Photo Work: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice

I recently picked up a copy of “Photo Work: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice“, Edited by Sasha Wolf.

The introductory blurb on Amazon.com describes the books as follows:

PhotoWork is a collection of interviews by forty photographers about their approach to making photographs and, more importantly, a sustained body of work. Curator and lecturer Sasha Wolf was inspired to seek out and assemble responses to these questions after hearing from countless young photographers about how they often feel adrift in their own practice, wondering if they are doing it the “right” way. The responses, from both established and newly emerging photographers, reveal there is no single path. Their advice is wildly divergent, generous, and delightful: Justine Kurland discusses the importance of allowing a narrative to unravel; Doug DuBois reflects on the process of growing into one’s own work; Dawoud Bey evokes musicians such as Miles Davis as his inspiration for never wanting to become “my own oldies show.” The book is structured through a Proust-like questionnaire, in which individuals are each asked the same set of questions, creating a typology of responses that allows for an intriguing compare and contrast.

I initially found the first few interviews to be somewhat boring, but after reading more I started to develop an interest in the way these photographers think and work.

Now I’m not much of a photographer. I’m passionate about photography and take quite a lot of photographs, most of them not particularly good. I’ve never exhibited (and probably never will) and have only produced a few photobooks, largely for myself and my family. I hope to do more, but so far…Other that that my primary mechanism for sharing my photographs is social media.

So I decided that it might help me if I tried to answer the questions myself.

First camera

For many years I would have said that it was a Minolta Hi-matic 7sII given to me by my wife many years ago. Then one day, while cleaning out some drawers, I came across a photograph of my father with our dog. I’d completely forgotten about this photograph and it reminded me that I had once had another camera: A Kodak Brownie Vecta. My friend had a camera and a dark room and I had to have one too (a camera that is not a dark room). I was about 11 years old and my interest soon waned. I think I only used it once.

First Meaningful Photobook

The earliest memories I have are of books in the Time Life photography series. Also “The Camera” by Ansel Adams. Even though these have lots of pictures, I’m not sure that they would be considered as “photobooks”. Probably the first real photobook was “Atget” by John Szarkowski. I’m fascinated by Atget to this day.

First meaningful exhibition

I grew up in a working class family in the North of England. Visiting exhibitions was not something that my parents would have found useful or necessary. When I went to university I was too busy studying other things to consider looking for exhibitions and to be honest in those days I was more interested in music and literature than in photography. Later I moved from the UK to New York, got married and had a family. Only some time later, when my interest in photography grew did I think about going to exhibitions. I recall going to exhibitions of Strand, Steichen and Stieglitz at the Metropolitan Museum; Garry Winogrand also at the Met, and Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastião Salgado at the International Center of Photography.

Personal Fact

For many years I was obsessed with time, waking up every 15 minutes or so for a second or two to check the time. I still am to some extent although much less so since I retired.

What comes first for you: the idea or a project, or individual photographs that suggest a concept?

Usually the individual photograph. I wander around taking photographs that interest me. Usually this results in a collection of individual photographs. Occasionally, however, it might occur to me that I’ve already taken some similar photographs and this can cause me to start to look for yet more similar photographs thus leading to a project. Rarely I’m reading something that suggests to me an idea for a project.

What are the key elements that must be present for you when you are creating a body of work?(Social commentary, strong form, personal connection, photographic reference…)?

The photograph must have a subject, which I find interesting. After that probably can I make a good composition out of it: Light, form, line, shapes, texture, patterns etc. If the photograph has some kind of personal connection then so much the better. Very occasionally I might take a photograph because it reminds me of a photographer that I admire. Social commentary never enters into it.

Is the idea of a body of work important to you? How does it function in relation to making a great individual photograph?

For a long time the idea of a body of work was not important to me, but I’ve since changed my mind and find the idea of a number of related images, structured in a way that makes the whole greater than the original photographs to be appealing. I like to tell stories. Ideally, of course, I’d like them all the photographs to be great individual images, but I’m willing to include lesser images if they further the overall story.

