2.3 Same model, different backgrounds

Brief: Consider the work of both Callahan and Germain, then select a subject for a series of five portraits, varying the locations and backgrounds. The one consistent picture element must be the subject you have chosen, who must appear in all five images. Think carefully about where you choose to photograph them, either using a pose that offers a returned gaze to the camera, or simply captures them going about their daily business. The objective once again is to visually link the images together in some way.

You may choose a family member as a subject, like Callahan, or agree to photograph a colleague or friend, or even a willing participant who is either known or previously unknown to you, like Germain’s story about Charles Snelling.

Present your five images as a series and write around 500 words reflecting on the decisions you made. Include both of these in your learning log or blog.


1. Reflections on the work of Callaghan and Germain

1.1 Harry Callaghan

I liked many of his images some of which have an abstract quality.

The latter of these two images is a deliberate shot as he never cropped his images and sometimes you see partial heads and other parts of people in his images. In the former picture the person is fully aware and placed within the frame. I think that this is his wife Eleanor who appears in many of his portrait pictures and it is dated 1949.


There are not conventional portraits but I liked these images especially the sleeping person – covert or posed? http://www.jacksonfineart.com/Harry-Callahan-2390.html (Callaghan, 1953). I have been thinking about the nature of sleep as escape and the fact that we don’t look as our ‘normal’ persona and may try to photographic sleeping people as my covert activity.

“The difference between the casual impression and the intensified image is about as great as that separating the average business letter from a poem,” said Harry Callahan in 1964. “If you choose your subject selectively — intuitively — the camera can write poetry.”

One of the most notable things about Callaghan is that his training was with two very different photographic greats, Ansel Adams and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. As we will see later this had a profound effect on his photographic development.

Callahan’s photography is exploratory rather than evolutionary. He chose a subject, photographed it for awhile, left it, did other things, and then returned to it, usually from a changed perspective. Chronology is of little importance to understanding Callahan and the Art Institute divides up the show topically, according to the three subjects that he photographed: nature, buildings, and people.

In 1938, he was working at the Chrysler Company in Detroit, Michigan, joined the Chrysler Photo Club, and learned camera basics from a friend. He soon became dissatisfied with hobby photography and the sentimental pictorialism that club members favored. Wanting something more, he found it late in 1941 when the photographer Ansel Adams lectured at the club and—as Callahan later told it—“set me free.”

Adams told the club to view photography in its own terms—not as would-be painting—and within its own limitations. A photograph should be “a clean, sharp, highly detailed description of the external world within a carefully delineated, continuous tonal range,” he stated. Photographing simple things, such as nature at our feet, is just as valid as creating spectacular images, Adams added. He taught Callahan how to make prints and, above all, inspired him to become a photographic artist.

In 1946, Callahan began teaching photography at Chicago’s Institute of Design (ID), which was then directed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian Modernist photographer and painter. Moholy, who encouraged formal experimentation, became Callahan’s second great mentor. Basically, Callahan merged Adams’ purism with Moholy’s experimentalism to create a new, radically inventive kind of photography. He would choose a subject, such as nature or city street life, photograph it in a variety of ways, and then experiment with extreme contrast, double exposure, all-white and all-black prints, and much else. His images are cool, often tough, and he never presses a personal agenda upon the viewer.

The Art Institute exhibition shows how this worked out in practice. In 1948, for example, Callahan photographed plants in snow, responding to Adams’ demand for “something real.” Unhappy with his perfectly honorable print, he put it aside for a time, and then, in rebellion, printed the negative at high contrast to get a fresh image that hovers between figuration and abstraction. He devised similar strategies to photograph patterns in nature, such as light on waves, and even did time exposures with a moving flashlight in darkness, following Moholy’s example.

He never cropped images in the darkroom and the fact that many heads are partly cut off at the edges—or shot at odd angles—suggests that he followed his intuition, experimenting constantly as he worked.

It’s impossible to imagine Callahan without Eleanor, his wife. He photographed her repeatedly, indoors and out, nude and clothed, over about 15 years. These images, whose true subject is married love, rank among the most moving photographs ever made

Callahan did some of his most ingenious experimentation with the images of Eleanor. The Art Institute show includes proof sheets of nudes with geometric patterns double exposed upon them. In another nude, Eleanor’s body is seen at a distance in a field of black. The exhibition includes his negative, which shows that she was posing in their large, sparsely furnished apartment—and that he printed the image in high contrast. (Cassidy, 2016) https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slide-2https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slide-2

What can I learn from him?

