Research for Assignment 4 – Irving Penn, Edward Weston and Paul Kooiker


All images used in this post are copyrighted to the individual photographer stated and are only being used for educational purposes.

1. Irving Penn

In the Introduction to Still Life, John Szarkowski linked Penn and Weston as two photographers successful with both still life and portraiture. Although this may be unusual having the skills to be successful in two well-known genres of photography, he hints that in order to be good at one genre, rest is occasionally needed through change to perfect another genre and so forth.

He goes on to say that in portraiture the photographer has to work with “raw material”. The photographer’s control over the composition and end result is compromised by the willingness of the live sitter to pose and be captured in a significant or amusing way that is different from other potential sitters.

The vitality of the models in Penn’s portraits are not in their facial gestures but in the lines of the image. Simple lighting hinting that it was no more than north facing skylight make the silhouettes appear active and alive. The use of simplistic backgrounds also make the images appear clear and straightforward as opposed to those that are more flowery in style. An example of his lighting is seen below in the image of the corset. The light is very subtle but good enough to capture the tiniest details – goose bumps on the flesh and the stitching and texture of the material.

tiny waist






The Small Waist, editorial photograph for Vogue, New York, June 13, 2000. Copyright Irving Penn

With still life it is very different. It is a genre where the photographer has the highest degree of control over a subject.  A lemon, for example can be positioned in however or whatever submissive way the photographer wishes.

The message being shouted from the simplistic style of Penn’s fashion pictures is one of confidence and importance. The dresses are way too brilliant to be likened to a “fairy-tale narrative” and the subjects are far too interesting to be photographed with a castle in the background. This is mirrored in his still life work where lipstick on a cigarette butt or an ant on ripe cheese provide enough interest for the viewer to imagine their own narrative.

ripe cheese







Ripe Cheese. Editorial Photograph for Vogue. New York, March 26, 1992. Copyright Irving Penn

Penn’s still life images were primarily for Vogue magazine, featuring good things to eat and drink and elements of the good life. In the early 70’s Penn devoted more time to his private work – a complete opposite to all things good, with images of trash including street findings of cigarette butts, packets and other detritus of life on the street. His pictures of cigarettes – again beautifully photographed, with no hard-edged shadows are simple, straight forward and honest. He has managed to make them look like objects of physical beauty and it is this aspect which suggests that these images along with the other miscellaneous gutter trash pictures of bones, skulls and metal blocks are linked to his Vogue images of all things good. Penn has deep regard and respect for all his subjects for whilst photographing the good things in life, he has also acknowledged the bad, for example the worm in the apple (see Wormy Apples below) or the beautiful woman in Summer Sleep (below) behind the mosquito net, but not without the mosquitos. Whilst he has photographed the bad things in life for example the cigarettes – the lipstick stained fag ends hint at the good things in life – contrasting physical beauty to be merely objects.

wormy applesWormy Apples, New York, July 15, 1985.                           Copyright Irving Penn  







summer sleep


Summer Sleep, Editorial photograph for Vogue, New York, March 18, 1949.                     Copyright Irving Penn



street findings


Street Findings, New York, 1999.                                        Copyright Irving Penn





2. Paul Kooiker

Although digressing from Irving Penn and Edward Weston, it is an appropriate point to mention an article in the British Journal of Photography, May 2015 edition. The article called Dissecting Nudes by Taco Hidde Baker, p.40 – 49, talks about the latest photobook by photographer Paul Kooiker – Nude, Animal, Cigar.

Kooiker is not interested in a “single” photograph so all his projects are conceived as a series. Nude, Animal, Cigar is just that . It is a gathering of 63 photographs of each subject showing 63 sets of nudes, animals and cigars in a repetitive order. The images are on the right pages with the annotations of N01, A01, C01 and so on, on the left pages.

The only significant link between the 3 subjects is the sepia toning done in post production which gives an aesthetic and nostalgic effect and the fact that all the images have been taken in the last 5 years.

The  nudes are plus-size  models positioned by Kooiker to avoid showing their heads and in some shots they are wearing high heels to avoid the impression of a clinical post-mortem. All of the animals are captive and shot at numerous European Zoos visited by Kooiker and his daughter. In contrast to the nude images, the faces of the animals are included in the composition, so you feel they are looking at you. Finally, the cigars are composed in such a way that for me they resemble the roundness and curves of the nudes. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or incidental at the time of shooting or whether they were just cleverly selected at the time of putting the book together.

