Part 3 Reflections

Having completed assignment three and had some time for reflection, I thought it useful to write up some conclusions I had from the process and provide some more background for the choice of locations and technique. In addition, this reflection should also reveal the rationale behind the final images I chose for the submission. I have included images I chose to omit to help illustrate some of the thoughts and conclusions I had about the final submission.

*Note that all of the images below were omitted from the final submission and should not be considered as part of assignment three

Ironically I found the most challenging part of the assignment photographing the most mundane locations, i.e. the shopping centre and library interior. Whilst working through the exercises and projects, I had set on a couple of locations for the assignment with quite obvious functions – a fairground and housing estate. What was interesting with the housing estate (Barbican set) was that as I got to know the location better, I began to see more uses and functions. I was also very taken in by its form and architectural design and found myself focusing too much on these aspects rather than the functional aspect of the space. Gradually I became aware that this was pulling my focus away from the assignment brief. The four images I selected showed various uses of the space, whereas those I decided to omit were either too similar to the ones I had selected, or were overly focused on form. A selection of those I decided to leave out are posted below.

Barbican-3 Barbican1

Barbican-5 Barbican-7Barbican-2  Barbican-6

One image I might have included was the park and the person walking across it. It shows part of the residential space of the estate but demonstrates a slightly differing function – a leisure space. This is something that could have been included in a larger project or series, but I decided that it was too similar to the residential uses I had shown in the other images. Also I thought it was perhaps a bit wayward of the assignment brief and was not focused enough on ‘building’ or the idea of a structure. However the idea of a leisure space is something that I found interesting and is an idea that I will come back to later.

The images of the Coney Island fairground I chose to omit were not particularly focused on the idea of a building in use. The ones I had chosen to include were rather a loose interpretation of the brief as well, but close enough to demonstrate a functional structure (for instance the ticket office. Again exploring this location again or one that I would have access to near to where I live would be an idea worth pursuing, perhaps fitting into the idea of a leisure/recreational space. A selection of images I chose to omit for the Coney Island location are below.

ConeyIsland-2 ConeyIsland-3 ConeyIsland-4 ConeyIsland

I felt the images of the outdoor cinema and the people on the benches were too loose an interpretation of the brief. I chose to select one image of the ferris wheel, the two I chose to omit were perhaps again too vague but I did enjoy the rather abstract capture of the roller coaster on the left. It would be interesting to see if it could fit into a larger project or more varied series of images focusing on a leisure/recreational space. Experimenting with visual narrative and finding “visual punctuation” in a series of images is something touched upon by Maria Short in ‘Context and Narrative’:

“It can be possible to achieve a certain pace in the series by using a particular size or shape of image at a key point in the sequence, either as a recurring theme or a one-off.” (Short, 2011, P.106)

Experimenting with narrative and presentation of images is something that I will be researching and attempting to do, certainly for the part four assignment and perhaps in a retrospective presentation of the images I made for the part three assignment. It would have been interesting to present the images I made for assignment three in a less uniform way, for example increasing the prominence of one image by increasing its size or messing with its aspect ratio. Observing the presentation of work by other photographers and how this can change visual narrative is something that I will come back to and research later.

My initial approach to photographing the shopping centre in Stroud can be seen in the images I chose to omit. I had the problem of shooting the complex’s obvious function when I first approached it and the resulting images were somewhat flat and uninteresting. It was after I had walked around the entire complex and saw how it fit into the Stroud town centre that I saw a function besides the obvious use as a shopping centre. The omitted images below show this function whereas those I chose to submit in the finished set demonstrate more creativity and a more interesting visual narrative.

Merrywalks-2

Merrywalks-3

Merrywalks

A takeaway point from this location (and that I considered immediately) is that it is always important to research and consider your location before approaching it. My intention when shooting Merrywalks was somewhat arbitrary, as I was thinking about its obvious function as a place to shop in. After walking around and considering its place within the town centre as a meeting point for young people, I approached the location in a more creative manner and I think the images I chose to submit possess a more engaging narrative for the observer.

