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Nick Turpin

In this blog post I wanted to explore how photographers work on a project. As part of the OCA courses, the assignments give students the opportunity to present a series of images in response to a brief. The brief will provide some guidance on the work to be produced, but ultimately the student is encouraged to develop a series of images to be viewed together.
The idea of producing a set or series of images is one that many photographers, not just students struggle with. However it is the key to finding your personal voice and articulating your own style within your photographic images.
Too often we reject project ideas for being too mundane and not exciting enough. We think we need grand scenery or exotic locations to get the viewer (or ourselves) interested. How often have tutors heard this response from a student – “I am going on holiday soon and will take the assignment images whilst I am away.”
Travel gives us all a good opportunity to take photographs and we can hone many skills but it is rarely the best plan for assignments. These assignments are where a development in the process of image making is essential to refine, investigate and explore ideas and photographic styles.
So what do you photograph ….
During February images by photographer Nick Turpin really stood out on my Instagram feed. They are from his project ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. Nick Turpin describes the project as follows:
“These pictures of London Bus passengers in the winter months were made at night from a raised platform with a long lens hand held at 1/40th second, on the limits of what modern camera sensors can record.”
Sometimes reading a description of a project does not do it justice. The photographs are of bus passengers taken during winter nights. Nick is shooting in conditions that most of us would avoid, with many of us preferring to wait for warner and sunny daylight hours.
But it is these shooting conditions that have created the wonderful luminescent to the images. The condensation on the windows creates a textured layer, through which the viewer is drawn.
Some of the subjects are semi visible, masked by condensation or clothing. They are anonymous and hidden in their own private commuting world.
In other images, the viewer has a more direct connection with the subjects. The rich twilight colour of the sky allowing for bright colours to stand out.
In total there are 42 images as part of the current series which was shot over a four year period. Nick discussed the development of the project,
“The Through A Glass Darkly idea produced pleasing results right from the start and as time went on I fine tuned the idea, shooting closer to get rid of the window frames and making the pictures increasingly more intimate. This year I invested in a 300mm lens simply to continue to develop this project with tighter portraits. Also as you shoot pictures emerge that show you possible avenues, I noticed that some images referenced nicely fine art paintings of the past such as Picasso Blue Period paintings, I then started to look out for those connections.”
It is clear to me, that it is only with time that the project has been refined. The lengthy time period has allowed for the research connections to be made. This research in turn feeds back into the project.
Nick comments:
“I think now the hard part will be knowing when the project is finished. I won’t miss shooting in the dark, cold and wet.”
As students you may not have four years to develop each assignment. However with planning and pacing of workload, time can be allowed to complete work.
Whatever stage you are at with your photographic work, it is worth starting an idea book – could be a separate part of your learning log, a note taking app on smart phone/tablet or a small sketchbook. The format doesn’t matter but it needs to be something that you can log ideas in, don’t reject anything.
This idea book can be dipped in out of as you complete your studies. You may find that later on in your studies you come back to early ideas with a different perspective.
As ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ shows us, the most everyday part of our lives can be transformed into a sustained photographic project
With kind thanks to Nick Turpin for use of his images and words.
View his work at:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_nick_turpin/

Posted by author: Andrea Norrington
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15 thoughts on “Nick Turpin

  • I am no longer a student of the OCA having graduated in 2014. However, I do have a keen interest in what other students are doing and regularly visit the OCA site.
    Thank you Andrea for publishing Nick’s work – I think it is rather wonderful in so many ways not least of which is its imagination and invention, who says photographs aren’t made just taken. Incredibly well composed, almost choreographed, just keep adding to the project Nick, it will tell you when its complete, but I doubt it will ever be finished.
    Many thanks and good luck with the rest of the course.

    • Hi Geoffrey – lovely to hear from you and hope all is well with you. Just for reference Nick is not a student of OCA (but it would be lovely to have him!!).

  • I did a street photography weekend with Nick a few years ago – a really nice chap too. From the pre-photography sessions when he was talking about his work, you could see his approach…
    If he’s still doing them (via theschooloflife.com), well worth it!

  • Good work and an excellent exemplar for students, particularly in terms of persistence and specifically as applied to ‘street’ photography.
    It’s a genre that many students seem to be rather mystified by. Perhaps because they are normally only exposed to the final edited selection and interpret them as coming from an individual who has a facility to stroll down a street shooting from the hip, capturing one unique vision after another that they wouldn’t have been privy to themselves.
    Well there’s an element of that, I recall seeing Lartigue standing still in Carnaby Street with his camera to his eye. I stood behind him to see what he was photographing and for me there was nothing there to photograph but he was engaged by what he was seeing.
    That personal ‘seeing’ in street photography has to be discovered through effort and experience, through walking and stopping, walking and stopping, being a flaneur, measuring ones experience and progress by looking through the camera and finding your own way of seeing what you’re experiencing. Rather than being drive-through it’s more like fishing, recognising potential and setting up a pitch, as Nick’s done here and then waiting; a lot wriggle off the hook but some specimen fish get landed.

