Category Archives: Personal Projects

The Silent Generations

The Royal Horse Guards Training camp in 1906. These man would go on to become The Old Contemptibles in 1914. My Grandfather, Alfie Tomlins, is in the centre of the back row.

The Royal Horse Guards Training camp in 1906. These man would go on to become The Old Contemptibles in 1914. My Grandfather, Alfie Tomlins, is in the centre of the back row.

A thought struck me when I was finalising assignment 5, three men, who all served in different wars, feature in my photo essay. The main character in my narrative, Fred Grover, was a veteran of the Crimean war, my Grandfather was one of the “Old Contemptibles”, the regular army who held off the German advance in 1914 until a volunteer army could be sent to France, and my Father was with the RAF on both Battle of Britain and later Bomber Command stations.

All three must have been deeply impacted by what they saw but, apart from very superficial remarks, they never really discussed the horror of war. They came from generations that required their men to be the strong silent type, it would have been unmanly to talk of their emotions and, one might think, that staying silent, pushing their memories to the darkest corners of their minds was part of the way they dealt with their war service. War films about the RAF would make my father cry but the only stories he ever told were about the good times, never about the horror he was a part of.

I was reminded of this thought again today when I saw that Time Life *(1) has launched a project to explore the profound effects of war through the stories and photographs of surviving veterans of Korea, Vietnam and WWII. The project has only just started but they have shared the stories of two men on their website who could not cope and who were damaging the relationship with their families without realising that they themselves were damaged.

For my generation most of our teachers and fathers were veterans of WWII and many of our grandfathers had been in the trenches. Based on what we now know about the psychological impact of war we must assume that their minds were full of demons. The Time Life project may encourage some surviving veterans to tell their stories but the three men mentioned above died too long ago to benefit. Other than where they were and when I know little of my Grandfather’s and Father’s wars and wish that I knew more of their stories so I hope the Time Life will help other children and grandchildren understand better what their forebears sacrificed.

Sources

Internet

Time Life – #TIMEvets: Share Your Stories and Photos of Inspiring Ventrans – http://lightbox.time.com/2014/10/19/timevets-share-your-photos/#1

Photography as Archeology

Fig. 01 The Old Dairy Weydon - 1/100 at F/18, ISO 1,000

Fig. 01 The Old Dairy Weydon – 1/100 at F/18, ISO 1,000

For 6,000 years we have built structures, places to live, to keep us safe, to work, to store the product of our labours, to preserve our ideas or to give structure to our beliefs, to remember our ancestors and commemorate our successes. For much of that time we have made durable things, weapons for hunting, attack or defence, tools to ease our labours, vehicles to transport goods and people, and for a myriad of other purposes. Since the first farmers stopped following the game herds and selected a place to settle in the landscape humans have changed that landscape by collecting raw materials, by farming, by building and by scattering the things we made.

The things we build start with clear structures and purposes but as civilisations evolve our creations lose their purpose and their structure. Nature is always waiting to reclaim every element of every thing we make. We might stave her off for a few years, a few generations or a millennium but eventually she degrades and degenerates everything. Some objects settle into the landscape over time and we come to terms with their demise to such an extent that, as ruins, they define or are thought to beautify the greater place in which they stand but others sit defiantly ugly, never able to gracefully decay, remaining as eyesores, a blot on the landscape. Some temporarily find new life but time will tell and the greatest of our achievements eventually become dust.

Archeologists seek out these abandoned structures and objects to document their existence and to study their context before nature removes their trace. We mostly associated this science with the distant past, the discovery of something that is lost, the process of putting flesh onto the bones of history but all around us there are structures and things in the early stages of their demise, the abandoned buildings and discarded objects of the recent past that might become the archeology of the future but more often are cleared to make way for the next great idea. The documentation of these recent relics can be as compelling as an episode of Time Team, in each building or discarded object there is the history of people, of failed dreams and social change, of seismic shifts in our politics, habits and desires.

