Tag Archives: Annie Leibovitz

Assignment Two – Collecting

The Brief:

To create a series of between 6 and 10 photographs, using the exercises from Part Two to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint.

I would have automatically chosen to do a series of landscape or botanical images, well within my comfort zone, but was encouraged by my tutor to do a series on heads, well outside my usual area of photography.

Heads: Frame a headshot, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in backgrounds. The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral.


I spent some time looking at portrait photographers. There are a large (and not always helpful) number of lists available of the 10 (or 50) ‘best’ portrait photographers. Most have a similar list of names, with Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, August Sander and Diane Arbus figuring prominently.  Many of the portraits are not a head shot, but are full length and show background to ‘set the scene’ and give wider information about the subject. Some that I found that met the above criteria and gave me ideas were (this list could have been much longer):

  • Diane Arbus – Blonde girl with shiny lipstick, N.Y.C., 1967
  • Diane Arbus – A woman with pearl necklace and earrings, N.Y.C., 1967
  • Steve McCurry – Haridwar, India,1998
  • Steve McCurry – Pul-i-Khumri, Afghanistan,2002
  • Annie Leibovitz – John Lennon, New York City, 1980
  • Annie Leibovitz – Merce Cunningham, 1994
  • Man Ray – Henri Matisse, 1925
  • Man Ray – Ernest Hemingway, 1923



I started in our local park where I go on a daily walk with my dog. Most of the photographs are of total strangers, a few I know ‘in passing’ to say hello to and two are family members. Having the dog with me was a good ice breaker, as usually she would pick the subjects for me by going up to them and standing at their feet. I then explained what I was doing and asked to take a photograph. No-one refused! There are three images taken inside, two at a show and one in a house.

Technical information:

I use a Panasonic micro 4/3rds camera, and used a variable focal length lens (14 -140mm, equates to 28 – 280mm). The camera was set to aperture priority and I used the widest aperture possible with the focal length used. Most of the images were taken with a focal length between 40 and 60mm, although occasionally longer if the person seemed uncomfortable with me getting that close to them. These settings allowed the focus to be clearly on the face and threw the background out of focus. If the person was standing, I stood, and if sitting on one of the park benches, I crouched down next to them so that I was taking the photograph level with their faces and not looking up or down at them.

All images were taken with natural light. I did not have a reflector, although have now acquired one, but it is too large to carry easily in my pocket.

Post processing was done in Lightroom, mono conversion in Silver Efex Pro2.

Success of series:

This was a completely new venture for me so I was very nervous about approaching the people, however it was easier than I imagined it was going to be. However, nerves undoubtedly did play a part and I was not always careful enough about the background or the position of the lighting. A reflector would have been useful on several occasions to allow better lighting of the face.

Talking to people before taking the photographs and getting some, however small, connection was useful and I felt they were more at ease and relaxed, therefore their expressions were more natural. Several of the people were wearing sunglasses, although it wasn’t particularly sunny, and I did not ask them to remove them as I felt this would have been too invasive.

I decided to use a monochrome conversion for the final images as this bought a coherence to the series and evened out the variable backgrounds and lighting conditions.

I did have difficulty choosing the final images so I decided to look for internal consistency. Several of the people were wearing headgear, varying from hats to glasses perched on their heads, so I used this as a focus for the series.


  • Positive
    • Talking to the people in advance
    • Using a large aperture
    • Keeping on a level with the face
    • Monochrome conversion
  • Less positive
    • Not having a reflector or alternative light source
    • Lack of confidence, so not always approaching people

Thoughts for the future:

This was an interesting venture and definitely one I want to expand on. Rather than taking very close head shots I would be interested in taking images of people in the setting that they felt comfortable with. Many of the people were also dog owners, so It would be interesting to take ‘man (or woman) and dog’ pictures, a modern day take on Keith Arnatt’s series ‘Walking the Dog’. Two of the images taken in this series, although not chosen as final picks, did have the person holding their dog close to their face, and this would be a concept worth exploring further.


Photobooks explored while looking for ideas.

Arbus, D. (1990). Diane Arbus. London: Bloomsbury.

Arbus, D., Phillips, S. and Selkirk, N. (2003). Diane Arbus Revelations. New York, NY: Random House.

Hurn, D., Grafik, C. and Arnatt, K. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot.

Leibovitz, A. and DeLano, S. (2011). Annie Leibovitz at work. London: Jonathan Cape.

McCurry, S. (2015). Portraits. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Newton, J. (2009). Helmut Newton. Koln: Taschen.

