In Plato’s Cave: a Critical Essay by Susan Sontag

Critical Analysis of the First Essay in Susan Sontags Book On Photography (Andre Nagel, 2019)


In the first semester, I first encounter with Susan Sontag. To be honest, I must admit that at that time, I found the essay hard to read for many reasons. It challenged my vocabulary, my intellect and finally, my view on photography. This and the recommendation from my first semester tutors “to invest more time into contextual research to help develop a more critically informed practice to your own work and the reading of Sontag, Barthes and other critical theorists, including Berger’s ‘Understanding a Photograph’,” motivated this critical research and reading of Susan’s book.

Who was Susan Sontag and in what context did the write?

(, 2019)

Context is everything. Susan Sontag was an American writer and philosopher who throughout her career engaged in critical debate and commentary about modern society. Her comments in her critical essays on photography were directed to pre-digital photography practitioners. But before we start, we need to note her education and background.

Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and English literature (M.A., 1954) and philosophy (M.A., 1955) at Harvard University and taught philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford. (, 2019 and Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019).

What is important in this context is her critical commentary on modern culture and that ” she did nine works of nonfiction, starting with Against Interpretation and including  Illness as Metaphor, Where the Stress Falls,  At the Same Time, and two books that look at the photographic medium critically, On Photography (1977), and Regarding the Pain of Others. In 1982, FSG published A Susan Sontag Reader (, 2019).”

It is also important to note that Sontag was “a human rights activist for more than two decades, Sontag served from 1987 to 1989 as president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from which platform she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers (, 2019).”

(, 2019)

Sontag ” earned the National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography (1978).

Susan Sontag died in New York City on December 28, 2004.” (, 2019)

Sontag’s comments are about a pre-digital, pre-internet photography world. Once she wrote a book she will not revisit it. However, even if her commentary still applies, Sontag’s bodywork is in need of an update, a challenge I believe Fred Ritchin has taken up in his essays After photography 2008 and Bending the frame (2013). But more about that in future blogs.

My reflection.

In the foreword of the book, Sontag describes her approach, that if disregarded would lead the reader away from her intent.

Her progress and struggle with this text are best described in this foreword: “It all started with one essay – about some of the problems, aesthetics and moral, posed by the omnipresence of photographed images, but the more I thought about what photographs are, the more complex and suggestive they became. So one generated another, and that one (to my bemusement) another, and so on- a progress of essays, about their meaning and career of photographs- until I’d gone far enough so that the argument sketched in the first essay, documented and digressed from in the succeeding essays, could be recapitulated and extended in a more theoretical way; and could stop (Sontag, 2019, intro).”

At first, reading the first essay In Plato’s cave, I disliked the way she wrote, not giving me a structure to work with, feeling surprised and frustrated. Then it dawned on me. She was not teaching but presenting her critical reflections, a liberal ramble, a process in understanding her own thoughts. A path we should all walk and a key part of the MA programme. She freed herself from approval, used every part of her intellect and education to deliver an unprecedented philosophical discourse on Photography. She was not a photographer and did not claim to be one, but she pondered on what the truth is that create the reflections on the photographic wall of the cave, the photograph. She seeks to elaborate on the possible intent or truth of what a photographers purpose was when creating the reflection. The unseen reality behind the viewer. Plato had a passive view of the truth-seeking not to judge but to accept the truth without judgement. Sontag is hypercritical, almost sceptical as she related her thoughts with her experience with news photographers, documentary photographers and the ordinary citizen photographers she knew. She saw people taking photographs seeking to ” record social rites, a defence against anxiety and a tool of power (Sontag 2019, p 7)”. I can only speculate whether she was a mere sceptic or her theological studies made her believe in the depravity of mankind, or both.

The first part of the essay seems generic with short philosophical and logical tenants of some uncovered truths, sometimes a tongue in cheek treatment that infuriates most photographers, present company included. Eventually, as she progresses towards the end of the first essay the detail indicates an active resentment and disappointment in photography and photographers, probably due to her experience with war and poverty and the related passivity of the viewers. In this section, her discourses become longer and have more depth. Something she needed to pursue in the second book in this series: Regarding the pain of others. This depth of her resentment or disappointment is best described in the following quote: “When I looked at those photographs, something broke. Some limit had been reached, and not only that of horror; I felt irrevocably grieved, wounded, but a part of my feelings started to tighten: something went dead; something is still crying (Sontag, 2019, p 21).”

For the sake of brevity, let me rather list those tenants that I felt touched me and will affect my discourse on photography forever.

“Picture taking is an event in itself – to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore what is going on (Sontag, 2019, p 11) ” “often explicitly, encourage whatever is going on and keep on going on (Sontag, 2019, p 12).” And even stronger: “The camera does not rape or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and if at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate. All activities… which may be conducted from a distance, and with some detachment (Sontag, 1978, p 13) .” An ethical indictment to all aspiring photographers. However, it does spell out an ethical dilemma that each photographer needs to face. Especially documentary and Photo-journalistic photographers.

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or things), mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to times relentless melt (Sontag, 2019, p 16). ” As I age and experience the loss of loved ones, I cringe at how many photographs were never taken of both places and people, that now only live vaguely in my memory and will disappear forever after my death.

“Images that mobilise conscience are always linked to a given historical situation. The more general they are, the less likely they are to be effective. Sontag, 2019 p 17”. I find this tenant to be a truth to be used. In a post-apartheid South Africa, injustice and disparity have become invisible in the generality of the problem in the world. People just don’t want to know anymore. it’s still serious…and getting worse. but it is a worldwide phenomenon. To get attention to it may require finding ways to define it in a more unique way.

“Photographs are more memorable than moving images because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow… Each photograph is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again (Sontag, 2019, p 18).” A photographer once said that we need to learn to enjoy every click. I believe we should print those photographs and relive that experience. Yervant, and Australian master wedding photographer says that you can only call yourself a photographer if you print your work. The print is still a unique artefact to be prized. I wonder what Gary Winogrand would have said about this. He was more concerned about taking photographs than printing them. For him, the learning was complete when the photograph was taken. He left behind a legacy of undeveloped film.

“In the last decade, “concerned” photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it (Sontag, 2019, p 22) “. This reminds me of the recent photograph of the Sirian boy, Alan Kurdi, on the beach in Turkey. His story literally opened doors, but any more pictures of many others have closed the ears of many that fear the impact of helping those in need.

