I really need to move along with Assignment 3 now, and it is time to put aside some of the other projects I have been exploring in my Personal Reflections. The more I think about the assignment, the more I believe I am over thinking it, and trying to make it too complicated – it really should not be that difficult. I therefore decided to revisit the assignment criteria again, and to me the following are the important aspects that we are asked to consider:-
- it should feature a community (more than one person)
- it should tell their story
- the story should be something we can all relate to
- I can choose if the community is one with which I am familiar or not.
I have already photographed various people from my village community for this module, and I have decided to continue this by photographing another village event, this time the Carnival, which takes place this Sunday. This post is by way of preparation, so that I can make the most of the day itself. There will only be one chance to do this, so I have to get it right.
I am intrigued by John Berger’s idea of a photograph “cutting across the continuum of time” (1) and how they can function as historical documents for future generations. An excellent example of how this can be achieved is in Martin Parr’s series Unseen Cities (2) which I reviewed here. In it, Parr examines a way of life which has been repeated for hundreds of years but which seems anachronistic to the current generation. He looks both at the behind-the-scenes aspect and the on-show element to give a rounded picture of the ceremonies and people involved in the City of London.
My previous research on David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project (3) series is also relevent to this, as is Paul Strand’s Tir A’Mhurain (4) and Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. from the point of view of my own photographic practice, I prefer the aesthetic of the former two to Goldin’s, and I would like to take the opportunity here to consider Paul Strand’s book in more detail, as I am lucky enough to own a copy.
Strand made it his life’s work to immerse himself into various communities around the world and to make works which have a powerful sense of place as well as the people who lived there. Apart from South Uist, he produced similar works for Egypt, Morocco, France, and Ghana among others. Tir A’Mhurain is a mixture of text and poetry, alongside portraits and landscapes, although it is not entirely clear to me how much of the text was written by Strand and how much by Basil Davidson, who collaborated with him on the book. It was photographed over three months in 1954, and thus the images are black and white, while the aesthetic is realistic. The majority of the portraits are taken as close-ups, although there are some full length ones too of groups and individuals. Strand managed to capture most of them against a fairly plain background, often in a door frame, so that the attention is focused squarely on the person and not their surroundings. The “place” element is supplied by the interweaving images of the countryside and people’s activities within it, mostly farming, fishing and housework. The thing that captures my own attention most is the clothes, which mark the year as being from the past; many of the activities still continue in the Outer Hebrides in much the same way today, so the clothes are what separates the people from now. (In contrast, the clothes in the Martin Parr series are what marks the historical aspect of the ceremonies – in this case they haven’t changed for centuries, and the punctum is that their wearers are seen in very modern situations.)
So, the aim on Sunday will be to achieve a mix of single portraits and street shots, alongside some images which root the village in its past. And for the single portraits I will have to overcome my fear of rejection and ask people directly if I can take their photograph. I will need to take a great many images in order to have sufficient to select a series that not only represents the village, but also my own place in it as an outsider (one isn’t considered a local until one has lived here for several decades) but also an active participant in village life. The issue which I am mulling over now is whether to make the carnival the centrepiece of the series, or to use it as a vehicle to enable me to present a wider range of people than I would normally be able to on a day by day basis. And as a sideline, I also want to try to produce something with a specific unified colour grading. The idea I will be trying to achieve is a representation of the village as it is today as if it were a future historical document. It may also be that I present it in a book style, to allow for more images to be included.
- Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.
- BBC (2016) Unseen City: Martin Parr reveals the square mile’s secrets. (online) At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/culture/story/20160301-unseen-city-martin-parr-reveals-the-square-miles-secrets (Accessed on 27 June, 2017)
- Tinternvillage.co.uk (n.d.) David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project (online). At: http://www.tinternvillage.co.uk/history/david-hurns-photographic-project/ (Accessed on 27 June, 2017)
- Strand, P.(2002) Tir A’Mhurain. Edinburgh: Berlinn Press.