People & Place

Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

Assignment 3: Progress

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In the end I took photos of all of the places in the shortlist I posted about previously:

  • King’s Cross departures concourse
  • Pickering station coach-building shed
  • Beadlam Grange farm shop
  • Quaker tranquility garden
  • Giessereihalle – converted steel foundry / shopping mall
  • Hotel Negresco ballroom
  • Promenade de Paillon fountain
  • Pickering Castle

I then sat down with 500+ candidate photos and did a couple of editing rounds until I was reasonably happy that I had at least four decent shots of each.

Something missing…

What I struggled with for a while was that I felt very strongly that there was something… missing. This feeling was brought on, if I’m very honest, from the feedback I recently got as part of my Art of Photography final assessment that I need to be more creative/experimental. I spent a good while dwelling on this, particularly in the context of this assignment. How to be creative on an assignment about buildings was something that I had to think about. And being very pragmatic, I reckoned that I had little or no opportunity for reshoots (partly down to time, partly down to the fact that three out of the shortlisted locations are out of the country!)… so I was trying to work within the parameters of what I’d already shot, maybe looking at them differently.

How to connect the places…?

The nature of the brief is that you’re meant to choose a variety of different spaces. However, I always prefer working with some kind of cohesive connection across a set of images, as I think it helps build up an overall message (idea/emotion) that is greater than the sum of the parts. Maybe the context / overarching narrative might be something that I could be more creative with?

So I spent a little time trying to work out at least a sequence of how to present five or six buildings/spaces that had some sort of logic or narrative to it, however tenuous.

A narrative concept emerges!

After a couple of days thinking about the shortlisted image sets, a few thoughts started forming and connecting in my head:

  • What attracted me to the locations? why did I think they’d make interesting images? the space itself, or how it was being used?
  • Who were the building/spaces aimed at, if anyone?
  • Interaction between places and people using them
  • The pics with people in – what were the people like? what did they have in common?
  • Spaces – space and time – time of life – life stages

Walking down the street on a lunchtime a potential narrative thread struck me. It seemed a little tenuous at first but as I though the concept through it increasingly appealed to me.

I realised that the spaces can be partly defined by the age group that I associate with them. And extending that idea a little, I could articulate a sequence of ‘stages of life’ where each of the spaces would be more meaningful or memorable, certainly to me anyway.

EDIT: only after writing all this down did I realise, I’ve been inspired by a book that I’m reading, a novel called ‘With A Zero At Its Heart” [1] that is written in a very unusual structure: it has 24 chapters, each focusing on ten different fragmented memories in the life of an unnamed protagonist, linked by a particular theme, e.g. Work, Love, Objects, Fear etc. The fragments build up into an overall picture of a life remembered. I realised that my ‘storytelling’ approach to this assignment was akin to imagining a chapter called ‘Places’ and deciding which places fitted where in my own personal timeline.

Once I had this thought I briefly considered a much more literal application of this idea, e.g. a primary school, a workplace etc, leading up to an old folk’s home. But that seemed too literal so I went back to the idea that had already formed, of using a subset of my shortlisted locations to tell a story in life stages. “A life in places” or maybe “Places in a life”?

So bear with me, as this sounds pretentious even as I type it, but my thinking is:

  1. The fountains in Nice – playing in the water spray reminds me of being a carefree kid
  2. Giessereihalle – twenty-somethings meeting their friends
  3. Kings Cross – thirties, dominated by work/commuting
  4. Negresco – getting older, starting to appreciate the finer things in life like art
  5. Coach-building shed – easing into retirement, still working but at a labour of love
  6. Tranquility garden – sitting quietly on my own, reminiscing

The farm shop and the castle have been rejected as I couldn’t associate them with any particular stage in my life!

Next steps

What I do need to do is go back through my selected images and confirm my final choices from the point of view of this new ‘lens’ as I think my original selections per location may not relay the overall narrative arc that I’m aiming for now.

Wish me luck…

  1. Lambert, C. (2014) With a zero at its heart. London: Friday Project
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