Tuesday, 8 March 2022

What's on a film that sat in a camera on a shelf for 40 years?

Recently a friend handed me a boxed Zeiss Ikon camera, first made in 1932. The box was a little tattered, the instructions a bit creased but the camera looked in excellent condition. 


Now my heart usually sinks when asked about cameras. For me they are simply a means to an end, capturing ‘the picture’.  

He said it was his Godmother’s camera and had sat on his shelf for at least thirty years, and wanted me to shoot a roll of film with it. 

At home I read the instructions and popped open the back. To my amazement there was a roll of film that had been wound through the camera. There could be an unseen picture of relatives in younger days. Or it could be a case of a full year high days captured to the shout of ‘get the camera dear, time to do a picture’, Christmas, Easter, a summer holiday, a birthday celebration and a new-born all on one roll. Or just a blank strip of fogged film.


So now I had two jobs; first, get the film processed and secondly, see if the camera still works. 

The film needed to be processed C22. I quickly discovered that the C22 process was superseded by C41 in 1972. I decided to explore the rabbit hole of technical photo forums on how to best get this film processed, it made my head spin. So, I made a quick post on Facebook for some help and emailed a few photo labs to see what they advised. 


Capturing the present…


In the meantime, I decided to pop a roll of HP5 film into the camera to see if it was still light tight and the shutter worked. The shutter speed range is 25th to 125th with a ‘not so handy’ B setting too. Aperture ranging from F6.3 to F22. 


Before going out I again referred to the instructions. Just as well as I discovered if you want a horizontal picture hold the camera upright and if you want vertical picture hold the camera horizontal. See fig 1.

Fig 1.


A diagram to explain what is where on pages 2 and 3 and an attractive assistant to help with my exposure.

Focussing was (as ever) going to be a challenge. The focus ring was marked in feet, 4.6, 6, 9, 12, 18, 30 and infinity. I decided to keep it constant so paced out four steps and set the camera at 12ft at F8. I kept that distance in my mind’s eye, moving back or forth or letting people walk into range. It was all very hit and miss and needed a lot of practice. If people were moving too quickly, I decided to leave well alone as at 125th it would not freeze the ‘action’.


I fought myself with the notion that I had to try to make half decent pictures. Why put all that effort in if the camera was leaking light, but then again if it wasn’t leaking light I would end up with a boring set of pictures. Also, I couldn’t remember how much I had to wind the film to make sure that it didn’t double expose part of the frame. 


Upside down numbers appearing in dark red windows on the back of the camera as I wound the film. The black squares on the contact sheet are where I over wound the film. Lesson learned.

I spotted two ladies who were walking slow enough that I figured 125th would freeze their movement. As they came into the 12 ft line, I took their picture and immediately the woman on the left said, ‘you can take my picture wearing a bikini if you like.’ 


Quick as a flash I replied, ‘It’s too cold for me to wear a bikini and as I’ve put on a bit a weight it causes too much chafing when I run about.’ 


Lucky for me they hadn’t heard the second oldest joke in the photographer’s repertoire and off they went chuckling to each other.  

The picture itself, although dull except for the laugh with these two old dears, demonstrates that the lens is sharp enough and with a little tweaking in photoshop the tones are quite pleasing too. I shot the picture below to eliminate the movement element. Sharp enough to methinks. 

It started to rain so not wanting to get the old camera wet I headed home, second task complete. I have returned the camera to Chris, its owner, loaded with a roll of film so he can master it.


Processing the past…


As for developing the colour film I was given a few options. Process it in modern C41 chemicals but at room temperature for 50 minutes. This method may retain some colour but risks losing all images. Another forum said forget any notion of retaining colour and develop in ID11 for 13 minutes so at least you’ll be assured of an image if there is anything on the film. And a third suggestion was to process in ID11, agitate for one minute and then leave undisturbed for an hour. I went for option four and sent to AG Photographic+Photolab who assured me they give it love and care and hand process as black and white. 


