Assignment 6: Pre-Assessment Review

As this ‘assignment’ is comprised of reworking Assignments 1 to 5 and reviewing the overall submission for assessment with my tutor, the substantive output is presented under the categories of those five assignments.

However, it is useful to capture the inputs, processes and outputs of the rework phase, and to take this opportunity to make some observations about the overall learning journey, and the similarities and differences across the series of assignments.

Tutor feedback | Response to feedback


Assignment 1: Fun in the Sun

misc

This was a fairly standard ‘fly on the wall’ documentary photography project about the local pub, and I hadn’t tried to do anything particularly experimental in the original version or the rework.

This is the assignment that underwent the most significant re-edit. The main feedback from my tutor was that the image selection wasn’t the optimal version for getting across the message I wanted to (about the wide variety of community activities the pub organises in order to keep its customers in a declining market). He suggested replacing over half of the images with alternatives from the contact sheet.

In the rework I did swap out six out of the ten images, though a slightly different six than the tutor suggested – I took the general advice on narrative flow and honing the message and applied that to a re-edit. I’m happier with the reworked version, it has a little more humour and communicates the character (and characters) of the place better than the original.

I added a short sentence to the introduction reflecting on the assignment and why I’d reworked what I did from the vantage point of the end of the course.


Assignment 2: A Hole in the World

of livelihood

This was a more expressive assignment and less traditional documentary brief where I was asked to produce eight single images on a shared theme – I used loss.

I didn’t change any of the images, though the sequence was tweaked slightly on tutor advice, in terms of the visual flow.

The main challenge in rework was to better address the inclusion of the one image that was discordant with the rest, from a visual style and creative approach point of view – the ‘Bowie’ image below.

of someone you think you know

I had included an explanation of the rationale in the notes but it was perhaps a little buried, or at least detached out of context from the image itself. On other assignments I’d included a brief comment per image as part of an ‘Additional notes’ section, and so I adopted the same format for the reworked assignment here.

Other than that the assignment was unchanged.


Assignment 3: Fracktivism

Fracktivism-4

This photo essay on the growth of the local anti-fracking movement has some aspects in common with Assignment 1 in as much as it is pretty straightforward ‘traditional’ documentary style (whereas I see Assignments 2 and 5 following a more expressive and conceptual approach). It is very much in the reportage tradition of photo essays, and I intentionally adopted this approach as I was still trying out different ways of working as I progressed through the course.

However, from the vantage point of the end of the course, this is the least inventive (and therefore to me, least interesting) of my assignments, and it doesn’t really strike me as being an example of my developing personal voice. My tutor suggested I make this clear as part of the submission so I added words to this effect in the introduction to the reworked version.

In rework I considered going back to the contact sheet and retooling the entire thing in a more visually innovative way – but ultimately decided against this as it felt like it wouldn’t be true to the story; it would have been somewhat contrived to try to reengineer the narrative in a different visual style from the photos that I’d taken with a straight reportage project in mind (and the transient nature of the subject matter makes reshooting impossible).

So in the end the selection and sequence of photographs remained the same. The only significant change I made was the cover of the book dummy version. In the original, the cover image was also the first inside image, and my tutor quite rightly pointed out that such a sequence came across as unnecessarily repetitive.

On the tutor’s advice I am not planning to get an actual hardback book produced as I don’t feel that this format adds to or particularly suits this project. I have however embedded and linked to the PDF dummy in the assignment post.


Assignment 4: The Unphotographable

A4 page 1The critical review essay originally had a more dry and descriptive title “Comparing the use of metaphor and metonymy in documentary photography” but for the revised version I preferred the more evocative title “The Unphotographable” (a phrase I use in the essay) and moved the previous title to a subtitle.

Some of the changes were visual: I added sub-headings to better demarcate the building blocks of my line of argument, and introduced more example images – in the original version it was over halfway into the essay before I illustrated any of the points I was making.

In the final version there is a pair of images on all bar one of the pages. This spacing of images, along with the subheadings, made the essay both more visually interesting and easier to follow.

I also included a few of my own images, something I didn’t necessarily have the confidence to do in the original version but it feels right now, and I had more to choose from having completed Assignment 5.

In terms of the important content – the text itself – there were a few key edits, over and above general wording tweaks throughout.

First of all I changed the introductory examples of metaphor and metonymy to align both around flowers – it made sense to me to demonstrate that a similar subject can be used as symbolism in the two different ways.

