Themes In Contemporary Photography

This story will follow my changing thoughts and ideas as I embark on a new photography project that aims to explore photography in a contemporary framework.


Over the summer, I tried to keep ideas flowing in relation to this new project. Whilst I was on a coastal walk in Cornwall I noticed footprints in dried dirt that had clearly once been mud. Both human footprints and animal paw prints of beloved dogs remained in the dried earth. It got me wondering how old those prints were - hours, days, surely not weeks? I found it interesting that the prints could act as some sort of 'evidence' that a person had been at that place at a particular time.

This got me thinking about traces and all the traces we leave behind us as we go about our daily lives. We might not even realise we are leaving certain traces behind us, yet it might be possible for another individual to trace our steps.

I aim to explore this idea in more detail. I would like to think about different traces we may leave behind and then explore those using photographs, perhaps by monitoring my own traces that I leave behind.

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I consider this photo to be my 'best shot'. Why? Honestly, I just really like it. It's not staged, I was just watching two strangers play chess together in the city centre. They may never have met before but they engaged in a full game of chess before parting their separate ways. I find this endearing.
I also like the composition of the shot and the contrast in blacks and whites.

Kyle Withington — 6 years ago

Love the story behind this photo!


Item details…

A photo from the series 'A Body Of Work' by Polly Penrose who photographed herself contorting her body in various spaces.

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It has been a few weeks since I published my first passage that outlined my intentions to pursue a project looking into and exploring the idea of the traces we, as people, leave behind in our everyday lives. Though I still find this idea quite interesting, after a lot of thought I decided it wasn't actually something I felt passionate about, (not to sound too cliche).

I have spent a lot of time deliberating what I would like to get from this project as it is important to me that I create a series of photographs that I am proud of and that I would feel confident with sharing with others.

Whilst thinking about my essay title and deciding to write about how people, particularly women, tend to be objectified by the camera in films, specifically films about photography, I realised what I want to explore through my own photography for this project.

To link with my essay that will outline how photography is also used as a liberating tool for women, I want to create a series of photographs that do just that.

I have always shied away from portraiture photography, siding with macro photography (hence my first idea!), so the idea of photographing people is a daunting prospect, however, I am hoping this will make my project all the more rewarding.

I have researched a few female photographers who have used the medium to liberate themselves and others through empowering portraits that oppose the objectification and stereotypical representations of the female in photography.

An example is Polly Penrose, who "used the medium of the nude self-portraits to present the female form as a source of strength and agility", not as merely a sexual object ( She uses her self-portraits "to express her anxiety and mental health battles she faced after childbirth, Penrose’s images provide liberation to women who feel ashamed with their bodies." (

I aim to research further projects that will inform my own and work from there.

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To kickstart my project on the empowering portrait, exploring self representation, I thought it was best to experiment and take a self portrait.

I wasn't sure how I would make it 'empowering' - one evening I wanted to take my portrait so it was done but I felt reluctant as I looked tired, my hair a bit of a mess and my makeup slightly smudgy, so I decided against it.

This got me thinking, though. I thought, "Why should I need those things to feel confident in myself?" And then I thought, "I suppose I don't." I'm just so used to seeing images of myself with all of my makeup and hair presented the way I do every morning, but why should it matter?

So, the next morning, before I applied my makeup or styled my hair I took this picture. It felt good to not have to rely on cosmetics to be in front of the camera and, though only a minor achievement, in this way it felt empowering.

It may sound cliche - "Does she want a medal for not wearing makeup?" some people might think. But it can be problematic for people, especially young girls, to always feel as if they HAVE to use cosmetics to feel powerful.

It felt odd setting up my camera and tripod for myself, but I like that I now have a sense for how my subject might feel when I take their portrait! It also gives me an understanding that everyone feels empowered in different ways and theirs might be completely different to how I have photographed myself - this is quite exciting.

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I got in touch with a photographer called Mindy Goose who had worked on a project called 'The Positive Self' earlier in the year, which celebrated women and self representation. She used herself in the photographic project which was exhibited as part of the Love Arts Leeds Festival. I saw her work and thought it was refreshing as it celebrated herself and others.

I got in touch with Mindy via Facebook and asked if she would like to be a part of my own photography project - I told her how I also wanted to look at representation through empowering portraiture and she said yes to the invitation.

Please see her photographic project here:

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Before the shoot with Mindy, I wanted to practice photographing someone else. I also wanted to practice using an external flash as I did not have much experience with it.

My subject was friend and course mate Nicholas Strydom - I understand that photographing a friend is entirely different to photographing a stranger, such as Mindy, however it was good to practice.

Nick told me how he would like to be photographed and where - he chose to be in front of his extensive collection of DVDs and other collectibles.

I played around with framing and used the flash and a reflector to adjust lighting. I knew that I would be inside with Mindy, so it was good to practice with indoor light and the white balance inside.

This practicing made me feel a little more at ease, at least in terms of the technical side of portraiture. I am not usually a portrait photographer so the practice was definitely necessary.

See the test shots below.

As you can see, lots of different lighting effects can be achieved in just one simple camera setup. The warmth of the images can also change drastically depending on how the white balance is set. This was all good to keep in mind for my shoot with Mindy.

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