And that’s exactly what they did. Here is the processed film on my light box. At first glance nothing to see. 

But the team at AG Photographic+Photolab must have worked some magic as there are two images.

The black lines are where the film has been fogged over the years. But what is most exciting for Chris is that woman in the first frame on the left is his Godmother, Carys Houston. But as yet, he is unable to identify the other woman in the picture or where this picture was taken. It also transpires the camera was actually owned by Carys’ husband, Canadian Roy Houston, who was a cardiologist and died in 1958. 


I have cropped the image here so you can see them more clearly. Is that a figure between them who has moved their head quickly and blurred? Remember the camera shutter speed is 125th at best. The hair dos look similar or maybe it’s just a plant? I’ll let you think on that. 

No-one is sure where or what the battleships are so even though at the time it was important enough for someone to take a picture of them, that importance has faded with time. No doubt there is someone out there in the Metaverse who can identify it. 


For sure this journey was not a Vivien Maier discovery in terms of photography. But in simplest terms Chris has another image of his Godmother Clarys and a Zeiss Ikon camera that works. 


Oh, and if you are wondering what the oldest joke in a photographer’s repertoire is, I think it is; ‘let’s go into the darkroom and see what develops.’


Thursday, 20 January 2022

It's okay to fail, isn't it?

It’s okay to fail, isn’t it? Here is my contact sheet from two days shooting on the Lea Bridge Road last week.

Now is the time of year when goals are set, personal New Year resolutions are made (probably already broken) and in the corporate world work place objectives are committed to paper. 


I can almost hear managers telling employees on the annual goal setting meeting:


“It’s okay to fail. In fact, if you don’t fail you are not pushing the envelope. You need to be innovative, creative, agile, risk-taking and forward thinking. To survive we must all differentiate ourselves from our competitors by pushing for what might seem as the impossible”. 


After the meeting and thinking back to the end of year review where failure was the focal point of the discussion you may begin to ask yourself ‘have I just been screwed again?’ 


Lucky me, I don’t have to go through this management-by-fear process but I do intend to use the new year to challenge myself - setting my own targets and no HR bell curve to meet. 

Photographers don’t need to be told when they have failed, they know it themselves. They just look at their pictures. Last week, hand on heart, I failed. I’ve shot a whole roll of film but have not captured a single decent picture. Here’s why. 


Three things to keep in mind, and yes, I could be accused of getting my excuses in early; firstly, I didn’t see the images until after I processed the film, there’s no looking on the back of the camera on a Rolleiflex.


Secondly, and obvious as it may seem as I was shooting back and white film so colour and lights are reduced to tone. I am working hard to think tone, not colour and this is not easy. 


And third, I have only 12 frames per roll of film.

I was interested in the Christmas decorations that still adorned the front of a house mid-January on the Lea Bridge Road. The bright cheerful lights set against the gloom of a winter’s afternoon and bus stop for the 55 that will take you to Oxford Street. I was drawn to the idea that this could help illustrate the multi-cultural nature of the Lea Bridge Road.

On the first frame the figures are too big and draw attention away from the decorations. With the second frame, the wall on the bottom right dominates the image so you don’t see the decoration or the people. I decided to move. 

On frame three I miss-timed the shot so the key figure, although interesting, obscures the tree and I don’t like the position of the woman’s legs or the fact she’s looking away. Frame four is well timed and I love the echo of the tree shape in the position of the man’s legs but he’s looking straight at me. That kills it for me on this occasion. 

Women walk past a house that is still decorated for Christmas January 14, 2022 on the Lea Bridge Road, London. 

The last frame I shot in this sequence, frame 5, has the figures well positioned either side of the tree and the echo of the triangle shape of the tree in the woman’s coat and dress shape is pleasing. But the light has dropped and the movement (and maybe some back focusing) in the figure on the right just distracts from the overall image. 


