Assignment 3: Fracktivism [original]

NOTE: this is the original version of the assignment as submitted to my tutor. The reworked final version for assessment is here.

About the work

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial method of extracting gas by breaking apart underground rock. In May 2016 North Yorkshire County Council approved a planning application for fracking at ‘KM8’, a site close to the village of Kirby Misperton – in the face of 99% local opposition.

There had been a growing protest group called Frack Free Ryedale, built around opposition to KM8. Once the county council had approved the fracking application, people in other parts of Yorkshire increasingly became aware that they too were living in towns and villages that had licences to pursue similar fracking operations.

New local protest groups sprouted up rapidly over the next couple of months – there are over 35 Frack Free groups in Yorkshire at the time of writing – and local people who had never protested about anything in their lives became passionately engaged in anti-fracking activism.

What had started as a loose collection of small, parochial and – to be honest – quite inexperienced protest groups began to realise the benefits of working more closely together in a coordinated way in order to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking.

All this culminated in a mass rally in York that attracted activists from all over the country, and caught the attention of the national news.

This is the story of how some of Yorkshire’s least likely activists got their act together over the summer of 2016.


As requested, a PDF book dummy is available to view or download here (warning: large file).

Alternatively, if you prefer to stay on this page, click the first thumbnail below to see a full-screen slideshow of the PDF layout as inline images:

Contact sheet of the ‘longlist’ is available here.

Supporting information

The following notes do not form part of the submitted work itself, rather are some pieces of supporting information deconstructing the shooting and selection of these images, relevant to the academic nature of the submission. I would not normally explain a photographic project in such detail as I would hope a regular viewer would not want or need this additional ‘making of’-style information, so if you prefer to simply view the project in its own right, please disregard this section.

Structure and sequencing:

  • I sequenced the final edit roughly according to a ‘shooting script‘ that I had planned, to ensure my intended narrative was getting across
  • I have attempted to convey the ‘growth and consolidation’ aspect of the narrative by a few editing and sequencing techniques:
    • Gradually increasing the number of people in each shot over the set
    • Geographically expanding from the original local area to the rest of the county
    • Moving from a rural environment to an urban one
    • Images are generally more static towards the beginning and more dynamic / active in the latter half
    • Having a couple of blank pages in the first half of the book format to act as ‘breathing space’ before the busier second act

Notes per image:

Frack Free Ryedale sign, Middleton, June 2016
  • Calm, quiet, rural, no people, retro sign, old bike, all helps to set the scene as a sleepy North Yorkshire idyll
Frack Free Hambleton rural march, Sutton Bank, June 2016
  • Small-scale fundraising, very local, rural setting
  • ‘One man and a dog’ as metaphor for low involvement
2 or 3
Frack Free Ryedale ‘Nanas Tea Party’, Little Barugh, July 2016
  • Introduces the idea of ‘unlikely activists’, selling cakes to raise funds
  • I also love the polite slogan on the t-shirt
‘Living with Fracking’ film and talk, Harrogate, July 2016
  • I wanted a portrait early on to give a face to the movement, and I chose this one because the sideways glance implies she’s not quite sure what she’s doing
  • The people in the background help to communicate that the word is being spread
Map of fracking licence areas, Harrogate, July 2016
  • I needed a device to show how the geographic spread of the problem and therefore the protest movement was expanding – this map provided that
  • I had shots of the map alone but preferred this one with audience members
Anti-fracking rally, York, July 2016
  • This image is my favourite in the set, as it is loaded with symbolism
  • He looks like a seasoned protester = this is where it gets real
  • He’s on double yellow lines = he’s a rebel
  • Long hair, leather jacket = he’s a rebel
  • His choice of cigarette looks slightly ‘herbal’ = he’s a rebel
  • Demon graphic on jacket = evils of fracking
  • Lines veer to the left = the anti-fracking movement is in opposition to the right-wing government
  • This image is where the narrative pivots and the protest gets more organised
Anti-fracking rally, York, July 2016
  • I was attracted to this sign at the point of shooting due to the coarse slogan, quite daring for this crowd
  • And I was attracted to this particular shot due to the walking motion of the legs coupled with the obscured top half of the body – signifying that the protest movement itself was getting moving
Dr Tim Thornton, York, 2016
  • I wanted to get across the communication aspect of the York rally, not just the mass of people marching, and Dr Thornton is one of the high-profile local campaigners
  • The speaker to the left gets across that he is speaking to more people out of frame – supporting my intended ‘growth’ message
Ant-fracking rally, York, July 2016
  • I needed a shot of people on the move as part of the march, to signify both the growth and the forward motion of the protest movement
  • The skewed angle and the perspective helps get across this message
  • The wording on the banner is perhaps a little obvious but it gets across the ‘consolidation’ message that is an important part of the intended narrative
Anti-fracking rally, York, July 2016
  • I envisaged this shot right from the start, and arrived at the demo venue early in order to get a suitable elevated vantage point
  • Text-wise, I thought it important that the ‘Don’t Frack Yorkshire’ was more prominent than any of the other smaller, more locally-themed banners


Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

  • Materials: as suggested I used a variety of focal lengths, with two cameras and three lenses
  • Techniques: I employed a little selective use of shallow depth of field but for the most part this is shot in a fairly ‘straight’ photojournalistic style
  • Observational skills: in comparison to Assignment 1, where I shot in a fairly loose, reactive way, here I had a plan in mind on what kind of shots I wanted – so my eye was more keenly looking for particular moments that I had (at least partly) pre-visualised
  • Visual awareness: as noted above, the look of this is largely a standard documentary photography aesthetic, though I did attempt to include a variety of shot ‘types’ for visual diversity (portrait, wide, medium, environmental, interaction etc)
  • Design and compositional skills: I tried to find interesting framing and vantage point opportunities, especially in the more dynamic second half – I looked for movement, leading lines and front-to-back depth to help give a sense of activity

Quality of outcome:

  • Content: I’m pleased with the final photo essay from a content point of view; I believe I covered all the types of subject that I wanted to in a small final set
  • Application of knowledge: the major new knowledge that I brought to this was the notions of reflexivity and authorship – that I could impose a narrative on real events through my own perception filters and intended message
  • Presentation in a coherent manner: I believe I’ve structured the set in a coherent way; I put a lot of thought into the sequencing in both the planning and editing stages on this assignment
  • Discernment: after the feedback on Assignment 1 that my selection discernment could be improved, I put more thought and structure into this one, and gathered feedback from other students before the final edit
  • Conceptualisation of thoughts: more so than Assignment 1, these images were at least partly pre-visualised, to an overarching narrative that I had in mind – so I was applying a conceptual framework to this subject, just not a constructed one like Assignment 2
  • Communication of ideas: I wanted to get across the rapid growth and mobilisation of the protest movement and I believe I succeeded

Demonstration of creativity:

  • Imagination: these images were captured rather than constructed, so not displaying ‘pure’ imagination in the ‘fictionalised documentary’ sense; however, given the ‘straight’ documentary format I believe that I have demonstrated some imagination (subjects, compositions, vantage points, selections, juxtapositions etc)
  • Experimentation: for me this did represent experimentation – it’s the first time I’ve so consciously applied a structured authorial approach to a subject
  • Development of personal voice: to be honest I think the jury is still out on this one; I’m not wholly sure whether such ‘straight’ photojournalism style work is really my personal voice, but I consciously chose to do this assignment in this way in order to get some practice – I’m still ‘trying on’ different styles and techniques, working out what feels comfortable / enjoyable / challenging and so on


  • Reflection: as noted above, I found this assignment most interesting as evidence of the subjectivity, reflexivity and authorial control of the photographer – I have a clearer understanding now of how a documentary photographer can really mould or manipulate the visual assets at their disposal to tell whatever version of the story they want to – it’s both liberating and slightly concerning!
  • Research: I looked into the visual language of protest photography to identify (if not necessarily avoid) some the common tropes
  • Critical thinking: I did a compilation of useful commentary on reflexivity and authorship that helped me on this assignment, but by far the best book I’ve found on documentary photography is the relatively new The Documentary Impulse (2016) by Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin; the other particularly useful resources were the David Campbell lecture suggested in the assignment brief, and Hurn & Jay’s On Being a Photographer (1997)

4 thoughts on “Assignment 3: Fracktivism [original]

  1. Catherine 09 August 2016 / 12:22

    Well laid out and I’m so impressed by the planning. Hope the protest works.


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