At the very start of the MA, I was intending to explore an idea of community. Initially, this was very much rooted in how I would approach image making commercially: seek an interesting group of people and photograph them. So I set out to photograph the carnival culture of Somerset – of my home town. This led to a quick realisation that I was in effect looking at part of myself. Somerset carnivals are a cultural feature of the region and primarily run and driven by the working class communities of them. For me, coming from one of these working class communities, it was just a part of something that I escaped as I moved away to pursue education and my career. I am from a working class background in a town, which at the time felt like a trap, with low aspirations from my friends and own family. It sounds like a cliché, but I was told many times that the pursuit of my photography was a nice hobby, and I ought to learn a trade. Instead, I used my photography and education to leave and actively worked to disassociate myself from my upbringing – I considered it to be embarrassing to admit that I came from such a background. A clear example of this is my accent has changed. I sound like any generic middle-class Home Counties English person. Compare this to my parents, and that of my brothers, who sound distinctly West Country. My accent has been learned in order to place myself in what Lysney Hanley refers to as the ‘Second Room’:
“The more time you spend in this second room, the way that you use words – the order you put them in, the number of clauses and qualifiers you include in a sentence, even the sounds of the words themselves – begins to change … It involves learning another language entirely, one which places at its centre the act of thinking, and thinking about doing things in the future as opposed to doing them right now.”(2017: 38)
A large part of discovery throughout the modules has been this realisation that when I refer to things like community, connection and identity, I am effectively wanting to explore them for myself – the work is about me. Subsequent modules shifted focus onto the place that I live now, a place that I have never considered a connection that you might associate with home. Moving away from the place of my upbringing led to a long period of moving around, which created a feeling that I would move again. Watford was a place I moved to by accident and I never intended to stay. In the 7 years that I have lived here however, I met my wife and we have a 3 year old daughter born here. What other signals for being settled down would I need?! My work explored this through an investigation of then place, it centred on the idea of edgelands, which Watford is – between countryside and the expanse of London, but not either of these. A certain liminality exists here in not being one thing or another. This idea links quite well back to this notion of Hanley’s ‘rooms,’ for me I am no longer working class but I am not quite middle class either (only perhaps on paper).
The exploration of community within the town I live and linking to other concepts that bring in place and object have been really valuable for my work. Up to this point however, I do feel that it has been relatively surface in the way that I am presenting a view of community and avoiding the underlying reasons for wanting to explore it. Of course, it is good that the realisation is now, and reflects on the journey and evolution that my photography has undertaken. I have spent some time considering the underlying ideas that have driven my exploration to this point. Ferdinand Tonnies provides a concept of community Gemienschaft (community from close emotional bonds, such as family) and Gesselschaft (community as it is in civil society) (2001). My project has looked at the civil society aand should now progress onto the closer network and emotional connections formed through the idea of family.
The challenge here, and essentially what becomes the root of things, is how disparate my family actually is. Parts of my family have not seen each other for over 20 years or more. They are spread far and uncommunicative. This is at the root of my own personal journey of disconnect and also crossing a class divide. I feel that there is a comment to be made on the idea of family narratives and the way that we construct our history.
Ideas carrying forward
- Class – crossing class divides
- Object orientated ontology
- Photographs as objects
- Narrative structures
- Carmencita/Kodak Grant proposal