Light & shade: Trent Parke & Brian Griffin

Trent Parke: from The Seventh Wave (1999)

Brian Griffin: Rush Hour, London Bridge (1974)

My tutor’s feedback on my submission for The Square Mile suggested that I look at how light and shade can be used to direct the viewer’s gaze towards the chosen subject. He pointed me in the direction of several photographers, including Trent Parke and Brian Griffin.

I enjoyed looking through the work of both photographers, and selected one image from each to look at more closely. Although I didn’t notice it when I made my selection, both images use light and shade to create a frame within the image frame. This draws the eye into the central area of the image to start with, and only later do we start to explore the parts lying within the darker margins. The “frame within a frame” also takes us a step away from the content contained by the inner frame, causing us to look at it with a degree of separation and abstraction. This effect is further increased by the silhouetting of the figures, which makes them ciphers in whatever action is taking place.

In the Trent Parke image this means we focus not on the individual figures but the fact that they are each in a different phase of a process which involves gathering at the foot of the ladder, climbing it quickly when it’s your turn, running along the platform and jumping into the water. The queue on and near the ladder tells us that it’s a fast process, and the expression of joy we see in the face at the bottom of the image tells us that it’s a lot of fun. In this way the image captures the carefree days of childhood.

In Brian Griffin’s image the faceless commuter drones stretching into the far distance seem remote from us, viewed through the rear view window of a car in which we head in the opposite direction. The window looks like an old-fashioned TV screen, which puts us in mind of Tony Hancock’s 1961 The Rebel and gives the image the feel of an existential statement rather than a political diatribe. In today’s gig economy the image could read as a line-up of a privileged salaried class trudging home to their owner-occupied houses and gold-plated pensions. But in fact it still perfectly conveys the meaningless drudgery of working life.

References and resources

DP Review (2018) ‘Photographer Profile – Brian Griffin’. Available from: [accessed 21/02/18]
Magnum (2018) ‘Trent Parke’. Available from: [accessed 21/02/18]