Piranesi Circus


The exhibit in the courtyard in the middle of the Chicago cultural centre has always made a strong impression on me.

I later found out that the work, the Piranesi Circus, was from the Chicago firm Woodhouse Tinucci Architects who worked with Tokyo-based Atelier Bow-Wow on the execution and construction of the project along with Thornton Tomasetti (structural); Chicago Scenic Studios (fabrication).

G.B. Piranesi’s Carceri d’Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) influenced the work where the vast interior spaces can be considered a visual metaphor for the mind. I wanted to focus on the individual elements by reducing the composition by limiting exposure and tonality.

See also: http://www.woodtinarch.com/2015-cab Marguerite Yourcenar = (The Dark Brain of Piranesi)

I took the pictures in the summer of 2017 always around midday when the sum evenly illuminates the courtyard. Since access to the yard is limited, the images were shot through the windows and provided some reflection on the inner of the building.

The cantilevered balcony lurches out into the void and challenges the observer to enter.


The use of a ladder that leads nowhere provides a recollection of dreams where the subject works in some unending loop.

The swing/trapeze hangs waiting and expresses a feeling of desire.


Zone System overview


Ansel Adams and Fred Archer formulated the zone system to give photographers a systematic way to set the correct exposure.

Film photographers were the original users of the system; however, the technique is still relevant when shooting digital.

The fundamental concept is that exposure meters give a reading that correctly exposes middle grey.

Middle grey exposure works for most situations. However, there are exceptions:

Light tones dominate
Consider shooting a picture of a very light subject, for example, snow – since the meter gives exposure for middle grey (not nearly as bright as the subject) the reading given underexposes the subject. The underexposure is because the meter brings the luminance down to middle grey.
To get the correct exposure the photographer needs to increase the exposure by a few stops.

Dark tones dominate
Conversely, if you are shooting a dark subject, for example, dark wood, then the meter gives an exposure that brings the dark up to medium grey, again the yields the dark wood tones overexposed – so the photographer needs to reduce the exposure.

To take your shooting to the next level, start to look at the scene you are photographing and decide the tonalities you want in your picture, are the main subjects dark or light? How do you want them to appear?

Once you have decided the tonalities you want, you can use the table below to figure out the appropriate zone.

Zone Description
0 Pure black
1 Near black, with slight tonality but no texture
2 Textured black; the darkest part of the image where you can see small detail
3 Average dark materials and low values showing adequate texture
4 Average dark foliage, dark stone, or landscape shadows
5 Middle grey: clear north sky; dark skin, average weathered wood
6 Average Caucasian skin; light stone; shadows on snow in sunlit landscapes
7 Very light skin; shadows in snow with acute side lighting
8 Lightest tone with texture: textured snow
9 Slight tone without texture; glaring snow
10 Pure white: light sources and specular reflections

There is a one stop difference between each zone. Let’s suppose you decide the primary tones are in zone 8 since that is three stops above zone 5 so you will need to increase the exposure by three stops to get the exposure right.
For example, if your meter read f16, then you would use f 5.6 when taking the picture (remember that reducing the F-stop increases the exposure).

Hubbard Street murals project


I undertook this project to photograph some of what was the Hubbard Street mural project initiated in the 1970’s by Ricardo Alonzo, an Art Institute of Chicago graduate.

Over an eight-year period, Alonzo and volunteers from the West Town Community Art Center painted murals along a mile-long stretch of Hubbard Street, from Des Plaines to Ogden, until their funding ran out in 1979.

I first noticed the murals out my Metra train window while I was looking to produce a project influenced by Wabi-sabi, and how it translates to an urban environment outside of Japan. They provided an ideal way to explore how time and decay have affected these artworks.



The originals would have been vibrant and colourful, time, paint overs, weather and construction have taken their toll on the work.

Most people will not see the murals because they are in an obscure place, where most people wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to view them. I want to raise awareness of this still-vibrant, if fading, original community project, and to introduce some of my work locally.

After producing some shots in monochrome, I decided to reshoot the set in colour to have a better record of the original work.

You see the full set of pictures here



I have worked with several artists on Ello to produce random collaborations using films double exposures by different people in separate locations. During that time I read John Berger’s essay “Understanding a photograph” first published in 1968, and was interested in the view that a photograph represents a single choice made by the photographer at some small slice of time in the past.

I set out to create a set of pictures that combined different elements of photographs shot over an extended period, in various places, into a digital collage with the intention to allow the arrangement of the different parts into some new whole based on choices made over time.

