Assignment 1 – Two Sides of the Story

he task for this assignment is to create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story whilst exploring the convincing nature of documentary.

I dabbled with various ideas for this assignment, including an over-ambitious plan to photograph the harsh reality of working in the NHS, against the images of success in the NHS portrayed in glossy publications available for patients to pick up in the outpatient reception areas.  As my tutor pointed out, this was a really broad topic which would have been difficult to provide a coherent and distinct set of images for so I decided to change tact and look for a simpler theme.

My chosen subject for this assignment is: A building wall protects its contents but has no other purpose.   The first set of photographs, set one, seeks to dispel the myth and the names I’ve given to the images are a list of those other uses for a building wall:– Collection, Literary Work, Rebellion, Plea, Art, Shelter, Garden;  whilst the second set of photographs seeks to prove that a building wall is only good for protecting the building’s contents from the elements, burglars etc..  As a minimum, the walls in these images are screaming out to be decorated by street artists in the same way as cities such as Lisbon and Berlin adorn their architecture. I have limited the photograph names in Set 2 to Wall 1, Wall 2, to underline their lack of function, anonymity and character.

I thought that this relatively simple theme would enable me to focus on the specific narrative idea, and allow me to spend less time worrying about achieving the perfect execution. Being static, immovable objects, buildings don’t demand to be photographed at a particular fleeting moment in time, nor do they require me to build any sort of connection to them prior to the shoot; all that was needed was some daylight or available light to ensure the wall was illuminated and not in shade and hiding the details that I wanted to make the subject of the images.  However, buildings, also I’ve discovered, do have personalities all of their own. This allows for some irony in the images if you are also aware of the practical use of the buildings or the inhabitants they house.  I have tried to encapsulate this in the names I’ve attached to the images.  I have also tried to keep the image names a simple list of uses of a building wall.

In terms of one of the aims of the assignment being to stretch yourself I made a concerted effort to move out of my comfort zone and photograph something I’m not usually interested in; architecture. My photography is usually people-based and it’s street photography and portraiture that captures my imagination.  My aim with Context and Narrative is to push myself outside my usual boundaries and hopefully I have achieved this with this assignment.

The next section provides a short explanation for each image taken as part of the Set 1 and Set 2 sets of photographs.  Following that section I have added a summary and some self-assessment notes at the end.

A building wall protects its contents but has no other purpose – FALSE – Set 1

Collectionset-1-1-collection

I drive past this property every day on the way to work and I’ve nick-named it the ‘Gnome Home’. Minus the wonderful collection of precariously perched gnomes, this 60s property could not shout ‘suburbia’ at you any more if it tried. Some days I drive past and there is a white transit van parked outside and I imagine the owner is a frustrated builder, tired of being constrained by constructing soulless ‘living boxes’ on housing estates, his only release being to make his own house come alive by letting a family of gnomes move into the external wall. I also imagine him explaining to his neighbours that the gnomes come and go at will using their own magical powers and without the help of any human-held hammer or nail.    

I like to think this image would be one which would appeal to Martin Parr.  His photographs of British eccentricity always have a clever subtext and he uses of image names are pointed give you a clue as to the point he’s making. e.g. his wryly titled ‘Conservative Midsummer Madness’ depicting the staid garden party.

I struggled with a name for this image, so I thought it would be preferable to keep it quite simple to allow the viewer to reach their own conclusions about the residents based on the evidence in the photograph.

Literary Workset-1-2-literary-workIn 2006 artist Rory Macbeth decided to paint his favourite novel, St. Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ onto an old Eastern Electricity building on Westwick Street in Norwich as part of the EAST International Festival. Utopia is 100 pages long, so the artist worked out precisely where each line must be positioned for the entire 40,000 words to fit on the wall. He scribed it using a pot of weather-proof paint hoisted up in the air on a rickety cherry picker.  “I like expressing the text through graffiti,” he explained, “as most graffiti is utopian – the world would be perfect if this or that were different.”

The building was set to be demolished in 2007 a year after the art work was created, but today it still stands, defiant to the bulldozers and testament that sometimes creative art can lift the value of any building above that of its nominal financial value to something altogether more priceless.  

I purposely kept the composition for this image plain and unfussy with the words on the wall just visible, but including the doors and signage so the previous use of the building was clear. Also I felt that the continuation of the words across the door from the brickwork also had a beautiful persistent rhythm of its own.   

