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Self-portrait

Welcome, and thank you for stopping. It is very kind of you to do so. There are so many demands on our time and attention so I appreciate you taking the effort to pause here a moment.


My name is Stephen Taylor. I work full time (as an e-learning developer and instructional designer) but in my spare time I take photographs. You can view some of my work on this website. Some of it is also for sale on Alamy and nuMonday, either as digital downloads or physical prints. More of my photographs can be found on Flickr and Instagram as well.

We are always learning (I learnt that in my early days as a trainer) and this blog is a part of my learning process (and possibly yours?). Some of the postings will be on the subject of photography itself, based upon my reading on the subject and viewing other photographers’ works. Other postings will be on my experiences as a photographer seeking to improve my art; some of these will be less about the photographic process and more about the subject itself.

I am sharing them because I hope that people will respond with their own ideas so that together we can learn. I am not an expert in the subject but I am happy to share my thoughts and to have them challenged. I hope that in some respects this blog can become a conversation on the subject of photography.

Decluttering

We’ve all done it (at least I hope we have and it’s not just me!). We’ve been out taking photographs and seen something that would make a great subject so we raise our camera to the eye, focus and fire the shutter. Then we take a look at it later maybe on a larger computer screen and we discover something we missed at the time. That empty landscape? There’s someone having a picnic over there! That “decisive moment”? There’s something in the way at the wrong moment!

Everything the photographer sees through the viewfinder becomes a part of the photograph. There will be something that caught your eye – that is your subject and where you want your viewers to look first. Then there is everything else. This should in some way contribute to the photograph by placing the subject in context to help tell your story or it should not distract from the subject.

In another post I will take a look at what you leave in the photograph but this time I want to discuss what you should leave out and a few ways of decluttering your images.

So, you’ve seen something you want to photograph, and you raise your camera to your eye to take it. But wait…

Whenever you raise your camera to the eye get into the habit of doing a few things to check for and remove unwanted objects.

Check the edges.

If you are like me you can be so distracted by your subject that you miss something at the edge of your photograph that could prove distracting. If you do see something like that there are a few things you can do:

  • Wait. If you wait, could the distraction move out of the way if it is a person passing by, for example?
  • Move. Can you change your viewpoint to eliminate or minimise the distraction?
  • Change focus or exposure. If you cannot remove the distracting elements can there be thrown out of a focus or into shadow, so they are less obvious?

As you take more and more photographs all of these things should become instinctive, and the time taken to carry out a few seconds.

There is one other thing you can do, of course. Fix it afterwards. If you can’t get rid of it all can you remove them in post-production?

Once you have removed or minimised the distracting objects everything else left should have a part to play in your photograph and we will take a look at their role later.

Looking at photographs

When was the last time you stopped what you were doing and simply looked at a photograph?

When did you take time out to wander round an exhibition or look through the pages of a book of photographs? If you’re reading this I am guessing you are already interested in photography and so probably more than most people.

The question, however, struck me a few weeks ago when I was helping out at the Royal Photographic Society London Region Members Exhibition. My role was to greet visitors and explain the purposes of the exhibition to them, and answer any questions that I could. I was in the gallery for four hours and in between chatting to people I was able to spend time simply looking at photographs.

I would wander to one particular photograph, pause and stand in front of it, looking deeply into the image. Then, after a while I would move on and do the same for another picture. Sometimes I would end up going back to certain photographs more than once, maybe the ones I liked the best.


The length of time we spend looking at works of art in gallery is about seventeen seconds

Most of that time is taken up with reading the caption! Even the greatest artists’ works are afforded little time – the Louvre has found that people look at the Mona Lisa for fifteen seconds! I didn’t record how long I spent in front of each photograph at the RPS exhibition but I think it was a lot longer than that. Of course the length of time spent looking at a work of art, whether a photograph or a painting does not necessarily equate to the intensity of feeling – a single glance might be enough.


These days we are exposed to a vast number of photographs every day.