Assignment 5 has taken me back to the houses, villages, heaths and woodlands of my childhood and in searching for the past I have found shadows of my generation and the generations that preceded me. I have captured some of these with my camera.

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Photographically these objects offer interesting subjects but I find myself torn between using the saturated colours that I love, black and white graphic representations that remove the distraction of colour or desaturated and muted colours that might offer the best of both worlds. I was mildly critical of Tong Lam’s Abandoned Futures because I felt there were too many inconsistencies in his style and that this made his narratives slightly disjointed and I envy the certainty of style that can been seen in the work of Stephen Shore or Josef Koudelka who, I assume, never question whether to change their colour palette or, in Koudelka’s case, lack of colour.

There are examples of colour and monochrome being used together in a single presentation, David Bailey worked in both mediums and his Stardust exhibition showed his colour and black and white work, if not side by side, at least in close proximity. Irving Penn’s Still life includes examples of both and there is the sense that he moved freely between them. Most recently I visited Russell Squires’ Landings Exhibition where panoramic landscape photos in colour alternate with square format, black and white, intimate landscapes. These examples don’t necessarily set any precedents and the reasons that each artist mixed media in this way might need to be more carefully considered at some later date. At this stage and for these photos from around Farnham, I am switching between desaturated colour and black and white based on the approach that best suited each specific subject. A few months ago I conducted a similar study in Turks and Caicos and selected saturated colour as the approach that best suited the subjects and the warm Caribbean light. I may subsequently review this work and criticise myself for the lack of a consistent style.

Revisiting Josef Koudelka’s Wall – in 1944

River Jordan 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

River Jordan 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

For assignment 5 I have been looking back through old family photographs to find pictures of the village in which I grew up. Whilst doing this I came across my father’s photos from his service with the RAF in North Africa from 1941 to 1944 and was struck by the coincidence that many of his shots from 70 years ago are of the same landmarks and in similar places to the landscapes in Josef koudelka’s Wall *(1) which I reviewed a few weeks ago. I was very moved by the bleak story Koudelka tells of the human and environmental damage caused by the building of what the Isreali government calls the “Separation Barrier”.

Someone will have composed a more authoritative before and after than I can achieve using the holiday snaps of a RAF corporal enjoying a few days of relaxation in what he called the Holy Land. Dad was a religious man and his choice of subjects portray his excitement in visiting the places from the Bible. Some have been printed 170mm by 110mm and these have scanned quite well but many are only 80mm by 60mm and these have lost definition in the scanning process. Many are surprisingly good, beautifully composed and carefully exposed, surprising because I don’t have any particular memories of him using a camera until he retired and purchased an SLR to take on post retirement trips abroad.

I wish I could show his and Koudelka’s photos side by side but instead I will do my best to describe the differences and leave it to any interested reader to seek out images from the Wall to complete the picture (Magnum Photography is a useful source). Wherever possible I have scanned in my Father’s photos with the hand written descriptions from the pages of his album as these form part of the story. Overall they show a rural world that had changed little since Biblical times and I’m quite certain that he was intentionally highlighting this point.

Rachel's Tomb 1944 - Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Rachel’s Tomb 1944 – Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Rachel’s Tomb was the photo that started off this chain of thought. This is said to be the third holiest site for Jewish people and is situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The structure in the above photograph was build over the tomb around 1620 by the Ottomans.  It features twice in Koudelka’s series and in neither case can you see the above structure, I believe it still exists but it has been completely enclosed by a fortress, guard towers, soldiers and barbed wire. In Koudelka’s photos we see the huge concrete walls that have been diverted as a salient into Bethlehem to surround the tomb.

River Jordan & Red Sea from the Wilderness of Judea. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst 1944

River Jordan & Red Sea from the Wilderness of Judea. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst 1944

River Jordan Fishermen 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

River Jordan Fishermen 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Koudelka tells us that “most of the Jordan valley and Dead Sea is designated as “Area C” and is reserved for the use of the Israeli military.” He shows derelict buildings on the shores of the sea behind a wire fence with a tank track in the foreground.

