5. Blog

Initial thoughts

Fig. 1 Bill Brandt, Northumbrian coal miner eating his evening meal, 1937
© the estate of Bill Brandt

All photographs are fictions, to a far greater extent than we are able or willing to acknowledge. Yet most of them still pretend to a high degree of verisimilitude and transparency, to the impersonal neutrality of windows on the world.

 A.D. Coleman, introduction to Theater of the Mind, 1967, pages unnumbered

So wrote A.D. Coleman in his introduction to surrealist trickster Arthur Tress’s 1967 compilation of images, Theater of the Mind.

And as we learned in Asg.4 (well, I learned at least: it seems to have been fairly common knowledge), my hero Bill Brandt had a habit of faking images, using family and friends.

22nd June

Ensign poster
Ensign Ful-Vue II

Just over a week to go before submission. Sending the piece is no longer a consideration with all-digital-submission, nevertheless, it is time to begin in earnest. I have already made some notes in the zine.

A response to Brandt’s Northumbrian Miner was always the likely subject for the last assignment, especially when this booklet was suggested by my tutor to round off Assignment 3, by which time the essay for Assignment 4 was nearly complete. The plan soon came to be a publication to cover the three assignments, linked by Brandt as subject and self portraiture as method.
This document is being produced before the assignment is completed and so I will either create a new version of the document or just add the final image as a tipped-in plate.
The plan for the shot is to imitate Brandt’s image but with a photographic theme:
• a 1950s Ensign Ful-Vue II camera has been acquired
• the table will be littered with film development paraphernalia
• hanging film (if I can find some) will replace the drying washed clothes
• a Billingham bag on the wall will replace the satchel
• there will be a picture on the wall, possibly a vintage Ensign Cameras poster
• My partner will probably make a guest appearance, assumed role yet to be determined.
The notion is to take liberties with Brandt’s concept (anachronisms, format incompatibilities and so on) and to litter the image with inconsistencies as a reference to the approach he took with his subjects and settings.


I spent this morning enlarging, dividing into 4, printing and mounting the Ensign Photographic poster that will grace the rear wall. The poster came from an Ensign specialist dealer.

Note that:
‘you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas. This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece’
‘include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction)’
‘Send your final image(s) to your tutor, along with your commentary and relevant pages of your learning log (or blog url)’

Text, early draft brain dump.

All photographs are fictions, to a far greater extent than we are able or willing to acknowledge. Yet most of them still pretend to a high degree of verisimilitude and transparency, to the impersonal neutrality of windows on the world.

 A.D. Coleman, introduction to Theater of the Mind, 1967, pages unnumbered

I wrote in Assignment 4 of my surprise and a certain disillusionment when I learned that one of my photo-heroes, Bill Brandt used ‘family and friends posing as characters in purportedly unmediated scenes of British social life’ (Hacking, 2012, p.61) and arranged ‘his subjects … “in character”, placed on a stage with the necessary props’ (Delany, 2004, p.10). My tutor was rightly dismissive (in a good way) of my judgment and self-professed naivety, stating that the photographer’s ‘relationship with [the] subject’ and ‘the context within which the work is made’ is (to paraphrase) more significant than whether the furniture has been moved (McMurdo, 2020).

enlarged Ensign poster
embodying production values

The subject of this final assignment had already been decided by then, an evocation of and response to Brandt’s Northumbrian coal miner eating his evening meal, 1937 (fig. A1), and this commitment was reinforced by the making of a zine (or perhaps a booklet) covering my coursework which had become mostly about Brandt (or Brandt and me).

The intention was another self portrait with photography paraphernalia rather than mining references and possibly my partner (if willing on the day) too. But, in response to the (what I still see as) liberties Brandt took with his subjects, I intended the props to emphasise the artifice of the ‘set’, adopting the production values of early Doctor Who series, the ‘wobbly sets’ era (Booth, 2013, p.44), fig. C1. The starting point for the props was an article in the RPS Journal on the Ensign Ful-Vue II camera, released in the year I was born (Richmond, 1999). Around this, I envisaged incompatible and anachronistic mixes of equipment so that the image is palpably false.