I did find it interesting that like Penn’s cigarettes, Kooikers cigars have been composed to make them look like objects of beauty as well as interesting to look at, along with the undertones of good and bad or bad and good. The article stated;

“Photography and voyeurism are inextricably linked, and the camera is a guilty look through the keyhole”.

Perhaps the link between the three subjects is about control and beauty? The nude photos are controlled and voyeuristic but contain the elements of beauty and form. The zoo animals are captive and controlled for visitors to admire their beauty and splendour. Cigars are associated with gentlemen, power and wealth. They insinuate masculine control in smoke-filled clubs with voyeuristic tendencies over objects of desire and beauty? Who knows? I would certainly like to view the book – I imagine the content to be compulsive.

3. Edward Weston

There is a very interesting  essay about the life and work of Edward Weston by Terence Pitts at the beginning of “A Photographic Study” (Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen) During his early career, Weston made a living by taking portraits and was fascinated by the way photography had an ability to capture a specific moment in time. Weston realised the power of natural light, where a play of sunlight across a figure could result in a perfect composition.

Sunny corner in the attic





Sunny Corner in an Attic.  1920. Copyright Edward Weston

Weston aspired to making photography become a process of seeing the real world rather than creating an imaginative one. His portraits using light, shadows and texture achieve honest and direct expressions He practiced this “real world” whilst waiting for clients to arrive at his studio by shooting still life objects, continuously arranging and re-arranging the composition until he was satisfied they could be photographed in the most simplistic way.

Whilst making a living with portrait commissions, Weston’s personal work included Nudes and  forms of nature, the results which celebrated form, light, life and simplicity. Whilst Weston photographed his Nudes dancing rather than posing, his still life work was done under tight control in the studio by arranging, re-arranging and isolating the surroundings of the object by filling the frame and making it appear larger. In particular he used light and shadow to outline form in the nudes and express significant patterns in objects such as vegetables and shells.

nudeNude. 1927.                                               Copyright Edward Weston






Pepper                          Shell

Pepper No. 35. 1930. Copyright Edward Weston        Shell. 1927. Copyright Edward Weston

In later years Weston became interested in landscapes and close-ups of nature particularly of coastal variety such as rocks, tree roots and sand dunes. In one of his journals he was quoted as saying:

“I get greater joy from finding things in nature, already composed, than I do from my finest personal arrangements”.

dunesDunes. Oceano. 1936.                             Copyright Edward Weston

Maybe he wouldn’t have realised this had he not spent so long perfecting the composition of his still life objects, where his images represent the objects in their true and natural form. I think there is a lesson to be learnt here – like Penn he has demonstrated pure and deep respect for all subjects by shooting them in a straightforward and honest way.

Although Weston did not experience the digital age where, post production can significantly alter the quality of the final image, I totally get where he was coming from in another quote from his journals and it is something that I will always strive to achieve when shooting my images.

“I want the stark beauty that a lens can so exactly render, presented without interference of ‘artistic’ effect”.


Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson

Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen

Kooiker, P. Dissecting Nudes. P.40 – 49, British Journal of Photography, May 2015, by Taco Hidde Bakker


Research for Assignment 4 – Light

In the feedback from Assignment 3, my tutor suggested I look at the work of Irving Penn and Edward Weston (below) in specific relation to lighting an object and still life representation.

Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson

Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen

He also recommended I look at the work of South African Photographer David Goldblatt, stating that I  might find his work interesting in a relation to a photograph I submitted in assignment 3.

Goldblatt, D. 2014. Particulars. Germany. Steidl

All 3 of these publications have been extremely challenging to locate and view. The county library service in my area do not  stock these books so I have had to wait 8 weeks to get the Penn and Weston books via the Inter-Library Loan Service.

My request for Goldblatt’s Particulars was returned as they were unable to trace any location of the publication and the library service panel declined to buy a copy!






My tutor suggested approaching the nearest University running a BA Hons Photography Course and see if I could access their library as a reader. This is still a possibility which I may consider for the future but nearest venues are a good 2 hours drive. A friend suggested I try applying for an External Readers Card at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University since they stock most UK publications. Luckily for me and after much vetting they accepted my OCA student card as proof that I would be using the reading rooms for “academic research”. However, as an “external reader” I am only permitted to view publications during the University vacation times and paid a £20 fee for the privilege of a 6 month pass, which technically is only valid for 3 weeks during this time! The final requirement (or test) involved reading aloud a declaration, promising to obey the rules of the library:






Blimey – I didn’t even use the word “obey” in my wedding vows and it did cross my mind to say I couldn’t read and that  is why I only wanted to view books of photographs! I thought better of it and my best reading voice resulted in my very own Bod Card!!






