Syrians unknown by John Wreford

Also showing currently at the Pitt Rivers museum on the top floor of the Gallery.

John Wreford is a freelance editorial photographer that has spent the last ten years living in the Syrian capital Damascus.

The exhibition features large-scale portraits of people displaced from war-torn Syria who are now surviving and thriving in Istanbul, Turkey.  Each person photographed has written testimonials, in both English and Arabic, about their experiences.  It’s displayed on the top floor of the gallery, on large glass doors of display cabinets, giving each image a translucent feel. Displayed large, the beautifully shot black and white portraits are displayed high, forcing you to look up to the people whilst they explain their journey that took them to Istanbul and their hopes for the future.


Photograph by John Wreford[ONLINE] [Accessed 23 July 2017].

Camel: A journey through fragile landscapes – by Roger Chapman

Currently showing at the Pitts River museum in Oxford

Roger Chapman is, as his website describes, a cinematographer for the BBC, Channel 4, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel has included films on diverse subjects from the Buddhist Kung Fu Monks of the Shaolin Temple, to war-torn Bosnia, the Great Rift Valley of Africa, drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro, the sacred Ganges river in India and the secretive world of Geisha in Kyoto.

In this project he’s produced a series of 65 images describing the relationship between people and their camels, allowing them to thrive in some of the harshest environments in the world. There’s images from the Thar desert in India, the Sahara in Sudan, the Mongolian steppes and of course camel racing in the United Arab Emirates.

In each of the countries, the camel has a different status and the photos reflect this, showing an interesting contrast between the cultures.  Images from the multi-million-dollar industry of camel racing, where expensive camels, almost show animals, are shown alongside images from the Sahara, where the camel is crucial to survival, with the locals still needing it to travel long distances and care for their livestock. Images from Mongolia shows the result of climate change and over grazing. When a sheep grazes, it tears up the plant’s roots laying waste to the land, whereas a camel will leave the roots intact so the plant can grow again. Thsi is driving an economic migration to the cities as rural people struggle, leaving camels unwanted.

The photos themselves are very well presented in black and white, a variety of sizes but a lot printed large, which have real impact

Camel’s milk, Outer Mongolia. By Roger Chapman[ONLINE] Available at:×400.jpg [Accessed 23 July 2017].

Camel and boy, Outer Mongolia. By Roger Chapman[ONLINE] Available at:×400.jpg [Accessed 23 July 2017].

Timed out – withdrawn

Unfortunately I’ve timed out on completing this module. Family and work pressures means I’m unable to find the time necessary to complete this course at the standard I wish within the two year timescale.

I was offered the chance of an extension, but this would come out of the next two years for the second module. Add that to the increased financial costs of the course and it’s currently out of my reach. When I started course fees were £595 per module. With the relaxation of University course fees, this has now risen to £1480 for the next module.


I hope in the future I can return to complete my studies

Exercise 44 – Imaging the War, Walk the Line

We are asked to read the articles ‘Imaging War’ by Jonathan Kaplan (Foto8, pp.142–3) and ‘Walk the Line’ by Max Houghton (Foto8, pp.143–4) and comment on the authors’ arguments.

Kaplan writes as a volunteer a war surgeon, author and photographer.  He explains the history of the surgeon in war, at first the treatment of stabs, bullet holes and bludgeonings caused by human conflict, and the first great reference book on the subject used as its frontispiece the iconic image of the Wound Man, his head and body sprouting arrows, perforated by gunfire, split with sabre and battleaxe, pierced through from every side by spear and pike and javelin. [1]

From Hans von Gersdorff’s Feldtbuch der Wundartzney (Strasburg, 1519). [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2016].

He quotes  the 16th century physician Paracelsus who  advises “To learn the art of surgery go to war.”, comparing this approach to that of photojournalism, referencing Capa: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, it may be because you aren’t close enough“, then pointing out the obvious problems with getting too close.

Because of his position, he has submitted articles with accompanying images, but has felt uncomfortable with what he calls medical pornography, continuing to justify the differences between images for medical training and those for editorial, giving an example of images of landmine victim surgery not being used as they would possibly distract from the rest of the books work. Yet nevertheless, he had submitted them for inclusion, yet later agreed with them not being used.  In his work these probably seemed like an everyday occurrence, yet were deemed too upsetting for others by a picture editor.

Max Houghton starts with the statement: The question of which images are fit for publication on the grounds of taste is one with which picture editors grapple on a daily basis.  Using examples like the front page of the Guardian in July 2003 when the decapitated heads of Uday and Qusay, Saddam’s sons, were displayed as trophy images [1]

Were these decapitated heads or only what Houghton remembered? Having found the article they don’t appear to be decapitated [2], but are showing excessive wounds, although not as much as one would think, with ten antitank missiles being used to take out the armoured room they were in.

