52 by 52 10:06am, 22 March 2012
Challenge #30: Take a photograph that is strong and necessary of something which is not photogenic
— Paolo Woods

Walk on my eyes

"In 2005, when President Ahmadinejad was elected, I started a project on the Iranian society. I felt that with the arrival of this populist and extremist president, the divide between how the West viewed Iran and the country I knew was growing at a very fast pace.

I thus set out to portray a society that is more vast, human and intricate than the stereotypes weighing it down since the Islamic Revolution. I started to investigate the Iranian psyche and national identity through the prism of single individuals.

I want to show that the Iranians can be surprising, droll, audacious, insolent and unsatisfied. As a consequence they are not a homogeneous block, as the regime would like us to believe. "

View the project >

Nouvelles Russes

"Russia is still on its feet today thanks to two natural resources - the first is oil, which funds a growing number of Russians to lead lives so lavish that it’s as though the Imperial party, so rudely interrupted in 1917, has found its second wind. The other natural resource isn’t gas, aluminum, or nickel – it’s women."

Paolo has recently been awarded a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund for the project.

View the project >


- What would your personal definition of non-photogenic subject be?
- Are there other artists you know of that celebrate the non-photogenic?
- Does a photo you've previously taken fit the challenge?

As well as being a good place to connect with other members and share your initial reactions, thoughts about how to 'solve it' and any links you think might help the group, this can also be a good place to include any old photos you have that fit the challenge. We're looking forward to hearing your thoughts this week.

— 52 by 52 team
Mark W Russell 6 years ago
This challenge has made me ponder more an issue that has been bouncing around my grey matter for some time, that what makes a “good” or “bad” photograph? One only normally has to attend ones local photographic society’s annual show to see lots of photographs that appear to aspire to a standard of quality (production) and subject matter (a small range; usually landscape, wildlife, flowers, etc.).

I have been wondering about those situations where you are presented with a “photo opportunity”. What is this? And why? Who decides on these? Examples I have seen are say a Disney or I came across some in the sea-side resort of Collioure in South West France. Often one is presented with a “view” that fits certain aesthetics and composition (thirds). I have been wondering for a while could one produce non- photo opportunities?

What would your personal definition of non-photogenic subject be?
Wikipedia define photogenic as “A subject (generally a person) is photogenic if appearing aesthetically or physically attractive or appealing in photographs”. It is interesting that the term was coined by William Fox Talbot, and also describes the earliest method for recording camera images.
Therefore, it would appear “non-photogenic” is an image that is representing “unattractiveness”. This will positively influence our view of the subjective appearance of that person in real life. A still photograph usually fails to reproduce a range of attributes we apply whilst viewing the subject, possibly rendering a picture of the person less attractive than the real-life perception

Are there other artists you know of that celebrate the non-photogenic?
There seems to have been a genre of photography at least since the 1990s, that is about the non-subject photograph, where elements that would have previously been considered a “bad” photograph, i.e out of focus, flare, poor composition, etc. are made the main focus or subject matter of this genre/s. This seems to have been also impacted by the cross over from editorial and fashion, with say documentary and photo-journalism.
A further influence has been the “democratisation” of photography through digital capture and electronic distribution, particularly through social media. Anybody can take a picture and distribute it world-wide.
Recent moves have been in the use of retro/film cameras and in particular cheap quality cameras and the aesthetic that comes with the results.

- Does a photo you've previously taken fit the challenge?
The meeting of paths

Red, White & Blue & Grey

"Street Abstract Expressionism" -  Instruction #50 - "Say it with flowers" - Johanna Neurath
david_gillett Posted 6 years ago. Edited by david_gillett (admin) 6 years ago
I really like the middle shot Mark, a kind of a non-place, a space in-between two more significant places. It's so easy to edit these kind of nondescript areas out of our conscious map of the world.

For me unattractiveness is certainly photogenic, as one has an emotive response to the subject so personally I think an un-photogenic subject would be one that is utterly banal.

