Assignment One – “Square Mile”

Brief

Make a series of six to twelve photographs in response to the concept of ‘The Square Mile’. Use this as an opportunity to take a fresh and experimental look at your surroundings. You may wish to re-trace places you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or, particularly if you’re in a new environment, you may wish to use photography to explore your new surroundings and meet some of the people around you.

You may wish to explore the concept of Y Filltir Sgwar further, or you may deviate from this. You may want to focus on architecture and landscape, or you may prefer to photograph the people who you think have an interesting connection to the square mile within which you currently find yourself.

You’ll need to shoot many more than 12 photographs from which to make your final edit. You should try to make your final set of photographs ‘sit’ together as a series. Don’t necessarily think about making a number of individual pictures, but rather a set of photographs that complement one another and collectively communicate your idea. You may wish to title your photographs or write short captions if you feel this is appropriate and would benefit the viewer.

However you choose to approach this assignment, it should communicate something about you: your interests, motivations, and your ambitions for your photography. Think of it as a way to introduce yourself to your tutor. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to respond to this brief, as long as you try to push yourself out of your comfort zone in terms of subject matter. Try out new approaches rather than sticking to what you think you’re most successful at.

First Impressions, my initial response to the assignment brief and how my ideas developed

When I initially thought about the concept of Y Fillitir Sgwar. I thought about how your immediate surroundings (the square mile around us) as a child can have an impact on how we are shaped as adults, it rang very true. Children are impressionable beings and different upbringings surrounded by different types of personalities and beliefs will most certainly have a huge impact on that child’s outlook as an adult.

I began to think back to my own childhood. At 7 years old, I moved from Tunbridge Wells to Brighton and have lived here ever since. Brighton is most certainly where my heart lies and it’s my home. I have very few memories, other than the house I spent the first 7 years of my life living in. Whilst, photographing my first childhood home does appeal to me, the practicalities surrounding this could make it quite difficult depending on the house’s current residents. However, this is something I would possibly like to explore in the future.

Brighton is well known as an extremely diverse and open minded city, full of people from all walks of life where pretty much anything goes! You get to be who you want here and very few people bat an eyelid. After you have lived here for a few years, nothing tends to surprise or shock you anymore. This was very much confirmed to me when an elderly Aunt visited for the weekend from a small village in Surrey. To see her shocked reaction on seeing a man in a full leather and rather revealing outfit walked past us with a Pug in a matching outfit. She gasped and I had barely noticed.

I also remember an earlier childhood memory when we had first moved to Brighton. We were taking a trip on the Volks Railway which, at the time, passed the nudist beach (landmarked by the huge pile of shingle so as to hide to nakedness on the other side) On top of this huge pile of shingle, stood a completely naked man. My mother recoiled and quickly forced her hand across my eyes until we were safely out of viewing distance. Now, once a year people ride bikes through the city completely naked, whilst spectators of all ages cheer them on and take photos.

Whilst Brighton has some lovely landscape and architecture to photograph; the piers, the pavilion, the new i360 and many more, taking photographs purely of static objects didn’t sit right with me as it wasn’t my physical surroundings as a child that had shaped me, it was the people. I did, however want to include some of these “reference points” as it were, so that the person viewing the photographs knew the place that they were viewing. The people are the essence of this city and why it has been referred to in previous years as “The happiest place to live in the UK”

Whilst, with my commercial photography work, I am quite happy taking pictures of people. Doing so, without permission, in a more “Street photography” sense, doesn’t sit so comfortably with me and it did take some courage on my part to push my boundaries with this and once I started, I felt more relaxed doing it.

My Inspiration and Influence

I began to study the work of many photographers to find my inspiration. I looked through the works of Tom Hunter and his portrait work of the people who surrounded him when he lived in Hackney. I was especially drawn to his work “Brick Lane” and “Persons Unknown” there is a real grittiness and story behind the pictures in both collections. You get a real sense of emotion and hardship. However, my aim wasn’t to necessarily show such raw emotion and negative circumstance in my photos this time. My childhood was, fortunately, a mostly happy one and I felt it only right to honour this through my style of choice for this assignment.

I began to get more drawn to the candid and satirical works of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones. Martin Parr’s saturated photos gives each one a nostalgic feel and I enjoy his approach in seeking the reality behind the “myth” of the places he photographs. He really gets to the core of the people and places in a very “British” way.

The similarities between Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr were very apparent straight away. However, I was more drawn to Tony’s style, since his earlier works were in Black & White and this was something I had already decided on with my own photos for this assignment. His works had also included photos taken in Brighton, including “Brighton Beach” 1967 “Brighton Pier” 1968 and “Pensioners on Brighton Beach” so it was natural that I was drawn to these particular photos and the way he had portrayed the people in them.