Rebellion
set-1-3-rebellion

This is another example of a building that I pass every day travelling to work. The graffiti on the window of the old video shop similarly to the Gnome Home above, makes me smile.  Rarely in Norwich would you find vicious graffiti composed of inciting words threatening racial hatred or violence, instead, you get a small voice, pleading the local community to rise up against officialdom and take a radical day off work. Maybe the rebel rouser saw his job on the line as the decline in the demand for DVD shops fell sharply with online postal DVD delivery services, maybe it was Amazon that pushed him over the edge?!

I deliberately kept the composition simple again. I like how the yellow of the double yellow lines on the road, mirror the yellow underline under the BLOCKBUSTER signage. The yellow of the graffiti wording also links in with the name of the shop.

I chose the rather obvious name for this image in ironic tribute to my home city which I have often felt rarely, if ever, rises up in angry protest over anything. However, discontent does exist apparently and the wall of the building was used to relay this consternation to the local community.   

Plea
set-1-4-plea

Conversely and unusually for Norwich, an arson attack at a Romanian food shop on the 8 July was thought to be the result of hate crime following the Brexit vote. The windows were subsequently boarded up as police carried out their investigations. What followed just hours later was an outpouring of local support, the boards covering the window space of the shop front being covered predominantly in red hearts and messages of love for the family, assuring them of their valued place in the community and pleading with them to stay in Britain.

The composition for the image was difficult as a car was parked directly in front of the building so I had to photograph it on an angle. Also the midday sun shone directly overhead casting strong shadows and bleaching out the colours of the hearts. I spoke with a Romanian girl who was also photographing the display and sending the details to her family at home. I toyed with the idea of including her in my photograph but decided that it would make an exception to the set of images which are devoid of people physically, but obviously each building wall in Set 1 has been impacted by humans and their emotions in some shape or form.

I like the juxtaposition of the Rebellion and Tribute images within the set. Compared to other British inner city areas, Norwich doesn’t really experience many incidents of violence against buildings (or people thankfully) Brexit seemed to generate deviations from the norm all over the country and this is one example

Shelter
set-1-5-shelter

This iconic building in Norwich has seen lots of uses over its lifetime. It was built on a site where in medieval days at the time of the plague, it was used as a burial pit for the unfortunate victims.  The bright red painted figures of Samson and Hercules originated from two constructed in 1657 to support the then porch for the building that had varying uses: a tax office, a surgeon’s practice and a wool combing business. In the 1930s it became the Samson and Hercules Ballroom. 

 In this image the renovated Samson and Hercules figures appear to be acting as bodyguards for the homeless man asleep in the porch. I like how you need to look closely to even notice him, his existence forming just another texture in the building wall.

Art
set-1-6-art

This row of rather monotone terraced houses is brought to life with the addition of some graffiti in a line across their back wall. To retain the consistency in this set of images, the composition is again simple, the viewer standing square onto the row of back walls. I liked the repetition of the houses giving a rhythm the image as you read it from left to right. Each section of graffiti is made up of its own individual canvass, possibly each designed by a different local artist, contributing an element of their own individuality to make up the bigger colourful patchwork of the row.

Garden
set-1-7-garden

This grand house situated opposite my little terrace house is adorned with gorgeous foliage which turns a deep rich shade of blood red in the autumn. It gives the wall the purpose of providing the plant a base upon which to grow and thrive.  The windows on the side of the house almost seem to shyly peek out of the living greenery and threatened to be swallowed by it.

 


Plea 2
set-1-8-plea2

With the difficulties in photographing the shop front above, I decided to attempt to take the photograph via a reflection in the glass shop front opposite. Whilst I don’t think that this image fits in with the no-fuss way I have attempted to capture all the other buildings, and therefore should not be part of the set, I like how the vibrancy of the window sticks out like a bright beating heart around the gloom of the surrounding area in the reflection. I’ve included this as part of the assignment to show a variation of the shot I considered using. I also felt that this more abstract image would not have fitted in with the others in the set.

A building wall protects its contents but has no other purpose – TRUE – Set 2

Wall 1Office Block
set-2-wall-1

The architecture of this office block is pleasantly balanced and I like how the city planners have added the diagonal row of concrete balls but the wall could be transformed into a masterpiece of vibrant artwork standing alone and framed dramatically by the deep blue sky.  

Wall 2 – Art College
set-2-wall-2

Next door to the office block above is another plain building, ironically recently built as an art college but seemingly with little imagination, almost dampening down the passion and caging in the artistic souls inside its walls.      

