This is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback and reflection. The revisions are a change of cover image for the book version and some text editing.
This assignment is the most ‘traditional’ reportage-style documentary work I’ve done, and whilst this isn’t the direction that I am generally taking my photography, I applied this approach at the time to broaden my experience of different ways of working.
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 council had approved the 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.
Sample prints have been sent to OCA as part of the submission pack.
Click the first image below to start a full-screen slideshow.
As requested, a PDF book dummy is available to view or download here. 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:
- 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
Comments per image:
Calm, quiet, rural, no people, retro sign, old bike – all helps to set the scene as a sleepy North Yorkshire idyll.
Small-scale fundraising, very local, rural setting, with ‘one man and a dog’ as metaphor for low involvement.
Introduces the idea of ‘unlikely activists’, selling cakes to raise funds (I also love the polite slogan on the t-shirt).
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.
I needed a device to show how the geographic spread of the problem and therefore the protest movement was expanding – this map provided that.
This image is where the narrative pivots and the protest gets more organised, and it is loaded with symbolism: there are signifiers for ‘rebellion’ (he’s on yellow lines, the lines swing leftwards, long hair, leather jacket, interesting-looking cigarette) and the demon graphic on jacket evokes the evils of fracking.
I was attracted to this sign at the point of shooting due to the coarse slogan (quite daring for this crowd) and the walking motion of the legs coupled with the obscured top half of the body – signifying that the protest movement itself was getting moving.
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 loudspeaker to the left gets across that he is speaking to more people out of frame – supporting my intended ‘growth’ message.
People on the move as part of the march signify both the growth and the forward motion of the protest movement, and the skewed angle and the perspective helps get across this message. The wording on the banner gets across the ‘consolidation’ message that is an important part of the intended narrative.
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
As suggested I used a variety of materials, with two cameras and three lenses and a variety of focal lengths.
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, which was a new way of testing my observational skills.
My visual awareness is demonstrated by the variety of photo essay shot ‘types’ (portrait, wide, medium, environmental, interaction etc).
I used my design and compositional skills 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
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. I believe I’ve presented the set in a coherent manner; I put a lot of thought into the sequencing in both the planning and editing stages on this assignment.
The major new application of 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.
After the feedback on Assignment 1 that my selection discernment could be improved, I put more thought and structure into this one, and gathered valuable feedback from other students before the final edit.
I wanted to communicate the idea of the rapid growth and mobilisation of the protest movement and I believe I succeeded in this. In terms of conceptualisation of thoughts, these images were at least partly pre-visualised, to an overarching narrative that I had in mind – making it a kind of combination of the approaches from the preceding two assignments.
Demonstration of creativity
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).
This assignment represented some experimentation for me – it’s the first time I’ve so consciously applied a structured authorial approach to a subject
With the hindsight of rework, this project doesn’t naturally fit in with my developing personal voice; I’m not sure such ‘straight’ photojournalism style work is really my style, but I 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.
With regard to personal 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 disconcerting!
As part of my research I looked into the visual language of protest photography to identify (if not necessarily avoid) some the common tropes.
I did a compilation of some useful critical thinking 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).
Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.
Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fink, L. (2014) On Composition and Improvisation. New York: Aperture
Franklin, S. (2016) The Documentary Impulse. United Kingdom: Phaidon Press.
Hurn, D. and Jay, B.(1997) On Being a Photographer. USA: Lenswork
Shore, S. (2010) The Nature of Photographs: A Primer. 2nd ed. New York: Phaidon Press.
Wells, L. (ed.) (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.
David Campbell lecture https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell (accessed 03/08/2016)
David Campbell article https://www.david-campbell.org/2010/11/18/photography-and-narrative/ (accessed 03/08/2016)