Part 1. Assignment 1. Traces

For this Assignment we were asked to;

make a series of photographs that focus on and emphasize the traces that human kind leaves behind. If you’re lucky, and observant, your images may portray a palpable sense of their absence. 

I originally went down the rubbish/recycling route. There’s been an awful lot of news regarding plastic bottles and how this was adversely effecting the oceans. I explored some artists for some inspiration.


I found the above image (sorry lost the references) which was pretty cool. However I never really explored this too far as I was distracted by the following;

One day I was listening to one of my favourite songs; Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees…. this took me down a road which would eventually influence my final photographs.


As you may be able to work out from my workings above it gave me some new ideas;

  • Traces of what someone ‘used to be’. Old people have such depth; physically and historically. I wanted to explore if you could still see traces of a former life. In my head I thought about an old surgeon (from the lyrics); would you be able to work out if he/she was by where they lived, clothes they dressed in etc? Thought it may be cool to go to an old peoples home, ask around, see if any obvious signs.
  • Death; people leave behind traces of their existence when they pass away. This gave me a couple of ideas;

I’ve always been really intrigued, visually and emotionally, when people leave flowers by the side of the road where somewhere has passed away. If its a spot you regularly pass sometimes a story will develop. You will notice when the flowers start to die…sometimes they’re replaced, sometimes they will just die away. Certain times of the year they may be replaced, I would assume on a important anniversary. Very rarely will the flowers be replaced for years. What happens emotionally for it to stop; does it prolong the pain? has the person putting them there passed away?

I came across these flowers in the Hight Street.. It was really moving. I felt uncomfortable taking the photos… I felt a bit like a voyeur on someone’s grief…taking photos for my own needs when something tragic has happened. This, along with there being no guarantees, within my timescales, of any flowers being any where around Exeter, I decided to leave this project for now.

So I ended up with the following… My mum passed away a couple of years ago.. It stills feels pretty raw and its probably safe to say I’m still grieving . I wanted to embrace this as I remembered when Trent Parke talked about the emotional side of photography; the photo’s having you in them.

We obviously have some of her ‘stuff’ around the house…she has left behind traces of her existence.

I researched Chloe Juno’s work specifically her ‘Someone’s Rubbish’ collection, which you can find on her Instagram account. I really liked her style; I thought her work was funny, I liked the use of colours and I loved the ‘everyday’ items that she used. It almost feels like Martin Parr’s style but without people. I decided to use her work as a basis for my project.

With my work I wanted to photograph the everyday items we have kicking around the house that belonged to my mum. I didn’t want to over dramatize it and have something really sentimental. I wanted to try and have a little humour in there if possible.
Juxtaposed to any humour in the items, there is an obvious dark side and sadness to these items. So I tried to portray this in the style of the photo’s, also using some of the techniques I had learnt on the course.

I wasn’t able to take these items outside so I set up a little homemade studio (after watching lots of different YouTube video’s!). This meant that the photo’s were quite stylised and lost their ‘everyday’ feel that you find in Chloe Juno’s work

I went for a black background, using a low light and using very high contrast to create a ‘sombre’ feeling. I tried to place the items at slightly different angles, where possible, so they weren’t ‘perfect’. As the situation is far form perfect.

I wanted the lighting to reflect the situation. Its mostly a dark situation (in this stage of my grieving), but I cant and don’t want to forget the light that she left behind.
The items are all pretty naff…she loved naff! Everyday items, such as ones used by Chloe Juno in her work. She also loved to make things; birthday cards etc. She was not a Buddhist.

I’ve actually been able to connect with Chloe Juno on Instagram and we’ve chatted about her work and my project. It’s really valuable learning that these great photographer’s are accessible to us, and are very happy and willing to give feedback.

Anyway…here’s the final photo’s;

Technically I’m quite happy with how they look. I didn’t have to do too much in photoshop; few crops, increasing contrast for a blacker background.

There’s a little bit of inconsistency with the lighting. I used natural lighting, which changed throughout the day. With doing other stuff around the house on the day, I kept on having to come back to take photo’s. In an ideal world I would have been highly organised and made sure I banged them out in a short 10/20 minute period.


I couldn’t quite leave it there… I wanted to experiment with taking photo’s of the objects in their natural setting and also taking them in the direct style of Chloe Juno.

Natural Setting



Influenced by the style of Chloe Juno work ‘Someone’s Rubbish’


I’m fairly happy with these photo’s. I think I’ve kind of got the style right with Chloe Juno’s work. It was hard as I was being influenced by ‘Someone’s Rubbish’ but these objects are far from rubbish to me. I probably thought about the background a little bit more than Chloe does.

The Natural Setting photo’s are as they are….nothing special, although I feel it is good to see them in their natural setting.

Both lacked any symbolism through their settings and techniques that I felt the main photos had.

6 thoughts on “Part 1. Assignment 1. Traces

  1. Beautifully photographed images Paul, I really liked reading the text to give your images context. I love the picture of the baby, new life I guess is what appeals to me also the lovely coloured plastic boxes with organised contents. I think this gives insight about the owner.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So good to see what you’ve produced Paul, and I like the consistency with the brightness of the objects and darkness of the background.

    Personally, and this is just my opinion. I would darken the lower left of the bits and bobs photo by using the burn tool. You can see a second edge running along the foot off it.
    I’d consider doing the same with the fork for consistency. The others where background light seeps through look good, the light adds a touch of depth to those. Please feel free to disregard what I’ve said as well. Photography is subjective.


    1. Hey. No that’s brilliant, thank you! I’m a young pup so willing and happy to soak up any advice. I’ve not used the burn tool yet, but I’ll have a look over the weekend and work it out. Thanks

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It takes a bit of getting used to in Photoshop. It can be a bit heavy handed. Before you start with the brush press “Ctrl and J” simultaneously to create a copy layer. Your original will remain unaltered underneath. This way if your not getting the result that you like you can just delete the copy layer. Then press Ctrl j again to begin. Try using the burn tool as Photoshop has it set up to start with – it will probably darken the area you apply it to, too severely. Then delete that layer, create a new copy and this time lower the opacity to around 20%. You may need to take it lower still. Also Google or YouTube about the tool, as you can set it to burn highlights, mid-tones or shadows.


  3. I like these images and the back story very much.
    Did you choose a black background specifically? And did you try any other colour?
    I also like Richard’s helpful tips, as ever. I am a very old dog and also very happy to soak up critique and then try to remember it!


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