BA Phot

EyV Part 5: Viewpoint

Page 3 - Exercise 5.2


Project 1, The distance between us - Exc. 5.1 - Assessment criteria: Context - Exc. 5.2 - Project 2 Photography as information - Exc. 5.3 - Assignment 5

Eltham Churchyard - Nunhead Cemetery - Exc. 5.1 Reflection - after Ilse Bing - Cartier-Bresson

Exercise 5.2

Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?
Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five. OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.107

First Thoughts - Analysis - First Shoot - V&A - Shortlist - Analysis #2 - References - Other homages

First thoughts

Many photographers picture themselves in a mirror: it offers some control over the self-image (particularly useful in the days before digital devices and flip-up screens). The deliberate and necessary inclusion of the camera allows a statement of purpose and identity as a photographer.

[23May20] and see C&N.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo Bill Brandt Stanley Kubrick
Box A
B1 Manuel Álvarez Bravo, self portrait, n.d.
B2 Bill Brandt, self portrait, n.d.
B3 Stanley Kubrick, self portrait, 1949
© the artists or their estates

Box B
1. self portrait,
early 1990s

The mirror snap is probably a common selfie theme in social media (that is just a guess — I do not use social media).

For many years my default online image (including the chat group for this course) has been an old analogue photograph taken with a Nikkormat FT3 on a Manfrotto monopod in a bathroom mirror (fig. B1). I no longer have the negative or the original scan, just a copy reduced to 275x242 pixels to meet early online file size restrictions. There is another version of it digitally solarised after I saw Man Ray's self portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.

Bing Self Portait
Box C
1. Self portrait with Leica, 1931
Ilse Bing
© Ilse Bing Estate

Ilse Bing's Self portrait with Leica, 1931 (fig. C1), is an early example of the genre and remains the most creative image of its type I have encountered. Unlike the 'straight' mirror shot, Bing could not have known how she would look - even if she had experimented with another person occupying the chair in order to line up the shot, there must have been a fair amount of trial and error involved.

I have many "favourite" photographs (and many more since beginning the course) but Bing's remains my "favourite of favourites". It is a striking image, intriguing because one has to work out how it was taken and creative in a sort of disjointed Cubist way with simultaneous multiple angles of the face. It is a delightful combination of composure and composition.

The aim for this exercise, then, is to create a response to Bing's self portrait. I should be free on Friday (7th) and if I do not need to visit the Barbican again, I will try to get to the V&A library for further research. I am particularly interested in whether there are images available of the contact sheets or an interview where Bing discloses the circumstances of the shoot.

Incidentally, early in the course (6th November 2018), while compiling the ongoing aide-mémoire of photographers, I observed that there is a distinction to be made between the simpler mirror self-portrait tendency and the more elaborate, often theatrical, variety that some photographers favour; and, further, that there seems to be a preponderance (though not to the extent of exclusivity) of female photographers choosing the latter. There are further details of this nascent thesis here.


We are instructed to apply Terry Barrett's analytical methodology set out in his essay Photographs and Contexts (1997). Barrett identifies three contextual aspects, internal, external and original.

Internal context includes the picture, its title, if it has one, date, and maker. External context refers to the pictures presentational environment. Original context refers to the picture's causal environment, namely, that which was physically and psychologically to the maker at the time the picture was taken Terry Barrett, Photographs and Contexts

The internal context of Bing's photograph has already been stated in full. The external context is online, on this web page. The original context will be explored over the next few days, beginning online and, hopefully, more precisely at the V&A on Friday. When the homage has been produced, I intend to apply Barrett's methodology to that image too.

First shoot

[19Jun19] The first set of images was shot yesterday. It might be the only set I need, but the images will have to be examined in detail.

Contact Sheets

Contact sheet 18th June 2019 Contact sheet 18th June 2019 Contact sheet 18th June 2019
Box D
D1-3. Contact sheets 18th June 2019


[7Jul19] The V&A library has four books on Ise Bing. I had hoped to learn of the circumstances of the 1931 self portrait and even find a contact sheet which would have given an insight into Bing's method but no such information was available, other than it was taken at the Hôtel de Londres, Paris (Dryansky, 2006).

Dryansky notes that, although the photograph was taken in 1931, there is no evidence of it having been exhibited "before the rediscovery of her work in the 1970s". Dryansky speculates that this might be because of the similarity to Florence Henri's 1928 self portrait (fig. E2) which, "contemporary opinion acknowledged not only as the photographer's masterpiece but also as a symbol of the New Vision".

