Tuesday, 13 December 2011

APEL P&P submission

The following is a transcript of my submission for accreditation regarding P&P; this was submitted alongside submissions for TAOP and DPP, both of which were granted.

The feedback for P&P was as follows:

You were rejected from exemption from Photography 1: People and Place. The feedback to this decision was that engaging with People & Place will offer the opportunity to expand your vision of the possibilities that your technical ability will facilitate.  (my italicisation)

I am now in the process of transferring from TAOP to P&P. I am very happy about the outcome of the APEL. I feel that this is the real start to the process of learning that I wanted; the process of discovery. I am somewhat nervous about where it will lead; I no longer feel the need for calibration and haven't felt that for a while. I am relatively comfortable in my own skin as a photographer. However, I know that I have a lot to learn and mostly about myself. The thought of "People" in P&P will help me reflect on my place in my world and how I see it.

The following is the application as received by the assesors. The only thing I would change is the removal of all titles, otherwise it is as I would submit now.


­People and Place

Producing pictures of people has occupied a good deal of my image making for as long as I can remember. My draughtsmanship wasn’t technically accomplished enough to do justice to the medium by pencil or brush, but photography has enabled me to explore new and exciting avenues with people. I have made several studies of different people in my home studio and have taken the opportunity whilst travelling to photograph people in their environment. For this application I have concentrated on people in the environment, many of whom have been aware that the shot was being taken. Examples of my studio work can be found at www.johnumney.co.uk

The images I have selected for this application all come from India, there are a few reasons for doing so, but primarily they represent part of a body of work that I set out to produce after travelling to the country on a regular basis through work and holiday. To say that India is in a state of transition would seriously understate the process that is underway there, but like all headline stories the reality is a disparate state of affairs with huge changes in the major metro centres and very minor changes to conditions in the rural areas. Gandhi’s vision for India was of a nation of villages and to an extent that still exists everywhere but not how he envisioned it. From the deep rural south of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the gated communities of ex-pat foreigners in Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad and the slums like Dharavi in Mumbai and Kolkata all operate as closed communities. None of the subjects I have chosen have noticeably gained from the new found wealth that is coming to the Indian economy, indeed some have lost as expansion in the cities and suburbs have displaced millions. But this is not a political statement, these images were not necessarily chosen to highlight the Indian’s plight, their life good or bad – in as much as we can judge those values from the West, but it is a record, as much as I am able to produce a record of what I believe is a vanishing society. In all but one picture they are in monochrome – either taken with 35mm film or converted from a digital file, I chose monochrome firstly because it is a medium I am comfortable in, secondly because it feels sympathetic to how I approached the subject and thirdly the 35mm manual camera is fast to use. Maybe if I were to capture the pace of Mumbai night life, its teaming financial district, the MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road in Bangalore or the new Shopping Malls springing up in Hyderabad and elsewhere, I would perhaps have chosen colour. The one image I have left in colour was done so deliberately as I felt it delivered more by doing so (and by it’s presence for this application, some sense of contrast).
I have tended to shoot high speed film in India – Fuji Neopan1600 – as I feel that it is the shadows that reveal the detail (not as in the Zone System sense) but where the people distance themselves from the very bright light of the sub-continent sun, away from the glare. I have tended to use only a 90mm manual focus lens with the 35mm unit as my only piece of equipment. I have included some digital conversions to show a variance without I hope detracting from the overall pictorial value.
I have realised a curious fact as I set out to prepare this application, which is that I have no photographic reference points for these images other than my own experience in country. Had I been working on landscapes or formal portraits under artificial lights from almost any decade from 1900 onwards I could have found reference images at home that I could have used as inspiration, or have used as a starting point. But for these pictures of Indian people, who could be Dalits or Brahmins, Hindu or Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Jew – I have no source material and have sought no calibration; they were just there in the frame.
Since these pictures were taken, and I suppose I will take many more on my travels to India, I was fortunate to meet a Spanish Photographer – Jesus Jaime Mota – in his gallery in Southern Spain. He had spent a great deal of time himself in Africa, India and China and I felt instantly drawn to his imagery and technique, so much so that I felt an echo with my own work. Unfortunately he passed away this June and I won’t have any further contact with this marvellously sensitive and widely published photographer www.jaimemota.com , but I can still recommend his work and his book is extremely good value and worth every €.

Self Critique

I have been to India many times a year for over 15 years and for the first few years I never took a camera and just looked – there is a lot to see! One of the greatest traits of the Indian personality is a general absence of ego – if we exclude Bollywood film stars, politicians and international cricketers. Indeed the rules of engagement for road traffic would mean that it would simply go into meltdown if the drivers had an ounce of the machismo of the motorists of the West. This disarming trait enables the photographer to wander relatively freely, expressing some polite words to request permission, and take pictures almost at will (small considerations are sometimes applicable). There are some temples that have some restrictions and some national monuments that do not allow tripods! However, most other places of worship and reflection and nearly all public places the locals have been very welcoming. One of the benefits of working with a high-speed film is the ability to capture low light scenes and I have spent a good deal of time in these temples capturing images where there has been a paucity of artificial light. I have developed a reasonably fast technique with a manual focus lens to record the world as I see it.