This point was also very relevant with my approach to photographing the mills. It was only after I had shot a few frames and had considered how I could create a visual narrative for the audience that I approached the location in a different, more creative way. As I was shooting I found a potential narrative in juxtaposing the modern with the old. I saw the sports car parked under the Victorian railway bridge with the mill in the background, and saw the opportunity to contrast the modern office function with the traditional function of the mill as an industrial workspace. The images I omitted from the submission are presented below, and are devoid of any social/visual narrative I think is present in the set I submitted. Similar to my initial approach in photographing Merrywalks, the first frames I took at the mill are quite straightforward and only really show the original function of the buildings.

stroudmills-2 stroudmills-3 stroudmills-4 stroudmills

To conclude, I feel I approached this assignment in a much more thoughtful and creative way compared to assignment two. I was quite pleased with the submitted images for each of the five locations and I came away with some very useful learning experiences and ideas for future research. Although I have talked about these in the above text, I have bullet pointed the ideas below for ease of future reference.

  • It is important to research and walk around a location before shooting it and to consider how you would present the location in a series.
  • It is useful to ask yourself if there is any narrative present besides the obvious, and if you could approach photographing a location in a unique way.
  • Consider ways of presenting your final images in a set – are there subjects you could emphasise over others? How could you emphasise this within the set?
  • Could you change aspect ratio, size or bring in other visual aspects to achieve a visual punctuation within the narrative?
  • Taking away ideas such as leisure and recreational spaces, and how people interact with these spaces for my work/research in Part Four.

Having already done some preliminary reading for Part Four, these points are relevant learning experiences and ideas to bare in mind for work/research in Part Four. Although I am aware that the research and execution of assignment four may take a while, I am keen to keep up the momentum gained from Part Three and have already begun research for the next assignment and projects in Part Four.

Advertisements
Part 3 Reflections

Assignment three: buildings in use (Set 5)

For the fifth set of images in this assignment, I chose to shoot at the Barbican estate in London. I find the complex an interesting place due to it being a great example of 1970s Brutalist design and still seemingly functioning – at odds with the rejection of Brutalism by contemporary society. It is controversial for many Londoners due to its ugly aesthetic and association with 1970s urban planning. However it is the organisation of the complex and its varied use which makes it an engaging space. I therefore set out to attempt to capture the Barbican’s contemporary functions again using my Rolleiflex camera for the sake of continuity with the other sets of this assignment. I decided to use Fuji Provia slide film in order to obtain as clear scans as possible and also because I thought the muted tones of Provia would be more suitable than more saturated colours of a negative film. I was tempted to use black and white film, but I decided upon colour in order to capture accurately how it is seen by visitors and residents. In hindsight I think I should have used faster colour negative film as the Provia resulted in a lot of blocked shadows and blown highlights.

Barbican6

I shot a lot of images at the Barbican so deciding upon three or four was difficult. The image above shows the harshness of the concrete structure contrasting with the natural colour of the flower beds laid out by the residents. The image gives a strong sense of an overpowering urban environment, but perhaps in defiance of this the residents seek to create their own space on the balconies of their flats.

Barbican9

It is easy to imagine that growing flowers in an environment dominated by concrete gives residents a sense of ownership over the space. I shot the above image looking down onto an underground car park beneath the estate. I did not expect to see signs of residence when looking down upon three subterranean levels of concrete.

Barbican(resize)8

Despite the signs of residence and community on the estate, there were points where I was reminded of its location within a busy part of London. The above image shows part of the complex which is given over to offices and the performing arts centre. The bike path was busy and full of commuters whilst I was walking around, travelling between the estate’s offices, flats and nearby tube station.

Barbican13

The final shot shows an architects’ office with people busy at work. This demonstrates one of the estate’s contemporary uses alongside its original function as a residence for working class Londoners. It’s success as a space seems to be rooted in its continued occupancy by a community of residents who value the flats they reside in, its use as a performing arts centre (one of the largest in Europe) and its occupancy by private firms such as the architects’ office. This set therefore accurately shows the complex’s various functions and how the estate continues to successfully function despite the controversy and divided opinion over its aesthetic and design.

Assignment three: buildings in use (Set 5)

Assignment three: buildings in use (set 4)

For the fourth set of images I focused on a fairground in Coney Island whilst on a trip to New York. This location is quite a loose interpretation of ‘building’, being a collection of temporary structures in use and of course mostly outdoors. However I thought it would be an interesting and challenging place to photograph, and could make for some great images. I chose to shoot at night with 120 colour negative film loaded into my Rolleiflex. I thought shooting long exposures would be an engaging approach in showing how the space and structures are used. Colour negative film is very good for long exposures due to its wide latitude and natural colour reproduction. I had to time my shutter speeds carefully to compensate for reciprocity failure, therefore I checked the Kodak Portra 400 reciprocity charts and made a note of the data before going out to shoot.