However, I still wanted to include a certain amount of landscape and architecture to my photos, candidly using people around these landmarks to allow the viewer to feel the more humanly emotions rather than to just think “wow that’s a pretty place”. I wanted to try and fit my photos somewhere in the in between of portrait and landscape.

Technical Approach

I used my DSLR on manual with a low ISO of 100 as it wasn’t neccessary to have this any higher (it was a bright sunny day). I kept my aperture wide, as the detail was to be focused on the people and changed my shutter speed as and when I felt it was necessary. This depended on whether the light had changed or I had changed location.

I chose to shoot various shots at different angles, sometimes low down to the ground and sometimes from a standing point.

I mainly used a standard 24-85mm lens and varied the focal length throughout my photos. I was consciously aware that it would be more beneficial for me to use my feet and move to obtain the best shot as opposed to worrying too much about my focal length and remain stationary.

Black and White Versus Colour

In post production I chose to convert my images to Black and White,

I felt that colour was not a key element in my photos for this series, it did not add anything to the story I was aiming to tell with my photos. I would imagine that most photos taken at a seaside resort could benefit from the bright colours that you would associate with what is a British holiday destination. That is, if you were attempting to make the place appealing to visit, it would give the photos a postcard feel about them. This was, however not my aim or message. I wanted the viewer to focus on the individual people and therefore I chose to take away the distraction of colour and allow the viewer to see the subtleness of expression, body language and emotion in the people I photographed.

My Final Selection

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of my weaknesses was apparent to me almost immediately, I needed to be more confident and with a faster approach to taking a picture. At the beginning I could feel my nerves setting in and I lost a few good shots due to my apprehension, which I would kick myself for afterwards! However my confidence began to grow slowly throughout and I feel with a little more hours under my belt, my nerves would soon dissipate altogether.

I believe the strengths to my photographs in this series lie with my ability to find the landmark and wait for the right moment and the right people to add context to my photos.

Individually:

 The “Man by the Kiss Wall”

I would have been stronger had the man been sat alone. I wanted to portray a sense of loneliness to this image as he stared off into the distance with the kiss wall behind him. Unfortunately, he got up soon after this photo whilst the couple remained seated. However, I do feel I managed to portray a sense of deep thought with this man, he seems occupied by thought as opposed to the newspaper in his hand that is held as if he is reading it his eyes are not looking at the page. I would have liked to include all of his feet but this is simply down to a composition error on my part.

“Love Afloat”

I really liked this candidly captured image of the couple by the Afloat sculpture. It’s interesting that the man concentrates on taking a picture of the lady at an angle that does not appear to include the sculpture at all despite the fact they are stood next to it. As with my previous photo “phones and hair” it is relevant to the present time with the use of smart phones taking the image.

“I’d Rather Be Gardening”

I would have liked this image sharper on the man and compositionally I should have captured his hand. However, I enjoy the sense of movement, like he is racing back to be in his garden where he belongs.

“Great Coffee And Cake”

I am pleased with the contrast in this picture. Having a good range of tones, it makes a good candidate for a black and white conversion. The lines of the pathway lead nicely into the picture, creating a depth to the image. I would have liked the bike on the right to be absent from the image and the pathway busier with more people.

“Phones and Hair”

I am pleased with the anonymity of this photo as the wind blows this person’s hair over their face as they stare into their phone. It shows a sign of the times that people are so engrossed in their phones that they seemingly ignore their surroundings. I would have liked to have been slightly further away from the subject to encorporate their entire body and allow more context in the background.

“Get Naked, Western Road”

I was fortunate enough to come across the annual naked bike ride on Western Road (the main shopping area in Brighton) on my way home and of the photographs I took, this one stood out to me. The carefree position of the girl on the bike riding next to a fully clothed man and the clothed people on the streets behind cheering them on epitomises Brighton and the open minded view of the people who live here which is exactly what I wanted to portray in my images.

The images I decided to omit from my final selection following my tutorial:

Originally I included these “landmark” shots in my series as I wanted to make a strong point that this was indeed Brighton I was photographing. However, my tutor pointed out to me that my other photos already portrayed this well and encouraged me to consider my final selection to highlight my original concept that my square mile was based more upon the people of Brighton than the landmarks. After careful consideration, I ultimately chose to remove the following photographs:

 “Lone Boat”

I wanted to draw the viewers eyes to the lone boat in the sea rather than focus solely on the ruins of the West Pier, since this has been done so many times by various photographers. I feel that had the people been closer to me, perhaps sitting on top of the stone bank it would have made it more atheistically pleasing as they would have been in better contrast and stood out more but I am pleased with the way your eye is drawn to the various parts of this photograph.

