My research on the subject of photographing Middle England came up with the work of John Myers, and specifically his series of the same name. This interesting video explains his motivations and how he went about the project.
Myers, who was a lecturer at Stourbridge College of Art was well-known in the 1970s and 1980s, often featuring in Sunday supplements and photography magazines. He was quite open about the fact that he saw his work as documentary, albeit about what we think of as normal. In the video above he says that almost every image from his Middle England series was taken within walking distance of his home, so are very local, in a similar way to Jim Mottram.
Myers is interested in how a subject relates to the environment of the frame. He feels that the size and location of the subject in the images can subliminally give viewers and insight into the inner lives and horizons of the sitters. I want to use this idea in my assignment series, to indicate something about the subjects’ breadth of interest and whether it is detailed or strategic.
In the article referenced below, Frances Hodgson describes Myers as someone who refuses to exploit his sitters. There is a transparent honesty about the images, and a feeling that they were a cooperative activity between the sitter and the photographer. One can contrast this attitude with, for example, the work of Bruce Gilden or Martin Parr, where the subject is used, perhaps quite cynically, to illustrate the photographer’s opinions. Take for example, Parr’s 1980s Cost of Living series, which focused on the middle class people around Bristol and Bath. The images tell a truth about them, but it is a very politically charged truth, and not a complimentary one. Myers work is much more sympathetic, and that is what I am hoping to aim for in this assignment.
Myers says he often uses flat light and an eye level view for his pictures, as he wants others to see them as if they were behind the camera. Most of his subjects are full length and shown in the middle of the frame. He also says that he looks back at these images now and feels no personal connection to them – they are from another person, i.e. the man he was when he took them, not the man he is now.
Below are three images from the series which give an idea of how he liked to pose his subjects. In all three, the subjects are gazing back at the camera, blank-faced, but the background has a wealth of information about their space, as does the way they occupy it. In all cases, he said that he used the same 4×5″ camera, so that everything about the composition and pose was considered before the shot was taken, with the active participation of the sitters. For example, the image of the couple gives so much away about their relationship in their relative positions and stances.