Secondly, I added a paragraph about Martha Rosler’s The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974-75) as one of the lightbulb moments of working on Assignment 5 was discovering the theory (Edwards 2012: 106) that the two eponymous systems are metaphor and metonym (rather than specifically photographs and text).

Finally, I felt that the conclusion needed a more robust ending. Given that the essay is a comparison of the two forms of signifier and that I’d summarised their respective strengths and weaknesses, I decided to answer the hypothetical question of which I would choose if I had to only ever use one: “In the hypothetical situation of being forced to choose, I choose metaphor.”


Assignment 5: Two Kinds of People?

Middlesbrough 1This assignment is definitely the most experimental and conceptual of all my work on this course (probably the whole degree so far) and the difference between it and the previous assignments might stand out a lot to an assessor.

As for other assignments, my tutor recommended including some words upfront to position this in the frame of the overall body of work / learning experience. I aim to articulate in the new introduction how the work was informed by various things since Assignment 3 – my critical review research, the last three assignments on Gesture & Meaning, a lot of critical thinking on the nature of authorship in documentary photography – and, to be honest, the passage of several months while I worked on other things.

My biggest concern in terms of people understanding the whole concept (highlighting the absurdity of extreme generalisation) was that viewers might miss the point and think that I am simply misrepresenting the places in question – I needed to make sure that there was sufficient signposting that the message is intended to be subversive, that I am actually asking the viewer to ‘disagree’ with the simplified stereotyping I have presented.

There was an important text tweak recommended by the tutor that I acted on to help minimise this risk: the title was previously “Two Kinds of People”, and he suggested turning the title into a question. This really helps to encourage the viewer not to take the images at face value. I had already added a ‘?’ to the town names in the captions (implying “Is this really what Town X is like?”) and so with hindsight it seems obvious that I should have applied the same approach to the title of the overall series.

There were three specific images that I changed on tutor advice: two photos of existing imagery, a poster and a sign, that I recropped to show more environmental context (to prevent them looking like purely graphical elements in the construct of the pie chart segment); and an image swap-out for a pairing where the intended ‘positive’ image had contradictory connotations, making the interpretation of the image more prone to a negotiated reading.

The final change I made was to add some explanatory notes per town to help illuminate my choices of image and juxtaposition – an assessor may not know, for example, that Middlesbrough was known for its heavy industry, or that Burnley is a former cotton mill town, or that Dewsbury has a high ethnic minority population.


Overall observations

The whole rework exercise was useful in several ways. Most obviously it gave me an opportunity to improve all five of the preceding assignments. It also allowed me to apply knowledge from the latter parts of the course back to the earlier assignments. Last but definitely not least, it really helped me to see the similarities and differences across the assignments, which in turn is really helping me to find my photographic voice.

The most enlightening and fascinating learning I’ve taken from the whole course is the potential of the documentary photographer to exercise authorship. I can draw a line from Assignment 2 (my practice run on intentionally encoding messages in images), through Assignment 4 (the deep dive into the myriad uses of metaphor and metonymy) to Assignment 5 (where I not only applied authorship but made the application of authorship part of the delivered assignment – introducing an element of postmodernism).

In terms of visual style I’m most pleased with the black and white aesthetic of Assignment 2 and the experimental pie chart framing of Assignment 5.

In this light I now find my Assignments 1 and 3 a little quaint in their traditional look and feel! They were however crucial in helping me to find my voice.


Sources

Baker, S. (ed.) (2014) Conflict Time Photography. London: Tate Publishing.

Barthes, R. (1993) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage Classics.

Barthes, R. (1977) Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. London: Laurence King.

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Edwards, S (2012). Martha Rosler, The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems. London: Afterall

Fink, L. (2014) On Composition and Improvisation. New York: Aperture

Fiske, J. (1982) Introduction to Communication Studies. 2nd edn. London: Routledge

Franklin, S. (2016) The Documentary Impulse. United Kingdom: Phaidon Press.

Grierson, J. (1933) ‘The Documentary Producer’, Cinema Quarterly, 2.

Howarth, S. (ed.) (2006) Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs. New York: Aperture.

