Tuesday, 9 October 2012

It is posted

Boxed and shipped to Barnsley. Unless I get told to do anything in this module again, this will be the sign-off post. I am struggling to start a blog in Wordpress here (I have to say that I think Blogger is much more intuitive than Wordpress, but there we are, I decided to give it a whirl and so I will).

The course was highly enjoyable, as inspiring as it was instructive. I've read a lot and will take what I've experienced onto the next level. As Mr Adams might have said, so long and thanks for all the fish.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

End of the module notes

People and Place module notes:

On Assignments:

The first assignment I found the easiest. Mark was willing and well versed – he has sat many times before. The idea of a continuing portrait is an intriguing idea, though whether a close member of the family is a good idea I’m not sure. There are pro’s and cons and the discussion of which is not for the here and now.
The biggest issue that I have had is the choice of a mono treatment for the original set. This rather stymied further updates if it needed to be consistent, though not from a capability to reproduce the mono treatment; rather the mono work held back the possibility of introducing colour and when my tutor suggested additional shots I felt that the need for colour rather jarred. There is a colour shot that I have included for assessment - I'm dubious about how this will be received.

Assignment two, was a journey that I wouldn’t want to make again! I started with a very clear understanding of what I wanted to do, what I wanted to portray, how I was going to do it, what and how the narrative was going to be delivered. I spent hours and hours of work collecting the material, working on the images – ensuring consistency of as much of the aesthetic as possible. The report from my tutor wasn’t damning, but it is clear to me that I hadn’t managed to get the message over in the way that I had envisaged it to have been communicated. This notion of communication, was the underpinning structure that I wanted to overlay, by using conversation as a core motif. But as my tutor noted that not only was my notion of conversation not delivered with any consistency, but also that some of the images were overly complex. I can still see what it was that I tried to deliver with each of the images, but I can see that just because I knew it, it doesn’t mean that anyone can/could read it. To that end I have included for assessment, the original set and some replacement images that better express the notion of conversation.
My abiding feeling about how this assignment went, other than the conversation narrative that seemed to elude me, was about how the photographer needs to actively construct the image. I can still see the construction of narrative that I implied into some of the shots I used in the assignment, but I can see that I didn’t make it obvious to the viewer. The construction that I conceived in my mind – at the time I took the images - needed to be able to be physically made as well. The point that my tutor made about simplifying the image was well made and to do that I would have needed to cross the boundary from “taking” to “making”; to interfere with the elements in front of the lens to make the job of reading the image more straightforward.
I had decided to increase the pressure on myself by limiting the time to capture the images to two performances – I had decided to research and plan all the shots through the rehearsal period of a number of weeks. This process mitigated against what I had intended, I knew the play extremely well and I had a various number of themes in my head that, I as assembled the assignment, I assumed my viewer would be able to read them as I had “written” them. This, of course, meant that not only did I not have the opportunity to retake the images, but that I had to mine a set of images that had an overlay of one kind of end result, when I now needed to provide a set which had a slightly different, and probably more coherent, narrative. Overall I was quite disturbed by this process and wondered about my ability to create the kind of work I would be required to deliver as I move forward in the course. I also questioned my use of monochrome, an aesthetic that I feel very comfortable in, and decided that I would revert to colour until such time as either the course determines that it is required or I feel compelled by the work to work in that medium. I have included for assessment the original images and the replacement images suggested in part by my tutor.

Assignment three: I decided to link the “buildings in use” to performance and spent some time researching a number of key buildings in Oxford. I was surprised to be allowed access to these public buildings and I spent a good deal of time at these buildings – I had already been a regular visitor to most of them previously. I was relatively pleased with how this work progressed, I had tried to weave in the presence of people with the buildings. In some cases these people were physically present, at other times they were there in spirit. The final set of images I am reasonably happy with. It is interesting that my tutor was happier with the latter of the images – I suspect this may be to do with my becoming at ease with the assignment as much as understanding what I was trying to achieve. Again, for assessment, I have included the original images and the suggestions from my tutor.

Assignment four: The subject of the funeral directors was an idea that came to me as an apposite subject within a course entitled “People and Place”. The negotiation with the owner and the subsequent field trips to the premises all went without many issues and the end result produced some images that I am quite proud of. I had ideas before I went in, about how I remembered the time when I went through the process when my father died and I am wondering whether this “coloured” my view of the assignment – but I thought that it would have been unlikely that whatever the assignment I would most likely have a predetermined perspective. My tutor suggested a couple of changes to the set of images from the full set that I provided. This assignment went very well for me.

Assignment five: This assignment went very well from the time I had the idea to document the nuclear bunker, which came to me after both seeing it just prior to the study weekend at Leeds and also hearing/seeing Jesse Alexander’s presentation of his work on a nuclear bunker. I decided that I would also record the voices of previous volunteers about how they had manned the bunker during it’s operational time. This audio in used in a video that I included as part of my on-line blog, and the accompanying posts where I wrote about the bunker contained a polemic regarding my feelings on the bunker and the volunteers. I think it is clear the point that I wanted to make and it is another assignment that I enjoyed completing. My tutor didn’t feel any need to question the set of photographs I produced for this assignment – for which I feel very happy and satisfied.

