Two sides of the story
This assignment is designed to give your tutor a feel for your work and won’t count towards your final grade if you decide to have your work assessed. However, the assessors may wish to see it so that they can gauge your progress across the course.
Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. The aim of the assignment is to help you explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not in fact be true. Try to make both sets equally convincing so that it’s impossible to tell which version of the images is ‘true’.
It might be interesting to consider the project as evidence for a court case. What conflicting stories can you make your images convincingly tell? Would it stand up in court?
Choose a theme and aim for 5–7 images for each set, depending on your idea. Discuss this with your tutor.
Here are a few ideas:
- You could interpret this brief by showing the same scenario from two different angles. Does this alter how we read the situation?
- You may wish to create an alter ego by using snapshots of yourself or a friend. This could involve photographing them in two very different and potentially conflicting personas.
- You could make a parody of a dating website profile picture. Create different versions of the same person looking completely different in each one. Which one represents them best and how can we know?
- Or you may prefer to use your own take on the theme. However you choose to interpret the brief, ensure the images are candid and ‘taken from real life’. Be experimental and take some risks. Perhaps you could make a list of ideas and choose the most challenging or absurd option to stretch yourself.
- Send your sets of images to your tutor by the method you’ve agreed. Include an introduction of 300 words outlining what you set out to do and how you went about it. Also send to your tutor the relevant pages of your learning log or your blog url.
It’s good to get in the habit of printing your work so try to send prints to your tutor where possible. This is not obligatory but will help when it comes to assessment. Developing your prints in order to achieve the best results is a long process so it’s best to start now.
Initial ideas and planning
Whether it is the right approach or not I had been giving some serious thought about the assignment for some weeks before I needed to make a start on the work. I looked at the options within the brief and had broadly set my mind upon the idea set out in the first bullet point of ideas for this assignment. Namely to interpret the brief by showing the same scenario from two different angles. Through this approach I felt it offered the possibility of exploring whether the differing viewpoints altered how we read the situation? This seemed to me to be a good way to consolidate the learning of part one of the course and in particular to consider how images form a narrative and how the photographic process can control, indeed manipulate what the viewer draws from an image or set of images.
I had some initial ideas and used a mind map to plot them out, below are some scans from my notes file.
To assist in decoding my scribble the core themes are based around using a stark contrast of some sort to establish/emphasise a potentially differing view point.
Pastoral /Industrial, being an exile in the rural flatlands of East Anglia there are some sharp contrasts to be found between the collective ideas about the beauty of the countryside and the reality of a very industrial landscape that is pressed to its limits at the hands of large international conglomerates. I thought there could be some interesting opportunities with this theme. Timing wasn’t going to work for this though. In a another couple of months the peace of where I live will be disrupted by the mammoth machines that take from the soil (which I think would make a good project), but I need something sooner.
Day/Night offered a simple way to consider a place at different times of the day, town or city centres for example take on a different form during the day to how they are at night. This I thought was a simple but perhaps effective theme with some potential
Wealth/Poverty is a bit of a well worn track but I was struck by the news that several new food banks are to open in the seaside town of Lowestoft not far from where I live. The town’s past fading former grandeur has been a theme I have explored in the past. I thought I might contrast the seafront and holiday makers spending money, with the run down town, boarded up buildings and high level of rough sleepers.
Clean/Polluted was another contrasting theme that i thought a possibility. I work in different places in east Anglia and many of the larger towns and cities have rivers running through. Rivers can tell a story, one of leisure, beauty, pastimes such as boating or fishing. Additionally some of the rivers I am familiar with have issues of pollution, refuse being dumped in them and issues with agri-chemical run off getting into the water courses and rivers. I thought this had some potential as an idea too.
Having developed these potential themes I sketched out a bit more detail, in particular some specific locations and localised themes that might be used. Below is another page scanned from my notes.
After some further thoughts I decide to settle on the Wealth and poverty theme. In part because I felt I didn’t have enough time for the pollution them and because th time of year was not quite right for the industrial perspective on the land, serious harvesting won’t start where i live for a noter couple of months yet. The night and day theme remained a possibility, but I had been in Lowestoft recently for work I noticed the crowded promanade and thought this might be the most prudent purely from a timing point of view. Particularly with a looming deadline! and
So I further developed the idea and again I have included below a scan from my file notes.
