Chris U's Ethical Photography Books #2

September 17, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Today I will be sharing two photography books by the famous portrait photographer Rankin. I bought these together quite a few years back when I didn't know a great deal about the photographer but I could instantly tell by the physical quality of the books themselves that they where worth a look. It took a couple of seconds from opening the books to me making my decision to buy them both, even at what I thought was a high price of £7.99 each. I later discovered that these two could be the best value and biggest bargains in terms of photography books that I could hope to find, online used prices would set me back well over £250 if I wanted to buy them both.

Since the purchase I've become a big fan of Rankin's portraiture and like many have enjoyed seeing him work on various television programs on SKY ARTS and his series on the BBC. I feel very privileged to own two of his books especially with my budget when it comes to photography resource materials.  


ALEX BOX By Rankin

The first of the two titled Alex Box was what initially caught my eye when I walked into the little charity shop in Hull, my local town. It would be hard not to notice the bright visually striking front cover on the pretty large hardback!

The book is a collaboration between Photographer Rankin and Makeup Designer and Artist Alex Box. Essentially it's a portrait book of close ups so just faces, but not like any I've ever seen before. It contains a mixture of beautiful portraits of attractive models with elaborate striking make up directly on the model and images that have been turned into a new artform by further drawing, painting and messing around onto and with the photographs post printing. The book contains very little writing, has no introduction or explanations of any images. Instead it gives the reader the responsibility of interpreting the images and creating ones own narrative.   

  After the last image there is a double spread questions and answers with Alex Box which goes into a little bit of detail on her early life and what influenced her into a career in make up design, followed by questions about how the book itself came into conception and her relationship with Rankin.   

The Final question - "How would you describe the book? An emotive make up diary. There are points when I can see I was sad and others I was happy. It's a diary to me it's very revealing."

After the Q&A there is a single page epilogue which gives some more explanation to the concept of the book followed by four pages of thumbnails and small images from the book alongside the models name and and hair stylist. 

I can honestly say I like most of the images in the book and they are all brilliantly shot and I struggled to pick a favourite however the images like these examples which had been drawn on afterwards especially stood out to me as it is something I'd never even considered trying at least in a fine art context.

With the usual high price tag I don't see this book appealing to many but high end make up artists and fashion photographers, but if you do ever see it cheap grab it fast as it is a high quality beautiful book filled with beautiful images.


 RANKIN_portraits By Rankin


The next book is simply called RANKIN_portraits and I'm not sure if it is coincidence or a reoccurring theme with the Rankin photography books but again there is very little text in this book. Literally a small introduction and an index of models by name at the end, there's no description on the back or inside cover. Each image is accompanied by just a first name of the model. 

The subjects are all celebrities from across the whole spectrum of recognisable public figures. From actors and bands to royalty with the obvious inclusion of famous models thrown in the mix. The 350 pages are nearly all filled with images of recognisable (even to me) faces which just goes to highlight the amount of high profile portraits Rankin had already achieved by the time of printing the book, 2010 I believe. 

The introduction lets us into Rankin's method when it comes to taking portraits, which he explains is to go in with no real preconceptions of the end result, instead it's all about instincts and the connection with the subject. I really do believe he achieves this in all of his chosen final images. There's something in all of the images that's hard to explain, they just seem to come across as more natural than a professional studio shoot should allow. It's almost like a small insight into the celebrities safe space which we don't usually get to see if that makes any sense!

 There's not much else to say, again it's another master class in portraiture with the added bonus of the highest of profile models. When trying to decide a favourite image I couldn't help but gravitate towards my favourite actors and enjoyed seeing them in a different medium. I picked the fun Robert Downey Jr series and the cool image of Arnie smoking his cigar with the friendly raised smile. Another easy book to recommend if you ever see it going cheap and the more accessible of the two reviewed today, the subjects will be familiar to most and obviously it's not as specialist as the Alex Box book whilst still top quality. 



Chris U's Ethical Photography Books #1

August 07, 2021  •  Leave a Comment


Over the past fifteen years I've been building up quite a large collection of photography books with almost all of them coming from charity shops, I'm way past the two hundred mark on the last count. I thought it might be a good idea whilst things are quiet in terms of work thanks to covid to reacquaint myself with them and show you the kind of books that can be found for bargain prices if you take a little bit of time once in a while to look. The plan is to make this a regular blog series with a quick review of a few interesting books I've found and I will eventually do another series with different film cameras that I've also picked up at bargain prices in the treasure trove that is the British charity shop. I hope you find them interesting and even better are inspired to go out and start your own affordable and ethical photography book collection! 

One of many book shelves in my office filled with charity shop finds.




The first book in this blog series is a hardback gem called Portrait And The Camera A Celebration Of 150 Years Of Photography by Robert Lassam published in 1989 and bought by me for £1.50 from one of my local charity shops. 

As you would expect from such a title the book starts with some information about the pioneers of early photography and the evolution of the camera and developing processes. This covers about twenty pages in the book, is written in a way so that it is easy to understand and the text is broken up by good quality large images so is far from overwhelming.

After the introduction we have 150 or so pages each dedicated to a single portrait spanning across the 150 years leading up to the books publishing date. The portraits are all black and white, presented to high a standard and cover a diverse range of subjects. From Celebrities to the Homeless, Native Americans to Geishas, Picasso to a Ugandan Tribal Executioner. The large contrast in the the subjects accentuates the contrast in artistic style between the portraits and creates some interesting juxtapositions. Photographers include Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Arnold Newman.




