''The self-portrait is generally considered to be an act of introspection, a search for the truth of the self''. Jean Francois Chevrier

That statement was written some time ago and, in an age when taking a photographic self-portrait was technically and logistically more difficult than it is today, it was probably a truism to say that a self-portrait was regarded as, more often than not,  a serious act of self-exploration. In today's age of the selfie I would suggest that the self-portrait is now less a formal portrait and, more often than not, an act of flamboyant exhibitionism.

In the same essay as the above statement was written the author also writes: ''In the age of naturalism in art, the photograph was thought to be 'true' to nature...however, by the end of the twentieth century, the truth of the self and belief in the objectivity of the photographic record have perished simultaneously. Every self-portrait, even the simplest and least staged, is the portrait of another''.

Some would find this a provocative statement, others an unnerving one. The idea that a self-portrait is a portrait of merely another image of ourselves rather than the 'truth' of ourselves suggests we can never represent us truthfully in any fundamental way, only produce a series of portraits that capture a transient moment. Chevrier seems to be saying that every self-portrait, no matter how 'natura'l we try to be as we take it, is inevitably 'staged'. The facial expression we capture, the background against which we place ourselves, the lighting we choose whether daylight or from a flash-gun, what we are wearing in the act of taking the photograph, all of these make it a 'performance' of sorts. But then, as TS Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock isn't this what we do, subconsciously, countless times a day...'prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet'? During the act of taking a self-portrait, isn't the face reflected in the lens inevitably too self-aware to be anything other than wearing one of the many metaphorical 'masks' we put on throughout the day as we move from one place and situation to another.


The vast majority of photographs, whether with a phone or a camera are taken by the person standing up. This 'complacency' about perspective no doubt stems from the fact that we view the world around us from predominantly a standing position, face on to the subject, so it seems the most obvious, the most natural. Yet it can also be the most boring.

A simple way to begin taking photographs of familiar scenes and objects in a way that makes us look at them differently is to vary not only the angle of the camera in relation to the subject, but also to find a raised vantage point or, alternatively, lower oneself into a ground hugging position from which to shoot. (In passing, one good reason to celebrate 'selfies' is that, having to place the camera at arms length so as to take the image of oneself or the group, often means the ensuing photograph is captured from a slightly acute or distorted angle).

Photographing from a low perspective often helps to capture the detail in the foreground in a much more dramatic way. It's 'importance' to the composition is strengthened and, sometimes, by slightly distorting the scale of foreground to background, helps to give the image a greater dynamic impact. Conversely, shooting from above - a balcony looking down on a town square for example - brings out patterns of human interaction and architectural interest in a way which shooting from eye level misses entirely. Look at some of Lazslo Moholy-Nagy's work for example, or some of his other Eastern European contemporaries, and you will see how effective this bird's eye viewpoint can be.




Succinct. Not a word wasted. Rhythmic. The meaning Implied not explicit. Some poems work as if the words create pictures in colour. Others are as stark as a high contrast image in black and white.

Using these ideas about poetry, what makes a successful or powerful or moving poem are not a bad starting point for considering how one photographs certain people and places. A portrait can be read if the sitter has had the confidence to reveal something about what is going on behind the eyes - a narrative of loneliness, the stranglehold of a single dominant emotion, the attempt to avoid showing anxiety revealing something deeper. A landscape can epitomise a  timeless quality to nature and the seasons. A seascape can explore the strangely beautiful relationship between sea and sky, cloud and wave, swell and rainfall. A photograph of a couple may reveal a powerful sensual or sexual attraction, or the awakening of a first love, or the slow fading of a trust.

In each case, the composition shapes the photograph as visual poem. The detail in the shadows or the juxtaposition of colour or shape; the way the eye is drawn towards a focal point by lines in the image -  all these reflect the way in which a poet guides us through a maze of words towards their larger meaning. A great landscape photograph has a type of rhythm flowing though the image, the rhythm of the eye moving across the picture to absorb the detail, building the image to something bigger, more subtle than that first glance suggested; the eye of the photographer complemented by the analytical eye of the viewer.


As I have written before, I like setting myself projects on which to work as, over the weeks, their aim becomes clearer, the style more honed and the photographs more 'focused' as a result.

There are many ways in which photographs can be a visual diary, either complementing words or standing alone:

They can become the diary of a visited place, or the different 'faces' of where one lives as the seasons follow one on another.