Aesthetic distance seems to be built into the very experience of looking at photographs, if not right away, then certainly with the passage of time. Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art (Sontag, 2019, p 22).” So don’t throw any photograph away!

I have come to believe that an insightful reading of Sontag’s works will improve my discourse in photography and her insights and approach develop me to understand myself as a photographer, my subjects and my photographs and to articulate this understanding. I still think she invites us to critically think about photography and come up with our views, even if we disagree with her views. I have taken up that challenge and will be recording my journey in future blogs.


Sontag, S. (2019). On photography. London: Penguin Books, pp.1-26. (2019). Susan Sontag. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2019].

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2019). Susan Sontag | American writer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2019].

Brassaï- Documenting Paris

Cover of Brassaï Paris, 1899-1984. Hong Kong: Taschen.

I have undertaken a tough task of developing what Stuart Franklin called the documentary impulse into a professional practice. My feedback received with regards to my work in progress portfolio included a recommendation that I study the aesthetics of masters in the craft of documentary photography. The purpose of this reflection is to develop my own eye and to learn how to converse within that genre.

Brassaï ‘s work has always fascinated me and it makes sense that he is the first master I would be investigating.

Context is everything. ” As a young man, Halász studied painting and sculpture at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and the Berlin-Charlottenburg Academy of Fine Arts. In 1924 he moved to Paris where he spent the rest of his life, joining a handful of other Hungarian emigrants including Robert Capa, among the greatest combat and adventure photographers in history, and André Kertész, the father of photojournalism, who later became Halász’s mentor (Aran, 2016).”

He became a prolific artist. He excelled in sculpting, draughting, photography and film. “But it is above all his work as a photographer which has won him his place in history ( Brasaii and Gautrand, 2008)”. All of these and Andre Kertesz influenced him in his approach and composition,  publishing his first collection of photographs in a 1933 book entitled Paris de NuitParis by Night, under the single name, “Brassaï”, meaning one who comes from Brașov (Aran, 2016). 

Gautrand described his photographic work as inhabited in tenderness, ability to respond to the outside world due to his permanent availability, both a receiver and reflector of the world around him. Henry Miller called him ” a living eye” whose gaze pierced through the heart of truth in everything. Like a falcon or shark, he quivers and then pounces on reality. For Jean Paulhan he was this man “this man who had more than two eyes”. For Picasso, he was a master draughtsman who insists on working in a Saltmine (Brassaï and Gautrand, 2008). In my view, he had a way of looking at the world without judgement, who through the development of friendships and a love for the city earned the right to take their photographs, whether they were nobleman, whores, poor labourers. Like Annie Leibowitz would do for Rolling Stone magazine years later, he immersed himself into the lives of those he photographed

Initially, using a Voightlander, he worked simply with available light, using long exposures on a tripod, and eventually the newly-introduced flashbulb. He knocked on doors asking to be allowed in to take pictures.

Figure 1 This Self Portrait was taken by Brassaï using his Voigtlander. Note the cigar he used to time his shots. (Eckart,2019)

In Figure 1 is also typical of his work. Using the ambient light he made a long exposure using Low ISO film. He liked photographing during misty nights or just after rain to get some reflections of the surfaces. Note the puddle in the background. His placement of himself looking out of the frame is deliberate to face into the lamplight or car making him and his camera the key element. And it is as if the image behind him represent the view he is seeing. The saccadic movement as a westerner starts from the left first pondering on his face and camera then traversing up and down taking the leading line from receding line towards infinity and the landing up with the bright lampost. It may seem that this structure may be contrived but even for a self-portrait, he would have planned it carefully. His planned exposure and personal handling of the tones are perfectly assigned.

“Brassaï was not a visual thief, that stole bits of reality that happened to come his way, but an artist with a conscious structured vision of the world to communicate. He knew how to project his sense of form with an energy that keeps it alive today (Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 p17).” Sometimes a voyeur but never a Sontagian flaneur.

“Pointing his camera through upper windows, Brassaï focused on conditions of mist or light rain creating strong moods and a tangible atmosphere. (Aran 2016).”

Figure 2 Morris Column, Avenue de l’Observetre, Paris 1933 ( Brassaï and Gautrant p39

In figure 2 illustrates Brassaï ‘s intense looking at form has produced remarkable compositions. The tower is the main element and is carefully exposed to allow for the lettering to be seen yet there is minimal exposure of himself. His own form brings scale into the picture. The secondary element is the play of light forming a tristar. Technically it must be remembered that Brassaï would have deliberately exposed for the dark end. He uses a dark on a light aesthetic which would only have been possible in the misty conditions. The mist reduces contrast allowing for a more evenly toned photograph

Figure 3 Two Girls in a Bar on the Boulevard Rouchechouart Paris 1932
( Brassaï and Gautrant 2008, p 79)

He also used mirrors to give different viewpoints of the main subjects of his photos. Although this was a relatively common practice in painting during the previous two centuries, he pursued it in his photographs more than any others had before. It is exactly in this area that his work is at its most documentary, even though many of his shots were deliberately posed. Upon reflection, many years later he wrote, “C’est pour saisir la beauté des rues, des jardins, dans la pluie et le brouillard, c’est pour saisir la nuit de Paris que je suis devenu photographe.“ “It is to know the beauty of the streets, the gardens, in rain and fog, it is to know the Paris night that I became a photographer (Aran 2016).”

Figure 4 Le Pont Neuf 1936 ( Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 P 36)

I find his greatest advice in an interview recorded in the Photo-Revue in 1997: “As a reporter, I hate slipshod Photographs… There are two gifts a which every man of images needs to be a true creator: a certain sensitivity to life, to living things, and at the same time, the art which will enable him to capture that life in a certain specific way. I’m not talking about pure aesthetics: a confused photo is just isn’t capable of penetrating the viewer’s memory. I’ve always felt that the formal structure of a photo, it’s composition, is just as important as the subject itself… you have to eliminate every superfluous element, you have to guide your own gaze with an iron will. you have to take the viewer’s gaze, and lead it to what is interesting”

Fig 5 Avenue de l’Observervatoire 1934 (Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 P 51)

However, it is the work among the peoples in the street that links him to my work and MA project. These relate to the people still experiencing the pains of the underbelly of modernisation and the existence of serfdom.

