Monthly Archives: April 2017

Child’s Play at The Foundling Museum

Exhibition: Child’s Play – Mark Neville at The Foundling Museum
Date: Friday 28 April 2017 @ 4:00pm
Entrance: £7.50  (Student Concession inc gift aid)

I saw the advert for this exhibition in the British Journal of Photography (Issue 7858 April 2017 edition) and really wanted to see it but with so many other things in my diary I nearly missed it!  I managed to re-arrange my diary and freed up an hour, which was thankfully enough.

The reason I was drawn to this particular exhibition was the documentary aspect of the exhibition rather than the technical side of photography.  I had a slightly unconventional childhood, living in a rural location, so I was curious to see what childhood was like in other countries and cultures but also for different generations.

Note: I wanted to write this initial section before reading anything about the exhibition as I wanted to capture my thoughts and feelings about it without any influence from the photographer or other commentators.

The exhibition was spread across 3 rooms on 2 floors together with a lobby/foyer area.   I thought the cost to image ratio was high in comparison to other exhibitions I had been to.  Most of the photos were recent (2003 onwards) but I was surprised that in some respects childhood, as portrayed in the exhibition, was not that much different to that which I remembered in the 1970s.  It was surprising but also in some ways comforting, as I look back at my childhood with fond memories.  I appreciate not everyone is in that position.

There were a number of black & white images which fooled me into thinking they were more dated than they actually were.    I found myself searching for clues in the images to identify when they were taken; clothing, surroundings and the items being played with. This made me consider whether Child’s Play in some respects was timeless.  This also played out when watching the two videos in the exhibition foyer, where sports day past and more present had been filmed and now shown side by side for comparison. Certainly the sack race was an enjoyable comparator.

A lot of the children in the photos were not smiling and looking straight in to the camera. I found this interesting for two reasons; 1) in my mind ‘running free and laughing’ is my archetypal visualisation of ‘childhood’ but this was not being portrayed in the exhibition, although there was very little indication that childhood was a negative thing in general and 2) were the children asked not to smile and perform for the camera by the photographer?  Maybe the write-ups and review will answer with this.

As mentioned above, I had not read any reviews prior to attending the exhibition and on my first pass through the exhibition I disregarded the image narratives so I could get a feel of the images as a collection.

The exhibition made me realise that children are more resilient than I thought.  A number of the images had children in situations which I couldn’t imagine putting my children in to but for these children this was their life ‘normal’ and unquestioned; whether it was cultural, professional, medical or warfare related.  Even the children affected by war were still at play; they seemed to accommodate what was going on around them.

The other thing that interested me was access.  How did the photographer get access to take these images.  At a time when photographing children was becoming more sensitive, I wondered how clearance was given and the process the photographer had to go through to get access.

It was definitely worth taking the time to see this exhibition, it gave me a greater insight into collections of images which represent a single idea.

Technical observations:

  • all the B&W prints were on Silver Gelatin and Colour prints were C-type.  I hadn’t noticed this before at any of the other exhibitions I’ve been too so I will look further in to this aspect.
  • All prints were encased in white box frames, which seemed an un-fussy and simple way to present the images.
  • The second image in the series I thought was a bit Martin Parr-esque.

I will be scanning on the image descriptions very shortly – watch this space.

Taken directly from The Foundling Museum website page (posted here verbatim in case the site removes the page in the future.  This provides a permanent reference):

03 Feb 2017 — 30 Apr 2017
Child’s Play brings together an exhibition of photographs, a symposium and a book by artist Mark Neville, who works at the intersection of art and documentary.

Renowned for his socially focused projects, this new project aims to generate debate around the complex nature of children’s play and to advocate for improved provision for this universal right, as identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 (the Convention on the Rights of the Child). At a time when up to 13 million children have been internally displaced as a result of armed conflict, and traditional public space is being privatised, Child’s Play reinforces our responsibility to ensure that children the world over have full opportunity for play and recreation.

The exhibition presents a series of Neville’s photographs of children at play in diverse environments around the world. Immersing himself in communities from Port Glasgow to North London, and in the war zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine, the artist has captured beautiful moments of free, spontaneous play. On display are new photographs of internally displaced children in Ukraine; residents of Kakuma, Kenya’s second largest refugee camp; and depictions of children at play in London adventure playgrounds, all made especially for this project. Neville’s work challenges the romantic ideal of play with the reality of children’s lives, which is often harsher and more complex. Through his photographs he captures children’s spontaneous urge to play and their determination to do so in the most unfavourable environments, revealing how through play children claim a place of power, safety and freedom. In the context of the Museum, the idea of spontaneous play is set against the institutional play evidenced at the Foundling Hospital.