Box E
1. Ilse Bing, Self Portrait with Camera, 1931 (another version)
2. Florence Henri, Autoportrait au miroir, 1928
3. Germaine Krull, Self-Portrait with Cigarette, 1925
© the artists' estates

Dryansky also mentions the influence of Germaine Krull's 1925 self portrait, of which Bing would have been aware, and notes how Bing combined the essence of both works by using multiple mirrors and by including her camera in the shot. In my view, Bing's self portrait is more accomplished than the others in that Bing includes the camera (an important part of the statement) without obscuring her face as selfies such as Krull's often do. While Krull was illustrating the New Vision concept of the camera eye directly, Bing has arguably achieved this more dramatically, while fulfilling on of the New Vision's aim of taking photographs using innovative camera angles.


after Bing after Bing after Bing after Bing after Bing after Bing
Box F
1-6. Shortlist
Self portraits with Fuji, after Ilse Bing

The images in the shortlist are broadly similar but there important, nuanced differences leading to the final selection. In setting up the shot there were several considerations in responding to Bing's original.

Curtain - the requirement for a curtain in shot determined where it would be taken and the light direction.

Mirror - a hinged triple mirror had been found in a local charity shop.

Tripod - Bing is using a mini tripod and so a Feisol TT15 was deployed.

Cable release - again, one was used as Bing did so, but a silver-coloured one was chosen and featured prominently in the shot, in place of the large piece of jewellery on Bing's wrist.

Tethering - the original intention was to include a mirror image of a live shot on a laptop tethered to the camera, thus updating the concept to the current day's digital technology. Regrettably, while Fuji's free tethering software allows rapid downloads from the camera, Adobe Lightroom's £79 tethering app is needed for real-time monitoring and control and so this enhancement was abandoned.

Image selection
Figs. F1-F3 were all shot in just the natural light coming through the curtain. For figs. 4-6, an additional light source was introduced to illuminate the camera and lens and this option is preferred as it adds interest to the image as, after all, the camera is included in the title. Otherwise, F1 might well have been chosen as it includes inadvertent, unnoticed and attractive subject movement in the swinging of the wrist strap, presumably knocked by the cable release. (I had tried to remove the wrist strap to simplify the lines of the camera, but it is there to stay.) Apart from the better lighting, figs. F4-F6 offer a less cluttered background and the final choice comes down to:
1. the positioning of the cable release and the hand, the latter appearing in both reflections.
2. the focus on the two facial images.

Fig. F4 - (0.6 sec., f/16) this has the hand in full in both reflections and both faces reasonably in focus. The wrist strap in the rightmost reflection is a little distracting, as is the left hand grasping the tripod.

Fig. F5 - (0.5 sec., f/16) the right hand is incomplete, the left hand is not in shot and both faces are reasonably in focus.

Fig. F6 - (1/10 sec., f/8) there is more of the right hand than in F5, the face on the right is slightly out of focus, as is the wrist strap and this helps to de-emphasise it somewhat.

On balance, F6 is favoured for the position of the hand and for one of the faces being out of focus as this is closer to Bing's original image.

This leaves one final decision to be taken, should the image be reversed to render the writing on the camera and lens the "right way around"?

Bing Bing
Box G
1. Ilse Bing, Self Portrait with Leica, 1931, Version 1, detail
2. Ilse Bing, Self Portrait with Camera, 1931, Version 2, detail
3. Leica model I version A, base
Figs. G1 and G2 © Bing's estate, fig. G3 ©


It will be noted than in both versions of Bing's self portrait, the image of the camera lens is out of focus and so the engravings on the lens are not discernible. It is clear, however, that in Bing's photograph, the tripod mount is on the right of the camera viewed from the front. The tripod bush on the Leica models I and II was on the left when viewed from the front. (According to Dryansky (2006), Bing had a Leica I, later factory-converted to a model II). It may therefore be concluded that Bing did not reverse the negative in printing to show the camera reflection the "right way around".

Box H
1. self portrait with Fuji
after Ilse Bing

In the case of F6, however, it has been decided to reverse the image as H1 both to make the camera engravings legible and so that the image more closely matches Bing's original.

Analysis #2

A reminder of Terry Barrett's analytical methodology set out in his essay Photographs and Contexts (1997). Barrett identifies three contextual aspects, internal, external and original.

