Monthly Archives: August 2013

Book reviews of Don McCullin’s images and autobiography

Shaped by War by Don McCullin

I was just browsing my local library for some books to help me with some background research for one of my assignments when I stopped off in the photography section as per usual. Seeing this, I just grabbed it and thought it was worth looking at at home.

I was only familiar with McCullin’s name from a documentary that was shown on the BBC (and which I have recorded and not yet got around to watching) and hadn’t previously seen any of his work. For anyone not familiar with the book, it’s a large hardback, perfect for presenting photographs in it and allows you plenty of scope to look at and absorb all of the detail.

I started off by skimming the book and reading some of the text, in just a few paragraphs I was enthralled with the story and wanting to know more, decided to order the more detailed book ‘ Unreasonable Behaviour’ which is an autobiographical book written by McCullin with Lewis Chester. (A further review on this to come once I’ve finished reading it)

Looking at this in conjunction with Unreasonable Behaviour is quite advantageous as they complement each other well by allowing me to review larger images that feature in the former or to see an image that was referenced. The text just adds to the horror seen in the images, and it isn’t an easy book to look through; however the photographs are eye catching and are to be looked at and studied. As with any war photography where the subjects of the images can often by horrifying and hard to look at, only by seeing what’s gone before can we look to change anything.

Unreasonable Behaviour

I ordered this after a quick look through Shaped by War, usually I don’t have that instinct where I need to order a book pretty much straight after reading a few lines but in this case, I just had to read more. Luckily the book came a couple of days later and I’ve been gripped from the start. Going from McCullin’s roots with a hard childhood with poverty and gangs in London through to him discovering photography, buying his first camera, and getting his big break with an image of ‘The Guv’nors. An image that is evocative of the Kray era but could equally be the cover of a band’s album. While the book contains a number of his photographs to supplement his narrative, the extended text compared to ‘Shaped by War’ is the highlight. While the subject matter is not easy to read at times, it flows well and is easy to read, even when discussing the political situations McCullin was in the middle of. I was gripped from the start and would recommend this to anyone, not just photographers as its more about the man and the situations that he was in, not the photography, although the camera both allowed him access to areas and put him in many dangerous and life threatening situations. To come through all of the conflict, death and destruction with near misses yourself and still be living and sane is miraculous, especially when compared to the colleagues in photography and journalism that lost their lives along the way. The book is moving and inspiring and I felt very much that my photography will never live up to anything McCullin has done as I don’t take risks, I haven’t pushed myself and I’ve stuck to safe subjects but I’m sure there are plenty of other similar views. In the presence of what it think is greatness, I can’t help feel anything but inferior.

I’ve finished the book now, it ended on a sober note, McCullin survived countless warzones, conflicts and life threatening situations including badly damaging his arm and ribs after a fall off a roof only to be let down by the newspaper he had undertaken all this for and then the illness and death of his first wife Christine. I had to admit being stunned, shocked, horrified and moved to tears through reading this. I hope I get chance to see his work exhibited and one day I’d love to shake his hand and let him know that his work is still having an impact now.

Assignment 5: People and Place on Assignment

The Brief

For this final assignment, the choice of subject is yours within people and/or the places they inhabit.

First decide on a notional client, choose the kind of client, the purpose of the assignment and how the images will be used. Imagine what the basic brief would be, write the brief as you will refer back to it.

Having assigned yourself the brief, you now need to complete it. You need to submit between 8-12 photographs. Accompany the final images with a short written assessment.

This should include:-

– The client briefing that you gave yourself

– A statement of how you set about planning the photography

– How well you succeeded, including the difficulties and opportunities you encountered that you had not anticipated at the outset

You will need to show that you can project good judgement in your choices.


Halton & District Model Flying Club (H&DMFC)


Promotion of the club

How will the images be used?

