1-2. Cinema, 6th March 3. John Soane Museum, 12th March 4. Gormley, Canterbury, 9th March 5. Gents’ Bromley, 16th March 6. Greenwich Market, 14th March 7. Untitled, 16th March 8. Untitled, 12th March
[19Mar] Submission text
Although, as instructed, seven projects were outlined (see the blog), only three were ever really going to run — gents’ toilets (gents), the tops of churches (churches) and forbidden zones (forbidden). It soon became clear that the available toilets are too similar to sustain a worthwhile series and so gents was subsumed into forbidden. Forbidden was by some distance the more interesting project, but there was always doubt whether enough subjects would be found: churches was the fallback.
Ultimately, the minimum image requirement was met for forbidden before the submission deadline and the coronavirus restrictions arrived and so this is being submitted.
The concept of forbidden is to take photographs where one is not supposed to: although not strictly ‘unseen’ in the title of the assignment, they are, to a greater or lesser extent, theoretically ‘un-photographable’ as specified in the assignment brief (Boothroyd, 2017). To judge from posts in the C&N students’ GMail chat group, my interpretation is, perhaps, more literal than some.
While five of the targets are merely unethical, two are illegal or, more strictly, in contempt of parliamentary and judicial rules and liable to prosecution were they to be published (Law Commission, 2012). On the web site and in the main submission, therefore, those two are shown blurred beyond recognition and might well be faked.
The targets were: a cinema screen, a museum and a church where photography is not allowed, a public toilet, a photographer’s market stall, a magistrates’ court and the House of Commons. It was hoped to round the series off by ‘stealing’ a shot of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, but this proved impossible.
The equipment used included a £13.99 Spy Pen Camera (see right) bought on eBay for this project (croydon-gadgets, 2020).
Word count 289
[26Mar20] It is noted that Jeremy Corbyn’s advisor, Seamus Milne, was ejected from the House of Commons press gallery on 25th March for trying to photograph Corbyn’s last PMQs on his mobile (Letts, 2020).
Technically, online, the images appear to be competent, but it remains to be seen how successful the physical prints are. There are two concerns here, firstly, all the B&W prints for Asg.1 were rather darker than I would have liked; secondly and more importantly, the new (to me), rather primitive and decidedly haphazard spy pen is largely a matter of luck in use. Having become used to the cushioned ease of modern digital cameras it was a partly refreshing and partly worrying change to not know what had been captured instantaneously. Furthermore, the pen is low resolution and then some images had to be cropped quite severely for a combination of aesthetic , moral and legal reasons. That said, I made the target of seven images (although two of those might be faked, of course) on time.
Quality: I believe that the project chosen for submission is the ‘best’ of the seven originally floated in terms of combining subject interest with practicality. As already stated, my interpretation of the brief seems to be rather more literal than some of my fellow students who tend to define ‘unseen’ and ‘un-photographable’ as ‘intangible’ or ‘abstract’.
Creativity: There is some originality in my offering: it is, perhaps, unlikely that many students have submitted ostensibly illegal images for this assignment, faked or otherwise.
Context: The images are linked conceptually but the aesthetic connection is not obvious without an explanation of the project. The decision to shoot the whole of the course in 6×7 format is helping in providing some visual consistency, at least at the presentational level.
I was a little concerned about not having any influences to cite for this assignment, but the day after I sent the images to print and I wrote the text intended for use on the envelope of optional images (19Mar20),
The enclosed images may be considered to be in breach of parliamentary and/or judicial protocols. Please do not open them if by doing so you might be inclined to report these breaches to the relevant authorities or if viewing them might offend your ethical principles.
I read of the news photographer Christoph Bangert’s 2014 book, War Porn, in which he published a selection of his images that the news media had refused to use on the grounds that they were ‘too disturbing’ (Bright & van Erp, 2019, p.90). The relevant point here is that some of the pages in the book were unseparated, so the viewer has to consciously choose to physically cut the pages in order to access some of the images.
