I’ve had my report back from my tutor Sam for just over a week but it’s taken me this long to get around to writing this up
As for Assignment 1, it’s a very thorough report, commenting individually on each picture submitted. It’s also a very balanced report, with some really good constructive feedback on how I might improve some of my work.
The ‘Overall Comments’ section is reproduced below, with my general response. Then I summarise the edited comments per picture and my response to them.
“A committed response to the assignment and you demonstrated good preparation and logistical organization by planning your position and observing and revisiting the event.
Good work spending time on documenting so many people, that careful observation does inform the story. Clean and crisp photographs submitted.
Your assignment presentation is clear and relevant, keep working in this way. Taking the time to practice and read up about different approaches is informing your work.
You have created a body of work that documents a story. The images are bright, crisp and bold and connect the viewer to the event. I would suggest a development would be to take a variety of images, some with close up detail as well as some location work to almost set the scene, the sense of place? I also wonder if this is rather a clean observation? These train types like to get oily and dirty and this is great for atmospheric shots.”
I’m obviously pleased with the overall positive tone of the comments. I was particularly proud of this set of images and keen for my enthusiasm in the outcome to be shared somewhat by the viewer. Sam’s comment about the lack of variety in the type of images is totally valid; with hindsight I did take a rather strict interpretation of the overall brief (and section title) and focused very much on the people themselves. A more rounded narrative would have included some more contextual/environmental images and more close-ups of specific activities (e.g. the hands of a crew member uncoupling the engine). The one comment I’m not sure I agree with is the suggestion that I may have sought out ‘clean’ subjects! There was no attempt on my part to (literally) sanitise the subject matter, so maybe the reputation steam trains have for being particularly dirty and oily is somewhat undeserved?!
Comments per image:
1. Driver coming in
- “This is a good observation and the drivers’ complete concentration is really interesting. Good point of focus here and the framing of the window adds to the composition. […] Deciding to cover this event in colour has worked well. I love his grubby hands in this shot!”
- Very pleased that this came over pretty much how I intended it: the concentration, the framing, the colours
- As noted in the assignment itself, this was the image that inspired me to ditch my original plan to work in b/w and I was relieved to see that this worked well
- “This man has a great face and it is nice to see him in all his train uniform. […] I would really advise you not to use black and white as a default to cover any issues in the quality of an image. Black and white is such a beautiful medium and should be used to support and develop a narrative.”
- The b/w comment is because I wrote in my submission that I felt that this might have worked better in b/w due to it being a little too noisy – meaning that I think b/w can ‘carry’ more noise than colour images as it’s accepted as ‘grittier’… but I am suitably chastened! I know what Sam means, I shouldn’t see a b/w conversion as a ‘fix’ to an image, however tempting that is sometimes
3. Decoupling the engine
- “Love the retro hat and health and safety high-vis vest combination. A really bold combination of colours, with a bright point of interest, it could have been a wider shot to add further emphasis to the ‘mighty machine and small man’ intervention?”
- Another one where I was glad I went with an overall colour aesthetic
- Good point on a wider shot – unfortunately this is only very slightly cropped so I can’t go back an make this much wider than it appeared here
4. Phoning the other end of the platform
- “How funny! Love this pic and the serious look on the guys face, and not often you even see this type of phone now. I do like the composition although I wonder if it could have been a little bolder on the person? Good colour and good control of the highlights.”
- So glad this came across well – it was one of four last-minute replacement shots that made the cut on my last day of shooting and it completely validated my decision to go back for one last session
- Interesting comment on composition; unlike image 3, I thought this actually suited going wider –this ‘corner composition’ approach, with the train itself providing the context, was a deliberate choice. Having said that, I will go back and try a different crop
5. Filling the water tank
- “This has great potential as it is so very strange looking. I wonder if a horizontal crop across the top would be interesting or even a vertical crop of only the left of the image. The man at the bottom of the frame is distracting as he is looking in your direction but the arm waving man is very interesting. The exposure seems fine with good colours.“
- I tried a crop as suggested and I found you lose the scale and the context too much
- However, I do see what Sam means about the man bottom right not adding anything (although I actually liked the implied triangle) – so instead of cropping this, I will go back to the many outtakes and find one where man bottom right is less prominent
6. Checking the engine
- “This is a good study of a person and you have been quite controlled in your point of focus. I wonder if the composition supports this gaze? The man’s shiny head has lost some detail in the print. The colours seem fine and it is sharp.”
