Richard Ash

After uploading my series on to my website I received an email from the photographer who photographed the imperial war museum portraits. Below is a copy of the email.

Hi There,

Just come across your pics of 1 Rifles… good shots… look a little familiar!

no worries though, if you want to know the lighting set up of the pics hanging in the Imperial War Museum for the War Story Project…………

the shots were taken with just 2 lights, one behind a semi translucent background, (like a bed sheet for example) and one soft box butterfly’ed up high

We used one reflector under the face around chest area..keeping it simple as 99% of the pics were taken on location with very little time to set up ( 5mins tops)

Light were profoto acutes
camera was just a Nikon D3
printed using a colorproof Rip on an epson 9900 on Hahnemuhler Baryta paper

Pics were taken in various locations around the UK and the world

There are over 1000 of these portraits now


Richard Ash
IWM Photographer

I was really surprised to here from anyone let alone the photographer I used for research. I felt slightly rude as I hadn’t included this blog on my website so he wasn’t able to see my research and development behind this series as our photographs are quite similar. It was nice of Richard to give me an insure into the lighting he had used and after reading it I realised I also used a similar layout which is rewarding to know. Now I know I am able to look at an image and work out roughly what lighting was used.


Graham Clarke – How do we read a photograph?

Today in the reading group we went through Graham Clarkes first chapter of ‘The Photograph’ with Jim. This chapter is mainly Clarke reading a selection of images. The first thing that struck me about this chapter was the fact he named it ‘How do WE read a photograph?” as if he is involving me already and telling me how i read images along with how everyone reads them. I feel that people are all too different to be able to read images in the same way. Clarke begins to talk about how looking at a photograph is quite similar to looking at a text, this then leads him on to reading in a semiotic way, the language of signs. This isn’t a straight forward process at all. Graham looks into every single part of a photograph to create his interpritation, again this is HIS way of reading, the majourity of people who don’t have knowledge on photography wouldn’t care about the meaning of a photograph let alone use this method to achive it.

In terms of the Diane Arbus Identical Twins (above) photograph Clarke mentions that even though straight away the image looks perfectly composed which is enhanced by the twins, it’s actually very different. Graham decoded it section by section, which was the photographers aim. Diane wanted to play with the viewer, she placed the twins a few feet away from the wall, disrupted the composition to create this sense of unbalance which as photographer I read but from an average persons point of view it just seems like a perfect picutre of a set of twins. From just this image we read that a meaning is never fixed. Of course in most photographs there is a dominent or prefered reading but the photographer only has a certain amount of control over how the photograph will be interprited. This then leads me on to think about how people interpiriate images differently and why. The representation changes from person to person, without even realising we are reading an image and basing it upon our personal experieiences or the context it is in. The photographer has full control over what is captured and which image is selected, then theres cropping, editing and even the use of captions change the way we think about a photograph. For example Walker Evans Bethlehem graveyard (below) was took to show a community, how people live, work and die in the same town using the whole foreground and background to tell this story, as a photographer I can see how this message is being delivered but unfortuntatly some people don’t agree with it, it feels as if this town has been forgotten which goes to show the meaning of the photograph is always on the outside rather than within the image.

When Graham Clarke began to decode A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester (below) captured by Diane Arbus i started to disagree with his method of reading photographs. He seemed to literally take everything into account. This is hard to completely disagree or agree with, of course when an image is being looked at there is no stopping someone from reading it in their own way it’s just the fact that Clarke is writing his interpretation as if it was Dianes aim, the ‘true’ represetation which i think can’t be true. These people for all we know could just be having a relaxing day in the sun and at that moment look miserable. How ever much we may read all these small signs, what objects are in the frame, where they are placed, the colours, the compsotion, the body language, no one knows if this was just a second in time or if it was the photographers intention. In conclusion i belive there is a language within photography but it is loose. Rules can be bent, representations can be challenged but overall there is a vague grammer for the viewers to read. I disagree with Clarkes way of reading photographs as i feel the majourity of photographers don’t plan every single aspect within their image and try and create a meaning from it. Using semiotics is an interesting method but it isn’t relevent for a lot of photographs. People will use this to read some images, other photographers will be more open minded and viewers who have no knowledge within photography will unconciously base their interpritation on their personal expereiences and the context its in.

