Assignment 1: the brief

Whilst I have been shooting, thinking, shortlisting, editing and researching my Assignment 1, I haven’t done much writing up of all of the above. So this is the first of a few overdue posts summarising what I’ve been up to on this assignment.

Suggested preparation

Read the section entitled ‘The Photographic Brief’ in Short, M. (2011) Creative Photography: Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA Publishing, pp.20–26.

The useful points I pulled out of this reading were:

  • This is a combination of a student brief and a self-directed brief
    • The overall parameters are set by the given brief
    • The specific subject matter is determined by the student
  • Personal connection to the subject can be very important

Given that this is a (semi-)self-directed brief, this differs from a professional brief in one significant regard – to be perfectly blunt, one can shoot the images, determine a theme in the edit and reverse-engineer it into a brief! In this case however, I did in fact come up with the brief first and shoot to it. (I confess in the past I have done the reverse-engineering thing…)

Deconstructing the assignment brief

Produce a small photo essay of 10 images that demonstrates your engagement with the lives, experiences and histories of your local community and its people.

You’ll need to decide on a single theme, topic or activity to focus on. Discuss your ideas with your tutor before committing to it.

As mentioned in an earlier post, my subject is my local pub, The Sun Inn in Pickering, North Yorkshire. The Short book referenced about suggests practicing verbalising the brief in a simple way (Short 2011: 22), so I’ve written a brief for myself as follows.

My project brief

“In the face of a nationwide long-term decline in pub usage, how does a successful pub attract and keep customers? This project will produce a photo essay depicting the range of activities my local pub carries out that help to engender a sense of community for the people in the town. I intend to show what a pub can do for its customers apart from the obvious sale of alcoholic beverages.”

The first sentence is a recent addition. Whilst I started this from a purely personal/local interest point of view, over time I began to see a wider societal context. Lots of the people I spoke to about doing a pub photo project assumed that I was going to be examining the issue of declining pub usage, and the closure of thousands of local pubs in the last decade – a combination of the financial downturn at the supply end and increased home drinking (fuelled by cheap supermarket alcohol) at the demand end. Most of the contemporary pub projects I found as part of my research were about ‘the death of the pub’.

But this project is the flip side – what a pub can do to buck the trend. The Sun was one of the dying breed not that long ago – it was rescued from closure in 2010 and renovated by the current owners, who then started the series of regular events that have made the pub the community hub that it is today.

Rationale

To a significant degree the engagement I have with the local community happens to centre around this one pub. The pub owners and managers are very enthusiastic about making the pub a hub for a variety of community activities, many of which are creative in nature – art exhibitions, acoustic music jams, vinyl appreciation nights and so on.

Interestingly, I’m not actually a big ‘pub drinker’ (I prefer wine to beer these days), and tend to go to The Sun for a specific reason – for an event, to see the art on display etc – rather than just to go for a pint.

Do this assignment with only one camera and one lens. If you only have zoom lenses then decide on one particular focal length and don’t move the zoom from that position – you can tape the zoom barrel to avoid moving it.

I’ve been shooting with my Leica Q with its fixed 28mm lens. This fairly wide lens is proving useful for capturing the kind of indoor scenes that I’m looking for.

Provide a short commentary (200 words) explaining your ethos and rationale along with your images.

This will be fine. The hard part might be keeping it to 200 words.

Aims

This introductory assignment aims to act as a stepping stone between Level 1 and Level 2. The emphasis is on engaging with the world with your camera.

You’re encouraged to be a participant-observer in the situations and activities that you photograph. By limiting your field of action to your immediate surroundings, you’ll develop the ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary – the things that may go unnoticed when you’re familiar with a place. This assignment will develop your observational skills and prepare you for more involved projects towards the second half of the course.

To the participant-observer point, there are two specific aspects of what the pub does that I am directly involved in:

  • I write and host a regular pub quiz to raise funds for a local community project
  • One month a year I use their function room to host an exhibition of my photographs

There are a few other activities that would be involved in just as a customer as well.

One final thought: I’m trying to make my Documentary assignments a bit more positive than the typical documentary subject matter – it’s tempting to make everything negative and miserable but I think there’s some potential for more celebratory material.

More prep posts to follow.

Sources

Short, M. (2011) Creative Photography: Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA Publishing

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