Square Mile: Additional Commentary

Each image I submitted for Assignment One has a tale to tell, be that how I came to take it, why I took it, what it’s supposed to mean, or how it makes me feel.

Since I couldn’t fit all of that into the 500 word limit, I shall discuss those things here. Think of it as a ‘Talking Dead after The Walking Dead’, if you need a metaphor.

#1: Facing Forwards, Looking Back

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Taken around midnight, just outside Worksop Priory Church, looking along a tree lined pathway towards a centuries old gatehouse.

I was sitting in the back seat of my car with the camera on a precariously balanced tripod.

There were three concerns on my mind at that time.

1: Taking a decent photo.

2: Hoping the drunks staggering home from the pub wouldn’t notice the guy with the camera in the back of his car, and come to investigate (they showed some interest, but were distracted by the need to pee in a nearby bush)

3: Hoping that car sitting a few yards ahead of me wasn’t some drug dealer waiting to do a deal (not uncommon in these parts at such an hour).

So, the camera was on a tripod, it was set to ISO 100, it was in full manual mode, had a 2.8 aperture setting, and around 25 second exposure time.

That’s the buildup and the technical part out of the way, but what is this picture all about?

Like the other images in this set, it’s about feeling nostalgia for a romanticised past, while being aware of the impossibility of going back to that time (if it even existed).

There’s something about old architecture (and landscapes)… when I look at them, I imagine the people who lived in those times, going about their days, living a simpler, though probably much harsher life. I often try to find scenes where I can block out signs of the modern times we live in, to try and see through the eyes of a person in that bygone time.

Mostly this is not possible… there’s usually something dragging me back into the real world. This image is an example of that. The architecture and the trees might take you back several hundred years (the church I was parked next to is Norman, so not far off a thousand years old), but even if you ignore the street lights and modern buildings in the background, there’s no escaping that you’re sitting in a 21st century motor vehicle.

Why was the shot taken at night? Two reasons.

The first is practical… I didn’t want any people in the shot, and there’s always someone walking around here in the daytime. Sadly, I failed in this, as, though there are no people in the shot (the drunks had already staggered through the shot and gone home), I was very disappointed to find that car parked there.

The second is atmosphere. I’ve found that taking long exposure shots, where there are trees and a little movement in the branches, creates a very strange and slightly other worldly feel. Some things have a hint of motion blur, while things right next to them are crystal clear. It’s an odd effect, and I like it. Sadly it’s not as visible in this shot as in another that I took, though that one showed less of the car interior and suffered from more noise in the darker areas, so I rejected it.

#2: Obstructed

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I walk through this tunnel under the railway on a regular basis, and am very fond of its ‘olde worlde’ charm, coupled with the ongoing battle between graffiti ‘artists’ as they leave their mark, and the local council, as they cover those marks.

There’s a lot of detail on those stones and bricks, where the cement, or paint, either creating or covering the graffiti has worn away or fallen off. You can see the passage of recent years in that battle. Then you step back, look at the stonework, and feel the age of the thing itself.

I don’t know how old this bridge/tunnel is, but they certainly don’t make them like it any more.

So anyway… what’s the story here?

It’s a handheld shot on a wide aperture (2.8 I think), with the camera as low to the ground as I could get it. The combination of the slightly shallow(ish) depth of field, with a viewing angle that you certainly wouldn’t see while walking in a normal manner, creates something of a mental sensation (in my brain, at least).

But what’s it all about?

Again… it’s that inability to go back to that imagined past. The bridge/tunnel takes you back there, but there are these two posts, and okay, you can walk between them, but their purpose is clear…. to obstruct passage (of cars). “You shall not pass!”

They break the nostalgic spell, and keep you in the present.

#3: Charming Rural Landscape

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An unplanned shot. I was walking home from my original shooting location, when I was struck by the juxtaposition (I love that word) of the man-made and natural vertical structures. I don’t know which came first, the trees, or the grain silos… but one seems to continue from the other, to the extent that it looks deliberate.

Taken hand held, with as wide an aperture as I could achieve with the level of zoom I was using (the zoom lens (35 – 420) on the Panasonic FZ50 is wonderful ).

Situational awareness, or the lack of, was a factor in the taking of this image.

I was walking. I saw the scene. I stopped and took out my camera. I framed the shot. The woman with the pushchair who had been walking behind me rammed my ankles.

So why include this image? There are no listed buildings or ‘olde worlde’ atmosphere. What aspect of this image qualifies it for inclusion?

The clue is in the (ironic) title. It’s not about what you can see, but what you can imagine might have been here, a couple of centuries ago. The trees hint at a very different scene, before the flour mill and grain silos were built.  It brings to my mind scenes in classic rural paintings, like Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’.

