Photography project 3 : a sense of place

Ian Berry – Whitby

Looking at Ian Berry’s photographs of people in Whitby, the sense of distance and depth is extraordinary. Without the people, there would be less of this as the people themselves are placed in such a way that they recede into the distance. In terms of a sense of place, the people create this by their postures, clothing, age and the mood set with the light. The views of houses and landscape contribute to the idea of people living close together, creating a community.

Absence of familiar objects in photographs

Looking carefully at the Jessie Alexander image which has no familiar images, there is a temptation to create some familiarity by imagining what the images might be. Because there seems to be a light source it could be a window. From the shape it appears to be high up away from the floor. Because it is patterned in some way, it could be a stained glass window. It appears to be broken and the area that could be a floor, seems to be rough, possibly holding fragments of broken glass. Could it be a church window, possibly in a derelict building?

Exercise 1

The images suggest different narratives. The first image of the gate invites a walk on the fields overlooking a large city. There is a sense of spaciousness and of being above the city which would be noisy, busy and full of people and activity. The contrast between the two offers a balance. The gate is the largest object in the picture which together with the fence, appears to contain the city and field beyond. Although the gate is inviting, it is also a barrier.

The second image shows the buildings more clearly, bringing the viewer into the city, particularly focusing on the three tower blocks. In this image nothing contains the city as it sprawls out onto the hillside in the background. The three tower blocks are considerably taller than the buildings around them.

Exercise 2

When on holiday I enjoy taking photos for different reasons, sometimes of unusual things that I might not have seen before  and sometimes to remind me of a wonderful time. ship-and-houses
In reviewing some holiday  photos I did note the composition. I was not so aware of the viewpoint. The photo of the cruise ship was taken from a small boat crossing the body of water near Copenhagen. It would not have been possible to take the same shot at a later time and I was glad the boat stopped long enough to get this image. The photo was more about the strange and unexpected juxtaposition of ship and houses and friends who have seen it have also been surprised by this.

The goats in the tree in Morocco were something I had never seen and when looking at the photograph I still find it remarkable.
The image of camels zigzagging through the desert was taken outside Cairo and again the motivation was the unusual nature of the scene, the vastness of the landscape and the completely different way of travelling.


camels-in-desertI liked the sense of distance shown by the disappearing animals. I did not think about the lighting although I was aware of the brightness and the shadows, and the reflection of light from the sand.
I particularly like the image of the Cairo policeman on the camel because of the background of the city and the hazy pollution. I don’t think it is a good photograph probably because  it was taken very swiftly, but it pleases me to remember the moment and again the strange juxtaposition of the city and the desert.

The photo of the felucca sailing on the Nile was taken because of the mood and peaceful sense of timelessness. The morning  light was beautiful and I felt I had stepped back in time. I was on a riverboat which was moving quite slowly passing the felucca. Again, the exact image could not have been repeated, although I probably could have found a similar postcard. I don’t buy postcards of these scenes because I want to be part of them in my memories. felucca
Overall, I notice that with holiday pictures I tend not to take too long to observe the light or viewpoint, although I do try to frame the image and find a pleasing balance in the composition. The qualities that attract me seem to be the strangeness that is outside of my experience. When showing them to others, they do seem to appreciate the strangeness.
Taking pictures with iPads and mobile phones is here and not going away. It gives more of an equal opportunity for people who have these devices to take photographs and perhaps encourage them to look more closely at their subject.  At one time only serious photographers could afford a good camera and because of the cost of film and development it was necessary to learn the skills needed. Some mobile phones take good quality photographs and the people using them appreciate that. It seems to be a sign of the times that digital images require little thought, but I believe that good photography taken carefully and with thought, will always stand out.

Research point
Whilst exploring the photographers related to New Topographics, I looked at the work of Robert Adams , Faye Godwin , Mitch Epstein , John Schott , Stephen Shore and Nicholas Nixon. Perhaps because these photographers were working mostly in the 70s with their New Topographics projects , the images are not us startling today as they might have been in those times . We now have Google images of cities taken from the air and taken from space which show in more detail the urban sprawl of humanity. I do think that the artistry of the topographic photographers is very pleasing in a completely different way to the satisfying images from space. The care and skill needed to take  photographs with a particular message is more obvious to me now. To use a satellite created image seems to require little artistry and more technology. I don’t see the message, just the outcome.

The photographers drawing attention to environmental issues are of course to be applauded. I have personally strong feelings about our abuse of the environment particularly in damaging the natural habitats of other species . However our own species has created its own habitat from bricks and stone , steel and glass . I do not find this particularly important when looking at urban photographs . The towns and cities are here and this is where we live . I do find images of metal or plastic junk to be more distressing . In terms of my own choice of subject being influenced by these photographers , I think what I would take away is more about how to frame a subject . The juxtaposition of images such as the bison on the road with a car in the background , taken by Faye Godwin , I find fascinating Initially it looked like a quirky idea but as I looked more deeply I felt the tension of the manmade structures and the car intruding on the habitat of the bison.

I will continue to look for those sorts of anomalies while  looking for line, light and composition in more urban areas . There is also the point that everything is part of the landscape whether beautiful or not. The caverns and caves, the  concrete buildings and the castles are all part of the whole.


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