The question is once you've found a un-photogenic subject, does one try to celebrate it and elevate its lowly status or present it simply? I'm not sure at the moment.

Things which I'm thinking about at the moment are; pictures on ebay, repetition of mundane objects, direct flash sources, Gordano motorway service station breakfasts, Lidl car parks, 1/2 way up a flight of stairs at the Odeon, business park lakes, the recessed area in shopping malls that are nearly but not quite the toilets.

Camera by david_gillett

#24 War-gaming club by david_gillett

Really interesting / funny talk on the subject:
Mark W Russell 6 years ago
- Hans Aarsman's arguments/presentation is very funny but also thought provoking.
In answer to the question "Are there other artists you know of that celebrate the non-photogenic?" I include a link to part of a web site of my friend of 35 years plus the fine art photographer Chris Wainwright, and a series of works titled VISIBLE RADIATION.:-
TranceGender 6 years ago
The first word that comes to mind is -nothingness - , no drama , no obvious beauty , known but overseen like a for instance a pic of a cinderblock wall .

How to present it , I think the most powerfull is exactly how it is , or anyway , that the nothingness itself evokes some emotion .

These pics are not from myself but these are the pics I am thinking of.

Janet_Broughton 6 years ago
I have a quick question & not sure of best thread to ask it in - I've been to Blackpool today which is full of non photogenic subjects so I've got my shot earlier than usual. Unfortunately I can't add it since I've already added two this week - what day does the new week start on ?
david_gillett Posted 6 years ago. Edited by david_gillett (admin) 6 years ago
Glad you liked it, it's really stuck with me since I saw it 6 months ago.

Really inspiring work Nick, that's exactly what I had in mind. Really tough to take I'm finding though as I'm so used to 'trying to find an angle' on the subject.

I'm 95% sure it's Monday morning Janet.
~ Meredith ~ Posted 6 years ago. Edited by ~ Meredith ~ (member) 6 years ago
When I read this weeks challenge my first instinct was panic :-) But having thought about it a lot today I think I'm in agreement with Mark, David & Nick. I love the examples you guys have posted and thought I'd add a link to one of my contacts here on flickr - Thorburn. He has an absolute knack for this kind of image. While you're at it take a gander at his polaroid portraits and his still life work too - magic!

Just one of the many of his images that I love

Pelton by thorburn

** Edited to add an archival shot of my own. Probably the closest I've got to this style
Mark W Russell 6 years ago
Janet- I was born and raised in Blackpool, so will be interested to see what you have captured.
Janet_Broughton 6 years ago
I'm currently working on a longish term project there, looking at how a resort varies from summer to winter. It's certainly a place full of contrasts and I find the shabbiness of winter more inspiring.
Mark W Russell 6 years ago
I love Blackpool in the winter with30foot waves crashing over the sea defences, it can be spectacular.
Janet_Broughton 6 years ago
Oh I love anywhere when it's like that :)
david_gillett 6 years ago
The underpass shot is great. At the moment I'm exploring elevating and dramatising the non-photogenic
#30 Necessity by david_gillett

I loved Ben's shot for #23
#23 private by bart1eby
but that take on non-photogenic subjects comes so unnaturally to me I've resorted to cheating! I've downloaded a time lapse app and it's taking shots every 10 minutes as I carry the phone about during my day today.

It's not Blackpool but this shot from Katie captures some of the quietness of out of season resorts.
#20 B-Side Secrets of the Tea Dance by K8ieSmith
bart1eby 6 years ago
I'm finding this brief very difficult and I was going to write something here about it but I found this link instead -

Two of the articles seem very apposite to this discussion. The Eggleston one to demonstrate that photographers have found the banal photogenic for a very long time. And the Heikki Leis one to show that photographers will almost always consider 'non-photogenic' subjects photogenic.

Perhaps its through the very act of photographing we render our subjects photogenic? Or, more likely, the tradition, and our awareness of it, dictates what we consider photogenic...