Fig 6 Tramps on the Quai des Orfevres Paris 1930-1932 (Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 P 45)
Fig 7 Rag Picker Paris 1931-32 (Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 P 59)
Fig 8 Another version not selected for the book (, 2019)

Figure 7 and 8 show two photographs of a Rag Picker. Figure 6 was published but Fig 8 not. It is clear that Brassaï framed the picture first and then asked the ragpicker to go ahead with his activity or to pose. He then changed his angle and the position of his light source and his lens. Fig 7 was taken with a wide-angle lens and Figure 5 with a normal lens He, however, did not change or position items in the scene. the bottle is observable in both pictures.

Meat Porter at Les Halles ( “The King of Ethiopia”) (Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 P 68)

Brassaï ranged his photographs from wide landscapes to close-ups. The projects took a number of years to complete. The fact that he published three books from this time indicated that he collected more than one project at a time. Paris at night was his commission. The seedy underworld was done at the same time as a personal project and he took some Paris graffiti which he published separately. These are a number of principles that hold true for documentary work until today.

I would have not considered using lighting in my work until now, but I did discover that it one has to engage with your subjects even if you want it to look candid. The direction is part of the job as it is the case with wedding photography.

Modern cameras provide opportunities that Brassaï never had. We have built-in light meters, digital sensors have no reciprocity problems and technologies made it possible for noise-free ISO levels that Brassaï would never have dreamt of. The dynamic range of digital cameras has just bypassed the range of 7 EV stops of black and white film and colour is now standard. The only exception is that digital performs in the same way as slides and one has to expose for the highlights and not the darkest legible detail. Portable light sources have improved so much allowing compositional opportunities. It is time to explore these new boundaries and see what we can achieve.

But in the end, it will require the same commitment in time, engagement with life and absolute control over composition and form.

Concluding in the words of Gautrand: ” This fact, this sense of restraint, underlies his extraordinary self-control. He took very few pictures, but when he did release the shutter, it was because he had reached or recognised a moment of concentration, of permanence, in which the essence of a situation was immediately visible. Each image, then, is a naturally occurring visual-emotional compound which demands to be taken as a whole (Brassaï and Gautrant 2008 P9).”


Aran, S. (2016). Paris Photographers: Brassaï, The Transylvanian Eye. [online] Bonjour Paris. Available at: [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].

Brassaï and Gautrand, J. (2008). Brassaï Paris, 1899-1984. Hong Kong: Taschen.

Eckardt, S. (2019). What Nightlife Looked Like in 1930s Paris. [online] W Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019]. (2019). [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Nov. 2019].

Forum: Telling A Story

The instructions for this weeks forum was that we had to choose seven photographs to tell a story for an assignment. I was too late to participate. I had two stories but decided to make it seven spreads instead.

Taking the lessons learned about storytelling discussed in “Unearthing the Photo Essay” I planned the story with the following strategies in mind. I needed to focus on getting an opening shot, a key-shot and a closer. The story also required photographs that filled-in the story and ideally, these needed to tell a story within themselves.

The first spread is the opening shot and could have been the climax of the story. Like in many magazines, this photograph would be used as a cover page or, as, I did use it the opening as my opening shot. I approached the layout using a Kinfolk minimalism as I believe that this type of story would interest their Hipster audience. Knowingly, I directed the text towards a thinking audience.

The space on the left is for the introductory text. I added the caption for this reflective exercise.

Frontpage – The Harvest Festival referred to as Sukkot by the Jewish People (Andre Nagel . 2019)
Alternative option within a Magazine (Andre Nagel, 2019)

My story is broken up in three parts. Buying the vegetables, travel home and doing the installation at our shed/church.

Spread 2 Introductory Photograph on the left From the farmland to the shop.
(Andre Nagel, 2019)

Photograph one introduces the first story and links the farmyard, shop and the shopper. This what Freeman calls an introductory photograph (Freeman, 2012). The triptych on the right enforces the message, the packer, the purchaser and trolley and finally, the infinite lines remind the viewer of the farmyard and accentuates the available abundance.

Spread 3: A full Spread of what I call a key shot for this series. The prices are recorded for posterity. ( Andre Nagel, 2019)

Spread 3 is deliberately large. The squares link it with the previous spread but it is such a powerful photograph that I decided that it is the climax of the shopping experience.

Spread 4; Transition between Shop, home and church (Andre Nahel, 2019)

Spread 4 is an interlude or bridge connecting my first story with the second. It has some humour and reality. I contrasted the sunlight and the darkness to give it a minor impact.

Spread 5 The Sukkot being prepared. ( Andre Nagel, 2019)

Spread 5 Introduces the Sukkot itself. It is an introductory photograph. The two photographs on the right show how it was decorated. In both cases, my wife’s gestures made these photographs special. They are not mere portraits or poses but tells a story.

Spread 6 Details of the display in the Sukkot (Andre Nagel, 2019)

In spread 6 I followed the story up with details of the display in the Sukkot, still lives, but here I even contrasted shapes and lines to give the spread an impact and dynamism.

Spread 7 a Triptych with the Punctum with a closing (Andre Nagel 2019)

Looking at spread 7, the triptych is a series that bring the punctum (point) to the story. The text is intended for thinking people to ponder on. It starts with a grinder to make coffee. To me, it symbolised the grinding up of faith by a modernist toolIf the content offends, then I want to make another observation. I have experienced this twice now, where some student has strong opinions on a subject. They forget that the photographer may or may not present something he feels strongly about or as a practitioner, he has to undertake an assignment that opposes his/her belief system. David Goldblatt has shown, that as a practitioner, it is possible to detach yourself from making a judgement on ideologies, politics, world and views and present the story or subject in the most honest way possible. Sometimes, you should even try to understand your subjects to photograph them. You don’t have to agree with them. We as students need not be judgemental about the subject matter of our peers and see what we can learn from their work and other master photographers. If it is about the practice, and as this is a photography course, we should reciprocate with creative and positive criticism with a particular focus on photography. with the red papers indicating caution. The message on the screen is in Afrikaans that proclaim God as the creator contrasting with the impact of modernist thought introduced in the text below. And then, the architectural drawing is an indication of hope and continuity of the faith community in a future for their belief system. The closing photograph seems to reflect the opening photograph, but now the Vegetables and flowers seem to extend from the Bible.

None of this was set-up. In fact, I used my cell phone to make myself less visible to the subjects in this series. It was my first exercise of this nature which I believe is a reasonable success that will take me forward from here.

