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A Q A   CSE, As,  and  Advanced  Level  Photography

Home Heritage Site Candidate Introduction Portfolio Project1

You might tell the reader something about yourself.  What camera/s you have used, what software, what printer and materials (T shirts transfers, Blurb books,) You will/may find it easiest to leave this page until last.

Display a gallery of your best images from the portfolio

S T U D E N T   A D V I C E

Dear Examiner,

I should point out, right at the onset, that I am not a typical As/A-level student in that I am a retired Media and Film teacher and attempting this task first and foremost to discover, from the inside as it were, the difficulties, practical and logistical involved in preparing and generating material for assessment in this subject.

I have been involved with my wife, Mrs Symons, who teaches photography at Benton Park School, in the preparation and maintenance of a website dedicated to that subject and hope that the lessons and insights learned in attempting to sit the examination myself might be productive and useful for the students entering for the examination at her school.

I have been interested in photography since my 20s and spent a while teaching photography within the Education Department of the then National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford. Subsequently I have taught media and film in various guises at Bradford College.

I fully expect to have my examination submissions marked in just the same way as any other candidate and would moreover welcome feedback in whatever form, negative or positive, it comes.

My submission is in the form of a website which I hope will not prove troublesome  as the whole site has been transferred to DVD disc and has been checked to ensure that it runs and navigates just as I intend. File sizes may well be larger than usually encountered on the web proper but I have checked and found that even when using rather dated computers these webpages load very quickly.

You will encounter some material, usually on the right-hand side of the page which is targeted on students rather than you the examiner. Once again, if you can offer any feedback on these student tips I would be very grateful.


Working in the darkroom with different grades of photographic paper enabled you to judge to a nicety the appropriate amount of contrast. Each paper grade from one to 5 produced greater contrast as you moved up the scale until finally you had what was then called, a “soot and whitewash” effect. Dodging and burning were the main techniques you had to master often making one’s own dodging tools just to suit certain generic photographic styles. The chemicals we used in the darkroom could be used at differing temperatures to produce effects, increasing the temperature of film developer would produce negatives which were noticeably more contrasty. Chemical toners could also be added to produce cool blue and warmer sepia effects.

Clicking on any of the images above will enlarge them. This is an internet presentation technique known as lightboxing and is available in the current edition of Serif Web


The darkroom, of course, was a great teacher where one learned about the subtlety of light and because you wrestled with brightness and contrast you were given insights and started to see much more vividly the diversity of light in the real world.

Directly beneath this text you will find a slideshow of my early photography in particular examples of the time when I was using very slow high contrast copying film (FP3,or slower) and printing on hard grades of paper usually grades four or five. This was “a look” that was very popular among photographers in the middle and late 60s as it gave the photographs a gritty punchier look which was then in favour. Please note that this slideshow can be enlarged. To go full-screen look for the button on the bottom right-hand corner.

I bought my first SLR camera in my early 20s previous to that I borrowed cameras from friends and was dependent, as most of us were then, on processing by chemists. It was not until I was into my 30s that I built myself a darkroom. I discovered sources of cheap film and cheap paper and thus was able to make a considerable number of photographs and I now have in my possession thousands of 35mm negatives and hundreds of prints.

Colour photography was then expensive and colour prints near to impossible to make in all but the most sophisticated darkrooms. Working in the darkroom with different grades of photographic paper was initially a very steep and expensive learning curve but gradually time in the darkroom was more purposefully spent and we learned from the primitive photographic magazines of the time how not to make errors and to achieve certain effects.

I bought a quantity of black velvet for this purpose and use it to this day.

In portrait work I like to de-clutter the sitter’s background unless it is adding something to the potential meaning of the portrait.

In the portrait below you will notice that there is a single light source which illuminates both the sitter and the 18th-century oil painting behind her. Two sets of eyes stare out and the contrast between old-age and youth is quite pronounced. In the darkroom a great deal of dodging and burning was necessary to achieve the appropriate effect of light and shade. Producing this final version in the darkroom could take 15 to 20 minutes and there would invariably be “disasters” along the way where art failed to conceal art as the dodging and burning were all too apparent.This was all obviously great training for the world of Photoshop.

You will also notice the some of the photographs dating from this period have been toned this was either done using chemical solutions or using paper which was already designed to offer you degrees of sepia in the finished product. Again you will observe that in this period I was largely interested in portrait photography and work done in sepia had a certain cachet as it referenced 19th century photography which was by then considered to be art photography, people like Julia Margaret Cameron being particularly esteemed.

Using very slow film often as low as five ASA /ISO necessitated using a tripod and long shutter speeds requiring my subjects, like their 19th-century forebears, to remain perfectly still.

Requiring stillness from one’s subject often gave the finished result a very dignified and thoughtful look. In keeping with the general “Victorian look” was the black background and side lighting creating what we then called a “Rembrant”effect.

appropriately exposed but all too often technical success is everything.  For too many it becomes an end in itself.

When I was teaching at the National Museum of photography in Bradford I tried never to get obsessive about the technical side of things with my students encouraging them rather to use their eyes and for them to make the photographs that those eyes saw. This, of course, sounds very vague and indeed it is. However I preferred to be non-prescriptive and indeed was  often non judgemental when dealing with my students only telling them why I liked their work and  when pressed preferring them to tell me what appealed to them about their own work.

There is endless debate about the possibility of hard and fast criteria in the judgement of photography and this is as it should be.

I am impressed by the guidelines and structures suggested by this examination and I trust that my criteria for excellence in photography will emerge clearly in the course of your assessment.

We are, of course, now in the digital age of photography and all the better for it. Modern digital cameras and digital software offer more chances of success than failure and mobile phones, tablets, Facebook and Flickr are great platforms on which to display photography.

When I worked in colour I tended to use colour slide stock. Unlike today when feedback on results is instant, you merely look at the back of your digital camera, feedback then was a laborious process and you learned the hard way about failures to expose and focus correctly.

The slideshow above gives some indication of the sort of work I was doing during this period. Many of the slides have suffered the ravages of time and dust and the Fuji, slide stock I used has tended to take on something of an orange tint. The only  real experimentation I did was to occasionally sandwich two slides together or deliberately double expose and provided the background was absolutely black one could get a double portrait sometimes but as a method it was rather hit and miss.

Before the advent of the Internet finding the work of the great photographers or indeed even knowing who the great photographers were was difficult. Leeds public library was beginning to build an impressive photography section where one could encounter  Cartier Bresson, Bill Brandt and many of the more famous American photographers.

The work of colour photographers was then largely ignored, one suspects because colour printing was not only difficult but very expensive and because agencies like Magnum had set their face against it “for Artistic reasons”.

Like many others the colour photography I encountered most often was that which appeared in the Sunday supplements in particular the Sunday Times, supplement. Magazines like “Nova” were also influential.

While some technical knowledge is vital for success in photography and often only means success at a technical level and that is to say that the photograph is in focus and it is




S T U D E N T   A D V I C E

This website was an experiment to see if the AQA photography  specification could be approached entirely electronically/digitally via Serif web construction software. The web HTML format would allow ease of navigation and the possibility of making Flash galleries, lightboxes and video “walkthroughs”. It could then be presented for assessment as a HTML copy on CD or DVD. Presentations would thus generate no printing expense or problems to the eco friendly point of being entirely paper free. I formally entered myself for the AQA As examination at Benton Park School and am pleased to report that this submission you are reading was awarded an A grade. Throughout I was using a web template suggested by my wife, Kate Symons. This template, based on the precise demands of the AQA syllsbus, may be obtained by all Benton Park Photography students.