Assignment 6: Transitions: BENCH

Reflective summary

BENCH is a selection of photos taken along the River Cam where I walk nearly every day. It is a beautiful place where I have walked for nearly 40 years. I started taking photos regularly – at least once a week – from when I started the course in November 2014 through to just before May 21st 2017 – the day of opening of a new rail station that is likely to significantly alter the area. Increasing the litter – but maybe more attention will be given to clearing it up for possible tourists from London.

The images constitute one of a number of possible series from the thousands of photos I took over the period. I have many others of the seasonal changes in the landscape, including tree management, animals and birds,  impact of sporting events and particularly of the life around the three bridges over the Cam – sites of graffiti, reflections and various activities. I will work on these further planned as a series of books around human impacts on the urban ‘idyll’ fringe. For more of these images see my website: http://www.zemniimages.com .

Initially a book called ‘Flowers’ came to mind  because suddenly at the beginning of Spring the numbers of crisp and chocolate wrappers shining in the grass escalated as people came to feed the ducks and swans. I started to track the litter – how long did it stay, how long did it last. And how did its content change with the seasons. But casually thrown litter carried by wind was less interesting than the more concentrated litter, and other signs of activity, around the benches.

Originally I had planned to cover all 10 benches up to Baits Bite Lock, but reduced this to 7 to the key bend of Grassy Corner as the sites of most interesting activity. So I started to look much more intensively at these and chart what happened to particular objects, when new ones appeared and so on. Though there are gaps when I was away for travel for my work.

This project draws heavily on reading for this course, in particular Edgelands, Justyn Partyka  with his sharp images of crows on barbed wire in East Anglia and Paul Hill‘s work, including White Peak Dark Peak and images of rotting rabbits. Also New Topographics and Late Photography  I considered converting the images to Black and White, but decided to maintain the colour of the collaged patterns of bottles and cans. The project also draws particularly on my work on Grassy Corner in Assignment 3 From Spaces to Places and my experimentation with Photobooks and tutor comments in Assignment 5 Perspectives on Kyrgyzstan.

An assessment of the individual images and page spreads is given below.

The course as a whole significantly expanded my ideas of what ‘landscape photography is’ (See Course Review).  I still remain attracted to the beauty of the river at those few times when there are few people. I feel resigned rather than welcoming of the increasing crowds and lack of space. But doing this project has made me much more observant of human activity – rather than just trying to ignore it, and to bring ideas I had on social/environmental documentary to the heart of my landscape photography.

I plan (once I have a revised version and possibly one or two of the three ‘Bridges’ books) to approach Waterstones and/or Heffers in Cambridge to see if they might be interested – they do stock local books on Cambridge. This one (or the series) might have a local/tourist market if it is engaging enough for an ‘alternative’ readership (their main in-store clientele). The books they currently have on Cambridge are pretty mundane.

Assessment

This is the first print version mock-up. I needed to see things first in print as a book at this size to clarify things – as with the other books in Assignment 5. All will be discussed with potential readers, then revised and published on-line – for myself and people I work with if not for anyone else.

The book itself was produced in Lightroom, following on from my exploration of book options that I looked at in Assignment 5, taking on board my tutor’s suggestions to reduce images. For ease and speed of first printing I continued to use Blurb – with 40% discount. But in future I plan to look more at using InDesign (issue being how to calculate the depth of the spine), and also other printers – currently things are too expensive.

Some general issues

I chose a small square format because I wanted to be able to emphasis the abstract dynamics of some of the images. I did consider a large coffee table book – as a contrast to the normal glossy landscape books. But this would have been very expensive, and the images would need significant work to make them good enough for the high resolution at this size. Something I need to improve in future – maybe get a better camera, or use a tripod though this has practicality issues as the most interesting images were inevitably accidental discoveries on my regular a relaxing walk around work, not specific expeditions. I do though have a tendency to use too narrow a depth of field and need to really learn more how to make those decisions. Sometimes there is just not much light and I don’t like to use flash or reduce image quality.

I need to think more how to increase the contrasts between the different benches. I wanted to limit myself to 3 and maximum 4 spreads per bench, and I think this was correct. At the moment the narrative/layout sequence follows too much of a pattern. This may involve changing some of the images for others that I have, or different cropping and combination on the page.

