Tag Archives: David Hurn

Assignment 2 – Those Who Do

It is a modern axiom that 90% of people complain about their local services and only 10% try to do anything about it. This is a series about Parish Councillors, who are part of the 10%. Each of these people has been formally elected by the people of their parish to an unpaid group whose aim is to maintain and improve services, activities and open spaces in the village. It is the lowest rung of government, making decisions that affect communities are the level of villages and very small towns. Until recently, the role was fairly low key, but the current financial pressures on town and county councils is forcing them to delegate service to parishes across the UK under the Localism agenda, and groups  like this are taking on more and more work which was previously undertaken by larger local authorities. The role is often practically difficult and thankless (see the comment about complainers above) and each person’s motivation for becoming involved is different.

The series looks at some of the people who are sufficiently interested in their local environment to take up the challenge of being a parish councillor. I am a member of this particular group myself, and am therefore photographing them as an insider;  they all know me, although not necessarily very well. I am interested in the diversity (or perhaps lack of diversity) visible among the group, although it is fair to say that they are a realistic reflection of the community they serve, in terms of age range, ethnicity and economic situation. This part of rural England has little of the multicultural flavour of the big cities.

The journey towards making the series has been documented in the series of posts here. Particular photographers who have informed this selection are Joel Sternfeld, and especially his series Strangers Passing and American Prospects,  John Myers’ series Middle England and David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project. The aim was to produce a series of images where there is a clear interaction with me, the photographer, but which also indicates how they relate to their home environment.

The images are shown full size below.

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Reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Technically, I think this assignment is better than my first one. The subjects are in focus and their positions in the images are pleasing. Each expresses something about their personality in their faces and the way they are standing and also something about their relationship with me, the photographer and a member of their group. I have learned a very useful lesson about how to interact with my subjects during the shoot too, as it became clear through the early ones that they all needed time to relax into the situation, and to chat with me about what they would like to show in their images. Finally, the idea of using some of the as yet untaken images as pictures around the Parish Office was a mistake, as it meant that I was trying to combine two separate ideas in the same project, which was confusing for me when deciding how to shoot the subjects. I have a tendency to overcomplicate the scope of my assignment ideas, and this was a lesson learned for me. Simplicity of purpose is best.

Quality of outcome

I believe the series achieves what I was looking for. Admittedly, this turned out to be some distance away from my starting point, but the final result is a truthful portrait of some of my fellow Parish Councillors and what interests them, albeit that not enough visual information is given to firmly pin down their areas of expertise. The series also hints at some of the issues that exercise my local community, and I leave the viewer to decided what they might be. None of the subjects has seen the results of their shoot as yet, and I must show them, as I would be interested to know whether they feel comfortable with the results.

Demonstration of creativity

This has been the part of the assignment that I have found most challenging. As can be seen from my previous posts on the preparation work, there were several false starts which did not achieve the effect I was looking for, and I think I was probably too focussed on showing  a sense of place in each image, rather than allowing the subjects time to relax and inhabit their space. Unlike assignment 1, the location is Home for all the subjects and they feel at ease in their environment, which shows in the final images. For my next unit, I intend to spend more time researching the idea of spaces and places and how one can express these concepts through images.

Context

Returning to my original starting point of study for this assignment, I see that I have not in fact strayed too far from my original ideas. The difference has been more in how I interpreted them. The work of John Myers and David Hurn was useful in setting the scene of current life in rural Britain, but my final creative choices were more informed by the work of Joel Sternfeld, and particularly his Strangers Passing series. Upon reflection, other more subliminal influences should include the series Sleeping by the Mississippi and Broken Manual by Alec Soth, which | saw last year and which I found very affecting, particularly in terms of how the subjects were photographed in their personal environments.

I have visited a number of exhibitions this year in support of this assignment, not all of which I have written up as yet. They include Made You Look at the Photographers Gallery, An Ideal for Living at Beetles & Huxley and a number of shows at the Brighton Biennale, the most relevant of which were The Dandy Lion Project and ReImagine. So far, I have not written up all of these as yet, but I intend to do so over the next few weeks.

 

Assignment 2 research – David Hurn

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

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(Bayley, 2014)

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.

© David Hurn

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.

References

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).

Woodward, H. (2014) Photography Oxford – shooting local. Available at: https://hollywoodwardoca.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/photography-oxford-shooting-local/ (Accessed: 24 October 2016).

Assignment 2 – The final idea

It has taken a long time to get to grips with this assignment, and until now I have had no sensible ideas of what to photograph. However, yesterday morning I attended a vitally important local event in my capacity as Acting Chair of the Parish Council – the opening of a new playground in the north of the village – which was to be featuring in the local newspaper in the Saturday morning edition , on page 25, so it was hardly headline news. Here is a screenshot of the page.

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A motley crew of people turned up for the opening, including representatives of the waste management company which helped pay for it, the Parish’s paid staff and a couple of other councillors. I didn’t take my camera, thinking that I would be too busy to use it, but there would have been several opportunities, including elderly and overweight people trying out the zipwire and candid shots of the interactions within a very disparate group of individuals, etc. There was one image that stuck in my mind though, and I dearly wish I had had the forethought to take at least my phone. One of our Borough Councillors (who must be in his late 60s) turned up on his motorised bicycle, crash helmet askew, and with his paperwork extruding out of a pannier, but brimming with enthusiasm. It was a classic example of the reality of local government at its most grassroots level, and I decided I wanted to work with it for my assignment, which is nominally called The Foot Soldiers of  Local Government – Portrait of a Community in Flux.

In particular, I am interested in the ideas of belonging and community and how these can be portrayed through the work of the Parish Council. Photographers I intend to reference will include Tony Ray Jones, Martin Parr, John Myers and David Hurn, although there may be others.

My initial thoughts are to make a series of portraits of some of the Parish Councillors, standing by the elements of community life that most concern them, individually. Some would be close-ups and others shot in the middle distance, to indicate something about their relationship to their subject, and all will be aware, but with the subjects not necessarily looking at the camera. So far, I am thinking the following:

  • Anne – potential new housing projects – outside, Wichelstowe – large scale
  • Chris – planning – in the office, looking at plans, or bus service, at the bus stop
  • Hannah – childrens’ amenities – at the playpark, or renewable energy, at the solar farm
  • Talis – closing services – outside the library with a placard
  • Dave – youth sport – at the Saturday football club
  • Steve – in the Parish office, with the staff

At last, I have a plan that I feel will work, and about which I have a sense of enthusiasm to put into action.