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.
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 decide 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 how they are portrayed.
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.
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.