Sadly the Bodleian Library also do not hold the publication of Goldblatt’s Particulars within their collections as it is not a UK publication. So for the time being – I’m pretty stumped with this.

However – they do hold Tom Wood’s book All Zones off Peak, another book of work my tutor thought I would find of interest in his feedback from Assignment 2.

Wood, T. 1998. All zones off peak. Stockport. Dewi Lewis Publishing.

I have requested to view this book from their closed stack and hopefully will be able to review his work in a future post.

Progress – albeit in little steps!!



Exercise: Softening the light


  • Set up a still life of any object / objects
  • Fix a naked lamp overhead and pointing down
  • Take two pictures – the first with the naked lamp and second with a diffuser
  • Compare the differences in both pictures


Canon 70D / 18 – 55 mm lens / Tripod / Cable release

Lighting equipment – Mini Pioneer Studio Flash 250DI light / Diffuser – photographic umbrella


For this exercise I used a vase of tulips placed on the floor with the light directly overhead and pointing downwards.  My camera was on a tripod aimed at a slight angle pointing downwards and I used a shutter release cable to fire the shots.  The results were very different; the first picture below was taken with the naked lamp and the second was with the diffuser.

The naked light produced very hard and pronounced shadows and the highlights on the petals of the lighter tulips were very bright. The diffused light eliminated the shadows of the tulips completely and the flowers appeared softer as there was less contrast between the light and dark areas.

In this situation I prefer the naked light, it gives the image a 3 dimensional look with the sharpness of the shadows creating more drama and interest to the composition.  The diffused light gives the appearance of a flat and static image. However in other situations such as portraiture, diffused light would be preferable as it is softer for the subjects face and will avoid creating harsh, unflattering shadows. It really depends what sort of effect the photographer wants to create.

Getting on with Part 4 – Light

I have almost completed the photographs for Assignment 4 ahead of doing many of the exercises in this section. Many of the projects require specific times of day or certain weather conditions and I’m finding it difficult to accomplish them at the times I have available to study. However, I have read the notes thoroughly and borne in mind the information whilst shooting my assignment pictures.

I will try to do as many of the exercises as possible before submitting the assignment but they will probably be done in random order depending on the weather that day!

Derelict London – Eastenders fake or real? Personal Work

Last month I spent an interesting Sunday on a walking tour of London’s East End organised by my local camera club.

For fans of Eastenders (the TV programme) – and people (like me!!) that think Albert Square and its inhabitants are real, it was an exciting prospect to visit the East End and find out what it’s really like. The closest I got to finding anything remotely Albert Square ‘ish’ or ‘The Queen Vic’ though was Albert Walk and The derelict Royal Oak.

The tour was booked with Author Paul Talling who was brought up and still lives in the East End.  Originally a music promoter, Paul started photographing derelict areas of the East End whilst walking through the area and many of the derelict buildings / areas featuring in his book he has stumbled upon and discovered by chance. Paul now makes a living by rambling the streets of London and giving guided walking tours. His knowledge of the area, the history and plans for future regeneration is second to none.

His website: and published books make fascinating reading / viewing.

We met Paul at Gallions Reach Tube Station all but one stop from the end of the DLR line. Having caught the Tube from Osterley (about as far west as you can go) and spending 1 and half hours on the Underground, I was slightly dismayed when he said there was nothing around the area where we could get refreshments! In fact, we hardly saw any signs of life all day! I know it was a “Derelict Tour” but even in residential areas, there was no sign of life except for an enthusiastic bunch of photographers –  What do East Ender’s do on a Sunday? Where do they go? It felt quite eerie actually, wandering around, even the traffic was minimal.

My first glimpse of the  East End was on the DLR journey. I was fascinated to see tiny rows of Victorian Houses that had survived the blitz, sandwiched between ghastly modern giant eye sores with tiny patches of green which constituted communal squares, allotments and tiny back gardens. This first observation continued on foot for most of the tour and the juxtaposition of old and new was quite stark in some areas.


We spent the morning on the edge of the River Thames on a derelict pier with the view of the old Beckton Gas Works, then after a ramble through some overgrowth and climbing a wall to the bank of the River Thames, Paul took us to the wreck of a sunken barge (circa 1900’s) which is only visible and accessible at low tide.


We wandered on through some residential areas – Albert Walk as shown above until we came to North Woolwich Pier. This area was really derelict, cold, empty it didn’t even have a spooky presence – just a sad feeling of being long forgotten.


