Journey into the Edgelands

After my initial discussion on the idea of ‘rurality’ (Beynon, et al., 2016) and how Watford exists as a place between countryside and urban sprawl, I have been considering this as a way to create links between the people I am photographing and the landscape. It was suggested that I also look at the book ‘Edgelands’ by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley (2011), which I have found to be particularly useful in exploring the boundaries of what makes the countryside and a town.

Figure 1: Roy Stryker (1939) Shooting Script for a small town

I have found that from some of my earlier research on the shooting scripts written for the FSA photographers by Roy Stryker (Fig: 1), as suggested by Todd Hido: “One of the most remarkable documents I’ve ever seen was the shot list Roy Stryker made of the things he wanted FSA photographers to shoot in order to convey the feeling of a common experience” (2014, p. 123). What I found immediately when reading through Edgelands, is the connection and links to the way that Stryker defined the areas that he wanted photographed in how Symmons Roberts and Farley are creating definitions of things and places within the concept of an ‘Edgeland’ informed by the experience of walking through them. What I have also found particularly revelatory, is that I have been photographing such places and objects fairly consistently (Fig: 2) and even more so, many of the areas that they refer to in the book are also places in the locality of Watford, for example the Lea Valley and the Ovaltine building in Kings Langley, not far from here (Fig: 3).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Den photographed for Surfaces & Strategies WIPP (Unused). Dens are referenced in ‘Edgelands’
Figure 3: Zoopla (2020) Ovaltine Building in Kings langley

Symmons Roberts & Farley note: “Edgelands are part of the gravitational field of all our larger urban areas, a texture we build up speed to escape as we hurry towards the countryside, the distant wilderness” (2011, p. 5). This is a statement that I have particular resonance with as my own connection with the place is born out of this need to escape. Watford is built on its significant transport links; the direct rail into London, which is quicker than if you lived between two zones within the city in some cases. The M25 & M1 motorways cut through the town and multiple junctions service it. Historically, the canal also passes through. All of these transport link serve to bypass, go round, or straight through the town, to speed you in an out of London, or to the countryside (Fig: 4).

Figure 4: Google (2020) Map of Watford and surrounding area.

It is a concept that Marion Shoard also discussed in ‘Remaking the Landscape’ describing them as “vast in area, though hardly noticed” (2002) and in this sense, Watford is essentially an edgeland in the sense that its infrastructure has been designed to take you away from it. Considering Symmons Roberts & Farley’s own definition of what an edgeland is “The trouble is, if we can’t see the edgelands, we can’t imagine them, or allow them any kind of imaginative life. And so they don’t really exist” (p. 5), which is seemingly supported by Lonely Planet’s guide to Britain that makes no mention of Watford, even after making this assertion about Hertfordshire:

“Amid the ever-widening commuter belt surrounding London, the tiny county of Hertfordshire has somehow managed not to lose all of its open farmland to the suburban developer’s bulldozer, which lends the area a charming pastoral quality” – Lonely Planet Guide to Britain

(Else, et al., 2003, p. 250).
Figure 5: Lonely Planet (2003) map showing Hertfordshire without Watford

To be fair, Watford is neither Charming or Pastoral so probably doesn’t warrant a mention, yet Hemel Hempstead, a town a mere 7 miles away, does make the map (Fig: 5) and is mainly famous for the Buncefield Refinery fire of 2005 (Lewis, 2015). Instead Watford blends into the M25/London homogenisation on this map. A YouGov survey also recently concluded that 27% of people thought that Watford was a part of London (Cowen, 2020), suggesting that it’s place in the commuter belt is confused with being another part of the city – it is already on the TFL map after all.

Figure 6: Keith Arnatt (1986-7) From ‘Miss Grace’s Lane’

Using this as a basis for experimentation has a great deal of value as I have found it quite challenging to begin looking at landscape in a different way to how I have been approaching it up to this point. It is also quite a nice development that builds on the idea of the shooting script and how I have been utilising the black and white medium to reference photographic works, such as the FSA. The challenge however, is when hanging my approach completely on the concept of Edgelands it is the shear amount of work that has already been produced around this, whether explicit or implicitly. For example, Keith Arnatt’s notable series ‘Miss Grace’s Lane’ (Fig: 6),  also referenced in edgelands, explores the concept quite effectively, albeit attempting to empirically look at the detritus left down country lanes: “this is the work of an artist noticing things in the landscape without recourse to judgement or polemic” (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011, p. 69). Perhaps my own differentiation and take on the subject might place more of a subjective viewpoint on the reason behind pointing a camera at such places, which is based in my own experiences of them.

Images inspired by Edgelands and rurality

I have started to photograph Watford as a kind if edgeland with the aim of showing the boundaries of the place; The locations and objects that frame the town and also where the rural elements start to creep back in (Fig: 7). From this investigation, I hope to be able to create a visual language that explore the characteristics of place and the impact that this might be having on the people who live here.

