My work in progress portfolio is aiming to be about how people are coming back together as restrictions are lifted. It is also how I continue to consider my own connection to place. Through research into a number of concepts, I also wanted to explore in detail the idea of a documentary aesthetic and how this continues to permeate our collective consciousness of how we assume a documentary image ‘should’ look. Whilst doing so, I also became interested in the idea of drawing attention to the act of photography, which is how I am starting to consider some of the best photographic projects do. This starts to consider my place within the scene (Fig: 1).
This supports some initial research that I made on the concept of ‘gesellschaft,’ (Fig: 2) or the larger more impersonal communities that many of us find ourselves in whilst living in bigger urban and city areas (Keller, 1988: 171-172), and also the idea of community idiorrythmic living together but also separately (Barthes, 2012: 102). These two concepts have been quite crucial in understanding my own feelings towards places as I moved around a lot and now find myself living in Watford, brought here for a job. That sense of connection has never been there, even after meeting my wife and having our daughter here. The town has always felt fairly transient, although this may just be a personal reflection of my own feelings towards the town. Existing outside of London, it serves the capital via its many substantial transport links (Fig: 3).
It became more and more apparent to me during the time creating work for this module that my project was becoming a journey through Watford. An evolving connection is beginning to form in the Images that I am starting to make, which is partly out of the new spaces that I discovered whilst we were on Lock down, this is something that I wanted to reflect in this submission. There is actually a great deal of beauty in the immediate surrounding countryside and even in the numerous wooded areas that permeate the suburban sprawl of Watford. Until now I have viewed the town as the designated ‘Urban District’ that exists just outside of London with no real character of its own other than to serve London; the last place before entering the capital or the first town you enter when leaving. What I have started to discover in the sense of my title for the work ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’ is a new appreciation (UK Government, 2011) for the place that I have lived for the past 7 years.
The work and title is also to acknowledge that a work made during this time, which primary focus is on a community would inevitably draw connections to the current pandemic. Although my initial concept of the work was to engage with people as we come back together, I have not actively sought to directly photograph the evidence of covid – this is something that has been covered effectively by other photographers (see post). However, there does exist a subtle anxiety of a community emerging tentatively in the aftermath of restriction (although again, this is potentially my own reflected feelings towards the subject). I have attempted to show this in my image sequence, for example, the overgrown railway to denote a shutdown transport network – a major contributor to Watford (Fig: 4). The image of the concrete post with the words ‘help me’ written (Fig: 5), a boarded up youth centre – a usual gathering place of a functioning community (Fig: 6). A broken tree at the stump (Fig: 7), which is hugely metaphorical denoting a number of meanings in life and death, existence, and can also be used to show groups or individuals (Wirth, 2015) and in my case could also denote the community. I have also included an image of a dead fox, which is another important metaphor for sly and underlying, and also associated with blending into its surroundings (Smith, 2005), which could be linked to the virus itself. I also want a certain amount of ambiguity in the sequence, even with the above, I understand that viewers of the work will bring their own narratives to its reading, yet have a certain pathos to how that happens. During my last webinar, Ross also pointed out that that there are a number of images that suggest forms of broken down communication, via the messages, the power lines and the railway, which had not occurred to me before but I quite like.
Continuing with the design elements of my zine (Fig: 8), I have made a number of developed changes to the design created for my landings zine. This includes the position of the title text on the cover for legibility and changed the ‘and’ to an ampersand as I felt that it looked graphically better on the cover (Fig: 9). I wanted to maintain the consistency of what I had made for landings with enough differentiation for my WIPP submission.
My work for this module has been about establishing an applied approach to the research that I have undertaken. There is a distinct rhetoric to the way that photographic projects present projects about community, which is steeped in this idea of a ‘Documentary aesthetic,’ and how the language of documentary is bound to the mythology of the grand photo documentaries, such as the FSA. However, even more contemporary photographers have a role to play in shaping how this kind of project is depicted and how we as an audience interprets and reads the work. I have used Alec Soth as an example throughout the module, who acknowledged the specific use of apparatus and language in constructing a documentary image (Soth in Feuerhiem, 2015), and also has an ‘Alec Soth character’ that he will gravitate towards in the work that he creates (Soth in Flectcher, 2020), which perpetuates and continues to shape the collective awareness of how this kind of image is expected to look.