If the content offends, then I want to make another observation. I have experienced this twice now, where some student has strong opinions on a subject. They forget that the photographer may or may not present something he feels strongly about or as a practitioner he has to undertake an assignment that opposes his/her belief system. David Goldblatt has shown, that as a practitioner, it is possible to detach yourself from making a judgement on ideologies, politics, world and views and present the story or subject in the most honest way possible. Sometimes, you should even try to understand your subjects to photograph them. You don’t have to agree with them. We as students need not be judgemental about the subject matter of our peers and see what we can learn from their work and other master photographers. If it is about the practice, and as this is a photography course, we should reciprocate with creative and positive criticism with a special focus on photography.


Freeman, M., 2012. The Photographers Story. 1st ed. East Sussex: ILEX

The Future of Photo Journalism

Kevin Carter in Black on Black violence in the Townships by Guy Adams (Neal, 2014)

The link between the Journalist and Documentary photographer is close. Especially the Socio-Political Documentary photographer. It is therefore essential to me to reflect on this article as it impacts on my practice.

New technologies, new platforms and new methods of visual storytelling are exerting a range of pressures and influences that require photojournalists to adapt and respond in different ways. (Hadland, Lambert & Campbell, 2016) The essay refers to a first international study done on the subject.

The article starts with a negative statement. It makes the statement that the place of the professional photographer has never been as potentially under threat as it is in the digital era. This is possibly the same remarks made by the scribes with the invention of the printing press. And painters after the discovery of photography. Both significant changes brought about a new ability for society in general to grow, were followed with:

  • Severe resistance by practitioners of the previous form,
  • Growth in eclectic work in the older practices
  • Moving their practice to the limits that the new practices could not achieve
  • Further technology improvements in their own traditions from either hybrid versions or tools.
  • The Printing press spread up the writing process and assisted democratisation of reading and writing; Photography resulted in a new understanding of how we see the world that found its way back and a greater appreciation for the practice of painting as well as sculpting. And both arguably brought about the enlightenment and significant parts of modernity itself.
  • Both led to the transformation and commercial growth of the newspaper and journalism as we know it today.

Boston Consulting predicted two years ago that by 2025 as much as a quarter of jobs currently available will be replaced by either smart software or robots. A study out of Oxford University also suggested that as much as 35 per cent of existing jobs in the U.K. could be at risk of automation inside the next 20 years. (Marr, 2019) This article highlighted ten professional careers that will be challenged. These jobs include some of the work Doctors and Surgeons do in Health care, Insurance Brokers, Architects, Financial analysts, teachers, Human Resources managers, Marketing and Advertising, Lawyers and Paralegals, Law enforcement and finally Journalists. Not only Photojournalist. According to F-stoppers, even Disney (Mason, 2019) and wedding photographers are being replaced with robots (Alexander, 2019).

There are already ethical discussions which include Bill Gates proposing a Technology or “robot tax to replace the Tax revenue that these solutions remove by replacing humans. He argued that it may be time to deliberately slow the advance of the next job-killing technologies (Waters, 2019)“.

Benoît Hamon, France’s Socialist candidate in his presidential elections, has called for a tax on robots to fund a minimum income for all (Waters, 2019)

This does not even consider the lost purchasing power of those that have been replaced. But this is another story. The article is focused on how Photojournalism is impacted by the new media.

Bottom line most jobs are under threat by technology. But also the low cost and automation now available to the audience. We have cell phones that make it easy to take, process and disseminate photos. We also have drones that can follow and record videos of them on behalf of the sportsperson or landscape which can be printed in high quality. Even Master Wedding photographer Yervant stated that video and photography are merging and advise wedding photographers to adopt the technology. Albums can be made from extracting it from continuous video graphed events. Taken at 25 to 50 frames per second. The decisive moments may be captured without effort. This could apply to any documentary work. The ordinary citizen progressively is getting the video capabilities introduced in their Smartphones

However, the point the article makes is that “The challenge to professional news photography goes far beyond job security, and is both multi-faceted and complex. The digital revolution has witnessed the transformation of the audience into producers, and with technology growing in power and shrinking in cost, a new generation of amateur and citizen image-makers has emerged.” And it is not only the emergence of visual media as a mass phenomenon that impacts on the future of the professional news photographer, nor is it changing work patterns or even ethical challenges. Professional photography, as this article confirms, is also an extremely risky occupation and is getting riskier (Hadland, Lambert & Campbell, 2016).

It was Stephen Covey that taught me that every contract needs to have a win-win situation. The product or service needs to provide sufficient value to the customer, and you need adequate income to cover your costs and make a fair profit to sustain a living wage. Or else walk away, which would also be considered a win-win. Due to electronic media and the internet, the value of the newspaper has declined to a level that it is no longer sustainable. To continue, if they can, they need to reduce their overhead which means cutting labour costs. But there is a limit to where this cutoff point is. The point at which is determined on what a journalist or photojournalist is willing to work for. To be a full-time professional Photojournalist their need to be a need address. They, therefore, consider outsourcing this to freelancers either directly associated with them or to the global or national media fraternity. Buying a photograph from an agency such as Magnum and others. Even news articles are made available to them via freelancing channels. They merely require a minimal team on a fix-term basis. The alternative is to move online either in a hybrid or total fashion. Here enter the citizen journalist and amateur photographer. The internet provides the news teams to locate cheap, unique and some time excellent photographs at a low cost at a sufficient quality that cover their need.

The citizen photographer, if shrewd enough, can make money from their moment of glory, making them part-time or momentary professional photojournalists. In my discussion in the previous semester around ………. I discussed the higher value brought about all types photographers that had a camera in New York being able to share their perspectives in the events in and around New York during the 911 attack on the trade centre. This was before the introduction of the cellphone camera. These photographers were within those environments. They were on-site and are experiencing the threat or risk to their lives already. There is no financial need for them to deliberately enter the danger zone but journal the event while exiting meeting the professionals going the opposite direction.

The study indicates in detail that this Physical risk experienced by 92% of the Photojournalists surveyed, which vary from country to country and where these journalists operate. Add to this the low-risk return ratio makes it less worthwhile to photojournalists to operate. The essay list this as one “of the digital era’s more alarming trends, with important implications for the sustainability of photojournalism.