The following day it was quite misty so I thought I’d revisit the same scene and try to explore my ongoing struggle of the relationship of scale between figures and buildings. My attention drawn to the bus stop, a bus, a view down misty Lea Bridge Road and people waiting at the stop near the Christmas decorations. Remember the film from the previous day was still unprocessed so I had not yet seen what I had already shot. 

I was enjoying the strong diagonal lines of the wall and the windows on the right and the shape and line of the lamp post that cuts into the grey sky vertically dissecting the square image. What troubles me now is that there’s too much dead space on image 6 and even when the bus fills some of that space in frame 7 the position of the figures are less interesting. By removing the dead space top and bottom with a crop the lamp post is a visual distraction and the strong diagonals lost. I’ve ended up with a very dull image of a bus, a bus stop and some ill-positioned figures.

Before the sun cleared the mist, I wanted to further explore shapes against the grey misty sky.

In my opinion the most successful picture on this film is the one below but again not as good as I would like. I was looking at the shape of this tree against the sky on a road junction when I spotted a man about to cross. Sadly, passing traffic kept blocking my view. I would have liked to have captured him just before he reached the centre of the road. Also, the shapes would have been better if I’d crouched down lower creating more space between the lower branches of the trees and the roofline. By shooting sooner I would also be setting the dark tones of the figure against the lighter background of the houses in the distance. But I had to wait for the cars to clear and this was the best that was offered; not too bad but shame he begins to merge into the mid tones of the hedge and shame about the lamp post coming out the top of his head.

A man walks slowly across Heybridge Way on the junction of Lea Bridge Road, London in the morning mist January 15, 2022. 

As a final note I have to admit that I spent quite a lot of time waiting for this picture of Lea Bridge rail station which, at the end of the day, doesn’t really work.  I had to position the camera so the lens poked though the fencing mesh. Composing the picture into vertical thirds using the chimneys my interest was the open door in the foreground. All I needed was a figure going into or coming out to give the image a focal point. I waited and waited more, finally a train came into the station and I decided to swap a figure in the doorway for a train on the station. I would have waited more but decided that a £130 parking fine from Waltham Forest was too bigger price to pay for a picture that may or may not happen.  

I like the shapes and the potential for figures either in the doorway or on the stairwell on the right of the picture so will return when I have more parking time. I am after all setting my own agenda and my own targets.

January 18th, I decided to try to catch someone walking in or out of the doorway early, in morning mist. By the time I managed to get through a 45-minute traffic jam the fog had lifted, and my hopes of catching someone at the start of their shift evaporated. What did present itself was strong low light and shadows. I had planned to shoot using the same composition but I had to move to one side as my own shadow was destroying the picture, I lost the vertical thirds. What I did gain is a rather pleasing zig zag of shapes and a striding figure shadowed on the brickwork. 


What I love is continual change that forces you to abandon plans and initial ideas so you end  up with something you hadn’t thought of. Minutes after I took the picture below the sun had moved higher and the shadows had been lost.


Thursday, 9 December 2021

'Oi Mate! Take my Picture!' And the perils of running out of film

 ‘Oi Mate! Take my picture. I might look younger on that old camera!’ Was the shout that greeted me from across the street as I walked back from the Lea Bridge Road. 

‘I can’t’ I replied ‘I’ve run out of film’. My heart sank, a missed opportunity. I had promised myself that I’d photograph everyone who chatted with me or showed any sort of interest in my project documenting the Lea Bridge Road.  


I had stumbled across something that had not troubled me for years, running out of film. Shooting on digital you never run out, unless of course you shoot pictures like a rear gunner under attack. I have edited such photographers, scrolling through literally thousands of images, but that’s another story.

Roger Daltry, lead singer with The Who, lifts his eye patch to reveal his damaged left eye to the audience at the Prince's Trust Masters of Rock concert in Hyde Park, June 29, 1996. The eye patch, used after he was accidentally hit by Gary Glitter's microphone stand during rehearsals, was decorated with the blue and red bullseye symbol.