Aliastair Thain – Imperial War Musuem North

“The pictures are simple objective human portraits that are intended to function as meditative works. My aim was to make the viewer think about the nature of conflict, mortality, and the preciousness of these young lives,”

In 2009 Alastair Thain was commissioned to take photographs of the Marines for the Imperial Warm Museum North. The series is an incredibly unique set of portraits in terms of their presentation, all 6 images were printed more than 5 meters high, back to back and exhibited in large glass frames outside the war museum. Shot close up, these are no perfect portraits, Thain took the Marines photographs as soon as they had finished a harsh training session. The method of immediately capturing the subject after an event creates a very dramatic aesthetic for-fulling Alastairs aim of wanting the viewer to become aware of the nature of conflict. Having the portraits printed at a large scale shocks the viewer, not only by the portrait but by the sheer size of it. The size of the images creates a dramatic response itself reflecting the subject in it making one massive impact on the people viewing it. I haven’t seen this series up close but i do agree that the use of presentation does change the way people look and read the photograph, personally i do think that having them printed so tall restricts the viewer of being able to look clearly into the Marines eyes or even the rest of their faces. I believe that creating eye contact between the subject and the viewer creates a much more stronger connection and would make a bigger impact than they do already. Within my project exhibiting my images is a key part to my portraits, i do want to print them large with a lot of detail similar to Thains series but i feel the connection would be stronger if i hung them the same height of an average person.

1 Rifles

Within The Rifles there are 5 regular battalions. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalion are front line based. Then there is a 4th which is a support company, within these are 4 platoons; reconnaissance, snipers, fire support group and mortars these all aid the rifle battalions. The other being a HQ company that comprises off most of the battalion external attachments (non fighting troops), for example signallers, medics, military drivers, store men, armourers and mechanics.

1st Battalion – Commando Infantry (3 Cdo Bde) – Chepstow

2nd Battalion – Light Role –  Northern Ireland

3rd Battalion – Light Role – Edinburgh

1 Rifles is a light role infantry battalion (light role – Front line soldiers that mainly operate on foot) within 3 Commando Brigade. This Battalion should be approximately 500 strong men. 1 rifles is the Battalion I am going to be photographing.

Thomas Ruff and Steven Pyke

After reading the essay William A. Ewing wrote i wanted to compared 2 different styles of portraits, Thomas Ruff and Steven Pyke.


The first thing as a viewer i notice is the amount of detail in the Steven Pyke portrait. There is so much more depth within the photograph and you are able to see every part of the subjects face clearly, even though this photograph is in black and white i still feel it is much stronger in term of aesthetics. Pyke seems to keep in mind the topography of the face when taking photographs of people, i feel he understand the landscape of someone face and the beauty it holds. The use of lighting does enhance this ‘landscape’ and makes each wrinkle and hair stand out and become part of this breathtaking scene. Thomas Ruff on the other hand challenges this thought of topographics of the face by just using simple, even lighting. Everything is lit exactly evenly, the composition is central, there is no depth to his portraits. I feel that Ruff is playing with this physiognomy idea, even though contemporary photograpers don’t agree with this idea Ruff is pushing it that one step further. He is showing that people interpret faces exactly how they would like to whether it be based upon their personal experiences or just using the subjects facial features. Ruff portraits are completely empty and mundane. Before, i wouldn’t be appealed to them in anyway but after reading Ewings article i understand all the different directions portrait photographers take to make images.

About Face: Photography and the Death of the Portrait – William A. Ewing

When starting this project i had never  done portrait photography before let alone face photography and because of this i didn’t realise the portrait and face were 2 completely different sections within photography. After reading About Face it’s really opened my eye towards portrait/face photography. William Ewing first began to talk about how much more broader face photography is to portrait. Contemporary photographers tend to think outside the box of ‘portrait photography’ and create something completely unique due to photographers thinking this genre has somehow been took for granted, others feel that they are full of a negative aesthetic  ‘…exhausted it’s powers, endlessly recycling stereotype and clichés’ is how Ewing describes it. I do completely agree with this statement, it’s interesting to see the work contemporary photographers are making and how much more of an impact it makes than just a conventional portrait. It’s more challenging to read as a viewer and makes you really want to understand the photograph and why the photographer chose to capture the subject in that certain way, each photographer needs their own strategies on how to do so.