How one idea leads to another
In preparation for the assignment I visited the location and began to plan and scout out the ideas for both sides of the story. I spent some time in the town of Lowestoft itself photographing decay and dereliction, in particular there were lots of shops, pubs and restaurants closed and boarded up, some covered up as if wall papered with very dated ‘fly’ posters advertising events that had long passed. There were also quite a few rough sleepers in the town. I have to confess to a sense of unease when taking images of such individuals, it is hard not to feel like I am exploiting them. I have no inhibitions about street photography and will happily walk up to strangers and take a photograph, it is much more about my sense of the innapropriate with people who are experiencing hard times and whether this is a suitable subject to make images off. I know from a photo documentary perspective I need to work through this issue though
I also spent some time on the seafront in the town, near the pier and on the long east facing promenade. I made some images of the crowds, people buying ice creams, doughnuts, fish and chips, in essence people spending money. I have always really liked Parr’s (2008) work ‘The Last Resort’, through looking at Parr’s work I discovered Ray-Jones and find his 1977 work: ‘A Day Off’ utterly inspiring. My images were far from the content of either of these two works and I realised this as iIwandered the promenade with my black box and lens.
Inspiration perhaps comes at strange moments. I sat on a bench watching the seaside visitors pass by me. People of all types, wealthy (judging by clothes, although this is perhaps stereotyping) less wealthy, people of different cultures and ethnicity, people of different ages, couples, families, a steady two way stream that was a microcosm of the British.
I sat for about an hour not taking a single image, just watching. It was whist doing this that I noticed something that caught my eye and imagination. There were a number of couples with a child and they seemed to be oblivious to where and what the child was up to. This is not unusual maybe, but I was struck by how young some of the children who were being ignored were. I chose not to take pictures of families ignoring their children. In part because of the difficult and potentially contentious nature of the subject.
I started to count the number of times I saw a child I judged to be less than 6-7 where parents were oblivious to the slow progress the child was making along the promenade. occasionally a parent turned and called or shouted to the child and they then caught up with their parents. Although not true of the majority of families with children I witnessed, I did see a significant minority of relatively small children being ignored.
I felt it inappropriate to make images of children being ignored by their parents given the potential for this to be miss interpreted. There is boundary that where I believe photographers need to be rightly cautious about.
I also thought about press reports of children going missing and this gave me the idea for the narrative I might explore in this assignment.
Although some way from my original thoughts and ideasI felt I had hit upon an interesting narrative to explore. I then set about planning a set of staged images showing the world from the viewpoint of a child and the viewpoint of a parent. I thought. I sketched out some thoughts and ideas and then decide upon a shopping trip seen from two perspectives.
Getting the imagined child’s viewpoint right need some thought. In my own work I predominantly use cameras with waist level finders and thought this might assist. Needing to do the work digitally, I managed to borrow a camera with a tilt screen on the back that in effect mimics a waist level finder. Securing and authentic child’s physcal viewpoint was achieved keeping the lens of the camera at a relativelly consistent height above the ground. After some thought I created a simple ‘plumb bob’ using heavy bolt as a weight , a length of string and a camera trip socket securing screw. the type used to run a strap through the cameras tripod bush. Calculating the height was done by looking through the family archive of photographs . I used images made when my now 18 year old daughter was around 6 years of age. Measuring where her eyes were on some of the images against objects of known height allowed me to arrive at a height of 31″. The plumb bob was then set to this length in order to maintain the lens of the camera at this height. Children will stretch up and bob down at times but using this simple all be it inelegant device did allow a good degree of consistency in the viewpoint of the child.
I then set out making the images, around 400 were made across two days and it is from these that I settled on about 50 for final review and selection. This edited set was then further edited down to what became the final tutor submission.
My notes and final selection are set out in the next part of the assignment page on my blog.
Boothroyd, S. (2014) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley
Parr, M, (2008) The Last Resort, Dewi Lewis Publishing, London
Ray-Jones, A (1977) A Day Off- An English Journal, Thames and Hudson