BA (Hons) Photographic Arts
Major Project 1
Major Project Title: Long Sutton (Working Title)
During the first stage of my project I have used research methods such as visiting exhibitions, looking at photographers work both online and looking at photobooks, as well as historical. When looking at exhibitions such as the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, Illuminating India at the Science Museum and Thomas Ruff at the Whitechapel Gallery have informed me of different ways of presenting work from portraiture to documentary. They have each shown me how different kinds of work can be displayed on the gallery wall, which is how I will present my own for the Final Major Project. Especially Thomas Ruff’s exhibition of his work from between 1979-2017 it’s interesting to see how different types of work can be shown in different ways, from very small prints, several all in a row to large-scale prints, but only two or three. Using space wisely is going to be very important for the work so it’s important to begin thinking about how the work will look if it’s printed small or large.
Researching photographers work has enabled me to develop the approach I will have with my project, especially social documentary photographers as everyone has a different approach to their work. I found Dylan Collard and his project Ages of Us particularly helpful due to all the different methods he used to display and inform people of the work, by creating a website dedicated to the whole project showing the film, letting people listen and read the transcripts from his conversations with people. It was also helpful to see the types of questions he had listed to ask each person when taking the photographs, as this is an aspect I am going to develop in my own project. I’ve also through researching photographers and their methods of working have read advice on how to approach a social documentary and taking portraits in a truthful way. This came from Laura Pannack who wrote that the main aspects which are important in her practice were time, trust and understanding.
Through researching photobooks, it helped develop my project because it made me realise that in the space of time I have and due to the type of film I’m using I probably won’t be able to gather over a hundred images for me to be able to fill a book which I am happy with. I would prefer instead to develop it over time and maybe make a book in the future instead.
Through the development of my pilot project, I have been able to develop my skills with using a large format camera. I had not used one since my first year of university so it was very helpful practising by doing the pilot project with the camera. This also made me sure that this is the medium I want to use for the final major project as I realised that I will be able to do it. To begin with, I used a digital camera and I also used a medium format camera but the detailing and the images produced are not the same because neither requires a tripod, so it’s easy to just take a snapshot rather than spending a long time composing an image. It did, however, allow me to explore different areas whilst I was home for a short period to test what areas I may want to photograph when it came to landscape locations. Because of the heaviness and slight difficulty with getting the camera places this enabled me to have some areas found and decided on without having to carry the camera to unnecessary places. Through the pilot project, I was also able to practice with location lighting and making sure that it is something I will want to use instead of trying to use natural lighting. As I will most likely photograph subjects in their homes this was the simplest solution to not having any limitations to where I could photograph in people’s homes or any location suitable. With the large format camera, the tripod, the lights and their tripods there is a lot of equipment to be moved, but luckily with a trolley and being able to use either public transport with wheelchair access and a taxi service I could travel with it within London. However, as I will need to get it all to Long Sutton which is an hour and forty minutes on the train I didn’t think it would be possible to get it all onto the train without causing disruption to other passengers. Alternatively, I have been able to arrange it so I will be able to use a car. It has been very helpful being able to learn from different experiences and different ways of trying to get the equipment to various locations to see which is the easiest. Space was also something I learned about as everyone’s home is different and the sizes of the rooms will be different, this will be a challenge, but I have been able to set everything up effectively in small rooms already. Another thing I have learned which I will need to look out for is if there are plugs available as the lights need to be plugged in. The main concepts which will direct my project will be portraiture and landscape, I will be able to develop these aspects even further for the final major project due to the work I have already done that can be improved.