Thinking back to my film days shooting news I remember the day that I decided I would always spin out a roll of 35mm when I got to frame 32 or 33. It was June 29, 1996. The picture above of Roger Daltry was taken on frame 36, shot on a 300mm lens. I had one frame and wasn’t sure if I had missed the moment or shot it out of focus. I got lucky as it’s perfect. 


From that day on my rule would be that I’d either leave three or four frames on the roll or I’d put a new film in, immediately. After all you never knew what was going to happen. 


Fast forward 25 years, I had broken my own rule while shooting on the Lea Bridge Road so I’d missed getting a picture of building material depot worker ‘Oi Mate!’. As I am presently using a Rolleiflex I only get 12 frames per roll of film, so something else for me to work out on my journey.


The picture below of Anthony Benson is an example of what I had missed out on. A simple full-length portrait with a busy background. A gentle way into the community. I make sure that I give prints to everyone I photograph.


A man hails a bus as Anthony Bensong walks to work on the Lea Bridge Road, London, November 26, 2021.


I know it’s a bit of a cliché but I am quite happy with my picture of Murad, a barber shot through the steamed-up window of his shop, Imza Traditional Turkish Barbers. I was careful to ensure that my reflection was not seen in the face of the customer as that would destroy the image. 

Barber Murad gives a customer a haircut in Imza Traditional Turkish Barber’s on the Lea Bridge Road November 26, 2021.

I am increasingly pleased that my picture taking confidence is growing. I was able to take my time looking down onto the view finder and then up into a launderette as this scene of everyday domestic ordinariness unfolded. I had to wait until all three figures could be seen before I took my picture. I always wonder just how long launderettes will continue to exist?

People load their washing in the Launderama Launderette, 305 Lea Bridge Road in London, December 4, 2021.    

I am slightly struggling with the knowledge that the buildings are equally as important as the people as I document on the Lea Bridge Road. The visual conflict being if you shoot an image composed around the shape and structure of a building the people appear small. I tend to want to photograph people. This of course can be countered by using wide angle lens, but I am using a 75mm lens (41mm for this of you who think in 35mm terms). I've set myself this restraint to give the pictures, when seen as a sequence, a sense of continuity.

As part of this thinking I am trying to avoid shooting pictures from across the street but could not resist this as I spotted a woman who’d paused to concentrate on her phone while taking a long draw on a cigarette. What I would have given for her to stop a few inches earlier so the door framed her. 

A woman takes a long draw on a cigarette as she pauses on the Lea Bridge Road, London, to look at her phone November 26, 2021.


A detail picture can draw the eye to something that is easily missed. One can only admire the confidence of the car salesman that would allow such a large deposit of bird shit on their wares. 

Cars for sale are covered in bird shit under the Bakers Arms rail bridge on the Lea Bridge Road in London December 4, 2021.


Finally, to share my visual learning journey I thought that I’d include the contact sheets from the Lea Bridge Road as my project progresses. I've been trying to work out timing in terms of firing the shutter and also experimenting with the depth of field. What is most rewarding with the TLR is that you see what you get as long as your are careful not to run out film.

Stay safe out there. Russell 

Thursday, 18 November 2021

A year on - what's next?

Saturday November 13, 2021 was a rather special day. Almost exactly a year to the day of being told that I was to be made redundant from a job I loved, I was out taking pictures on a story I had thought about for years but never got around to do. And just as importantly I knew why I was doing it. I have discovered, the passion I have for pictures and story-telling is no less diminished. 

I shot twelve frames on a Rolleiflex 75mm F3.5 using HP5. The film I processed myself, my love hate relationship with the smell of ID11 and fixative revisited. The negatives scanned on an Epson V600.  Here is the contact sheet, frame one, bottom left, frame 12 top right.

I will be the first to admit that none of the images are earth shatteringly wonderful, but the exposure is even, the composition and timing not bad. But actually, what is more important is how I arrived at this point – shooting black and white on a vintage medium format camera. I will wind my year back to explain. 