#4: Golden Age of Steam

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Another ironically titled image, for clearly, this is not set in the golden age of steam.

The signal box is old… I’m not sure if it harks back to the steam age, or the later 60s and 70s diesel era, but it’s far from modern. The point is, the car, breaking into the shot like startled horses bolting from the stable, drags the viewer into the here and now.

Why the weird angle? No, I didn’t drop the camera, or press the shutter by accident. It’s all about drama. It’s like the the car almost knocks the viewer over as it goes tearing through the shot.

Also, there’s something else here that I like, though it’s pure chance that it worked out that way. There are a series of repeated off-vertical lines, in the fence, and in the signal box itself. They are static, and going nowhere. But if you follow the line represented by the top of the fence, it flows into the top of of the car’s bonnet, curving upwards, and sweeping out of the image on the right. It generates a flowing feeling of movement. Yes, this is a snapshot of a moment in time, but that curve lets you feel the flow of time’s arrow, driving forwards, from the past, into the future. It’s like it’s creating a bow wave.

Back in the real world.

The shot was taken hand held, with a wide aperture (2.8).

I was crouching down as low as I could get, while leaning against a stone wall, which was at the entrance to the railway station car park. To put you in the picture, if you had happened to be coming around the corner from the car park, you would not have seen me.

Just like the lady on the mobility scooter didn’t.

I don’t know which of us was more startled as she missed me by a fraction of an inch.

I know a red flag used to be a requirement for driving a motor vehicle on the roads, to warn pedestrians in advance, but I feel like I could use one while out taking photographs in public places.

#5: Glimpse of a Romantic(ised) Past

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On a purely technical level, this shot was a disaster. The sun was positioned such that when I framed the image that I *really* wanted, what I got was massive lens flare. Purple lens flare. Not good.

Note to self: Carry my lens hood with me next time.

I selected a different image to go in this slot. One that featured the wall, the security cameras, and the bridge. It worked. It conveyed the message. But it lacked the romance.

Black and white to the rescue!

I know we’re supposed to keep Photoshop manipulation to a minimum, but I took the view that even though I captured this shot in colour mode, I could just as easily have taken it in black and white, and got this exact same result direct from the camera. The image was converted at the RAW conversion stage, and no other alterations were made, so I’m letting myself off, even if my tutor doesn’t.

The shot is all about the (mistakenly?) perceived romance of the past. You know the scenes in old black and white movies? The husband/boyfriend is going off to war, or to seek his fortune, or something. The weeping wife/girlfriend stands on the platform, waving him goodbye, and wonders if she’ll ever see him again. Violins play quietly in the background as she wipes away her tears on a handkerchief.

It’s a dim and fading memory… as represented by the rays of light (and now less obvious lens flare) obscuring the scene.

And Bam! There’s a big ugly wall blocking your way, with security cameras, and demands to pay. You’re back in the real world buddy… and it ain’t pretty.

#6: You Can’t Go Back There

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First, I have to point out that the weather was terrible. Never mind not being the kind you’d want to go walking in. It definitely wasn’t the kind you would expect to be able to take meaningful photographs in. There just wasn’t enough light (a tripod, and wide aperture were essential).

However…

Bracebridge Pumping Station. Built in the Victorian era, if I’m not mistaken, used for pumping sewage from the town to the nearby sewage works. It’s abandoned now, but as a listed building, they can’t knock it down.

In this image, it represents a couple of things, to me. Architecturally, it’s a link to the past, but it’s also an indicator of a time when there was industry, when technology, machinery and the like were produced locally. There were jobs. There was affluence, as well as effluent, in the locality.

So the title, and the barbed wire… they represent the restriction of movement, both in space, and in time. You can’t go back there and walk around, much less inside, the old building. But more so, you can’t go back to that time of local prosperity.

The (imagined?) past is inaccessible, while the here and now is, to be honest, ugly and depressing.

Having said all of that, there was a very friendly horse, just out of shot, who made my trip a pleasure.

Conclusion

So this is where I am now. I can take photographs that I’m fairly satisfied with, on an entirely naive level. They look pleasing to my eye, and they (I hope) convey the message that I’m trying to express.

I’m very aware that I’m only just starting out, and have much to learn, both technically, and also in terms of where my work sits in relation to contemporary photography.

I currently have no knowledge of what the current trends are. What’s expected? What’s cool? What’s old hat? I have no idea. These are things I expect to learn, and to say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement.

What do I want to achieve? I don’t want to emulate my contemporaries. I don’t want to see current work, and say “I can do that”. I want to create something that can sit alongside contemporary work, so I can say “Yes… I like that a lot… and look… I did this.”

Am I good enough?

I have no idea, but I sure as hell intend to find out.