That said I can't remember the last time I saw a 'decent' photograph of, surely the most 'photogenic' of subjects, a smiling baby or a cute kitten so perhaps, perversely, that's where I need to look...

david_gillett Posted 6 years ago. Edited by david_gillett (admin) 6 years ago
I completely agree that photographing a subject seems to turn it into something photogenic and noteworthy. It could have something to do with the sharp focus a non-photographic subject places upon what the photographer is 'trying to say' with the shot?

A friend suggested..."Take a photo of a person as though you were going to put them on ebay - concentrate on accurate description rather than attempting to take a 'nice photograph'." So the photograph is demoted to a purely perfunctory role.

I set my phone to take shots every 10 minutes and carried it about for the day in an attempt to remove as much artistic intention from each frame as possible. Some shots were aesthetically pleasing, 95% were terrible.

Perhaps because there was so little control over the process (timing, composition, subject, lighting etc) all of them could be considered non-photogenic as there's no sense of the photographer's hand intentionally elevating a subject to anything more than reflected light? The only trouble being as soon as one photo gets singled out for submittion to the group that choice brings the whole argument crashing down.

Looking forward to your dark Athena poster :)
Mark W Russell 6 years ago
I've revisited this challenge again. The statement is "Take a photograph that is strong and necessary of something which is not photogenic " and the bit I keep coming back to is ".....and necessary....". What is meant by this?
Who considers the necessity? Us individually or is it a collective perception or belief? If this phrase had not been there this sentence would have been relatively simple.
Or am I over thinking this?
david_gillett Posted 6 years ago. Edited by david_gillett (admin) 6 years ago
I know I am!
"Paolo Woods was born of Canadian and Dutch parentage. He grew up in Italy and now is based in Paris." So I think some of the language used could be reflective of that diverse heritage.

I'm taking "necessary" to imply meaningful to the viewer, perhaps a wider societal issue, so a non-photographic subject that has something to say beyond its aesthetic worth (or lack of). But frankly I'll be happy to just nail the non-photogenic part as that's proving challenging enough!
Palofperu PRO 6 years ago
Hi Everyone
I think the 'necessary' part of the title implies the image has to act in such a way as something which is banal in itself but points the viewer towards something significant, worthy of debate. I don't think the direction is just about capturing something which could be easily passed over as banal or 'boring'. One person's boring content is another's fascination. I was thinking the most boring thing could be a hole in the ground but if the hole was a freshly dug grave then the meaning is transformed. Didn't have the courage to creep around our local cemetary though so chose to lurk in a local garden centre to catch a hosepipe unawares.
charming kettle [deleted] 6 years ago
I didn't take the time to read the entire thread (#TL;DR, #ADD) but I think this is the most excellently worded brief I've seen on photography-challenge-type groups so far.

For me it immediately conjures up the portraits by Roger Ballen. The people he gets in front of his camera and the way he pictures them, they are not photogenic in any common sense of the word. Still he manages to capture their essence.

And you can not pull me away from those photographs. Those photographs are all, each and every one of them, aesthetically pleasing.
scala66/Paul Marsh PRO 6 years ago
ive also been having trouble with this one. When i first read the assignment , i was sure the punctuation was missing or there was a bad translation. Put a comma after "strong" which is how i initially read it, and it changes everything again.
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 6 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 6 years ago
The use of language for this Challenge seems to be very puzzling to me too.
Yesterday I thought I'd cracked it by thinking along the lines of non photogenic, functional objects that are "necessary" for our every day lives. Today...not so sure. Have stuck with the first idea but using the objects as symbols or metaphors for potentially challenging issues such as "protection" and "restraint" as two examples.
Here are my preliminary photographs

Mark W Russell 6 years ago
Thanks for your input John. I had seen Ballen's "Boyhood" series before, BUT not the more "surreal" portraits/environments. They are VERY powerful.
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