Experimenting with the approach
Figure 8: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Reflection on the surface of the image

I wanted to explore the idea of a boundary by utilising the qualities inherent in the photographic process to create a visible boundary, which I discussed in a blog post on ‘Flatness’ (Fig: 8). I enjoy the abstraction that these images create (Fig: 9) however, made a decision to re-look at my existing approach informed by edgelands. There might still be potential to include some of these into the wider narrative as that starts to form, perhaps in a similar way to how I aimed to resolve my wipp in Informing contexts, maintaining links to imagery and research there. However, the work may become disparate, which is something I am keen to avoid as I respond to feedback on the links that I make with my images.

Figure 10: Richard Billingham (2004) From ‘Black Country’

There was a chapter in edgelands dedicated to the way that artificial light inhabits the land at night, disrupting and penetrating spaces that would naturally be void of it during this time: “What does an edgelands night look like? Looking up, a cloudy night can give back anything from a muddy orange to a bruised magenta, with many nuances of pink and red and brown in between” (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011, p. 233). Richard Billingham photographed such places in his series ‘Black Country’ (Fig: 10), utilising the way that colour film resolves artificial colours to create and interesting mix of flood lit orange and fading blue skies that create a solemn feeling of a nigh time landscape void of people. Not wanting to emulate this but also consider it as a way of showing the boundary, I created an experiment in black and white (Fig: 11) to explore the concept however on reflection feel that it is leaning to far towards an entirely different direction that needs development together with the need to additionally develop the technical execution of the technique. Again, there is potential to include some into the wider narrative once the sequencing of the work starts. I am considering methods of including a more cinematic approach to this, which might be valuable to have some time of day options.

Photography as dialogue

I have referred to this concept but not as yet really sought to develop it. If I am aiming to have a better dialogue with the place that I live through my images, what is it that I am trying to glean from the images that I am making? Is the communication that this suggests clear and concise? Clearly, I have some work to do in this area to better define what I mean by a ‘dialogue.’ Tiffany Fairey & Liz Orton, when referring to Ariella Azoulay et al state:

“They call for a renewed articulation of photography that moves us away from a singular, vertical focus on the work of specific photographers and seeks to understand photography as a ‘certain form of human being-with-others in which the camera or photography are implicated’”

(2019, p. 299)
Figure 12: Phil Hill (February, 2020) Discussing Patrick Waterhouse and Martin Parr

Therefore, my own approach will require me to analyse all the ways that I am engaged in conversation and collaboration with both people and place. Fairey and Orton’s discussion around this topic is particularly important to the way that I have been approaching as they make particular reference to the work of Patrick Waterhouse (Fig: 12) who I have discussed and referenced as a good example of collaborative and socially engaged work, yet they note that caution is required “as it is unclear how much control the Aboriginal participants have had over the final published collection of images” (2019, p. 303). I had ultimately not considered this argument when discussing this work.

Figure 13: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Developing a funded project application.

Consideration to the above will play a particular importance to my work putting together a funding application for a socially engaged community project (Fig: 13) and in turn will inform my research project in preparation for the FMP. I must aim not to impose my ideas of an outcome on those I am working with but instead come to a collective agreement, which is only facilitated by me.

What I am still missing and how to develop my approach?
Figure 14: Vanessa Winship (2012) Colleen, Lexington, Kentucky

There appears to still be a disconnect between my portraits and the landscape images I am creating now. Much of this is born in the way that I am separating the process of photographing. I specifically go out to photograph one or the other and rarely cross over. This is a clear area of development for me. Key influences for the way that I have produced portraiture are informed through the work of Vanessa Winship and Alys Tomlinson who use a individual approach focussing on the subject together with a shallow depth of field (Fig: 14) however, it is still clear, even subtly, that the portraits are connected to the landscape and detail images. I must make more of an effort to provide subtle hints of place even when solely focussed on the individual. Sequencing and juxtaposition may play a part in this when I come to editing my next WIPP

Robert Frost Desert Places and Roland Barthes Living Together.

An area of research that I intend to return and see if I can inform these connections is Roland Barthes’ lectures on ‘How to Live Together’ (2012) and the links that Stene-Johansen, et al (2013) make to Robert Frost’s poem ‘Desert places’ (Frost, 1936), which may provide a justification to the way that individuals live separately yet in the same spaces, or ‘iddiorythmically’ (2013, p. 16).


Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Beynon, M., Cawley, A. & Munday, M., 2016. Measuring and Understanding the differences between urban and rural areas, a new approach for planners. Environment and Planning B. Urban Analytics and city Science, 43(6).

Cowen, J., 2020. The number of people who think Watford is in London. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 30 October 2020].

Else, D. et al., 2003. Lonely Planet: Britain. 5 ed. Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications.

Fairey, T. & Orton, L., 2019. Photography as Dialogue. Photography & Culture, 12(3), pp. 299-305.

