The photograph as document – Project 3: Reportage – Exercise


Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style.

In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats.

What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?

For this exercise I ventured into Cambridge city centre on pay-day weekend, 3 weeks before christmas. With the exception of some intermittent cloud, the weather was fine, providing a mix of contrasty hard light and diffuse soft light. The town centre was bustling with xmas shoppers which provided lots of interesting subjects for me to photograph.

Before heading out, I deliberated about how best to conduct the exercise. My initial thoughts were to shoot 30 images, and process them in both colour and b&w in order to provide a direct comparison. This idea was short lived, because when I photograph a subject, I tend to consider/plan how I want my final image to look before I compose my image and take my shot. To that end, I tend to take photographs specifically in colour, or in b&w. So that’s what I did. I went looking for found situations/subjects to photograpgh in one format or the other. I went slightly over the required amount, producing 35 colour images and 34 b&w images. Due to the sheer number of images, they have been uploaded at 60% quality in order to keep the size down.


Black & White:

The differences between the 2 formats has been explored in the previous module (Art of Photography), but it can be summarised from my experiences whilst out shooting these images. I find that the colour set is more in the “here and now”. Colour can add a sense of time and place,  acting as a clue to the season or the time of day (warm or cool tones). It is also a recognisable marker from trends and fashions that are around at the time of shooting. Colour can be distracting or vulgar, but this in itself can either be, or compliment the subject. Colour can also be used as a method of communication, by connoting meanings or emotions (red = danger, anger etc).

The b&w set of images are more timeless. They emphasise form, shape and design. Portraits appear more revealing and personal in b&w, as we are drawn straight to the face, with little to distract us. Small details such as texture also become more apparent.

To answer the final question: I prefer both sets equally (that sounds like a cop-out doesn’t it?). Both sets have their unique qualities, and their place within contemporary photography. I also enjoy shooting in both formats equally. It is the photographers prerogative to use whichever format best communicates his desired message.

The photograph as document – Project 3: Reportage – Research point

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?

In the words of Paul Reas “colour is quieter”¹.  We are used to seeing the world in colour, which makes viewing colour images “normal”. We are all aware that B&W photography is more concerned with Composition, Form, Shape etc which although traditional, does not necessarily communicate what we want it to. For example, is the sky blue, without the blue? Is McDonalds McDonalds without the golden arches?² Although colour can be used to invoke a feeling, create balance etc (as taught in AoP), it can also be a distraction, or vulgar. I think that it adds a new dimension and opens up new possibilities in a genre that has traditionally been B&W. Ultimately, there is a place for both Colour and B&W in street photography, depending on what the subject is and what the photographer is trying to communicate.

• Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?

Whenever I think of surrealism in street photography, I immediately think of Lee Friedlander, imposing his shadow on the scene, although there are many more great examples out there³. Cartier-Bresson I’ve learnt, had a formal education in painting, and learnt from a young age how to represent the 3D world in a 2D image. Essentially he used the 2 dimensional plane of the image to create his surrealist photographs. Although I can’t spot the actual shift, I can see the influence of surrealism in his work, and can identify works that don’t necessarily have a surrealist influence. Martin Parr, although working in a very different era, and adopting colour photography, uses surrealism subtly to add humour to his images.

• How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values? Make notes in your learning log.

Definition of irony: The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect – Wikipedia. 

I found this page which contains a gallery of 17 images of Parr’s, along with an interview for Lens Culture.  Parr states that he uses Irony  “as a device to engage his audience”. Looking at his images, predominantly, his irony manifests itself as humour, but has serious undertones in terms of social documentary. This is often achieved by the juxtaposition of symbolic elements against each other, the local population, or a symbolic place to create meaning.