The area covered was relatively small, yet it contains widely different communities. Historically, there were physical barriers between these communities (see the introduction section above). While these barriers do not exist anymore, there are other, intangible barriers that seem to separate us. One such barriers is the cost of living and income inequality, which in London has manifested itself significantly in the form of house price inflation. Over the last 20 years, the average price of a London home has risen significantly above that of the rest of the UK (1), resulting in formidable difficulties for those with poorer backgrounds to move to the capital to make a living.
For this project, I wanted to show both what separate us but also that we have much more in common that what we are willing to admit. I have recently moved to this area, and while I have felt in general welcome by many of my neighbours, there is still a feeling of detachment and distrust that comes from the unfamiliar. I wanted to convey this in many of the pictures taken, which were mostly shot as straight as possible. There are no close up portraits of people and the pictures purposely show a distance to many of the subjects, sometimes even physical barriers. The majority of the pictures contain no persons, but most of them have an element of humanity on them, either by actions or consequences.
In addition to the pictures, I also wanted to incorporate words to the project (taking a leaf from Karen Knorr), but in keeping with the idea of the intangible barriers, I decided to put numbers as a title to each picture. These number represent the average house prices nearest to the place where the pictures were taken(2).
All in all, shooting for the project took place across 15 different days. Over 400 pictures were taken during the whole process, of which about 50 were shortlisted (contact sheets). I wanted to show the pictures in pairs and so I looked for pictures that I found pleasing aesthetically, but also that either shared elements or generated a situation of contrast when put together. I initially selected 6 such pairs plus a standalone picture to be used as the central picture in the series, but I subsequently decided that the standalone picture would also benefit from having a paired picture, so I ended up dropping one of the initial pairs (see below), which I believed was not sufficiently related to the other pictures.
The pair of pictures that was removed from the final selection
The above picture was initially intended to be standalone in the centre, but was later decided to pair it with a contrasting picture.
The pictures themselves were not heavily manipulated. I corrected the perspective in many of the pictures because I wanted to emulate the effect of shooting with a large format camera. This was particularly inspired by the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher and tied in with the intention to show the pictures in a neutral, detached way. All photos were shown in their original colour and other than perspective correction, the other key changes done in post-processing were to crop, to adjust the white and black points and to use selective dodging and burning to correct areas over or under exposed. There was also one occasion on which I wanted to go wider but only had a 35mm lens at hand. In that case, I took several shoots in portrait-0rientation and then merged them into a panorama using the photomerge tool of Photoshop.
The path to this project was not straightforward and initially I felt I was not very clear on what I wanted to do until the very end. I though about using text or something else associated with the pictures during the first shoot-out. Initially I wanted to use QR codes linking the photos to web-pages. The final ideas, such as comparing or contrasting the different communities included in the area and using average house prices as sub-text of the pictures did not come to me until very late in the process, while the idea of pairing up pictures one came when I was in the final days of shooting, which prompted me to go out for two additional shoot-outs to look out for pictures that I could pair with some of my pre-selected pictures.
The process was a bit more chaotic than what I expected, but it was also a lot more fun than just going out to take random pictures. It has pushed me to work seriously on a brief for the first time, enabling me to develop tools to help me come up with my own projects and ideas in the future: the initial and follow-up research, the collation of ideas and the putting of such ideas into practice. It has also helped me to see how my pictures relate to each other and fit within the project and, beyond that, to imagine how they would fit within other projects.
One idea that I have been trying to develop from this assignment is a study of the De Beauvoir Town in Hackney, north London, and how pictures from this area interconnect with pictures that I have taken for this assignment.
The final selection of pairs is shown in the booklet attached below
SQ Mile final presentation
(1) See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/11608084/House-prices-in-London-to-hit-1m-by-2030.html.
(2) Numbers were taken from Land Registry sold property database, which is publicly available from a variety of websites, including (for instance) http://nethouseprices.com/house-prices/br1