Assignment 1 – Research and Development

_FJ12882Initial Ideas

Selecting the subject and approach to an assignment is, for me, an organic process with an initial idea evolving in response to the various lines of research and exercises within the course. This part of the course explores the relationship between “photography and truth” within the context of documentary photography and from the perspective of both contemporary and historical practitioners. I broadly wanted my assignment to be documentary in nature both in terms of approach and subject matter and then, to challenge the viewer  in terms of  “truth”.

My initial thoughts related to the traces that things or events leave on the landscape, some evidence that they existed but offering only limited clues to their form.  The source of this stream of thought lies in an interest in archeology and particularly in the process of reading faint traces on structures, the ground or in photographs as a way of surveying a site or to enable the virtual reconstruction of a place or an event. ( i ) 

For example:

Fig. 02 - Traces on Wall in Alton - 1/100 at f/10, ISO 1,000

Traces on Wall in Alton – 1/100 at f/10, ISO 1,000

The more faint the traces the more interesting it becomes, there is a sense of time having past, lost doorways, bricked up windows, a missing building, whose purpose is mysterious. It has elements of photographing the invisible as well as mapping the progress of time. Whilst this did meet some of my assignment criteria and could be a subject for future exploration it lacked an obvious human or documentary element.

However, it enabled me to progress with identifying the elements that I did want to include.

  • Traces – things, events or people leaving some faint mark on the environment.
  • Invisibility – unseen or unnoticed things or people.

Which took me to:

  • People who are invisible but who leave traces in the landscape that are more visible than the people themselves.
  • This also plays to the ideas explored by William Eggleston and Stephen Shore where the photographer is a catalyst transforming the unimportant into the important.
  • Which, in turn brings a stronger social documentary element to the series.

The Influence of the Bowery

Newcastle Brown – 1/100 at f/10, ISO 5,000


Once I had the idea of invisible people and visible traces it was an obvious progression to consider looking at homelessness or more specifically rough sleeping but these thoughts were beginning to form at the same time that I looked at objectivity and photojournalism in three separate research streams ([a] Objectivity in a Single Photograph, [b] Objectivity in Documentary Photography and [c] Critical Debates Around Photojournalism).

This research strongly influenced my approach, other influences would come a little later, but I kept returning to Martha Rosler’s arguments against photographing the down-and-out street people in the Bowery district of New York (1). She was concerned that the area had become a destination for the “Nikon set” who were pursuing victim photography whilst engaging in “tourism, voyeurism, trophy hunting and careerism.”  My argument against some of Rosler’s ideas is that social documentarists such as Lewis Hine have made a difference but given my work is for my own, and therefore ultimately selfish, ends I would be at risk of taking on the persona of a tourist or, worse, a voyeur.

One approach to resolving this issue is for the photographer’s work to be contextualised through careful and in-depth research which requires, not just desk research and preparation, but interaction and collaboration with the human subjects. There are some street projects that very effectively address the issue of exploitation:

  • Invisible People TV (2), for example, harnesses the power of social media to bring street people’s stories to a wide audience.
  • Charlie O’Hay (3), an amateur photographer, is documenting the street people of Philadelphia, but his photos are legitimised by the context of the project and the humanisation of the subjects. He achieves this by capturing names and stories along with his pictures thus making them personal histories.
  • Anthony Luvera (4) has created a public archive of photographs and assisted self portraits taken by homeless people.

The common thread being that these practitioners have found a methodology that responds to Rosler’s challenge to find new ways of engaging in documentary photography. Luvera directly references her in his artist’s statement.

At an early stage I recognised that, at this point in the course, I could not dedicate the time such a project demanded ( ii ) but I had completed enough research to know that I did have something to say about the subject. I needed to find an approach that was not exploitative, that enabled me to communicate the issues associated with rough sleeping and that was about individuals not sterile statistics.