Kevin Carter In action during the Township Violence in South Africa (1994) Ken Oosterbroek)(Neal, 2014)

The motivation for some South African photographers was the value they felt they were bringing to the world, to challenge the social injustice of apartheid, and due to international attention, it came with a reasonable return. This is, of course, a generalisation as the impact of his work and the low return led to the financial ruin of Kevin Carter, a Pulitzer prize winner who stated in his letter when he took his own life. He wrote, he was “depressed . . . Without a phone . . . Money for rent . . . Money for child support . . . Money for debts . . . money!!! . . . I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners . . . (Mcloud, 2019)”  So even eclectic work won’t do it. His professional life and ruin are reflected in the research graph below.

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Graph indicating the results of the survey (Hadland, Lambert & Campbell, 2016).

I have been recently offered R160-00 (less than $10) an hour for part-time work at a major newspaper in a job where I may have to put myself in harm’s way to get the story. And I have to cede the copyright, ownership and distribution rights to my photographs to the newspapers. I have seen a world-famous South African professional Fashion Photographer, that don’t even know how to set up her camera ( she bragged about it at a photo expo) that earned $1000 ‘s of dollars an hour at Vogue and other fashion magazines. Just see where our values lie in the world.


Self Portrait of Ken Oosterbroek: Who lost his life in Tokoza during Black on Black Township clashes in the pre-election violence in 1994 (Ken Oosterbroek, 1994).


I dedicate this video to him and all those that have fallen to bring us the news. Ken Oosterbroek. (2019). Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. ]

Without intent to disrespect those that do this work, I think this article gives a lot of food for thought for a photographer in any practice. As a documentary photographer, I need to make sure that my practice is a win for me and my customer. That means:

  • I need to give priority to assignments that ensure that I continue to grow and develop through allowing me to influence the creative outcome.
  • I need to work on creating a sustainable income by aligning myself to assignments that will result in repeat business and long term relationships.
  • Take on assignments that allow managing my risk of injury or death or after ensuring that I have done what I can assure that I am well compensated for taking that risk if I agree to accept the assignment.
  • Manage to ensure that I rediscover myself in a way that the demand for my work increase rather than decrease.
  • Learn to and run my practice as a business practice.
  • Ensure that I have a sustainable living wage to take care of the things and people that is important to me, such as my family and my community.
  • Ensure that I have sufficient income to update my equipment to stay ahead of the game.
  • Take on assignments that will not damage my brand and reputation. Do ethical work.
  • Make sufficient provision for retirement (too late for that for me), frailty care and ill health and benefits such as Hospitalisation and Medical aid. And provide for taking breaks.

I believe if I take all of the above principles into consideration, I will find the correct partners to work for and be able to sustain my practice in these changing times.

Otherwise, as discussed in this semester find a higher value job in the photography industry. Or both.

As far as photojournalistic practice is concerned, there may be some opportunities in that area. Still, if I carry my camera all the time (cell phone or DSLR), I may be ready if an event occurs and participate, but I won’t run into a burning building to get the story.


Adrian Hadland, Paul Lambert & David Campbell (2016) The Future of Professional Photojournalism, Journalism Practice, 10:7, 820-832, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2016.1163236

Marr, B. (2019). Surprisingly, These 10 Professional Jobs Are Under Threat From Big Data. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Mason, S. (2019). Petition Goes Viral: Do Not Replace Disney Photographers With Robots. [online] Fstoppers. Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Alexander, J. (2019). Eva the Robot Photographer Just Shot Her First Wedding. [online] Fstoppers. Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Waters, R. (2019). Bill Gates calls for income tax on robots | Financial Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Mcloud, S. (2019). The Life and Death of Kevin Carter. [online] Available at:,9171,165071,00.html [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Neal, L. (2014). How Photojournalism Killed Kevin Carter. [online] All That’s Interesting. Available at: Http:// [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Ken Oosterbroek. (2019). Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Creative Brief by Director of Photography for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine and Port – Emma Bowkett

This is the third in a trilogy of interviews on the current commercial photography which include Lydia Pang on Commissioning and Gem Fletcher.

Extracts included in this blog is from The Creative brief by Emma Bowkett, highlighted within quotations in italics. (Bowkett 2017)

Emma Bowkett (Lathigra, 2019)

Emma Bowketts Background

Emma Bowkett’s interview confirms the shared background from the previous interviews in the corporate environment. She had a higher education, interned for a professional photographer, taught photography full-time at a UNI and did part-time work at the magazines where she wanted to work, before being hired as their director of photography. As in the case of Pang and Fletcher, she shares how they work collaboratively and how she is responsible for matching photographers with assignments.

Who she hires at a magazine or newspaper.

What tickled my interest is how Bowkett seem to find balance in the tension between “the most important thing about her job to be building up relationships with photographers, and gaining an understanding of their practice” , “The supporting of emerging talent”, “often work with graduates who are still developing.” and ” sourcing new talent and photo series.” Looking at FT weekend magazine I can see how the variety of photographic interpretations affected the covers and the stories.

She also source photographers she admires (Photojournalisticlinks, 2019)

FT Weekend magazine – Helen Mirren cover (26/27 February 2011)
FT Weekend magazine- Bernie Madoff cover (9/10 APRIL 2011)
FT Weekend Magazine © Stan Douglas, Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, New York and Victoria Miro, London. (Photojournalisticlinks, 2019)
FT Weekend Magazine © Stan Douglas, Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, New York and Victoria Miro, London. (Photojournalisticlinks, 2019)

Bowkett provide what Freeman refer to as ideal assignments, where the commissioner pair a photographer to an assignment and a in-house assistant from the magazine and the photographer “allowed to define the story, which in turn shapes the visual identity of the magazine”. There seem to be some trust in the ability of the photographer to complete the task. Therefore she may be looking for photographers with proven track record and a distinctive visual language and style that matches the assignment. But she will also give opportunities to emerging talent

How does she find her photographers?

When asked this question in another interview with photojournalistlinks she replied “Galleries, social media sites, magazines, blogs, agents, recommendations. I try to see two photographers’ books a week because I like talking to photographers about their personal projects face to face when I can. Attending private views, talks, and events are a good way to meet new photographers and build relationships ” (Photojournalisticlinks, 2019)

What she expect from a photographer and their pitch.

Bowkett prefer conceptual thinking photographers. and advises that the photographer do their homework to first “recognise and understand the type of work that the publication showcases and then it is up to them to show how their own work would be a good fit within that context/aesthetic.”

