Assignment 5 – Reflection

Fig. 03 The Common - 1/200 at f/16, ISO 200

Fig. 01 The Common – 1/200 at f/16, ISO 200

I have very consciously left a number of weeks between finishing this assignment and reflecting upon it. I felt it was important to give myself some space to consider what I had and had not achieved.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Technique: There was nothing radically new in terms of my photographic technique, I did attempt to move away from the saturated colours that I prefer and used a more subdued palette. This was to avoid any sense of creating a travelogue, I was not trying to promote this village and wanted it to be seen for what it is, ordinary. I took most of the photos during a sustained period of good weather and this inevitably meant that a number of shots are a little more postcard than I had intended.

The techniques used to present the assignment are where I have broken new ground. Using a typology to bring together the cottages and houses that formed the shared landscape between the old Surrey labourer and me was a new approach and one that I felt appropriate and I was pleased with the result. If the project had started a few months later I would have used Joachim Brohm’s idea of photographing all the buildings under a neutral sky to create greater uniformity between the images but this proved impractical.

The steepest learning curve was in laying out a magazine article of this type. If I had chosen to use photos and dummy text or much less text it would have been easier and I realised that it is a two dimensional jig-saw puzzle to balance the images and edit the text and to do both within a restricted space. It also showed that photos had to be chosen for content, shape, size and visual variation so when constructing a narrative the best photos do not always lend themselves to being included. These factors meant that I had to re-shoot a number of the images and to collect more in some cases. If I started again now I would have a much clearer idea of what was going to fit into a layout.

Observational Skills: The project became an investigation and, at times, I had to become an architectural archaeologist to spot buildings of the right age and to find the buildings that Sturt described as being part of Grover’s life. I spent many hours walking round the village and I believe that my observation skills did develop as the weeks went by.

Visual Awareness: I hope that I saw and photographed the subjects in interesting ways. This is a very ordinary place but I wanted to express how important it is to my history and how it fitted into the broader social history of Surrey. To achieve this I had to treat the subject matter as important and photograph it with as much skill as I could muster, my intent is classic “banal” photography – making an ordinary subject important by treating it as such.

Design and Composition: I am disappointed by the overall layout, the design is unexciting and when I tried different approaches – pictures at angles, more white space and unusual balances – it looked forced and I return to a conservative layout. The process shows that page design is a difficult skill in its own right. Having said that I believe I achieved a balance page by page and used the old black and white images effectively to maintain the two, sometimes three, timelines of the story.

Quality of Outcome

Content, Application of Knowledge: The intent was to use as much of the knowledge acquired during TAoP and bring it into this assignment. This might not be particularly evident with the photographs but I set out to incorporate influences from a wide group of photographers –  appropriation (Burgin and Fox) , typology (Brohm and the Blechers) , the use of multiple timelines (Germain), how to contextulise photographs with text and captions (Jones Griffiths, Lam, Koudelka) and depth of research and understanding of the subject (Freeman, Jones Griffiths, Tod Papageorge).

Presentation: The presentation might be unexciting but I believe that the story is coherent both in terms of the text and the photographs.

Discernment: The links between the characters are quite obscure so the challenge was to bring these people together into a single story against the background of a village’s history. I believe that my thought process was insightful and that I did connect the pieces together into a narrative that had not previously existed.

Conceptualisation: The original idea was lurking long before I started but it took a lot of thought to pull the idea into a coherent narrative. The challenge always lay in the length of the story, a hundred years between the labourer arriving in the village and my starting at Grammar School and then another fifty years to the present day. I had to find a way to pull this into a single narrative with different but concurrently presented timelines. It may not be a brilliant idea but it was incredibly difficult to plan and present so I was pleased with the conceptualisation process.

My tutor was immensely helpful in suggesting, on a phone call, that I looked for the sprit of the labourer and this idea led to finding, what I think are, some of the best links like the schoolboy walking past his cottage – just as I had done every day 50 years ago- and the cattle on the common – a sight that he would have related to.

Communication of Ideas: I recognise that some might say that it is meant to be a photo essay and that the extensive use of text is inappropriate. I considered this at some length and was ultimately swayed by something that Jones Griffiths said along the lines that we are living in a literate society so why attempt to tell a story without using the most easily understood form of communication. The text became very important and I wanted to test how words could be used to expand upon the pictures, not to explain them, not to describe them but to build upon the visual ideas. I felt I achieved this to some degree.

Demonstration of Creativity

Imagination: I wanted to avoid looking at a single event, or a day-in-the-life, or to mimic an old school Life Magazine article so it felt as if the extended history of a place across many decades using old and new photos was a little different and therefore reasonably imaginative. In some ways it would have been more creative to discard the idea of a magazine all together and to design a photo book which is probably the natural home of narrative in contemporary photography but, in the end, I decided to stay within the sprit of the assignment and target my article at a specialist magazine such as British Archeology which would use this type of approach, albeit it in a more sophisticated manner.

Experimentation: As previously mentioned I tried out a number of new techniques and approaches (typology, appropriation, combining text and images) plus the whole idea of a magazine article was in itself experimental for me.

Personal Voice: If there is any progress in this area it probably lies in the use of text and images. I was very comfortable with this approach and, to some degree, it built on assignment 3. I see myself taking this further over time so it might qualify as beginning to find my voice.

Context

This whole assignment was totally reliant upon research, collecting appropriate influences and moulding those influences with my own ideas into a single project. I set out to produce something that was supported by careful historical and photographic research and felt that I achieved that goal.

The work is strongly contextulised in terms of the practitioners that I researched and found relevant but it was equally important to look at a number of other forms of narrative that were unlikely to influence this particular piece. I believe that I am building my skills in terms of considering the work of established and not so established artists, finding inspiration and influence where appropriate and leaning how to look beyond the images on the page.

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