Exercise 5.2 – Listen to the band

The picture I have selected is probably the best-known of Astrid Kirchherr’s early photographs of The Beatles, taken in Hamburg in October or November 1960 while they were still a pub-and-club rock band and before the iconic line-up coalesced.

This image works equally well as a group portrait or a set of individual portraits of late-teens lads showing some attitude. George, Pete and Stu are looking at the camera; John and Paul slightly away from it. We know they are musicians because they are all carrying their instruments (or part of the drumset). They are wearing a sort of uniform, or at least the standard youth costume of leather jacket and jeans. Posing is directed in principle but not choreographed; each band member strikes his own pose.

The group are posed on a road trailer in an industrial setting, suggesting their own working class origin and that of their target audience. This is a monochrome image, typical of its age, and high-contrast giving a gritty, rock’n’roll feel. This is a rock band on the eve of ‘discovery’ (and the success of three of them is the stuff of modern legend)

Apart from the historic interest, I am attracted to the image by its simplicity and directness. It shows us a band and tells us something about the type of music they play and the kind of people likely to enjoy it.

I recently found myself taking photographs of a couple of local ‘pub gig’ bands, and one of them asked me to take some publicity photographs for their website and Facebook pages. I wanted to emulate Kirchherr’s semi-posed style and use of a vehicle as background and support.

The circumstances are different from the early Beatles, so that affects the way the photograph is set up. Ocean Blue are a cover band playing 1950s to 1990s music, mainly  blues and ska, whose target audience is weddings and corporate functions. Their corporate look is ‘Blues Brothers’. We did not have an industrial background available (and it would not have been appropriate anyway) but one band member had a neighbour with a classic American car (1964 Packard Clipper), which was ideal for our purposes.

Following Kirchherr, I wanted the band posing with their instruments. As a bit of fun, we also filled the boot of the car with instrument cases to ‘tell a story’ that they just arrived at a venue and were unpacking. I used the car as background (Clive and Dawn also used it as a seat), roughly arranged the subjects and left posing and expression to them. This image is a pick from a dozen similar ones of this arrangement.

Post-processing in Lightroom, partly desaturated and increased the contrast of the image for a modern ‘cool’ look.



Thinking about colour • 1

In feedback after assignment 4, my tutor commented:

You have clearly observed and recorded colour in the work and created your own colour palette. In relation to this I would like to have seen further development with research into theory and symbolism in the use of colour.

I therefore plan a series of three postings, between now and the end of the course, dealing with colour. As Itten(1974) has pointed out, there are many ways of looking at colour: a physicist will be interested in radiation and optics, a chemist in the nature of pigments and paints, a painter in the way that colours interact on the canvas etc.

This first posting, dealing loosely with the scientific background, will be mostly unreferenced because the starting point is high school physics lessons and other influences too deeply ingrained to unravel.

What colour is

Visible light is one manifestation of electromagnetic radiation. The full spectrum ranges from radio at one end to gamma radiation at the other, a total of 400 octaves of frequency (Asimov ‘Four hundred octaves’ a 1982 essay collected in Asimov 1984). Of this, slightly less than one octave (approximate wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers(frequency 430-750THz)) is visible to the human eye. The phenomenon that we call colour is the brain’s way of interpreting the difference between frequencies of visible light.


source: Wikipedia

These colours can be seen in natural phenomena such as rainbows, but it was only when Isaac Newton demonstrated splitting and recombining the colours from white light with a prism that the principle was understood. The spectrum above also shows the invisible radiation at either end of the visible range, infra-red and ultra-violet, which can also be recorded by cameras. The naming of the traditional seven colours has more to do with mysticism than science: indigo is really a dark blue and there are no discrete colours in a continuum.

The (in my opinion) questionable next step is to turn the linear spectrum into a ‘colour wheel’ by stitching the red and blue ends together through a range of colours known variously as purple, magenta or mauve. I suspect the reason why these colours are difficult to describe is that they are conceptually artificial.

