A couple of years ago, I attended several of the talks at the Photography Oxford event, one of which was titled Shooting Local, so my starting point was to refer back to my notes on that here. I was particularly struck by David Hurn’s long term project about his life at Tintern Abbey’s village, and how he was using his declining years to “give the ordinary its due” and to photograph village life in a sympathetic manner. Several points about the discussion resonated with me, the most specific being my concern that much of the photography work I have seen lately has been about The Other, i.e. communities which we see little of in our everyday lives unless we belong to that group. There seems to be relatively little available on that part of the UK in which most people live, and who represent the silent majority – the inhabitants of towns and villages which are not part of large urban conurbations.
David Hurn – Tintern
I decided to look at David Hurn’s Tintern series in a bit more detail. A link to the most recent images can be found on the Tintern Village website here. The images are taken at local (very local) events, and give an insider’s view of life in a south-western village from the 1980s onwards. He has lived there for many years, so has been pursuing this project alongside his better known documentary and war photography. The images are all black 7 white, and are often taken at odd angles. They include a mixture of individuals and (more often) groups, and focus on the interactions between the subjects. I assume that everyone is aware that Hurn is taking photographs, but that they are so used to it that they hardly register. One could say they are aware, but not directly engaged with the photographer, and there is very little interaction with the camera. The commentary which accompanies the series is also enlightening, referring to people by name and discussing village events. I particularly liked the set about the New Historians group, which resonates strongly with my own experience of local groups who meet up in pubs and community centres – a mixture of wildly different people, united by a common interest.
Hurn says that his intention is to make the commonplace and mundane interesting. The vice.com article refers to his work as the sublime moments of everyday life. He says he likes to photograph the ordinary, well. This chimes well with my recent thoughts on the representation of everyday life as a resource for future generations – if we only photograph the bizarre, beautiful and amazing, then those details which will show us the reality of life and how much it will have changed are lost. So often in photography, the background tells as much of a story as the people occupying the foreground, and it is a constant source of amazement to me at how much has changed since, for example, the 1980s. Although that decade is only 35 years ago, one can see just how different life was from the present. Hurn manages to take the everyday scenes around his home and imbue them with the same honesty and attention to detail as he would to any of his big documentary project. By doing so, he validates these scenes as having just as much right to be recorded as life during wars, disasters or other momentous events.
As I was researching Hurn’s work, I became aware that a section of my own non-OCA work references a similar idea, i.e. capturing the reality of life at the very local scale, and that subconsciously I have been recording village events as a way of capturing my own experience of that life. Below are three images from Hurn’s series, with three of my own underneath, which were all taken at my village Duck Race event in May.
Looking at the two sets together, I make no claims as to the quality of my work compared to Hurn’s, but there is no doubt that the subject matter and methodology is very similar. Both sets comment on the events in a straightforward, sympathetic way, and from inside the group concerned. I have been considering whether to submit a selection from my Duck Race series as this assignment, but have decided overall that it would be better to shoot something specifically for the submission, rather than reworking photographs I took earlier in the year, albeit after I had started this module. However, my village images are an ongoing project, and so will doubtless turn up again in my work.
Bayley, B. (2014) Sublime moments in mundane life: David Hurn’s amazing photos | VICE | United Kingdom. Available at: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/david-hurn-photographs-sublime-moments-in-mundane-life (Accessed: 24 October 2016).
Tintern Village (2016) David Hurn’s Tintern photographic project. Available at: http://www.tinternvillage.co.uk/history/david-hurns-photographic-project/ (Accessed: 24 October 2016).