Create a series of work (aim for 7-10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.
This assignment has been made as a physical book. It can be viewed on Vimeo here: vimeo.com/240275519 The commentary and individual images from the assignment are also shown below.
Whatever happened to…?
A forgotten building lies a mere 200 yards from my home, almost completely hidden by a screen of brambles, nettles and rampant buddleia. It was once a care home for elderly dementia sufferers, but was suddenly closed in 2007 as a result of two consecutive very poor CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) inspections. The twenty two residents were transferred to other accommodation in the Swindon area almost overnight and the building has been unoccupied and slowly deteriorating ever since.
Very few confirmed details are readily available about the reasons for the closure. However, it appears that it comprehensively failed an inspection in November 2006, partly because of concerns about how the staff were treating residents and partly because it did not meet several of the recently imposed health and safety requirements, such as each person having their own bathroom. Six months later, the inspectors arrived again, and were not happy with progress on the measures imposed by the previous report. They therefore deemed the home unsuitable for its residents and took the owners to court. It appears that the owners of the care home were either unwilling or unable to fund the required improvements and they applied for bankruptcy, while the residents were farmed off to any local care home which had space.
Throughout the world, the proportion of older people in society is increasing and resources are being limited. It is hard not to be aware of the difficulties we, as society, are beginning to face in securely and comfortably housing our elders. At least one in six care homes in the UK is close to bankruptcy, according to a study by Moore Stephens  and while 70,000 new care home places will be required over the next 8 years ,the rise in the National Living Wage and Brexit are having a significant effect on the finances of care home owners and the availability of care workers. These macro level problems can be seen at the individual level in this series which asks us to question whether our elders are being treated with the respect and consideration they deserve.
As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A week after my second shoot at this building, some of the land was cleared and the gates were padlocked. It is now up for sale and will most likely be demolished to make way for new housing within the next few months.
HW (October 2017)
Write a short reflective commentary (about 500 words) describing how your chosen words have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.
This assignment is about absence and the objects left behind that remind us that an empty place was once someone’s home. The words came after the images to provide some context to the work. The idea of exploring the old building stemmed initially from nothing more than curiosity. What was this place, almost entirely hidden away in the middle of a Wiltshire village? I have done a small amount of urbexing before, but nothing where so little was visible from outside and where there was such a palpable sense of decay. Entering the building is a shock – the vandalism and quantities of rubbish, broken glass and smashed furniture seemed overwhelming at first. Very soon though, I began to examine the objects left behind and it quickly became clear that the home had been emptied very suddenly. Open books lay on the beds; very dead potted plants sat on windowsills. Cupboards were still full of people’s clothes. Photographs, pictures and name plates were lying smashed on the floor, alongside residents’ care notes and personal possessions.
The overall effect is one of a sudden trauma in the residents’ lives, and of them being torn away from the place and possessions they knew to be sent who knows where. This seems particularly hard as people who have dementia are highly reliant on the security of a stable and unchanging home environment. Moving them from one location to another is perceived as difficult, although studies seem to indicate that the risk is not as high as one might imagine. 
At the same time, I was aware that there were good reasons to close the care home. Not only had it failed inspections twice, but there were rumours of ill-treatment and neglect around the village. However, the suddenness of the way the closure was undertaken is written into the debris lying in every room. And in that debris are remnants of the lives of the residents and the staff, should one choose to look for them. There are still indications everywhere of the people who lived and worked here; hairdressing equipment, games, the old pedal organ, which speak of real lives. Much of what is left is quickly being trashed by vandals – even since my visit in June, there has been a visible deterioration in the place and soon those individual signs of the people who lived there will be gone, smashed beyond recognition by thoughtless kids.
The particular aspect of the relationship between these photographs and the text that interests me is whether the text affects the reading and meaning of the images or not. Initially, I showed the images to some fellow students and asked for comments without giving much background. Their responses ranged from:
- Your photographs were very evocative for me and I think you can do a lot with them as a metaphor for how the vulnerable elderly are treated if you choose to go that way. (Catherine)
- I think this is where text can add such value, moving the work from interesting urbex to socially relevant and something that has certainly made me think about the care we provide for our elders. (Kate)
- Thinking about it literally jolted my senses and brought a tear the eye. (Nicky)
In an earlier iteration of the work, I considered providing no text, but instead adding either the words or music from the old music hall songs that the residents might have sung, sitting around the organ on winter evenings, but it was suggested that this might steer the viewers towards the idea of recalling happy times, which is clearly not what the situation was towards the end. My current opinion is that providing some direction to what might be in viewer’s thought as they look at the images helps steer them in the direction I would like them to go, without being too explicit about what I would like them to think.