Ezra, 2019
© Julie Blackmon

While the intention for the detail of the shot is mutually-incongruous artifice, the aim for the overall effect is something like the gathered precision of Julie Blackmon‘s striking Ezra. It will probably be produced in colour to make the detail items (such as the camera bag) more discern-able (and for some contrast with the heavily B&W zine).

[23Jun] Also try it in wide-angle grainy B&W to echo his late nude, beach shots and portraits in an attempt to sum up Brandt’s life’s work in a single shot.

June 25th

Just a few test shots to check the framing using the wide angle zoom.

It looks as though it should work reasonably well. I favour the wide-angle and the B&W. And:
the bag needs to drop a few inches to cover the socket
there’s a choice of which wall to put he poster on
I have not found any lengths of processed film to dangle like washing.

25th June

28th June

I shot what was intended to be a series of test shots on the setup but which might turn out to be the submission.


I bought a couple of air shutter releases on ebay which I hoped to include both to make the process easier and to reference early Cindy Sherman (and the Willy Ronis in Asg. 3) and they both arrived on 27th. I still hadn’t found the rolls of processed film to dangle instead of drying clothes † so I had to sacrifice a roll of unexposed film that expired in 2005: nice to see unopened boxes of 35mm Agfa Neopan 1600 and 120 Ilford Delta 3200 in the film case (see below), the days of Velvia in the freezer are long past.
Pulling out the unexposed film took more willpower than I expected. When it came to the actual dangling, the film was not particularly noticeable and so I was glad of the shadows on the back wall to emphasise them. I could only find one real drying clip.
Lighting was from a single led source, intended to be harsh, to suit the intended post processing.
The Ensign Ful-Vue II dominated the foreground as always intended.

We looked at the source image (see top) and decided that the plan was to both look glum. Jan would deploy the air shutter release to allow a final reference to authorship (see the zine) and the small reflector was intended to emphasise Jan’s subsidiary role, as was clear in Brandt’s original. I had thought that the reflector might be used to sanctify me with a more direct halo reference, but this would have obscured the poster and Billingham bag.

Camera settings were at the widest angle available, 10mm on the X2 (15mm equivalent) and that just happens to be the focal length of the Zeiss Protar Brandt used on his ‘police camera’ according to Greg Neville

Asg5 film
28th June

 somewhere I have a pile of canisters on 35mm film from a project with English Heritage photographing local listed buildings but I haven’t managed to find them.


The last two images taken (see below) were chosen for processing as the best combination of faces and the second quickly dominated.

Three main adjustments were made, the butchers’ hook used to lower the camera bag was removed as were two blown highlights on Jan’s cheek and the developing tank.

28th June


Although there had been a passing inclination to produce a colour image, black and white proved more attuned to the subject bearing in mind its origins. As a final act of artifice, a number of filter presets were applied.

1. starting image
2. DxO G&F, as for figs. E2, E4
3. DxO Neopan 400
4. Silver Efex Fine Art
5. Silver Efex Yellowed 2
28th June

The text was finalised on the submission page.


Booth, P. (2013) Fan Phenomena: Doctor Who. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Delaney, P. (2004) Bill Brandt, a life. London: Jonathan Cape.

Hacking, J. (2012) Lives of the great photographers. London: Thames & Hudson.

McMurdo, W. (2020) Formative feedback [online]. baphot.co.uk. Available from http://baphot.co.uk/pages_cn/asg_4_feedback.php [Accessed 22 June 2020].

Neville, G (2015) Bill Brandt’s camera [online]. greg-neville.com. Available from https://greg-neville.com/tag/kodak-wide-angle-camera-with-zeiss-protar-lens/ [Accessed 28 June 2020].

Richmond, A. (1999) The Ensign Ful Vue [online]. ensign.demon.co.uk. Available from http://www.ensign.demon.co.uk/ful-vue.htm [Accessed 22 June 2020].

Tress, A. (1967) Theater of the mind. NY: Morgan & Morgan.