Tag Archives: inside/outside

Exercise 3.1 – Windows or mirrors?

As I understand it, mirrors and windows can be described as follows:-

  • mirror – an expression of how you see the world, as opposed to how others see it. It expresses as much about you, the photographer as it does about the subject of the image
  • windows – a warts and all exploration of what the world has to offer, without any personal agenda.

However, there is considerable overlap between the two ideas, depending on their contextualisation, and the relationship between the photographer and the viewer can change the perception of the two concepts in many, if not all circumstances. One person’s family photos are another person’s documentary series, for example. Also, how we, as photographers, choose to position ourselves in relation to the subjects we photograph may not be what the viewer understands, and our contextualisation can a gentle steer to how the images may be read, but not a directive.

As I looked through the archive of images I have taken since taking up photography seriously, I see that I shied away from taking photographs of people, even close family, for a long time. It was only last year when I began this module that people began to appear regularly in my personal images.

Version 1 – All images are ordered by the most recent one first and they are taken from non-OCA related work.

Mirrors

Windows

It has been difficult to decide what image should go into which set, because I believe that all of them reflect my own personal response to the world rather than anyone else’s. As I have mentioned previously, I am a keen practitioner of Mindful Photography, which teaches one to look at the world with fresh, open eyes, and to photograph whatever catches my eye without making any personal judgements about the subject. I can see this in the majority of the images above. After all, I decided to make these images which reflect something I have seen, and another person’s interpretation of the same scene might be very different. All of them tell a story, with the probably exceptions of No5 in set 1 and Nos 3 and 5 in the second set. The meanings of the first set’s photos are particular to me (again a possible exception in No4), while the second set is more observational and about the external world.

There are several observations I have made during the selection process which need to be considered in more detail in future projects. Firstly, I seem to have many, many more images of scenes and situations which are observational of outside subjects; in fact, the vast majority fall into this category. When I look at the images above, I see that they are mostly taken during holidays and specific photo shoots and they are responses to those situations, almost documentary in fact. Equally, most of them are about things or specific self-contained subjects. The only ones which reflect my own life are Nos 1,3 and 5 from the first set. So, another way of dividing the images up might be

Mirrors

Windows

The exercise has drawn my attention to the fact that most of my photography is about external subjects in which I have no emotional investment. They are documentary. However, my last assignment has been more about my own life and the people and situations within in, and I think I need to spend more time on this aspect of my work, rather than observational travelogues. A test for this is coming at the beginning of next month, when I am going on a Mindful Photography weekend to Venice. My aim for it should be to come back with more mirror images and fewer window ones.

With this new understanding in mind, I went back to my 2016 archive to see whether I could collect a group of six images that I feel confident are Mirrors, and they are shown below. Not all associations are immediately obvious to the outsider, but they are to me, and each of these says something about how I view the world around me. I have included two abstract nature photos, as this is the photographic area I tend to play about in, making composites and experimenting. I have also decided that Assignment 3 will be a mirror based project, most probably on my relationships with people I have met through the internet.

 

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

david-hu8rn-quote-from-vice-mag

(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).