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.

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Lewis, K., 2015. Buncefield explosion: ‘I thought a plane landed on us’. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Shoard, M., 2002. Edgelands: Remaking the Landscape. London: Profile.

Stene-Johansen, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2013. Living Together: Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Funding – Developments 30/10

This week I met with the Art Development and events officer for Watford Council to discuss my idea for working on a funded project and also ways that I might be able to gain support. This was extremely valuable as I was able to gain a number of insights into the kind of projects that Watford funds and also consider ways to strengthen my own application.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Initial Idea into a funded project based on community.

With the aim of working on a community themed project, which aligns with my research project goals, my idea is to work with students that attend the college that I work at and work with them to create a picture on the impact that recent current events is having on their generation (Fig: 1). The idea has been well received by people that I have shared it with, artist’s Jennifer Essex and Harry Mann noting that there are opportunities for a range of community engagement with such an idea (Fig: 2). That said, they suggested that I might consider widening my scope to include other institutions and also I should aim to take my time to develop a really strong application to the Arts Council.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Development and discussion with Artist pair, Jennifer Essex and Harry Mann about my Arts Council application.

The Art Development officer was also very positive about my idea for the project and also made some suggestions to strengthen my approach. Chiefly, my application would need to demonstrate the following:

  • Education: This is an area that I had in mind for the project as I am keen to apply my teaching experience to create a more socially engaged approach. Potentially, I would include a number of workshops that could initially include photography and talks to work with the young people and give them the tools to create their own stories.
  • Collaboration: Very much linking to the above. My aim is to work with the people I want to photograph and also give them the opportunity to shape the direction of the work. Their contribution will be incredibly valuable to the process.
  • Sound Budget: Something that I am currently working on. I think value is at the heart of what I am aiming to achieve here so my budget will need to reflect this. I am keen to create the work on film as it lends a tangibility to the project that the 16 -19 age group may not have experienced so will need to justify this additional cost of production.

Additionally, he also mentioned the following, which would really help support my application and getting the project off the ground:

  • My idea was inspired by the idea that the demographic of an FE college has one of the worst levels of social mobility, coupled with the ongoing economic impact of current events and the way that FE was essentially forgotten about during the summer exams issues, with some of the student still awaiting outcomes for their exams and qualifications. I am keen to showcase this age group and highlight some of the challenges faced by them. The Arts Officer was keen on this aspect of the idea and although he suggested that this shouldn’t be overtly political, it is something that exists and should be part of the application and project.
  • Watford was due to be Herts city of culture. Postponed due to Covid. However, there is potential to put something together for this ready for next year when this is planned to go ahead.
  • There have been relatively few applications to the Arts council from this area and they are keen to see some happening. This is particularly positive as I was concerned that the south east would be an area of high competition and it would be a challenge to cut through. Not to be complacent however, I intent to work on a robust application and ensure that it can be a success.

As a result of this meeting, I will be developing my draft proposal to share with Watford Council and consider the ways in which it can be supported. The Officer mentioned that there are also a number of other funding options available that my idea might suit, which provides additional potential to have my project funded.

Oxfam A – Update 30/10

We have collectively decided to push forward with the idea of an app, which builds on whet that group pitched last year. However, our app is designed to highlight the impact of that the internet has on the environment.

The app would primarily be a widget that highlights the amount of carbon produced by an individual and then provides a series of tools to offset this.

We felt that this very much fulfils the brief set by Oxfam as this impacts everyone who uses the internet and in particular smartphones. These ubiquitous devices are fundamental to the way that we live so it is important that the correct information is provided to highlight that it has an impact too.

My role in the group has been to start putting together some graphics and mock ups of what a potential app and widget might look like (Fig: 1 & 2).

Figure 1: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Initial App icon sketches
Figure 2: Phil Hill (October, 2020) App and Widget icon development
But where is the photography?

As it stands, the app doesn’t have much to do with photography. However, there are opportunities to include tools that consider the impact that photography has on the world, in terms of its carbon footprint. For example, Tom suggested that we might include some kind of digital clean up where you could delete any unused images that are perpetually stored on a server somewhere, using power.

Tell another story

One of my plans for this module was to create some work that was informed by the main focus of my research project, yet had more a commercial appeal, with the aim of sending it to commercial clients. At the very start of the MA, I was contacting a number of local community groups to photograph the ways in which they create and connect to the idea of community. My research project has since evolved to become more about my own connection to place. Once the pandemic hit and the lockdown happened, much of these initial connections paused, however I still maintained contact with a local football team who run one of the largest inclusive teams in the country. My plan for this set is to work with the club and see if there are any opportunities for a short story such as this to be published to highlight the spirit of the team and people who support them.

The first shoot was useful to introduce myself to the group and get to know how they work. I wanted to do this primarily before I got into any serious image making. However, as the day progressed, I was encouraged to start making some images.