- I tried different crops after the comment on the gaze, but found none as satisfactory as the one I submitted (maybe I’m being too stubborn!)
- Fair point on the print – I’m still learning on that score
7. Train crew waiting
- “I like the waiting image, the tension is very obvious, although I did want to see more of the man on the left, the composition could have had less sky, more foot room and more information on the left.”
- This is an unfortunate instance of me completely agreeing with her comments, but being unable to address them! I shot the main man and only after the event realised that I’d cropped the man to the left too much… the only thing I could do is chop out a bit of sky
8. Waving the train back in
- “This image is really fun. Great energy and colour, I also like the slightly bewildered look on the spectators face! I wonder if this image could have had a bit more room to give a bit more of the environment and that sense of performance!”
- Again, an example of where I can’t go any wider than I shot, so to improve on this would mean going back for a reshoot – and I’d need to be lucky to capture the moment as well as I think I did here
9. Recoupling the engine
- “This is a very bright and colourful image. It does look like you have caught this chap up to some mischief, he is concentrating so hard.”
- Not much to add – again I was drawn to the colours and the character, and both of these seem to have come across to the viewer
10. Train guards ready to go
- “This is very much a waiting image, I am not sure it is telling the story you have suggested, I wonder if the image taken from further back to show the actual carriage would have been more informative. There is a loss of detail in the highlights of the print but the colours are suitable.“
- I do agree that this doesn’t add much to the series… yet again the feedback is that I should have gone wider to take in more of the surroundings
11. Station guard blowing his whistle
- “This image has so much information in it and it is also quite active. I life the composition with the bridge arch. The exposure looks fine.”
- Another last-day replacement shot as I wasn’t happy with the composition or lighting on the previous candidate, so I’m very pleased that it worked out
12. Train guard smiling as train leaves
- “This image is very strong. The good compositional elements really come together here and of course the great expression. The print interprets it well and you do get away with the slight softness. The print is slightly darker than on line and not quite as warm in tone but still pleasing”
- This is another instance of me taking several variations with different guards over different days, and I knew straight away that this was going to be the one I used
- It’s only just occurred to me in hindsight that I have in effect bookended the series with two similarly composed shots – framed by a train window; I’d love to claim this as deliberate but it’s subconscious at best, probably pure coincidence!
Other comments – and inspiration…
Sam made some other comments on the overall set that I found interesting and mused upon for a while:
“One element of your story I would really like to have seen explored is who all these people were. You have taken some nice images of a variety of people in a distanced manner, the next step could be to know their names and something about them. This along with a variety of close up shots as well as scene setting makes this a story that you could then approach the railway people or local magazine as a story?”
My initial response to this was that I’d stuck to the true spirit of the assignment (well, the section title) of ‘People Unaware’ and my intention to take all these as candid shots was the right approach. However, I then came to realise that I could have spoken to the subjects after the shot, to find out more about them. In some instances this would have been tricky, as many of the volunteers are kind of busy during this process! But others are very much waiting around, so I could have engaged them in conversation.
On the plus side: Sam’s idea that I could do something else with these images has really taken hold – I’ve already decided to contact the marketing team at NMYR and see if they’re interested in doing anything with the pictures. They occasionally have a volunteer recruitment drive, and these photos might be suitable for something like that?
Also, the station has a small visitors’ centre with exhibition space, and before now I’ve seen other photographers having small shows there. 12 photos isn’t really enough for something like that, so I might take a little time to go back through the contact sheets – and pictures I’ve taken at the station over the last six years of living in Pickering – to build a more rounded narrative that takes in the trains and the station itself as well as the staff.
Wish me luck!