Figure 1: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Editing process – initial stages
After placing all of the work on a wall in my house, I found it quite useful to start creating sequencing and pairings of images that work well together (Fig: 1).
As the sequence for submission is going to be in the form of the journey narrative, I am keen to have it viewed in a linear way, so have place the work left to right in what could work as an accordion style fold out book. In a similar way to how Ed Rucha’s ‘Every Building on Sunset Strip’ (Fig: 2). I am going to attempt to experiment with this in print form to see how it might work as a physical publication and consider the ways that I might apply the technique later for my FMP. However, I feel that for the WIPP submission, I will possibly resort to creating this digitally to emphasise the reflection and development of my approach to images making.
Narrative Structure breakdown
The images in this initial sequence have been placed into the sections of the Christopher Booker’s journey narrative structure (Fig: 3). I have also aimed to take into consideration the metaphor presented in ‘Desert Places’ (Frost, 1936) and how the town shifts between rural and urban.
This begins at home (Fig: 4), Frost’s idea of identity and safety. I have used windows before in my submission for informing contexts. During the height of the first lockdown, there was a sense of everything being ‘radioactive,’ yet the home was a sanctuary away from this. The window creates a boundary in which to view this hostile world whilst remaining somewhat protected. There is a sense of wonder by having a viewpoint through the window, low and toward the sky that means the viewer id still curious and intends to want to investigate it.
The tree in the houses (Fig: 5) is a link to the rurality that exists all around. Nature existing within the urban environment and the many overlapping elements. This tree, obviously established is potentially older than the housing estate that surrounds it. Perhaps there were many more like it.
A more typical sight of Watford and to contrast the tree is the side of the fire station that flanks on of the older pathways cutting through the town (Fig: 6). It’s brick structure showing a level of built up urban environment that exists here.
An early pairing for this module is the images of the Church and Ryan (Fig: 7&8). Religion has quite a presence in Watford with many bases for churches here. The symbolism of the boarded up church is an interesting one in terms of the narrative, suggesting that there is a need to seek faith or truth. I paired this image with the portrait of Ryan, owing to his tattoo on his arm of silhouetted figures with outstretched arms, or in the crucified position, which could represent another break of faith. I am not aiming to paint an over picture of religion here however, the symbol comes with preconceived notions of faith, truth, identity that feed into the narrative here.
The bricks and the railing are also from the edgelands and make a good reference to the idea of rurality (Weisheit, et al., 1995). In terms of ‘the call’ there is a sense of a breakaway or move away from the present existence.
The Hero’s Companions
Here I felt was an opportunity to include some of my portraits. Mark, who is a volunteer at the food bank across the road from my house (Fig: 10), and Cephas who is the caretaker at the school where my wife works (Fig: 11). It is useful to remember that in a journey narrative, the idea of a hero’s companion is to show that the protagonist of the story is not alone in the journey so it is worth acknowledging that within my own community there are people who support it.
Here are two images of my parents (Fig: 12). I have included these as a way of considering the idea of connection. The hand holding the dandelions, or weeds is my dad (Fig: 13). In Frost’s poem, weeds are the ‘primitive thing without trace of man’ (Wang, 2013: 2094) and dandelions are also referenced in edgelands: “earth inheriting dandelions might also make their presence felt” (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011: 140). I quite like the connection made between the weeds considered without trace being held by a person. Within the journey story it becomes a parting gesture before the start of the journey and how to regain the connection between people and place.
The body of the narrative I have sequenced is the journey itself. Starting with a pathway that leads into the journey (Fig: 14), I have included a sequence of the more rural part of the town which is the main part of my own exploration. Referring to Frost’s metaphor of the woods being the people and the society I sequenced my images to show an upturned tree showing its roots, symbolising disruption (Fig: 15). A broken tree swing (Fig: 16), showing more of a trace of people, and a built den within the woods (Fig: 17), which is another trace and also referenced within ‘edgelands,’ (2011: 41). There is a sense of the shelter and potential to re-build in the sense of finding identity and connection to the place.