One of my key areas of development is not showing my work to enough people before trying to get it out into the work and published. I am also not a huge follower of football, so I felt that it was important to get feedback from others. Andrew Findley in my own cohort has been working on his research project on grassroots football, so I asked him for some feedback on my images:

Image 1
Figure 1: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Matthew

I really like the contrast of his face against the trees in the background. I like the focal length and the vantage point although I would choose not to include the goals in the background and the two markers towards the left of the frame. I understand that they say something about time and place but I personally think the football kit is enough of a story. I love his body shape and gesture. His top half tells me he’s a confident young man, almost like Ronaldo. His bottom half really says something about his insecurities, almost trying to ignore them by his folded arms. I’m thinking of a good link between self-consciousness and adolescence. Raising important questions about male body image. Love it” (Findley, 2020).

Andrew makes a great point about how not to over sell the point that we are at a football ground. I guess that this is something that could be hinted at over the whole sequence as opposed to trying to cram in as much football references as possible. This shoot presented a challenge to me and the medium I was using in that it was extremely sunny for an autumn Saturday, which meant that the black and 400 iso film was difficult to get down to a shallow enough depth of field. I did have a set of neutral density filters but the shadows were strong and would have benefitted from being diffused. Ideally, I would have liked to have had the support of an assistant who could have held such things. The sunlight also meant that I had to face a certain way to avoid it, limiting my options for a background. I actually agree with Andrew that the kit is enough and I think that for future shoots I should work more diligently to isolate the subject in this way.

Image 2
Figure 2: Phil Hill (September, 2020) xxx

I like this portrait, the house in the background maybe conflicts a little with the girl’s head. One step to the right of her would have created a clear separation. When I’m taking portraits now I always look to create that clear separation. Although it’s a bit easier for me because I shoot at 24mm which allows more versatility. I also try to avoid shadows on the face where possible. I think I read somewhere that it reduces the objectivity of the photographer. Her gesture is interesting and a bit awkward which again lends itself well to the adolescence stage of someone’s life. I don’t need the shadow to tell me another story if that makes sense. As a set image 2 is fine but image 1 is an absolute banger and I Iove it. (Findley, 2020)

I really like the subject in this image but not too happy about the way it looked for the reasons stated above. Andrew makes a great observation in the clutter of the background. Clearly the shadows are an issue – I even struggle to put these images together because of it but was keen to hear what Andrew had to say. It would be safe to say that many of the images here are unusable from a commercial point of view, which is fine in the knowledge that I would potentially go back and re-shoot. However, if this was a commissioned piece where I had one opportunity to shoot, it would be problematic and potentially rejected for publication. Noting above that I could have used a diffuser, or had an assistant to support wouldn’t be practical for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Covid, and secondly, in order to gain access to shoot the club, I had to provide a CRB check. Instead, I should also have considered the use if flash to be able to stop down and fill in the shadow. It would have created a different feel and aesthetic to the images but ultimately I would have been able to deliver a result.

Image 3
Figure 3: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

There is a lot of space in the foreground although I like the line. I’ve shot similar images but I don’t know if I like my own. My advice would be to get as close as you can. Cemre told me to experiment with cropping these types of images. I think I had some success but I’m not sure how I feel about this type of image as a whole. (Findley, 2020).

My aim here was to try and mix the portraits with some action images, although I am no sport photographer. Cropping is a great idea as at the time I felt that I wanted to get in closer but was limited by the Pentax 6X7’s 105mm lens. Cropping the medium format negative would potentially be acceptable, owing to the size but also it wouldn’t impact the quality of the image itself. Experimenting with different cropping is something worth remembering for any of my future shoots – football or not.

Image 4
Figure 4: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

I love this, it reminds me of PE lessons in school when you had to do a sport that you hated when all you wanted to do is play football. I wish I’d took it and will definitely be stealing this idea in the future. (Findley, 2020).

As I am not an expert in football photography, it is great to hear feedback that Andrew may want to create a similar style of image.

Image 5&6
Figure 5: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

I submitted a similar image in my last WIPP and Cemre criticised me for it. I thought it was as close to poetic as I’ve been and I believed in it. I like the detail, texture and light. Maybe slightly overexposed but I feel that this type of image is good to control the pace of a viewing experience. It’s as vernacular and quiet as football gets and that’s why I like it. (Findley, 2020)

Figure 6: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

Too obvious, the corner flag is better. It may work without the ball but that’s just a personal thought. This type of shot is too easy for you and I know your voice is far more sophisticated. (Findley, 2020)

Potentially, my inexperience in photographing football is most evident in Figures 5&6 where I have gone straight to the clichés. This is important to understand and consider for any kind of commercial shoot where the expectation would be to look at the subject with a new perspective. Falling into this trap is doubly frustrating as someone who is not familiar with football because there is potential to view it from an outsider’s lens. Andrew is very complimentary and I was drawn to it because I though the grass and the side light would make a great textured image, but I also take the point he raises about Cemre’s critique of the need to move away from this kind of image. Seeing it now, I know that these are both obvious images. Again, from a commercial perspective, this kind of image should be avoided. Having worked as a freelance and editorial photographer, usual practice would be to google search the subject to see what the most common images are, which seems obvious but is a quick initial way to think about avoiding the clichés. I was so focussed on the community aspect of the shoot I failed to think about the obvious and the vernacular nature of football. Something that I clearly need to consider for any images I am making.

