Madame Yevonde (1893-1975)

© Yevonde Portrait Archive













Yevonde Middleton was a society photographer photographer known as Madame Yevonde. Born into an affluent family she attended several independent girls schools and by all accounts was a free thinking and motivated woman in a time when opportunities for women were less available than today. She was active as a society photographer from 1914 until well after the second world war. She was one of a list of photographers whose work my tutor suggested I look at. I was previously unaware of this artist, but am pleased to have been introduced to her work.

An internet search revealed some highly engaging , cinematic images that stood out because of their vivid colours and strong composition. There is also something of the surrealist in some of the images and I am remided of the portrait work of Man Ray in some of the compositions. The striking difference is  Madame Yevonde’s use of colour.   I subsequently discovered that she used a

The interest in colour probably stemmed from her father whose business manufactured printing inks, the young Yevonde had been exposed to the work of her fathers business from a young age. After leaving school she worked with the photographer Lallie Charles not quite finishing her apprenticeship with hime and setting up her own central London studio as Madame Yevonde at the age of 21. Having a wealthy father to assist certainly will have helped, but her work to my eye stands out as being strong and innovative. Using ocular would not have been the norm so i suspect she was also a risk taker. Her early inters in women suffrage reveals itself in her work, there are images of strong female characters, which must have pushed against the tide of the times.

The process she used was called Vivex and was produced by Colour Photography Limited of Willesdon. A three part negative process, that at one time accounted for 70% of the colour work i the UK. The process was finished in 1939 with the onset of the war and never restarted again. However Madame Yvonne recreated the process and continued to use colour after the war. Many famous people had images made by her but from my brief research it is her images of women that really stand out

by Madame Yevonde, Vivex colour print, 1936

In addition to portrait work she also undertook fashion and magazine work as well as advertising work. In the Archive referenced below there is also some documenters work recording the artisans at work in the fitting out stage of the Queen Mary liner. Of all her work i found this the most engaging. The mix of beautiful and creative composition employed in a documenter project make for some very original documentary photographs. The image below shows the artist  Doris Zinkeisen painting column of the Cunard liner in the 1930s before it went into service in 1934. At a time when documentary photography would almost have been exclusively  black and white, Madame Yevonde was truly a colour pioneer, long before Bulmer, Egglestone or Parr!

Things that I take from this work include:

  • Colour Pioneer
  • The very brave, imaginative and bold us of colour
  • Commercially very successful
  • Painting like quality evocative of the pre rephealites
  • Strong cinematic composition
  • The use of a complex technical process
  • Use of very imaginative theme for tableaus images, mythology in particular
  • Not as well know as she ought to be!

As an end note I have to say I am surprised this artist is not as well known as some of her contemporaries. Her work to my eye is every bit as engaging as Beeton, but she would appear to be eclipsed by others?


Madame Yevonde Archive, found at: (Accessed May 2017)

Madame Yevonde – ‘Godessess’ Found at:;_ylt=A9mSs2bEwy1ZhBUAtI5LBQx.;_ylu=X3oDMTB0ZTgxN3Q0BGNvbG8DaXIyBHBvcwMx (Accessed May 2017)

Madame Yvonne by Lawrence Hole, found at: May 2017)


Asssignment 4 – Feedback

I received feedback for assignment 4 from my tutor and as I had expected my assignment needed more work if it is to meet the brief. Whilst there were a number of positive comments about what I had written, the fact that had left a number of questions unresolved meant that the work was unresolved.

The feedback is very valuable though and I will redraft the assignment taking on board the comments my tutor made.

The full feedback can be found here: Assignment 4 Feedback J.O Tutor Report 4

In response to the feedback I sent what is set out below to my tutor:

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your feedback on Assignment 4. You will have read in the preparation section on my blog that I had some struggles with this assignment. I don’t have issues with writing but this type of writing is new to me and I recognise I need to work at it. I am pleased that the descriptive element of the assignment appears to have been ok, but I do see that I didn’t reach a proper conclusion and left more unanswered and unresolved. I guess defeating the object of the exercise! I think I hit a point where I just thought I needed to complete the work and submit it or I would have just kept going around in circles.

It has been a valuable exercise though, and your feedback has given me some helpful suggestions about how I might resolve some of the questions I left hanging in the submission. Your reference to Frank’s outsiders eye and the potential influence of European film noir set me thinking. There is something of the cinematic about the image and certainly film noir ‘esque’ (if I can say that!) Rather than the European tradition there is something to my eye, of the Hollywood ‘Chandler’ or ‘Hammett’ atmosphere to me in the image. Also, thinking about the image title, it does suggest something about drama. I think I became to fixed on tracking down exactly what the title meant In a literal sense) and it was this I focused on rather than what Frank might have been intending to communicate. My head works better in the empirical, but I need to begin to operate in the theoretical and the imaginative. I will use these thoughts to commit to a personal perspective that resolves the questions I posed in the essay. To compound arriving at a personal conclusion I think I also felt a bit of a block in arriving at a personal viewpoint given so many others have written so much about the meaning of Frank’s work, although I didn’t refer to that either!