Ewing follows this with how the nature of the face is still changing. The fact it’s never itself now due to our world now taking advantage of facial reconstruction and remodelling which means image makers of today need to also keep up with this change. Ewing notices we are faced everyday with perfect portraits in magazines, billboards and posters which have had an extreme amount of work done to them since the image was first taken. Again, new strategies are called for within this genre to create images that take over from this neat, tidy aesthetic. For example, Orlan a French photographer that plays with the face and representations. In one of her series Carnal Art she went through plastic surgery and then took self portraits to enhance this idea that the face is always changing. She wanted to show the the ideal of female beauty as depicted by male artists through getting different facial parts similar to glamorous famous people. Her most recent series Self – Hybridization is a lot less dramatic but still has that sense of uniqueness. This series continues to experiment with facial representations by her merging her face with other peoples features that reflect beauty standards from other cultures and eras to create an unusual portrait which depicts that people can’t use the physiognomy theory on every portrait, viewers need to ask themselves questions as to why and how the photographs were taken. To show that beauty isn’t essential in portrait photography.


Below i have included some of the things contemporary photographers believe about the face which is included in this book. I want to thoroughly understand these to help me with my image making:

  • ‘The face is a fluid field rather than a fixed object, it changes constantly…’ Each face has many different expressions weather they are made on purpose or naturally. Each person has their own aesthetics which come across in an image.
  • ‘…Although we think we see faces, objectively, in an identical way, faces are in fact fields of data that are interpreted and processed by the brain according to individual  needs and experiences…’ Every single viewer interprets an images how they want to, depends on their needs at the time and experiences. You’re position as a photographer is never neutral.
  • ‘…Although physiognomy has been thoroughly discredited, its tenacious hold on the popular imagination limits the furthering of our understanding and appreciation of the human face’ Ewing explains that although physiognomy (the act of people reading personalities and characteristics of a person just from their outter face) has be viewed to be false is still is being used by the majority of the population reducing the viewers to actually appreciate the face.

Before reading these i had never took into account how much photographers think about the human face. Thoroughly reading through them and understanding them has made me so much more aware when taking a photograph of the human face, there is more to think about than just the typical technical things and also so much more to appreciate. In my project i was sure that i wanted to just shoot the face of the soldiers to look into the person and how being at war effects them mentally rather than physically. Now after reading the essay i have realised it isn’t all about that. Everyone is going to interpret my photographs how they would like to, they won’t automatically assume what i aim to get across, all they will be able to see is a picture of a human face, its down to them to ask themselves the right questions. I still want to keep the same concept and photograph the soldiers faces up close but in my mind i will be clear and aware about how they are read. As a viewer i feel i now appreciate the human face a lot more, thinking about the photographers approach and why, why the subject is looking like he/she is, is it natural, is it staged. So many questions to ask myself about portraits after reading this essay.

Next steps!

The soldiers i have planed to photograph are part of the 1 rifles. I have a close friend who is part of 1 rifles who is able to take me into camp and introduce me to some of the soldiers. We have put down a rough date when i am able to take the final photographs which is the week beginning 10th of December. This is a tight time as it’s the last week before the Christmas holidays but as i have plenty of time until then i am able to plan exactly everything so when i come to take the photographs i know what i’m going to do.

After heading to London and looking at other peoples work i have decided to go back into the studio and take some more images. I would like to play around with composition again. Looking at the portraits from the IWM and Alison Baserville i would like to create some close up photographs and see if they create a more meaningful image then the previous ones i have took. I am also hoping to shoot on Kodak Portra which i have been recommended to use to get the best out of my portraits. I do want to shoot on digital to compare the details with film, after seeing the portraits of the front line soldiers i would like to create much more facial details within mine.