She is very specific how a pitch should look like.” A pitch should be emailed, a PDF or selection of around 10 pictures if the project is complete, and a concise description of what it is about. There should be a link to a website and contact details. If it’s a photographer introduction, similar rules apply

Bowkett also advise that a prospective photographer use social media but curate their work carefully. I assume she means that it should contain fewer but high quality work representative of the photographers distinctive visual language.

If you have your stuff together she invites you to email her, She will first look at your social media sites and decide if and when she engages.

Looking at interviews with Art Directors and other industry it is a clear way of understanding how they work and how one should approach them. It is also very important to do your homework and assess whether you are a fit before you start.


Bowkett, E, Creative Brief Emma Bowkett 2017, 1854 Media, London.

Lathigra, K. (2019). Emma Bowkett. [image] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2019].

Photojournalisticlinks. (2019). Photo Editor of the Month: Emma Bowkett of FT Weekend Magazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].

Towards Understanding Your Kinfolk

A “Hipster” as I remember it (Riera, 1968). 

I was an 11-year-old boy at the end of the 60’s and the hipster was a low cut pants commonly worn by men and women, but looked great on women. They continuously revisit fashion in various forms.

Knepworth 1979 Hipster still going strong, By then I was 20 (Evening star/Getty images, 1979)

So you may understand the need for me to look the term up and I found this delightful definition:

Hip: Originally “hip” or “hep” meant someone very fashionable in the first half of the 20th century. It evolved to mean someone into jazz and beatnik culture in the 1940s and 50s, and changed further still into “hippie” to describe flower children of the 60s. Today it’s changed again to “hipster,” meaning a self-aware, artsy person.
“My hip grandfather plays the sax, but my hipster brother just makes homemade pickles.”
(YourDictionary, 2019)

So  Kinfolk is magazine for someone that likes to make pickels? As I am not a millinial I had to get a reference to even understand the interview. 

A sample of a Kinfolk publication cover page (Fashion In The Media Project, 2019)

“With its focus on wellness”, not free sex, drugs, booze, folk music and rock and roll. “Minimal interiors- not the outside in a park and crashing at a friends place, living in a “Combi”, or tepee and being too anti-establishment to live in the suburbs or own a home. Artisanal food- Good foods, not vegan and eating it raw from the abundance of the world. “Kinfolk has been labelled the hipster’s style bible.” Hell, we used to call people like that “Squares!” Just joking!

Sample minimalist layout of Kinfolk book (Fashion In The Media Project, 2019)

Every time I stand in front of a contemporary newsstand I am left with an impression that photography is not worth anything as the front pages are littered with text selling what is inside the magazine. Its noise virtualy obliterating any visual message.

Cluttered Bookshelves – CNA Boksburg South Africa by Andre Nagel (2019)

How refreshing to see a book that values and puts photography in its right perspective. Using visual language instead of text to invite the reader to purchase the magazine. Inviting instead of trapping. It almost is a coffee table book that will look good lying around in a minimalist lounge.

Uncluttered bliss that can be used as a display in a minimalist home. (Fashion In The Media Project, 2019)

“The standout success among new-wave (Contemporary) indie (independent) magazines, it’s become a lifestyle brand in its own right, thanks to its pared-down photography and uncluttered design.”

Target Market

“Founded by Nathan Williams, his wife and two friends (Doug and Paige Bischoff) they intended the magazine to reach young professionals. The magazine started to reach the masses as they were drawn to the intimate and earnest nature the magazine (which is so relatable) and often not made a central focus in big magazines. Now, Kinfolk also reaches a younger audience that look for cultural and creative magazines. Around 70 per cent of its readership works in the creative industries, according to Williams.’ (Fashion In The Media Project, 2019) “ 

The interview

But seriously, or do I need to say “Bruh” ( in Afrikaans it slang brother or buddy), it is a great interview with Julie Cirelli, the then editor-in-chief of Kinfolk Magazine. She has since moved on to become the Editorial Director at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in Cambridge (Julie Cirelli, 2019).

Woman with a vision (Julie Cirelli, 2019)

This interview in itself illustrates what style means, and what it means to understand your audience and customer. It also demonstrates how the understanding of your brand identity and style allows Cirelli and her team to collaborate to create a magazine that reflects her statement. ” Its objectives remain the same: to examine the complex elements of each person’s deeply personal narrative and explore the foundations of a well-lived life” and the founders vision”

It is done so uniquely and authentically that many others try to mimic it and fail. They understand their customer and market, their “Kinfolk”. Minimalists crave association and this magazine is the hub that values their views. And it is the reason why this independent magazine is a success where others fail or follow.

It is my impression that their magazine design layout does not want to emulate the internet and in-fact provides something that gives the “hipster” a break from their computer and cell phone by providing a larger format, uncluttered gallery styled layout and an expanded view. They present text and images in unsurpassed quality on alternative paper stocks to ensure a tactile experience. To top all the magazine experience is augmented with a matching website and a gallery space in Copenhagen.

And finally, they subtly use a non-invasive, contextual approach to selectively and subtle lifestyle marketing which really appeals to the targeted audience. They are an example of art and commerce converging.

In spite of their non- commercial stance, business strategy and planning pop up all over in the interview. Core values, objectives, goals, mission statements are reminiscent of an MBA class. In a way a perfect strategy eclectically and perfectly executed. Something all of us as professional photographic practitioners should aspire to. Cerelli also affirms the one criteria common in all successful ventures and individuals. Well directed, committed sweat equity.

“Did the magazine create the culture of visual conformity, or was it just perfectly placed to take advantage of it?” Translated, are they creating copycats or are they exploiters of it. In my opinion, they appear to be a successful service business that knows how to align with their clearly defined customer base and may even illustrate the resolve and ability to transform as this audience evolves over time. The photography in the magazine will follow the story-line and vision and will, therefore, develop over time. anyone else following will be a conformist being drawn into the allure of this eclectic work.


Cirelli, J. 2017, Kinfolk, 1854 Media, London.

Riera, T. (1968). a Hippie with his kid- take in Vondelpark, Amsterdam in 1968. [image] Available at: [Accessed 23 Oct. 2019].

YourDictionary. (2019). 30 Examples of Slang Words. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Oct. 2019].

Julie Cirelli. (2019). About — Julie Cirelli. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2019].

Fashion In The Media Project. (2019). Kinfolk Magazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2019].

Evening Star/Getty images (1979). Happy Hippie, Knebworth. [image] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2019].