To advertise the club and facilities to members and non-members to encourage further participation and new memberships

Brief from the customer:

H&DMFC require a selection of images capturing both normal flying and special event days such as open days and BBQ events. The images should capture a mix of people and their planes, show the facilities and how they are used and also promote the members


The photography will be taken over a couple of different events, an open day and a BBQ as well as photography taken on normal flying days


A small selection of images will be presented for the assignment; the club require the images to be presented on a cd for their use and will form part of a longer slideshow of images on the club’s You Tube Channel.

Background Work/Context


For this assignment, I started off thinking about what I could photograph, what I wanted to portray and the format in which to present this. I’d had the idea while working on Assignment 4, to produce a tourist brochure on Chester and the roman history which is still part and parcel of the city. Unfortunately despite some research into potential sites that I could photograph, I struggled to get a date arranged with one of the roman tour companies so decided to look into some of the other ideas that I’d had.

Around the same time it was mentioned that a local model flying club were having a bbq one weekend. This alone does not sound like enough of a basis for a project, however I’d been at an open day held there in May with a local model shop sponsoring the event and a bbq and spent the day photographing the area and aircraft. My results were presented to the club and the model shop who both wanted to use them for their own publicity, and since then some of the members have asked me to photograph their planes flying, and some of my images have been combined with videos on a ‘You Tube’ channel for the club.

When I heard there was to be a bbq, I thought that this could be an excellent opportunity to photograph the club and its facilities in way that could be used to promote the club to both members who don’t attend that often and also show new members what they have. A lot of the open days and bbq are actually open to families of the flyers to come down so it was important that they could also see that all are welcome. I also planned to attend some weekday evening and weekends at the club to ensure that I got a good mix of images

Thinking about people and place, I was originally trying to focus on a mixture of images of people and the place of the model flying club. However as the brief is for the club, I had to think about what people who join the club or search for the club online are interested in. I also had to rethink my plan about featuring members of a club when one of the main components is the planes and helicopters flown there. With this in mind, I revisited the images and also went back to the club with a 100mm macro lens to try and get some interesting compositions of the planes and people in action and a mixture of lens were used in the overall set as each had its own strength.

One of the issues mentioned in my last assignment was the with the use of light, the model flying club while open any time, only allows internal combustion engine planes to fly after 1 pm so while light in the middle of the day is not the best and can be flat, sometimes this was the only time I could photograph activity. Some days were quite bright and there were some bright evening sun so where possible I’ve tried to photograph as much as I can in the better light.

The Space

In reality, the facilities at this chosen space are very few, it’s a large field with a mown area for the runway, lots of space to set up planes, a cabin with small kitchen area, a covered area for seating, bbq or set up, some picnic benches and a portaloo. For me this assignment was about showing how the limited facilities but large space was used and that the open configuration changes every time. I also wanted to show these in use with actual members as its very much an active use of the space and in order to meet the brief of publicising the location, facilities and club, this needed to be reflected as such.

How will the images be used?

The images will form a set that will be available for the club to upload onto their website via a CD in conjunction with a longer slideshow of images on the club’s You Tube channel.

Planning the assignment and photography

My plan for this was to attend as many days as I could at the club, including the special event BBQ and general flying times. I knew from speaking to a member of the club that the majority of people tended to fly on the Saturday and Sunday compared to weekdays, which fitted better around my availability.

Depending on the weather and who is onsite, the space used to set up can change for example on windy days sometimes a more sheltered part near the cabin is used, but it also depends on personal preference and what space is available when people arrive. Visiting over different days and times I found that no two visits were the same with variables including different people, different use of the space and different planes. I knew a lot of the people from attending the May open day so the people at the club are used to seeing me with the camera. An advantage of this is that I’ve been able to blend into the background as per any other club member, but the biggest advantage is that I’ve gained the trust of the people who fly, they’ve seen my images and ask me photograph their planes in the air. I was conscious that I wanted natural photographs and nothing posed in order to give an accurate representation of the club as it is.