Martha Rosler, having created the dilemma, helped to put me on a path to resolving it. I was intrigued enough by her essay to look at some of her own work, she is an established practitioner, and has published her own study of The Bowery in response to the “Nikon Set’s” approach. The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (5) sets out, in Mark Durden’s (6) view, to challenge, parody and dismantle the humanist documentary tradition. In her essay (1) she argues “If impoverishment is a subject here, it is the impoverishment of representational strategies …..”, i.e. we need to find a better way of communicating our concerns regarding homelessness.

Rosler photographs the traces of alcoholism and homelessness in the bowery without photographing street people. The photographs are accompanied with words that describe drunkenness. Rosler is underlining that neither the photographs nor the words adequately describe the issues surrounding her subject. She is continuing to question, even with her own work, whether the social documentary photographer can bring about change or even describe complex social issues.

I saw in her work a powerful way to draw an audience into a subject. We recognise the traces she photographs for what they are,  our general experience of urban streets gives us an image library to draw on so we project our pictures of the homeless onto her photos. Instead of being offered the whole picture we are asked to become involved and that, at least, delays us long enough to consider what we are seeing. It moves the picture from a single viewpoint to one that is mutually arrived at by the photographer and the viewer. ( iii )

This offered a potential approach and I took a series of test shots in different places.

The problem with this series was twofold, firstly too many were ambiguous to the the extent that they could be a comment on littering or alcoholism or even binge drinking. There were dual meanings but the meanings were too far out of my control.

The second problem was that they are too impersonal, only a small number have a sense of the invisible people I was interested in and there was no connection with identifiable personalities.

The exceptions were these three that asked me to think about the circumstances that created the traces.

Bournemouth 1/100 at f/22, ISO 320


A full frame of emptiness and solitude. A singe bottle left near a bench-with-a-view suggested a moment of solitude and contemplation on a cold winter’s day. I have used a slightly different version here because this study worked better in black and white.

Brighton – 1/420 at f/9, ISO 25,600


The rough sleeper’s bed in an otherwise empty building also spoke of loneliness and isolation. Someone had slept here recently enough for the cardboard to still be neatly arranged and dry.

Hove – 1/100 at f/10, ISO 2,500


This is the most ambiguous of the three as it is not clear why, what looks like some winter clothing, has been pushed under this bench on the sea front at Hove. However, the neat way in which has been done suggests these items have some importance thus creating a human connection.

Another Perspective

At this stage in the process I was satisfied that rough sleeping was the right subject, and that I wanted to exclude homeless people from the photographs.

Having looked at the traces of rough sleeping from the viewpoint of an outside observer I wondered whether this could be linked to the view from the pavement. What did the street look like to a rough sleeper. This idea was probably triggered by Joel Meyerowitz who I had been looking at in the context of street photography. In Colin Westerbeck’s pocket sized review (7) of some of Meyerowitz’s work there is a single black and white photo of a child standing on a crowed street. Meyerowitz has either knelt down or lowered his camera below his waist to capture the photo. He explains that he realised that children have a different perspective of the street than adults, the world is a different and more scary place when you are less than three feet tall. I had first noticed this image last autumn and was thinking of using this perspective for my TAoP assignment 5 but had discarded the idea. It now struck me that the street must also look different from the vantage point of a rough sleeper and that this was a potential perspective for a second viewpoint.

Street Level View Portsmouth – 1/100 at f/13, ISO 3,200


This idea might have worked with a different subject but it lacked authenticity, a problem that could have been resoled if I had “become” a rough sleeper or asked rough sleepers to take the photographs. After an exchange of emails with my tutor I decided that there was no value in pursuing this idea.

Photographing Time

At around this time I began to look at late photography. The course led me into this subject and I became interested enough to spend time looking at the work of Roger Fenton, George Rodger, Lee Miller, Simon Norfolk, Russell Squires, Joel Meyerowitz and Paul Seawright amongst others. ( iv ) My thoughts are summarised here and here. The subject speaks to my interest in history and in finding ways to photograph the passing of time. Whilst on vacation at Christmas I produced two series that look at the evidence of hurricanes that hit the island of Antigua in the 1980s and 1990s. One of these series is included here, one awaits editing.