I also need to sharpen the text. I prefer to just have one short set of text on the second page, retaining all the white space, rather than splitting it as in Bench 1. The text needs to explain enough of the images, but not overdo it to leave the images to speak for themselves. As I am very close to the images, I need to have some detailed feedback from readers to see how they interprete them.

I was trying to present the images of litter as still life, and downplay contrast between the more obviously ‘beautiful’ images and those of human activity. But I need to see how to increase the edginess of some of the images and spreads eg the black dress. And the newspapers.

Some of the images still need editing work in Photoshop and/or Nik Effects now I have actually seen them in print – to either increase contrast between in and out of focus areas, or select sharper images. For some of them the depth of field is to shallow – to really focus on specific parts of the image and need better cropping. Sharpness and effect was not always apparent on screen before seeing the actual size of reproduction, and in relation to other images on the page. The page divide in some of the spreads also needs adjusting.

The cover: My name on the front cover needs to be clear and I should increase diagonals on the image. The back cover I like as one of the very few images with a person in it (apart from Bench 1 and the vague rowers at Grassy Corner). But I would like to find one with the person walking away.

Sections:

I was not sure whether or not to put page numbers??

I also need to sharpen up the end text – re-reading Edgelands,  Paul Hill’s work and Justyn Partyka’s photobooks.

But I needed to see it first in print. And get some feedback.

Bench 1: Railway Bridge

On the whole I think this section is quite successful.

But I want to combine the text to put it all on the first page. And make some reference the changes that will take place over the next few months either here or in the endpiece.

Image 1 is a bit washed out and I would like to substitute an image with no people in.

Image 3 I could increase the sense of forbidden darkness in this image through some selective sharpening and colour adjustments – the focal point is the path at the back, led by the trail of cigarettes and blue bag. But I think increasing the contrast in the foreground – without sharpening or changing the background – would give greater depth. Contrasting with the uncut fence barrier in the lefthand image.

Bench 2: Fields

I like this section but the font and colour of the dates on the dishcloth series need some attention. Maybe some allusion to the first sight of ‘wild things’ in the text.

Bench 3 ‘Rithy City’

Here the ‘wild thing’ is really lurking. But the big image 7 in the centre of the spread needs recropping or changing (I have others) so the focal point is not in the page join, and the differences in focus are effective rather than distracting. Image 8 needs much more thought to how it will look on a spread. It was difficult to show that this is obviously the stash left by a rough sleeper for future use or collection.

Bench 4: Stable

I need to think more about image 5. Probably do a full page spread, but include more of the image to make the hat off centre and not on the fold. I have a number of different options. I also have more on the details of the sponsor of this bench, with images of the plate that might be more interesting than just the scuffed arm.

Bench 5: Bend

I like the black dress series, but have more I could choose from to increase contrast of textures and decay now I have seen what things might look like. Again I need to think more about the text font and colour. Maybe even have a central gap with text on either side of the central image. I think Image 3 and 8 could be combined into a 2 image spread. I have other images that might go with the plastic can holder of other litter in the brambles.

Bench 6: Brook

In the main spread I could follow the pattern of putting dates. Though mostly winter because summer things are more hidden behind the weeds. That might be something to include as contrast.

I like the set of square images as a layout, but need to make sure they are all in focus and increase the range of items.

I like the edginess of the final image of the coat by the ‘unknown girl’.
Bench 7: Grassy Corner

I want to change the sequence here, putting the signs and snail first.

The spread with the bench needs to leave out the middle image. The idea is to contrast the two ends of the bench with their different bunches. I have quite a few alternative images here that could be lined up as a spread. I think the final spread is OK as the end – this heap was the same day as the flowers. Somehow I need to indicate that as contrast.

Evolution of the project

BRIEF:

The assignment should address the notion that the landscape is an evolving, dynamic system. You may wish to confirm, question or subvert this assertion.

Produce a series of images that responds to the idea of ‘transitions’ within the landscape. Record the changes that a part of the landscape undergoes over an extended period of time. You may want to revisit a very specific view, or you may choose to explore a particular part of the landscape more intuitively.

You may wish to photograph at very specific intervals (monthly, weekly or even daily) or your routine may develop by other means. The quantity of work you submit will depend on your particular strategy.

The work must include a reflective summary (300 words) on how your project developed and how or whether it has affected your ideas around landscape

E1.5 Visualising Transitions

I intend to do this assignment on the River Cam where I walk every day. This has many resonances with ‘Edgelands’. This stretch of river has changed a lot over the past 30 years since I first walked along it in the mid 1970s.