Image 7
Figure 7: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Harry

Love it. I’m thinking of Casper from the film Kez. Just think about the shadows on the face although the quality of the photo overpowers the shadow. Love the stains on the shirt and his hair is brilliant. His hands matched his ears in a strange way. Just watch the reflections to the left of him and the white object. My eye is drawn to them but that would be an easy fix. (Findley, 2020)

This is my personal favorite image from the set, even with the strong shadow. I have an alternative, which I quite like too where harry is looking down with less emphasis on the shadow, but the straight into the camera gaze is the better image. I may even include this one in my wider research project with a link to the place he was photographed (ongoing developments pending). I definitely take Andrew’s comments on the distracting highlights, which are the sun hitting some parked car in the background and I have edited this out of a later version of the image.

Loving the black and white, It feels like you are preserving the memories of my past PE lessons in the 90s. I look at Michelle Sank when i’m making portraits, she’s a tidy photographer and is great at isolating subjects often taking a slightly lower vantage point to achieve this. Alex Webb talks of finding a tension that creates a type of peace. That’s my favorite quality about Sank and what I try to achieve. I use a flash to eliminate shadow on faces and having that clean light on the face is important to my practice. It wasn’t initially but is now.

I’m loving Zed Nelson’s portraits at the moment and I think he has a variety of approaches which I like.
(Findley, 2020)

I am wondering whether I have the time to properly develop this story as I create work for my research project. I am keen to continue it however but feel that it deserves a great deal more attention than potentially I am able to give at this stage. This exercise has been incredible valuable however, as it points out the need to share work regularly and with those who have experience with it. I have walked blindly into a number of clichéd images that if done commercially, could have meant the rejection of the set. I must bear this in mind even for the work that I am doing in my research project.

I started to share my work for the first module, which was on the Somerset Carnival circuit. I still believe that this project has some commercial applications and potential to get published. Perhaps it would be beneficial to test the commerciality of my work by creating a better edit of this existing set and sending it out as I intended with the football images. That way I can then return to this set with the developed knowledge to make it a success.

Tell a Story

For this week’s task, I wanted to start testing some ideas in the way that I am developing my sequencing and placement of images together. As I have started to look at the idea of ‘edgelands’ in support of my research into rurality, I also thought it would be good to see how this might be coming through in the reading of my images.

The story

These images are an exploration of the commuter town of Watford, between city and countryside and could be considered one of these ‘edgelands.’ Where does the countryside stop and the urban begin?


Having woken up in a drunken stupor in Stanmore on many occasions there is definitely the fray between city and country. I don’t think you necessarily have to answer the question through your work, but raise the question to the audience and offer some answers. The lady and the flower pair well, have you tried the tree stump and the lady before? 

Are there any constructions developing right on the edge of any woodland areas/ views of development?

  • I believe this is the first time that Jonjo would have seen any of my work, owing to the mix of cohorts, so his feedback on my work is quite valuable, having no prior knowledge of the kinds of images that I am making. I was wondering myself whether to provide too much detail in the description of the post as the images themselves should be enough to carry the narrative however, it is a useful note from Jonjo about the need to answer any of the questions. His work posted to this discussion was actually left with little comment to go on in the reading and I also have not seen his work to know his intentions. I quite liked the ambiguity in the sequence, which also provided some snippets into a narrative. Perhaps I don’t need to try and explain away my images; the ambiguity in the reading may actually be a positive to the work. I am still looking at all aspects of edgelands and the idea of construction or development could be quite a good one to explore in the way that the boundary of the edges are always in flux.

Works really well mate, I especially like the the non human images in this one. I think they have really come along. The image with the layers of brick and concrete that have broken down is really suggestive for me. They are bit more contrasty this time as well I noticed which I also like. 

  • Ross is familiar with my work so it is valuable from a developmental perspective to get his feedback on my work. I am happy to read that the work is showing some progression. I feel that I hit a bit of a dead-end at the start of this module but since getting into the countryside and urban research my work has taken on a new life. He notes the image of the broken bricks, which I quite like too and almost starts to show how this idea of the countryside turning into the urban towns and cities is taking hold. The contrast is an areas of development highlighted to me from the last module and an area that I have been working on improving from both a technical and aesthetic level. It is good to see that this is being reflected in the feedback that I am getting.

