Assignment 5: slight change of scope

Assignment 5 is back in planning phase for various reasons – mostly to do with time (first of all an ambulatory injury and then diary logistics not allowing shooting trips away from home for most of April), but also to do with me revisiting what I’ve done so far and not yet being happy with the way the assignment has been progressing. My last target date of completing the assignment by the end of April – and submitting the whole course for assessment by the end of May) – is no longer viable. So I am in a ‘taking stock and deciding next steps’ phase (again).

Revisiting scope

One aspect of the assignment scope that had been niggling away at me recently came to a head and I think I’ve now resolved it to my satisfaction.

My starting point for the assignment, several months ago now, was very much driven by a socio-political point about inequality being an underlying factor in the Brexit vote. I chose the shooting locations based on a set of criteria that specifically included a high Leave vote (>65%) as this suited my intended message. The shortlist was as follows:

  • Accrington (66.2% Leave / 33.8% Remain)
  • Barnsley (68.3 / 31.7)
  • Burnley (66.6 / 33.4)
  • Hull (67.6 / 32.4)
  • Middlesbrough (65.5 / 34.5)
  • Redcar (66.2 / 33.8)

However: the assignment objective has moved on from making a socio-political point in a straight documentary photography style, towards more of a postmodern critique, using documentary photography to make a comment on the absurdity of over-simplification. The Brexit vote is now the context, the backdrop – not the main content.

With this shift in tone and message, the fact that I had specifically selected locations with high Leave votes risked becoming a distraction – the socio-political message was potentially competing with the more subtle message on over-simplification.

A more neutral framework

I started thinking about other frameworks I could use to select shooting locations, less politically-charged and hopefully better able to communicate the intended message about the dangers of generalisation.

The one approach that seemed to make most sense was to look (dispassionately) at the towns I’ve lived in as an adult:

  • Middlesbrough (65.5 / 34.5)
  • Accrington (66.2 / 33.8)
  • Burnley (66.6 / 33.4)
  • Barnsley (68.3 / 31.7)
  • Dewsbury (54.7 / 45.3)
  • Pickering (55.3 / 44.7)

There’s some overlap with the original list, which is interesting. I’ve lived in a bunch of Leave-heavy areas in my 20s and 30s, peaking in Barnsley, followed by slightly more balanced places in the last 15 years or so.

The good news is that I have already shot in the first three of these.

The other good news is that widening the net a little allows me to use a broader set of ‘generalisations’ to play with, as different areas have their own variations on the media clichés. For example, Dewsbury has a diverse ethnic population and one of the angles locally is the ‘multiculturalism vs nationalism’ trope. Similarly, Pickering offers alternative stereotype pairings such as ‘young vs old’ and ‘urban vs rural’.

The assignment asks for 15 photos – I’m planning to deliver 15 pairs (or diptychs, or composites). I’m thinking three pairs each from five towns. As there’s six in the list above, I need to remove one. My current thinking is that Accrington and Burnley are geographically very close, so I should pick one. From my shoots so far, I think Burnley has more potential.

Wild card

There’s a wild card that I could include that would change the shape of the whole assignment: for four years (up to the start of last year) I spent just over half of the year working away from home during the week, in…

  • Richmond-upon-Thames (30.7% Leave / 69.3% Remain)

Now, Richmond is not only an outlier in my list, it’s quite an extreme Remain outpost full stop – it’s already had a by-election that was decided on the Brexit question and so is probably the most famous Remain-y place in the UK.

For this reason, I feel like there’s a risk that including Richmond might upset the balance of the rest of the assignment (not to mention the tenuous definition of ‘living there’ if I was actually dividing my time between there and ‘home’).

However, I also think that this imbalance might actually be a good thing! It’d be a different visual challenge for a start. It might add a little tonal texture / light and shade to the overall series.

So – I need to decide whether to include Richmond or not. And if I do, I will need to think about if I remove another northern town to make space for it.

This is not an immediate decision though – I can continue working on the ‘northern England only’ version of the assignment for now and decide later if I want or need some variation.


BBC EU Referendum Results (accessed 19/04/2017)


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