2.2: Explore a Road


1. Whether you live in an isolated village or a city centre, roads are something we all have in common. Make a short series of  photographs about a road near where you live. You may choose to photograph the street you live or work on, or another nearby. How you choose to approach this task is your decision, but use this exercise to develop the observational skills that will be challenged in Assignment Two. The objective is to try to think about something that is familiar to you in a different way. You don’t need to make any preparations for this exercise. Work intuitively, and try not to labour the exercise. Compile a digital contact sheet from your shoot and evaluate your work, identifying images of particular interest – to you or, potentially, to a wider audience.

Christmas 2014: Selection of images

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I like getting up early and going for a walk on Xmas Day. The rest of the family are usually a bit hung over from parties with schoolfriends they have not seen for some time. These were taken between 9am and 11am. The weather was sunny after rain. Working intuitively I wanted to show something of the discovery of shapes, reflections and some beauty in the apparent greyness of suburbia. As I went I also started to look more closely at the houses – only the occasional sign of Xmas – one wreath and the cotoneaster berries. Often interrupted building work, boarded up council houses, and signs saying no callers. Washing on the line. Then the contradictions between upwardly aspirational environmentally-aware middle class families with recently installed solar panels and the scratched metal surfaces and rather bleak bus shelter that had been rebuilt. I was a bit surprised when the bus actually arrived – people visiting relatives I guessed. I quite like the final image – like a shooting star contrasting with the slow recently imposed speed limit down below. But all a bit sad and bleak really – maybe most people who could had gone away?

Thumbnails contact sheet

I had problems putting this in the blog because of limited display options. My main queries were whether I should have put in more of the bleaker wide angle images of empty streets. In the end I decided to focus more on the search for Christmas.

2. Watch one of the films mentioned in this section or any other ‘road movie’ of your choice. Write a short review (around 500 words), focusing on how the road features within the film’s narrative.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across America.  The novel, published in 1957, is considered a defining work of the postwar Beat and Counterculture generations of the 1950s, with many key figures in the Beat movement, such as William S. Burroughs (Old Bull Lee) and Allen Ginsberg (Carlo Marx) represented by characters in the book, including Kerouac himself as the narrator Sal Paradise. The film was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Walter Salles, in 2012. It focuses more on the emotional relationships and love trianbgles than the book, with a much more sympathetic and rounded treatment of the women for a modern audience. But other characters on the road who are quite detailed in the book have been omitted. Jazz plays a less obvious and vibrant role in the film than in the book where it is a real source of energy and exploration.

The road is the central connecting element – a search for some meaning between episodes of drug abuse, sad relationships and meaningless sexual encounters. It is travelled in a variety of ways: on foot, hitchhiking, by bus and by car – often driven at breakneck speed under the influence of drugs, with sex in the front or back seats. On the one hand it is a symbol of freedom – speed, wide open spaces, long roads to distant mountains and dramatic lighting of dawn and sunset, and white driving snow. For Sal it is a search for his voice as a writer.

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

“because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars…”

But ultimately it is shown as meaningless – an attempt to run away from life, to avoid commitment and complexity, a road to suicide, to find something that does not exist.

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road: The Original Scroll

The break point is where Dean abandons Sal in Mexico when he is very ill. Then the successful writer Sal turns away from Dean when he is obviously messed up – but a rather ambivalent ending – does anything have any meaning if not the road?

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

Kerouac died, at the age of 47, was determined to be due to an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis, the result of a lifetime of heavy drinking, along with complications from an untreated hernia and a bar fight he had been involved in several weeks prior to his death.


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