Norfolk and Meyerowitz have worked on post conflict studies so their ideas form a backdrop to the thought of using late photography in this assignment but they cannot be seen as direct influences. Squires (8) and Seawright (9) on the other hand have both worked in local, known environments that they understand and are in fact part of themselves. Working locally has the benefit of bypassing part of the research needed to deal with complex social issues, the place is known and understood, locations have some familiarity and this frees the photographer to  spend more time on understanding the subject.

This seemed to offer an approach to rough sleeping that would address my concerns regarding exploitation but how the series would work was not immediately obvious.

The Brighton Trip

Even though I was unclear in my mind how the project would develop I scheduled a trip to Brighton to photograph Duke’s Mound, an area well known for its rough sleeping community. The week leading up to the trip was spent reading about the area, the issues associated with rough sleeping and searching for news stories about rough sleeping in Brighton.

In amongst this research I found the story of Lea Williams (10), a 45 year old rough sleeper who was murdered in a man-made cave beside the pitch and putt green in Hove on 11th February 2013. The police spokesman said “Lee suffered a brutal, vicious and sustained attack causing multiple injuries to his face, head and body.” Sadly this was one of a number of repots of the death of rough sleepers but even at this early stage I was drawn into the Lea William’s story. ( v )

Amongst so many internet reports, on-line newspaper cuttings and general comment and analysis of rough sleeping this story stood out.  Lea Williams was one of many rough sleepers drawn to the Brighton area, he was an alcoholic, homeless, unemployed and living in a damp cave beneath the esplanade in Hove. His death attracted some media attention, the police appear to have been committed to apprehending his killers but just two years later I could find no real details of his life and personality. He was an invisible man who, by being murdered, achieved a public face for a few weeks  in a handful of short, factual articles before becoming a statistic.

Hove was the first stop on my Brighton trip.

The murder site was the “Bat Cave” on the edge of the pitch and putt green below the Western Esplanade in Hove. The “contact sheet” above follows my search for a viewpoint. I looked at the landscape around the cave, which is a shelter built into the retaining wall of the esplanade, its relationship to the pitch and putt and to the beach huts and promenade that are directly above it.

It appeared that a jail-like cage had been added to the cave, perhaps as a response to the murder, there is no such cage in the photograph of Lea Williams released by the police ( v ). The eighth photo in my set shows that the cage has already been broken so it is probable that rough sleepers are still using the cave.

Hove pitch and putt, the bat cave faces the green from under the esplanade and its long row of blue beach huts – 1/100 at f/14, ISO 500


I was exploring this location in the light of Lea William’s murder, the news reports had provided an overwhelming context so every detail of the interior and immediate exterior was suggestive, a potential trace of the man or of his demise, the discarded shoe and tattered mat symbolic of rough sleeping in general and, whilst not real traces of Lea Williams, reminders of him. This was the obvious reaction but I was equally interested in the sense of normality, remove the known context and the place becomes associated with parents and children playing golf, of joggers on the sea front, of beach huts and holidays.

I did continue and photograph Duke’s Mound in Brighton but it no longer felt relevant.

Finding Two Versions of the Same Story

The visit to the pitch and putt in Hove helped me recognise that, as the landscape changes relatively slowly, it is interpreted in the context of endless individual moments in time. When I visited on 17th January 2015 the Western Esplanade was a semi-deserted holiday resort, a place for a father to play football with his son, for a jogger to run beside a slate grey sea, for dog walkers and couples seeking “a bit of fresh air”.

On 18th February 2013 it was the  place where Lea Williams died at the hands of two brutal men, later that same day it became a crime scene with forensic investigators and the police searching for clues.

No doubt a few days or weeks later it reverted to a scene similar to the one I saw in January and by mid summer the pitch and putt would have been busy, the beach huts full, the whole area loud with the shrill voices of happy children.

When we view a place or a photograph of a place we initially interpret a landscape as it is “now” in the context of the light, the weather and the human activity  currently within it. “Now” becomes “then” if we are looking at a photograph although these two moments blur with recent photos, “then” becoming representative or equal to “now”.