They can become a diary of the weather day by day. The challenge here is to avoid the obvious 'skyscape' image as if only a photograph that includes the sky can reflect the weather.

They can become a diary of the people one meets- not only friends but also strangers with whom one might have encountered for only a few seconds.

They can be a record of a daily commute (ideal for mobile phone technology where it is easier to be discrete when taking the photograph).

Or a diary of one's moods day by day as a series of selfies.

In today's digital age, the diary no longer needs to be a book in the bedside drawer in which one writes a paragraph or two at the end of the day as one of my daughters has been doing religiously since the age of about thirteen, wonderful though that is.

Find your own unique version of a visual diary. It can be very satisfying and, at the end of a year, the images will, almost inevitably, conjure up days that might otherwise have been forgotten as merely routine.



Use natural light whenever possible, ideally from one source so as to have the greatest opportunity to sculpt the face with shadows

Use these shadows to define the shape of the face and its features

Give the skin the opportunity to absorb the natural light fully rather than reflecting it as a glare

Set the sitter against a plain background as far as possible to give the head its focus without distraction

Relax the sitter with chat that reveals aspects/details about yourself to encourage the sitter to do the same in his/her expressions

Make your instructions instinctive and simple

Watch the sitter's eyes to judge the exact moment to take the portrait






'Being a photographer means living your whole life subconsciously considering the light'.

David Noton (Waiting for the Light)


This is especially true of landscape photographers. And when the landscape is actually a seascape, dealing with the light in the sky as well as the light reflected off the sea means one becomes even more conscious of the subtlest of variations in the light, to the extent that the optimum moment can be very easily missed. The key word in Noton's statement is 'subconsciously' because it implies an intuitive response to the light and its changes has been built up over the years like a series of memories against which current conditions are compared and assessed.




A Notebook at Random shows Penn to be the most successfully experimental photographer of the last 100 years. For example he juxtaposes an image of a deliberately distorted face on one page with one of his most striking, beautiful portraits on the next and, by doing so, makes us look at the human visage from a completely different perspective. Side by side the images enhance our wonder at the beauty and balance of our faces but also imply the their fragility. He does a similar thing with his images of the human body - an enormously tender photograph of 3 naked couples in various embraces that captures compassion, dependence and sensuality is placed next to a distorted image of the human body that looks like a photograph Francis Bacon (someone Penn had photographed in London) might have taken had he been using a camera not a paint brush.

Furthermore, the photographs are set against his drawings and paintings which implies how, no matter what the commission (fashion or otherwise), Penn always sought to create images that had artistic merit as well as commercial impact. I particularly like the surrealism of some of his still life studies - fish that look almost like phalluses lie next to skulls; vegetables are photographed to create the features of a face, as if Penn had looked at Archimboldo's paintings and stripped away all of the Italian painter's flourishes to leave only the eyes, nose and mouth represented.

Turn more pages and we are confronted by two disturbing photographs that make powerful statements about the female condition. A naked woman who is photographed from knee to just below her breasts and, therefore, whose face we cannot see, lies on a sheet wearing a cruel metal chastity belt. It is as if the belt has deprived her of her identity and thus taken away more than just her choice to have sex with whosoever she wishes. Another turn of the page brings us to a photograph entitled Football Face which shows a, presumably, naked female from the shoulders up, but whose face is completely covered by an American football, worn like a grotesque, smothering mask. The football is framed by her hair. and we see none of her features. The ball's laces face the viewer. In effect, she has been laced up, given no chance to express herself either verbally or visually. And the American football is, of course, one of the most iconic symbols of male power and identity in the USA, something carried aggressively, battered and kicked during this most violent of sports.

One moment we are in awe of his control of light and shape to create images of extraordinary beauty, the next we are deliberately unsettled by images that challenge our perceptions andvalues.



The concept of nature today differs from what it was fifty or one hundred years ago. Yet two basic and interlocking properties of nature remain: the physical essence of the natural world, and the unseen forces pulsing in and around that matter...what might be termed 'the forces of nature'. We marvel at its beauty at the same time as we are in awe of its transformative and potentially destructive power. But we are also increasingly aware of man's interference with, and abuse of nature, to the extent that our unfortunate impact on those transformative forces is almost always catastrophic. So, when we photograph nature, a single flower, a landscape seemingly still in harmony with itself, or one clearly altered by man, what are we seeking to show? Seasonal beauty, unexpected change, the interdependence of things, man's too often clumsy footprint?