The 1990 Schiffman diagram is the most ‘honest’ of these examples as it shows the pink-purple sector is separate from the ‘rainbow colours’. It also introduces the concept of saturation. However, whatever the scientific basis, the full colour wheel can be justified because it ‘works’ for colour mixing.

Primary and secondary colours

Although colours have almost-infinite variety, it is not necessary to have an enormous number of colour sources to reproduce them.

It is notionally possible to select a smaller number of ‘pure’ colours and mix the others from them. How many colours, and which, will depend on personal choice, the nature of the medium and the way in which the primaries are mixed. Usually, three primaries are used. Artists mixing paint, and schoolchildren using crayons, use red, yellow and blue as seen in the first diagram below.

The standard when mixing lights, and on colour TV screens, computer monitors etc. is to use red, green and blue, as illustrated in the middle diagram. This type of mixing is called additive because the lights are added to each other, the secondary colours (formed by mixing equal amounts of two primaries) are lighter and it is possible to produce white by mixing all three equally.

When printing, including computer inkjet and laser printers, the inks lie on the white paper and subtract some colours from the white base. Adding further ink reduces the colour still further and this type of mixing is called subtractive. The subtractive primaries are the same as the additive secondaries (cyan, magenta and yellow), producing red, blue and green when mixing in pairs and, notionally, black when they are all mixed together. In practice, a mixture of the three pigments is a rather muddy, dark colour rather than pure black, so printers will add a black ink to the set, giving the standard CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) inkset of low-end printers. Because of technical issues in the way the inks are formulated and applied, the colour mixing of the basic four colours is not perfect, and high-end printers use additional colours to fill the perceived gaps. For instance, my Canon PixmaPro 9500 uses ten inks in nine colours: the basic CMYK set, lighter versions of magenta, cyan and black, plus red and green. There are two different blacks (matt black MBK and photo black PBK) but this is about ‘glossiness’ rather than colour.

Colour temperature

The colour of a scene depends on the colour of the light illuminating it. The eye and brain will accommodate this, to some extent and perceive the scene in its ‘true colours’. The process of ‘colour correction’ is an attempt to alter the true colour of the scene to accord with the way it is perceived.

The main reason for colour variation is the temperature of the light source. A physical concept called ‘black body radiation’ says that the amount of radiation emitted by a body increases with its temperature, and also that the average colour (peak of the frequency curve) tends toward the higher-frequency, short-wavelength blue end of the spectrum.


source: Wikipedia

Thus, the sun with its surface temperature of about 6000K emits light that we perceive as white (that being what the eye has evolved to do) but an incandescent light bulb, with a coil temperature of 3000K emits mainly infra-red (heat) radiation plus some visible light at the red/yellow end of the spectrum. The situation is more complicated with fluorescent sources, which have a discontinuous spectrum and require correcting on the green-magenta axis as well as the blue-yellow axis.

One curiosity is that the bluer colours are considered ‘cooler’, while red and yellow light is considered ‘warmer’ and more comforting, in contradiction to their relative physical colour temperatures. Partly, this is due to common experience; fire is yellow, ice is bluish. However, I speculate that part of the cause relates to Rayleigh scattering, by which the red-yellow light from the sun reaches us directly, while blue light is scattered and turns the entire sky dome blue. This means that an outdoor scene effectively has mixed light sources. Objects directly lit by the sun have a yellow tint while objects in shadow are lit by light from the sky dome and acquire a blue tint.

The next posting of the set will look at the way colours are used together, whether harmonious, complementary or ‘clashing’.

The final posting will look at some of the symbolism of colours.


Asimov, I. (1984) X stands for unknown. New York, NY, United States: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

Itten, J. (1974) The art of color: The subjective experience and objective rationale of color. 2nd edn. New York: Wiley, John & Sons

Assignment 4 rework – getting crafty

My tutor’s feedback on this assignment suggested that I look at methods of presentation beyond a set of prints spread out on the table.