Do you have what you might call a “photographic style”?

I wish I did, but unfortunately I don’t feel that I do at the moment. I can’t imagine that any one would look at any of my photographs and recognize that it was by Howard Dale. I don’t have that talent – maybe never will.

Where would you say your style falls on a continuum between completely intuitive and intellectually formulated?

Initially completely intuitive when I take the pictures. If I”m later organizing them, say for a photobook then the more intellectual side kicks in.

Assuming you now shoot in what you would consider your natural voice, have you ever wished your voice was different?

I’m not sure that I have a “natural voice” at the moment. If so I don’t recognize what it is. This being the case I’ve never wished that my voice was different. However, if I did someday develop my “natural voice” I can’t imagine that I would wish it to be different. I am what I am and have no wish to be anything else.

How do you know when a body of work is finished?

Sometimes it’s obvious e.g. you a dealing with a finite number of pictures and you’ve taken as many as you can. I once took a series of pictures at a nearby air museum. I took all that I wanted to take and don’t imagine that I’d want to go back and take more. Sometimes a body of work never seems to end. There is always more to add. Sometimes I just run out of steam and call an end to the process.

Have you ever had a body of work that was created in the editing process?

Almost every time. Once I’ve started on a project I end of with a lot of images. Deciding what to include and what to leave out is to me possibly the most difficult part of a project. I have a general idea of what story I’m trying to tell so organizing the images so that they support this story is very important.

Do you associate your work with a particular genre of photography? If yes, how would you define that genre?

One of my weaknesses is that I have not yet managed to focus on a single genre. I bounce around from one to another. I do, however, have some idea of genres that don’t interest me all that much: commercial photography; portrait photography; wedding photography. You might see a thread here: I’m not comfortable with people and avoid genres that require a lot of contact with people. I admire street photographers, but tend to shy away from it because of the people issue. I suppose I’m some sort of documentary photographer (not social documentary however. I’m not trying to change the world). I have two main interests: photography and history. I’m happiest when I can combine the two.

Do you ever revisit a series that has already been exhibited or published to shoot more and add to it?

I have not so far exhibited or published (other than the odd self-produced photo book. However, with the photobooks that I have done I have often wanted to add more photographs.

Do you ever revisit a series that has already been exhibited or published and reedit it?

I haven’t but I can well imagine that I might.

Do you create with presentation in mind,be that a gallery show or a book?

Not really. At this point I time I mostly think in terms of photobooks and social media postings and I can usually make my photographs fit. I suppose that if I had an upcoming exhibition or a photobook to be published I might. But since none of these has so far occurred I don’t know for sure.

On Photographs by David Campany

The summary on Amazon.com reads:

An exploration of photography in 120 photographs.

In On Photographs, curator and writer David Campany presents an exploration of photography in 120 photographs. Proceeding not by chronology or genre or photographer, Campany’s eclectic selection unfolds according to its own logic. We see work by Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, Garry Winogrand, Yves Louise Lawler, Andreas Gursky, and Rineke Dijkstra. There is fashion photography by William Klein, one of Vivian Maier’s contact sheets, and a carefully staged scene by Gregory Crewdson, as well as images culled from magazines and advertisements.

Each ofthe 120 photographs is accompanied by Campany’s lucid and incisive commentary, considering the history of that image and its creator, interpreting its content and meaning, and connecting and contextualizing it with visual culture. Image by image, we absorb and appreciate Campany’s complex yet playful take on photography and its history.

The title, On Photographs, alludes to Susan Sontag’s influential and groundbreaking On Photography. As an undergraduate, Campany met Sontag and questioned her assessment of photography without including specific photographs. Sontag suggested that someday Campany could write his own book on the subject, titled On Photographs. Now he has.