A book of images in the exhibition, alongside an overview of ground-breaking work in the field of children’s play, seeks to raise awareness of its importance and to focus attention on how conditions for children in the UK can be improved. Disseminated to key policy makers, experts and each of the UK’s 433 local councils, the book is also be available to purchase from the Museum shop. A symposium on 20 March will explore the issue of spaces for play, looking at real and imagined barriers to play in our cities today.


Free for Foundling Friends

Buy a print

A limited-edition print created exclusively for this exhibition, is available to purchase from the Museum Shop. More details

The exhibition is supported by The 1739 Club, with support for the book from Outset Family.


(2017) Child’s Play, Available at: (Accessed: 28/04/2017)



2 for 1 – Rauschenberg and Tillmans at the Tate Modern

I decided that as I was going to the Tate Modern to see the Rauschenberg exhibition that I would buy a dual ticket and see another exhibition whilst I was there.  For the purposes of this blog I have separated them out and critiqued each individually.

Exhibition: Rauschenberg
Date: Saturday 1 April 2017 @ 11:00am

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an American painter and graphic artist launched his career in the early 1950s and whose early works anticipated the pop art movement.

The Tate Modern helpfully produces a small exhibition guide, at least for all the exhibitions that I have been to so far.  This is invaluable when trying to remember what you have seen and where.

There were 11 rooms:

1- Experimentation, 2 – Colour, 3 – Combines, 4 -Transfer Drawings, 5 – Silkscreens, 6 – Live, 7 – Technology, 8 – Material Abstraction, 9 – Travel, 10 – Metal and 11 – Late Works.

In the first couple of rooms the two things that struck me the most were 1) Rauschenberg did not conform to the normal artistic approaches of the time and as a result created unique physical works of art/installations and 2) he had a talented number of people around him who were also pushing boundaries in their different artistic fields, for example, John Cage (1912-1992), a composer, being one of these individuals.  [As an aside I performed with the ENO Community Choir at the John Cage Musicircus centennial celebration on 3 March 2012 at the London Coliseum, which was amazing to be part of.]

In one of the rooms there were two works of art which Rauschenberg had created simultaneously but concluded that neither were duplicates or imitations of each other, as each had been created in its own right albeit sequentially.  Although the elements to make up the works were the same, the positioning of the elements and execution slightly differed.  In photography we prescribe to the fact that no two moments are the same and therefore no two images captured can be identical, so Rauschenberg resonated with me creatively.

Rauschenberg was greatly influenced naturally by the lifestyle he led being part of the dramatic arts group that he toured with.  He was involved with all stage activity including set building but also towards the latter part of his touring he became a choreographer and he then had performers acting/dancing around his sets/artistic creations.

I found this exhibition very inspiring in respect of the ideas that it sparked.  I normally attend photography exhibitions but this exhibition showed me that collaboration can (and should) happen across the artistic disciplines and that you shouldn’t feel constrained as a photographer to stick with the tried and tested but instead you should push boundaries and create like any other artist would.  I certainly intend to start pushing some boundaries now that Rauschenberg has given me the courage to do so.

Exhibition: Wolfgang Tillmans
Date: Saturday 1 April 2017 @ 12:00pm

Wolfgang Tillmans (born 1968) is a German fine-art photographer. His diverse body of work is distinguished by observation of his surroundings and an ongoing investigation of the photographic medium’s foundations.  He became known in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture and for his pioneering method of displaying prints as whole room installations.

This was the first exhibition that I had been to which had such a strong social commentary running through it.  It was very different both in that the layout of the photography and written work which was all part of the installation.  You were able to move around the reading material viewing the images from different positions.

There was not the usual blurb for each room/work on the wall, which seems to be standard practice for large exhibitions.  Instead a booklet accompanied the exhibition as Tillmans wanted each room to act as an installation and wanted you to experience the collection without being concerned about the write up.  Also the images were taped to wall so you could interact with the image instead on a frame being its conduit for viewing.

There were 14 rooms in total which covered Tillmans interest in the photographic process and experimentation with it, his commentary on truth, experiencing places for the first time and recording this, his abstract works which looked inward and his interest in society and capturing cultural attitudes which looked outward.  There was a room where you could sit and listen to and appreciate studio music at the quality it was intended as opposed to through sub quality personal headphones.  Abstractions and textures were also Represented.