With such a broad range of subjects and photographers I found it difficult to select a favourite image but there was something about the portrait of poet/artist George Platt Lynes by Jean Cockteau from 1936 that I found especially appealing.


It is very easy for me to recommend this book and I've certainly enjoyed revisiting it. Here are some example pages as well as my chosen favourite image.



















APPEALS OF BEIJING by Beijing Publishing House


The second book I pulled off my shelf is completely different to the first, it's not really like any book I've ever seen before. Published in 1990 it was presumably once bought from Beijing for 70.00 Yuan and eventually found its way to me for 50 pence from one of the nearby charity shops so it has done a fair bit of traveling. The book has no synopsis on the back cover or inside and has no contents page and includes both Chinese and English text. There is a double spread dedicated to the English foreword but the limited text is constrained to the bottom right hand corner of each page with the rest blank, a layout which is quite striking in itself. 

The text briefly describes what it is like to live in the 3,035 year old city with only the last line describing the intentions of the book.

"May this picture album be helpful to you in understanding some aspects of the lives of people of Beijing, and bring forth a sense of cordiality."    


The rest of the book is split into four sections each with a small introduction again written in the bottom right corner of the page. The first section is titled RICH AND COLOURFUL LIVES and the introduction sits somewhere between travel guide and propaganda focusing on the ideals of love, a happy family and the non work aspects of life. Fifty pages of brightly coloured photographs follow featuring Chinese life and people with a healthy mix of wide shots and close ups covering all four seasons.

The other three sections of the book cover Traditional Culture, Food and "Joyous Festivals". Again often brightly coloured and all featuring people framed in wide variety of ways. The book does not give individual credit to any photograph instead there is simply a list of contributing photographers names on the last page.

The photographs in the book show a visually pleasing representation of china but I also think the book itself tells you a little bit more about Chinese culture and politics. The book has no author and the photographs are not credited to any individual. The book is presented as a traditional and structured group effort projecting a purely positive representation of the city and culture.

It's certainly an interesting book and even though I don't think many would come across it, I thought it was worth including as an example of the variety of photographic books you can find in the friendly little charity shops scattered around the UK.  

I chose the photo below as my favourite image, the old man pushing his delicate wooden trolly carrying his pet birds. I like everything about the photo, from the intricate subject to the out of focus couple in the background standing in a way that seems to have some unrecognisable tension to my western eyes. The accompanying caption also sums the book up perfectly in my opinion. 

"Keeping pet birds and growing flowers, the life of the remaining years can be substantial and happy."      


Hull Freedom Festival

October 06, 2014  •  Leave a Comment


Living in a village just outside the City of Hull I couldn't wait to take my camera into town to photograph the Hull Freedom Festival back at the start of September (2014). I actually took two cameras out with me, my beautiful Sony RX1 and my Canon 60D with a modified Helios lens (44-2) attached. I will write another post on modifying lenses at a later date, it should be easy to differentiate between the two cameras as the modified lens makes for a dreamy image.

Here are my photos.


Setting up and making money through Photography.

November 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

After ten years of messing around on photoshop and annoying people with my cameras, I've decided to try and make a couple of quid from the thing I love to do, taking photographs. I say decided but really I was pushed.......pretty hard, by the people around me and more importantly the dole office. Don't get me wrong, they've done a good job with helping me start up my own business through a scheme they call The New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) which put me in touch with business advisers and helped me create a business plan. All whilst still receiving Dole (soon to be halved) so I haven't been completely thrown to the zombies with out a weapon in hand, sorry the new season of The Walking Dead has just started. When it comes to money making advice I might not be the absolute number one almighty, at this exact moment in time I've invested money and haven't made a penny but that's what you have to expect when starting such a business. I can however tell you what I've done and that information may help you if you try and do something similar. 


Business Advisers - Personally I found it very helpful getting in touch with and meeting my local business advisor and best of all it was free. He helped me create a business plan and gave me information towards the legal side of starting a business. I also gained valuable experience in self presentation through pitching ideas to the adviser. 


Volunteer Work - Most people hoping to work in any part of the visual industry will have to start by offering their services for free. I would recommend this route but do be careful, you don't want to devalue your service and it never takes long before people will start taking the piss. I've worked for free on a select few occasions which included a local Jubilee festival and a few shoots with a local band, all good experiences helping me to diversify my portfolio of work. DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE I DID! Like an idiot I did my first volunteer work before I had done much in the way of self promotion so I had no business cards and no website set up (except for a facebook group) so get all that done first and at least appear to be a professional from the very start.


Self Promotion - There's no denying social networks are taking over the world making them a sensible place to start, it can't hurt letting your friends and family know what you're getting up to and maybe they'll send some work your way! There are also themed and professional networks such as Linkedin and Flickr which are worth joining and I would also recommend starting a blog on one of the many blogging sites. So far that's a fair bit of completely free promotion, hopefully internet search browsers will start noticing you by this point. The next thing you need to concentrate on is brand image, have you got your own logo and brand style? Luckily for me I have a graphic designer in the family who   helped me out but there's nothing stopping you doing it yourself. The next thing I would recommend is to buy a domain name and website, you don't have to spend a tonne of money and it's pretty easy to do yourself with all the template design programs on the web. Once all of that is up and running you can make some business cards, once again this doesn't have to cost much money and is easy to do online. Make it to this point and you're on track to having your own business.


This post is turning into an essay and becoming boring to type and probably boring to read so I'll round it up at this point. I hope I help someone in some way and feel free to ask any questions. Who knows I might have made a pound by my next post! Good luck to anyone starting on their own path in the visual arts and take care of yourselves,


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