Assignment 5 Background

where?
north or south bound?

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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From Assignment 4 – A lovely place to sit and contemplate

 

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.

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Part 5 exercise 5.2 Viewpoint

Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central square, and write down everything you can see. No matter how boring it seems or how detailed, just write it down. Spend at least an hour on this exercise.

Here are some areas to consider:

  • Can you transform this into a photography version?
  • Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?
  • Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get your tripod out?
  • Would it be better in black and white or colour?
  • Would you include your list with the final images?
  • You may choose to turn this into a photography project if it interests you.

 

I chose to take advantage of the lovely weather and go to sit in Princess Gardens in Torquay.  It is a pedestrianised area that sits in the town centre next to the harbour and most people use it to walk from Torquay to the amenities of Torre Abbey, the bars and restaurants on the seafront and the main leisure centre as well as the hotels nearby. Writing everything down took time and slowed everything as it was impossible to write and watch at the same time.  It is interesting to just sit and watch as it is something that most of us do not do as a habit.  It is a dying art of just being rather than doing.

Exercise 5.2

ScanScan 2

After about an hour, I took my camera (compact and phone) and wandered round the area looking at the physical things that were in it – the fountain, the cenotaph, the Princess Pavilion and the Big wheel.  I also took time to consider the people using the space.  It was busy and all ages were there, from babies in pushchairs to old people in wheel chairs. From the cradle to the grave, and lots of young foreign students who come to this area to study English.

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From my seat on the wall, panorama left to right
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From my seat on the wall, panorama right to left

Would I transfer this into a photography version.  I suppose I did that to a certain extent by snapping some items that I had seen. I took a series from where I was sitting in a panorama, then moved to get closer to some of the buildings and zoom in on some details.  It was a surreptitious capturing of people passing by using my phone so that it would not seem so intrusive.  Most people are now used to phones being on display and being used as a camera.  It was more interesting to capture them passing by unawares than trying to get them to perhaps stop and pose, not that I would anyway as I am too timid to do that.

Torquay is a colourful town and the day was bright and sunny so colour works better than black and white – the blue and white striped deckchairs, the blue sky, the colours on the old fashioned merry-go-round and all the summer clothes.

I wrote descriptions of the place around me and how people appeared to me passing by so it would add context to the images if that was kept with the photographs. The wheel is a big part of the area as it arrives in April and leaves in October, and is prominent on the seafront throughout the summer.  It has become part of Torquay now.

I quite like trying to catch people as they walk by and so the phone comes in handy to do that.

There was also the chance to get closer and use a wide aperture to get shallower depth of field, something that I have been looking at in my photography recently.  Taking smaller features and focusing on them when taken out of the bigger picture can be interesting.  It allows closer inspection of a detail that you may overlook otherwise.

I quite enjoyed doing this exercise as it forced me to slow down and look around me, taking in what was happening and making decisions about what could be important and what could be left out. The constant flow of people was interesting to watch, the range of ages and their ability to traverse the area.  There were babies in pushchairs and older people using wheeled frames for steadiness to people in wheelchairs. It was good to see the life in the town in the sunshine, and gave hope for the coming summer season.

 

Part 5, Exercise 5.1

Exercise 5.1 Traces of Life without People

For this exercise, I did what I usually do which is go out with my phone in my pocket and see what comes my way that suggests the signs of life without people being in them.  This works for me because I am better at finding things that interest me to capture rather than over thinking it and trying too hard.  I suppose that in the back of my mind I had the notion that there is a lot of evidence of people through the things that they leave behind whether intentionally or not.  While doing photoshoots for the last assignment, I noticed that more and more people are leaving flowers taped to benches or trees to signify that they are remembering a person, whoever they might be, and particularly where there is a view of the sea.  So I have included a couple of those as well as recent ones of the same things as they make up a set of similar images.  There are others that are more random as I snapped them as I walked along, one dog walk through the woods and back along the street, the other while out doing the next exercise on looking, in Torquay.

My approach to this sort of photography would be a casual one, looking out intentionally for things that are similar;  in this case, flowers taped to a bench or tree.  Remembrance.  Then sometimes I like to photograph all the graffiti I see on walls and in doorways, and this is something that I have done all over the world from my hometown to wall art in Hong Kong.  I also like to use my phone as I like the square format, it’s a personal preference and probably harks back to me remembering the photos we took when I was a kid on the instamatic camera.  That’s probably where I got the photography bug as I was always interested in taking snaps on holiday.  So I use the camera on phone, I don’t actively seek these things out but I keep an eye open and I like to use an app called Retrica that uses filters, my current favourite is a natural looking one but the contrast is harder rather than softer.  I like this app because it has more control over the light in it which can be useful when taking photos in very bright light.

Here’s the one I did on graffiti, which is all about not knowing who did it or sometimes what it means to the viewer:

This is the selection that I did on my usual dog walk from my home to the woods and back along the roads:

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Finally, the flowers on benches:

I could go on with this project as this is something that I am interested in, the idea of absence and I touched on it in Assignment 4 with the theme of love, loss and homesickness.  I think that this last set of images of flowers attached to benches is tied up with our sense of who we are and where we come from, and how important it is to retain the connections to people and places once they may have gone.  Some do it through flowers on graves or at favourite places, some do it through celebrating birthdays or anniversaries of those people who have gone.  Personally I think I do it through taking photographs of the places that I go, the things that I see and the memories that they bring up on seeing them again, particularly if it was a good time.  They are my aide memoire and it can be bittersweet when a photo of one of my parents comes up as they are both now gone.  But then a load of photos I took on a holiday to see my sister in Australia last year come up and it is brilliant to go through and see what inspired me about the places we visited.  They are my connection to the place that she lives and so informs something about myself too.

Interesting exercise, and maybe could be a pointer for where I go for the final assignment.  At the moment, there is no inspiration at all so this will be a good jumping off point.