Category Archives: Assignment 4

Tutor Feedback – Assignment 4 – The critical review

I have pasted the relevant parts of my Tutor’s report below and highlighted the parts that I will action when preparing for assessment submission.

Overall Comments

This is an interesting topic that examines a genre of photography through a topical perspective – the photographers’ ability to continue in the light of legislation and public paranoia. Your first statement sets out your research question: this asks if, in the light of the difficulties that make street photography fraught (even alienating the public), ‘…is it still a valuable tool for documenting our time?’

Do the difficulties we face change how valuable the tool is? The question might be ‘should we still persist in documenting life on the streets, or abandon the legacy that was an intrinsic part of photography right from it’s start (many of Daguerre’s early images were streetscapes)?’

It’s important to get the question to match what you want to say – keep modifying it as you write the essay so that the overall brief matches what your essay’s content is about. This will also help to keep you focused on the main theme of your text.

Feedback on assignment

Your text appears knowledgeable and well balanced. The citations are well documented early on, but I was less sure later, such as whether Tang and Marlow (for example) were being quoted directly (written in quotes), or paraphrased. In an essay of this length I’d expect a few more sources acknowledged in the bibliography: you can mention those you consulted, even if you didn’t quote from them. Your illustrations are appropriate and have been chosen well.

As well as looking for books and newspaper articles, search Google Scholar for journal articles: start with ‘street photography’ then narrow that down with keywords such as ‘rights’, ‘modern’ ‘relevance’ etc.

Your first part doesn’t have its intention highlighted, whereas the second part does. The first part’s conclusion seems to be that ‘bearing witness’ is the main reason for documentation of the street (?). Alongside this it is worth adding that the street is a unique environment, with a different mixture of people than you would get in open spaces or indoors, and with a different social protocol (think about our body space, the personal zone we like to preserve, and what happens on the street). As such it has value as an area for observing modern life (allied to anthropology) in a way that other photography doesn’t. As you’re mentioning Eggleston and Frank, why not say what they did differently, or how have they moved street photography on?

The points raised about H C-B describe the decisive moment as a mode of composition. In a sense this is true – it is the choice of elements placed for greatest effect. What H C-B also did was to choose the moment, i.e. his timing was critical. This goes a little further than composition alone: a foot poised just above a puddle isn’t necessarily (only) a compositional feature. The timing reveals a tension, a coming together of elements within the flow of life that has more meaning for the photographer at that point than at any other. Timing and composition still have relevance today. It is also the subject matter and its location that makes street photography what it is. A point to consider about not cropping images was so that nobody else should alter his images after he had created them, thus changing their meaning (a founding tenet of Magnum).

You recount your personal experience of being stopped by the police – how does this relate to your essay? Does it prove your argument as set out at the start? You could also touch on recent trends for the capture of this ‘flow of life’, and the way this contrasts with antagonism towards photographers, e.g. surveillance and the rise of CCTV cameras; especially prevalent in Britain. Take a look at Sean O’Hagan’s article:

You have done some good research on the historical review of street photography. You could widen this with more research on the changing rights to photograph in the street abroad. For example in France – the country that gave us Daguerre, Cartier-Bresson, Nadar, Atget, Lartigue, Doisneau, Ronis etc. – it is now illegal to take (identifiable) images of people in the streets. In the U.S.A. controversial photographers such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia have successfully defended their legal right to photograph in the streets. Vivian Maier is famous for having no commercial intentions, her work only discovered after her death, which gives a different emphasis to the reading of her work. There are may more to choose from, but examples of those that changed the genre or who fought for their rights are good ones to discuss.

Suggested reading/viewing

Bystander: A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz

…and Open city: street photographs since 1950 by Kelly Brougher and Russell Ferguson

In a similar vein to Hansen, take a look at Trent Parke’s (mainly Australian) cityscapes .

I’d suggest that you look at photographers who blend in with their environment e.g. Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen (Byker estate, Newcastle), the ‘mass observation project’ images (especially those in Bolton, UK), Paul Reas (see ‘flogging a dead horse’ and ‘can I help?’), and Richard Billingham’s project ‘Ray’s a laugh’. These will give three very different perspectives on photographing environmental portraiture ‘candidly’.