I also placed a portrait of Alistair, the fly fisherman holding a Rainbow Trout (Fig: 18). Alistair, come to fish to escape the everyday stresses of life and the fishing can also denote a perseverance to continue on the journey. This image I paired with the tree and the house, which is in the same location providing some context and also linking back to the idea of rurality of nature and urban elements. The image if the trolley on the pathway, which is another reference to a journey.
I also included another portrait at the end of Izzy in an allotment (Fig: 19), which is another reference to ‘edgelands’ that suggests that allotments are more of a political tool over a beloved pastime of self-sufficiency, noting: “Allotments have been used as a sop to the dispossessed for centuries. The General Enclosure Act OF 1845 took 615,000 acres from the poor and gave them 2,200 acres of allotments in return, just because we love and value allotments should not stop us from seeing that they also represent paternalistic tokenism” (2011: 108).
What I aimed to show with the journey is much more of the pastoral elements suggested by descriptions of Hertfordshire that tend to overlook Watford (Else, et al., 2003: 250). There is a great deal of rural beauty however there are still problematic elements to consider, such as the subtle political tension in the perception of a benign allotment, for example. Or in how a community so tied to the identity of commuting how been uprooted (represented by the tree and the people and society metaphor present in Frost’s ‘Desert Places’) and trying to rebuild (the den). With the fisherman and the person within the allotment there is another opportunity to show the connection to the land and people and this represents a kind of discovery within the journey.
Arrival and Frustration
After the journey comes some obstacles to overcome, which was my aim to show here. In ‘Desert Places’ Frost writes: “In a Field, I looked into going past” (1936) and Li Wang suggests the field represents nature, therefore in my sequence it is a way of acknowledging a return to the more urban parts of the town (Fig: 20).
The frustration then, might be a return to the existing environment of Watford, which is built up and overlooked, supported by my selection of the covered billboard (Fig: 21). The crashed car is a way of creating a visual stop, much like what happened to the car itself (Fig: 22). Frustration is evident in the damage done to the car. I also wonder what happened to force the car to stop so suddenly and whatever crashed into the back of it to keep going. The momentum of the narrative has halted in order to confront the next stage of the narrative.
Firmly back in the built up areas this section is about confronting those elements. The portrait of Tom (Fig: 23) in mirrors the portrait of Ryan (Fig: 8) to show a return to near the beginning. The bag if shredded paper suggests an unburdening or casting out of items not needed any longer (Fig: 24). There is also an idea of confusion associated with a bag of shredded documents and a curiosity of what they might have been.
The image of the Buddleia is blocking a pathway (Fig: 25) yet in edgelands its resilience is associated with hope in the sense that even in a wasteland (2011: 137), they are able to propagate. Phil Barker notes “The experience of being human is intangible. As a result, descriptions of human experience rely heavily on metaphor to convey something of that whole lived experience” (2000: 97) and I have also placed an image of a roadside memorial, which on the surface denotes a death in that location but also death can be considered as a new beginning.
Back to nature. The portrait here is of my wife and daughter (Fig: 27) so there is a sense of personal connection this image. The goal of the series is to find a connection to place therefore the journey narrative is designed to move through all of the ups and downs felt by living in a place that I initially felt no connection but am since starting to make my peace with it.
 Which is incidentally from the cover of a Muse album created by Storm Thorgesson who utilises symbolism for many of his most successful covers.
Barker, P., 2000. Working with the metaphor of life and Death. Med Ethics: Medical Humanities, 26(2), pp. 97-102.
Else, D. et al., 2003. Lonely Planet: Britain. 5 ed. Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications.
Farley, P. & Symmonds Roberts, M., 2011. Edgelands – Journeys into England’s true Wilderness. London: Vintage.
Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.
Wang, L., 2013. An Artistic Analysis on Robert Frost’s Desert Places. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(11), pp. 2092-2097.
Weisheit, D. R. A., Wells, D. L. E. & Falcone, D. D. N., 1995. Crime and Policing in Rural and Small Town America: An overview of the issues, s.l.: National Institute of Justice.