I am feeling that I have made some improvements in the sequencing of my work however acknowledge that there is still a great deal of development to be made. I may be relying on the descriptive text to carry my narrative and this is potentially having a detrimental effect on the way I see my non-human images connecting with the portraits. Too much explanation may also have the opposite effect in the accessibility of the work. By telling you what my image is I am shutting out nuance and ambiguity that may lead to multiple interpretation of it.

ACE developments

After some initial idea planning (Fig: 1), I shared some of the plans with Artist duo Jennifer Essex and Harry Man, who have experience with Arts Council grants. The made some positive contribution to the way that the idea is developing and also some very useful suggestions that will hopefully strengthen my application.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Ideas on Funding blog post.

  • I should work to remove central focus from a single institution as the Arts Council wouldn’t want to fund a project that they might consider be me doing my existing job. The application is also for an individual artist; therefore, it should be about me working with a range of institutions.
  • It would be beneficial to find the local Arts Council officer to discuss my idea, which would support my application when it is ready to be submitted. There might also be a bridge person within the local council already who works with placing artists into educational settings. It is important that I then pursue any connection to the council to support the development with my idea and application. This might also include some match funding that the Arts Council would ultimately be expecting to see as part of any application.
  • It would be worth pushing for some kind of outdoor exhibition – potentially in the high-street – as the Arts Council would be keen to fund a project that is seen to be reacting positively to the ongoing Covid situation.

As it stands, the biggest challenge for my application is in the lack of other institutions to approach for the images. This in itself is not hugely problematic to overcome as I will happily make those contacts. The main challenge actually would be finding the time to go and work with them. As I work in an educational setting, finding the time would present the biggest obstacle.

Clearly, I have some work to do in order to develop this idea. I have made good strides so far, including some key contact within the council. Jen and Harry both mentioned that these applications take some time to put together, there is a fair amount of logistics to consider and also in gaining support from other stakeholders.


Figure 1: Phil Hill (March & April 2020) Diptych from Informing Contexts WIPP.

I have started to experiment with the idea of throwing the focus of my images, which is something that I started initially for my Informing Contexts WIPP (Fig: 1). What I have found in the black and white landscapes that I am applying this to, is there is a kind of flatness to the image. Uta Barth refers to her work being about the image themselves (Barth, 2012), in that her shallow depth of field forces the viewer to consider the surface of the photographer as much as trying to work out the content that Barth has photographed (Fig: 2). In the book ‘Art and Objects,’ Graham Harmon noted this in the chapter ‘The Canvas is the Message’ (2020, pp. 83-110), which is also in reference to Marshall Mcluhan’s ‘Medium is the Message’ (1967) suggesting that it is important to  analyse the medium that the content and ‘message’ is being presented and its impact on the concept. As Harmon discusses on Clement Greenberg: “For the most part, Greenberg was fixated on insisting that content in avant-garde painting must signal awareness of the chief feature of its medium; flatness” (2020, p. 85). And this is an observation that seems to be shared by David Campany when he discusses the work of Robert Rauschenberg (Fig: 3), stating: “here, the flatness of the canvas was emphasised, as opposed to the deep space of realist pictorial illusion” (2020, p. 106).

Figure 2: Uta Barth (1994) Ground #42
Figure 3: Robert Rauschenberg (1963) Scanning.

There is an acknowledgement here that the material has its role to play in first the construction and then the reading of it. By reducing the depth of field and visual information the outcome is as much about the medium as the objects depicted, which in turn can place the photographer into the scene. The awareness that this is a photograph by the image moving further along the spectrum of indexical, which highlights the influence that the medium has over the outcome.

Where I find it useful to experiment with is how I find my connection to this place continually tenuous. It is also a useful method in exploring where the countryside starts to become urban, which is something impossible to photograph as a clearly defined thing. The blur creates its own boundary that I can hang these ideas on.

Throwing Focus Experiment outcome 19/10

Reflection 19/10

I am quite happy with the way that these have turned out. There is a quality created by the blur that makes me want to investigate the contents of the image much more (ignoring that I know already). Although I enjoy these images and like the short series that it presents, I am still unsure on how they might fit into the wider narrative. This is potentially a personal challenge as I still find it hard to remove the iconic element of the image – I just want to focus it. That said, this was shot in a location that I have created work before, and that work might be considered tried, tested, even derivative of imagery seen before, so this is a useful way of breaking that kind of image making.

Additionally, I have just started reading ‘Edgelands’ (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011), which was recommended to me by both Colin and Andy during a couple of my webinars. The book is becoming revelatory to the way that I have been approaching my project and consider what I have been looking for in my landscape work. As a result, I am considering working more with the type of image that I created for the last module wipp, and really refine my approach to look at and explore some of the concepts presented in ‘Edgelands.’