Internal context includes the picture, its title, if it has one, date, and maker. External context refers to the pictures presentational environment. Original context refers to the picture's causal environment, namely, that which was physically and psychologically to the maker at the time the picture was taken Terry Barrett, Photographs and Contexts

The internal (factual and technical) context of fig. H1: the title is Self Portrait with Fuji, after Ilse Bing. The photograph was taken on 18th June 2019 at 16:14:59 by the writer using a Fuji X-T2 with a Fuji 35mm (52mm equivalent) lens, The camera settings were f/8, 1/10th second, ISO 3200, using spot metering and auto white balance with daylight filtered through a light red curtain and an LED light illuminating the camera. The original image was processed from RAW format (in colour), lightly cropped (retaining the original format ratio) to remove extraneous background detail, and converted to monochrome in Adobe Photoshop using Nik Silver Effex Pro 2, Fine Art preset. A border has been added (as is the normal practice by the writer for a finalised image) using the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Image Border filter. EXIF technical data is retained in the image, together with a copyright notice.

The external context (presentational environment) is online on a freely available web site maintained by the author with a page image size of 240x161 pixels (an appropriate default for downloads onto small devices with limited and/or expensive bandwith such as mobile telephones) with an option to click the image for a version at 960x642 pixels which provides greater detail, still within moderate data volumes and download time limits. The image has been presented in monochrome to match the original by Ilse Bing, to which it is a homage. The exercise is also to be a component in a course assignment when it will printed as A4 using the full image size of 5723x3826 pixels at DS Colour Labs.

The direct original context (causal environment, physical and psychological motivation) is the writer's participation in an OCA degree course, studying the initial Expressing your Vision module and enjoined for Exercise 5.2 to, "Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it". The writer has stated that Ilse Bing's Self portrait with Leica, 1931 has long been a personal favourite. This is not the first time that he has effected such a homage and a suitable portable triple mirror is kept for this purpose, so this exercise was a welcome opportunity to deploy it.
It is noted that the 960 pixel maximum file size limit used is the default for the entire site and this is intended to limit the potential (if any) use of the images in any but an online context.

[It seemed appropriate to write the above in the third person, but this gives a stilted, strained, artificial and rather pompous result, resulting in an inclination to exaggerate the effect as self-parody (regarding self-portraits) and make even more so.]

Bing Self Portait
Box C (repeated)
Self portrait with Leica, 1931
Ilse Bing
© Ilse Bing Estate

Revisiting the contexts, particularly the original context of Ilse Bing's photograph, it was taken soon after Bing moved to Paris, having decided to abandon her studies in architecture and become a freelance photographer. Having gained a reputation in Germany as a member of the 'New Photography' movement, Bing wished to engage with the French avant-garde. This image, probably influenced by Florence Henri's 1930 Autoportrait au miroir, was Bing's announcement of her arrival which, by the inclusion of her camera, became a statement of intent. Dryansky (2006) speculates that the reason the image does not seem to have been published for another 40 years was that Bing might have regarded it as derivative and thus, perhaps, this announcement was for Bing's own benefit, a statement of her determination to succeed as an innovative photographer in Paris.


Barrett, N.C. (1985) Ilse Bing, Three Decades of Photography. New Orleans: New Orleans Museum of Art

Barrett, T. (1997) 'Photographs and Contexts', in Goldblatt, A. & Brown, L. (eds.) A reader in philosophy of the arts. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. pp. 110-116.

Bing, I. (1987) Ilse Bing: Paris 1931-1952. Paris: Musée Carnavalet

Dryansky, L. (2006) Ilse Bing: Photography Through the Looking Glass. New York: H.N. Abrams

Schmalbach, H. (1996) Ilse Bing: Fotografien 1929-1956. Aachen: Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum (2019) Lot 1082. Rare Leica I (A) camera and poster [online]. Available from [Accessed 8 July 2019]

Yue, A (2018) Leica Screw Mount Cameras - the 1930's through the 1950's [online]. University of Texas. Available from: [Accessed 8 July 2019]

Other homages

Box I
1. Mondrian Homage c. 2002

Apart from the Bing, which I have toyed with since finding the triple mirror in a charity shop, the only homage I recall indulging in was not to a photographer, though it has photographic aspects. That was to Mondrian's rectilinear, primary colour grids, specifically B217, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, fig I1.

This is constructed of photographs of the artist (and associated objects) coloured to match the painting, with the white rectangles containing feint greyscale images.

Reading clockwise from top left, the original images are:
1. Piet Mondrian, 1942, Arnold Newman,
2. Mondrian, 1920, photographer unknown.
3. not identified
4. Photograph of Mondrian taken by the phrenologist A. Waldenburg, Spring, 1909.
5. Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe, 1926, André Kertész
6. from Mondrian's copying pass for the Musée du Louvre, 1912, photographer unknown.
7. Chez Mondrian, 1926, André Kertész

There is more information on Mondrian homages here.

Page created 04-Jun-2019 | Page updated 23-May-2020