Images to capture:-

I started by listing the areas and activities that I wanted to photograph and then I could review and keep the most appropriate ones as part of the selection process.


Undercover area (used for seating/bbq/setting up/shelter)

Flying field/airstrip

Spectator/Pits area


Set up areas in use (can be different areas where people choose to set up)

People setting up planes

People relaxing/watching the flying

People flying

After I’d taken photographs of all of these, I decided to swap lenses and be a little more creative and more fun with this using a macro lens.

How well I succeeded, including the difficulties and opportunities that you had not anticipated at the outset

Some of the difficulties that I faced were due to the fact that currently only a fraction of the full membership attend on the weekend days and even fewer in the evenings, on some days there seems to be same crowd there so while I’ve tried to get different members in the images, I had to be creative with some of the photographs and try and get different aspects. I also wanted to get different images to the static planes flying, people on the ground that would be featured in the specialist magazines. I would have liked to have taken some slower images of the people moving about or of the planes. However after investigating this, the club and the activity there is not ideal as there isn’t enough footfall around the site, and with the planes flying around, it’s hard to get a fixed point to capture.

One thing that I did photograph but didn’t include within this were images just of the planes flying, while this is an important part of the club and certainly something the members ask me to photograph when I’m there- this didn’t quite fit into the brief.

I think that I succeeded quite well in meeting the brief, a variety of images were taken showing the club in use, and the images have a lot of activity and colour in them which is appealing to the eye and would make these suitable for either web or print usage.

I felt that I had more opportunities within the club due to the fact I’d built a relationship with them through previous work, and I anticipate that this will continue as I will work with them to provide further model plane photography.

I found it easier to get the photographs I envisaged when the club was busier; these days provided more opportunities and better scope for the photography.

1) Plane and box

Showing the relationship between the power starter and fuel required to start the internal combustion engine of the plane, this image has strong shapes, real and implied triangles with the shape of the plane in the corner, the inverted triangles on the box, the grass triangle on the left near the wing and the grey of the mat on the right hand side. The eye is first drawn to the red tubing on the box, then the plane stand in inverted triangle shapes and then the yellow of the plane in the background that’s slightly out of focus as I wanted it to be obvious but for the flight box to be the main subject. All flyers have their own flight box, and this composition shows the start-up set up when a flyer sets their kit up on the field to prepare for flight


2) Reflection

Hats and sunglasses are common accessories on the field, it’s quite open and when the sun is out can be harsh to stand in and sunglasses can help to see the plane stand out in the sky. I like this as it’s the connection between the flyer and their plane/kit on the field. I caught sight of this reflection and asked the flyer to tilt their head so I could get a better view of the plane and not a reflection of the camera. The bright blue of the stand and yellow and white of the plane stand out against the dark green of the glass


3) The flyers

I chose a portrait composition as I wanted to start the image off with the plane and helicopter (which don’t feature too often at the club) and then move across to the runway where the flyers stand and where spectators/visitors don’t go on. You can see the concentration of the flyers in their stance, holding the transmitters and looking into the sky, with the banking and power station in the background, you get an idea that this is quite an open area, close to other features but enough out of the way to have space.


4) The plane

I can’t describe the use of the space or show one of the main uses of that space without having some images featuring the model planes. Having looked at coverage in magazines such as RCM&E, a lot of the images are the planes in flight, sideways and being held by the owners. I wanted a different composition and the use of a macro lens allowed me to get closer than usual. It was important to capture the sense of movement with the engine just started and ticking over before being taken onto the runway. Using a focus point on the non-moving side and a slower shutter speed gave me the propeller blur to provide the sense this is a powerful and moving subject on the grass of the pits area.


5) Three wise men

As with the reflection image you can see the use of hats and sunglasses here, compared to some of the images this was taken in the evening sunlight so has a golden hue and a blue colour to the sky. I’ve not made this a wider image as they could be looking at any plane or transmitter. I wanted the suggestion of sharing and comradeship that comes as part of the membership and active participation in the club where people are willing to help you out with time, materials or knowledge.