Hurn, D. and Jay, B.(1997) On Being a Photographer. USA: Lenswork

Lubben, K. (ed.) (2014) Magnum Contact Sheets. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Norfolk, S. and Ignatieff, M. (1998) For Most Of It I Have No Words: Genocide, Landscape, Memory. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Ohrn, K. B. (1980) Dorothea Lange and the Documentary Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press

Pardo, A. and Parr, M (eds.) (2016) Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. London: Prestel.

Parr, M. 2012. The Last Resort. Stockport: Dewi Lewis

Rosler, M. (2004) ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography)’ in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Saussure, F. de (1983) Course in General Linguistics. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court

Soth, A. (2015) Songbook. London: MACK

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.


 

 

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Assignment 3: Fracktivism

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.

Original submission | Tutor feedback | Response to feedback


 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.


Submission

Contact sheet and full-size images (64.1MB) | Book dummy layout (28.7MB)

Sample prints have been sent to OCA as part of the submission pack.

Click the first image below to start a full-screen slideshow.

 

Fracktivism

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:

 


Additional notes

  • 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:

Fracktivism-1
1. 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.

Fracktivism-2
2. Frack Free Hambleton rural march, Sutton Bank, June 2016

Small-scale fundraising, very local, rural setting, with ‘one man and a dog’ as metaphor for low involvement.

2 or 3
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).

Fracktivism-4
4. ‘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.

Fracktivism-5
5. 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.

Fracktivism-6
6. Anti-fracking rally, York, July 2016

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.

Fracktivism-7
7. 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 the walking motion of the legs coupled with the obscured top half of the body – signifying that the protest movement itself was getting moving.

Fracktivism-8
8. 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 loudspeaker to the left gets across that he is speaking to more people out of frame – supporting my intended ‘growth’ message.

Fracktivism-9
9. Anti-fracking rally, York, July 2016

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.

Fracktivism-10
10. 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


Self-evaluation

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 terms of use of photographic 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.

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.

Context:

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).


Sources

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)

http://eitherand.org/protest-politics-community/dead-end-streets-photography-protest-and-social-co/ (accessed 09/08/2016)


 

 

Assignment 3: tutor feedback

I had my first video tutorial with my tutor Derek a good few weeks ago, having had written reports for the first couple of assignments, but have been on holiday since so this is a belated write-up of his report. Having it as a video tutorial was very useful – it gave me an opportunity to discuss not only this assignment but the forthcoming critical review essay and my personal project for Assignment 5. I will cover these discussions separately.

I made notes in the tutorial that Derek added to for the report, and the main points are summarised below.

Assignment submission

  • Both online and book presentation good and clear
  • Good use of white space between images, helped with pace / rhythm
  • Clear narrative direction throughout the images
  • Repetition of cover image and first image – a little distracting to see same page twice consecutively
    • Cover image was chosen for aesthetic reasons (composition / space for text) rather than being representative of overall project
    • Better to have a different cover image than change the sequence itself (change in rework)
  • Last image (crowd scene) works well to complete the set, gets the intended message across about the growth of the movement
  • Statement: could more clearly explain own authorial stance re the subject matter
    • There was a certain authorial stance adopted, aiming to make protesters look more ‘homespun’ / amateurish in earlier section and more organised in latter section
  • Self-evaluation: could include a bit more about the evolving approach to developing the work
    • i.e. that it was a combination of freeform shooting, reviewing, refining the narrative then working to a reasonably tight framework for the final shots and sequencing
    • Update in rework

Coursework

  • Maintaining standard of earlier sections, so just need to keep it up
  • Research continues to show engagement and critical thought, looks professional
  • Learning log: continued good progress

Research

  • Explorative and thorough: contextualizes well
  • Reads and views widely and appreciates the need for critical review, rather than just reporting

The rest of the tutorial was about my plans for Assignment 4 and 5 so will cover that in specific prep posts shortly.

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.

Submission

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:

Fracktivism-1
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
Fracktivism-2
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
Fracktivism-4
‘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
Fracktivism-5
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
Fracktivism-6
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
Fracktivism-7
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
Fracktivism-8
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
Fracktivism-9
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
Fracktivism-10
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

Self-evaluation

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

Context:

  • 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)

Assignment 3: research on protest photography

As usual whilst working on an assignment, I took a look at the output of other photographers working with similar subject matter. Rather than finding a few specific projects however, I discovered a diverse set of individual photojournalism images; it seems that protest groups are the subjects of news photography more than documentary photography in its more investigative sense.