Forum – My Market

For this week’s forum discussion, we were tasked to think about your current market and audience and whether they were the same. We had to think about who we would like to call our market and audience in five years time and how we plan to get there.

I am currently in an in-between space. I am shifting from a passionate amateur photographer, part-time photography educator and part-time wedding photographer  to something being defined at the moment.

As Ludre, my current business,  I planned to lift my wedding photography to a high-end market and doing it full-time. As an individual I planed to qualify as an an educator.  The latter was the main motivation for doing the MA. My market and audience is currently  mid-income groups for both wedding and education which is fine for part-time work. However, my photographic classes have introduced me to high-end photographers amateur photographer and business men and that encouraged me to expand this endeavour and they made see the value I can provide to my customers.

I never published any of my private project work. As I prepared my own examples for my photography master class curriculum my portfolio grew and improved as a photographer. Being forced to share my photographs in my lectures and to market my course to prospective students on my website, proved to be a liberating experience. My work was exposed to a new audience, which was not my market at that time. The sharing  led to an artist offering to pay me for the rights to use my work to paint. At first, I wanted to give her the rights for free but she insisted to pay me a rate I did not expect. I believe it is this work that helped in my motivation to get into Falmouth University. But financial gain is not my main purpose. Teaching and seeing your students grow is a reward much larger. A student of mine, who purchased her first SLR camera during my class, exhibited her photographs on request in Milan this year. She acknowledged my influence in this and is going from strength to strength. This is priceless.

With my retirement looming, I altered my business plan to engage with the mid to high-end consumer market. My MA in photography is  part of my development plan to see I could pursue my new found passion, the education of photographic students. The MA, Gem Thatcher and Lydia Pang have put a major spanner in the works though.

Its dream time…

In five years, I now see myself as a highly capable independent creative that collaborates with young creatives on meaningful visual projects in whatever role I can find, where I can apply my knowledge of photography and my abilities to work in creative design assignments. My customer would now be corporates  (commercial and art-based ), which create web-based editorial sites and digital magazines and publish in museums on digital media and if were lucky prints. I hope to generate a living wage from this. I also see myself doing lectures at higher learning institutes with the aim of either creating my foundation or to actively develop young creatives in the art and business of photography. This means I will need to change my business plan, target the corporates  and engage with creatives I already know that work in the industry. My next project needs to be a creative project that features some form of photography. I will continue doing self personal projects until I get too busy to doing commissions that leverage of my vision and skills and allow myself to grow as an artist. By that time I want to have concluded my PhD.

In five years time I will be 65. David Goldblatt (80) passed away last year. He is recorded saying that he had a great future for the next 30 Years before embarking on a personal project to to follow his idol, Ansel Adams, in photograph landscapes.  I believe that I have 40 years left. And if I don’t it won’t matter. I would rather go with camera in hand when it happens.

“Don’t challenge my goals with “reality”….it’s too limiting. I will achieve more without considering it.”- Andre Nagel

It may seem ambitious, but hell it’s my dream…

Is Photography Art? And is Art a Commercial Endeavour.

These two questions were the central focus area of this weeks investigation.

 Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II fetched £2.7m in 2011, setting a record for any photograph sold at auction. Photograph: Andreas Gursky/AP Photo/Christie’s

The question of whether photography is art was initially raised in 1853 at the Photographic Society in London. And as the Guardian succinctly stated in 2012 “over the past few decades the question has been heard with ever decreasing frequency. When Andreas Gursky’s photograph of a grey river Rhine under an equally colourless sky sold for a world record price of £2.7 million last year, the debate was effectively over. As if to give its own patrician signal of approval, the National Gallery is now holding its first major exhibition of photography, Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present (Prodger, 2012).” A teacher and student guide is available at

Many art museums and private galleries, now have collections of photography, host exhibitions and preserve the photographs for the prosperity. a great number of photographs have found their way into private collections. They adorn the walls of restaurants and private homes and is proliferated on the internet and social media. It is now unequivocally understood as a unique art form that may be closely associated with painting. And finally, the ability of this art form to generate and income for its practitioner has been effectively illustrated. My Photography business slogan “The Art of capturing Dreams” was justified when I learned that the documentary genre is well-represented at MOMA.

The unresolved debate, which applies to artistic endeavours, is around what is the measure of great art. Is it a commercial validation, i.e what will someone pay for it, or the authenticity of the vision that the artist wishes to present in his art? Or is it the difference in mastery and skill of the artist? This week has buttoned it up for me… it is all of the above or none. Artworks are assessed and curated but in itself protest against such an evaluation as each individual shouts out to be heard in this highly populated and saturated world. Photography has become the predominate voice available to all that which to participate.

This week reinforced the idea that, as a photographic artist, we need to retain our authorship and develop our own unique voice. This week’s lectures, interviews and readings presented the case that this artistic endeavour may lead to commercial success, as it is sought after in the industry. However, it comes with a caveat, commercial success may lead to its demise. I have come to realise that photographic artists should endeavour to ideally control their authorship and creative influence in commissions or do personal projects to grow it.


Prodger, M. (2012). Photography: is it art?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 22 Oct. 2019].

Forum- Art and Commerce

For many years I have been working as a part-time professional Photographer in the wedding, event and portraiture industry. I had full-time employment as an IT professional.  The purpose of commercial photographic work was mainly to support my private passion for photography and to be able to purchase high-end equipment for this passion.  About 5 years ago this passion resulted in another income stream where I undertook to share my knowledge by teaching my skills to budding photographers through a set of focused classes.  Up to that point I rarely shared my private work and “projects” being too sensitive to criticism. A shared artists problem… But my students encouraged me to break through this barrier.

Since July 2019 things changed for me. I was retired by my current employer at the age of 60 due to the slump in the IT industry. in 2018, knowing that this could become a reality, I started to investigate how I can convert my passion into a full-time photography career. I developed my business plan with the help of peers and training and research to determine what I needed to do to be able to convert to a full-time photographer by June 2019.

My research led me to various options., to become a full-time high-end wedding photographer, develop my skills to become a free-lance photographer or see if I can get into an education position.  The latter being my preference. Most of my research informed me to split my vernacular and my artistic endeavours.  I formally registered my photography business but separated myself as a Freelance Photographer and educator in a personal capacity. I believe that this would allow me to hire and train other photographers on a part-time or full-time basis to collaborate in my wedding business venture and keeping my personal brand as a photographer and educator separate. 