       The collector

I saw the man above seated on the floor as I entered the temple, which was both a haven from the temperature and from the noise outside. The light coming through the door light him extremely well, his whole left side was full of detail and whilst his frame was clearly frail he was at peace seated on the floor collecting money from the visitors (as far as I could make out there was no fixed fee). It was only when I had passed by his desk and looked back – always a good technique when out with a camera I have found - that I noticed his hand resting on the low desk. It was this hand that I focused on, it was clear to me that his profile would be rim lit as I am quite used to this kind of lighting in India, and his gesture with it. Neopan 1600 has a reputation for large grain, unwarranted I think if developed sympathetically and there isn’t a great deal of grain in this picture. The image has been cropped from a portrait image and the depth of focus is as depicted in the printed image – almost certainly F4. His posture was sedentary and he held no-one’s gaze and had no conversation with anyone as far as I could tell whilst I was there. It didn’t matter to him whether anyone came and if they did whether they paid, like many religious houses fees are not compulsory, rather discretionary, although many will bring other gifts or offerings. The sitter’s line of sight – through unseen eyes in this photograph – is toward, but not directly at, the door the door and raises a question as to whether he is engaged with anyone or something else. I wasn’t concerned that I couldn’t define any facial features as the aspect of his head suggested he was attracted to something. I also liked and emphasized the triangle from the bottom right with a fulcrum at his head to the top right corner.
If I had been able I would have lowered the viewpoint to raise his head higher in the shot, but when I tried he had moved and turned his head toward me and started to smile, to pose for me, not what I wanted at all, but appreciated all the same.

   Tea picker

Mary, as she introduced herself to me was working as a tea leaf picker at a Hill Station not far from Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. Kerala is rightly proud of its literacy rates, which are amongst the highest in India at around 98% and the life expectancy at over 70 is also one of the highest in the country. The socialist local government or communist (it changes a good deal) has invested in the local people. The family unit has been hard hit as a good deal of the menfolk work in the Gulf States for many years. The climate in the hill stations is usually more agreeable and this way of life has been the same for generations. Automation will eventually come in. Mary’s general demeanour was extremely pleasant although she had no English. Nikon D200 70mm

­­­  Waiting for the train

I met this gent on the station at Dehradun in Northern India. We were both waiting for the Shetabi Express or “Golden Mail” to take us to New Delhi. He had watched me take some pictures of the general life on the platform and nodded to me when I gestured to take his portrait. The 35mm manual camera with a 90mm lens isn’t obtrusive and the time taken to agree and capture the shot was no more than a few seconds; though I had weighed up how I would like this shot to come out. The lines of the roof were always in my view but the Vodaphone sign is, I think, an unfortunate happenstance.

                              The Horseman

There was nothing pre-planned about this shot, I had very little time to work out how I was going to take the image. I had arrived at the beach where there were a few simple attractions and not many people. I think the horse rider was the minder for the mechanical rides.
There are a number of things I like about this shot. Firstly the unadulterated joy on the face of the rider – he was a biggish man and with his bandana he had a tough looking persona, but on the horse his face beamed. Secondly the movement of the horses legs are mirrored by the owners legs – it is almost as if they are one, not quite Muybridge, but man and his beast in harmony and the third is that it takes a moment to see the owner (or minder) even though he has a striped shirt, so in synch’ with his horse is he. I suppose if I had captured him less centrally with more space to ride into that might have made a better image. But that “kicked” sand is a real bonus I think. Fuji S3 Pro 70mm

 The Potter

This potter is the last of his breed in his village. The village where he lives had over 15 potters when he first started to make pots. The traditional thrown clay, sun baked pot, that was used for almost everyday use has now been largely replaced by plastic containers, bottles and consumerism. This potter’s income is supplemented by tourism and whilst he makes pots most are either stacked or thrown away. It won’t be long until this traditional skill has been lost to progress. Long since has Ghandi’s dream of a nation of villages been eroded away. Film image with Neopan 1600 and the same 90mm lens.


We hired a boat to take us from our hotel across the river to a fishing village, I would say there were about 300 inhabitants and it wasn’t on the tourist route. We walked around for a little while and then came upon a schoolhouse. My wife, who is a teacher, and I entered and we were warmly welcomed by the headmistress who showed us “around” the three-room school. No electricity meant that schooldays were determined by whatever sunlight could enter the room by the twin windows only on one side of each room. These two schoolboys were happy to sit; they had just had a test and would be running home as soon as we left. Again, Fuji Neopan 1600 and 90mm lens. I particularly like the differing expressions, both curious and a little apprehensive.

Self critique

 The  sleepers

Again on the station platform in Dehradun. I don’t think the dog belonged to the sleeping figure; most dogs seem to run free. A lot of people seem to live at railway stations and I noticed these two echoing each other’s position. Unlike a lot of the shots in this section of the application I had a little time to compose this image and I wanted to set up the two subjects to appear as if they were in harmony with each other, the fact that both appeared asleep certainly helped that illusion. The shot is about their peace and harmony, the fact that it was at a busy rail station was immaterial to the shot and there was no other commentary I wanted to accompany the image. I was hampered by a large pillar slightly to my left which disallowed me from moving directly behind the recumbent man, however had I done so, the platform end would probably have come into view and I would have had additional imagery to contend with. There is a train at the platform that I darkened to keep the focus on the two figures. Fuji Neopan 1600 again and the same camera and lens as above. Getting lower would have incorporated an open vista, which would have detracted from the photograph (you can just make out the edge of the platform in the top right of the image) but I think the triangle would have made a better composition if I could have moved a little around the foreground figure a little.


A bicycle taxi man in Mussoorie; a hill-station in the foothills of the Himalayas. This man will spend a significant part of his day – if he’s lucky – in a constant level of high work - load, pulling paying customers around some very steep streets. These drivers are said to have extended hearts, as they need to pump high levels of oxygen to pull heavy loads and at reasonably high altitudes. The life expectancy of these workers is much reduced – damned by their own success, or lucky if they are unlucky. Fuji Neopan 1600, 90mm lens. This fellow wouldn’t have cared whether I took his picture or not, his sole focus was to get his fare to their destination. A lower perspective would have had greater impact; I’m not sure including his fare would have made a bigger impact as his facial features (a kind of grim determination) might have been lost.

 A festival in a village in Southern Kerala

We (my wife and I) were the only non-residents there, but we didn’t feel like we stood out! The ladies, some 200-300 of them had 3 bricks, some banana leaves, a pot, some water and some lentils; their task was to boil the lentil pots until they frothed and if they succeeded they would be blessed with good luck for twelve months. Meanwhile the menfolk drank a spirit made from coconut husks whilst the cooking was going on. The smoke from these hundreds of fires was all enveloping and subdued the view everywhere; I decided to reduce the saturation to reflect that in the photograph. The position these women had, their level of conversation one listening intently, the other in full flow was the focus of the shot. It looked like the ladies had all dressed in their finest for the festival, though what they smelt like after the festivities goodness only knows! Nikon D200 24mm – 70mm lens set at 70mm. I think if I had moved to my right (their left) I would have naturally cropped out the crosses on the top right of the image, which might add a question where it really didn’t belong.

                                   Angel in the temple

 Inside a temple looking out, this lady appeared contre jour and stood talking to some people off to the right of the picture – she was fairly stern in tone if I remember correctly - but the image was very ethereal, like an angel as her sari, clearly diaphanous in the strong light, which appeared to give her wings. Again, Fuji Neopan 1600 and a 90mm lens. The light onto the floor helped provide some perspective and it was a “grab” shot as shortly after she moved back outside – leaving some muttering men! I think a lower perspective would have improved the feel of the image.

                                                     Rope lady

This lady earned money by making rope for sale at her local market. The raw material was coconut husks, which her mother (I think) and her children and other children and women folk prepared before spinning. The work is monotonous and exhausting (I would think) but she is aware that this life will be over soon. As people become wealthier they are beginning to buy plastic rope and what I like most about this shot is her pose. Whilst the rope is being spun in one direction she is facing 90 degrees opposite, almost an allegory as to her future and that of the rope she is spinning. Fuji S2 Pro lens set at 70mm. The diagonals work: her arms, her sari fold and gaze one way triangulating with the rope, this image is a crop from the original – though not by much. I really like this picture.

                                   Temple snooze

The temple in India is a place where a lot of life takes place, people meet, they genuflect to their gods and goddesses, they pass the time of day with friends and family and they rest. This chap looked like a traveller, he had a staff, which was resting as well onto the wall that supported them both whilst various rituals were being enacted close by. I was constantly seeking reassurance that I wasn’t intruding with my camera and was constantly given it. I made sure I didn’t capture people at prayer, not that I think they would have minded and several saw me take this shot and smiled with me at the image. 35mm Fuji Neopan 1600 90mm lens. There is a nice balance in this shot and maybe if I had moved back a little I would have captured his feet, which together with his staff might have completed a story. It would have been nice, on reflection, to have both to compare; but I’m satisfied with this image.


  1. Firstly - Good News on getting APEL for DPP and AOP. You seem sanguine regarding P&P; the feedback seems very brief but maybe you've only included part of it. It doesn't seem to give you much to go on. I think the images you present are good to look at, interesting, well-composed and mono was the right choice. I shall look forward to seeing how you progress with P&P as time goes on.


  2. Hello Catherine. Thanks and yes, I am optimistic going forward. The assessor comment is verbatim, though I can see mistakes in it, even though I (and Alison) checked it quite a few times.

  3. Good luck John, will follow with interest...