There has been a lot of what you might call ‘protest photography’ since the middle of the last century, as significant movements such as civil rights in the USA, anti-apartheid in South Africa and more recently anti-capitalism (Occupy) have taken to the streets and given photographers interesting visual material.

There are some tropes or clichés of protest photography, specifically marches / demos, that I have observed (if not totally avoided in my own work). David Hoffman, a veteran of protest photography, said this on the nature of the genre, saying that little had changed since the 1970s:

“We still have flags, placards and banners; crowds walking from one symbolic spot to another; lightly-armed police constraining, directing and sometimes disrupting them; news-gatherers working the same formula of long shot with a compressed perspective on large numbers of people, and close-ups documenting contexts and police actions.” (Hoffman 2011)

I’ve picked out a few of the tropes that I noticed.

Banners and placards

A staple of protest photography, but can be a little lazy and often making the text do the heavy lifting.

The placard is such a cliché that there’s been a recent sub-genre of protest photography that picks out the ironic ones, though this can diminish the effect of the protest somewhat as these are the signs that get photographed rather than the more serious ones.

Juxaposition

A more visually interesting technique is juxtaposition, often of the protesters with the local law enforcement:

Movement

The word ‘movement’ has a pleasing double meaning in the context of protest marches, so imagery that shows a ‘direction of travel’ is loaded with metaphorical meaning… the very notion of marches involves moving from one place to another, which in itself has metaphorical value, and photographers recognise this.

The cynic in me notes that some photographers chose to depict marchers moving from right to left (i.e. ‘backwards to the past’, as we read from left to right) rather than ‘forward to the future’, i.e. rightwards.

Crowd shots

Usually from a high vantage point, sometimes fully aerial, the crowd shot is shorthand for how significant the issue is: if 100 people turn up for a particular cause, it is inherently less important than if 10,000 do. Again, being cynical, photographers can look for vantage points that either minimise or maximise the crowd size, depending on their intention.

My big issue with crowd shots is that they are hardly distinguishable from each other – the specificity is lost. A good crowd shot usually only works in the context of other images from the same event (or a really clear caption).

Summary

It’s been interesting to note that here has been a kind of visual language for protest photography that has persisted for decades. Part of the reason for this is that, as noted in my introduction, protests are generally material for news photographers rather than project-based documentary photographers, and there is traditionally less room for creativity and expressionism in news photography.

I have reviewed my images in the context of this research, and decided that I have indeed ticked off a few of the clichés (the placards, the crowd) but am also pleased that I have taken a few less obvious images, particularly the portraits of individuals.

Sources

http://eitherand.org/protest-politics-community/dead-end-streets-photography-protest-and-social-co/ (accessed 09/08/2016)

Assignment 3: shortlist

I’ve spent the afternoon poring over my photos for the anti-fracking movement assignment. 934 of them! I only need 10.

I’ve previously gone through my assignment shortlisting and selection workflow so won’t repeat all that here. In summary:

  • I got the 934 down to a longlist of 152 in the first pass
  • Then I judged the 152 against the ‘shooting script‘ that I’d drafted
  • To get it down to a shortlist of 15
    • With each image earmarked for a ‘slot’ in the final photo essay

I now need to get the 15 down to 10.

There are three identifiable phases to the story:

  • Beginning: the early days – small, parochial, piecemeal protest groups
  • Middle: the comms campaign – spreading the word to outlying towns
  • End: consolidation – multiple local groups mobilise together into a mass demo

So here are my candidate photos per phase, along with how many images I plan to include.

If anyone reading this has any feedback, please let me know!

Note: there will be a little caption text to help set context – at the moment I’m just thinking about the visual flow of the images.

Beginning – pick 3 out of these 5

Middle – pick 2 out of these 4

End – pick 5 out of these 6

Edit:

So, my original edit from the above was this:

Some kind folk on the OCA Facebook group offered their edits, which I mocked up (note, not everyone picked 10):

CBCSHRHWLKMCRB

Based on these I identified the most popular overall:

Most Popular

And based on the three-part structure I worked out that the ‘consensus’ version would be as below:

Consensus

I found the overall exercise to be extremely useful. It helped me to identify which images worked best, both individually and as part of an overall narrative flow.

After doing this, I realised that a couple of images that I’d been quite attached to were really not that popular!

I’ve been finalising the edit today and have actually revisited the longlist to make a few swaps: I’ve:

  • Selected an alternative version of one of the images
  • Recropped one from landscape to portrait
  • Replaced two entirely.