ConeyIsland

The first image shows a busy area of the fairground and some of the temporary structures. The long exposure works well here as the group of people walking past the stall on the left is blurred out enough to remove focus away from the people. Instead the viewer is left to observe the structures in the frame. The bright lights, garish decor and temporary structures show us the nature of the space and its use.

LunaParkConeyIsland

The second image shows the entrance to the fairground. I chose a slightly faster shutter speed here to capture some of the people in the frame. The structure on the right is quite obviously a ticket office and I thought retaining sharpness in the human subjects would be useful in showing the function of the building.

WonderWheel

The image above shows a ferris wheel. I chose a much longer shutter speed for this subject as I wanted to capture the flow and movement of the structure. Whilst the resulting image is quite busy with a lot of elements I liked the addition of the family on the left who remained still long enough to appear sharp in the final image. I was quite pleased with the final images and although it was an experimental approach, I thought the results were effective in showing the use of the temporary structures within the fairground.

Assignment three: buildings in use (set 4)

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 3)

Merrywalks2

For the third part of Assignment Three, I chose the location of Stroud’s Merrywalks centre. A shopping, cinema and multi-storey car park typical of 1960s town planning, I walked around the centre on a Saturday afternoon. I aimed to find a function beyond the obvious shopping and cinema going function, and looked to show how the complex fits into the everyday life of Stroud’s town centre. I again selected my Rolleiflex camera with Kodak Portra for natural colour reproduction, and also for subtlety as I was aware that I would be shooting on the street.

Merrywalks3

Stroud is a small market town in the Cotswolds, so Merrywalks is somewhat of an eye sore when placed next to the quite picturesque buildings of the small centre. The complex is so big in comparison that it actually obscures the view of Stroud when you drive in. The construction of the cinema and, much later, the McDonalds saw strong opposition from locals. In the 1970s the Stroud District Council attempted to destroy much of the town’s old centre to make way for further developments alongside Merrywalks. It was thanks to action from local people that much of this was averted but the centre has survived well into the 21st Century despite being somewhat neglected (except for the cinema).

Merrywalks1

The interior of the shopping area in the centre feels empty next to the vibrance of Stroud’s centre which is especially busy on a Saturday thanks to the Farmers’ market. The position of the centre right on the main road through Stroud (and so all the bus routes) and the popularity of the cinema of course make it a natural point of congregation in Stroud. Despite its somewhat neglected appearance, it still retains its function as a transport hub and car park for shoppers and market goers headed into Stroud. Being the school holidays I noticed large groups of school children congregating in the half empty car parks and shopping areas of the centre, a telling sign perhaps of its neglect but also of its position in the town centre and proximity to residential areas and bus routes.

Merrywalks4

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 3)

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 2)

Mill3

For the second set of images for Assignment three, I selected an old mill complex in Gloucestershire. I was drawn to this location by the juxtaposition of two functions, the old function of the building as a mill and its new function as a modern office space. I chose to shoot with colour negative film on my Rolleiflex to retain continuity with the rest of the assignment and also for the natural colour reproduction of Kodak Portra.

Mill1

The above two images show the building in its previous function during the early 20th century as a mill. The Stroud area around the Severn-Thames canal was well known for its mills and the textile industry, and this heritage is apparent thanks to the preservation and gentrification of the old industrial area around the canal. The mill pond above, and the old Victorian railway arches which fly over the mill complex show the old function of the building as a thriving industrial centre in the area. The complex no doubt employed hundreds of people from the surrounding district, mainly working class and possibly quite poor.

Mill4

The final two images attempt to show the building in its contemporary function. The image below shows half of the building’s use as a bike hire shop. The image above provides a neat juxtaposition between the modern sports car and the the complex’s old function. The sports car hints at the demographic working in the mill (now converted to offices) and this contrasts tellingly between the demographic of the building’s workers when it was used as a mill.

Mill2

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 2)

Exercise: The user’s viewpoint (Part 2: on the tube)

Tube1

For the second part of the “user’s viewpoint” I opted for a similar space to the commuter set in the previous part. For those images I shot from the perspective of a commuter on a suburban train. I referenced Tom Wood’s series “Bus odyssey” which he shot over the course of the 1980s-1990s in Merseyside as providing some inspiration for these two separate sets.