I am interested in the notion of the ‘privileged flanuer’ that you refer to and will look up some of the references you made in the feedback. The idea of critique from those that remain in the mainstream with all its advantages, but critique what is around them seems a valuable area to delve further into. I did a quick search around Wilson’s ‘Outsider’ and have ordered a copy as it looked quite intriguing.

With all the above in mind I am going to redraft the essay in an attempt to come to a firmer conclusion about the image, using the permission that Frank himself gives in the quote at the end of my initial submission.

I will also look up some of the photographers whose work you have suggested that I consider further. Several are names that I am familiar with and Wearing and Crewdson are artists whose work I have blogged about in this course. Others are entirely unknown to me so I will seek them out.

I am pressing ahead with part 5 and pleased with the progress I am making. I have begun this weekend to start to plan, all be it in outline,  ideas for Assignment 5. I am keen that this is a piece of work that reflects what I have learned along the way during C&N. Many thanks again for your helpful critique, it is appreciated.

Best wishes


Exercise: Record a real conversation with a friend

Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!)

Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.

Then listen to the recording and make note of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc.

Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

This was an interesting exercise for a variety of reasons. I should say at the outset that for professional reasons I have a well developed memory system for listening to aural information, processing it and then feeding it back in as accurate a manner as possible. Indeed retaining one of my professional accreditations involves an annual assessment based upon listening to the three way conversation in controlled conditions and feeding back a detailed summary and synopsis of the key points from the triad. Dropping below an 80% accuracy level means failing the test and not getting the accreditation. This would be serious for my employment, so I am well prepared, attentive and regularly practicing this skill.

Against this back drop I recorded a conversation with a friend as part of the exercise. I pondered on whether I should say I was recording the conversation or not and in the end decided to record it secretly. I know this throws up a whole raft of ethical issues, but I felt that if I alerted the friend that I was recording the conversation it would have led to a different and less natural engagement, the dynamic would have been different and my friend perhaps more guarded.

In order to manage and address the ethical problems this approach I am revealing nothing about the friend, who they are, not even their gender or relationship to me. I also deleted the recording once I had completed this blog entry. Given some of the personal characteristics of the friend, I think there is a high probability they will never know about this blog entry and OCA exercise and anyone looking at the this online would never know the identity of my friend.

The topic of the conversation was taxation, rebates, engaging with the local tax office and the implications of in complete personal information and records. I need to sayat the outset  that myself and the friend have nothing to do with HMRC, nor the world of the fiscal! This just happened to be the conversation. My friend had a range of concerns and our conversation was about those concerns an might attempt to are advice and support, all of this at a personal friend to friend level and not from the stand point of expertise in taxation. My only knowledge of taxation is that I am a taxpayer!

The conversation was 17 minutes long during which time my friend was initially upset because of a personal circumstance. During the first 8 minutes I listened and made a small number of comments mostly affirming support and a desire to assist someone who was experiencing some real difficulties. In the latter part of the conversation based upon the information gleaned, I offered some suggestions, that might be interpreted as advice but were all caveatted with a denial of any claim of expertise on tax affairs. The conversation ended much more positively than it started with the friend listing for themself a set of actions they were going to follow up on. I left the conversation with a sense I had offered a listening ear and assisted the friend ‘see the wood for the trees’ around what they needed to do next.

Before listening to the recording a I made a written record of the key elements of the conversation as a sort of table of contents. There were 14 distinct elements I picked out during the exchange. These elements were all based upon what I felt where the most significant things we discussed. I also gave each of the 14 elements a ranking of importance based upon a reading of my friends worries and concerns. I completed my write up by listing the key words at the start of the conversation that framed the whole dialogue and also the actions my friend was going to pursue following the conversation.

As the above suggests, I brought my clinical and forensic professional approach to my review of the conversation. Listening then to the recording I learned something new about myself and my approach to listening and mentally recording conversations.