From the outset,  I decided to let the MA develop my personal brand and practice as opposed to the Wedding photography business focusing on documentary photography.  Photographing weddings is extremely demanding and I don’t see myself doing it for more than 10 years. By then I should be able to sell the business or run it purely as a business owner.  During Week 2 where we focused on other careers in Photography, I was introduced to the different levels of professional photography. It confirmed that if I apply what I am learning in this programme I can move myself to do projects at the corporate level and choosing endeavours and projects that I love without compromising my income.

That being said, my love for photography was never driven from a commercial intent but my love for the medium. Developing training material has led me to undertake personal projects. Most master photographers are acknowledged for their personal projects rather than their commercial work even if they were great at it. e.g. Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Jay Maisel, David Goldblatt and many more. Personal projects kept them sane and committed to their work for there lifetimes. It is my resolve that the need to earn a legal tender won’t derail my path to express myself and kill my passion. I am still able to generate double my photographic income from part-time IT consulting, This enables me to be selective of commissions And allow me to focus my attention on worthwhile personal and commercial photography projects. the aim is to eventually free me from this “Golden cheque”.  This income is also funding my MA. I aim to have this “long walk to freedom” co-inside with the completion of my MA.

I believe that I have developed my own style over time and continuously look for ways to improve and expand on it. Every subject has its own lessons to teach. and Personal projects and focused research has always paid off in my photography.  Wedding photography has stolen has done what Michael Freeman predicted, The mundane and drive for income has stagnated my photography development and I need to as Jay Maisel recommend… “Walk slower” and learn again to appreciate and enjoy every click. 


Oh. That ghastly on-camera flash!

Alexander Coggin- On Authorship

I start this discussion with a digression to reflect on what went through my mind during this exercise. The focus on my opinion is important here for indicative and reflective purposes.

Before listening to this podcast I viewed Alexander Coggins work on the internet and I was genuinely unimpressed. His overuse of on-camera flash in every shot gave me the impression that he never developed a proper skill. I was, and maybe still am, very judgemental. Yet Coggin owns it by proclaiming: “I love flash!”

The main reason for my reaction is that I am predominantly an available light photographer that rarely use flash, only in times that it is really needed and with a definite purpose. Like him, I am self-taught, and I developed my skill over many years but we seem to have taken different paths. I seek technical perfection… try to perfect exposure in-camera under many difficult conditions and then make fine adjustments in the digital darkroom. I was taught the skill by reading the books by Ansel Adams, Michael Freeman, and Chris Wesson and hours of work perfecting it in practice, learning and applying the zone system and exposing to the right, and then learned how to to use over and underexposure for creative purposes. And yet Coggin gets accolades because he consistently overexposes his images blowing out details he so vehemently says he wants to keep.

Due to my wedding photography work, I have learned to perfect the use of on-camera flash and off-camera flash, high key and low key photography and he can blatantly talk in disgust about others that use artificial light such as tungsten light. I often make use of the artificial lights in the room and adjust white balance. I use flash to fill in or augment the available light in the way that Annie Leibowitz does or sculpt my subject as Monty Zucker did. And Coggin use uncontrolled overpowering daylight flash all the time!

I did not develop these skills to copy the work of others but to learn how to use the skill to tell my story or present my aesthetic. At the age of 20, I was taught by Axel Bruch (in his book) how to compose simple and complex pictures in those and break the rules when I have a purpose. Ansel Adams taught me pre-visualisation and adjusting perspectives using lenses. I always look at composing my photographs in my own unique way. I even let intuition allow me to do so under rapid shooting opportunities such as street photography. I don’t know whether people see my work as authentic, but I know that it is my work, my visual language and my story. Sometimes good, mostly not good enough and occasionally perfect.

Michael Freeman taught me how to use aperture and exposure times. I have learned how to use a shallow depth field with hair with accuracy to direct my reader’s eyes to what I want them to see and how to use motion blur for a sense of movement. And Coggin always uses a closed down aperture and short exposure times to get everything in sharp focus as he wants to be able to view the photograph in all its detail.

I must admit that due to all of the aforementioned factors, Coggin’s use/abuse of flash made me deaf to his visual language. I did not want to even listen to this podcast and eventually convinced myself to listen to it. I am glad I did, and now need to eat humble pie. This technical flaw is deliberate and he can explain it. I still believe his use of flash, which he attributed to the use of cannabis in his initial photography years and the association with the spotlight on stage, equates to someone identifying the author because he uses red ink. But it is his view on authorship and his eloquence to describe it that impressed me.

Whether one person writes stories for one-year-olds or a classic Novel. They’re still authors and both works of Art. As long as they share their vision. But would both be called masters in their craft?

In Coggins case, he is a master! A master of his own vision, his own identity, his own selection of assignments. He has a certain discipline to stay with his vision. As he would put it: “He has his sh*t together”. He knows and owns who he is. And people see it and take note. He gets assignments based on his viewpoint and aesthetics.

While listening to his podcast I reviewed his photographs and started seeing it with different eyes. I discovered a person with authenticity and an original and unique point of view on photography and in his photographs. Someone that can teach me many things in terms of storytelling. His theatre background taught him to see things that I don’t.

While I need to agree with both Coggin and Thatcher about the influence of higher education always comparing your work against masters, I have found great value in the master’s techniques. But I say this carefully, as it is has been proven that the ability to think out of the box is inversely proportionate to education. Our creative work is always influenced by the works we study.

Hermeneutics in Photography

The exercise made a connection in my mind with another discipline I learned in my theological studies, Hermeneutics. In Biblical interpretation, I was taught that context is everything. What I have discovered this week is that photography is exactly the same. You need to know the author (photographer), know what type of literature it is (genre), for whom it was written ( the intended viewer) and how they would interpret it ( how original viewers read and understood the picture), how the current audience interpret it (how the current audience view it). In his case, it made all the difference in how I interpreted his work.

In terms of authorship and the interpretation of the work, this makes a lot of sense. And I want to explore this hermeneutic approach with every future photographer’s work I look at and in future blogs. It’s not about me approving his work or make judgement calls whether it is good or not. He has his own story to tell and own. I must just seek to understand their work and see if I can learn something of value, photographic or even better about life.


Fletcher, G. (2019). Alexander Coggin – On Authorship. [podcast] The Messy Truth. Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].

Making Pictures. (2019). Alexander Coggin | Making Pictures. [online] Available at: 21 Oct. 2019].

Coggin, A. (2019). Alexander Coggin. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].