Assignment Four: Reflection

As part of the post-assignment reflection, I reworked the images I shot for the assignment into a new series. One of the suggestions my tutor made for future assignments is reviewing how images work together in a set, as well as how things like format and aspect ratio can affect this.

I chose the 11 images below as I think they present a set of images that flow better together than the set I submitted. One of my tutor’s points was that the landscape images appear to have stronger compositions – in hindsight, the stronger images do appear to be the landscape shots as they make better use of their elements, and it might have been preferable to submit shots in the same format to maintain uniformity within the set. However it must be said this is not something to be assumed with every set of images, but keeping the same format is worth considering for future projects. See the reworked set of images below.

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Looking ahead to the final assignment, one of the underlying points from my tutor’s feedback is to play to my strengths. With that in mind I will most likely be composing with the landscape format, unless I go for square crop images. Also points to takeaway from this and put into the process for the next assignment as I start my research are:

  • continue with the observational ‘flaneur’ approach
  • consider printing images (even cheap inkjet prints) when considering what to include in a final set
  • make the brief for the final assignment fit the images, not the other way around
  • consider using a tripod when composing landscapes
  • refine composition and think carefully about how the elements fit together within the frame

I expect my research for the final assignment to continue for at least the next month or so. I will post the results of my research on here as I go along, along with the results of my research from reading the course books and online materials.

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Assignment Four: Reflection

Part Four Research: Brixton (2)

Introduction

The results of my second photo walk in Brixton. Continuing with the “laneur” approach of the previous walk, I shot to gain a greater visual variety and with more focus on the variety of gentrification in the Brixton area.

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The above image was taken in the Brixton arches where a variety of small businesses continue to run. There are proposals to refurbish the arches by network rail, and there are fears from the proprietors that they will be forced to move away. The image itself is a well executed shot, I liked the composition which shows the small retail business behind the man in the foreground, as well as the arches in the background.

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The following image shows “Pop Brixton”, which contains restaurants in restored shipping containers. Whilst it is sign of Brixton’s ‘regeneration’, it is different in that it attempts to foster a community feeling by encouraging local tenants to get involved in start-ups. This will be a location that I will return to, perhaps getting some photos of the tenants and the businesses themselves. It could be an interesting point in the narrative perhaps, showing regeneration that tries to be a positive force in the community it serves.

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The proceeding three images attempt to employ some of the visual approaches specified by the assignment brief. These demonstrate the ‘single figure small’ approach – keeping the distant figure anonymous and experimenting with balance by placing the figure at different points within the frame. I feel the second images works very well, there is a strong sense of movement conveyed to the viewer by the moving figure. I’m not convinced that any of these add anything to the narrative or the brief I am trying to fulfil. It would be interesting to get a similar vantage point overlooking the arches, the market on Electric Avenue or overlooking a busy part of Brixton.

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The next two images attempt to show some more of the arches – perhaps businesses that have been in Brixton for much longer than areas like Pop Brixton or the rejuvenated Brixton Village. The composition is good on both, but is perhaps lacking in visual variety and it is difficult to see where they would fit into the narrative. I will also return to the market next time to document some more of the businesses and local people.

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The image above is from within the rejuvenated Brixton Village, once a local fruit and veg market but now hosting a huge array of cafes, restaurants and bars. The epitome of this change I thought was encapsulated by the appearance of the French champagne bar (right opposite one of the fruit and veg sellers still clinging on). I thought a diptych or sequencing this image with the “I miss my Brixton” graffiti photo I shot on the previous post would be an interesting narrative.

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Photographing some of the residential areas around the main retail and going out areas has also been an idea. Photographing some of the estates under threat of demolition – for example Loughborough Park where the Guiness Trust Housing Association is located – could be another interesting angle to introduce to the narrative. Contrasting this with recent developments containing less affordable housing could also make for an interesting contrast.

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The final image in this set was taken on the Electric Avenue. I haven’t really photographed much around here so I will return again and try out some new angle perhaps focusing on the local businesses. The shot above attempts to convey some of the chaos of the street, whilst also experimenting with balance in the frame. I felt this could have been stronger without the woman encroaching on the left, but otherwise the composition feels safe despite the messy street.

Conclusions

I felt I was more successful in documenting the variety of gentrification going on in Brixton, and I think a couple of further ventures experimenting with composition and visual variety will produce a great workflow to select the final 12 images from. The locations I will return to (and visit for the first time) include:

  • Pop Brixton
  • Electric Avenue
  • The Arches
  • Brixton Village
  • Loughborough Park (and the Guinness Trust)

Shooting this assignment on digital feels like the right choice, considering the approach I have taken to documenting the Brixton area over a few visits rather than one or two. The flexibility of a zoom lens (28-70mm) with a high performing ISO camera is also very convenient. I will stick with the traditional 35mm aspect ratio, and perhaps take full advantage of the ISO flexibility by shooting a few shots of the area at night.

Part Four Research: Brixton (2)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Part 3 Reflections

Assignment three: buildings in use (Set 1)

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The first space I chose to focus on for assignment three was the British Library building in London. The library was built in the early 1970s and from the outside looks a fairly unremarkable architectural product of that era. I chose to use my digital camera with a 28-70mm zoom lens to retain some versatility towards shooting the space. I was also apprehensive about not having enough available light to shoot with so wanted a high ISO performing camera.

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The first photo above demonstrates a clear function – that the interior is set up primarily as a workspace. There are books and reference collections but upon entering the building the most striking feature is the organisation of the space into areas for work. There are alcoves and desks which are well lit for study, and the open area in the foyer is very well lit by natural light. When photographing the main foyer, I set out to show how the use of natural light, the floor tiling and the white walls give it a fresh and open feel – an inviting area to study in. All the images aim to show people using the space in the function it was designed for.

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The final image above looks into the building from a different vantage point. The camera looks away from the natural light of the main foyer and into the interior. This space has a very different feel, for example the alcoves and desks are artificially lit. Despite the absence of natural light, the artificial lighting is pleasant and ideally suited for study. The desks are positioned away from the main walkways to minimise distraction for those at study. This set shows both sides of the interior of the library and successfully shows how the space is organised into a functioning workspace.

Assignment three: buildings in use (Set 1)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Inspiration: Tom Wood “Bus Odyssey”

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While researching possible angles for the Part 3 exercise “From the User’s Viewpoint”, I had the idea of shooting from the viewpoint of a user of public transport or a moving vehicle. My tutor pointed me in the direction of Tom Wood, a British photographer who created a series of images whilst on buses in the Merseyside area during the 1980s and 1990s.

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When examining the series one of the most striking things is the changing nature of the environments, that is the interior of the buses he was shooting in, the exterior landscapes, and the changing styles and fashions of the people occupying his frames.

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Another thing that I noticed was his creative approach to composition. This creates strong visual interest and there is a somewhat chaotic, busy feeling the viewer gets from the images. The above example with the tilted angle of the bus creates a sense of movement and conveys to the viewer that the bus is on the move and not a static object.

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He not only shot people inside the bus but also subjects passing by outside the bus (as the last image sample demonstrates). The interplay between his subjects and the reflection in this image is something I will consider for my own set of images for the next exercise, as is the variation in composition and viewpoints. As is exemplified in Tom Wood’s series, mixing up you approaches keeps the viewer interested and demonstrates creativity and thought on the part of the photographer. Whilst I may not have the time to show changing social dynamics as Tom Wood has done through his series as he was shooting over a long period of time, I am looking forward to putting into practice some of his techniques and creative approaches for my own images.

Inspiration: Tom Wood “Bus Odyssey”