Category Archives: Notes

General rough notes.

Assignment 4 – A coda

At the end of my second walk taking photographs for this assignment (down from Ladbroke Grove and through the Avondale conservation area) I noticed a laminated notice cable-tied to the railings of the western-most spur of maisonettes that fan out south from the base of Grenfell Tower. I bent down and read it.

I hadn’t noticed the laminate during my first walk (around the tower site) and so already had a lot of photographs taken from quite close to the tower’s base with a long lens. They showed damage to the tower in considerable detail. I had also taken pictures which showed how the remaining members of the community were both memorialising the fire and it victims while trying to gain some control over the narrative of the fire in preparation for the upcoming enquiry.

At the end of that first walk, as I was waiting to get the tube at Latimer Road station (one of the stations where the platforms are on the surface) I saw the tower looming over the awning on the other side of the tracks. It was quite a striking image. As I raised my camera and a woman told me sternly: ‘Some people round here don’t like people taking photographs of the tower.’ I stopped and thought. ‘Doesn’t it depend what you do with them’ I said? ‘Just saying’ said the woman, turning away while clearly putting herself in the no photographs group. I didn’t take that picture.  But I did make my second walk up over the hill and  down from Holland Park, taking photographs of the tower as I went.

At this point I could have (perhaps should have; still not sure) simply shelved the project and found something else to do for this assignment. I didn’t, so why?


This ties in almost too neatly with the opening of section two of Rosler’s In, around and afterthoughts (1981) where she reflects on the reaction by the residents of the Bowery to being photographed (‘you are likely to be met with hostility, for the men on the Bowery are not particularly interested in immortality and stardom, and they’ve had plenty of experience with the Nikon set’) and where the people can reasonably be described as ‘victims of the camera‘. This  leads on to her discussion of the fearless documentarian, risking all to bring back their despatches from the edge.

I had no interest in using my camera as a tool to make victims of the people who still live around Grenfell Tower or of seeking out survivors of the fire for inclusion here. They were already well advanced in the process of creating their own narrative(s) and memorials and these activities have fed into the enquiry and the press. They have successfully broken down the monolithic idea of ‘the dead’ into a series of portraits of individuals –  real people with lives and hopes and fears. The local community  – supported by sections of the press – are doing this without any help from me. They have a voice and they are using it at the enquiry, in the media and on the streets.

While I did not abandon what I was doing, I realised that I certainly needed to be careful in setting its scope. I already knew that what I was doing involved real, serious subject matter. While I could not untake the pictures I had already taken (I could have deleted them from my hard disks of course, but that is something I have great difficulty doing, even in the case of images which are wildly deficient in some way) I could reassess which of them I would use.

I resolved to use only pictures where there was an obvious distance between the tower and my camera. Ideally there would be some sort of object – a leafless tree, some fencing a row of terraced houses – partially occluding the view. There would be no ‘stolen’ pictures of people (going through my contact sheets, there weren’t any of those anyway). There would be no attempt to aestheticise the pictures or to awaken in the viewer their sense of the sublime. The photographs would show what the tower looked like from outside its immediate area. They would only be there to contrast with the statements from the planning documents. They would not draw attention to me, the photographer.


I think the key thing here is not whether you take photographs  but rather what sort of pictures you do take and what you do with them afterwards. Don’t take selfies with the tower in the background. Don’t stick the pictures up on Facebook or Instagram as if you had just come back from holiday or had a nice meal. Have a clear idea why you are taking photographs in the first place. Remember that getting involved with real events is a political action before it is an artistic one.

(I am, of course, also aware of the irony that this post is in part ‘about me’ and how – while I did not take physical risks in making this work – I have potentially placed myself in a place of moral and ethical hazard. Such is my bravery. Such is my burning need to show you the truth.)

I don’t think the act of taking photographs is automatically hurtful (or for that matter automatically beneficial either). While I made most of the pictures for this assignment with my D610, I don’t aspire to be part of Rosler’s ‘Nikon set.’

I don’t think my assignment is disrespectful either to the dead or to the living. It expresses a truth, but that of course is only a partial truth. There is plenty in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea planning documents which is not concerned with the visual impact of the refurbished tower. If there is a problem with all this, and my response to it, it can be found somewhere in the certainty with which I seized upon the gap between some words and their visual  contradiction as being suitable raw material for what is simply an assignment making up part of a course…

 

 

 

 

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A quick note about what’s going on here….

I have finished working through the exercises from The Art of Photography, but have not managed to write all of them up into post-able combinations of pictures and prose. Similarly there are exhibitions I have been to and books I have read that have generated drafts which still need some work. I’m not going to start Context and Narrative for a couple of weeks (it’s always good to have a breather; I don’t think I could do two courses simultaneously either). And lastly, I need to do some basic neatening to get everything ready to be submitted in September for the November Assessment Event.

