Exercise 1.5: Visualising Assignment Six – Transitions

On reading this assignment brief my first thought was that I don’t want to simply chart the changing seasons or the growth and decay of plant life – I am more interested in looking at human impact on the landscape over a prolonged period. Two bodies of work that I have previously reviewed came to mind:

  • Simon Norfolk‘s “Time Taken” (1) – a video installation (seen at Format Festival 2015) containing images from Afghanistan which chart the changing seasons in a very picturesque way, but also show the impact of both war and natural disasters on the region. The interaction between nature and society in these images is what makes them fascinating.
  • Michael Marten‘s “Sea Change” (2) – images of the same scene at low and high tide – the images that struck me most were those where the use of the landscape changes with the tides i.e. those with human involvement

My first thought was to chart a building project, but that feels more like a documentary project and whilst it would be interesting, I think that this opportunity is better used to look at incremental changes in a place over a lengthy period. Various possibilities came to mind:

  • there is a beautiful old home in the centre of town which has been empty for as long as I can remember, despite several planning permissions for redevelopment. It has a “haunted house” feel about it, with nature taking over at times but with occasional tidying up by the owners when it gets out of hand. I think it could be interesting to see this interaction between the building, the land, and the owners over the course of a year (or however long it takes before the site is finally developed). Access is from the high street, so the only risks are either that it is hoarded off or that development commences – though in either case that could build into the project.
  • there is an area of woodland behind my house which is sandwiched between a main road and an area of dense housing – it is publicly accessible but very rarely used. I’ve always been fascinated by it, and although I’m not sure what I might find there I’m keen to experiment.
  • I’m interested in what the front of people’s homes say about them, and I can visualise an interesting project photographing a block of flats with balconies, watching the changes on the balconies over time. I think I have something like Gursky‘s “Paris, Montparnasse (1993)” in mind, but technically that would be a challenge without a tilt-shift lens or a very tall ladder. However there may be angles that could work – there is a relatively new block of flats in town where many of the balconies are currently empty (and the walls are very shiny white) so there is good scope for change.
  • At the start of I&P I photographed a tombstone of a “Martha Pocock” – no relation as far as I know but nevertheless I was drawn to it by the name. Tombstones of a significant age are obviously subject to only very tiny changes over time which might make it an interesting subject – but what I thought might add to it would be to place some flowers once a month, then return a week later each time so that I am also making my own intervention into the landscape and watching it deteriorate.

I trotted off to take a few quick test shots of each of these locations – as all are close to my home I feel that I could pursue them all for at least a couple of months before making any decision, but I do need to set myself some parameters in terms of precise location, angle etc, plus times of day and regularity, and I hoped that the test shots would help with this.

Site 1 – Haunted House

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There are lots of interesting features here – it looks to have been quite recently tidied up judging by the length of the grass, but nevertheless the dandelions are taking over making an almost attractive feature of the path. The tree leans precariously across the front door, whilst the builder’s sack on the left hints at the possibility of future work. The scale of the path demonstrates that this used to be a grand building. I could simply replicate this image once a month and that would make an interesting project, though it would be a good idea to find a time of day when the sky is less bright – as far as I am aware the building itself is always in shadow because of neighbouring buildings but I will return early in the morning to double check. The positioning here was straightforward – stand in front of the gates and photograph at 18mm (the widest on my standard lens – I have a wide-angle lens but I don’t think it would add anything here).

However, I think I would like to explore the details more, whilst retaining the basic shot as a sort of skeleton to the project. I took a number of other shots that give more colour to the nature of the building:

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For the time being (and subject to my tutor’s comments) I am going to pursue this as my primary project: it is an interesting building, it meets my aim of considering both human and natural impacts, in particular the way we allow buildings to deteriorate, and it is simple to access.

Site 2 – Woodland

There is something about the proximity between this area of woodland and the main road that I find fascinating. From my test shots I didn’t take away any clear idea or any particular shot that I would like to replicate, but I am going to continue to shoot in this location to see if something begins to emerge, if not for this project then perhaps for another. There is a potential obstacle in that the area is pretty much inaccessible in winter because the sloping paths become treacherous, but a pair of waterproofs and a willingness to slide down might suffice!

Site 3 – Flats

transitions test fivetransitions test four

I realised when taking these shots that although this is an interesting idea in theory, it is almost impossible to find an angle that would allow the detailed comparison of balconies over time, in part because I can’t get high enough to approach the balconies straight on, and in part because surrounding buildings and trees are going to be in the way. In addition the images would have to be printed in extremely large format to allow consideration of more than one balcony – and one alone would not be very interesting. For this reason I have decided not to pursue this idea any further.

Site 4 – Tombstone

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I’m drawn to this idea because it has the most personal connection – although in theory there is no connection that I know of, there is something in a name that gives us a link to a particular place. I’m not entirely sure that my intervention in the landscape is within the scope of the assignment so I need to run this aspect by my tutor, but visually I think this could be a simple and strong concept which deals as much with the unchanging nature of a place as with its changes, and which evokes ideas about memory and through that the nature of photography as a means of triggering and preserving memory. I don’t want to get too caught up in such theorizing as that has been a weakness in previous assignments and tends to confuse my concept so I’m going to stay simple for now, but with an awareness that these issues do potentially pervade the work and will need addressing towards the end of the project.

This leaves me with two clear projects to pursue for the assignment: my haunted house and my tombstone, plus a third location to continue to explore. As the first two are within 100 yards of each other and the third is behind my house this feels entirely achievable.

(1) http://www.instituteartist.com/project-Time-Taken-Simon-Norfolk (accessed 6th April 2017)

(2) http://www.michaelmarten.com/thumbnails.php?gallNo=2&catNo=2 (accessed 6th April 2017)

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