 

 

 

Wall 3Garden Centre
set-2-wall-3
In severe contrast to the living wall in Set 1, the wall of this Homebase garden centre has an acreage bland white wall which could have been splashed with a vibrant summer display of blooms by advertising the stores wares. The lighting was difficult when I took the photograph, the sun going down behind the building, rendering the sky almost colourless and the front of the building quite dark. Ideally I should have returned in the morning to retake the image but I didn’t have time that day. As an alternative, I tried to make the best of the image by increasing the exposure which had the result of blanching out the colour in the sky completely, mirroring the bland colourless wall.

Wall 4School Entrance
set-2-wall-4
This beautiful row of terraced houses is positioned opposite my old school, Notre Dame. In Brick Lane in London, this wall would have had graffiti artists competing for glory on it. It could be a space on which to inspire the current students but again it’s let plain unloved and only serving the practical purpose of being an functional external brick wall with nothing to say.

Wall 5Industrial unit
set-2-wall-5It amazes me how we have such a wealth of possibilities for colour (the traditional Dulux colour chart has evolved now to become a chunky brochures, one page devoted to a variety of ‘whites’ etc.), but industrial buildings are generally built in a clinical, steely grey or black.  The great painters of the 17th century such as Vermeer etc. would have given anything for our modern day accessibility to such a vibrant spectrum of colour with which to paint, and yet we only permit functional minimalism to dominate our environment and our cities.   I like the solitary bollard in this image, a single splash of colour against the gloom of the industrial unit.

Wall 5Jarrolds Customer Collection Service 
set-2-wall-6
set-2-wall-6b
The irony of this building will be lost on anyone who is not a local of Norfolk. Jarrolds Department Store in Norwich is an icon of the city, grandiose and occupying a central focal point opposite the market and within feet of the City Hall and old Guildhall. At Christmas the grandeur of the façade of the building is illuminated in an equally over-the-top display of Xmas lights.  Whilst the ‘Customer Collection Service’ building is boarded up and obviously waiting for a new occupier, it is a polar opposite to the department store itself with its glorious frontage and stunning window displays. I feel it’s the building equivalent of putting the shop’s staff-only-allowed stock room on display for all the public.

Wall 6NHS Head Quarters
set-2-wall-7This is a building that I used to work in for the NHS over 20 years ago. It was the head-quarters of Norfolk Primary Care Trust otherwise known as Norfolk PCT. Some would say that its clear decay is descriptive of the state of the service in 2016. Others would also maintain that the back-to-front, inside-out view of the building also resonates with the upside-down focus in the NHS on targets instead of patient care, on saving money instead of saving lives.

The site that this building stands on is a mixture of decaying outbuildings and building units still in service. The boarded up building in this image is meters away from a Mental Health Unit. How assured and invigorated must the patients be taking an early morning walk around the perimeter of the site! In some parts the wall has not even protected the building against intruders as there are holes in brick sections which have now been boarded up to deter further people entering.

I like how the sombre atmosphere created by the weather reflects the decay of the building and adds to the desolation a viewer might feel looking at the photograph.  

Summary and Self-Assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Picking inanimate objects such as buildings and wanting the images to be clear and detailed rather than abstract, I felt somewhat limited me in demonstrating strong technical skills. However I think I composed the images on whole well, but there is lots of room for improvement and I will work on this in the next assignment. 3 / 5

Quality of Outcome

I think that I had wanted to deliberately present Set 2 as a set of banal faceless buildings, and as such I probably succeeded but this is not the photography I enjoy creating. In some respects it really jarred on me. I thought my concept was probably a little lazy also; whilst some of the locations took some research, many were places I was already aware of. The use of black and white to present Set 2 could have further accentuated the difference between the stories, removing the colour as if removing the life in the image, but this would probably be too contrived. I think the naming of the photographs in Set 1 helped me endorse my ideas but I suppose this meant that there was a chance the photographs didn’t stand on their own as a ‘concept’ as images alone. 3 / 5.

Demonstration of Creativity

The images are certainly not imaginative or creative and I don’t think I’ve necessarily started developing a personal voice. I found that it was really difficult to come up with an idea for this assignment, maybe other students had multiple ideas. I hope I don’t struggle like this for the next assignments in the course as I think this might put me off continuing with the course. 1 / 5.

Context

My blog/url https://mary513255cn.wordpress.com/ is not fully updated with recent reading and exercises I did earlier in the year but I will be working on this before attempting the next assignment. I felt that I needed to get some work submitted as I had lost so much momentum by having such a long break from the course. 2 / 5.

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