I would imagine that the vast majority of landscape photographs attempt to capture the grandeur, the beauty of nature and recently, maybe there's a sense that, in doing so, we are also creating an archive of images for posterity in the expectation that what we photograph today may not be there tomorrow, or in a decade, or in one hundred year's time.

The earth as seen from space is always described as a globe of such beauty that it takes one's breath away. Recently, there have been photographers like Jan Arthus Bertrand who have photographed landscapes, mostly those already colonised by man, from above using balloons or light aircraft. Their emphasis has often been to discover how enamoured we are of patterns to give our lives the semblance of order, patterns that often echo nature's own intricate building blocks. And this very individual form of artistic 'mapping' reminds us not only of this planet's diversity but also of man's desire to conquer all of its terrains no matter how inhospitable.  

Photographing nature doesn't have to have 'a purpose'. Nevertheless some of the most compelling images taken over the last ten years have been inspired by the need to draw attention to the impact that climate change is already having on our weather and thus on our landscapes. Glaciers melting, floods of such power they wash away people's livelihoods, desertification that wipes out agriculture, etc. Yet, even standing alone on a beach last November and December as dawn came up,  which I did quite frequently as I was building a portfolio pf photographs for my exhibition, gave me a strong sense of how intense a communion we can have with 'nature', for I witnessed sunrises that seemed to invent new colours, cloud formations that appeared to reshape the sky, and so many different types of sea from exactly the same spot on the beach that it confirmed what I suppose, subconsciously, I already knew: an infinity of photographs would never do justice to its remarkable metamorphic ability. And for that we should be grateful.


It could be argued that images/photographs have become, like music, a universal language since the digital age has made sharing them so easy and immediate. As I have written before, this can have its disadvantages and images can be easily devalued as a result, but then that happens to language as well. Words such as 'tragic' and 'friends' for example, have become so commonplace, without any regard for a true definition, that in many circumstances they are virtually meaningless in their blandness. Like the word  'nice'.

However, photographs also bring people together, and are a great way of starting a conversation with a stranger who becomes, only minutes later, someone whose sense of identity, attitudes and even emotions come tumbling out as if you have known them for ages.

For example, I met a young Spanish woman yesterday whilst she was waiting for a friend. We probably chatted for only about 5 to 10 minutes as I tried to recall enough Spanish from my past to have a conversation. Her patience as I struggled to make myself understood was what struck me first then, as I explained I was a photographer, her willingness to tell me that she was a freelance journalist who was looking for work but finding it difficult in London (a city she clearly loved) to make contact with the right people. By the end of our short conversation this 29 year old woman (who laughed as she said everyone mistook her age as she looked no more than 20), took one of my cards as I said I would happily take a portrait of her (possibly for a CV) if it would help her in her search for employment. It is unlikely she will take up my offer, but those 5 or 10 minutes had been refreshing for their lack of complexity, their spontaneity and their tacit acknowledgement that it would be very easy to strike up an equally warm, easy conversation as the portrait was taken, making it much more likely I would be able to capture something abut her that was not merely superficial.


I was up in London yesterday and immediately became aware of how complex its identity as a city has become. Multicultural in a vibrant way, the skyline changing by the day yet, as I was reminded when listening to Radio 4 on Saturday, the home of more trees (I think it was 8 million) than people.

It has initiated what I hope will become a future project to go along side my 'Shard from every angle' collection of images. I ended up down a cul-de-sac near Hyde Park Corner; not one where mews houses are pristine and look the million+ pounds they would cost in this area, but a slightly shabby (without the chic) road that seemed delightfully unpretentious. How this might influence my new project to capture an aspect of London that is 'different' I am not sure as yet, but I am working on it. Safe to say it reminded me that, despite the many changes, other parts remain seemingly protected from radical metamorphosis, and I think that may be at the heart of what I end up photographing.


The brighter the morning, the earlier one needs to photograph. Some would argue that bright summer sunshine is only good for photography because of the shadows it creates. Otherwise its 'bleaching' impact on colours and the haze that often accompanies it can have a detrimental effect on landscapes. As regards portraits, its harshness on skin and the tendency to make people narrow the eyes to protect them from the glare, produce images that are seldom as effective as when taken in a softer light.