On photographers and photography.

I knew a lot of photographers before I started this course, but the photographers I have found through this course, from independent research, from my tutor, from the study visits and from fellow students have been a revelation. I have written about many in my blog – I have invested in too many books – and discussed with various people the work of these photographers. I have not always liked, nor maybe understood, some of these photographers. It is this last statement that troubles me most at the moment – a need for comprehension of work that still eludes me; especially of photographers who have been elevated to the rank of “high status”; of those that I have struggled with are the likes of Struth and Gursky whose clarity of line is generally very clear whereas the work of Fransesca Woodman and Duane Michels impels me into the frame. I have an inkling that my genre will be documentary which on the one hand I find strange considering those attractions, but I suppose on the other hand these types of artist have a very strong sense of narrative in their work – despite, or because of, the “obscurance” of clarity of line.

On photography – it is clear that I need to simplify my imagery, to engage with my viewer more easily – and to do that I need to carefully decide how the construction of my images needs to be carefully considered. The frame that I make is something that should be under my control as much as the decision on shutter speed etc. the contents and juxtaposition of the elements within that frame are mine to arrange according to how I want to write the image. I suspect that is the greatest distance I have made on this module.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Feedback on Assignment five

I'm not sure I could be more pleased. My tutor seems very happy with the work, no suggestions about how it might be improved, the video seemed to work and more importantly for me, the message that I wanted to convey seems to have been delivered and understood. I am being encouraged to get the work ready for assessment and I want to do so.

Whilst the feedback is very positive I am wondering about what to do about one thing. The P&P project was very worthwhile to me, I got to work with people, in more ways than I imagined that I would. It challenged a lot of preconceptions I had and, as I hoped that the course overall would do so, I am therefore glad I was challenged in that way. However it has formed an idea about how I could cope with an issue I have had hanging around my neck for about a decade. It has now given birth to a formed project in my mind. I'm not sure I can hold it off much longer, I could try and harness it until "Documentary" or let it rest as a personal project and work with it in the background. I know that I will only have one chance to complete this project and starting it now, whilst I have a limited tool set scares me as I might not do justice to it. Or should I, like so many other things in my past, jump in and see where the current takes me?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Assignment Five - Your own brief.

I decided to approach The Broadway Tower in order to do a photo essay on the nuclear bunker in their grounds. I wanted to depict the overall functionality of the bunker, illustrating the working conditions, the tools and instruments these volunteers had to work with. I had in mind my previous visit to the site and some of the political issues that had emerged after talking with one of the volunteers. As part of the agreement to enable me to take these photographs I would be required to take some photographs of the bunker for their own use, as part of the publicity and marketing material – so I had to be aware of both requirements as I went about my work.
Spotter hut
The first photograph is of a "spotter's hut", actually to the side of the bunker entrance, but it provides a situating shot. Most people view the work of the Royal Observer Corps as largely to do with WWII, their role in the Cold War is to a great extent unheard and certainly unromanticised. The ROC played a vital role in the second war. The actual entrance to the bunker is unremarkable at ground level and I have it in later shots. The next image is of descending into the bunker. I had to lay on the ground - in front of the Elsan toilet - to capture this shot - I managed three and this one was the best compromise of movement and position. There are difficulties with exposure in this shot and I exposed for the darker areas. I have another image that is without a person descending the ladder and whilst it is more evenly exposed it doesn't provide the critical, and I think essential ingredient of a person, albeit anonymous.
The next few images are of life underground - I had choices to make here, mainly to do with exposure. The light to the left of the photograph of the man descending the ladder is typical of how the lights "feels" upon enterring the bunker, after a few moments the eyes start to become acclimatised to the low intensity of light and after thirty minutes or so it seems quite normal. I had exposed the images at ISO 1600 which gave me some flexibility although I used a tripod most of the time, this meant that the camera's natural desire to produce "bright" shots would need to be subverted in order to present the viewer with a more accurate perspective of "life in the bunker". However the shots for the Tower have all been much brighter, I will include those shots later in the piece as a matter of interest.
The dial left is the "Bomb Power Indicator" or "BPI" where peak air pressure over normal is measured - here in Kilopascals. One of the vital statistics that would be required to be logged by the volunteers. Two other instruments are used; a pin-hole camera (sitting above ground) should capture the detonation and provide grid references and altitude via triangulation charts. The other instrument is the radiation sensor, which can be operated from below ground. The shot opposite is the chemical toilet, to be used by up to four volunteers for two weeks.
The hand pump left is used, if required, to pump out water from a sump directly below the entrance ladder - the Broadway nuclear bunker didn't suffer the interminable damp that other bunkers were liable to be afflicted by. I thought of one shot to indicate the banality of life underground; a radio, a candle holder, a pack of cards and a coffee mug. This particular bunker is now part museum and has items that are related only by seemingly being typical of the time. In fact games of any sort were frowned upon as they might lead to friction if they became too competitive - an odd concept when their lives were being gambled with by their Government.