As stated above I have a tried and literally tested methodology for recalling conversations. What struck me about listing to this recording was the subtle nuisance of my friends emotions at different points in the conversation. My list of what was covered , how the conversation started and was framed and how it finished was as I suspected very accurate. However the relative importance I had assigned to the different elements of the conversation was challenged by the recording. Some of the things that I had recalled as being the most significant where called into questions by a review of how things were said in he recording rather than what was said. Although my recall was generally very accurate listening again to the conversation made me ask some questions about how I had interpreted  some aspects of the conversation. It made me think that accuracy of recall is not all about the content,  it is also about the nuisance, tone and what is sometimes not said. I didn’t have some revelation that my professional technique for listening was wrong, but it did make me think that my analytical approach can at times miss subtle aspects of meaning, particularly when dealing with something that is upsetting to one or more of the parties in a conversation. I then left the exercise and spent some days pondering on its relevance to photographic practice.

In considering the believability of of re-enected narratives, there will always be an element of bias , with the author (or participants) of a work recalling an event or events through a lens of their own perspective, biography, motives and intent. The concept of accuracy, which might link to more forensic perspectives on recall and memory has itself some limitations. There are a variety of contradictory perspectives on human memory and recall and there is a whole other potential blog post about neurons, axons, short term , long term memory and the bias and hierarchy when memory is being encoded, but  I feel myself drifting into the work of my professional life here, which in many respects I am trying to escape in this OCA work!

Reflecting on listening back to the recording I made of the conversation, where my focus had been on accurate recall of the content, I must confess it was the tone and cadence of my friends comments that I had paid less attention to. Language and communication are manifold concepts and meaning is transmitted through more than the words. Indeed meaning is created through the interplay of phonemes, pitch and intonation. In English we also have the added complication of not actually saying what we mean, our language is abstract at times, with us often not actually saying what we mean but rather, coding what we mean through tone and body language.

Where does this take us in terms of making pictures and re-encated narratives? Well I think we need a healthy scepticism about what we recall and we need either to check what we believe we saw , heard or did with a variety of sources. I often think about returning to my primary school as part of a visit, shortly before it was demolished. What I was confronted with as an adult did not fit with the recollections I carried in my head. For this reason we need to apply external references whenever possible.

Some summative thoughts:

  • Be skeptical about what we recall from our past
  • Be skeptical about memory in general
  • Where ever possible look for external references that will help shatpe recollections in to something that is closer to the truth
  • Accept that the past is gone and only a trace remains, even images only tell prt of the picture
  • Re-enactment or recreation of a past event can only ever be a subjective act with all the caveats about accuracy and truth

The Fae Richards Photo Archive – Veracity in the Ficticious!


“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.”                                   

Dunye and Leonard’s work: The Fae Richards archive strikes me as the use of a construct, indeed engineered fiction to tell about women, lesbianism in the Black community and the absence of real figures from this group in film, or in fact in contemporary American history.

Without doubt there were almost certainly black American lesbian’s in Hollywood, however the prevailing orthodoxy and power of the film studios must have made it impossible for women, let alone African American women to come out into society for much of the 20th Century. Black women will also have had racism to contend with compounding them being able to live an open life with regard to their sexuality. A further dimension was also the very traditional view of the church’s in black communities who to this day can have a negative stance around homosexuality.

In tha absence of genuine historic evidence, Leonard and Dunye have created a fictitious movie star, Fae Richards. Using traditional photographic styled records such as publicity images, family album images, film stills, candid images, the character of Richard is brought to life. There is a veracity to the fiction through the use of photographic evidence that looks very plausible. Although a falsehood, the faux archive tells of a wider truth and for me poses the question; can there be more truth ain a fictitious archive than in a genuine documentary archive where the honesty and intent of the photographer is unknown?

I am genuinely intrigued by this work and Dunye’s notion of ‘photographic falsification. We covered quite a bit about the photo as ‘document’ earlier in the course and as noted at the time in reference to Wells(2009) Photography as a technology can manipulate how we perceive the world around us. It is this very idea that Dunye and Leonard exploit using what they describe as ‘archival conventions’ to tell us about the life of black women who have never been included in the collective 20 century history or archive. This to me seems to be a process where the ends justify the falsehood.

Reading about this work has set me thinking about assignment 5 and how I might use the idea of a fictional narrative


Wells, E. (2009)Photography: A critical Introduction Routledge, Abingdon

The Fae Richerds Archive. Birmingham City University Art & Design Archives for cross discipline creative practice, found at:

Archives – Some personal thoughts

Do you have any archives that you could have access to? might you be able to use it for the beginning of a project? Blog about some ideas that you could comeback to one day.

As my previous blog entry highlights I have access to a large archive of family images, plotting the stories and journeys and eventual leaving home of me and my 2 siblings. We all hold different elements of this collective but fragmented  family archive. My father was a keen amateur photographer and there are thousands of image in monochrome and colour plotting and recording family trajectories. They also have a topographic character as they record us in a variety of places over time. we have of course all added to it in new and different ways.

As part of this family and personal story I also have a large personal archive on film and on hard drives of my own photographic work, from school boy darkroom experiments, to family snaps, actions images and to more serious photographic projects. This archive intersects my wider family archive creating a different trajectory.