In summary, I have found the assignment personally satisfying to shoot in terms of conceptual, technical and organisational challenges.
I may comment further when the images arrive from the printer. [27Mar] Only to say that this batch seemed significantly better than Asg.1 which I thought too dark. It looks as though this might be the last C&N assignment submitted in print – online only for the foreseeable future because of The Virus.
The assignment specification asks for a ‘tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 images … of subjects [that] might be seen as un-photographable’ (Boothroyd, 2017, p.69 ). I believe the project chosen meets the assignment brief, that the images produced are technically competent and that they are of sufficient visual interest and (when the context is explained) consistency to merit submission.
I will comment further when I get my tutor’s reaction to the Forbidden Zones.
Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Bright, S. & van Erp, H (2019) Photography decoded. London: Ilex.
[26Jan20] I am likely to take the first option, although I have bought a s/h book on napkin folding, just in case I am diverted to the second, Props . Seven ideas needed. The two I thought of initially, back in November, were quite literal:
1/7 use a long lens to photograph things not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps the tops of buildings and maybe the tops of churches.
2/7 at the other extreme, use a macro lens to shoot small objects, again not normally visible.
Some more ideas today (26Jan) as this is now the active project,
3/7 the obvious untakeable subjects involve voyeurism taken to the extreme of illegality under Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 . Clearly a non starter to one who baulks at standard street photography.
4/7 but illegality of a more frivolous kind does have some appeal. The religious establishments that forbid interior photography and frustrated me in Asg1 brought to mind the fact that it is illegal to take photographs in most of the Houses of Parliament. The idea of flouting that regulation and using a concealed camera in the House of Commons is attractive and I learned today that Minox, famous for their 9.2mm spy cameras, marketed a 5MB digital spy camera (fig. 1) in 2008. Here’s an AmPhot article on the press release . The camera was not particularly good, to judge from the comments, but I would been prepared to venture £50 and run with this project: unfortunately, the only example found on sale online was $345 from ebay .
5/7 I recently became aware of the work of Alison Jackson, who uses doubles to stage tableaux that would embarrass the real subjects (fig. B1 being a prime example). While artifice on this scale would be outside the scope (and the budget) of this assignment, digital manipulation could be used to a similar effect, but would run the risk of legal action.
Suggestions 1 and 4 are the most likely to be tried. I will return with the last two.
6/7 [27Jan] I recall when I first visited Tate Modern (so that must have been some time in 2000), I was struck by the design of the toilets and waited until I was alone to take a photograph. This has become an occasional series that includes (from memory, I have none of the images to hand)
The Albert Hall, before they were modernised
Regents Park College, a strange combination of Edwardian and sheet aluminium
Greenwich Picturehouse, very minimalist
National Portrait Gallery, closes soon for 2 years – better get back there
These are, under normal circumstances, unseen by around half the population, so qualify for a nomination. It might be illegal too, so that introduces a hint of #4.
7/7 [30Jan] I am struggling with #7, but here we go. Street beggars can be unseen in the sense that some people ignore them and avoid eye contact. Beggars would therefore qualify as a subject but I have no intention of photographing them.
30th Jan, Toilets
A quick foray to the NPG (before it closes for refurbishment), figs. 3-4 and Tate Modern (where, I thought, this idea started) figs. 5-6. One important factor in this project is that one does not linger over the subject. My tactic was plan the shot, then to pretend to wash my hands (but not get them wet), while waiting for the room to empty, take two quick snaps and exit.
This worked, but I failed to find the toilet that I thought I remembered at Tate Modern: I tried four, they were all small and ordinary (albeit determinedly monochrome) and I photographed the last one. The facilities in the nearby Globe Theatre were entirely mundane and were not photographed.
While the capturing of the images involves a certain amount of adrenalin, the images themselves are, so far, unexciting.
