Artworks that have long influenced my photography 

These images all had an immediate, emotional impact on me when I first saw them. However, I did not understand and could not articulate why, at the time.

Rene Magritte, The Empire of Lights

I first saw Magritte’s paintings in my late teens and found his strange juxtapositions interesting and often humorous. However, this painting and its composition is a lasting influence. The 2-dimensional, theatre set feeling of the street scene is comforting but also a barrier to the brightness beyond.

Today, this is a compositional trope that I regularly employ.

Andre Kertesz, Martinique

Since first seeing this image in the 1980’s it has been continuously influential in two ways.

First, that sense of mystery and narrative created by the shadowy figure which became the primary inspiration for, and the subsequent direction of my BA final degree project after I came across this scene at Tyntesfield House in Bristol.

Secondly, Kertesz’s seeing and using such strong geometrical shapes results, like in the Magritte painting, in a 2-dimensional impression. There seems to be almost no depth between the handrail and the horizon.

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea

The attraction of this painting is a mixture of the strange, perhaps impossible juxtaposition of the sea and the rooms, plus the 2-dimensional geometric shapes.

Although it is possible to see depth in the image when looking into the second room, most of the majority of the picture is easily be viewed as being 2-dimensional, without any depth. I was so inspired by this painting that trying to reproduce such a strange, inside/ outside, impression was the first thing I tried when I acquired Photoshop in 2003.

Hopper’s works all have a quiet, stillness to them where the viewer can feel like they are being invasive, as if we shouldn’t be looking at the scene. When Hopper’s paintings include people, they are always in private, reflective moments and so the viewer is inevitably a voyeur. Yet, for me, even when there are no people, as above, it still feels like I, the viewer, am an intruder and should not be there. I find that an interesting effect as that is often how I react when I am on-location for my own images. I am always a visitor who is not wholly sure they are welcome.

The next artist who started to influence my work is Andrew Wyeth. His landscapes are very much the landscapes that appeal to me, often wide open, remote and sparsely populated. His works also capture a quiet, stillness, a sense of solitude, even loneliness, especially so in this painting of “Christina’s World”.

The refuge of the house and barn are far off for Christina and she appears to be pleading with them to be noticed. However, the barn has no windows and so is blind and the house has all its windows facing the other way. Neither can see her. Wyeth’s apparently simple compositions are capable of evoking extensive narratives as shown in the next two of his paintings. Unlike Christina’s World, these painting have very little depth to them. They are quite 2-dimensional in appearance.

Without knowing even, the titles of these paintings the viewer is encouraged to make up stories about who, why and how they came to be.

It was the colours, shapes and flat perspective of this scene in Puglia that reminded me of the Wyeth painting and encouraged me to press the shutter. And, like the Wyeth picture there is a lot of narrative potential in the scene.

Although I enjoy much of the work by both Magritte and Kertesz not all excites to the same degree at the images shown above. For images where my primary response has been humour, I am less likely to be inspired by them, even when the narrative potential is significant. As when spectacle (visual drama) is my primary response, humour also tends to be a block to my further investigation into the image’s meanings.

These below, from Kertesz and Magritte, respectively, are such examples.


The juxtapositions of man-made objects and their landscape that encourage narratives and or create a surreal 2-dimensional visual effect have been key drivers for my enjoyment of paintings and photographs for over 40 years but only now am I starting to understand their significance.



Further Image Analysis

This image is unusually romantic, for me. My inspiration was Andrew Wyeth’s, Christina’s World, with myself in the position of Christina.

As in Wyeth’s image, both buildings are looking away from or beyond the viewer (photographer) and so ignoring them.

Wyeth’s image emphases the distance Christina has to crawl to reach the safety of a building. In this image the house is certainly far off but the tin shed a lot closer. However, both are behind a fence and hence difficult to access. Consequently, this is an image was triggered by “Recognition” and “Narrative”.