Part of this was down to laying out the set in a book format – it makes you think more about things like pacing, spacing and format ratio (portrait vs landscape).

I think I might be about ready to finalise this and write it up.

Assignment 3: narrative planning

Even though on the face of it this assignment has more in common with Assignment 1 (traditional documentary photography style) than Assignment 2 (more conceptual / constructed),  I’m developing it in a way that combines elements of both approaches.

As it is intended to be a ‘visual storytelling’ piece of work, it can’t just end up being a set of thematically-connected images (like Assignment 1 was), it needs to have an extra element, a backbone of narrativity.

This means that I need to do more structured planning upfront and direct the images (at both shooting and selection stages) towards a particular narrative intention. I have spent the last few days doing some detailed reading and planning around how this can be approached, and the advice I found from both David Campbell and Bill Hurn fits with an idea that I’d had a few weeks ago when first thinking about the assignment.

Basically, I’m trying an approach where I write out the narrative in words first, see if it makes sense, then match images to the intended messages in the written version.

It’s been very iterative: whilst I’ve had this words-first approach in mind for a while, it’s only after attending some local anti-fracking events (for both research and shooting) that I have really honed this narrative to a point where it makes sense.

The draft written version

I reserve the right to deviate from this, but it’s the first written version of my intended narrative:

  1. The anti-fracking movement started small, parochial and endearingly amateurish
  2. These aren’t your regular activists and are kind of learning ‘on the job’
  3. Some small-scale local activities take place to try to raise the profile of the issue
  4. Word gets around as speakers from Frack Free Ryedale started holding meetings in outlying towns and villages
  5. The scale of the potential problem becomes more apparent to people in the wider region
  6. More people from other areas of Yorkshires start to get mobilised
  7. A more diverse set of people get involved – families in particular
  8. Increasingly large groups from different towns start working together
  9. People started to look and act more united for the common cause
  10. Finally the various action groups see the benefit of working together as a mass movement

The short version is the movement’s journey:

  • Growing from small, parochial and fragmented…
  • … to large, regional and coordinated

Further considerations

The David Campbell lecture talks about some of the dimensions of narrative that can be applied in a photographic story:

  • Time: this will be implied in the growth narrative (and also broadly follows the chronology of the photos themselves, I think)
  • Space: the geographical spread of the movement is part of the story, and will be illustrated specifically in an image I visualise to be in the middle of the set
  • Drama: not too sure there’s a huge amount of drama? we’ll see
  • Causality: I’ll be trying to point out the connection between the ‘communication campaign’ in the middle of the set and the subsequent mass interest
  • Personification: there’ll be lots of people shots but I might use one person twice to make a connecting point between the early and later phases in the story

There’s a particular visual device that I want to see if I can use to help carry the growth narrative: I’m working on the idea of having a steadily increasing number of people in the photos as the set progresses – one person in the first picture, hundreds in the last. I am not totally wedded to this concept, and I may deviate from it a little or a lot – but I’m practicing a little deliberate authorship here :-)

OK – next thing to do is to review the shots I have taken so far to see if I already have images that meet my narrative intention. If so, great – if not, at least I will have narrowed down the remaining shots I need so I can be quite focused on any subsequent shooting opportunities. This much I learnt from the Hurn & Jay book… (1997).

Sources

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)

Hurn, D. and Jay, B.(1997) On Being a Photographer. USA: Lenswork

Assignment 3: refining the theme

To recap: my subject for the Visual Storytelling assignment is the anti-fracking movement in Yorkshire. I’ve been researching more around the subject in order to narrow the issue down to a manageable photo essay theme with an identifiable narrative.

I’m keeping in mind that the assignment calls for a sense of narrative, over and above a general photo essay, and that I need to keep this objective in mind at all stages of the assignment:

  • Planning
  • Shooting
  • Selection
  • Sequencing
  • Presentation

So far my planning has unfolded a little too much in my head and not enough written down or sketched out – hence this post, which summarises my planning so far (planning in this case is not a discrete stage but is continuing to happen alongside shooting – it’s been somewhat iterative).

Planning progress so far

Following the decision in May by North Yorkshire County Council to approve the test drilling planning application, little is happening in terms of the actual fracking work over the summer; the breaking of the ground is due to start in October. I had to therefore think of ‘angles’ that would provide me with material for a visual story over the summer.