Audience and Context
In relation to context and audience, I have thought about what differences I would find depending whether it was seen on a gallery wall or a photobook. What interested me about the photobook was being able to have the photographs printed out physically and having an order, but also being able to provide information and text along with them to further explain the project rather than it all being on a website only. Having a photobook, however as Mark Neville put it, photobooks sold on the art market end up on middle-class coffee tables. The kind of audience who would buy a photobook is different to that who would look at it on a website but is perhaps similar to who would go see it in an exhibition. When looking at the photobook and the gallery, instead of photography going straight to the wall, it began to be presented in a book first, beginning in 1843 with Anna Atkins self-published photograms of algae. Before photography was accepted by museums and galleries the photobook was its main form of expression, able to show it to the world. In 1858, the first photography exhibition was held in a museum by the Photographic Society of London and consisted of 1009 photographs. In terms of the photobook, I thought of my work in a more structured way, and more refined and intimate having something to hold rather than seeing it just on a gallery wall, or on a website. It also seems natural with the history of photography that this seems to most natural way to present it, however, in reflection I decided this was best to do later. Having them printed and on a gallery wall was the first way of presenting I thought of for the degree show, and with context, I think it will work well if the description is worded correctly and the images are presented in the correct way. With social documentary, I think it can be presented very simply as the context is the most important part of the work, and the audience will be able to connect to it personally, even if less time is spent with it. I have also thought about how context and audience would be changed if it was seen in a magazine, or newspaper as these two probably have different audiences, and I think it would be an effective way of seeing the work as it is a form of entertainment to see a brief part of people’s lives.
Production and Presentation
I began my exploring by using a digital camera, this allowed me to be able to experiment with different styles easily without having the cost of film. However, the problem I have with using digital for projects is that the images I take are more like snapshots, and not as well thought through regarding composition because I basically have an unlimited number of pictures I can take. Another aspect which I thought was helpful by using digital was deciding whether I wanted to focus more on colour or black and white as I can make this conversion in post-production, I could also do this using colour film but digital seemed a quicker and easier way to test this. I also used medium format, a Mamiya C220, which is a twin lens reflex camera, this is another camera which is very lightweight and easy to carry around, but by using a film camera I notice that I slow down when taking pictures and they’re not so rushed. What I didn’t want for this project, however, was the square format, and I also wanted better quality. This then led me to large format which out of all the production methods I had tried seemed the best choice as not only does it connect me to my subject and audience more, it slows down the process and gives me the quality I want. Using this method has enabled me to refine how I want to approach the visuals of my work, which is very simple even though all the equipment including lights takes up a lot of room it’s all easy to use and I like how traditional the process is. I think this approach to the work also is effective in communicating documentary and traditional themes presented in my ideas, especially with the historical aspect of Long Sutton as a town.
Visual References / Bibliography
The key visual references I have found in my research process have been Martin Parr and his project Signs of the Times: a portrait of the nation’s tastes, Mark Neville and Port Glasgow, The Airmen by Michal Solarski, My Last Day at Seventeen by Doug DuBois and Bhutan – In Pursuit of Happiness by AJ Heath. I found Martin Parr’s work useful during the research process because of how he composes and presents his work, I learned how a series of images can be coherent, even when both portraits and details and still life are also shown, and how text can be entwined with the work. It’s been one of my main inspirations on why I wanted to record and ask questions with my subjects so when I eventually make a photobook I will be able to use it to further show elements of the people and images involved.
Mark Neville influenced my idea of wanting to do a project based on a town, I learned how the way in which you present a project based on an area can be taken out of context when people outside of the community witness it. The Airmen influenced my idea mainly visually, and I learned how to use people’s spaces effectively, but also how historical images can be shown with it to give background to the work. I also thought that having text which includes stories would be an effective way to include some of the conversations I have with residents in the description for the degree show. My Last Day at Seventeen showed me how really getting involved with a community and spending a lot of time with residents can be a very effective way to be able to portray a subject in an original and creative way. Lastly, AJ Heath’s work also inspired me visually, especially when working in different locations it was interesting to see how he used the space to project the theme of globalization, showing both the traditional and modern aspects of it.
I have also done some research on Long Sutton’s history to further understand what the town is all about, looking at two books made by the Long Sutton & District Civic Society.