There are in adverts in magazines and newspapers (which many of us still see even if just in the newsagent) and there are on roadside billboards and the backs of buses. And then there are the adverts we see online. And I haven’t even mentioned social media. Nearly two trillion photographs are taken each year and many of them find their way to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. How much attention do we give to all these images? If Leonardo can only manage fifteen seconds how much attention do our posts on Instagram get?


Perhaps it’s time to pause.

Most of the photographs we see (or are exposed to – do we really see them?) are there for a purpose, usually to try and sell us something. But what about taking a moment to simply look at a photograph as a photograph? To view the subject, to look at the composition; the relationship between the objects in the image and the background. To look at the tone of the photograph; the light and shade. What can we see and what is hidden? If the photograph is a print can we look beyond the image to the texture of the paper it is printed upon? And how do respond to it emotionally? What do we feel about what we can see?

Diane Arbus used to display photographs (her own and the works of others) around her apartment so that she would see them regularly. Perhaps it is a good habit to get into, to take control of the images you see. Instead of being exposed to other people’s photos find the ones you like whether your own or other people’s. Maybe choose one photograph at a time; print it or cut it out and put it on your wall. Each day take time to look at it and think why you chose to put it on display in your own private gallery. Every so often choose a new photograph to look at.

Another option I have taken to trying is, ironically, another social media site. It’s called ClickaSnap and it encourages people to pause and look at photographs. It pays its members a small amount every time one of their photographs is looked at for over five seconds (rather similar to how some music sharing sites work). As a result I tend to spend more time looking at other people’s works there, zooming in on the image and scrolling around, and taking time to comment. Unlike on Instagram where I spend more time scrolling down the screen barely pausing at some photographs.

Pausing is a good thing, taking a moment to take a breath and reflect. As photographers it’s a great thing to stop and just take time to actually look at photographs. It can be good for our mental health and it can even help us take better photographs. When you get a moment (and try to make that moment) why not give it a go?


If you would like to find me on ClickaSnap go to https://www.clickasnap.com/stephentaylor

Queens Wood

The road from the west to the Mossy Well runs through woodland. Once the trees would have extended much further:

… a vast forest, its copses dense with foliage concealing wild animals – stags, does, boars, and wild bulls.

Now the Mossy Well has become the North London suburb of Muswell Hill and the forest has shrunk to two small patches along either side of the main road from Highgate tube station (some parts of it still exist elsewhere, although sometimes only in name such as at St Johns Wood).

The woodland to the north of the road is called Highgate Wood and is the least interesting. It is run by the City of London and is managed more as a park than a wood. To the south of the road lies Queens Wood; this one is managed by the local authority, Haringey Council, which does not have the same budget as the Corporation so it is left to its own devices, which makes more interesting.

It still has a feel of that ancient and vast woodland. As you stroll along the footpaths that lead up and down perhaps you may disturb the ghost of one of those wild aninals that used to call it their home?

Autumn

One of the best times to visit Queens Wood is in the autumn as the leaves turn and begin to fall, covering the ground burnished by the low sunlight.

Here are a few photographs I took on a recent stroll through the woods at just that time of year. I hope you like them.

Along the Riverbank

An afternoon photographing

Late one Saturday afternoon I took the half hour train ride out of London to the small town of Hertford. The purpose of my trip, apart from getting out of London for a short while, was to revisit and rephotograph the Gauge House at the head of the New River.

The Gauge House is an imposing building standing out from the King’s Meadows just outside Hertford. It is on the River Lea where the New River starts. The purpose of the building is, as its name suggests, to gauge the amount of water taken from the River Lea into the New River. The New River was built in the early seventeen century to supply fresh water to London and continues to do so.

When I first learnt of the Gauge House a little while ago I wanted to go visit it. I have explored other parts of the New River closer to home and it seemed appropriate to visit its other end. I was also struck by by the building’s grandeur as befits a piece of Victorian engineering. I had explored it a few weeks ago but as with most of the subjects I photograph I am always drawn back to them time and again. There is always something new to see or a new way of looking at them.

Hartham Common

My walk to the Gauge House started at Hartham Common on the outskirts of Hertford. This sits at the confluence of the Rivers Lea and Beane (two other rivers also flow through this area – the River Rib and the splendidly named Mimram). Today much of the common is now playing fields but it looks like it is prone to flooding; dotted between the football pitches were a series of concrete blocks with covers on top of them; from deep below I could hear rushing water.