  • Yep, we shouldn’t be afraid of the mundane (whatever that really means); ideas are ideas and should be developed, and evolve if necessary.
    Thanks for the post: ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ is simply stunning: gorgeous, moody, spontaneity, and I think I will lose myself within it on a regular basis.
    Thank you!

  • I would definitely echo Andrea’s ‘sigh’ at the words: “…I’m going on holiday so I’m going to try ad do assignment X…” ! I Think the best images are on your doorstep.
    This is a great series, and indeed one that i) used a telephoto lens in a really interesting way [these are one of my pet hates!] and an exciting use of digital technology, and ii) pushing the boundaries of street photography.
    I think the perseverance that Nick shows is also an excellent example of how to make a great series.

    • “used a telephoto lens in a really interesting way [these are one of my pet hates!]”
      Presuming that it is the use of telephoto in street photography that is one of your pet hates, and not that he used it in an interesting way? Why? It is more voyeuristic, and not up close and personal as we expect street photography to be; but think it gave him an advantage being able to be further away from the returned gaze of the people he was shooting. Think it works in that he had a plan in place, he knew the type of image he wanted to capture—and being so far away might have given him more freedom to reframe when he saw what he wanted?

  • Thanks Andrea, A really interesting article and inspiring too. A fabulous series and so easy to access if there is a will. When I first started the course I saw the projects as a means to an end but working up to my last assignment I began to realise they had merit in themselves and that I should spend more time on them. If only I could find the imagination and creativity that Nick Turpin demonstrates.

  • I can sympathise with Jesse on both counts, shooting an assignment on holiday is a good way to spoil either or both and as regards telephoto lenses beginners often have the idea that using telephotos or long zooms is ‘professional’. It’s not often you see enthusiasts walking around with wide angle primes attached.
    The whole paradigm encourages them to capture single objects at a distance, resulting in simplistic compositions and even with all the modern aids applied, autofocus and exposure and anti-shake technologies there’s still a high rate of technical near misses which they gloss over, or aren’t aware of, in presenting them. Back focussed, front focussed, not critically sharp through shake, less than optimally exposed.
    When students are first asked to photograph in the street they immediately equate that with photographing people which the majority aren’t comfortable with and immediately reach for the telephoto and all its attendant pitfalls as a way to work at a distance.
    On top of the technical challenge there’s now the problem of capturing something meaningful as thing flit through the magnified monocular vision at a multiplied angular velocity, producing another layer of near misses on subjects isolated from their telling mis-en-scene.
    The reality is that one blends in much better very much closer in with wide angle lenses. With the narrow angle of view of telephotos one has to point the lens directly at the subject, we’re much more attuned to being directly looked at than given a side long glance. When people see someone photographing in the street they have a sense of what will be in the persons photograph and what won’t. In my experience that estimation is very much off for wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses don’t need to be pointed directly at the subject, they’re much more similar to our own field of vision. Using the viewfinder you can work with both eyes so being aware of what’s happening outside the frame so imminently about to enter. You can shoot under a wider variety of conditions because there are far fewer technical challenges working with them.
    Nick’s done some great work with his telephoto but he’s a highly experienced, seasoned photographer who’s selected it as a tool to do a specific job, which should illustrate to students that with the right ideas and the required know how it’s an appropriate tool to use but it’s not a sine non qua for successful ‘street’ photography.
    At least I think that’s what Jesse means! Hahahaha

    • Good answer Clive—although you nearly lost me at “magnified monocular vision at a multiplied angular velocity”! I think where Turpin’s approach with the telephoto appealed to me was that inspired by Leiter, I had thought of something similar when one of my offices was near Waterloo station and bus stop, but was too wary to stand ‘picking off’ people in buses. However, if, I had thought of the telephoto, I could have possibly done it from the office first story window! 🙂

      • Ah there must be something about Waterloo. I used to take the bus from there to my studio in Clerkenwell and looking out of a rain spattered bus window gave me the idea for something that went down very well commercially for a couple of years.

    • Thanks for the comments Clive and Jesse.
      Street photography I think is one of the greatest misunderstood genres of photography in terms of practice. It isn’t a case of just shooting some random frames in a busy area (in fact the more successful images tend to be where there is less people traffic), or hiding behind a telephoto lens. It takes endless practice to refine the skills on when to press the shutter and how to frame.

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