Bethlehem From the Shepard's Field 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Bethlehem From the Shepard’s Field 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Cana of Galilee 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Cana of Galilee 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Koudelka says “Increasingly Palestinian farmers can only access their farmland on the de facto Israeli side of the wall with special Israeli issued ” visitor permits”.

 

The Good Samaritan Inn 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

The Good Samaritan Inn 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

The Good Samaritan Inn is 12 miles east of Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. Koudelka’s photo of Nabi Musa which the Arabs believe to be the tomb of Moses is just 6 miles further East. The comparative features are the absence above of what appear to be tank tracks and the barren landscape in Koudelka’s photograph. Whilst not mentioned in my father’s caption I am intrigued by the Arab man in the foreground who appears to be sighting a rifle.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 1944. Photograph by Norman Middlehurst

I can’t see the walls of Jerusalem in Koudelka’s photographs but there is an interesting contrast above with his ariel shot of East Jerusalem. A rural landscape outside a medieval city is replaced by urban sprawl and a modern concrete defensive wall separating low rise Palestinian housing from high-rise Jerusalem.

The Toc "H" lancers Outside the Golden Gate 1944. Unknown Photographer.

The Toc “H” lancers Inside the Golden Gate 1944. Unknown Photographer.

The final photo I have chosen speaks of gentler times. I think this is my Father’s unit enjoying their leave in Jerusalem. Dad is the 4th military man from the right in his RAF cap.

Sources

Books

(1) Koudelka, Josef. (2013) Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Landscape 2008 – 2012. New York: Aperture

 

Photographs to Represent an Academy

ContactSheet-001 ContactSheet-002 ContactSheet-003

The Academy that kindly lets me help with their GCSE and A level Photography students asked me to take a set of photos that could be used as a slide show backdrop for prize giving day and that represented the various departments in the school. Art and photography is not represented as the Head of Art has plenty of her own photographs.

I spent a very enjoyable hour wandering around the Academy selecting subjects. Some of the results are included in the contact sheets shown above. All of the photos were taken with a 105mm prime lens because the Head of Art wanted fairly abstract designs and they were all lit with a single off-camara speed gun with a small cold-shoe soft box attached to diffuse the light.

A very useful exercise to undertake whilst building to assignment 4.

A Small Study in Grey

A Small Study in Grey 1 - 1/60 at f/13, ISO 100

Fig 01 – A Small Study in Grey 1 – 1/60 at f/13, ISO 100. Lit with 2 x speed guns set on manual. 45 degrees left and right, both in cold shoe, soft boxes

A Small Study in Grey 2 - 1/60 at f/13, ISO 100

A Small Study in Grey 2 – 1/60 at f/13, ISO 100

Just testing lighting scenarios.

Exercise 30 Light Through the Day

Fig 1 Bentley Hampshire 1/90 at f16, -0.5 stops, ISO 100

Fig 1 Bentley Hampshire 1/90 at f16, -0.5 stop, ISO 100

Pending a day off work to coincide with bright and clear weather from dawn to dusk – I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, just like the BBC test cards I will post four pictures taken at Bentley in Hamsphire whilst walking the dogs on Sunday evening.  They have no deep meaning, just a celebration of the English landscape.

Fig 1 The Well, Bentley Hampshire 1/90 at f13, -0.5 stop, ISO 100

Fig 2 The Well, Bentley Hampshire 1/90 at f13, -0.5 stop, ISO 100

Fig 3 Bentley Hampshire 1/180 at f13, -0.5 stops, ISO 100

Fig 3 Bentley Hampshire 1/180 at f13, -0.5 stops, ISO 100

Fig 4 Bentley Hampshire 1/180 at f16, -0.5 stops, ISO 100

Fig 4 Bentley Hampshire 1/180 at f16, -0.5 stops, ISO 100