Monthly Archives: February 2013

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When I do a portrait shoot, I’m aware of the struggle between how people want to present themselves – usually smiling, and what I want to get – usually a picture of someone not smiling.

Why don’t I want people smiling in my portraits? When someone is smiling it says ‘I am non threatening, open, friendly’. In a photograph, if the subject is smiling, this is easily and quickly read and then we can move on to the next picture. If someone isn’t smiling we have to look for longer to try to figure out who this person is. What are they about? It adds a layer of mystery or at least uncertainty, and the photograph dosen’t say just one thing. It becomes more open to other interpretations.

I recently discovered it was Kodak who introduced the idea of smiling for the camera. In early photography exposure times required it’s subjects to be still and expressions and poses were borrowed from the painted portrait. In 1900 when Kodak introduced the affordable box brownie with their famous slogan ‘You press the shutter, we do the rest‘ their marketing and advertising campaigns showed photos of people smiling for the camera capturing the ‘Kodak moment’. Kodak was the market leader at this time and a dominating force in photography. Smiling became the social norm in picture taking, at least within the developed world.

Now that I know this, it feels easier for me to ask people not to smile in a photograph. At the start of a portrait I usually wait to see what the person will do. I use this as a starting point, get the smiley one out of the way, before I direct them in any way and get down to what I want to get. Now I’ll feel more comfortable and less like I am directly them in a specific direction when I ask them not to smile.¬† I will be taking it back to a neutral starting point when I ask people ‘don’t smile please’.

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This post has been brewing for some time. I opened my Instagram account last December, then came the controversy over their new terms and conditions. I knew I would have to write about it. I have always taken photographs with my mobile phone, at least since 1st of January 2003, when I received a brand new Sharp GX10 from Vodaphone. At the time it was the first camera phone available in the UK. I was to record one picture a day for the whole year. That was to become an exhibition – iCapture. I loved the immediacy and ease of the phone camera, but also my connection to it was different than my other cameras. Taking photographs with a phone results in more spontaneous and personal images. It gives you the feeling that you are recording your very own view of the world, exactly as you are experiencing it, that can then be shared instantaneously. This relationship with the camera phone, later became the subject of my dissertation, on the MA at Newport.

Today millions of Instagramers are taking a photo a day, documenting their daily lives. The vast majority of users take photos of themselves and their friends, when they go somewhere; to say – this is me, I am here, look at me! This use is fine and perfectly valid. It is a form of visual communication and important to people. However finding photographs on Instaram that hold an interest to others and communicate another level of value is not hard to find. There are lots of ways to use Instagram. Many photographers and non photographers are using it in a creative and inspiring way. There is an opinion within some in the photographic community that Instagram is dull, vacuous and meaningless.

For me, Instagram is a great leveler. It is the very fact, that we are all taking the same photographs that appeals to me. It makes me feel connected with others around the world, who are not so very different from me. I love experiencing how other people see their world. It gains me access to those worlds that I am not part of, and could never imagine. It takes me out of the everyday and puts me into seeing and shooting mode, as I walk down the street. It helps me to notice and appreciate the everyday.

The real power of Instagram, was revealed when they tried to change their terms of service, at the end of last year. By consenting to their terms (original and now updated) you grant a full worldwide  license to Instagram, which is also transferable to a third party. In plain language Instagram can use your photos for free and give them to someone else to use for free. The attempted change in policy, would have made it possible for Instagram to charge third parties, for the use of your images. This caused a huge reaction, with some users closing their accounts and many stopped posting until Instagram reverted to their old terms Рwe can use your photos for free.

The power of Instagram and the connections we make through sharing our photos obviously outways the photographer’s own concerns over copyright. Sharing is more important than ownership.


This is a photograph of my Gran, taken in 1936. I found it at my mum’s house when I was home over Christmas. I can remember it being in my Granny’s old tin of photos. I would always ask her if I could look through the tin. She liked to tell me the stories behind the photographs and I loved listening to them. I’ve always remembered this portrait and I really wanted to have a copy of it.

I now think of this photograph, as the definitive picture of my Gran, as a younger woman. There are not many photographs of her when she was younger: one as baby, one with her husband and children, and a few with her mother, father and sisters. The later were taken by a street photographer, as they walked along arm in arm, all buttoned up in their heavy coats. There are more photographs as she gets older when her grandchildren arrive. I almost don’t need any other photograph of her. I feel that this one is ample. Except for a photo that I took myself (below), and that’s because I took it. She is looking at me, with that twinkle in her eye. Two photos from a lifetime. It is probably enough.

I take a lot of portraits of people. It’s difficult to tell if they really like them. It is important to me that they do. It’s a huge compliment to go back to someone’s house to see they have hung their portrait on the wall. Sometimes though, the best I can hope for is that they are used as their Facebook profile picture. It is a compliment, but within a few weeks that photo is always updated. Young people especially are using photography more and more to explore who they are, and experiment with who they want to be. I understand that. I just hope that when they look back in years to come, my photographs will still be there, and if one of my photographs was considered a definitive¬†portrait of a person, that really would be a compliment.

I have a suspicion that my photos will have longevity, as I always give people prints. It will be those prints that will still be there, for people to look back on, when the thousands of digital images that didn’t make it into prints, are forgotten about on old hard drives and defunct mobile phones. That’s something I suppose…