Pepper, T. and Warner, M. (2013). Man Ray portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery.

Sander, A. and Conrath-Scholl, G. (2009). August Sander. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel.



Stills Exhibition April 2017

The Collection Series:

Works from a private photography collection


Alan Dimmick’s studio archive, 1977-2017

The exhibition at the Stills Gallery consists of two contrasting halves.

Alan Dimmicks’ images from his studio archive consists of walls of images, 450 photographs of Glasgow life, taken over the last 40 years. People, places, portraits. The backs of people, birds on the shore, close details and broader sweeps. Some appear threatening, some banal, others amusing or sad.

Moira Jeffries says, in an essay that accompanies the exhibition, ‘an accretion of information…. four decades of social history……an accumulation and contingency……. the stories that haven’t been told, the histories that haven’t yet crystallised.’ (Jeffrey, 2017).

Dimmick said ‘It’s really always been people that have interested me most ‘(Albert Drive,2013) and ‘always have your camera with you [obviously] but also realise that images of quite ordinary things can be important in years to come, and keep your negatives neatly filed’ (Radcliffe,2012)

The overwhelming impression is of a snapshot of life, in all the grubby and fascinating details.

 Photographs taken and added with permission of the Stills Gallery, Edinburgh.

The second half of the exhibition is a series of images from the private collection of Scottish photographer Davis Eustace which includes a wide range of photographs from the whole of the 20th century. Images that particularly caught my attention were the Annie Leibovitz portrait of Merce Cunningham, dancer and choreographer, from 1994, a very personal and intense image that contrasted with the Chris Blott image, ‘Farmer’ also from 1994, showing a man looking away to the distance which reminded me of August Sanders portraits of ‘types’ from the People of the 20th century series.

My attention was also caught by three Images of beautiful females by Fabrizio Gianni who said ‘I’ve never been a photographer. I was a fashion photographer. They’re two different things’ (Jamieson, 2015). I considered these in the light of the recent article by Jansen in the British Journal of Photography discussing the different ways of seeing and image making between women taking pictures of women from men’s images of women ‘In the patriarchy in which we live, photography is an expression of power. The photographic act is often viewed as an assertion of masculine dominance’ (Jansen, 2017). Although I agree with Jansen’s premise (and look forward to reading the whole book – Girl on Girl) I found these images wistful and playful rather than orientated for the masculine eye.

Salt Pan by Edward Burtynsky was one of the few colour prints on show. It shows an  aerial view of a land that has been affected and changed by industry, the only sudden flash of colour is manmade, the rest grey, dead, alien. Taken in Gujarat, India in 2016 the series is an indictment on man’s treatment of our world. He says ‘(we) come from nature…. There is an importance to (having) a certain reverence for what nature is because we are connected to it…. If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves’ (Edwardburtynksy.com, 2017). Cotton, when describing Burtynsky’s work, says ‘Deadpan photography often acts in this fact-stating mode: the personal politics of the photographers come into play in their selection of subject matter and their anticipation of the viewer’s analysis of it, not in any explicit political statement through text or photographic style.’ (Cotton, 2015). The subtle colouring and detail drew me in and I found myself searching out the remaining images of the series.


Salt Pan #4 Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, 2016.

 Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London

Overall an interesting pairing, contrasting one man’s style and thought processes of image making with carefully chosen images from a single collector. The two men have contrasting styles of photography, Eustace is renowned for portraits of the stars, but also landscape and fashion while Dimmick concentrates on an area, Glasgow, and the city life in all its facets.

Well worth seeing.


ALBERT DRIVE. (2013). Alan Dimmick. [online] Available at: http://www.albertdrive.com/alandimmick/ [Accessed 11 Apr. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. ed. London: Thames & Hudson, pp.86-88.

Edwardburtynsky.com. (2017). EDWARD BURTYNSKY. [online] Available at: http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/ [Accessed 11 Apr. 2017].

Jamieson, T. (2015). Fabrizio Gianni: From assisting Sergio Leone to high fashion photography, via Falkirk. [online] HeraldScotland. Available at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/13211174.Fabrizio_Gianni__From_assisting_Sergio_Leone_to_high_fashion_photography__via_Falkirk/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Jansen, C. (2017). I’ll Be Your Mirror. British Journal of Photography, (May), pp.42 – 55.

Jeffrey, M. (2017). Fixing:The Archive of Alan Jeffrey.

Radcliffe, A. (2012). Photographer Alan Dimmick – interview. [online] The List. Available at: https://www.list.co.uk/article/41017-photographer-alan-dimmick-interview/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].