 Causer, L (2017) 16% of care homes at risk of failure At: https://www.moorestephens.co.uk/news-views/august-2017/16-of-care-homes-at-risk-of-failure (Accessed on 28 October 2017)
 Kingston, A. et al. (2017) ‘Is late-life dependency increasing or not? A comparison of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies (CFAS)’ In: The Lancet.com 07.10.17 [online] At: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31575-1/fulltext (Accessed on 28 October 2017)
 Warchol, K. (2010) How to Reduce Transfer Trauma for a Person With Dementia. At:
https://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/November-2010/A-Real-Issue-for-Many-Individuals-With-Dementia (Accessed on 29 October 2017)
 Capezuti E1, Boltz M, Renz S, Hoffman D, Norman RG. (2006) ‘Nursing home involuntary relocation: clinical outcomes and perceptions of residents and families.’ In:
J Am Med Dir Assoc. Oct;7(8):486-92. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17027625/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)
 Kali, ST et al (2012) ‘The Impact of Forced Transitions on the Most Functionally Impaired Nursing Home.’ In: J Am Geriatr Soc. Oct; 60(10): 1895–1900. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530394/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
I am happy with the images I have selected for this series. They were taken over two separate visits in June and September 2017 and the overall number from which the selection was made was in excess of xxx. Because some the images from the first visit were so striking and held such a sense of failure and sadness, I decided to investigate the building again later, with the aim of bringing the shocking array of personal items which are still to be found in the building, everything from clothing to care notes (the latter being completely illegal under Data Protection laws. The building had no electricity and all of the images were taken using natural light and occasionally a reflector, which is why they are visually quite gloomy. The windows of the ground floor rooms were heavily shaded by the foliage jungle which has grown up around the building, and this gives an eerie greenish-blue light inside the building which is very much a part of its character, and which I did not want to lose.
Equally, the production of the book, which was made after attending a book-making workshop with OCA tutor Polly Harvey, provided some technical hurdles that I needed to overcome, such as deciding on papers, size, the cover and the binding, and having shown other students at the Thames Valley Forum, I believe it works well. For future reference, the binding holes could have been smaller, and I will need to recover the back as it has become marked somewhere along its production, but the wonderful thing about Japanese stab bound books is that one can easily take them apart for another iteration.
(It should be noted that in the physical book, the relative importance of the images is reversed, with the landscape ones being larger than the portrait ones.)
Quality of outcome
Overall, I am pleased with the outcome. Initially, my plan was to simply set the scene with the introductory text, but I found the poem by Henry Longfellow and added it as it seemed so appropriate. It will be interesting to hear my tutor’s feedback on whether I should retain both the introduction and the poem, or whether he thinks one of them should go. Potentially, I might also re-edit image no. 3 of the bedroom, as the lighting seemed a little forced.
Demonstration of creativity
For me, the creative aspects of this project have centred around trying to capture the mood and feeling of the building. It is a creepy place, with strange corridors and unexpected rooms, much larger than it looks from the outside, and ten years of neglect and vandalism has taken its toll. Floors are rotten, and are covered in broken glass and bedding. Ceilings are drooping and collapsing, broken furniture and sanitary-ware fills every room, and incontinence pads are strewn everywhere, like over-sized confetti. It is neither a safe not a comfortable place. My aim was to use this ambiance as a metaphor for what had happened to the residents and for their own slow decline and degradation.
Most of the background research I have undertaken for this assignment has been about the care home itself and what has happened to it over the years. My initial thoughts were to include some background about the building and what had led to its closure, as the information is in the public domain, but I was advised against this in case any individual could be identified and to prevent any possible litigation from the owners. Given that none of my research relies on heresay, and much is recorded in local newspaper and court documents, I don’t believe that they would have a case, but discretion seemed sensible.
The wider background of the assignment was initially informed by the Urban Explorer (Urbex) genre of photography, in which adventurous photographers explore abandoned buildings, not only to take risks and interesting images but also to bring to the public’s attention the fact that so many wonderful old buildings are gradually falling into decay, and their history and importance is slowly being forgotten. Many of the larger building which urbexers explore are listed buildings, but the cost of repairing and renovating them would be astronomical and so they are left to gently rot away. For anyone interested in the history of the subject, this article about the academic, urbexer and occasional Guardian columnist Bradley L. Garrett is an excellent starting place. Garrett’s books, which start with Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City (2013) have a lineage based on history, economics and psychogeography, with a strong link to Guy Debord’s ‘situationist dérive – the randomly motivated walk designed to disrupt habitual movement through the cityscape.’ (Guardian, 2013) There are some wonderful examples of the genre online, for example: Alicia Rius’ Abandoned, Christian Richter’s series, also called Abandoned, Romain Veillon’s various projects and Rebecca Bathory’s Orphans of Time, to name but a few. Many have their roots in the concept of memento mori – the idea of ‘an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life’ Tate (n.d.). and have the same eerie sense of the people who once lived there.
MacFarlane, R (2013) ‘The strange world of urban exploration.’ In The Guardian.com 20. 09.2013. At: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/20/urban-exploration-robert-macfarlane-bradley-garrett (Accessed on 29 October 2017)
Garrett, B. (2013) Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City. London: Verso.
http://www.aliciariusphotography.com/abandoned/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)
Winston, AS. (2016) ‘Christian Richter’s Abandoned series chronicles Europe’s empty buildings.’ In De Zeen.com 11.09.2016 At: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/09/11/christian-richter-photographs-abandoned-empty-buildings-europe/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)
Tate (n.d.) ‘Art terms: memento mori’ . At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/memento-mori