If we know that landscape to be the scene of a significant event we additionally bring that information into our reading of it, this might be personal, where I proposed to my wife, or more universal, the site of a great event in history. The landscape has not altered because  we are privy to this knowledge but our emotional response to that landscape could be fundamentally changed.

The more time I spent near the “bat cave” in Hove the more I thought about the separate viewpoints that I had of the scene. At one level I was looking at vantage points, compositions and views and at the few people moving around the area. At a second level I was conscious of the symbols of the British summer holiday resort, the beach huts, Victorian esplanade, the shelters that simultaneously provide a sea view and protection from the weather. Lea William’s death formed the third layer and, in many ways, became the fulcrum upon which I balanced the other viewpoints. It is inevitable that we ask “how can such a normal place be the site of something so extraordinary and depressingly horrible?”

I decided that this was the two versions of the same story. The viewpoint  or version of the story was not changed by the selection of a different camera angle it was changed by our knowledge of the scene. The two or, in fact, many viewpoints of the same story were already inherent in the landscape or in any photograph of it.

Further Research


The high-level statistics are easy to find:

  • In the Autumn of 2013, six months after Lea William’s murder, there were 2,414 people sleeping rough in England, 5% more than in the previous year. (12).
  • The life expectancy of rough sleepers in England is just 47 years for men and 43 years for women (13) , in Scotland it is only 39, a little more than half the life expectancy of the rest of the population (14).
  • Homeless people are over nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population (13).

As a group they are highly vulnerable to ill health, violence and substance abuse but many of us hardly notice them as we go about our busy days.

Given  the numbers of people sleeping rough and their depressingly short life expectancy there must be regular deaths on the street, especially in winter, yet it takes hours of diligent searching to find a small handful of reports. It appears that street people are invisible in life and in death, their passing is not newsworthy but the same news feeds have no shortage of “concerned” articles based on the high level statistics.

The net result of having spent each evening for a week researching and reading reports of rough sleeping in my local area was a sense that “concerned” journalists might be more interested in politically motivated high level stories than in the actual people that are hidden by the statistics.

I do not want my series to be about the statistics of rough sleeping, the cost of providing housing or the cost of their medical treatment, all subjects that I can now discuss in depth.

It is about:

  • Reece Taylor whose battle with addiction led to his suicide in a hostel in Guildford
  • Dominic Kelly who was drowned in the River Wey by his friend and drinking companion
  • David Lucid who died from a severe head injury in a car park in Guildford
  • Stuart Horsman who was assaulted near Winchester station and later died in hospital
  • Jan Soblolewski who committed suicide rather than face becoming homeless in Winchester
  • Grzegorz Kurowski who died in a  hostel for the homeless in Winchester from a heart attack whilst high on a mixture of ecstasy and alcohol
  • Valerie Tallett who was murdered in a Winchester hostel
  • Sally Stevens who choked to death whilst sleeping under a heating duct near Guildford’s North Street
  • Ben Blyth whose body was found by the railway tracks just north of Winchester Station, his death was unexplained
  • Andrew Brown who died of a heroin overdose in the public toilets on North Street, Guildford
  • Lea Williams who was murdered in the bat cave overlooking Hove pitch and putt

Shoot Planning

Once the invisible victims of rough sleeping in Guildford and Winchester had been researched I created a map for each person to enable me to get as close as possible to the place of their death.


The Shoots

With this type of subject the actual shoot is arguably a minor part of the project. The work is predominately in the research, and in the case of course work, writing up and publishing the assignment. Like many part-time students I rarely have the benefit of selecting the perfect day or time of day to carry out shoots, it tends to be based on having a free day or the luxury of a free weekend.

The major disadvantage to this approach is that I am unable to choose the type of light I would prefer to work in. Generally I wanted flat low contrast photographs, a “dead-pan” aesthetic seemed appropriate for the subject matter. Of the three towns I worked in Winchester came nearest to providing the right light, a perfect grey winter’s day. In Hove a wintery sun kept breaking through behind the main subject so this made the shoot more challenging. In Guildford I had to work in bright sunshine on one visit and flat winter light on the other.