Rising above the predominantly flat space and under a suitably dramatic sky they seemed an obvious subject to photograph, especially as the rays of light broke through the clouds. Last time I visited there were beautifully blue skies – which made for a pleasant stroll but more mundane lighting. This time there were banks of clouds with the late afternoon sunshine breaking through.

Gauge House

The clouds also became a feature when I reached Gauge House. I explored different angles on it including coming in very close and looking up at the walls against the sky, and then going further back and including the River Lea and a conveniently positioned canal boat. I also wandered around the back of the building and looked at the head of the New River. Last time there was more evidence of construction work taking place here. Whilst it is still going on (to strengthen Gauge House) the work in the water had been removed and I was able to capture this reflection of the building and the sky.

Reflections

Two other features struck me that day and played a part in my choice of photographs. One of these was the reflections of the sky in the river and the way the water rippled over them. I took several photographs, some of people walking and cycling by, others of just the sky itself broken by circles and ripples on the surface.

A10

The other thing that struck me (and I was conscious of all the time) was the brutalist A10 viaduct thrumming with traffic; its brutality had been partially softened by the graffiti that adorns its pillars. Photographically the road offeres a brilliant structure with its sweeping lines and strong shadows, especially in contrast to the meadows below. In the end, though I focused on the artwork – I loved its sense of creative subversion.

(Full disclosure – this photo was taken on my earlier visit. I was rather disappointed by the ones I took this time.)

An unexpected sunset

Eventually I needed to turn around and head back into Hertford, leaving the rest of the River Lea to be explored on another day.

This time I followed the River Lea back into the town centre. On the way my eye, and the camera lens, was caught by the lock keeper’s cottage at Hertford Lock; the eraly workings of a new riverside development in its early stages; and, closer into town, some allotments. I was struck by a group of sunflowers still mostly standing proud although towards the end of their season. Elsewhere the beds had already been cleared.

I left Hertford before the sun had set but on the way back I (along with my fellow passengers) were treated to a spectucular sunset.

Wick Wood

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past.


If you have arrived on this page from the 2022 calendar, welcome! Thank you very much for buying it (or having it bought for you). I do hope you like the photographs it contains.

If you have arrived here by other means, also welcome.

I hope that however you came upon this page, you find it interesting. If you have any comments, please let me know below.


Wick Wood didn’t really exist thirty or so years ago. It was planted as part of the building of the M11 extension – the usual bit of greenwashing.

Before that it was open land, some it marshy. During the second world war gun emplacements were located here to defend London and the nearby docks. Now it is a relatively tranquil place and it is quite a thought that once the space was heavy with the sound of gunfire, the smell of hot metal and the grim determination of the gunners to carry out their deadly tasks.

New River

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past.


If you have arrived on this page from the 2022 calendar, welcome! Thank you very much for buying it (or having it bought for you). I do hope you like the photographs it contains.

If you have arrived here by other means, also welcome.

I hope that however you came upon this page, you find it interesting. If you have any comments, please let me know below.


The New River is not technically a river as it is manmade and neither is it new as it was built back in the early seventeenth century.

Whatever you wish to call it, it runs from somewhere near Hertford to Islington. In Hertfordshire the river above ground, meandering as it follows the contours to stay level. Once it reaches London some of it begins to disappear underground but there are still sections you can view and walk along including these parts between Woodberry Down and Finsbury Park.

The River was opened in 1613 and designed by Sir Hugh Myddleton – you can see his statue at Islington Green and there are a number of roads along the route of the river that bear his name.

I love exploring these areas as they are a ribbon of tranquility behind buildings and beneath busy roads. They are also home to many others including swans and herons.

It is possible to walk almost the entire route of the New River – something else I should do at some point, so watch out for more photographs later!

UPDATE 5th June 2022 – further explorations of the New River have resulted in extra photographs being added, including the river towards its southern end in London and at its early stages out in Hertfordshire!

A1

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure or overlooked parts of London and their past.