Houghton states: An invisible line had been crossed, but this line was evidently personal to me.  Perhaps it’s my military background, but to me these seemed justifiable at the time, the proof that these individuals had been killed.  Contrast that with Bin Laden, who images have never been released, allowing some to claim he is still alive, they had the wrong person.  Justifiable that bad people get judged and pay the ultimate sentence?


Houghton then uses the image of a mother bleeding to death in front of her young child, taken in in Kenya by George Phicipas  and tells us the the image was originally published in black and white by the Daily Telegraph, with the title A woman lies dead during ethnic clashes in Kenya.  This photo was published by Reuters around the world, except by the mainstream press in Kenya, with Editors arguing that it was likely to inflame passions and fuel the violence, and also further traumatise a nation that was already in shock at the genocidal brutality that had beset it. [4]

The Observer re-ran the image in full colour, as shown in the article,  after their journalist Tracy McVeigh,  investigated and found the woman to be called Grace Mungai.  Rather than being an impersonal image, McVeigh told the story behind the death, of the people involved. [5]

This one is more difficult for me. Was there a need to reproduce the image in colour, so large. Was it there as shock value to promote the human interest story?  By knowing the participants, the story, rather than just a distressing image of an unknown in a distant land, it becomes more personal and so that connection is made.  The story makes the distinction that the innocent got punished and the guilty got away, which brings more impact to the original image of the death. Picture editors walking the line of their target audiences emotions, which might be why we are told this image only drew one complaint.




[1] Imaging war – Jonathan Kaplan, Walk the line – Max Houghton [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2016].

[2] US releases photos of Saddam sons | World news | The Guardian. 2016. US releases photos of Saddam sons | World news | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2016].

[3] The last moments of Saddam’s grandson | World news | The Guardian. 2016. The last moments of Saddam’s grandson | World news | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2016].

[4] Siasa Duni: The dead woman of Naivasha and her crying baby. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2016].

[5] Found: the boy caught in Kenya’s bloody hell | World news | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2016].

Channel 4 films – Amy by Asif Kapadia

Channel 4 recently showed the documentary film Amy, described as Asif Kapadia’s poignant, critically acclaimed documentary portrait of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, the English soul, jazz and R ‘n’ B phenomenon who died tragically before her time. [1]

Following his success with the documentary Senna, Asif Kapadia took over 100 interviews, with early footage from both the family and Amy’s first manager Nick Shymansky.

We hadn’t seen the film when first released, but whilst in San Francisco, my wife and I attended an exhibition in the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Amy, A Family Portrait. It’s displayed as a timeline of her childhood, early theater years and the beginning of her career, using photos, home movies, clothes, records and family stories from her brother.




This was arranged by the family with the London Jewish Museum, so was a very cosy, intimate and positive exhibition with some insights into Amy’s nature from an early age.

This was reinforced from the start of the Asif Kapadia film,  intensely personal at the start. The camera angles and closeness put the viewer into the scene, as though you were part of the little group, but then as her career grows and her additions are portrayed, it becomes less personal, tv camera footage, paparazzi and it’s here that it starts becomes uncomfortable viewing, but the distancing is cleverly edited so its a while before you notice the change with the story.  On the way we see behind the scenes footage of performances, with lyrics added to the screen as she sings, taken from her own writing.  Her recording of Back to Black, detailing her relationship at the time with Blake Fielder-Civil is mesmorising, poignant, emphasing her personal life on display through her music.

The film attracted a lot of negative comments about the editing and how Amy was portrayed, especially from her father. [2] [3]  In interviews Kapadia has said he’s tried to make the most honest film possible and I think he’s done this in using her lyrics to tell the story.

The last part is uncomfortable, it’s been called tragedy porn by some [4]. It’s part of the story yet the downfall, the final concert, the footage of her leaving her home in a body bag, is difficult viewing, the distancing is complete. Instead of being part of the inner personal circle at the start, we’re left with the feeling of being part of the problem, the cause of her death. In discussion with my tutor he said: I think that was Asif’s intention (I know him we made films together when we were both students at Westminster). Its commenting upon the media or subject inquisition by allowing the viewer to realise they are complicent.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna in her article said: I felt no artistic catharsis to justify the images I saw. Instead, I was left feeling uncomfortable, ashamed that I’d been complicit in the tabloid culture that in part pushed Winehouse into exactly the darkness that the film attempted to document.

Perhaps thats the real strength of this documentary. With Senna I could rewatch, with Amy I can’t bring myself to revisit the ending.



[1] Amy – All 4. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2016].

[2] Asif Kapadia on Amy: ‘The drinking, the bulimia, the drugs – nobody stopped it’ | Film | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2016].

[3] Mitch Winehouse slams Amy documentary as film receives two BAFTA nominations | Metro News. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2016].

[4] Why the Amy Winehouse film is little better than the paps who hounded her | Film | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2016].

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The purpose of this blog is to allow me to maintain a learning log for my Open College of the Arts (OCA) photography course.