In one of the rooms he had a TV screen showing another part of the exhibition but it felt more like surveillance / CCTV of another of the exhibition rooms.

Room 4 in particular I found interesting.  It tackled the question around truth and in particular different assertions of the truth, particularly during the mid-2000s when claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction raised both political and ethical questions.  Tillmans used news paper cuttings as part of his installation which were deliberately laid out in provocative juxtapositions with his own photographs.

Another area covered was about the different biases that prevent you from being rational, here are some of them:

  • Zerorisk bias is a tendency to prefer the complete elimination of a risk even when alternative options produce a greater reduction in risk (overall).
  • Restraint bias is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control impulsive behavior.  Maybe one for the controlling amongst us.
  • Status quo bias is an emotional bias; a preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.  I can relate to this.
  • Rhyme-as-reason effect is a cognitive bias whereupon a saying or aphorism is judged as more accurate or truthful when it is rewritten to rhyme.  I thought this was amusing.
  • Backfire effect, a name for the finding that, given evidence against their beliefs, people can reject the evidence and believe even more strongly.  I had never heard of this before.  

I do not know enough about the subjects Tillmans referenced in his exhibition or about the impact it has on the fabric of society but it gave me food for thought and I went away with some questions to answer in my own mind.

My main take away from a photography perspective was experiment and think about the message you are trying to convey in your work.

30 March 2017 – Architecture by Night

I decided I needed to brush up on my night photography so I decided to go on a session run by Open City Tours called Photography Tour – Architecture by Night This was held in London and cost £35.50.

These sessions run periodically by Open City Tours in the Autumn/Winter months when it gets dark earlier.  In the summer months you could be waiting until very late for the light to be just right for this type of photography.  I was on the last one of the 2016/2017 seasons tours and due to the time change we met at 7:30pm and the session then ran until 9:30pm.

The tour covered:
– Illumination of the City’s buildings and how to photograph them
– Using long shutter speeds to render light trails
– Optimum time to take night photographs
– Selection of aperture, shutter and ISO to produce best results
– Your rights to photograph in public

We met our tour leader / professional architectural photographer Grant Smith at the post boxes, opposite Lloyd’s of London, One Lime Street EC3M 7HA and this is where our tour and learning opportunity began.

It was a fair-sized group but not too big so everyone received some individual coaching by Grant, which was great.

The best time for taking night photography is just before it gets dark.  I know this sounds a bit strange but the art to night photography is to capture the lights in the building but also a blue sky silhouette around the buildings, so these two things have to be managed together. Grant said if you squint your eyes shut a bit, so you can just see the lights from the buildings that’s the best time to take the photos.

We started on settings of ISO 100, f/8.0 at 2 sec. and then as the light faded we had to lower the shutter speed.  This meant that you could not do this type of photography without a tripod!  Also I only had a 50mm lens at that point, which isn’t ideal, you should shoot with a lens somewhere between 18mm and 28mm but then have another lens for details shots.  That said I didn’t do too badly with my 50mm.

The other important information given was around rights to take photographs of buildings from the street.  It is allowable to take photos of buildings from public land. These photos cannot be seized by police/security and no-one has the right to ask you to delete any of your images that have been taken from a public highway or byway.

That said, it’s how you approach any challenge that will determine how things go.  Just retreat (apologise if you feel it appropriate to diffuse any tensions) and move on, there are plenty of opportunities to take photos in the City and it maybe that you just move to a position further away to get a slightly wider shot of the same building but from where you won’t be challenged.

It is not allowable without permission to take photos on private land.  But how do you know what is public and what is private land in London?  The general rule is that all the roads and the pavements beside the roads are public, most riverside pathways are public byways.  Courtyards and paved areas outside of this, however, are likely to be private property owned by the building/landowner/s situated there.

For this particular evenings tour we had been given special permission to photograph from the courtyard which is private land and below images 1, 2, 4 and 5 were taken from the courtyard in question.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening of photography with like-minded people which I would totally recommend.  It also gives you an insight into a London you might not be aware exists and the courage to go and explore to search out new photo opportunities.

Here are some of my images from the tour:

However, I think my favourite from the evening has to be the one of the Thames Rockets boat moored just down from Tower Bridge (to the left of this shot) opposite More London.  Even though there was a bit of movement on the water that evening and the boat moved causing blurring I love the colours and the feeling of life in the image.


This concludes this Blog post and I hope it gives anyone reading this some inspiration to go out and try some night photography.