Not to discount the throwing focus experiment however, just that presently there does not seem to me a way of constructing my narrative using these disparate elements, which I am keen to avoid owing to some previous WIPP feedback for Informing Contexts.  


Barth, U., 2012. Light, Looking: Uta Barth [Interview] (22 March 2012).

Campany, D., 2020. On Photographs. 1 ed. London: Thames and Hudson.

Farley, P. & Symmonds Roberts, M., 2011. Edgelands – Journeys into England’s true Wilderness. London: Vintage.

Harmon, G., 2020. Art and Objects. 1st Paperback ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.

McLuhan, M., 1967. The Medium is the Massage. Paperback ed. London: Penguin.

Chris Killip, The Land and Me

Chris Killip is well known for his social documentary images from his native Isle of Man (Fig: 1) and also those created in the north of England for the seminal book ‘In Flagrante’ (Fig: 2). It was suggested to me that I take a look at his work more closely, owing to the way that he also constructs his landscape images with people occupying the space (Fig: 3).

Figure 1: Chris Killip (197x) Portrait from Killip’s Isle of Man work
Figure 2: Chris Killip (1976) Jarrow Youth from ‘In Flagrante’
Figure 3: Chris Killip (1974) From ‘IN Flagrante’

On researching Killip a little more, it is also worth noting that he got his start in photography by assisting a well-known commercial photographer at the time, giving him a solid grounding in the technique of photography. This supports what Todd Hido asserted that craft is fundamental in being able to realise concepts (2019). Geoffrey Batchen states that Killip was influenced by the work of Paul Strand (Fig: 4) who as Batchen points out “Combined portraits with environments to make a simple statement about man’s symbiotic relationship with the landscape” (Batchen & Killip, 2001, p. 7), which Killip does extremely effectively and essentially what I am aiming to achieve by exploring more of a connection between my own portraits and the land. That said, both the work of Killip and Strand have since become a canon of photographic process, which is very recognisable and I would not aim to emulate this (considering my discussion around my own authorship). Additionally, Killip has also since stated himself that Strand’s approach was to have an honorable intent but a patronising result, which is in part the colonising power of the camera (Smith & Killip, 2018).

Figure 4: Paul Strand (1967) Couple, Rucar, Romania.
Figure 5: Bryan Schutmaat (2018) from ‘Good Gog Damn’

however, it is the link that Killip is able to achieve so effectively, which is where I might discover ways to present this within my own sequences. This link is in the way that the land is treated as a character in its own right, the same as the individual portrait and also the people within the landscape. There is agency in the land in the effect that it has on the people that occupy it, just as the people also impact the land. I have discussed this previously in the way that Bryan Schutmaat also places a similar agency on the place (Fig: 5) and it is in his approach to ‘Good God Damn’ that I find a lot of interest in exploring. The idea that the land is another character feeds quite well into my research into Object Orientated Ontology, which considers all objects have equal agency over the anthropocentric interpretation of them; it is important to treat the land in the same way as the portraits that I make. I can also utilise the tool of the camera to place influence over both the people and the landscape, as this too has the same agency on the objects within the frame.

There is also a question of representation, which I continually ask and Batchen also discussed this in relation to Killip’s work, stating:

“The new photographic moralists tend to dictate that only those from within a community really have the right to represent it. However, it is more generally agreed that good photography stems not from a position of insider privilege, but from having a defined, honest and impassioned point of view”

(2001, p. 6).

Although I have lived in Watford for the last 7 years, I have not felt a great deal on connection to it. Does residing in a place mean that I now how the right to represent it? I wouldn’t consider myself having some great insider knowledge that affords the that right. I make my peace in what Batchen says in the way that my project is evolving into an autobiographical exploration, which is defined and impassioned, whether or not it’s honest remains to be seen

The land as another person, only not there.
Figure 6: Uta Barth (1995) Field #7

It was noted during the last webinar by Andy that I had quite a shallow depth of field happening in many of my initial landscape tests. My response was that I possibly approached the land as I have done any portrait and used the focus as a way to isolate the subject. This led me to consider a way that I might include the land within my work is to treat it as if I were shooting a portrait within the landscape environment, only without the person present – potentially the person is me, or merely a continuation of the portraits that I have been shooting. Uta Barth, of course works with this kind of mindset with her photography (Fig: 6) and notes that her work is about perception and separation from the object being depicted (Barth in Mirlesse, 2012). I am drawn to the idea that Barth’s images are not out of focus as much as there is nothing presently in the field of focus. As my work centres around the portrait, an area of investigation for me is to explore the idea of DOF pointed out by Andy a little further by throwing the focus entirely.

I am also still interested in the impact that the qualities of the image have on the reading of it. After looking at the work of Awoiska van der Molen, I also intend to experiment with long exposure on film and also introduce movement in how Schutmaat utilises it for ‘Good God Damn.’