This variety of lighting makes it difficult to have a common look across a series.

This is the first assignment that I have entirely undertaken with a Fuji XT-1 rather than my usual Nikon D800. The main reason for this is simply age, I have difficulty walking for any length of time carrying a heavy camera case and have purchased the Fuji as a light weight alternative to the Nikon. The Fuji is of great advantage for street photography given its compact form and the ability to rotate the LCD to create a waist-level viewer.

For a small number of locations I was able to be very precise regarding the location of the death but the news reports did not offer specific details or even addresses for some of the victims. In those cases I took photographs that represented the location, for example I was unable to discover exactly where Ben Blyth’s body was found on the railway line near Winchester station so I photographed a cutting just north of the city centre. A number of the deaths occurred inside buildings, I always photographed the exterior.

Selection and Viewpoint

At each location I generally captured both detail and more contextual shots. On reviewing the photographs I found that I tended to choose the closer viewpoints when it helped make a personal connection and the wider perspectives where the location was less specific.

In accord with the “dead-pan” aesthetic the shots of buildings are generally simple compositions, angles are only introduced where access was restricted.


My instinctive approach to photography is to seek strong light, saturated colours and high contrast. This is probably more habit than a conscious decision and I suspect is rooted in my use of 35mm and medium format colour slides for many years. Projected images always benefited from saturated colours.

In this instance I wanted a more subdued approach, a focus on subject rather than the photograph, and looked for inspiration from a small number of practitioners.

  • Frederic Brenner, An Archeology of Fear and Desire (16) offered the style I was aiming for but he was working in very strong light.
  • Nicky Bird’s photos of the house in Tracing Echoes (17) helped me conceptualise the way to approach the large buildings both in terms of the lighting and composition.
  • Joachim Brohm offered the flat, dead-pan look I was seeking and his book Typology 1979 (18) has been a reference point on several occasions.

As is usual with my projects I flirted with using black and white. Some of the images did lend themselves to monochrome but I lack confidence in my ability to edit and finish in this medium. The photographs below are black and white versions of some of the short listed images.

For completeness I have also included the images before they were slightly de-saturated. Some of these were used and some were not.

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Notes on Text

( i ) I have commented elsewhere on the relationship between archeology and photography and this is an area I want to explore more deeply.

( ii ) Research can inhibit your photography or, to be more positive, force the photographer to consider issues that fundamentally alter their approach. I have mentioned Martha Rosler who has made me think more carefully about my objectives when photographing on the streets. Stuart Freeman (11) is another person who has made me consider the ethics of candid photography. The fact that he is aiming his comments at aspiring photojournalists does not absolve the amateur from considering the same issues. His fundamental point is that we cannot act as tourists, fly in , capture a few great shots and fly back out. This approach can only lead to superficial work that, if published, runs the risk of misrepresenting or over simplifying complex issues.

( iii ) The idea of providing a canvas upon which the viewer can project their own ideas is at the heart of how many practioners approach Late Photography. Paul Seawright, whose work is often in this area, discusses the way in why the artist needs to draw in the audience to interpret his work.

( iv ) I visited the Tate Modern Conflict. Time. Photography, exhibition which included the work of work of 40 photographers. This exhibition is effectively a Late Photography event and whilst I was familiar with some of the work on display the visit came too late to influence the way I photographed assignment 1. There is still a possibility of some of this “new” work impacting the editing and presentation of my work.

( v ) The first tiny detail that caught my attention was that Mr William’s name changed from “Lee” to “Lea” as the case progressed, then there was a report that the police has handed out leaflets on the 18th February asking for witnesses to come forward but the leaflets seemed to contain photographs of two different people.


I assume it is the same man but were the police in so much doubt about his appearance at the time of his murder that they had to use such different pictures?

By the 20th of February his appearance has been established and the police issued a new photograph of Lea. Bizarrely it had been found among his possessions which the police had taken away for examination nine days earlier.