Tube7

The key difference between the two sets is evident in the use of the space – the previous user being on the transport vs. the user waiting to embark on it. Whilst they are very similar I found the resulting images to be quite different. I noticed a lot of Tom Wood’s images had unusual and disordered compositions. I took this approach and ideas about perspective – that is shooting from the exterior environment of the transport. I chose the tube station platform and shot through the train window. The shot above and below are when the train is moving. I tilted the frame slightly to create the impression of movement and found that the blur also helped with this sense of movement.

Tube6

I found the results effective in conveying the fast moving train and the function of the space – waiting for the arriving train to stop and catching glimpses of the passengers on the moving train. I quite liked some of the moments I captured, although impressionistic and blurred, they are effective in capturing the function and atmosphere of a busy tube station.

Tube2

Tube3

Tube5

This (like the first part of the exercise) relied on luck and some guess work with composition for example I again relied on autofocus. But I found it a useful and refreshing exercise in putting into practice some approaches I liked from Tom Wood’s series. I would like to experiment with this space and perhaps use different shutter speeds, perhaps using longer exposures standing at the back of the platform, and giving myself more time to explore the possibilities and some different approaches.

Exercise: The user’s viewpoint (Part 2: on the tube)

Exercise: The User’s Viewpoint (Part 1: Train commuter)

Fromthetrain1

For this exercise I selected two closely related locations but with different functions. As I worked on this exercise I made the conscious decision to split the exercise into two separate posts. This first part is from the point of view of a commuter on a train leaving central London. I attempted to capture the user’s view as much as possible and from a few different angles to demonstrate the function of the space. I was inspired by Tom Wood’s 20 year series on bus commuters during the 1980s and 1990s (see my last blog post), and I attempted to employ some of his creative approaches towards composition and choice of subject. I was also aware that I was not going to be able to touch on the same social commentary as he did.

Fromthetrain2

Of course we know that a commuter sat on a train is likely to be sat down and they are unlikely to be standing up much. When they are not sleeping or engaged in some over distraction they are going to be looking out the window. It is these views I was most concerned with when selecting my subjects.

Fromthetrain3

The first three images I chose to present are from the window of the moving carriage as it was approaching a station. I pre-selected the settings (a fast shutter speed, small aperture and high ISO to compensate) and allowed the autofocus to focus for me. Finding subjects was a lot to do with luck and waiting for the right moment, things you need to have when shooting on any street, but on a moving train the decision to shoot has to be made much faster. The results were somewhat inconsistent, but I felt I captured some interesting moments on the station platform. Some of my subjects were in clear anticipation of boarding the train while others were too deep in conversation to notice. Most importantly it is fairly apparent to the viewer that the images are shot through glass and possibly from a moving vehicle as the subjects are not sharp and appear to be moving. The location is clearly a station as well. These shots therefore hint at the function of the space the user is sitting in, and how they passively interact with the space around them.

Fromthetrain4

For the next two images I opted for a slightly different composition. This time the train had stopped and passengers had alighted. This is apparent from the fact that they appear to be walking away from the train and are carrying bags, suggesting they have finished using the space. From these shots the viewer could assume the space is some kind of public transport (due to the suitcases and bags). In terms of framing, I chose to focus on the subjects’ limbs and bags to help better convey the functionality of the space and I left in some of the window frame to help the viewer.

Fromthetrain5

The image below was also chosen to better convey the space. The viewer can see upright seats and a man leaning forward in the row in front of the user. From this it could also be deduced as the type of space you would find on public transport, hinted at from the design of the seats and close proximity of the layout.

Fromthetrain6

The final three images in the set focus back on the exterior landscape. I noticed in Tom Wood’s “Bus Odyssey” series that he not only focused on the interior of the space but also the exterior landscape. In the first few images I had focused on the exterior, but for the final three images I chose to focus on non-human elements. We can see (in order) a lamp post with a sign on, telephone wires and a pylon. Each of the elements is vignetted – I created this effect by using the seat in front and the window frame. I felt this is a view typical to someone travelling in a moving vehicle, particularly on a train or bus. The elements also appear slightly blurred and are also things you would often see whilst travelling in the countryside.

Fromthetrain7

Fromthetrain8

Fromthetrain9

This set of images was an attempt to practice a variety of approaches that I had decided upon in my research prior to the exercise. Rather than attempting to present a linear narrative they are ordered in such a way to show my different approaches in fulfilment of the brief. I enjoyed researching and shooting for the exercise, and I was pleased with the creativity evident in the results.

Exercise: The User’s Viewpoint (Part 1: Train commuter)