I have for some time pondered on the idea of a topographic biography, by this I mean images of places that tell a wider story of transition, personal experience and the passage of time. I was born in a other country, I came to this country, we moved around as children, as an adult  I have repeated and extended this cycle. I have a very broad sense of what constitutes home and it is not defined by location, but rather by those around me.

I think it is this personal sense of transience that has been at the heart of my keenness in and developing photographic practice around people and place, my own work often centres around recording people and place to try and reveal some about time and culture. I am certain there is the potential for a significant project from these ideas. I recognise I need the assistance of academic tuition to develop and distill this idea further, a  level 3 project perhaps?

Postscript thought

I have along side my archive of negatives and photo;’s a growing virtual archive, recored in zeros and ones, hidden in solid sites hidden in blocks of silicon, out of sight inside the cards that slowly get bigger as time passes. Unlike their analogue counterparts they offer no glimpse of the past, only a question around what might they contain. I imagine this virtual archive is far more , the lot of the modern image maker and photographer. I ponder on what future generations might make of these electric images. What is the potential for a future Nicky Bird or John Maloof in a collection of cards and drives?


Question for Seller Exercise

Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:

  • Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
  • Where does their meaning derive from?
  • When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Nicky Birds work genuinely intrigues me. I am drawn to found photographs and their potential. Before getting to the questions in the exercise I want to think out loud about Bird’s work first. The idea of finding images on  Ebay and bidding on those that had no other bids or interest struck me as a very unique starting place to make art. Perhaps Birds background and interest in social history, biography and archeology where her starting points for “Question to seller’. Looking at her other work and particularly’ Beneath the Surface/Hidden Place which links found images from the past with their original location as its is now acts as a sort of conduit across time. There is a sense of history brought to life through the juxtaposition of the old and the current. As her website suggests her: ‘work investigates the contemporary relevance of found photographs.’

I couldn’t help compare this work with elements of Subotsky and Waterhouse’s (2014)  ‘Ponte City’. In this work the artists made images of a giant and decaying brutalist tower block ‘Ponte City’ in Johannesburg. Elements of the work used found photos and then re photographed them in the location where they were originally taken. This idea of an image being used again to make a link across time and in doing so pose question about where the occupants are now is to me highly engaging

Question to seller is though something more than just the image she bid for and won on eBay. As the title suggests she asked the seller about the images, in some cases they know nothing about the origins in others she gleans bits of information about the photographs. It is the interplay between the image and the sellers response that creates the work. there is one final stage and that is reselling the work, that is the image and the responses from sellers on eBay. There is something cyclical and final at the same time. To me the image takes on a new meaning, it isn’t merely a two dimensional artefact, but a small slice of someones history with an accompanying bit of text that may reveal something about the image or indeed offer nothing but questions.

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

I think there has been much written about what ends up in galleries, who chooses it and what this means to its value, beyond a specific question about Birds work. Berger (1972) talks about an elite in the past deciding what was displayed in a gallery as does Sontag, when talking about documentary photographs taking on a new value when shifted from the documentary form to the art form. Barrett (1986) in his work about Photographs and Contexts suggests:

‘The photographs placement in a galleries above all a tribute to the sensibilities of its maker”

All this suggests that there is an elevation in status, although this too will be context specific. An image displayed in a gallery at MoMaA may be perceived to have greater value and status  than an image displayed in a small local gallery? Another valuable will also be the retain and standing of the artist, which in turn my shift the value and status of a work, irrespective of the display space. in summary this is a tricky area with a variety of factors at play all of which have a degree of subjectivity.

Where does their meaning derive from?

In Bird’s work there is a clear interplay between the source of the image, the images, her questions to the seller, the sellers responses and the display of the work with the dialogues with the seller. In this sense the work is far more than just the image. The combination of all the elements create a wider work of art. There are layers of narrative, those within the image those with thin the text and the interplay between all these companies. there is also the individualised and subjective meaning that the viewer brings themselves, particular given the natures of the images a family photographs. We all have our own archive of these. Looking at other families photographs sets of in me thoughts of my own biography as recored in a fragmented set of images all residing on photographic paper in various cardboard boxes in different locations around the country. Fragments held by different family members. The idea of unifying this archive a distant and almost impossible fete!

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

In answering the question I first need to explore the notion of value. It might refer to a purely monastery idea and perhaps does in this context give the original source of the material. it might also mean a things intrinsic work?