You are your influences and on this day as a OCA student it is, in some way, what you view on the internet and at exhibitions and the constraints and liberation of the course.

Experimentation! This is becoming a theme for me as I work through the early stages of this module. The challenge for me is to do something different and do it well within, or loosely within, the brief. I like the ideas of partial pictures of people.

False modesty. He did not promote his prints and I am not sure why. Why take all those pictures and not show them?

1.2. Julian Germain

The point of this link is to emphasise involving yourself with the subject so that the work grows from it. I think I can do this well and it is a question of who the subject is as I have to be interested in them.

I was amazed at the quality and range of his work which is inventive and colourful. ‘Every minute you are angry…’ reminds me of ‘Ray’s a laugh’ by Roger Billingham in the framing and the colour tones but it is light and warm rather than dark and raw.

A series of photographs made over 8 years of the quiet, contemplative existence of Charles Snelling, an elderly man living alone in a small house in Portsmouth, shown alongside pages from Snelling’s own photo albums.

‘I met Charles Albert Lucien Snelling on a Saturday in April, 1992. He lived in a typical two up two down terraced house amongst many other two up two down terraced houses… It was yellow and orange. In that respect it was totally different from every other house on the street…. ….Charlie was a simple, gentle, man. He loved flowers and the names of flowers. He loved colour and surrounded himself with colour. He loved his wife. Without ever trying or intending to, he showed me that the most important things in life cost nothing at all. He was my antidote to modern living.’ (Germain, 2005).

“….‘For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness’ is a template model for what critical engagement should try to achieve in our day and age: forget the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and provide examples of people who operate in a different force field. People who are not grasping, not filled with self-importance and not embittered, people with a profound understanding of who they are and what they stand for, something that cuts across all cultures.” (Aarsman, 2004).

This is an excellent link to images of all of his books; http://www.juliangermain.com/publications.php

This is a good link to the ‘Every minute…’ book; http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/16-For-every-minute-you-are-angry-you-lose-sixty-seconds-of-happiness.html

What can I learn from Julian Germain?

Spend time with people. It took 8 years of shooting to reveal that ‘ordinary’ life that is Charles Snelling.

Take lots of images. I am learning this lesson and am now taking more images more often and with more experimentation.

Colour palette and tone is very important. I normally shoot with a Kelvin of 250 and am just about to photograph someone in their ‘secret garden’ (Exercise 2.1) which I think is a warm place so I have dialled my Kelvin up to 5850 although I realise that colour temperature changes with time of day and clouds and that I can adjust as a batch in Lightroom or even use a white card at the venue and save a local WB. I have not used warm colour every before in my work and it will be interesting to see how this works out.

Presentation matters. I was very impressed by his combination of words and images in his soccer book. I may use something like this myself in A2.

I will come back to Julian Germain as I think there is a lot I could learn from how he approaches and presents his work. He lives in Northumberland and is a trustee a the Sage – perhaps I should give him a ring?

3. Development of the portraits – contacts and notes

I decided to develop my ‘close work’ with a friend of mine whom I photographed in at her secret and sacred places. It came naturally in that we agreed to travel to one of her favourite spaces in the country but in doing that collected her from the ASDA supermarket where she was collecting for a Foodbank. The Foodbank were happy for me to do that and I gave the images for their Twitter feed.  The other sites were at her church, her home and walking. Here are the notes and contacts from my five sites.

The 500 word summary and final images will summarise actions and reflections.

3.1 Foodbank

I used three different vantage points to take these images, looking for an observed, pre-occupied look.

Foodbank mgt contact

3.2 Open space

We used five different vantage points in the country outside Gateshead. This overlooked the city but turning the other way was to the country.

open contact marganret


3.3 Church

I only chose one image from this selection when she was distracted talking to a third person. One of the main issues in all these images is awareness of the camera. I directed Margaret to do things in most of these sites and when she was distracted took the image, unless I wanted her to look directly at me.

