My chosen theme for assignment 5 is “Disappearing Britain”. The full brief I’ve written for myself can be found here, but the short version is: things you used to see in the past that you don’t see much any more, that are uniquely (or at least identifiably) British.
This is a summary of my progress so far…
I had a few ideas going into the exercise. Not quite enough, mind you. I’m hoping that inspiration will strike as I go along (it has once or twice already).
So far I have taken pictures I’m happy with of:
- Red phone boxes (LOTS of photos of these… keep seeing them everywhere I go… maybe they’re not as rare as I thought!)
- Coal bunker
- Milk bottle on a doorstep
- Cobbled street
- GPO marker post
- Steel dustbin
- Flat cap
I’ve found and taken pics of the following, but would like to go back and reshoot (lighting, composition):
- Rotary dial phone
- Milk float
- Butcher’s shop
- Bingo hall (stumbled upon!)
- Sweet shop display
- Original design Mini
I’d still like to find:
- Pint pot with handle
- Policeman’s helmet
- Rag and bone man
I’m very mindful that all of these objects have been photographed before! The (fictional) magazine article calls for distinctive treatments, otherwise they could just use library shots.
With this in mind I’m working on creative execution approaches – close-ups, almost abstracted yet recognisable visual cues that anyone of a certain age would recognise. I’m aiming for more interesting angles and framing that you might get in existing shots of these objects.
I’m also concentrating on the colours, where relevant (e.g. the red of the phone box) and looking for blocks of colour that typify the subject.
Through a combination of these approaches, I’m hoping that each image will evoke a memory of the subject in question.
Research and inspiration
To get ‘in the zone’ for this project I’ve been revisiting a few books of mine: ‘Portrait Of An Era: An Illustrated History of Britain’ , ‘Britain’s First Photo Album’  and ‘Retronaut’ . These broadly cover, in their own ways, photographic histories of Britain, and gave me some pointers on subject matter. I’ve also been a frequent visitor to the local flea market, antique shops and charity shops! And finally (perhaps least obviously) while I’ve been out shooting, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes From A Small Island’  as this is kind of a love letter to a changing Britain as seen through the eyes of an outsider.
In terms of photographic inspiration, there are four particular photographers that keep coming back to mind:
Saul Leiter, for his painterly use of colour and abstraction
Robin Maddock, in particular his latest project ‘III’ , which is what you might call ‘street abstract’ in style… it’s very different to what I’m aiming to achieve in some ways – it’s US cities, black and white, bordering on abstract and with a specific thematic quirk (all images have a while ball, sheet of paper of milk in them… makes more sense when you see it). The reason it’s inspiring is that he’s reducing a place down to small finite slices and still manages to evoke a sense of the place, which is something I want to achieve – albeit with a different aesthetic
Robert Frank, specifically ‘The Americans’ , for his ability to get over the character of an entire, vast nation with a small number of well-selected images; in a similar way I am aiming to capture a ‘dying’ (or at least changing) national character
Martin Parr, in particular ‘The Last Resort’ , for his eye for peculiarly British details
As a side note, I’m finding that I can be inspired by photographers without wishing to emulate their style; increasingly it’s an understanding of what they were trying to achieve rather than specifically how they did it.
- Gardiner, J et al (2011) Portrait of an era: an illustrated history of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest
- Sackett, T. (2012) Britain’s first photo album. London: BBC Books
- Wild, C (2014) Retronaut. Washington: National Geographic
- Bryson, B (1996) Notes from a small island. London: Corgi
- Maddock, R (2014) III. London: Trolley Books
- Frank, R (2008) The Americans: special edition. Gottingen: Steidl
- Parr, M. (2012) The last resort. Stockport: Dewi Lewis