Exploring the idea of monetary worth, in simple terms the auctioned work raised more money than the original images cost to purchase. The Belfast Photo video suggest the work achieved £205. There has of course been work and activity on the part of the artist and in the value of any work the artist will also be a feature of the monetary value of the work. The cost of art made by sought after artists will be driven by a supply and demand equations, that means that for example, reproducible prints from an original negative by for example Cartier Bresson can fetch $12,000 (source Artnet- Print Price for a copy of Behind the Gare Saint Lazare).

So in simple terms the answer to the question is probably yes, over time depending on Bird’s wonder work this item may go up in value. It may have already been auctioned again, in the cycles that is a feature of many works of art, that of the auction after auction after auction. indeed the work has an allegoric statement to make about art works in general, beyond the individual meaning within this work.



Barrett, T. (1986) Teaching about photography: Photographs and Contexts, Art Education. Found at:

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, Penguin, London (Accessed May 2017)

Berger, J. (1967) Understanding the Photograph

Sontag, S (uyuy) On Photography, Pengiun, London

Subotsky, M. & Waterhouse, P. (2014) Ponte City, Steidl Verlag, Berlin Bird: Quest to seller:(Accessed May 2017) (Accessed May 2017)

Interview with Nicky Bird, Photoparley, Found at: (Accessed May 2017)


Reflecting on the factual and the fictional

As stated in previous blog posts my developing practice is in the area of documentary image making. Initially a bit worried about the implications and what I might need to do  in this part of the course around constructed and fabricated images I have become progressively more intrigued . In no small part as a result of following up some of the photographers whose work is referenced in part 5 of C&N.

Starting with Tom Hunter, the idea of creating or even replicating elements of a news story through the construction of a scene that is representative of, rather than being the actual scene that might have been used in a newspaper, offers the opportunity to use a fiction to tell about a truth. There is also something about the use of the aesthetic to engage the vower in Hunters work, the course materials refer to Hunter drawing upon painting in his approach. The image below is a good example

© Tom Hunter

The scene of a road rage victim lying down with the menacing figure of the perpetrator standing over them is one that is unlikely to be seen in a newspaper, the sodium and tungsten lit tableaux has an engaging aesthetic quality, that belies the violence and drama of the scene. This is powerful imagery, acting as a sort of ‘proxy’ for the real event, carrying with real angst and menance. I need to ponder further on Hunters intent, which at this stage and from reading some background internet cemenatrt on Hunter leaves me uncertain is this about art or about story telling or even fiction to carry news? Whatever, i am suddenly quite keen o the idea of the tableaux image and its possibilities.

I also did some further on line research into Cindy Sherman. I was more familiar with this work and knew that Sherman used a self portraiture technique, drawing on the troops of film noir cinema, society portraits and old master paintings. A core theme of her work is to use this self porters approach to offer a perspective of how the women are seen in american society. I think this approach is well documented and what interested me about this work in the context of this part of the course is the images themselves and not necessarily  their intended message. I was drawn to the image below in terms of how it was constructed and achieved.

© Cindy Sherman

Not one of the more complex Sherman images but a tableaux of interest to me none the less. I think I need to experiment with some self portraiture and before trying to make a wider comment , just the practicalities and technical challenges are what appeals to me at present.

Philip Lorca Dicorcia’s work also intrigues me. of all the photographers referenced in this section of the cours it is decorcioa with whom I am most familiar having had the opportunity to see both Hustlers and Heads in person. As large glossy prints these works are aesthetically beautiful and have a wonderful depth to them, looking almost three dimensional an defying the flatness of the framed print. Contrasting his work  with Hunter and Sherman, these works feel far more like portraiture in the classical sense. In the case of ‘Hustlers’ the male prostitutes he photographs, are  real people, with all the challenges their circumstances present, but he creates a tableaux environment to tell a wider story. I noted his wikipedia page talks about his almost ‘baroque’ constructions in his constructed images. In the image below the Juke Box control, burger and drink container all add to the mundanity and strange beauty of the scene. DiCorcia’s approach  iis giving me some ideas for assignment 5.

© Philip Lorca Dicorcia

So what does all this tell me?

The tableaux is a mechanism top communicate a wider idea about the subject of the image.

The tableaux image offers the possibility for creativity beyond the purely documentary work that I am more familiar with.

Fiction created for the camera can just be fiction for its own sake own sake, or it can be an allegory to metaphor for something bigger and something real.


Hattenstone, S (2011) Cindy Sherman- Me, Myself and I, The Guardian, founds at:

Tom Hunter: Living in hell and other stories found at: (Accessed May 2017)

Research Point – Gregory Crewdson

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below. [accessed 24/02/14]

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?


