Human Presence- Photographers Research

After deciding on the idea of empty spaces and the idea of how places can represent people’s human presence by the layout and personality of shops or buildings, representing the lifestyle of people; I could begin to research different photographs work, to influence my won. I have already taken influence from the photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Adams, and how in their work human presence can be seen in the empty spaces that represent people’s lifestyles and way of life. I decided to look more specifically at photographers who have photographed shop windows; even though these photographers may not be addressing the same topic as me, I can still take influence from their method and compositions etc.

Verdi Yahooda

In an extract from an essay by Susan Butler – ‘Making Arrangements’ catalogue 1991, she describes Yahooda’s work;

“Verdi Yahooda’s photographs of display windows in Amsterdam are at once a departure from and an extension of her previous work. Her longstanding concern with the re-presentation of objects through Photography remains central, but in ‘Window Dressing’, the domain of interest has shifted to a more public context… (using) a manner of framing that moves towards sculpture.”

Living and working in London, Yahooda’s photographic works address issues of cultural history, identity and family rituals. I find her work very interesting, especially her project ‘Uitstallen’ Window Dressing; this work looks at show windows of Amsterdam. Along with the photographs, Yahooda has created an installation around the photographs to represent and look like the window she has taken. Each window and photograph is individual and unique, showing the character and personality of the shop; these shops also represent the lifestyle and way of living of the owners, this shows their own personal human presence by their shop representing them and their life.






Each installation is unique and represents the shop they go with; aspects from each individual shop have been taken and used to create the framing around the photographs to create the installation. By echoing and further representing the shops personality it enhances the idea of the people’s lifestyles and their human presence.

In my own work I do not plan to make my own installations, however I do want to take influence from the framing of her photographs and the idea of showing a range of shops to show different people’s lifestyles and human presence. The photographs are framed so that the viewer is looking straight at the windows, with little around the edge to distract from the window, this allows them to be transported to the shop, making it feel like they could be there; it also shows the true representation and personality of each shop.

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander, born in 1934, began photographing the American social landscape in 1948. Friedlander’s street photographs, produced in the 1960s (including the image below), form the body of his work that has received the most attention.

One photograph that stood out to me from his body of work was, ‘Cincinnati, Ohio’, this photograph shows a shop window in an interesting way. The window highlights and shows what is inside the shop giving the viewer an idea of what kind of shop it would be, however it also shows the reflection of the surrounding area in the window. The photograph not only shows the personality of the shop, but also the personality of the surrounding area; it gives the viewer clues on the place this photograph is set and the possible lifestyle the people have there.


The image is also partly a self-portrait (he produced a series of self-portraits around this time, some of which showed his reflection in shop windows). If the viewer looks carefully at the centre of the image, a silhouette and three fingers poised on a camera are just visible. This is showing Friedlander’s human presence in the form of light creating a reflection in the glass. 

Even though this is not exactly the same kind of human presence I am looking at, I want to focus on the owner’s presence by the shops representing their lifestyle and livelihood; I can take influence from Friedlander’s work. In my own work I could think about using possible reflections to show the personality of the surrounding areas, to give the viewer further insight of the lifestyle of the shop owners. Furthermore I like the composition of this photograph, like Yahooda’s photograph, this photograph is framed so that the viewer is looking straight at the window, with little around the edge to distract from the window, this allows them to be transported to the shop, making it feel like they could be there. It also shows the true representation and personality of the shop. In my own work, when composing my photographs I want to make sure that the shop is the main focus and often looking straight on so that the viewer is not distracted. 

Walker Evans

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1903, Walker Evans took up photography in 1928. He is best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression.

Walker Evans’ photograph, ‘Negro Barber Shop Interior’ stood out to me as the photograph clearly shows the personality of a shop from the belongings inside. Even though this is unlike what I want to do taking photographs of shop windows, this photograph I feel still shows the idea of human presence by the belongings and set up of the shop. This photograph shows the lifestyle of the barbers and their presence through these belongings; the viewer is invited into this shop and could be seen as representing the customer, looking at the human presence from their point of view. Furthermore the name of the photograph also tells the viewer about the human presence of the customers and what kind of customers use the shop.


In my own work I could look at the idea of whether different shops show human presence of certain customers, as well as showing how the belongings and set up of the shop represent the livelihood of the shop owners. I will take my photographs from the outside of the shop, rather than inside, but I still feel I can show human presence well, looking more from an outsider’s point of view.

All three photographers I have looked at will help me inform and influence my own photographs which I will go out and take, based on human presence and of shop windows.

Donovan Wylie

I also looked at the work of Donovan Wylie, who photographed prisons; even though his subject and meaning behind his work is not the same as I intend to do for this project, I can take influence from his compositions and a more formal approach. Wylie photographed prisons in a very formal way, showing the structure and buildings, many of his photographs show face on shots of different areas of the prison, these direct angles make very angular and direct photographs showing a true representation of the prison.



In my work I want to take head on shots as this shows the shops in a true representation, highlighting the lifestyles of the owners; however it will mean that my photographs will have a more formal feel to them. Personally I do not think this is a bad idea or outcome as the viewer would often only seen the formal side to the shops, where the owners serve the customers.


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