The remaining pictures are colourful but a little bland as single images. However looking at these and at your contacts I would suggest that there could be more impact made with the images if you considered the possibility of presenting them as a series of triptychs along the themes that you indicate in your submission shadows, puddles and so on. Another possibility would be to consider a single dominant colour for each triptych. The final outcome is of course down to you as in this project you have produced enough images to consider a range of presentation ideas and interpretation of the subject in a variety of ways.

Overall a good piece of work that may need to have the format for presentation reconsidered.

I was aware that some images held more interest than others. Presenting as triptychs would allow some of the weaker images to act as supporters rather than stand-alones.

I briefly considered presenting the images as a book but, with a limit on the number of images to present for assessment, I was unable to come up with a satisfactory book layout. I therefore reverted to the triptych idea, but resolved to include some book-crafting techniques in the final version. Of course, as I have never done any book-crafting before, this presented me with a learning curve.

One issue was the need to re-select images. Rather than looking for an all-landscape-format set, I now needed three strong landscape-format and six ‘supporting’ portrait-format. Here are my final selections.


Car park markings




Fallen leaves

The original concept of triptychs was as decoration for folding altarpieces. I emulated these by mounting each set on folding boards, which close completely for protection. The set of three boards is contained in a slipcase. The colours, ‘twilight blue’ and black were chosen to recognise the project as a night-time shoot. I must confess to some hair-tearing and blasphemy during the crafting process (next time I will try with a starch paste rather than PVA adhesive) and there were a few false starts. However, I am pleased with the final version.

Understanding a Photograph – John Berger

‘Understanding a Photograph’ is the title of both a 1968 essay by John Berger (2013, pp17-21) and the more recent Penguin Classics collection containing it. As with any collection of essays in which this device is used, the book is both more and less than its title suggests. More, because the book ranges much further than the scope of a single essay. Less, because the student looking for an in-depth discourse on interpreting individual photographs will not find it here.

Penguin have collected together a group of Berger’s essays spanning 40 years from 1967 to 2007. For a book ostensibly about photography, there are very few photographs (a point also regretted by Geoff Dyer in his introduction (ibid. xvii)) which makes some of the essays difficult to follow; Berger refers peripherally to images with which he is familiar but I am not. Nowadays, I could make a Google search and find the image – an option that was not available to the original reader in most cases. Many of the photographs which are presented have suffered in the printing process, with shadow detail lost and spreading into the highlights.

In the title essay and elsewhere, Berger argues against trying to shoehorn photography into the fine arts, seeing it as something different (and apparently seeing the fine arts as morphing into expressions of valuable property, inimical to his left-wing views). What sets photography apart from the other visual arts is its characteristic reproducibility (I wonder if he views daguerrotypes and Polaroids differently); a photograph does not have ‘property value’ but, instead is witness to a human choice exercised in a given situation.

He is dismissive of the idea of ‘composition’ in photography (and scornful of arranged still-lifes), regarding composition as something that painters do when creating an image from a blank piece of paper. Instead, a photographer is faced by the world and has to select from it through the viewfinder. More importantly, ‘The true content of a photograph is invisible, for it derives from a play, not with form, but with time.’ (Berger 2013, 19). The photographer selects the instant at which he presses the shutter button. This part of the essay is an alternative take on Cartier-Bresson’s notion of ‘the decisive moment’, although without HCB’s regard for the ‘geometry’.

There are two other essays, ‘Appearances’ and ‘Stories’, both from 1982, which deal with photography in a theoretical way. The others could best be described as extended rambles triggered by particular photographs or photographers. For instance, a photograph by Sitka Hanzlová triggers a riff on the nature of forests. Berger has said, in this book and elsewhere that having the text describe the image, or the image illustrating the text, are tautologies which he tries to avoid. He seems to have succeeded in this collection.

In summary, this is a book to be read for breadth rather than depth. There is not a lot of instruction but it is an insight into the mind of one of the important figures in the 20th century art world.


Berger, J. (2013) Understanding a photograph. Edited by Geoff Dyer. London: Penguin Classics.