In April the police arrested the first of three suspects. By November 2013 these three had been convicted and jailed. Their reason ? Lea Williams had sworn at “another person” whilst drinking with his eventual murderers. They had returned later to beat him to death with an iron bar, hitting him between 20 and 30 times. Two were sentenced to a minim of 16 years for murder and a third 15 years for conspiracy to murder.



(6) Durden, Mark ( 2014) Photography Today. London: Phaidon Press.

(7) Westerbeck, Colin (2001) Joel Meyerowitz (2014 edition). London: Phaidon Press

(16) Various Artists (2014) This Place ( MACK Edition) (Specifically Brenner, Frederic (2014) An Archeology of Fear and Desire. MACK Books

(17) Bird, Nicky (2001) Tracing Echoes. Leeds: Wild Pansy Press, University of Leeds in association wit the University of Northumbria at Newcastle

(18) Brohm, Joachim. (2014) Typology 1979. First Edition Published by MACK. MACK Books


(1) Rosler, Martha (1981) In, Around and Afterthoughs (on documentary photography) (accessed 2014 at the Everyday Archive) –

(2) Invisible People (accessed 14/12/2014)

(3) Krasny, Jill (2012) 25 Pictures of Homeless People in Philadelphia (accessed 29/1/15 at Business Insider) –

(4) Luvera, Anthony (2002 – ongoing) Photographs and Self Assisted Portraits ( accessed November 2013) –

(5) Rosler, Martha. (1974 – 1975) The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (accessed on Martha Rosler’s official website 15/11/2014) –

(8) Squires, Russell (2014) The Lateness of Warm Photography (accessed at November 26th 2014) –

(9) Seawright, Paul – Sectarian Murders – Official website (accessed December 5th 2014) –

(10) BBC News – (accessed 17/1/15) Hove Murder: Heavy Object Killed Homeless Lee Williams –

(11) Freedman, Stuart. (2010) Ethics and Photojournalism –

(12) British Government (2014) Rough Sleeping in England: Autumn 2013 (accessed 18/1/15) –

(13) NHS England (accessed 20/1/15) Cost of Health Inequalities –

(14) Herald Scotland (2013) Life Expectancy for Homeless: 39 (accessed 1/2/15) –

(15) Get Hampshire (2013) Shocking Number if Rough Sleepers Set to Rise (accessed 20/1/15) –

News Stories Supporting Assignment 1

Surrey Mirror – (accessed 18/1/15) Death Being Treated as Unexplained –

Get Surrey – (accessed 18/1/15) Investigation into Death of Man in Reigate Street –

The Independent – (accessed 18/1/15) Alarm at Death Rate of Young Homeless –

The Independent – (accessed 18/1/15) Suicide and Violence are Taking Toll of Homeless –

Hampshire Chronicle – (accessed 18/1/15) Herion Addict Killed Himself Over Homeless Fears –

Hampshire Chronicle – (accessed 18/1/15) Homeless People Die Early –

Brighton and Hove News – (accessed 18/1/15) Three Jailed After Murder of Rough Sleeper on Hove Seafront –

Get Surrey – (accessed 18/1/15) How Sally, 31, Ended up Homeless and Dead on a Street in Guildford –

Get Surrey – (accessed 18/1/15) Mother’s Tribute at Reece Taylor Inquest –

Get Surrey – (accessed 18/1/15) Tributes to Man Found Dead Near Town Centre –

Get Surrey – (accessed 21/1/15) Drug Overdose Killed Homeless Man in Public Toilet –

Get Surrey – (accessed 21/1/15) Two Questioned Over Man in River Wey –

Get Surrey – (accessed 21/1/15) Man Sentanced over Tragic River Wey Death –

BBC – (accessed 21/1/15) Winchester Railway Murder Police Renew Appeal –

Southern Daily Echo – (accessed 21/1/15) Heroin Addict Killed Himself Over Homeless Fears –

Southern Daily Echo – (accessed 21/1/15) Accidental Death at Hostel –

Southern Daily Echo – (accessed 21/1/15) Murder Hostel Makeover

Hampshire Chronicle – (accessed 21/1/15) Homeless Man Dies Near Station –

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