Part of my exploration this module has been to look at the environment that would inevitably accompany my portraits. I think that up until now, I have considered these images secondary and transitional in terms of the narrative that takes you from portrait to portrait. As a result, I was unsure of how to begin this process and decided to use a psychogeography approach that we looked at during the previous module, That gave me the route, and for the content, I came across the shooting scripts written for the FSA photographers in Todd Hido’s book ‘On Landscapes, interiors, and the Nude’ (Hido, 2014, p. 123). Additionally, I think there is also a clear influence on the part of the New Topographic style of banal photography, that I have come back to time and time again when shooting this kind of image (Fig. 3).
The approach, has been to go out and collect images using the above influences, I have not aimed to focus on anything specific as yet. For this shoot however, I had the benefit of a light that I was happy to shoot with and as I ended up walking past locations from my first shoot 1 (See post). I took the opportunity to re shoot some of my images for comparison (Fig. 4 & 5). Hido discusses his approach to projects where he tends to shoot first and allow the narratives reveal themselves in the editing process (Hido, 2014, p. 114). I have enjoyed following that ethos up to this point, however considering the topics for week 5, I believe there is an opportunity to look at the land in the same way that I have approached finding my portraits and developing my approach to create images to better reflect my intentions. This is an important consideration.
Many of the images that I have shot seem to reveal a tendency to focus on the detritus that I come across along my route, for example there were at least 4 fridges* fly-tipped on the streets which although were there and existed I chose to photograph one of them owing to the children’s stickers still on the top door (Fig. 6). This for me was indexical of the family that once owned this appliance, who were seemingly able replace it, they were not apparently in the position to properly dispose of it. Having been left on the pavement denotes a potential poverty of the area, or at least a reduction of civic pride that you might not find in a more gentrified area. My intention on this shoot was not necessarily to highlight the poverty and civic pride of the environment, however part of my look at my local community is my connection to it, especially now I am being forced to move home once again (See post) and makes links back to the writing of Robert Putnam, who discusses how “residential stability is strongly associated with civic engagement” (Putnam, 2000, p. 211). The images of detritus are reflective of the people who live there, though only reflective and not necessarily representative of them as people.
How can an environment and the land reflect people?
This is the fundamental question that I can ask myself moving forward with the environmental images that I am taking. When considering the gaze in which we all view the world, the reference t the Freudian idea of anthropomorphising the land into something that is feminine, discussed in the body and the land presentation (Alexander, 2020) intrigues me. Where I feel more study is needed for me to recognise the feminine in the landscape, I do see the correlation of how men occupy the world through their rugged pursuits and women are there to be occupied, in the sense of being objectified, which was also a conclusion drawn when John Berger interviewed a group of women in response to an episode of ‘Ways of Seeing’ (1972). An anthropomorphising of the land can be seen in other ways, as we potentially see those reflections and indexical traces of the people living in them, especially within the urban and built up areas in which I am focussing. What people throw away gives away a fair amount of information about the people who occupy a space. As I have mentioned previously, it can also give us clues to how connected they might be within the community; if you are prepared to throw away and leave the discarded where it falls, how proud are you about the place where you live? If others are not challenging this, how worried are they about the cohesiveness of their community? You can in essence look at a picture of a pile of rubbish within the environment, and create a mental image of the person who contributed to it and the socio-economic space in which they occupy.
I have discussed the neutrality of the image a lot over my last few posts. No image is neutral, no gaze can be neutral, and also images of landscapes also cannot be neutral. After reading the text ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’ by Deborah Bright (Bright, 1985) I can see that the land forms part of the cultural myth. For the US, the Landscape is part of the national narrative of overcoming great odds in order to occupy and control their world, with no mention of how this might have been at the expense of the indigenous population. In the tradition of European oil painting, the landscape image was created to denote the spectator owners vast wealth (Ways of Seeing, 1972).
Figure 7. Shooting script for a small town (Stryker, 1939).
I started my project for this module with the shooting script on photographing the small town (Stryker, 1939) which I found a useful starting topography in seeking out all of the images that might be considered part of the town vernacular. I previously reflected and discussed the use of language in creating the conditions for gaze (see post), and the same could be said of the FSA shooting script that I started with (Fig. 7). The lists were written in order to focus on specific elements of society in order to present them in a way consistent with the goals of the FSA project, that is to say, to show the value of the poorest in American society, albeit not hiding the fact it was an exercise in propaganda: “A pictorial documentation of our rural areas and rural problems (Stryker’s words)” (Sontag, 1979, p. 62). The lists could encourage and exacerbate how we gaze at such problems.
I enjoy many of the images that I took on this shoot, so the question of where they could sit in the narrative is crucial, as it the representation and also the gaze. If I am focussing on the indexical, then there is much potential to include images such as the dog bone (Fig. 8), this trace that someone was here is useful to understand the diversity of the area when I am unable to photograph everyone who lives here. My dominant reading will change depending on the way that I sequence this work, so I should work to clear up any ambiguity in my intention. Something that I don’t think will happen until the very end of this project.
- *I could start a project on fridges with some more material.
Alexander, J., 2020. Week 5: The Body and The Land. Falmouth: Falmouth University.
Bright, D., 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlborough Men. Exposure, 23(1), p. Online.
Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.
Hill, P., 2019. ‘Peterborough Appliances Truck Load Sale. Ontario, Canada.’. [Photo].
Hill, P., 2020. Dog bone near Churchfield Road. [Photo].
Hill, P., 2020. Fridge Freezer left out on the pavement. St Albans Road.. [Photo].
Hill, P., 2020. Palm Tree, Northwestern Avenue 08/02. [Photo].
Hill, P., 2020. Palm Tree, Northwestern Avenue 25/01. [Photo].
Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone. 1 ed. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.
Stryker, R., 1939. Shooting script on the Small Town, Washington DC: Library of Congress.
Ways of Seeing. 1972. [Film] Directed by Michael Dibb. UK: BBC.