Assignment 1 – Two Sides to the Story

Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. The aim of the assignment is to help you explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not in fact be true. Try to make both sets equally convincing so that it’s impossible to tell which version of the images is ‘true’.

Real Corners Reconstructed

I have understood this brief to be about how I as a photographer consider my work, the approach I take and how I convey that to the viewer.

Real Corners Reconstructed is an exercise in what is real and what is not.  Focusing on mundane street corners that people pass everyday, I have taken a series of images in and around Littlehampton in West Sussex. I have then used these images to create a second set of composite images, ‘reconstructing’ the corners in order to test whether they are distinguishable from the real ones.  They are presented on double sided postcards without title or comment so that the viewer can make up their own mind as to the validity of each image and to which set it belongs. Here on the blog, they are shown randomly.

Planning and Research

In researching for this assignment, I was struck by the fact that Dorothea Lange was given a ‘list’ of scenes to capture and wondered about the ‘truth’ of the images that were published.  Her photo  ‘Migrant Mother’ is acclaimed more for it’s aesthetic appeal than the story it told.  Today’s viewers are bombarded by imagery, do they even notice it’s ‘fake’? 

The idea for the street corners was inspired by Chris Dorley-Brown‘s ‘Corners’ series. I like the idea of not knowing what’s around the corner and it reminded me of an image by Guy Bourdin which I came across during the Expressing Your Vision course. I was also intrigued by Sarah Pickering’s Public Order series, where nothing is quite what it seems at first viewing.  This led me to the concept of reconstructing real street corners to create new views 


There were a number of things which needed to be considered for these images. The corners needed to be shot with the same depth of field (f/8) so that they were easier to match, they also needed to have similar sized buildings or areas that could easily be masked and the angles needed to align.  Shooting on days that were grey and overcast meant that the light was flat and defused which meant that shadows and time of day were less important.

Selecting Images that could be used for the composites was quite instinctive and I had an idea when I took them, which they might marry up with.  This didn’t always work as getting the perspective right was probably the most difficult thing to get right in photoshop.  Below is an example where it just didn’t work.

an example of an image I couldn’t the the perspective right in

Contact sheets can been seen here

to read the Technical Information Sheet click here –  (spoiler alert: don’t read this until you’ve made your decision as to which images are real and which are reconstructed)


To obtain some feedback on this idea I gave a copy of the prints to my family during a family get together and some of my work colleagues.  I was actually surprised and pleased by the level of conversation it generated between the people in the room.  Those that knew the area found them a bit ‘freaky’ because even they were getting confused about which were real and which were reconstructed.  In the end they were all trying to examine them in detail trying to work it out.  No one actually got every set right. I found getting feedback as I was developing the idea very useful and definitely helped me improve my approach.  As a result I changed the presentation and amended a couple of the images.

I am very happy with the concept and I think the images work well as a set but I think I might like to introduce a greater variety for the final set. I do feel that I have met my own brief on considering my work, the approach I take and how I convey that to the viewer.

Assessment Criteria

For this assignment, I have demonstrated the following points:

  • Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. 
  • Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 
  • Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, experimentation, invention. 
  • Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking.
References and Links

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was a second generation German immigrant born in New Jersey in the USA if 1895.

screenshot of google search for Dorothea Lange images

 One of Dorothea’s most famous images is ‘Migrant Mother’ taken in 1936 of a mother affected by the great depression.  Lange was working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), who commissioned the images, giving the photographers a list of images they wanted them to get.  The FSA section head who commissioned the images described it as ‘the’ image of the FSA and that he often wondered what she was thinking.

Florence Thompson’ the woman in the image later complained that she never earned a penny from the picture. However, although she didn’t directly benefit at the time, the image did lead to food aid being sent to the camp.  In her essay; In, Around and Afterthoughts, Matha Rosler, argues that Mrs Thompson was justified in feeling aggrieved. . . she says that documentary photographs have two moments:

  1. arguing for or against the social issue it portrays and seeking to persuade change.
  2. the artistic value as a piece of art or as she calls it ‘aesthetic “rightness”.

It seems that she argues that the image becomes more about the photographer than the content and that the photographers don’t have ‘sympathy’ for the real world, but are only concerned with the aesthetics.

This resonates when compared with the Citizen Journalism which in the main is taken by those involved or suffering from a given situation.


la, A., 2005. Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Elsevier Science.

Research List


Part 1

Project 1, Eyewitnesses?

  • Dorothea Lange
  • Martha Rosler’s 1981 essay ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)’
  • Lewis Hine (1874 – 1940)

Project 2, Photojournalism

  • La Grange, A. (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press
  • Martha Rosler
  • Susan Sontag
  • Abigail Solomon-Godeau

Research point
If you’re interested in the critical debates around photojournalism, try and make time to find out more about at least one of these critical positions during your work on Part One.  

Here are some questions to start you off:

(extract from Photography 1 Context and Narrative, page 27)
  • Do you think Martha Rosler is unfair on socially driven photographers like Lewis Hine? Is there a sense in which work like this is exploitative or patronising? Does this matter if someone benefits in the long run? Can photography change situations? 
  • Do you think images of war are necessary to provoke change?  Do you agree with Sontag’s earlier view that horrific images of war numb viewers’ responses? Read your  answer again when you’ve read the next section on aftermath photography and note  whether your view has changed. See also:
    when-photographs-of-atrocities-dont-shock/#1 [accessed 24/02/14]
  • Do you need to be an insider in order to produce a successful documentary project?
  • Roger Fenton
  • David Campany
  • Joel Meyerowitz

Project 3 Reportage

  • Eugene Atget’s frontal views of Parisian buildings and their inhabitants
  • Nan Golding

Research point
Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.

  • What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?
  • Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?
  • How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

Project 4 The gallery wall – documentary as art

  • MoMA 1967 – John Szarkowski
  • Tate Modern, Cruel and Tender, 2003
  • Tate Modern, Street and Studio (2008)

Research point
Look online at Paul Seawright’s work, Sectarian Murders.

  • How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art? Listen to Paul Seawright talk about his work at: [accessed 24/02/14]
  • What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?
  • If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its
  • Sarah Pickering, Public Order, 2004
  • Alessandra Sanguinetti, The Adventrues of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams

Project 5 The manipulated image