But first, my favourite image is frame two. The man wearing headphones reflected in two mirrors, I like the busy lines criss-crossing through the picture, one of which, the reflection of the padlock, points to the figure, giving the image a focal point despite the words ‘Bargain’ and ‘Sale’ fighting for attention.

After attending a Zoom call in February 2021 titled ‘Out of the Archives. Collecting Stories of Everyday Life’ hosted by Four Corners I spent weeks scanning 35mm black and white negatives I shot in 1985 that had been gathering dust in my attic. I was encouraged by Lisa der Weduwe from the Museum of Youth Culture (MOYC), who addressed the call, to scan them. We were all in lockdown so why not? I am very happy with the result, about 150 pictures of Newtown Youth culture published and archived by the MOYC. If you click here or on the picture below you can see them all. I’m also in talks to have an exhibition of these pictures in Peterborough, but that’s another story, and quite exciting.

Cleaning, scanning and removing 36 years of dust from negatives is a rather time consuming and solitary task. Although it was quite exciting to see what a wonderful archive I had, I was, in essence, looking backwards. All my yesterdays, I asked myself was I hiding? 


Britain was in full lockdown so shooting pictures of people wasn’t easy. Maybe everybody was hiding? I would go for a daily walk around local parkland to get some exercise and clear my head. The lockdown rules permitted you to walk with one other person but at a 2m distance. I noticed, as I walked past others, I’d catch a snippet of their conversation. To start to regain my confidence photographing people I decided that I’d shoot a series of portraits of fellow walkers and include what I’d overheard in the caption, I called it 'Overheard in Lockdown'. I was amazed that only one person refused to be photographed and be included in the project. The pictures are simple environmental portraits, the background determined by where my path crossed with other walkers. It was fun and I had great conversations with total strangers. I think it’s a timely document, prior to the UK’s four-step roadmap out of lockdown, that’s hopefully never to be repeated. Click here or on the picture below to see the full set.    

‘I keep cycling the same old loop again and again’. Davide Terrasi and Naiem Dakry


While sorting out the Newtown Youth negatives, I came across another small project I shot in 1985. In short, I photographed everyone who knocked on my door.  Spurred on by the success of the ‘Overheard in Lockdown’ project I decided that I’d try to track down these people 36 years later and re-photograph them on their doorstep. With the help of the local paper and the easing of lockdown I managed to find a few. The local response was heart-warming and when I did meet up with my subjects, reshooting them and giving them prints was a major confidence boost. You can see the whole series here.

I have always been fascinated by change, but change that is imperceivable until you look at it retrospectively. The corner shop that is always open until it’s no longer there, the aged owner passed on or moved away. The three old men sitting on the same seats in the pub sipping at their pints every night that for years were part of the furniture who are now no longer there; or that old factory building or row of terraced houses that is now a new mini store or block of flats. The slow decline or the gentrification of an area as the populous slowly changes, to me, is a rich area for social documentary. London is a constantly changing, hundreds of years of migration, growth and change. I want to capture London now, not the usual landmarks, high life, low life and razzamatazz that gets the attention but the imperceivable changes in ‘ordinary’ London, like a river slowly changing its banks and course over the years.


To me the Lea Bridge Road (A104) is such a place. It runs between Hackney and Waltham Forest, through Leyton. It was named after a bridge that was built over the River Lea in 1745. Over the years I have spent hours stuck in slowly chugging traffic looking out of my window watching life go by. I have decided to photograph people and places along the length of this road. To me it encapsulates the unseen changes that London is going through, people, commerce, leisure, faith and architecture. My ambition is to capture the everyday ordinariness today that in the future will be so special as it will no longer exist.


Long gone are the halcyon days when you can go into a pub, factory or institution, ask the boss if you can take pictures and they’d decide yes or no within minutes. For example, for me to photograph the Woolwich Ferry it took over a year to get all the permission I needed. But to me it was well worth the time spent.

The Woolwich ferry story is a good example of what I am trying to achieve. The three boats that I photographed in 2015 and had been crossing the Thames since the 1960’s are now no longer in service, forever gone. Most of the staff, retired. 


Also, a question that troubled me was technically how to photograph the Lea Bridge Road? I could dust off my Nikon FM2, click in my trusty 35mm, wind on a roll of HP5 and push it two stops and wear a keffiyeh as a neck scarf. But wasn’t that what I did in 1985, all my yesterdays? I could use my Canon 5D that will produce technically wonderful images in low light. As a news photographer, editor and manager I have always advocated the use of colour, pure commercial sense once the business had changed to full colour, especially with online digital. But, the perception of most is that people who produce 35mm cameras with no apparent good reason, such as a wedding, are predators and up to no good. It would be hard to integrate into the community of the Lea Bridge Road with continual cries of ‘What you taking pictures of?” Or ‘Oi paparazzi’ or even as I was once told when shooting a simple feature ‘If you took my picture, I will ram that camera up your arse!’  As a side note I assured this gentleman that I did not take his picture and was able to safely return my camera into a bag. 


These days people tend to be suspicious of photographers.


A chance conversation with a friend provided the answer. He told me casually that he was being given a Rolleiflex and would need to learn how to use it. This was the solution I was looking for. 


First, the new visual challenge of composing in a square format, with the added complexity of everything being back to front was very appealing. Secondly, focussing manually, no motor drives and only having twelves frames per roll of film all restrictions that, I believe, leads to more creative thinking. Another friend wisely said to me recently when I asked him why use black and white film when digital colour is so perfect, ‘the perfection and beauty of using black and white film are the small imperfections it throws up’. I was sold.


So after two bad online shopping experiences trying to get the right camera I bought a wonderful camera from Robert at the Vintage & Classic Camera Company. Not cheap, but excellent condition and fully working. The last thing I wanted to do was struggle with the mechanics of a camera when I was struggling with everything else involved in taking pictures. 

Once purchased I then had to learn how to use it. I quickly discovered that I needed more time than I imagined. After a few rolls of the long-suffering family and a few frames of the neighbours I decided to put the Lea Bridge Road project on hold and embark on something a little easier. Today, I shot the final picture of this sidebar project that I started in June 2021. Although I see this project very much as a learning curve, that I will share once complete, it has been amazingly rewarding shooting it. 


What I have gained by taking my time is the confidence to actually start my Lea Bridge Road project, which brings me back to the beginning of my post. Using the Rolleiflex has intrigued people enough to ask me what I am doing when they see me on the street. On the first day of shooting, two people who had cycled past, stopped and returned to talk to me about the camera and what I was doing. I am not a threat.

I am also learning a new way to look as I take pictures. People allowed me stand for ages waiting for shapes and lines to change as they carried on with what-ever they were doing. I think it’s about eye contact, I can look down at the camera to compose and focus, then look up to engage with what or who I am photographing, something that had never occurred to me. Luke below for example described himself being in another world as he took a break from work and ignored me as I waited for him to mentally drift back to this other world. 

Once the dialogue is started, I feel that people come to believe that photographers, are people who can be trusted. Especially when they return with a nice print.  


I will continue shooting pictures on the Lea Bridge Road and update this post when I have more to offer.


Russell Boyce

Friday, 6 November 2020

A Week in Pictures, Middle East and Africa, November 6, 2020

The momentary flash of a sound grenade exploding is captured by Mohamed Torokman and amazing to see are the reactions or lack of them from the people near the blast. First, we have Torokman himself, he is photographing the blast, so take a minute to think what is required to actually do that. Then look around, the man nearest the blast, like Torokman, is taking pictures, either side of him. Others have turned away to protect their eyes and eyes as too have the people deeper in the frame. Closer to the edges of the frame, standing with the man holding the flag, they are all oblivious of the blast, which tells us that this is the moment of the blast as they have not yet reacted to it.    

