print photographs
  • Project the Google Map on the wall (large) and pin up / scan and insert the photographs at the locaitons in with they were taken
  • Critique / discuss
  • Photograph / save the projection of the map with the images on – you could print at 12×16 for each participant.
Mads Gamdrup (2002) from Renunciation


Neutral Vision (s)

Typologies & Types: Faces, Spaces, Places

‘Throughout the modern era, photography has been enlisted to classify the world and its people. Driven by a belief in the scientific objectivity of photographic evidence, the logics utilized to classify photographs-in groups and categories or sequences of identically organized images-also shape our visual consciousness’ (Baker, 2015)
Sophie Calle (1981) from The Hotel

This is an adaptable session which encourages participants to consider a potential neutrality and objectivity of photographic vision. Through the construction of a typology, it encourages participants to also think about the nature of comparative and investigative viewing (whether the subject matter is face, places or spaces).


‘I am an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. My way leads towards a fresh perception of the world. Thus, I explain in a new way the world unknown to you’ (Vertov in Berger, 1972, p.17)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Andy Warhol (1962) Campbell’s Soup Cans

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to explore the aesthetic implications of a ‘neutral’ view. Can photographs ever be objective?
  • For participants to visually consider how typologies work. Do they encourage investigative viewing? Can they transform the banal?
  • Participant Outcome: 4 (edited) 6×4 digital prints per approach (Faces / Spaces / Places)
‘For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically without the creative intervention of man. The personality of the photographer enters into proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed and by way of the purpose he has in mind’
(Bazin (1967) in Trachtenberg, 1980, p.241)
Jochen Lempert (1993-2016) The Skins of Alca impennis

You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & presentation for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
Bernd & Hilla Becher (1966-1997) from Winding Towers


‘This is a requiem for a lost world and shows that, through the passing of time, even that which was once considered purely functional and even ugly, can attain beauty when seen through the eyes of the most attentive photographers’ (O’Hagan, 2014)



Presentation ideas: constructing typologies:


Preparation Work:

    • Ask participants to read Sean O’Hagan (2014) ‘Lost world: Bernd and Hilla Becher’s legendary industrial photographs’ in The Guardian 3rd September 2014 available here
    • Ask participants to watch Francis Hodgson (2011) Thomas Struth – An Objective Photographer? In The Financial Times available here
    • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
    • Make sure you have access to computers
    • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
    • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
    • If you are printing it (6×4) make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
    • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors
Tim Flach (2014) for The Sunday Times

suggested Session Outline:


The Ordinary / Extraordinary Object

constructing the mundane object

‘To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap. But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in’ (Shore in O’ Hagan, 2015)
Sian Bonnell (1999) from When the Domestic Meets the Wild

This is an adaptable session in which participants will explore the idea that through photographic construction, ordinary objects can be made extraordinary by making a scene and photographing it. It encourages participants to ‘think’ about these ordinary objects and gives a freedom to explore potential new uses of these. Participants are encouraged to explore aesthetics, lighting, framing, vantage point and depth of field, and investigate the idea of the ordinary being seen in a ‘new way’.

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

‘An ordinary object can be elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist’ (Duchamp in Obalk, 2000)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to explore the nature of the constructed image
  • For participants to work in groups to investigate different ways of ‘seeing’ a single ordinary object
  • To produce 5 (edited) constructed images which demonstrate different ways of ‘seeing’ this object
  • *This session works best when participants are in groups. Studio and location lighting may be introduced.
  • Participant Outcome: 5 x 6×4 edited Final prints

Research: Ordinary Magazine


Ordinary Magazine
Ordinary magazine: Issue #6 Air: Air is the general name for the mixture of gases that makes up the Earth’s atmosphere. It is the clear gas in which living things live and breathe. It has an indefinite shape and volume. It has no colour or smell. Air is a mixture of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and very small amounts of other gases. There is an average of about 1% water vapour.

See the full images from Ordinary Magazine Air here


You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards)
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (above / Ordinary Magazine) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via projector or print)
  • Blu-tack if you are pinning up physical prints
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
Gabriel Orozco (1992) Breath on A Piano

Preparation work:

  • Ask participants to watch the Ordinary Magazine presentation of plastic cutlery which can be found here
  • Ask participants to bring along 3 ordinary objects to the session *Or you can bring / devise your own.
  • Ask participants if they have their own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers * Decide whether you plan to project the work or print it
Felix Gonzales Torres (1992) Untitled

Suggested Session Outline: