ASSIGNMENT 1

Assignment 1 – Feedback and reworking

Formal feedback from my tutor on assignment 1 can be found here.

In response to the feedback received from my tutor, I decided to implement certain changes to the series in assignment 1 before submitting it as part of the formal assessment process:

  • I decided to crop the pictures to the same size (3:2) and present them in the same orientation (landscape). The idea behind it is to have a more visually coherent series.
  • The feedback provided by my tutor indicated that some of the images seemed to give contradictory messages and that the series may lack a clear and consistent purpose. In retrospect, I felt that this may be case with the way in which some of the images were put together, when the idea suggested by some of the pairs not being in harmony with the whole message. The point I wanted to convey, as stated in the original notes accompanying my submission, was that in spite of the socioeconomic and other intangible barriers that may exist between communities, we have more things in common that we may be willing to admit. As a result of thus, I decided to separate images 5 and 6 from the original sequence and pair them with newly selected images from the original shoot-out, thus giving a more coherent message in line with my stated objective.
  • My tutor originally suggested that picture 1 in the original sequence could be cropped from the left to match the aspect ratio of image 2; but in retrospect I consider image 2 to be slightly less interesting than image 1, which I would prefer not to crop. Since I could not find a suitable replacement for 2 and since none of these two pictures really worked as well when re-cropped as landscapes, I decided to drop them. I also decided to drop the last two images, 11 and 12, which could not be re-cropped to landscape format to my satisfaction. This allows the set to end with the image of the lonely traveller moving towards the end of the tunnel, which is, in my opinion, a more interesting picture and also serves as a metaphor of my new arrival at the neighborhood.
  • My tutor suggested to reconsider the use of one of the pictures I discarded from the original shoot-out: the picture of a fly tipped loo. I looked at other pictures in the set and considering my idea of the word-picture pairing, I decided it was best to replace image 7 from the original sequence with the image of the fly tipped loo.
  • The final booklet accompanying the sequence, which shows how I wanted the pictures to appear and the corresponding captions, has been reconfigured to give more prominence to the images, harmonize the negative / blank spaces and introduce a small synopsis of what the series is about. The re-worked final booklet can be found here, while the original is here.

The final sequence of images, compared with the original is shown in the tables below. As a result of the addition of new images, I have re-calculated the captions accompanying the photographs, based on current average prices (going back 10 to 20 years) for the areas where the pictures were taken (1), which are also shown in the table below:

 Original sequence (in pairs, with original captions)
 1st pair

01£ 212,500

02£ 384,693

 2nd pair

03£ 375,000

04£ 153,658

 3rd pair

05£ 755,667

06£ 116,010

 4th pair

07£ 195,444

08£ 514,914

 5th pair

09£ 89,667

10£ 235,965

 6th pair

11£ 85,955

 12£ 236,760

 Re-worked sequence (in pairs, with updated captions)
1st pair

IMGP1364£ 116,010

IMGP0435£ 655,000

2nd pair

DSC_0028£ 257,753

Untitled_Panorama1-Edit£ 809,375

3rd pair

IMGP0426£ 755,000

IMGP0959£ 238,000

4th pair

IMGP1002£ 235,082

IMGP0972£ 697,437

5th pair

IMGP1286£ 99,500

IMGP0378£ 315,212

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(1) Updated captions were taken from the Zoopla website: House prices in Bromley, London. Property values – Zoopla. 2017. House prices in Bromley, London. Property values – Zoopla. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.zoopla.co.uk/house-prices/london/bromley/. [Accessed 17 September 2017].

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Shooting and selection process – final thoughts

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

01-3

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 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

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(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

Research notes – Hans van der Meer

Hans van der Meer (b 1955) is a Dutch photographer.

In “Dutch Fields”, van der Meer captures football matches of the lower and regional divisions of the Netherlands, an idea latter executed across other European countries including the UK. The original idea came from looking at an archive of old football photos. According to van der Meer…

…”in the archive you could see how radically the photography of football had changed at the end of the fifties…space disappears from the images. In a sport which is all about the position of the players on the pitch, the photographer had given up one of their most powerful weapons: the overview” (1)

Interview with Hans van der Meer – Dutch Fields

Van der Meer makes important use of the background to provide a frame of reference in his photographs of football matches. The players look relativelly small, and although the pictures are printed in large format, the actual play, while still the main subject, is somehow eclipsed by the surroundings which provide not only context to the action, but transform the pictures from sport photographs into lanscapes. The framing in this case is an essential part of the photographic process, and there seems to be a concious decision to add elements to the picture rather than to take, which would be what one would normally expect in “action” photography, where there is a tendency to crop the image to focus the atention of the viewer.

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(1)  Pardo, A. and Parr, M. (2016) Strange and familiar: Britain as Revelaed by international photographers. Germany: Prestel.

 

 

 

Overview of the area

The area comprising the “Square Mile” of the project includes three distinct neighbourhoods. To the north and northwest is Downham. To the south west is Plaistow and to the east and southeast is Sundridge. In the middle of these are separate urban developments that grew out of Burn Ash Lane / Barings Road, connecting Grove Park to Bromley.

Just 100 years ago, most of this are was quite rural. Sundridge was part of a large private state that was sold off in parts at the end of the 19th century. A relativelly small golf club of 9 holes opened in 1903 but has since expanded to now cover two full 18-hole courses, as well as various other amenities including tennis courts. The area around the golf club has developed into very large properties, with expansive gardens both front and back of generously sized detached houses.

To the west of Sundridge is Plaistow, characterised by long, wide avenues flanked by detached and semi-detached properties. Plaistow started to develop in the later half of the 19th century.

Just to the north of Plaistow is Downham, a estate developed by the London County Council in the 1920s to reduce overcrowding in London’s inner boroughs. Downham was built on a former shooting range and farmland, mostly in what was at that time the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham, with some of the development being in the Municipal Borough of Bromley (part of the county of Kent at that time). Over 5,000 homes of different sizes were built, as well as some 400 four-storeys flat blocks. The houses all had back gardens and were generally considered to be of a better standard than social housing then available in London’s inner boroughs. However, better off neighbours from the south of Downham were not particularly pleased with the estate development and successfully lobbied for the construction of a 7-foot wall cutting off access to the Alexandra Crescent road development. Such wall stood in place for about 25 years, only being removed in the 1950s.

Map of Downham – 1934

Alexandra Crescent wall – link

The centre of the Square Mile, where I currently live, was developed in the 1930s, after the Downham estate was completed. In the picture below from 1929 it can be seen as the large farmland area just to the east of the middle.

The London County Council Downham Estate, Downham, 1929 - Britain from Above

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Sources:

Downham (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downham (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Britain from above (no date) Available at: http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/download/EPW028491 (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

2016 (2005) Sundridge park – hidden London. Available at: http://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/sundridge-park/ (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Matador (2016) Gated communities: Class walls. Available at: http://www.historytoday.com/michael-nelson/gated-communities-class-walls (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Plaistow, Bromley (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plaistow,_Bromley (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Research note – Bernd and Hilla Becher

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) were German conceptual artist and photographers famous for their topological photographs of industrial structures. They are considered the main founders of the Dusseldorf school of photography.

The following observations come from “The Long Look”, by Michael Collins.

“They immediately moved up from a Rolleiflex to a plate camera…. to use a camera to take the clearest pictures possible. This quality was largely discarded when art photographers thought that their pictures needed effects – soft focus, high contrast and so on – for the resulting image to be defined as art.”(1)

Fidelity versus art?…but can clear, faithful reproduction, record shoots, be a form or art? How about the creation of artificial spaces via post processing? Is this acceptable as a means to the end of achieving clarity, even at the expense of fidelity?…(see Rhein II – Andreas Gursky, who meticulously removed buildings and people from a picture of the Rhein river for the purpose of a achieving a clear, uncluttered spare  – “Paradoxically, this view of the Rhine cannot be obtained in situ, a fictitious construction was required to provide an accurate image of a modern river.” (2) ).

“The Bechers’ goal is to create photographs that are concentrated on the structures themselves and not qualified by subjective interpretations…that is, record pictures.”(1)

No soul? distance and coldness?…objectivity? – pictures emulate technical drawings, with front and side elevations. They also sought to neutralize the effects of light by taking pictures during overcast days…perhaps the beauty of these pictures is not related to the subject itself or the way such subject is portrayed, but on the capturing of significant detail, allowing the viewer to explore the object as if it were in front of it.

“There is a wisdom and honour in the Bechers’ work which frees them from imposing a conditional reading upon the viewer. The wisdom is the methodology they recognise in the ‘neutral’ depiction of record photography. The honour stems from a principle about not imposing their ideas on other people.”(1)

I relate to the above in the sense that I am not particularly attracted to the kind of photography that may take explicity sides on an argument, but would much prefer the ideas to flow subtly from my view on a particular subject, with sufficient ambiguity to allow the viewer to stand on any side of the argument if this suits them.  However, I believe full neutrality is difficult to achieve in any case because even an attempt to do that is likely to be influenced by our own prejudices.

 

“Of course, their motivations are not invisible, nor their presence unfelt. What does it mean when something ‘rings true’? How is it that one can sense the sincerity in another’s words? Perhaps this lies in the realm of intuition, not explanation. To analyse art is not necessarily to experience it. Sometimes, by focusing on a deliberation of it, one limits the engagement to a cerebral encounter. In the West particularly, we use explanations to try to control the unknown, to make uncertainties certain. Maybe there is a wisdom we have that is not learnt but is within us. Far better to look rather than puzzle, and to open one’s senses to what is there.”(1)

This is an interesting concept, and somehow connected to my previous comment. By neutralising the delivery one forces the viewer to focus on the subject as it is. But is it sufficient to sustain a picture from an artistic point of view? And is this alleged neutrality of presentation in itself a message?

“And when the structures have been demolished and grassed over, as though they were never there, the pictures remain.”(1)

Again, we see the idea of time and photography, although this time it has nothing to do with time series as in Tina Barney’s, but more with the preservation of history. This, in itself can be interpretred as a message from the photographers, in as much as individual pictures may achive a “neutral” point of view, but the body of work as such, including how pictures are arranged and selected, cannot be separated from the photographer’s ideals or points of view.

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(1)  Collins, M. (2002) The long look. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/long-look-bernd-hilla-becher (Accessed: 27 June 2016).

(2)  Quoted from Andreas Gursky in Waters, F. (2011) Photograph by Andreas Gursky breaks auction record. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8883330/Photograph-by-Andreas-Gursky-breaks-auction-record.html (Accessed: 27 June 2016).

Research notes – Karen Knorr

Karen Knorr (b 1954) is an American photographer, famous for her series on wealthy Londoners and for her travel photography.  Her London work started with the Belgravia series.

Belgravia – link

Karen Knorr photographs here her home and that of her neighbours in Belgravia, London. There is a bit of connection between this work and that of Tina Barney, although Karen Knorr does not seem to be following characters either through their life or through time. The characters look detached and distant, sometimes indifferent to the camera and in many cases indifferent to each other.

“…the combination of image and text brings this work is closer to satire and caricature, without losing the strong reality effect specific to photography. The meaning of the work can be found in the space between image and text: neither text nor image illustrate each other, but create a “third meaning” to be completed by the spectator.”(1)

I think it is the text that makes these photographs. Sometimes the relationship between text and photograph is too explicit (like in the case of the maid cleaning her room, or the group of youngsters at the table), but in many other cases it leads to small incongruences that accentuate the the story and the political commentary behind the satire.

Karen followed up the Belgravia series with two similar series entitled “Gentlemen”and “Ladies”

Gentlemen – link
Ladies – link

Like in the case of Belgravia, it is the combination of pictures and text is what really makes these series. It is interesting to see how she sources he texts (from interviews with the models in “ladies” and from newspaper articles in “Gentlemen”). Sometimes Knorr only shows us the setting without people, other than representations in paintings or sculptures. The use of these props creates a great effect in some of the pictures (like the one with the bust of Margaret Thatcher or the one with the young man being seen by two classic sculptures, both from the Gentleman series). One gets the sense that nothing is left to chance in these pictures and that everything is as carefully arranged as possible.
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(1)  Karen Knorr. 2014. Belgravia | Karen Knorr. [ONLINE] Available at: http://karenknorr.com/photography/belgravia/. [Accessed 27 June 2016].

Research Notes – Tina Barney

Tina Barney (1945) is an American photographer known for her large size photographs of family and friends in their homes, doing everyday activities. She uses a large format camera to take pictures, which are all in colour.

Marina and Peter – link

In this picture of “Marina and Peter”, there is a general sense of mess. The wardrobe open at the back and the clothes in the front give an impression of the picture being spontaneous, like not arranged. Yet it surely is not the case. There is a bit of Jeff Wall in these, particularly due to the seemingly unwarranted nature and the large format used. Lots of tension from both characters, which are probably father and daughter.

Marina’s room – link

The picture of “Marina’s room” was taken on the same room as above 10 years earlier, with probably the same characters but a lot less tension. It is interesting to see the evolution of families over time and how they change. The eroding effect of time on both character and places.

The Europeans – link

In “The Europeans”, Tina Barney set out to take pictures of whealty families from various countries in Europe. The pictures were all in large format and had a more formal, arranged approach than her previous photographs of family and friends.

What is interesting about Barney’s approach in The Europeans is how her style, used with family and friends, translates into total strangers. This has similarities to what I am experiencing with shooting assignment 1, as I am not that familiar with the area I am photographing. Unlike her previous pictures, the ones in The Europeans do not have the feeling of candour and familiarity that you could feel in her previous work. There is still that perception of arrangement, of meticulous preparation, but while in previous work one could be left to wonder if the picture was taken casually, in this case there are no doubt as to the formality of proceedings. It is possible that she wanted to convey those feelings, as part of her study of European nobility and wealth, but we do not know to what extent she knew the people being portrayed, and some of the titles, such as “The British Cousins“, leave you with the impression that she may have been somehow related to the subjects. It is this ambiguity that adds to the rigurosity of her approach to result in pictures that feels distinctly more distant than her previous work.