I hade seen some o the work of Crewdson prior to this part of the course and had been struck by both the cinematic quality  and the sheer scale of the work. As part of the of the ‘Perdidos en la Ciudad’ exhibition I visited at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Spain, there were 4 of Crewdson images filling a massive gallery space. I have to say the images in the flesh are utterly mesmerising, the detail is almost indescribable at close quarters. The use of well known hollywood actors as subject in the images adds to the epic cinematic qulkaity of the work. in a digital age the power of his 10×8 view camera negatives printed on a grand scale are utterly beautiful, in spite of their often sensitiser narrative. It is in this context and with a little familiarity that I respond to the questions in this research point.

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Certainly but i need to explain why. The images are without doubt aesthetically engaging, the use of colour, the High Definition detail of the work couples with the use of lighting. As the OCA reference video: ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame‘ highlights, Crewdson pays great attention to the lighting using what appear to be the same techniques that a movie director wold employ. All of that said the placement of characters and objects in the frame couples with the location and the lighting challenge the view to ask questions about what is going on. i will use the image below to illustrate what I mean.

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The seemingly simple scene of a residential district in the snow reveals something  about place and time and season, but the lone and small figure standing in the doorway of the building raises questions? The future could initially be overlooked, but like so many of Crewdson’s images the people in them add a tension to the scene. This particle image also has the title “Beneath the roses again asking questions of the view and almost holding the vower in intrigue. There is something eerie in his images in part created by the time taken, often in the strange light of twilight, which again adds to the intrigue. The images also have the look of ‘photo realistic painting and some of the smaller works i have seen by Crewdson demand close inspection to see that they are actually photographs. This all adds to the sense that there is far more to this work than the aesthetic.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdsons work has an almost fairy tail, other worldly quality even though he is using a clearly urban landscape at twilight. I was interested in the reference in ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame’ video to Crewdson’s father being a Psycho Analyst and the artist as a child hearing, without really being able to define what was being said as  his father worked with patients in a room below him in his childhood home. There is perhaps an ‘unconscious’ world being p in the portrayed in the twilight realm that Crewdson is creating in his work. This sense of the ‘psychological is to my eye further enhanced by the expressions on the faces of some of the subjects in the images as well as the nature of the ‘tableau’ he creates. The image below I feel illustrates this:

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The image, called ‘Daughter is quite disturbing, the look on the face of the mother and the posture of the half clothed figure creates a troubling but simultaneously  intriguing tableau that is certainly not a normal family scene. Stephen Berg (2015) suggests that Crewdson’s work uses a ‘supernatural ‘quality to portray american life, drawing upon the work of Gary Winnogrand and Walker Evans , but offering a very personal take. The work is edgy and disturbing and for me the heart of the psychological feel that the work creates is the tension between the aesthetic beauty inherent in his work contrasts with the disturbing themes he is revealing. There is also a tension between the sense of the ‘credible’ that the aesthetic nature of his images offer , contrasted with the troubling themes within the work. this drama adds to the sense of the psychological in the work. There are lots of references on line to the influence of Hopper on Crewdson, Hopper too offers a sense of the psychological in his work, perhaps the solitude evident in some of his work. Crewdson work has encouraged me to visit the work of hopper too.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

These are tough questions to answer, not least because it would be hard to compete with the beauty of Crewdson’s images whatever my motive for image making! That said I do strive in my own developing practice to produce something that is aesthetically pleasing even if the motive is wider or there is a more specific intent in the work. Why? Well I believe that engaging viewer can be assisted by a visually aesthetic image. The surrealist to an extent used beauty and intrigue to engage the viewer and Crewdson uses a cinematic approach to engage the ver with what i think is a much greater message, one of the things that sit bowl the surface where all might not be what it seems at first glance. I am reminded of David lynch’s work such as Blue Velvet, where the picturesque picket fence  draws us in but later reveals the immensely sinister. Beauty has a way of engaging! i think i need to reflect on this more though as i move to make assignment 5.


Berg, S (2015) quoted in Koetzle (2015)

Koetzle, H-M (2015) A-Z, Taschen, Koln

Gregory Crewdson II:

Perdidos en la ciudad. La vida urbana en las colecciones delIVAM:


Assignment 4 Submission (Original)

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

Copyright Robert Frank

Motorama – Los Angeles – Robert Frank

This essay interprets a single image, reflects on its meaning and places it in a wider artistic, historical and political context. It also presents personal reflection about a single image and the artist’s intent.

The image that is the focus of this essay is Robert Frank’s: ‘Motorama – Los Angeles’, taken from ‘The Americans’ published in 1958.

Frank, a Swiss born photographer needs little introduction, ‘The Americans’ makes a major contribution to photography’s cannon, described by Peter Schjeldahl[1], art critic of The New Yorker as: ‘‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’’

‘The Americans’ was the product of a road trip in three parts[2], over several years. On coming to America Frank’s association with Edward Steichen, then the curator of Photography at MoMA and with photographer Walker Evans led him to successfully secure a Guggenheim grant to fund the project.