This grid image depicts the various clusters and reporting chains that were set up to facilitate an efficient communication mechanism for reporting the "event" should the need arise. The Broadway bunker was a "master" station and was therefore a "four man" station (though women were as much part of the volunteer group as the men). The image on the right depicts the ceiling mounting of the radiation detector. The piston like probe mounted on the bracket was inserted into the cylindrical hole using a pole. It was then pushed into an outside receptacle where it could feed information about radiation levels to an instrument inside the bunker. They would therefore be aware of the levels of radiation in the environment when their two weeks rations/water/duty ended on the occasion of an "event". Their duty was only to record and transmit this data through the time they were in station, their requirement fulfilled, their role now redundant. They would be free to enter the world again, in whatever state they might find it.

The rest are outside shots to depict some of the more human aspects of these bunkers and their human inhabitants. The first shot is of a woman's uniform, her name - Sandra Jackson, whether she had anything to do with this bunker or the ROC in this area I don't know - the Manager of the Tower seeks relevant memorabilia from anywhere. I thought that the inclusion of Sandra's name helps to bring the person to the place, not anonymous but unseen. Another "unseen" is the image on the right - a page from the "R.O.C. Broadway Occurance Report" opened at random it depicts the ordinariness of the daily ritual these volunteers undertook. This entry from 1970 tells of decorating and other maintenance needs - all undertaken by the volunteers; about manning levels and rostas at regular, and most-times, daily meetings. 

The sign, made recently by the owner of the Tower (or by someone for him for purposes of display) indicates the levels of radiation and their concomitant effects. There is some debate about how much the volunteers knew about their probable fate; some were quite clearly aware that if the "balloon" went up then their lot would have been very unpleasant indeed; and they therefore wouldn't need to be reminded of the dosage levels and their effects. There were though, it is also assumed, some that preferred not to know. I found it oddly curious that the levels increased from top to bottom and at the lowest level on the sheet is the "WARTIME EMERGENCY DOSE". Did that mean that all those levels could be surpassed in the event of an attack, and the duty of the volunteer was to provide the data come what may? Maybe, maybe not. The old police helmet, whilst not directly related to monitoring nuclear events, speaks to the role that the Corps provided and the role that the UK Government felt, and to some extent still feels, about it's role in the world.

This next shot is more of an allegorical image. It is meant to depict the volunteers, absent from their uniforms, maybe hung out to dry, men and women who were prepared to sacrifice themselves for their country in a way that I find difficult to comprehend today. The ROC was a branch of the Civil Defence, albeit under the command of the RAF; my father was in the Civil Defence and I can't remember him providing the same level of commitment - maybe it wasn't required of him. The last shot is looking up and I find it quite a disturbing image in this context. Coming out after two weeks of isolation from a nuclear attack - the bomb(s) has gone off, there is the real possibility of being welcomed by a nuclear wasteland and in view from the exit porthole, staying isn't an option. However though, from this perspective, it appears to be a bright sunny day, blue skies over (the white cliffs...), radiation is invisible, the level of devastation might be visible at the top of the ladder, the view from Broadway Tower is excellent, the highest point on the Cotswolds, but what would be seen?

Overall I am satisfied with this assignment, it could have been a lot different as the last visit I made had turned out to be "Open-Day", but this gave me additional options in which to tailor my photo essay. The subdued lighting inside the bunker was the most difficult decision to make, as can be seen I could have edited the bunker shots to be much brighter; but I felt that possibly subverted the images somewhat and so I have worked them to be consistently "duller"! I had decided previously not to take any artificial light to the scene; I still think that was right decision. I purposely left the ROC volunteers out of the final edit - I wanted this to be about what they faced, not about them as individuals, they weren't in this role as individuals, they were a Corps. There are some shots below that include their faces, but their presence was all over the images that I have included in the assignment I think.
Their story is quite important from a human perspective, both from how the Corps responded, but also how they were treated during and post service. A lot to think about and I hope this essay provides some food for thought.

I have written about this project here and here and here

The Tower people have expressed their satisfaction at what I have provided for them, so I am happy about that: -

Dear John,

many thanks for the link to your pictures. They are excellent. I hope you enjoyed the day too.

Would you be able to let me have the pictures on high resolution files so we can use them please. They should be shown on our website etc.

Many thanks for your help.

Best wishes,

Annette Gorton

Managing Director


Here is a link or here: https://vimeo.com/49306669 to a photo video of the bunker, something that I had in mind on my last visit to the bunker. It is nearly 10 minutes long and has some image compression issues due to Vimeo upload I think. A high res' version is available.

Here is a selection of the images I will provide to the Broadway Tower for the purposes of enticing people to pay for the pleasure of visiting the bunker.