Mag t church (1 of 1)

3.4 Cooking

Margaret likes entertaining and gets great pleasure from it. She was preparing for a guest later that day.

marg kitchen


3.5 Library

This is a private space that I don’t normally see in Margaret’s home. As I spent time their I realised that she had an enormous family archive which I asked her to look at.

marg contact libranry]


4. Final images and summary

‘Margaret: From Public to Private’

My organisational scale for these images is from public (Pu) to private (Pr) person. I am using a scale of -10 to + 10 for closeness to each domain, -10 being lowest and + 10 being highest. The scale is my invention.

4.1 Images

‘Margaret: Public to Private: -10 to +10’

I have located my images to Margaret’s public (Pu) to private (Pr) persona. My scale goes from -10 to + 10 for each domain, -10 being lowest and + 10 being highest.

Mag t foodbank (1 of 1)

Margaret 1: Pu +7; Pr -6

Mag t church (1 of 1)

Margaret 2: Pu +6; Pr -2

Mag t kitchen (1 of 1)

Margaret 3: Pu -2; Pr + 5

Mag t library (1 of 1)

Margaret 4: Pu -6; Pr + 7

Mag t open (1 of 1).jpg

Margaret 5: Pu -8; Pr +9

4.2 Summary and reflections

Why did I choose this person?

I think Margaret reflects something about me – there is some transference of personality. I was looking for someone with a range and depth activities so that I could have several backgrounds. It was convenient to ask this person, who I know well and they reluctantly agree to this exercise.

Why these locations?

I planned the Margaret 5’s setting after talking to her about her favourite place (Exercise 2.1). When I collected her from a supermarket Foodbank collection I realised that here was another setting that said something about her interests and commitments. We went from there to church the next day and after discussion about other locations I chose her home which I realised might say more about her inner life.

What about the technicalities of making these images?

I used a Nikon D810 with a 24mm lens with pop-up or SB 910 on camera flash directed to the ceiling or towards the person. I have found increasingly that flash is needed in most situations to provide extra light even with a raised ISO.

I was looking for a variety of gazes, directly to me (Margaret 3), to another person (Margaret 2) and engaged with others (Margaret 1). For Margaret 5 I did a number of close images but was looking for space to be the main content; my framing references Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth and Callaghan’s landscape portraits of his wife Eleanor (Wyeth, 1948; Callaghan, 1953). Margaret 4 was accidental and I only noticed the reflection on reviewing the images. We were in her private space, her library, where she talked animatedly about her early life and collections. The mirror is a nod to the ‘hidden’ self of the psyche.

Why this classification of the images?

I am working on a typology of combining text with images because text is an important part of my work. This led me to a German classification in relation to numbers;  http://www.hfbk-hamburg.de/de/studium/studienschwerpunkte/grafik-typografie-fotografie/ (HFBK, 2016). I thought that locating my images along a public and personal scale would work well and emphasise the content and duality of these two concepts in the images. That continuity of public versus private came at the editing stage although it was bubbling away in my mind as Margaret talked about being “a very private person” when the evidence was that she was very social as I observed and spoke with her.

What did I learn?

  • Take lots of images
  • Create several viewpoints – be quirky. I am not happy with images 2 and 3 as they are too conventional. Spending more time and taking more images would have helped, but I have to be efficient as this is only an exercise.
  • Listen to the person as they suggest content with which to illustrate their lives
  • Editing begins when you shoot but continues as you  work. Mine is very much an iterative approach.
  • A wide-angle lens gathers a lot of contextual information into the frame and you can crop and edit some of that in our out when needed.


Callaghan, H. (1953). Lake Michigan. 1953. http://www.jacksonfineart.com/Harry-Callahan-2398.html. jacksonfineart.com, Jackson Fine Art

Cassidy, V. (2016). “Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work. .” Retrieved 29th August, 2016, from https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slide-2https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slide-2.

Germain, J. (2005). For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness, SteidlMack.

Aarsman, H. (2004). Do we just keep complaining about injustice or do we set an example? New Commitment, in architecture, art and design. http://www.juliangermain.com/projects/foreveryminute.php, NAI Publishers.

Wyeth, A. (1948). Christina’s World. MoMA, http://www.moma.org/collection/works/78455, moma.org.

HFBK (2016). “Studienschwerpunkt Grafik / Typografie / Fotografie.” Retrieved August 27th, 2016, from http://www.hfbk-hamburg.de/de/studium/studienschwerpunkte/grafik-typografie-fotografie/.