Palestinian demonstrators react to a sound grenade fired by Israeli forces during a protest against Jewish settlements and U.S. President Donald Trump, in Beit Dajan in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Careful and thoughtful framing through an entrance with clean foreground and background builds the compositional structure in Ronen Zvulun’s picture. What I like is that it’s not quite symmetrical even though at first glance it looks as if it is. The colours of the wall are slightly different and the queue extends out of shot from right to left.  

Pupils, wearing protective face masks, stand together upon arrival at their school as Israel reopens first to fourth grades, continuing to ease a second nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, at a school in Rehovot, Israel November 1, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Mike Hutchings striking picture of fires on Table Mountain puts me in mind of director Peter Jackson’s rendition of Mount Doom from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The long exposure blurs the moving smoke so it appears like a beam emanating from the ‘mouth’ of the fires. 

Flames illuminate smoke over the city as strong winds fan a fire that broke out on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, October 31, 2020. Picture taken with long time exposure. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings 

A brutally effective crop divides Luc Gnago’s picture in half.  In addition to the harsh line down the centre of the frame, this ‘left and right, us and them’ feeling is created by the cold colours of the grey/brown and blue uniform against the bright warm colours on the left and accentuated by the soldier looking out of the frame seemingly oblivious of the crowd waiting to cast their votes.   

People wait to cast their votes during the presidential election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Such a fun and joy filled picture from Amr Abdallah Dalshyou just have to take the time to look around taking it all in. The bride is having such a great time, she is very happy, and you almost feel and hear the rhythm of the music they are dancing to, their hands moving to the beat. And then you see the faces of her fiends forming a circle around them, every one of them enjoying the moment.    

Bride Hager Yasser dances with guests during her traditional wedding celebration at the outdoor Grand Palace villa in Queisna, as Egyptian government only allows outdoor events amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Egypt's northern Nile Delta province of Menoufia, Egypt November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

I cant get the notion of the Penrose stairs out of my mind when looking at Abdullah Rashid’s wonderfully complex image. Your eye bounces left to right, up and down and in and out of doorways. The figures, all in matching blue clothing and white helmets, add to the hall of mirrors and Penrose effect. 

A group of young volunteers works to clean the Church of Saint Thomas, as they help Iraqi Christians in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq October 28, 2020.  REUTERS/Abdullah Rashid 

The feeling of loss and emptiness is quite overwhelming in Raneen Sawafta’s picture. As far as the eye can see the only signs of life are the birds that seem to be fleeing a desolate landscape. This emptiness I think is created by the vast open space of the horizon that appears like the soft washes of a water colour painting over which sit the solid black tones of the birds in flight.  

Birds fly over the site of destroyed Palestinian tented homes and animal shelters in Khirbet Humsah in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 5, 2020. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta 

Monicah Mwangi provides an interesting dilemma. Which picture better tells the story of friendship and support at a time of COVID-19 social distancing for the visually impaired? For sure the first image below is a beautiful ‘Bert Hardy(esque)’ image of friendship and support but does it give you any sense of the boys being visually impaired? 

Visually impaired pupils hold on to each other for confidence as they walk after attending a lesson, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Thika school for the blind in Thika town of Kiambu county, Kenya October 29, 2020. Picture taken October 29, 2020. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi 

In this second choice the image is not as immediate in visual terms of the bond of friendship between the boys, but you do get a greater sense of their visual impairment. One boy is reaching out to touch the pillars to guide him and his friend, and this is an indicator of how important touch is for the visually impaired. But it’s this touch that is being restricted by policies of social distancing to try to control the coronavirus, the point of the story. I like them both. Read on here.

Visually impaired pupils hold on to each other for confidence as they walk after attending a lesson, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Thika school for the blind in Thika town of Kiambu county in Kenya October 29, 2020. Picture taken October 29, 2020. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi