Luca Ellena

The humble shopping trolley offers a timely metaphor for the modern preoccupation with consumption.

For over three years the photographer Luca Ellena has been on the trail of such displaced shopping carts and their impact on Berlin’s image, and has recorded these sculptural objects in all their bizarre poses. (2020) Available at: (Accessed: 25 October 2020).

First I will let some of the photographs speak for themselves:

Luca Ellena Fotografie

Neue Schule für Fotografie - Photo school in Berlin

Einkaufswagen - kwerfeldein – Magazin für Fotografie

Einkaufswagen - kwerfeldein – Magazin für Fotografie

These pictures appear to be snapshots of accidentally found shopping trolleys.  I hope I’m not being unfair to Luca but there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of aesthetics going on here.  He went for a walk (often), saw the occasional trolley, snapped it and moved on.  He ended up with quite a few hundred pictures and decided to attempt a crowd funded project in the form of a book.  The WeMakeIt crowdfunder raised the entire CHF 3800 (£3220) required in a month.

This project must be counted as a success having moved from idea, through execution to finished product.  What were the factors involved?   Firstly the idea; Luca has a genuine interest in shopping carts and their adventures outside the supermarket; he likes walking around Berlin taking pictures, not only of trolleys; he is committed to an idea which he feels is worthwhile.  If I’d had the idea I don’t think I would have had the bottle to ask for nearly four thousand quid to get it in print.  I would probably have been wary of mentioning the project out loud never mind ask for money to back it.

All of which serves to illuminate a current deficit in my photographic practice:  I lack the courage of any conviction I might harbour.  No, to be fair to me, I have had one or two projects which I felt determined about and ran them right through to a satisfactory conclusion – the Bishops project for example, though I failed to follow through with that – it could have developed into a project embracing the entire bishopry given the encouragement I received.

Lesson: ideas are two-a-penny and even good ideas are relatively common, but the drive and determination to slog away, step by step for months doesn’t come as easily, to me anyway.

I haven’t forgotten about Luca’s pictures.  I will say that they lack affect – there is little to tell between any pair of them.  They appear to say ‘people are thoughtless and shortsighted’ but no one picture says that any clearer or with more nuance than any other.  Is an abandoned cart just an abandoned cart?  Or is there always more to it than that?  If there is, then these photographs do little to elucidate the matter.  Perhaps it is much simpler than that, Luca made a book to show rather than tell. He finds the pictures have value and enjoyment in themselves, without any messaging attached. Forty-four crowdfunders agreed.   Fair play to Luca.


John Maclean

“John MacLean makes playfully serious, reflexive photographs.” is the helpful strapline on his website.  In the context of art photography I understand this to mean seeing oneself through pictures of others, which is part of what I’m aiming for with Assignment Five.

He goes further:

He is not a conceptual artist but is clearly fascinated by the concepts which underpin photography. For that reason, he doesn’t shy away from his work being labeled, ‘photography about Photography’.

However, he tries—whilst freely acknowledging the difficulty of the task—to make photographs that act as platforms for conversations supporting his primary interest: how we perceive the world and ourselves within it.


This assignment has elements of ‘photography about photography’ so we have something in common; I can’t see my pictures acting as platforms for conversations except in a very limited sense, although the student forum might be somewhere to use as a sounding board.

Maclean embarked on a journey to photograph the home towns of  nineteen artists and photographers, the results of which endeavor are presented in his book ‘Hometowns’. The book was nominated for the Deutche Borse prize in 2018 and Alec Soth considered it “A beautiful book, Great images and gorgeous production”.  David Campany along with Dewi Lewis and Lucy Moore declared it the Best International Photobook of 2016.   Let’s take a peek (all these pictures are by John Maclean):


John MacLean Hometowns

Hometown of Bridget Riley, Padstow, Cornwall

Riley often used optical effects in her work.  Maclean has acknowledged this in the streaks across his photograph.

John MacLean Hometowns

Hometown of Lee Friedlander, Aberdeen, Washington

Friedlander often included strong dividing lines in the frame.

John MacLean Hometowns

Hometown of John Baldessari, National City, California

Baldessari’s appliqued colour dots were novel and innovative when he began using this kind of manipulation.  The technique has since been copied in various forms by many photographers.

We can see what’s going on here, I think – Maclean is identifying a stylistic element from each of his ‘heros’ and incorporating it in his pictures of their home town, although we have to take his word on the location because we cannot confirm it just by looking at the pictures.  It’s a neat trick. He travelled far and wide to perform it.  The critics loved it and the book, competitively priced at £55 in its first edition of 400, drew comments such as ‘beautiful’, ‘clever’, ‘the images sing’.

This is a major effort – just the travel and subsistence must have cost thousands – involving work in Tokyo, USA, UK, Moscow, Zurich and Wales.  I really want to like this work because it has those elements which appeal to me – the germ of an idea (Maclean acted on a one-line note in his daybook) blossoming into a full scale project, travel, humour and approbation.  But something stops me from wholeheartedly embracing the project: I don’t like the pictures.  I want to like them, I feel like I ought to like them, but I’m just not getting it.  I feel like I imagine I would at a top level wine tasting – I like wine but I think my appreciation would be largely naive, my ability to appreciate the nuance and complexities greatly limited.  I can completely excuse myself in a vintage wine context because my comfort spend of four pounds in Lidl has hampered the range of experience.  Not so with photographs.  I have been looking at them for fifty years, even actively studying them for a part of that time, making them myself and discussing them.  If photographs were wines I would have tasted every vintage of every grape of every region. Roughly.

So it can’t be exposure which places me at such a disadvantage.  Maybe it’s education?  Perhaps I need to be tutored in the subtleties of work like Macleans?  If I understood it better, perhaps, if its nuances were revealed to me by experts?


Photographer–Martha Casanave

Martha Casanave (US. 1945) came to my attention through researching the West Coast photographers, Weston, Adams, Cunningham, et al.  She has produced most of her work in black and white, some of it being portraits of the above luminaries:

Jeryy  Cornell Capa  John

              Jerry Uelsmann                                                                                                       Cornell Capa                                                    John Szarkowski


The work which caught my eye wasn’t the portraits stuff though, it was this:

Image result for "martha casanave"

And also these:


Posed figures in a landscape, relatively small in the frame but still the point of interest, it looks like an attempt at allegory in a Victorian style – the rounded edges, the bowler hat, greatcoat and cane.  The viewer may wonder what the figure is doing, even thinking,  as he gazes out across the breath-taking vista.  The indistinct, double exposed figure in the second image appears to be going somewhere – but is there a suggestion that it may in fact be two people?  Or an ethereal representation of his alter,  his second self?  Casanave is mining a rich vein here:


Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) Casper David Friedrich

The German Romanticist Casper David Friedrich (Germany 1744-1840) returned to the motif of the lonely figure often in his work, and although the painting above might well have been the inspiration for Casanave’s  image she could have chosen others:

image     image

        Die Lebensstufen (The Stages of Life);  Friedrich 1835                                          On the Sailing Boat;  Friedrich 1819

In all of these images there is an unspoken invitation for the viewer to commune with the figures, both in sharing the view and also in sharing the way they appear to experience it.  I have tried to find a term for this figure-from-behind aspect without success, but Johannes Grave aptly called it Friedrich’s ‘proxy viewer’:

“The artist’s most radical block on the transparency of looking, though, comes when he places a proxy “viewer” in the landscape, in his iconic back-facing figures.” 2017. Caspar David Friedrich by Johannes Grave. Times Online. (accessed July 9, 2017).


The motif crops up frequently in visual art:

image   image

                 Figure at a Window 1925 Salvador Dali                                                                                                    Forillon Park, Gaspé, 2006  Richard Benson,


The greatcoated, behatted figure was a recurring element for Andre Kertesz too and although such figures could hardly be avoided in his time, some authorities consider their inclusion deliberate and relevant in Kertesz’s work. Geoff Dyer observes:

“What Kertesz sees when he looks out at the street is often this silhouetted representative of his own feelings about being adrift and unappreciated in New York”

Geoff Dyer; the Ongoing Moment, Abacus 2005


Image result for photographer kertesz   

Andre Kertesz  Untitled, Budapest

Photographer – Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack (UK 1985) photographs people she approaches in an empathic and direct manner which gives her work an apparent honesty and openness.  I have to say apparent  because, especially in the light of recent course-directed research, it is clear that what the image appears to communicate can easily be the result of manipulation.  But Pannack’s images as found on her website are accompanied by a detailed blog-based account of her photographic endeavours and the extensive travels which produced them.

In these accounts she is disarmingly open about her struggles with the nuts-and-bolts of photography, travel and personal organisation. Her readiness to declare what she sees as her failures, along with her modestly acknowledged successes, provides an engaging insight into her process, to me the most interesting aspect of a photographer’s work. Her work sometimes involves the use of a large format camera which she admits she has yet to master – her problems with keeping track of darkslides, for instance, has led to disappointing losses as well as serendipitous double-exposures.

Young British Naturists

Pannack came to the attention of the photography gate-keepers with her series Young British Naturists (which she now sensibly refers to as YBN), a project which took three years to research, coordinate and shoot.  It was slow and painstaking work;  she had to develop a trusting relationship with her subjects, who were unsurprisingly cautious about even being photographed, never mind exhibited and published.

allan.jpg   lounge.jpg

isi.jpg   jon.jpg


Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site:

All of this work seems to have been made with natural light.  It is posed rather than candid and often the subjects look directly out of the frame at the viewer.  Is this a challenge?  An “I’m looking at you looking at me”?  I don’t think so – if anything it places the subjects in a superior position.  Differential focus is often used to isolate the sitters within their environment.  The final image format is very close to 5×4 so I wonder if she battled with her cantankerous view camera to modify the plane of focus.

“Nakedness is usually reserved for the private realm. We make sure the curtain is pulled before we undress. On the beach, we wriggle awkwardly behind towels to preserve our modesty and a dropped corner is cause for deep blushes. We keep our private parts hidden from view, known only to ourselves or given as a gift to a lover. It is about more than just skin. Nakedness is a concept as much as it is a state of being, and one wreathed in paradox. With it are bound notions of privacy, self possession, jurisdiction. It can connote innocence or sexuality, purity or depravity. It can signify both power and vulnerability, used to liberate or humiliate.” Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site:


Young Love

Pannack further explores her interest in portraying  teens and early twenties in this project.  Empathy with her subjects plays an important part in her approach:

“Perhaps young people rely on relationships to ease the burden of the frightening time of handling adolescence and all its uncertainties; finding support in someone who will not judge but share the experience. Who will despite any fears or insecurities we have, accept and love us.”    Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site:



kiss.jpg  8 david and emilya.jpg  laura_Pannack 0_a.jpg

Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site:

Once more the need to gain the confidence of those she photographs is important.  She recognises adolescence as a ‘frightening time’ so needs to gain the trust of her subjects. 


Photographer – Anders Petersen


Cafe Lehmitz



Cafe Lehmitz « ANDERS PETERSEN. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site:

The images above are from Andersen’s work in the Cafe Lehmitz, Hamburg made over a three year period in the late sixties.  He photographed the customers pretty much as he found them with no concession to pride or dignity; often his subjects were in an advanced state of intoxication and their behaviour uninhibited.  The images appear to give an honest account of life in that establishment.  They aren’t posed (not by the photographer anyway), they seem to have been made in the available light and the grittiness of the film adds authenticity.  Petersen was aged around 23 when he did these, much younger than most of the clientele.  I expect he would have been a bit of a novelty at the time and probably viewed without suspicion as to the purpose of his activities.

St Etienne


St Etienne « ANDERS PETERSEN. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site:

His St Etienne work is from 2005 and continues his depiction of hard places and the people who inhabit them.  He applies a dark vignette to the photographs to prevent attention from running out of the frame; this also suggests a claustrophobic, inward-looking feel along with the monochrome treatment.  Gritty again, even though by this time it would not have been  technically unavoidable. 

French Kiss

“When Petersen’s work succeeds, it does so because the knowing skills of photography become secondary and effortless, leaving only intimacies, revelations and possibilities. The formal tactics that dominate French Kiss have been long refined. Yet, perhaps for that very reason the book rarely feels as untethered as the Lehmitz work still feels when happened upon, a substantial series defined, not by the photographer, but by risk, openness and the energy of his subjects, by the depth and relationships, and by the uncertain prospect of reaching a steady tomorrow. Ken Grant ” French Kiss – FOTO8. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site:


photo-eye Bookstore | Anders Petersen: Frenchkiss | photo book. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site:

Ken Grant’s appraisal on FOTO8 mentions the risk, openness and relationships developed by Petersen in making these photographs and the pictures themselves vouch for those qualities.  The ‘knowing skills’ of photography is a compelling idea too, the notion that the photographer’s most valuable tool is himself.   Certainly Andersen has made a career out of rubbing shoulders with subjects whom one might reasonably suppose would be somewhat wary of photographers; he didn’t gain their trust by inviting them to admire his 80-200mm f2.8 lens.

It’s harsh, unnerving work which does not please the eye in a formal sense but which carries considerable weight as documentary or reportage and there’s no doubting the photographer’s commitment.

Photographer – Beth Dow




From Beth Dow’s series:  “Ruins”                   [ source: Ruins. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from Web site:]


Dow’s idea was to photograph incongruous structures in a variety of settings, generally classical architecture follies in a modern American landscape.  She says:

“[This portfolio]…. looks at the ways we appropriate and approximate the romance of ruins into modern American environments, and what this says about our longing for historic precedents.”


“I have been looking at Victorian photographs by Francis Frith, Felix Bonfils, and Giorgio Sommer, as well as sepia ink and wash drawings by Claude Lorrain, a 17th century artist who used classical ruins to create ideal scenes of pastoral splendor. My pictures of faked antiquities are an attempt to evoke nostalgia for inaccurate history, to wrestle with ideas of authenticity, and to question the value we place on classical ideals. It is natural to challenge the relevance of nostalgic longing, and I exploit this dynamic in my contemporary landscapes. I approach these pictures as a tourist. These photographs of authentic sites include whatever clutter exists around the actual subjects, and people mill around, much as they do in Frith’s photographs. Life goes on among the ruins”

Ruins. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from Web site:

Dow’s  photographs are in a square format, without borders and of a slightly warm monotone.  She appears to have selected dull or overcast weather as the lighting is rather flat and the skies have considerable detail.  All appear to be made from head height, in keeping with her ‘tourist’ approach mentioned above.  The images present us with two ‘presences’ – the out-of-place element and the surrounding ordinariness, and though the banal surroundings appear insouciant the classical constructions seem distinctly uncomfortable.

Dow uses a medium format camera to produce film negatives which she then scans and prints via inkjet.  I imagine the toning is intended to imitate the tintypes of the Victorian photographers who inspired her.  Her choice of a wide angle lens is relevant:

“I like how my lens, which is slightly wide-angle, converges verticals and disorients space, especially evident in electricity poles that unify the images”  [ibid]

What I like about this work and Dow’s approach to it, is her ready utilisation of disparate techniques to produce the final object – the print – she is aiming for.   She’s quite happy to use their various characteristics to her advantage.  Here are some of her garden images:

In the Garden


These are platinum/palladium prints and have the slightly ethereal appearance typical of this process.  I particularly like the fountain photograph above.  There’s a similar garden feature at a local manor house which I may well photograph in a similar fashion.  Of this series, Dow says:

“My images are not depictive. I use the land before me as a jumping off point, implying light or shadow where perhaps there was none, as a way to create my own path through the garden. In fact, by positioning the lens, cropping my prints, and using burning and dodging to guide the viewer’s eye through a picture, I feel that I too am a gardener in a sense. I am after that “slant of curious light” that is the genius of a place.”  [ibid]

Again, she makes no bones about her attitude to manipulation – she makes whatever adjustment she sees fit in order to achieve the print she wants.