I’m not sure if it was the atmosphere of the area or the imminent rain that had been forecast, but we were all starting to flag so we headed to the one and only functioning pub that we saw during the day. It looked neither welcoming or friendly and I was rather dubious about how the presence of 20 cold photographers and all their gear would be received behind the net curtains.

Food wasn’t on the menu so we all made do with a pint and packet of crisps (minus the pickled eggs and jellied eels). I was quite pleased that we were allowed to stay and not to told to “Get Outta My Pub”.  However, the news of our arrival didn’t take two minutes to reach the invisible Landlord who told the barmaid to let us know he would do some bar snacks “On the ‘Ouse”.

We had the most amazing Sunday Lunch – East End style and were made to feel very welcome. Bar snack of the day was sliced bread and butter with sausage and chips – delicious! Although it was “On the ‘Ouse” and I’m sure the motivation was to get repeat business from Paul and his walking tours, we all dug deep and left a very generous tip!






There were only a few locals in the pub – all men, propped at the bar and watching football. I would liked to have taken their pictures, to document some real Eastenders but felt that would be pushing my luck when they were being hospitable in their own territory. I asked Paul why there were so few pubs left in the East End. Although part of the reason is now culture and beliefs, historically, many of the reasons are economical with the decline of many local industries over the past 60 years.

So there we are – although Albert Square is fake, the East End is real enough – or is it? The derelict buildings and their areas are only shadows of their former self – built to last, standing tall and proud, vacant. But look hard enough and they provide evidence of history and act as guardians to a life that existed long ago.

The word “Regeneration” means  to “undergo spiritual, moral or physical renewal; to reproduce or re-create”. To demolish these old buildings and make way for physical renewal in terms of modern and profitable office blocks and accommodation would be a crime. Erasing these structures and replacing them with modern buildings not only erases history and the character of the area, but would seem completely fake  The graffiti in the picture above seemed quite poignant whilst these derelict buildings await their fate:

 “Let it rot for 30 years then rebuild it for 30 Million”

Change however is inevitable and after the tour I realised how import it is to make more of an effort to document our existence and habitat not just for ourselves but for future generations to look back on. Photography is the perfect medium to record these changes and it is something I would quite like to do in the historic market town where I live. I recently came across a selection of photographs taken in the 60’s / 70’s and some as recently as 15 years ago when I first moved to the area. I couldn’t believe how much had changed in such a short space of time and how my children won’t remember “Woolworths” in the Market Square or the family owned DIY shop that used to do the most amazing Christmas window displays with an electric train set driven by Santa! I have been completely enthused by Paul and his derelict buildings and hope to start an ongoing personal project, recording change to the landscape of my town. Watch this space!!







Exercise: Higher and lower sensitivity


  • Choose a subject that is marginal where light, movement and depth of field are only just possible.
  • Take 12 photographs starting with an ISO of 100 and then higher..
  • Make notes on the results.


All the pictures of this busy street scene, were shot in Manual mode with an aperture of f/5.6 and shutter speed of 1/125.


The picture that looks best for me is the 4th with the ISO setting of 640. The lower sensitivity settings of ISO 100 / 200 / 400 resulted in the image being too dark. Once the ISO was increased over 640 the image became too light – first the white areas, as seen in the images with ISO 800 / 1000 and then the whole image from ISO 2500 onwards.  The higher the  sensitivity – the more noise there is in the image.



Feedback on Assignment 3

Considering the mental block I had getting this assignment completed, the feedback from my tutor was much, much better than what I hoped for! It has been really helpful to read all the positive comments and reassuring that I’m on the right track with both the practical and research / theory side.

I’m really enjoying the research and reading around the practitioners suggested by my tutor and am again reassured that this will be beneficial for the final assessment. However, I am getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of access to publications for specific practitioners. So far I have managed to request and reserve books with Oxfordshire Library Service except for 1 publication which they do not stock. For the next Assignment – Light, none of the books recommended by my tutor are stocked! I have requested them through the Inter-Library Loan Service but realise this may take several weeks. I have managed to get admission to the Bodleian Library in Oxford but am only allowed access during vacation, the next one being 27th March by which time I’m hoping to have submitted the assignment!! My tutor suggested approaching the nearest University that runs the BA Photography course and ask if I could access their library as a reader. I may end up clocking up the mileage to do this if I start running out of time, but it is really frustrating :-(

On the whole, I’m feeling really pleased with the way the course is going. I admit that the last 6 months have been a struggle and I have found it really hard to motivate myself and engage with the coursework / exercises. I feel that is behind me now and along with the positive feedback from my tutor I’m feeling really motivated to crack on and get AOP finished by the beginning of summer!