“Brighton Pier”

This is another photo that focuses more on the architecture, I chose to photograph it from this angle to portray the size. I like the way the structure leads your eye into the image. If you look closely at the image you will see a man leaning over the side with a phone in his hand as a photographer stands opposite to the right of the image, I feel they link the two sides to the image nicely together.

“Space Age Brighton”

This image focuses more on the architecture and the contrast between the new i360 and the victorian buildings that surround it. The man in the foreground was spinning Poi and I would have liked to capture him in action, however I couldn’t quite get the composition that I was happy with. I would have liked the foreground to be busier with more people too. I liked the sense of magnificence the i360 has as it reaches above everything else into the sky.

How I could develop this further in the future

By the end of this assignment I was really enjoying the candid street photography  element and that feeling of being a hunter of images as Henri Cartier-Bresson described of himself earlier in his career. I feel if I practised more my confidence would grow so I would like to continue to develop this in different locations and situations. Brighton has many more areas of interest with various events throughout the year including Pride which is great for capturing eccentricism and acceptance so I will take to the streets during this event. I may even try colour photography next time since Pride is always bright and full of colour.

Contact Sheets

Tutor Feedback

After I had completed the assignment I had my first tutorial. I have presented my tutors comments in italic, These were my overall comments:

“A thoughtful submission that fulfilled the brief and showed some decent potential. Take heed of the following notes and remember your best pictures are ahead of you!”

“Square Mile encourages you to get out there and find subjects. It was heartening to see you attempt to show the influence of established photographers in your submitted photographs.”

We discussed the exercises, important to make notes regarding my process and what I have learnt from each one.

“Your reflections are useful for me you, especially. As you look back you start to build a picture of your own progression.”

We looked at Martin Parr & Tony Ray-Jones we discussed why I chose them to research for assignment one.

“Great that you followed up Parr with his major influence, Ray-Jones.”

It was pointed out to me that my contact sheets should be in colour – I have amended these accordingly.

“To enable us to discuss your progress we need to see your process. It is really helpful to be able to discuss via Skype your choices, but in the first instance show any notes before shooting, your images straight out of the camera and then your selections. Remember, you really can’t take too many photographs.”

We discussed that overall, there is a good amount of detail in my assignment, however I need to expand on why I chose B&W, not just because “I like it” but to put across solid reasons as to why I chose this for my assignment. Again, I have amended this with more detail regarding my choice.

“If it was because of the influence of Ray-Jones, let us know, we need to understand why you might choose monochrome. And it has to have more of a rationale than ‘I like it’!”

We talked about the importance (or in my case the the slight unimportance) of choosing landmark shots in my series. I ultimately decided to remove the landmark shots from this series.

“Viewers are sophisticated, you can intimate Brighton, or ‘British seaside’”

We talked about the documentary “I’m a photographer not a terrorist” something I have watched and is relevant to my assignment, will also remember to include anything that is relevant in the future. I have included the link.

“A really useful bit of research, put down your thoughts on shooting in public, and among crowds etc”

Overall my photos portray my original point well.

“They do, take confidence from challenging yourself to get out there and shoot. There a number of good points to build on here, including your editing and observational skills.”

“With many first-time students I discuss ‘signposting’ – letting readers (including yourself when reflecting) know when and where you have learnt something. So in your blog, highlight references, highlight your thinking (both with and without the camera). Particularly at the early stages of academic study, and especially in the arts, nothing is too small or apparently obvious a detail. A seemingly small development in any one of these assignments (or exercises) could be key to your practice in the future. 

Good to see your thoughts on shoots, other photographers, and edits, reflective writing is the key to learning.

Using the arguments put forward by critics will help you gain understanding and progress your engagement with photography. Which is why its so important to read as much, and as widely, as possible.”

Notes for next assignment “Continue in this vein letting your own interests, feelings and opinions guide your photography. Enjoy it!”

Learning Log

http://foxleyphotodegree.co.uk/2017/07/09/learning-log-assignment-1-the-square-mile/

References

Books –

Cheroux, C. (2008) New Horizons Henri Cartier-Bresson. Thames & Hudson

 

Websites –

  • www.martinparr.com https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Ray-Jones
  • https://www.lensculture.com/articles/tony-ray-jones-tony-ray-jones-1941-1972
  • http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/18429/biography/tony-ray-jones
  • www.shooterfiles.com/2015/06/master-profiles-martin-parr/
  • www.shooterfiles.com/2016/01/master-profiles-tony-ray-jones/
  • www.purdyhicks.com/display.php?aID=10