Motorama – Los Angeles at first glance might appear one of the less iconic images in ‘The Americans’. The image denotes a dark scene that on closer inspection reveals the illuminated interior of a car seen thorough its windscreen. Cars and people framed through windows are recurring tropes in Frank’s work. This image isolates the windscreen in a sea of darkness, hints of chrome in the highlights imply an expensive automobile at night. The image alone reveals little about the cars location. The framing and printing[3] place emphasis on the car’s occupants. All are children, but one stands out in particular, his face half lit, half in shadow stares directly out at the viewer. It is this face, self-assured and assertive in its expression, flanked by the two others, both staring at this protagonist, as if seeking approval or waiting for instruction that creates what Barthes (1979) would describe as the punctum: ‘that accident which pricks or bruises me’. The interplay of the expressions of the car’s occupants raises questions to the viewer about the relationships of the occupants. The absence of adults and the unknown location present additional questions to consider.

The occupants, protected in a steel and glass sanctuary from the surrounding darkness and all that connotes, could be an allegory about wealth, class, race and division. The car as a symbol of prosperity is not new. Two decades earlier, Margaret Bourke White’s image[4] of African Americans queuing for aid in front of a hoarding depicting a white happy family through the windscreen of their car, anchors it as a symbol of American prosperity. The hoardings captions read: ‘World’s highest standard of living’ and ‘there’s no way like the American way’. Frank’s subtler image, like Bourke Whites earlier work, raises questions about the validity of Americas view of itself in the 1950s as a place of growth and prosperity. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s[5] two terms of presidency the administration only balanced the budget on three occasions. Frank’s image doesn’t refute that Americans have wealth and happiness, but rather that this is not universal or evenly spread.

But all may not be what it seems, Motorama was GMs annual show of its latest models. It’s likely that Frank made this image at the show in March 1956[6]. Does this contextual information shift the meaning of the image, now simply a group of boys sitting in a show car? Does it change what is connoted? Connotations are subjective and they may still be valid, but it raises questions about precisely what Frank was communicating in this work.

Frank’s work certainly provoked a range of reactions and has been used to question a nation’s view of its self, presenting an alternative view of America that chimed with the ‘Beat’ generation[7] who’s literature and poetry also challenged the assumptions about the American dream. As Jobey (2009) states:

“Frank’s book was condemned almost unanimously when it was first published, but for decades now it has been recognised as a work that identified a cultural shift in America; that showed the country back to itself, and more clearly than most of its inhabitants cared to acknowledge.”

However, Dunford (2011) presents an argument for Frank’s work being hijacked by commentators wanting to make political arguments about America in the 1950s. In doing so Dunford suggests they have robbed it of its aesthetic and iconographic content. He cites Frank’s work being referenced by sociologists without any use of or reference to an image at all.

Barret’s (1988) notion of the ‘external context’ of an image might help understand where Frank’s work has been located and how the connotations present in ‘The Americans’ have become a tool for political and or sociological critique, as he suggests: the meaning of any photograph is dependent on the context in which it appears.

What a single image can connote and how widely varying interpretations can be drawn suggests the viewer ultimately constructs their own meaning in spite of the rich and varied commentary available about Frank’s work and its meaning. It is perhaps through Frank’s own words that the best insight is gained into the meaning and purpose of this image and his wider work. Writing in the U.S. Camera Annual (1958) Frank says:

“My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.”

 Frank’s view of different facets of American life has certainly left an image in people minds, it might not however be the one he envisioned himself and in conclusion we might ask the question, does that matter?

 (1000 words –excluding quotes)


Peter Schjeldahl, Quoted in Dawidoff (2015)

[2] Sarah Kennel (2014) describes the three components of Frank’s road trip in her lecture to the Bowdoin College
[3] In researching this essay 8 distinct versions of the image were found with differing crops and varying degrees of darkness and light in the prints
[4] Bourke White’s image was part of an assignment looking at the impact of the 1937 flood of the Great Ohio River in Kentucky that displaced many residents. Source: Cosgrove 2014
[5] The Eisenhower Era 1952-1960- AP United states history Study Notes, found at: (Accessed March 2017)
[6] Motorama was only held once in Los Angeles during the period Frank was working on The Americans. Frank started his road trip in July 1955, too late for the only other time Motorama was in LA Source 1- Kennell (2014) Source 2- GM Archive found at:
[7] Beat Generation writers and artists such as Karouac, (who wrote the introduction to The Americans) Ginsberg and Burroughs questioned materialism, wealth and the inclusivity and equality in American society Source:


Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage Classics-Random House, London