Some of the resulting pictures are whimsical others reflect my feelings on life and our current situation, but all gave me a way to explore how different objects and symbols work together.

While putting the pictures together, I wanted to see how isolated each element was, for example, did people look out of place in the shots taken inside the Chicago cultural centre. In the case of Sea of green, Terry Hunter is clearly out of place illuminated by a jellyfish in the sea.

The ghost of summer shoppers shows people taken at that location over a short period; apart from the multiple exposure effects they all belong there.

More information


Boogie Pilgrims

What happened to the band? Two singers separated from the band by space and time.

Is that you?

Two women from Iceland find themselves in Chicago. In this picture leaving the Iceland components in colour causes separation. Otherwise, they could be people from anywhere walking in Chicago.

Budget Mind Altering

I do not recommend mind-altering on a budget –  they all wanted somewhere different but not here. This shot has regular people moved to an unusual location under the tracks; they hurry as if they have awoken somewhere disturbing.


Permanent Storage

For times when more durable storage may be required. The key difference in this picture is that it represents something impossible, people, merging into some inanimate object. To a degree, this represents my concerns about nuclear weapons, where the flash etches shadows of people on concrete.


Sea of green

Terry Hunter – Chosen Few DJ’s sharing the green seas off Iceland with a Jellyfish

Ghosts of summer shoppers

The ghost of summer shoppers shows people taken at that location over a short period; apart from the multiple exposure effects they all belong there.

Why here

The people shown were my teachers family, from when I lived in the middle east in the 1960’s, educated, generous and kind, yet we will now show them the wall no matter what pain they suffer. In this case, they arrive in the Chicago cultural centre; they would have surely liked that. The original image was shot on 35mm Kodachrome 64.

Still waiting for the great leap forward

The people in the picture were my neighbours from 35 years ago when I lived in Sheffield (UK) – for some reason, a test strip print of them was left in a box of old prints I have. I didn’t print all their pictures at the time.


My Favorite Gadget – Spring 2018

I recently gave a short talk about my favourite gadget/tool, Thinking about what had made the most difference to my photography, my flash meter sprung to mind.

Sekonic Flashmate L-308S – about $200 from B&HCapture

Essentially you tell the device what ISO you want to use, walk to the subject, point the meter at the lights and fire them.

It then tells you the F-stop needed to expose the picture.

When the flashes are providing most of the light, the shutter speed is not a factor – special effects folks may blanch here.

What made me love this gadget?

  • Saves me a great deal of time
  • Produces good results
  • Gives the client confidence I know what I am doing
  • Gives me confidence

A long time ago…

I started shooting portraits using speedlights and thought I could apply the same techniques that I used for agency real estate shooting.

  • Set the exposure on the brightest source of light (a window)
  • Chimp the flash power (or exposure) to bring the light up to where you want it.

Chimping did not work well for portraits. I would tether the camera to my tablet and adjust the flash power till it looked about right on the screen, positioned away from the camera.

Exposure errors

This looked good on the small screen over during the shoot andIMG_5511, for example. although this image was rescuable from a raw file, there quite a few images that were about 1 stop overexposed.

White background “wash out”

When trying to get a flaIMG_5785t white background on seamless paper, things would soon go wrong. On the small screen the pictures looked good, but back at the ranch, they were all “washed out” by overexposing the background. It took longer to rescue these, plus there were a lot of images.

A waste of time and effort

If you are not shooting at home or in a studio, or if you just want to use several lighting styles, the whole chimping process needed to be repeated each time.  The problems that occurred meant I needed to excuse some results when going through pictures with the client. These problems could be resolved when shooting – that said you are busy posing, remembering your right and left, and working with them to get cool expressions and that takes your focus off the tech.


Happy days

Now I can talk to the person being photographed, pose them and when that’s done

  • Hold the meter in front of them and fire the strobes with the trigger.
  • The meter will then tell me the F Stop needed for some given ISO, I often prefer to use F8 or F11, so may tweak the lights to give me what I want.
  • I will measure the light coming off the backdrop, if I shooting F8, I’ll want that at a max of F5.6

After that, I focus on my subject and take pictures.


Here is a picture that is straight out of the Camera.

Potraits 00122

  • Post work will then be focused on cropping and any retouching, and not fixing field problems.
  • Pretty much on the first use of the Flashmate I was
  • just amazed how I had managed without it.

It has paid its way in just the time saved.


The same approach works just as well for the film.

Chimping just can’t be used with film – so you have to get the exposure correct before you take the shot.

The flash meter makes this quick and easy, I now often take shots with my old medium format camera with great results.