This is how I felt about this assignment….
It was a difficult start to this one as I felt that I had used up all my creativity in Assignment 4. I realised that I was over thinking it and went back to the beginning to revisit the idea of that assignment. I suppose for me personally the past couple of years has been taken up with the issue of losing my dad and what that means in terms of who I am, where I come from and losing the history both his and ours that came with his parenthood. No longer can I ask him something about when he was young, or when I was young.
Among the abortive attempts was one on music – my friend owns a recording studio and does work with other musicians. There were possibilities but nothing that strongly spoke about identity or place, even though for Steve it is his life and work. Time was not on my side and it was difficult to arrange convenient times to make other visits to add images to the bank of ones that I had.
Another was on the journey on the M5, a physical journey as well as a metaphorical one as I was born in Birmingham and now live in South Devon, but I travelled up and down the motorway over 30 years as I also lived at stop off points along the way including Bristol and Gloucestershire. I had been looking at William Eggleston and his road signs as part of the course work, and I was interested to see if anything could come of the road south with the numerous big blue signs, and the keeping right all the way down. While the initial idea was alright and it was interesting to me, I think it was too personal and did not say much more than I travel a lot.
On my many walks with my dogs around the area in which I live, there are numerous benches and nearly all of them have commemorative plaques on them in memory of people who have passed away. Some of the benches have bunches of flowers or plants attached, some full bouquets, some just a small bunch from a supermarket but the common thing is that there are flowers in a way that would have been put on a grave. These benches are the new graves and they can become very personal. There is a tree on the edge of Paignton Green that is regularly covered in flowers, ribbons and messages as it is the way that young people remember a young man who died after a tragic accident. The more I saw them, and not just around here but when I was in Brighton recently too, the more that it struck me as a way in which we have moved away from having burials and graves, and with those things a place to visit to have a connection with the people who have gone before us. Why do we need what is effectively a public display of remembrance when it is a very private thing. The plaques mean nothing to those who don’t know them, they are just names on benches and often of a past that is further away all the time. 1912? Over a hundred years ago, a different lifetime ago. The flowers are the traditional way of expressing emotions from love to grief, we have flowers for births, deaths and marriages, flowers for birthdays and special occasions and it is always a pleasure and a surprise to be given flowers as they are special. There is a temporary nature about them as they last a short time, a bit like we do.
I photographed many different versions of flowers from close-ups to larger displays, from fresh to wilting to fried in the summer sun. I tried taking the same bunch and photographing it on a series of benches. That did not work out as I thought and did not add anything. I also tried adding a polaroid style photo to the bench so it was an artificial bunch of flowers to see if that changed how it appeared. Another version was with ribbon and handwritten notes on the photograph. None of these really worked effectively, although some of the individual images were pleasing aesthetically.
It occurred to me that perhaps what was missing was the human interface, something to humanise and personalise each plaque on the bench. Who were these people, what had they done, why was this place so special? I talked to a friend who had a bench in memory of his mother who passed away about 15 years ago to find out the motivation behind it. It meant more to him at the time because his children were very young and it was about having somewhere that they could go that his mother had enjoyed as well as a physical thing to see. However he had never put flowers on it, he did not see a need. It was more about the place, of having somewhere to go to contemplate. I felt he was describing an anchoring of ourselves in this place while feeling as though there is a connection to those who are in another world.
The problem then was how to combine all these ideas into an image as doing a still -life type of arrangement had not worked, not to mention that I felt extremely silly walking from bench to bench with a bunch of flowers and a camera. There was a feeling that I was somehow invading this private space and yet it is a public bench in a public place, but the issue of grieving and death has changed to be more in the public eye rather than behind closed doors. I decided to try combining the different parts in PhotoShop with mixed results to begin with as my skills are very basic.