Barrett, T. (1986)  Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts  Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. Found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Campany, D. (2014) The Open Road- Photography & the American Road Trip, Aperture, London

Cosgrove, B. (2014) Behind the Picture-The American Way and the flood of ’37, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Dawidoff, N. (2015) The man who saw America-Looking back with Robert Frank, the most influential photographer alive, New York Times Magazine found at: (Accessed March 2017)

 Dunford, T. (2011) Looking at Robert Frank’s “The Americans”- New English Review found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2012) Miss reading “On the Road” New English Review found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1958)  U.S. Camera Annual 1958 , p. 115 found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1959) The Americans, Stieidl (2008 Reprint), Gottingen

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable
Photographs, Tate Publishing, London

Jobey, L. (2009) Photographer Robert Frank: holding a mirror up to America, The Guardian, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Kennel, S (2014) Robert Frank: Nobody’s Home, Bowdoin College Lecture found at: (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2004) The Big Empty- The Guardian, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90- The Photographer that revealed America won’t look back. The Guardian found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Papegoerge, T. (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An Essay on Influence, found at: www. (Accessed April 2017)

Reflection and Self EvaluationAs noted in my preparation entry on my blog, I struggled with this assignment and needed additional time to complete it. This was in a large part due to spending too much time overthinking the whole exercise. I have learned something from this though through the difficulties I experiences. Sometimes you just need to produce a piece of work, ‘warts and all’ and just submit it, there is always scope to redraft based upon feedback. In this instance, I managed to create a significant block for myself by over thinking and worrying too much about my essay. I will try not to make this mistake again!

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills: I used my knowledge and Frank and his work to undertake further research in the preparation of the essay. My references demonstrate a genuine engagement with the assignment and I have tried to make good use of primary and secondary sources in constructing the essay. I have used learning from earlier activity in this course and in Expressing Your Vision to produce a coherent response to the challenge of the assignment.

Quality of Outcome: The essay meets the core requirement of the assignment but would benefit from critique and view in order to make a more robust response to the question. I see my submission as being partially complete.

Demonstration of creativity: This is a hard criterion in the context of an essay although I have used a range of sources and reflections on franks work to produce this essay. I think the range of material demonstrate an attempt to produce a worthy response to the assignment all be it an in complete one at this stage. I await tutorial critique in order to refine what I have produced at this stage

Context: In the context of this section of the course and the requirements in the essay remit I feel I have started to respond to the question. I feel that the issues raised and the position I have taken in this work demonstrate an appropriate engagement with this section of the Context and Narrative course, I have more to do though to not only refine this essay but also to develop my writing around art. I need also to be more succinct, I really struggled with the 1000 word limit, which I recognise is part of the challenge in effective writing about art

Summary: I have had a good stab at this assignment but I am dissatisfied with what I have produced. I have set myself the task of reading more about ‘writing about art’ in order to try and overcome the barriers I experienced in this assignment.








Project 1 Setting the scene – Exercise

 Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: [accessed 24/02/14]

Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions.

  • What does this scene tell you about the main character?
  • How does it do this? List the ‘clues’. 

Make some notes in your leaning log

What does this scene tell you about the main character?

This is a fast paced scene and a lot happens in the just over three minutes of the vignette. The pace is supported by the rhythm and time of the accompanying theme, ‘Then he Kissed me’ by the ‘Krystals’, produced by Phil Spectre. Every interaction the main character has with people on the journey from the parked car in the street all the way to the table being put out for hime in the club points to some one of importance and influence. There are hints of people wanting to make this character happy and there is a slight sense of menace in the wider context of the themes of the film. 

How does it do this?  List the ‘clues’.

There is a clear trail of close that give us insight into the character. Starting in the street with the money being handed to the concierge to watch the car, the bypassing of the queue into the club and the use of a different entrance, the tipping of the doorman and the comment from the doorman confirming that Ray Liotta’s character is known. The passage through the kitchen and other non public part of the club where encounters with the passers by again confirm this person is known and must be important if they are to by pass the usual way of getting into the club. arriving in the main club area the queue is bypassed again and the Maître d immediate turns his attention to the character, summoning three waiters who collectively set up a new table right at the front of the club near the stage all attentive on meeting Liotta’s characters needs. again he gives a large tip to the Maître d and no sooner has he been seated when surrounding customers greet hime cordially , followed by a bottle of white appears to be champagne arrives as a gift from an imprint loong individual at another table.  The cumulative affect of this trail of pandering and concern for his needs provides an narrative pointing to a person of importance and influence. 

It is a really well constructed and executed piece of cinema that kin three minutes gives the viewer a significant amount of information about this key figure in the film. W are left with a real sense of the life and influence of a ‘wise guy’ aka Mafiosa.