It’s a useful book with lots on information on the photographs and the photographers, many of whom I’d previously never heard of. It’s not a book I would try to read from beginning to end. Rather it’s something to pick up and browse through when you have a few minutes to spare.

Edward Weston Omnibus

A while back I picked a copy of “Edward Weston Omnibus. A Critical Anthology. Edited by Beaumont Newhall and Amy Conger, Gibbs M. Smith, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1984.”

An Amazon Reviewer describes it as follows:

Edward Weston is one of the 20th century photographers who influenced many artists and left a unique and everlasting work of art to people who appreciate and understand his work. His aesthetic approach for photography makes him different in terms of the value, meaning, and dedication he has for his work of art. One can appreciate his ability to manipulate and distort the images of objects to make them appear in uncommon ways. He has an extraordinary skill for approaching and viewing subjects through his camera to capture details, light, shade, texture and movement in ensemble.

The book, Edward Weston Omnibus, holds a collection of critical articles written by his closest friends, journalists, and artists such as Diego Rivera, Ansel Adams. The articles were mainly written by his contemporaries who, in response to exhibitions of his works, admired, commented, questioned and in some cases challenged his style of photography that evolved from years of work in the West, Mexico and California in particular. The book also consists Weston’s responses to his critics and pictures of some of his works. His countless photographs of subjects such as still life, landscape and portraits were admired and praised for the flawless visibility of their elements. The book may help readers to familiarize themselves with Weston’s style of photography, in particular his selection of his subjects and his vantage points that are crucially responsible for creating fine prints.

There are around 50 articles, all of them quite short. In addition there are 44 plates of Weston photographs.

A couple of photobooks

Its fine to view pictures on Facebook, Instagram etc. But having some in your hand that you can browse through is an entirely different, and perhaps more pleasant experience. So I decided to have a go at producing a couple of photobooks.

I’d consider these initial attempts to be more of an experiment than anything else. The point of the exercise was more to gain some experience in using Lightroom and Blurb than anything else.

The first book originated in a visit to the New England Air Museum organized by my friend Ken. Usually when I visit a museum such as this I look for a book describing it and its various exhibits. This time I looked in vain. They just didn’t have a such a book. So I decided to do my own. This particular book is a mixture of text and images. I dedicated it to my friend Ken and gave him a copy.

The second book is, apart from a brief introduction, all pictures – taken around the lake where we have a house.


I’m quite pleased with the results, and encouraged to make some more.

Taken over time with a variety of cameras.

Drive-By Shootings

I recently came across this book: Drive-By Shootings. Photographs by a New York Taxi Driver by David Bradford.

It’s an interesting concept: an Art Director at Saks Fifth Avenue quits his job and takes up driving a taxi. While driving the taxi he takes the opportunity to take pictures of all and sundry: passengers, people in the street, buildings etc.

The book itself consists of a very large number of black and white images divided into five sections: A Day; At Night; Another Day; A Rainy Night and Day; Snow, Day and Night. Interspersed within the pictures are short pieces of text generally talking about the life of a New York City Taxi Driver.

To be honest I have not always been a fan of Street Photography. Most of the examples I see seem to be very ordinary pictures of people going about their lives. However, after looking more closely at the work of Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyrowitz, Henri Cartier Bresson, André Kertész, Brassi, Doisneau and, of course, Robert Frank I’ve come to appreciate it more.

Unfortunately, I find most of the pictures in this book to be quite ordinary. At first it was fun to browse through them but after a while it became tiring. And there are way too many of them. One of the most impressive photobooks of the 20th Century is, of course, Frank’s “The Americans”. I gather that in the course of his road trip Frank took approx. 27,000 images and then condensed them into 83 in the final work. The present book could benefit from similar discipline.

So to me it’s a moderately interesting book, with too many fairly ordinary photographs. It was fun to browse through, but I wouldn’t pay the $45 that Amazon.com is asking for it.