The next image was inspired by the strange “Juxtaposition” of an empty, concreted expanse surrounded by a high fence in the middle of a wilderness landscape. Why? It seems pointless and reminiscent of the act of Enclosure and the Highland Clearances.

The result is a threatening scene in a benign landscape that I “Intuitively” recognised and composed as I was driving up to it.

However, the narrative I have created is not always the truth as can be seen in this image, taken from Google Earth, Street View. Obviously, this site is sometimes used for storage.

The site itself is the, now unused, end of a WWII airport runway.

Here are 2 similar types of image, one of which I find exciting and intriguing and the other far more of a “record shot”.

This shot of Park Hall, on Shetland, was loosely inspired by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth (see below). I wouldn’t call this a true case of “Recognition” but just that something triggered thoughts of Wyeth when I saw this scene.

However, I am a little disappointed with it. Perhaps because it is derelict, lifeless, and with sightless windows. Whereas Wyeth’s farmhouse paintings are usually of buildings that are alive and occupied, often by named families.

This final image, also on Shetland, is similar to Park Hall except that it is of an occupied and working farmhouse. It may be a much less grand house than Park Hall, but it feels alive.

It looks well maintained and sits on top of a hill, looking outwards in a positive, confident manner. It is the opposite of Park Hall which is hunkered down in the lea of a hill looking blindly into the distance. This image has far more emotional impact upon me than does Park Hall.





Analysis of all images taken at Skaw, Unst

I visited Skaw, Unst on 3 separate days. This paper looks at all the different compositions taken across the 3 days looking at why they have been classified as Good, Possible or Rejects.

All the images except one were taken on the first 2 days. Day 3 was spent attempting to improve on previously tried compositions. However, probably due to a lack of careful and critical review of the results from day’s 1 and 2, the third day did not improve upon any of the earlier compositions. The same mistakes were made!

The one image from day 3 that was different and “successful” was from a new location, previously unseen. This is it.

Over the 3 days, 66 different scenes were photographed. I have removed all bracketed and the almost identical repeat compositions from the selection. Classifying these 66 against my “successful” criteria gave the following results:

Good – 21            Possible – 4           Rejects – 41

The “possible” category comes from images that, at this time, have yet to be processed but which appear to meet the criteria for potentially good images.

One thing to note it that the hit rate for successful images versus rejects on this field trip appears to be significantly higher than on earlier field trips. Previously, I would have expected around 10% success rate whereas here it is 32%. Perhaps I am becoming more discerning about my choices whilst on location?

The 41 rejects consisted of the following:

Poor Composition – 30       Technical issues – 3     Too Documentary – 5    Too similar to others – 3

The technical issues were all due to insufficient depth of field for that particular composition. Focus stacking should have been employed.

The Compositional issues were:

  • Composition too busy, too many objects included resulting in a messy image.
  • A lack of visual interest in the composition – it’s just a dull, not even spectacular, a record.
  • Subject too big in the frame. This loses the sense of space, isolation, and calm that (I now know) I want to achieve.
  • The subject leaves the frame on one side (see below). This is similar to the above issue of lacking space, isolation, and calm. This is less of a problem when the “Trigger” for the image has been Design, the key content is “Shapes” and the overall effect is 2-dimensional.

This image is neither one nor the other and its content lacks compositional interest, so it was rejected.

  • Lack of separation or insufficient intrusion of subject across background boundaries. For example, when the roof line of an object is in line with the background hills or does not cross over the horizon sufficiently. These failures result from poor checking of the viewfinder or review of the image at the taking. It is just carelessness.

For example, this image. This could have been a good image if only I had paid attention to the roof line of the hut and it relationship to the hills.

A lower viewpoint or a slightly closer position would have corrected this.

Often, I take multiple different versions of each image. Am I taking insufficient care when re-composing images?

None of the reject images had been triggered by Intuition! The majority were triggered by Belief (27) but, obviously, I failed to follow through and find either the narrative or the design I was expecting.

Design was the trigger for 13 images, but these failed to live up to expectations.