So, the next few posts here will mostly consist of exercises and reviews, well out of sequence (either in course terms or in terms of when I did something.

I need to work out how to display (and navigate) the material in a better sequence than the simple chronological by posting date one that wordpress defaults to, and I suspect it has to do with Pages. Let’s see…

in today’s guardian

The Guardian, 14/10/2014 (either Jerome Daly/AP or John Moore/Getty Images - the paper doesn't say)

The Guardian, 14/10/2014 (either Jerome Daly/AP or John Moore/Getty Images – the paper doesn’t say)

When I saw this on the front of today’s G2, against a black background rather than the white here, I thought this was a splendid photograph; 14 hours after I first looked at it, sat on the tube, somewhere between Blackhorse Road and Tottenham Hale, I still do. Continue reading

assignment 2 – contact sheets & general notes

1: Orkney is notoriously flat; Flotta is even flatter. (Ha!)
A friend from University whose dad worked for years making documentaries in Scotland told me that cameramen used to refer to an “Orkney Shot”; a shot framed so that something – anything – acted as a stop on one or other sides of the frame, to stop the eye just sliding through and out. This is maybe a bit unfair on Orkney, but once you’re out of the towns, there is an awful lot of sky over quite flat horizons and – if you want to take a picture of some foreground thing, it is likely to have sky behind it. My first thought almost all the time was to make sure that the sky didn’t simply blow out, and in processing the pictures back at my sister’s house, to keep some interest in the overcast sky, while raising the general lightness of the the land and the objects on it. Also, on an overcast day, there isn’t a lot of contrast around as the sky acts as an enormous soft box, spilling diffused light over everything; black and white was not going to work for my Flotta pictures and anyway, the muted range of August colours is quite attractive. All the assignment pictures therefore remain in colour.

2: Generally, I took fewer photographs of each thing than I did during assignment 1. To an extent, I think this was a result of limited time on the island concentrating my mind somewhat, but it also marks less of a tendency to think that tiny little things – marginal reframes, a slight shift of my weight – will result in a profoundly better photograph; rather the pictures where there a many shots were taken because of something I was consciously trying different things with: the windmill shots were repeated to try and vary the timing of the blades in relation to the corners of the frame, and the pictures inside the searchlight emplacement (# 3 in the final selection) were trying different flash settings, trying to get a still dark inside, but not black balance between inside and outside and a couple of different lenses. On the whole, i think I was much more consciously taking pictures, rather than just concentrating on what was in the frame. It also felt more like fun at times. I hope this shows in the pictures.

3: Buildings in Orkney were traditionally made from stone, and now tend to be made from breeze-blocks and then harled. The wartime installations used that most uncharacteristic material brick, with some parts made from reinforced concrete. There were a lot of corrugated iron nissen huts too. Quite a few nissen huts are still in use, and the  brick buildings have lasted well despite wind and rain and neglect. The reinforced concrete is starting to go though (and signs are going up saying, don’t enter the buildings because they’re dangerous) but you can still see that the batteries were designed by people who’d recently qualified as architects and were throwing their dreams of Bauhaus into the war effort.

4: It’s remarkably easy to lose track of time when you’re walking and taking pictures, and thinking and looking. It’s easy to see fro the contacts that the amount of time spent getting to Buchanan Battery far outweighed the time I had to get back to the ferry (even if you allow for some of sheet 1’s pictures being taken on the boat back to the mainland). While taking the pictures on sheet 6, I had a late lunch; sheet 7 was all taken as I walked, picking up my pace as time slipped by. I still managing to stop to take some, but not that many pictures, although a close look shows that they’re much more rushed than the earlier ones, and there were glaring things I missed, like the spot of rain on the lens spoiling some farms set among rather nice overhead cable geometry). The two shots of the ferry approaching the slip on sheet 7, show how close I came to missing it. Really, I should know better…

 

 

So Soon?

It was a spectacularly lovely morning with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and I realised as I set up the tripod for the first exercise of the day, that my D50 was beginning to show its age when it came to its ISO range. Not able to go lower than 200, meant that anything slower than 1/30th of a second was beginning to burn out. This was fine for the two exercises (and anything slower than 1/15th second ran the risk of the moving subject disappearing totally, like it was Paris in 1830-something) but if I ever want to do something like this for people to see, I need to either get a camera that can do lower ISO speeds or – far less exciting – buy some ND filters. There are various things that argue for a new camera – the 3000 x 2000 pixel image isn’t that big any more; I got it in 2006 so it’s obsolete by now; it’s nice to have new gear – but I hadn’t expected to be thinking quite so seriously about upgrading for a year at least…

And then there’s the issue of the two spots that are apparent on the sensor when you shoot something tonally flat, like the sky:

oca-1-1

I can clean the sensor (or pay for someone else to do it), and I can clone them out when they’re annoying, like here. But, ugh. So soon…