6) Waiting for take off

Flyers usually bring a couple of planes with them, types and models can vary and I wanted to show the contrasts. This is a contrast between two different types of planes and I focussed on the silver electric Vampire in the front of the images as I love its strong silver and futuristic shape which contrasts with the straight standard tail of the other plane. I tried to get an interesting zigzag shaping to keep the viewer’s eye moving through the frame.


7) The pits area

Similar in style to the plane and box image, with this I could see a number of components that make up a typical day at the club. Starting with the fuel and toolbox in the front of the frame, the eye moves in then to see the planes, more kit boxes and radio- everything you need to fly, and then a little later on into the frame, the runway with flyers. I didn’t want the flyers to be clear, I wanted the focus off them so that they were just representative of anyone who is a member. The key for me is the use of the wide pits area to get set up and how each flyer picks an area and sets up, each time they visit it changes.


8) The pits area 2

Showing a different side to the pits, this was a windier day so shelter was taken around the side of the cabin. As a busy day for flyers, there were a lot of planes and I was drawn to the red colouring to start with on a quite dull day first of all and then the other lines of planes leading to the small group huddled around a plane. Showing the setup, the variety of planes, and the space for people to use and the willingness to help out other flyers, this compliments the other pits area image.


9) Shadow

At this point in the day, the sun was quite strong and casting shadows of the flyers onto the runway. I took a number of images of just the shadow but was conscious that it needed something to tie this in. With patience, I got the image I wanted with the plane in the top of frame and the shadows of the flyer and the wind flag in the bottom of the image.


10) BBQ Day

This was a day when there was a club bbq and more people were in attendance. While this isn’t an image that’s full of people, this wider shot shows the different areas for flying, set up, and the cabin for shelter, drinks etc. I like this wider image as a contrast to the more specific and close up images, the light was really good and there is a bright blue sky which the flag showing the wind direction is standing out against. The 3d plane in the foreground acts as a grabber for the eye as its quite colourful and then you look up to the flyer in white, then the standing men and then you travel around to see all the other interactions happening.


11) The umbrella

On another sunny day, although there are some clouds in this one, one of the flyers had brought a large parasol umbrella to provide some protection to his planes. For me this stands out so much with its clear shape and it’s only after you’ve looked at this first do you move around to the seated flyers and the plane in the foreground. There is an echo of the blue plane stand which moves the eye from one to the other and then the seated flyers showing that the club is about more than planes, it’s also a good social meeting place.



I’ve kept these all in colour as I feel that is how they should be seen, to convert these would lose the bright colours of the planes and equipment that stand out when you view them, and due to the amount of green from the field, and I didn’t feel that this would benefit from being presented in monochrome.

Summary & Thoughts

This was an interesting exercise, at the moment I seem to have a lot of ideas where there is an open brief and I went from feeling that the scope was too elastic and easily extended, to then completing the work and thinking that the number of images the assignment calls for is too few. I think this is partially down to the type of work I’ve chosen to submit for this- it feels like there are infinite possibilities to photograph at the club as every week you might see something different. One of the improvements from assignment four that I have in my mind to work on is being more specific and when there is an open brief, I need to write my own defined brief and extend if necessary as opposed to trying to photograph everything at once.

Looking to where this fits within contemporary practice, it’s certainly more commercial than the work that I’ve previously done, which I’ve tended to focus on presenting as either a book or exhibition series. I feel that it’s more commercial as obviously I’m presenting this to a real life client, it’s being used to represent the client on the internet and while the images are not being published in a magazine, I’ve based the style on a real magazine article referencing the coverage of the May event in RCME magazine. I’ve been unable to find any examples of other photographers capturing model aircraft in flight. Most of the sites I’ve found are either using model planes for aerial photography or photography at full scale air shows.