7th Feb, Tutor
I had my Asg.1 chat with my tutor this morning that went well. We ran through my ideas for this assignment and none were disapproved of, so I can run with Tops of Churches and Gents Toilets for now.
I think that I need to carry a wide angle zoom with me for toilets. Wendy recommended a forthcoming show at the Barbican (Masculinities) so that’s another toilet shot to be had.
I need to identify some interesting church tops now. There’s one between Hither Green and Lewisham and one just before London Bridge, visible from the train, but I’ve no idea how to get to them on foot. There’s an very ordinary one nearby (as yet unphotographed) that raises the question ‘why bother’, especially when contrasted with the splendour of St Paul’s.
On the matter of presentation, my formal documentary instinct suggests that I should also provide an establishing shot of the church and of its notice board, perhaps on the same A4 sheet.
Little progress on this while I’ve been concentrating on thePart 2 coursework and playing with the Asg.1 rework.
I might have some chances this week to work on Asg.2 and I have had some thoughts on the workstreams. There are three which will become two.
1. Tops of Churches is the backup and I’ll grab those whenever the opportunity arises.
2. Gents’ toilets are not interesting enough to sustain a series.
3. The Forbidden Zones is the most interesting prospect and I will include the most interesting toilet in that – perhaps Greenwich Picturehouse. The target is 7-10. 1. toilet 2. the House of Commons is not sitting next week. 3. photography is banned in Sir John Soane’s Museum, open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm 4. Westminster Abbey – damned expensive to get in though. … this could be a struggle because, presumably, I want a decent photograph, not any old grabbed shot (HofC excepted – there any will do). Police stations, banks and even supermarkets tend to discourage this sort of thing.
I have bought a Spy Pen on ebay. It is surprisingly good (I was quite surprised it worked at all). Fig. 10 is a test shot. I’ll try to change the date.
Another possible subject, a law court – the old Bailey?
Progress at last, progress in the Forbidden Zones, I went to the cinema this morning (we were the only patrons), sawThe Photograph(!) and took a few.
I might have to break with tradition and drop the 6×7 stipulation for the warning screen (fig. 12) as I like the lights at the top and the fire extinguishers bottom right (fig. 11). I will probably use it for the assignment submission header page. The seats in fig. 3 are good but it is a pre-film trailer, when some lights were still on so probably shouldn’t be chosen. F5 is rather too distinct, so it’s fig. 14 or fig. 16. I would prefer the confusion of fig. 6 so perhaps go back to the Raw version, increase the contrast and emphasise to colours … that’s now done with fig. 17: much better detail on the right hand side and a delightful purple artefact far right.
Guessing the camera settings was quite fun (see below). If I was doing it again, I’d sit right at the back, take the wide angle zoom and go for the Full Sugimoto effect (fig. 20).
Two more have been processed from raw. I will have to go with fig. 19 because of the seats.
7th March, The tops of churches
This is not a very exciting option, it is very much a backup in case (as seems likely) I fail to produce 7 Forbidden Zones in time. Two snapped today, so time to catch up with these and others I have shot, as encountered previously.
I have five available, two have been processed so far. The layout I have decided on aims to show the top of the church, i.e. the item of interest plus, as documentary additions, the identifying noticeboard an image of the whole building. Fig 21 shows the extraordinary topping that started this project. Fig. 22 is at the other extreme, a simple topping that has suffered over time and goes unnoticed.
12th March, Forbidden Zones
Limited but gratifying success with the spy pen. It is difficult to be certain when it’s off and when it’s on; it’s difficult to tell whether you are taking a still image or a video (I took more of the latter than the former and have had to resort to screen grabs from the films).
Nevertheless, if I had taken some shots in the HofC (which, of course I might not have) then they might have been satisfactory (figs. 25-6). It can be stated that security is similar to an airport to get onto the site, that there are a lot of stairs to the HofC Visitors’ Gallery and you have to hand over any bags and your telephone before you get in.
