assignment 5 – narrative


75 Years After – Installation View; Hibbert Road, July 2015

In this final assignment imagine that you are about to illustrate a story for a magazine. You have a cover to illustrate, and several pages inside (create between 6 and 12 images – you can choose). Even though there may be no text, you should write captions (of any length) to explain and link each picture.

The cover picture will need some of the techniques of illustration that you have been experimenting with. The picture essay will be more of a narrative. This means that, as you will be using several photographs to illustrate the main body of the story, you will have the opportunity to spread the load of the story telling among them. Different images can deal with different aspects of the subject, or you might choose to insert a linked series of photographs that show something happening in sequence. Remember that some of these photographs will be seen together on the same pair of pages. You can use this to set one image off against another; sometimes the juxtaposition of two appropriate images can be telling.

AoP Coursebook

First, before the shouts of “RTQ, Chirgwin! RT bloody Q!” begin, I should say that it was a conscious decision, discussed with my tutor, to move away from a straight illustrated story for this assignment.

Quite reasonably, he pointed out that it was better to take risks, and not worry about assessment marks now, rather than in a few years’ time when hopefully I’ll be making a start to level 3 of the BA and the marks will count for more than a simple pass or fail. The idea of following a path suggested by Steffi Klenz’s body of work Nummianus seemed to give me scope to tell the story while paring the clues about what was happening back to a minimum.

At any rate, I am quite pleased with the results and think that it works as a narrative. It could even work in a magazine as a series of double page spreads, but I’m not sure which magazine would run it.

75 Years After

The hard copy of this assignment (nine 128mm x 102mm Digital C-Type Prints joined with masking tape into an extendable concertina, seen above stuck to the bomb shelter at the bottom of my garden) is the bit I’m most excited about; I still need to do some work on the online presentation of the sequence – the slideshow below is not quite satisfactory, but I haven’t been able to work out how to get  the pictures to flow sideways, like the long opening shot of Goddard’s Weekend (1967). No doubt there’s a widget, or I could write some javascript, or something, but for now, I’ll leave it – like far too many photographers’ sites I have viewed recently – as another slightly flawed online presentation of photographs!

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I have tried the print version of the sequence out on a number of people now and they all have “got it” which is gratifying. It has been interesting listening to the variety of comments it has aroused – ranging from thoughts of how present bomb-sites were when people now in their 50s were growing up to the way you don’t notice the signs of bomb damage all around you, and more abstract comments of how nice it is to be presented with something physical rather than something on a screen. I think it would be interesting to make larger prints for display (like the Nummianus installation views) and to maybe try another few roads as well. This would lead to something that could go on as part of the annual Walthamstow Art Trail, possibly.

Also, the more I have looked at them, the more I have become aware that there is also a second, softer narrative to be found in the pictures: each individual instance of the two types of house pictured would have started off pretty much identical (there are variations in the Victorian Terrace, but even so, the variations repeat as you go down the street) but now they all are different – doors have been changed, and windows; some of the attics have been converted and had windows let into the roof tiles; 65 has had monstrous things done to it; there are solar panels and there is pebbledash. Individual people have made their mark on the street and that is as significant as the bomb that fell 75 years ago. As well as being a story about death and injury, it becomes a story about life going on and progress and rising house prices and so on and so on. The sequence can also serve as a typography of houses in the street.

Notes on the Pictures:

fig. 1 – A contrail dividing the blue ground of the sky into a 2/3:1/3 composition. Attached to the right-hand side of the string of prints, to wrap back round and seal the “book” when it is fully folded up. When the string of prints is unfolded, the back of this print is visible, which is why it is folded under and not visible in the header to this post. The typed label was made with a manual typewriter and stuck to the print; it contains enough information to allow the viewer to make sense of the whole. “1 H.E.” refers to the single high explosive bomb that fell on Elmfield Road; the numbering of the houses (47-61) suggests a mistake by whoever recorded the damage for the Borough Council as close inspection of the remaining numbers show that number 47 – if damaged – was left in a repairable state while number 63 is missing.

fig. 2-9 – A sequence taken around 17.00 on Sunday 14th June with me 6 foot up a step ladder using a Nikon D50 with a Nikkor 1:2.8 24mm manual focus lens. ISO 200, 1/200″, f8 (underexposed by about a stop to prevent the highlights in the sky blowing out). Contrast was reduced in Lightroom by pulling back the highlights (a lot) and upping the shadows (a bit) and then upping the exposure by one stop. White and black points were also adjusted. The frame was then cropped to 5:4 as this seemed to give the best section of the street per picture, although possibly something even squarer would have been better for the Victorian Terraces as more sky would have been included and the TV aerials wouldn’t have been cut off, but it wouldn’t have worked as well for the wider, lower post-war houses in the gap. I have tried – and generally succeeded I think –  to make each of these pictures a pleasant composition of horizontals, verticals and quadrilateral shapes as well as working in concert with one another. The slight chaos at the junctions between 3 and 4 and 7 and 8 is intended to accentuate the change from original to bombed and back again without being too heavy handed about it.

fig. 10 – a composite made from 2 acquired images: the google earth view of Elmfield Road and the famous picture of a Heinkel 111 bomber over the Isle of Dogs, taken by an anonymous Luftwaffe photographer on the 7th of September 1940. Isolating the aircraft was a relatively straightforward selection in Photoshop Elements, it was then pasted onto the google earth picture and rotated so the direction of the sun matched. I slightly reduced the saturation of the background shot and added a small amount of gaussian blur to match the bomber. The intention was not to make a convincing fake, but rather to link the ‘then’ with the ‘now’ in the picture and in the sequence as a whole. If I was going to make larger prints of the pictures for exhibition in frames, I would probably definitely need to seek out higher resolution source images, and be more scrupulous about the edges of the bomber. Online or in the smaller prints I had made for presentation, I think it holds up. Just. There is also the question of whether its inclusion is just a bit unsubtle, really; I suspect the narrative would be apparent without it, but have left it in for now.

Finally, I took this picture showing clearly the gap between the original and the post war houses, but decided that it both disrupted the flow of the pictures in the sequence and was not necessary to understand what was going on in the narrative. I include it here though as I quite like the view through to the parallel street behind.



2 thoughts on “assignment 5 – narrative

  1. Judy Bach

    A great response to the assignment brief , a really interesting topic too . I particularly like your hand made ‘book’ (can’t think how else to describe it ! ) . Although I always print my assignment pics I haven’t tried making my own photo books but it is something I really want to have a go at. I smiled at the thought of you balanced up a stepladder 🙂 .

    1. schirgwin Post author

      Thanks Judy! I’ve used “Concertina” slightly nervously throughout this series of posts, but suspect “book” might actually be better…


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