If I am photographing on a day of bright sunshine at any other time than early dawn I usually work with a polarising filter. It deepens the blue of the sky and enhances the intensity of colour on buildings and clothes.

It is 7.30am and, as I look out of my window and listen to the seagulls fighting for scraps, the light is already a glare. For almost the first time this year a T-shirt is enough for warmth but my camera is in its bag. Too tired from a busy day yesterday to make the early, pre-sunrise pilgrimage to the beach!



It is with some sadness that the exhibition at the Updown gallery has come to an end as, in almost all ways, it has been very successful. Some photographs were sold, lots if portraits were taken, two talks were very much appreciated by their audiences, and many new contacts and friends were made. Most enjoyable and satisfying has been the level of interest and genuine surprise and effusive praise we have received from those visiting the gallery. People who admitted they came in for a 'quick look round' have stayed 45 minutes, in some cases an hour. They have loved being talked through the intricacies of Polly's jewellery making and the techniques behind the more experimental photographs, although the seascapes and the traditional black and white images have also generated a lot of discussion.

So, 'what's next'? As a result of this exhibition it looks almost certain that I will be offered the opportunity to have another one at Creek Creative in Faversham in early summer. I hope to go there later this week to look at the available spaces and times. The temptation, with a lot of new framed pieces now leaning against the walls at home, will be to re-display those, but I always like to have some new images ready for new spaces. It is my way of making sure I keep trying to move my photography forward, and exhibitions are great as they really make me choose only what I am entirely happy to display. This whole process, therefore, becomes a good arbiter of quality.

Watch this space!



Drizzly walk in a brisk cold wind along the beach this morning. Took only one photo, a quintessentially English seaside image. Cricket stumps meticulously chalked up on the sea wall as a reminder of yesterday's sunshine and crowded Bank Holiday Sunday beach. The tide was coming in fast so, sadly, I don't suppose the stumps will survive the day.



How do you photograph time?


Take a portrait of someone elderly. Sometimes time has been cruel, etching deep lines onto a face as if they were the evidence of some sort of punishment. Other faces are lined bur appeared soften by those lines as if they convey someone at peace with themselves, content with how they are inside, unconcerned about their external experience. Sometimes it's all in the eyes - still bright despite the onset of old age as if signifying a brain that has remained sharp, active. Occasionally one sees eyes that appear dead before the rest of the person has physically died, as if life has been dismissed or the soul has taken flight too early.

The ravages of time. The wisdom we absorb with time. The fear of death. The pleasure of memory. These can al be read on ageing faces. They are wonderful to photograph.


Photography, in particular black and white photography, has sometimes been described as sculpting with light. This is why black and white art based photography so often focuses on texture and shape which, in my experience, tends to stand out more strongly when set against either a very dark or a white background. Just as the dark parts of the image appear as if through the eerie light of the chemicals in the tray, like inverted ghosts ,so what remains white or light, shapes what the eye sees, and the movement of an image becoming more defined guides the eye through the composition. It is often at this stage that one can really see whether the composition is balanced, whether the focal point is where the eye is naturally drawn or whether there are distractions that muddy the waters.

Bathed in red light, the darkness becomes increasingly visible and, hopefully, the image implants itself on the retina and remains there even after the session in the darkroom has been concluded.




Not forcing a drama where there isn't one. Allowing the moment to be itself. Not over-elaborating. Allowing the space to assert itself, its emptiness if necessary. Yet, are there really instants in which nothing happens? Even an empty room is inhabited by ghosts of past people and events. A blank facial expression may be a facade behind which a hugely important decision is being made. A seemingly barren landscape can create a sense of anticipation, even an air trepidation.


Just as a photographer often has to wait for the 'moment' and, when his/her patience is rewarded, the resultant image seems sometimes to have absorbed that process of waiting...similarly, so called 'instants in which nothing happens' can be precursors to the most dramatic of occurences. The desert seconds before the first atomic bomb was detonated. A huge expanse of perfectly still, empty water out of which a hand or a head, or a dorsal fin suddenly emerges. Seeming utter darkness out of which an eye suddenly catches a thin sliver of light we hadn't even noticed.

Instants in which nothing happens are not about absence but about impending presence. After all, there are times when we only notice the silence at the moment it is broken.