After possibly not taking any photographs at the House of Commons, including possibly not taking a photograph of a Gents’ toilet there (fig. 27), I headed to the John Soane Museum where photography is banned and where I did deploy the Spy pen (figs. 28-31).
Photography, while it is allowed in most of Canterbury Cathedral, is banned in the Crypt where they happen to house a Gormley sculpture and where I happened to be on Monday 9th (fig. 24).
The score so far is fig. 11 for the header page then, of the 7-10 required, figs. 19, 24, 25, 31. Three more needed – a law court, a Gents’ toilet (fig. 27 at a push) and I have a possible candidate in Greenwich market this weekend.
14th March, Forbidden Zones
I had discussed the project with a colleague who suggested a stall in Greenwich market selling, what she referred to as, “lurid landscape photographs”. I headed there this morning. It was quite difficult to find as the signs are, regrettably, rather small. I had considered asking the photographer to pose beside his signs but thought better of it as his complicity would have undermined the spirit of the project. Accordingly, I precoded with caution and surreptition.
To Bromley for the last two shots of Asg.2. (I would have gone to the Tower of London for one more shot of the Crown Jewels, if it were not for the entry charge of >£20, even for concessions, and the current virus threat). At last an interesting toilet and, couched in similar terms to my outing of 12th March: if I had taken some shots in Bromley Magistrates’ Court (which, of course I might not have) then they might have been satisfactory (fig. 35). The security was similar but lower key, perhaps comparable to a local airport, with body and possessions scans, retention of camera, but I did get to keep my mobile this time — presumably the banning of all phones from the courts would not be popular with visitors.
[17Mar] Although, as instructed, seven projects were outlined, only three were ever really going to run — gents’ toilets (gents), the tops of churches (churches) and forbidden zones (forbidden). It soon became clear that the available toilets are too similar to sustain a worthwhile series and so gents was subsumed into forbidden. Forbidden was by some distance the more interesting project, but there was always doubt whether enough subjects would be found: churches was only the backup.
Yesterday (16th March) I achieved the minimum target of seven in the forbidden series and they will now be prepared for selection. would have liked to get one more target, the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London (‘stealing’ a shot of those would have brought a symbolic cachet to the series) but virus restrictions (and also cost) have prevented that.
Some of the shots I had in mind were illegal, or at least in breach of regulations which could lead to significant punishment, and if those had been taken, they could never be published. This may be pretention or overreaction, but for these subjects, the intention is to submit for assessment images obscured by blurring with the real images (if there are any) in a sealed envelope with a warning. This might be absurd, or it might be a sensible precaution … or somewhere between those two extremes.
All seven shots will be submitted and, given the nature of the subjects, there is not a great deal of choice in images: 1. Cinema – one to submit and, additionally, the blurred warning for the header page. 2. (what might be the) House of Commons 3. Gormley at Canterbury 4. John Soane Museum 5. Greenwich Market 6. (what might be) a Magistrates’ Court 7. Gents’ toilet
Let us note in passing the absurdity of some of these restrictions:
Cinemas, understandably, don’t want films to be pirated, so that makes sense;.
Every moment of parliamentary debate is broadcast and available online in video so stills are obtainable. The members of both houses want to control the images made available so that they can protect their dignity.
Canterbury Cathedral allows photography on the ground floor but not in the basement.
The restrictions in the John Soane Museum are perplexing: it is a cluttered and often dark but eminently photographable.
The vendor in Greenwich Market justifiably wishes to preserve his aesthetic intellectual property and I have no wish to interfere with that, hence the low resolution images for these and all photographs on this site, mine and others’.
Restrictions in all toilets are commendable.
Courts of law are, in my view, right to ban photography of vulnerable people at sensitive moments. Pricking the pomposity of the judiciary, however, is another matter.
and, incidentally, I seem to recall that on a family visit to the Tower of London as a child (so early 1960s) that photography of the Crown Jewels was not permitted, but I also think I remember seeing them on Blue Peter.
1. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.