Me – Experiments with Long Exposure and Movement

I have produced some experiments with me in the frame. I have been hesitant to add myself to the work, insisting that my presence is inherent through the images that I am presenting. However, there is potentially an opportunity to further develop the link between the portraits and the land through my own connection to this place. I made a number of short experiments using to see how this might work, they are also longer exposures with a fair amount of movement as I consider how much of myself I would want to include into the image and the wider series (Fig: 7). Some of these work quite well however could drift into the repetitive and even one or two looking like a ‘big foot’ sighting image! (Fig: 8).

Figure 8: Phil Hill (October 2020) Thrown Focus experiment.

I feel that there is much potential to present a series of images that could be made up of thrown focus, long exposure, movement, or a combination of all of these elements.


Barth, U., 2012. Light, Looking: Uta Barth [Interview] (22 March 2012).

Batchen, G. & Killip, C., 2001. Chris Killip 55. London: Phaidon.

Hido, T., 2019. Small Voice Podcast 103 – Todd Hido [Interview] 2019.

Smith, B. & Killip, C., 2018. A Small Voice Podcast: Conversations with photographers – 94 Chris Killip. [Online] Available at:
[Accessed 13 October 2020].


One of the key areas I was to explore during this module is how I can begin to operate past my former commercial practice into areas that compliment and co-exist with my current working practice as a lecturer. I have been planning to continue my look into funding, grants, and bursaries. Previously, I have created unsuccessful applications for the RPS (Fig: 1) and Grain Photo. I am currently awaiting to hear back from Format 21, where I created an application for an exhibit under the theme of ‘Control,’ which has a number of links to my research into the idea of the agency inherent in the qualities of the photographic process.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Discussing entering awards and applying for RPS Bursary

Considering the lack of success in my application to these previous grants, I really need to unpick the way that I am approaching and constructing my proposals. To support this, I aim to share my ideas much more, and also seek mentors to support the process of application. One area that I am able to do this is and the next step for me is applying for an Arts Council grant. After much discussion, I have been able to gain the support of an artist team, Jenifer Essex and Harry Man, who have a great deal of experience in gaining both research and development grants and also performance and publication funding. I have collaborated with the pair previously to create images for their projects and now able to draw on their experience and knowledge in creating an application to the Arts Council myself. 

Initial Idea

One area that I am keen to explore is to work on a collaborative project with the FE college where I work. As my research project centres around the idea of community, the college performs a vital role in the community – potentially more so than other educational institutions when considering the idea of lifelong learning. There also seems to be a tendency to forget about further education when discussed in a political sense; funding for colleges has remained stagnant for some time and many are struggling as a result and there was also the exams chaos over the summer months that left FE students right at the bottom of the pecking order when receiving their results. Additionally, the Btec qualification that the students are studying has become a slang term for anything considered second rate, even by the students who are working towards them. This demographic is also the least socially mobile, with 13% of working class boys making it to university, for example. (Coughlan, 2020), and likely to feel the aftermath of the current pandemic the most. My project proposal to the Arts council, intends to focus on celebrating the kids that attend FE in a collaborative way, with the potential to collect stories, portraits and images taken by the students themselves. This is a work in progress alongside my current research project to test possibilities.

Figure 2: Matthew Finn (2020) Portrait from School of Art

There are plenty of crossovers and links to my research project, especially in Ferdinand Tönnies concept of Gemeinschaft and Gesselschaft, or community and society (2002). The college exists as part of the community in its societal function however there is a personal connection for me in not only that I work at the college, but I also attended one and also come from the same demographic as the kids that I teach. Historically, there is a precedent for this particular kind of project offering the potential for a re-photographic review of the state of FE. photographer Matthew Finn recently published his work ‘School of Art’ which consists of a portrait series of students from the late 90s during the shift in politics and culture (Fig: 2). Finn’s work was actually created at a previous iteration of West Herts College where I work now and before it was merged into the present college. The work was also created at a similar time to when I was also attending college. I feel that as a result, it could make an interesting review of the state of FE at another turning point for young people.

Initial developments

I have help initial discussions with various elements at the college who are very supportive of the idea. I was initially worried that owing to the current situation we may not be able to create such a project. I am aiming to be as transparent as possible with the project and also need the support of institutions to make it work. There are plenty of logistical challenges that would need to be overcome, for example the seeking of permissions. However, there are systems in place at the college that can support with this. Arts Council are very keen on working with the communities on projects, so I will work to create a series of workshops and talks to support the project. In my initial discussion it was mentioned that there is a current town initiative to re-brand Watford as a creative hub outside of London, which means there is potential to showcase the creative students in particular and as a result may create another opportunity for collaboration and support from other stakeholders. It also has the potential to provide me with images for my project and material to be used by these other institutions.


Coughlan, S. (2020, September 27). University entrance: The ‘taboo’ about who doesn’t go. BBC News. Retrieved October 10, 2020, from

Tönnies, F. (2002). Community and Society. Dover.