"I don't like going out into the light when I am in the darkroom. I like the consistency of the dark. It keeps me safe. The darkroom is a very good place to be. It's a womb. I feel I have everything there that I need. My mind, my emotions, my passions, my chemicals, my papers. My negatives. And my direction. In the dark room I am totally together".  (Don McCullin - Unreasonable Behaviour)

It is hardly surprising that Don McCullin, veteran photographer of many conflicts, always willing to put himself in the front line, with a mind full of enough horrific images to drown any lesser man, should write about his darkroom in this way. A safe haven. Where creativity can express itself intellectually and emotionally. Where he is in control rather than on the edge, dependant on others who are often teetering on madness.

I certainly found that the darkroom was not a place I could share. It required complete focus. The red light that allowed you to see but didn't really alleviate the darkness created ghosts of its own, ghosts that appeared up through the chemicals as if finding resurrection. Such intimate feelings and complete immersion in one's work is much more difficult to achieve in front of a screen. Even if one switches off all other lights and works only by the light on the computer screen it is not the same cocooned existence. If mistakes are made they can be rectified at the touch of a button. In the darkroom, mistakes mean starting again with a new piece of photographic paper, more test strips, maybe some delicate masking or burning in. And if the telephone rang elsewhere in the house, one rarely opened the dark room door to answer it for fear of breaking a kind of spell, of letting the ghosts slip out never to be recaptured. But most of all, afraid of losing the magic that made darkness and light contrive to create an image that unveiled itself withthe slow inevitability of a memory emerging out of fog, an image that could, literally, be fixed, washed, hung up to dry.




Listen. The rain is whispering behind

The silence. Secrets chainmail the air

Minutely with silver, sometimes steel,

even platinum when the clouds feel

flush. The sound is metallic; not a

Trembling bell or shivered cymbal,

More like the rustling of foil. Listen….

It’s music now, minimalist, mysterious.

Something not quite invisible

Revealing itself from the heavens.


There’s a veil shimmering my hair

where light has become moisture

as lace. Place your hand on my head

and feel the ephemeral glove wrap

itself around your fingers like touch.


No tin roof cacophony here. No buffalo

Herd stampede to match the thunder.

Not even the patter of tiny feet or

Drumming of fingertips. No splatter

As coagulants burst, no dancing on

Tropical leaves, no incessant chattering

Or slippery gossiping of tyre on tarmac.

No angular sheeting or curtaining

when rain turns black against a mute

horizon. No hailstones boasting their

flint followed by apologetic muttering.

Not even the indistinct murmur of gutters

Complaining. Just gossamer drizzle falling

Finer than silk behind its own metaphor.


How to photograph this!? Still, I suppose a poem is a start at visualising the images.


Dave, an ex-pupil, and now old friend of mine, came down from London to see the exhibition on Friday. Over lunch we talked about the pleasures of working on projects, the satisfaction of building up an 'archive' of images, objects or, in his case words for RAIN. His project started with a challenge he and a friend set themselves to see how many words (descriptive and in dialect) they could find for different kinds of rain. They now want to put the 250 or so words they have uncovered into a book (yes, 250!..though in a country obsessed with its weather maybe that is not surprising). They are not sure what form this book will take but have been discussing how it could be illustrated. Inspired by my exhibition he had wondered how photography might capture different types of rain.

It struck me that certain forms of rain could be photographed relatively easily - there is evidence of that in the exhibition already. Raindrops so heavy on poppy petals it has curled them right over into a sort of flower foetus. A 'black' curtain of rain against an orange dawn on the horizon of a seascape. But how would one photograph a light drizzle for example. Heavier rain makes different patterns in puddles at it lands, so that seems more straightforward. It is a challenge I shall be thinking about over the next few weeks and, hopefully, a project we shall take forward next time we meet.

In the meantime I am looking forward to seeing their exhaustive list!



A very interesting discussion ensued after tonight's talk at the gallery. It focussed on the repercussions of our ability these days to fake almost any photograph and its potential challenge to photography's credibility and integrity. This was seen as particularly important because the talk had established how important photographs have been as evidence of some the greatest atrocities and tragedies of the 20th century. Photographs bear witness, which is especially important when there are so few survivors  of the concentration camps left alive to tell their stories at first hand.

To balance things out, the talk ended by focusing on the positive, creative side of experimenting with photoshop to create more abstract imagery, for example photographs that pay tribute to artists such as Rothko and Jasper Johns. The key is to be honest about one's intentions and not to disguise the trickery, whilst remaining confident that photography and design can feed off each other constructively.