Tag Archives: Middle England

Assignment 2 research – John Myers

My research on the subject of photographing Middle England came up with the work of John Myers, and specifically his series of the same name. This interesting video explains his motivations and how he went about the project.

Myers, who was a lecturer at Stourbridge College of Art was well-known in the 1970s and 1980s, often featuring in Sunday supplements and photography magazines. He was quite open about the fact that he saw his work as documentary, albeit about what we think of as normal. In the video above he says that almost every image from his Middle England series was taken within walking distance of his home, so are very local, in a similar way to Jim Mottram.

Myers is interested in how a subject relates to the environment of the frame. He feels that the size and location of the subject in the images can subliminally give viewers and insight into the inner lives and horizons of the sitters. I want to use this idea in my assignment series, to indicate something about the subjects’ breadth of interest and whether it is detailed or strategic.

In the article referenced below, Frances Hodgson describes Myers as someone who refuses to exploit his sitters. There is a transparent honesty about the images, and a feeling that they were a cooperative activity between the sitter and the photographer. One can contrast this attitude with, for example, the work of Bruce Gilden or Martin Parr, where the subject is used, perhaps quite cynically, to illustrate the photographer’s opinions. Take for example, Parr’s 1980s Cost of Living series, which focused on the middle class people around Bristol and Bath. The images tell a truth about them, but it is a very politically charged truth, and not a complimentary one. Myers work is much more sympathetic, and that is what I am hoping to aim for in this assignment.

Myers says he often uses flat light and an eye level view for his pictures, as he wants others to see them as if they were behind the camera. Most of his subjects are full length and shown in the middle of the frame. He also says that he looks back at these images now and feels no personal connection to them – they are from another person, i.e. the man he was when he took them, not the man he is now.

Below are three images from the series which give an idea of how he liked to pose his subjects. In all three, the subjects are gazing back at the camera, blank-faced, but the background has a wealth of information about their space, as does the way they occupy it. In all cases, he said that he used the same 4×5″ camera, so that everything about the composition and pose was considered before the shot was taken, with the active participation of the sitters. For example, the image of the couple gives so much away about their relationship in their relative positions and stances.

References

Hodgson, F. (2012) John Myers – middle England. Available at: https://francishodgson.com/2012/03/09/john-myers-middle-england/ (Accessed: 24 October 2016).
IkonGallery (2012) John Myers: Middle England. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FXwUeXERZQ (Accessed: 24 October 2016).
2014, J.M. (2014) John Myers photographs of middle England. Available at: http://www.johnmyersphotographs.com/sales.php (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.