Pointers for the next assignment

The personal project proposal should accompany this review as you’ve noted. The ideas that you have emailed to me constitute an interesting idea. Quite how that will shape up visually I’m not sure – I guess you might not be either …yet. I’d suggest some trial runs to explore what you want to shoot and how these could be edited down to focused ideas and images.

You may well find that this proposal gives an insight to a smaller aspect of the planned topic; one that you want to pursue in more detail. This would be a valid progression from the initial plan and would show an ability to recognize new possibilities and modify your plan accordingly. If you send me your proposal brief and (if you have them) some images, I’ll comment further for you.

Assignment 4 – The critical review – planning

I’ve copied my tutor’s guidance notes here. I have never written a critical review before so I want to gather all of my resources into one place:

I know you’ve picked a good topic for your critical enquiry. See what you can research around the topic and get a flavour of the different opinions on that topic to form your own opinion(s). Start with a plan and your ‘findings’. The plan sets out what you want to say and why, written as simple statements/arguments: probably no more than about 9 sentences (otherwise you’re writing the essay before you’ve planned it). This will give you the structure. Then you fill in the gaps with your research/findings. Do an introduction and conclusion afterwards: when you know what you’re saying.


I have read through the OCA’s guide to the critical review and after some initial confusion over what a critical review is (only being told what it isn’t seems to give the student more freedom – I may be wrong) I have concluded that there needs to be a consistency between what is in the course notes, the document “Academic Essay Writing” and the “Visual Arts Critical Review” document.

I got the idea for my review from Jeff Mermelstein’s reaction to the Metropolitan Police’s London Poster campaign of 2008, reported during an interview with journalist Linton Chiswick;

‘Street photography is an important part of the documentation of our time. If that’s discouraged, in the long term that will be a substantial loss. Some of the most significant images in any art medium in the last 150 years have been made in the street by people like Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus and Robert Frank.’  (Howarth & McLaren, 2010:11)

Here is my proposed title:

In a decade that has seen increased terrorist threats at home and abroad and heavy handed attempts by the Police service in the UK to restrict the legitimate activities of photographers, is street photography still valid as tool for documenting our time?

            • Is Mermelstein’s view shared and is there more optimism in 2015?
  • What have  the rapid changes in technology over the past decade meant for the genre?
    • Have terrorist threats changed the public perception of street photography and what do we mean by the term? Look into the history of the genre to define it.
    • If this is the case, is there anything that can be done to encourage a more tolerant attitude and an acceptance that it is a vital part of the recording of our culture?
    • “We are all photographers now”. Does this statement have an impact on attitudes?
    • How do these perceived restrictions affect my photography?
    • Research the blogs/websites of UK practitioners to reveal attitudes.
    • Research the In Public group.

The main source for my research is ‘Street Photography Now’  and various sources on  the internet. Howarth and McLaren’s book appears to be one of the most up to date digests of the genre. Coupled with the rich sources on the  In Public group website, I should be able to find enough material for my review. I have found Eric Kim’s website useful  and while I have reserved a copy of Bystander by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz from the Library, I have relied on Eric Kim’s references to the book to guide my research but It is unlikely that I shall receive it in time to finish this review.

I’ve shared the critical review document with my tutor via drop box on 24th July 2015.

Personal Project for Assignment 5

I emailed my tutor today  (26/07/15) with a brief outline of my proposal for Assignment 5

The project  I have in mind would be to undertake a walk from my present home to my childhood home (a distance of  35-40 miles) via  sites of personal, historical and family interest along the route. My idea is to try and show the places that have been included my life and my family’s history and for some reason remain significant. Walking the route (approximating the one that I drive regularly but using linked public footpaths and bridleways) will bring me closer to the locations that have made an impact on me, and  inspire my photography. Generally the idea was well received at the TV group. I will continue my research submit my proposal and self directed brief in due course.