Firstly with the building of the A14 road bridge, that has changed the whole feel of the place from a wild walk to something in-between with noise pollution, but also added interest of graffiti under the bridge. About 5-6 years ago the towpath was  ‘improved’ to the surface to enable the cyclists accompanying the University rowers to ride faster. This has significantly increased the numbers of people using it. To the extent that afternoons and weekends during term time rowers and their cyclists completely dominate the whole space, and local people tend to only go at limited times in the morning and sunset.

There has also been considerable population growth, both from a traveller’s site that has now become a permanent site housing also migrant labourers from Eastern Europe working on nearby farms. The area is  just behind the Cambridge Science Park which is one of the fastest growing high tech industrial parks in Europe. So there are also many well-paid more affluent joggers and walkers. In addition to the rowers, there is also an angling club that takes over the weekends over the summer. And some of the travellers sometimes fish (probably illegally) for their supper. As a consequence of all this amounts of litter have increased dramatically.

At the same time the river is still a very conventionally picturesque and beautiful place, with sunsets, reflections and swans. There is also a lock and a weir. The river is managed by Conservators of the Cam, and there are periodic campaigns by local people to protect the wildlife. There is also a series of benches, many of which have been donated as memorials to people on their favourite spots. There are very dramatic changes through the day, and also the year with different weather. Usually there is beauty somewhere, I still need to look for sublime.

I plan to start this with Exercise 2.5, making text a key element of the work. From this I will select a number of different views and do a map with associated concept maps, echoing some of the titles in Edgelands. Probably:

– rail bridge

– meadows

– the bend

– pylons

– benches

– wooden bridge

– road bridge

– boats

– stumps

– Bait’s Bite weir and lock

I will aim to photograph them over a whole day one Sunday and one weekday a month starting on January 1st 2015 or the weekend immediately after. The aim will be to show different ways of viewing each of the spots. I want to experiment with different lenses, shutter speeds, sometimes using flash – probably one of the days I will do the whole walk with set technical constraints eg using only one lens, put the camera on a fixed manual  focus,  to see how different a series can be depending on technique. I also want to look at post processing with some panoramas, photomontages and collections and also some superimposed images like Ian Brown.

The aim will be partly to explore my own feelings about my environment – why do I find some things in the landscape beautiful and not others? why do I prefer the quiet times – can I find things to enjoy also when it is busy? It will also be a study of the interrelationship between people and the landscape – including conflicts between users and the rubbish and litter…

For some earlier images – focusing particularly on beauty and picturesque see

Frost on Monday

Bridges

Snow Walk

Winter White on Black

Further thoughts from Assignment 2

My thoughts on this project have now become more focused after inspiration from the New Topography movement and psychogeography, textual approaches and a rereading of Edgelands. Coupled with observation of the site and too much travel to start seriously on the project in January 2015 as planned.

I think as a coherent body of work within the timeframe available to me it would make sense to limit my study to just the area around the A14 road bridge – its graffiti, pylons, farm and the view beyond. This offers more than enough material and variation in mood to make a poignant portrayal of the contradictions, melancholy beauty and dereliction of an Edgeland site. Showing its shifting populations, different uses and class conflicts. I am also planning to include some text. I feel there is a potential for quite an interesting book here.

I will aim to photograph at different times of day and in different light and weather at least twice a month – having already started in August. Building on earlier work.

See my Transitions August folder on zemniimages

But I need to think through a lot more what I am trying to convey, or discover, with these images. Are they primarily aesthetic/deadpan? or social landscape and commentary? Do I want to present them as a series montage of images per month to show the differences between the months, like the set of images of different stages of ‘Going North’ or a series of montages of different subjects with one image a month? Or a slideshow or set of large prints? Do I just keep shooting what I feel attracted to or now start to be more focused? Or some combination of both?

It might be extremely interesting to really experiment with different techniques and interpretations of the same thing. Looking very carefully at composition, focus and ideas of ‘the gaze’ to show radical transitions in the interpretation by the viewer the more one looks. Eg very bland, minimalist ‘boring’ through to fascinating and beautiful all in the same view. Including variatiins over time.

I am also interested in the layering of images and memory. Maybe compare HDR with normal shots. Very long exposures on the water etc. to really explore a wide range of possible interpretations. See where it leads. And then select.

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