If you have arrived on this page from the 2022 calendar, welcome! Thank you very much for buying it (or having it bought for you). I do hope you like the photographs it contains.

If you have arrived here by other means, also welcome.

I hope that however you came upon this page, you find it interesting. If you have any comments, please let me know below.


I have always liked photographing the roads beneath our feet because they are so often overlooked yet they are so heavy with meaning. They are ignored; just functional pieces of tarmac, something we drive, walk or cycle upon without another thought. They get us to where we want to be (mostly) and that is all that people ask of them. They can be seen in a negative light as well; dividing communities, creating noise and pollution, and death and injury.

But travel lightly and they offer so much potential.

This is the A1 in London and, as the sign says, it can take you all the way to the NORTH (in capitals). It runs 410 miles (660km) to Edinburgh, and it was designated the A1 one hundred years ago in 1921 by the Ministry of Transport. Parts of it include the Great North Road, a highway that has ran between England and Scotland since medieval times.

I love the potential of roads and where they may take you. That sign, “The NORTH” is so evocative. The route has been explored extensively in song and book but one day I may explore it myself.

In the meantime I have explored another road, or rather a series of roads until they gave out at the coast.

Bunhill Fields

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs will appear in my 2022 calendar which will shortly be on sale. Click here for more information and check back to see when the calendar is available.


London is a city of towns and villages, once separate from each other and with their own distinct character. And then there would have been the spaces in between; the fields, moorlands and forests almost unpopulated save for the occasional dwelling.

It was in these spaces that were often on the edges of authority that people could fly under the radar, fall through the cracks. It was inevitable that the more radical and unconventional would be attracted to such areas.

One such space is Bunhill Fields on the northern edge of the City of London. This would once have been moorland outside the City’s boundary and as far as the next village, Hoxton. Its name suggests it may have been a burial place for many years, possibly back to Saxon times. Rather than an actual burial ground, with all the ritual that implies, it may, however, have been more of a dump for human remains taken from the charnel house at St Paul’s Cathedral in the 16th century. There were sufficient bones to create a hill in this bleak space.

In 1665, the year of the plague, the space became used as an overfill burial ground. It continued in that capacity until the middle of the nineteenth century. The land was never consecrated by the Church of England so it became the choice of burial for those outside the established church. This included John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress; and William Blake, the engraver, poet and philospher.

Close by, and in keeping with the non-conformist tradition of the area there is the home of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley; and elsewhere the last resting place of the founder of the Quaker movement, George Fox.

Markfield

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs will appear in my 2022 calendar which will shortly be on sale. Click here for more information and check back to see when the calendar is available.


Markfield Park is a former sewage and water treatment works. It is now a living work of art with a working beam engine.

The north London area of Tottenham, where it is located, was rapidly expanding in the first half of the nineteenth century and there was an urgent need to deal with human waste (most of it was running into the nearby River Lea). In 1849 work began on the sewage treatment site. It was a private venture and when the owner died in 1858 it was left to decay and sewage once more began running into the River Lea, the main source of water for the local population. It is suggested that up to 4000 people were killed as a result of the poor quality of the water.

A new sewage works was built in the 1880s and remained in use until the 1960s.

The site was taken over by the local council as a park. It includes the working beam engine that would have pumped the sewage and a legal graffiti site on the walls of the old channels and tanks where the water used to run.

Hill Garden

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs appear in my 2022 calendar. Click here for more information .


These steps are at Hill Garden, an almost secret park tucked away on the far western edge of Hampstead Heath, between Hampstead and Golders Green. What I like about it is the way it blurs into the edges of the heath with, at its heart, a dramatic pergola rising above the surrounding land.

The gardens were the idea of Lord Leverhulme whose house used to stand on this site. They were designed by Thomas Mawson in the early 1900s. One of the things Leverhulme wanted was raised gardens to afford a view over Hampstead Heath. Luckily the Northern Line was being extended nearby and was able to provide material dug out to build up the land. and the solution was to use the material removed for the building of the nearby extension to the Northern Line on the London Underground.

After Leverhulme’s death the gardens fell into some decay but in the 1990s they were restored by the Corporation of London.