Rejected theme

As noted in my first assignment prep post, I have decided to focus on the expansion of the movement to other parts of North Yorkshire, after the publicity surrounding the Kirby Misperton decision. However, it’s worth noting here an alternative idea that I had floated then ruled out:

Staying focused on the immediate local issue (i.e. the approved ‘KM8’ site in Kirby Misperton), a photo essay following the judicial review process being instigated by the Frack Free Ryedale team in collaboration with Friends of the Earth

I ruled this out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, even though I have a contact on the Frack Free Ryedale leadership team, he would have had to get approval from multiple other parties (lawyers, FoE) to shoot at meetings, and they are reasonably wary of outsiders; and more importantly because the judicial review process is inherently visually dull! Lots of meetings with lawyers and not much else.

Honing in on a narrative thread

So: it’s going to be about how the local Frack Free movement has rapidly grown beyond Ryedale in the last 2-3 months. This will be inherently a people-focused project, and fits in well with some other OCA assignments I have done on volunteer groups over the last couple of years.

However, even this subject area is a little broad and vague. I needed to refine it down to an identifiable narrative. This didn’t immediately emerge, but became more apparent to me after I’d attended a couple of events as part of my research.

Below is a note I scribbled whilst planning:

IMG_3123

Hopefully this makes some kind of sense but if not: my proposed narrative thrust is something along the lines of the following:

  • The anti-fracking movement started small, parochial and fragmented…
  • … with unlikely activists learning how to protest ‘on the job’…
  • … and being endearingly amateurish a lot of the time…
  • … until the word started spreading and groups started interacting…
  • … culminating in a Yorkshire-wide movement made up of a coalition of several smaller groups

Next steps

  • I now need to combine the above narrative framework to the thinking from a couple of pieces of research on the nature of photographic narrativity and a suggested workflow for planning and shooting photo essays
  • This will give me a ‘shooting script’ to work to (notwithstanding I have already taken some shots, and so some of the ‘scripting’ will be retroactive)
  • I need to review shots taken so far and map them onto the shooting script
  • And identify opportunities to fill in any gaps in the shooting script for which I have no current candidates

More to follow… I’m in the zone on this one now…

Assignment 3: photo essay workflow

Assignment 3 is all about Visual Storytelling – incorporating a sense of narrative into a photo essay. While I have delivered photo essays in the past, I really want to start work on this assignment in earnest with a deeper understanding of photographic narrativity, and a refresher on best practice for photo essays generally.

To this end, the two main sources of theory have informed my planning for this assignment are the 2010 David Campbell lecture as directed in the assignment brief, and a re-reading of Hurn & Jay’s chapter on photo essays in On Being a Photographer (1997).

On Being a Photographer

My first reading of this book did not endear me to it. I found most of it to be lazily written (it’s a transcript of two friends having a conversation) and patronising.

However, I always remembered that the chapter on photo essays included a structured approach that might come in handy for this particular assignment, even if it’s a little restrictive for some kinds of projects.

An aside: my assignment will include pictures taken at protest marches; I had forgotten, but was amused to see that Hurn uses a protest march to make one of his key points, about avoiding easy visual clichés:

“Ask somebody who has been to a protest march or demonstration what they remember about the event and they might reply: ‘There were about 6,000 people there, most of them very quiet, many of them were middle class and a lot of them were women with kids. Most were reasonably smartly dressed.’

When you look at their contacts you see five people in unusual clothes and a punch-up that lasted all of three minutes during the three-and-a-half-hour march. The pictures do not relate to the photographer’s memory of the event. Too often, the photographer looks for the visually strong picture rather than covering what actually happens.” (Hurn 1997)

I will endeavour to take this highly specific advice on board!

Planning and shooting workflow

The basic planning and shooting workflow proposed by Hurn is as follows (I will look at selection and sequencing later):

  • Identify the purpose of the project
  • Research the subject
  • Identify how many pictures are required
  • Divide the topic or theme into the same number of headings as the number of pictures required
  • Devise a proposed structure of shot types, e.g.:
    • Establishing
    • Medium
    • Close-up
    • portrait
    • Action
    • Closing
    • etc
  • If possible, observe the situation or event before taking any pictures, taking notes
  • Combine the last two points into a ‘shooting script’
  • Tick off the required images, one by one
    • Don’t repeatedly shoot the same thing – if you’ve got the shot, you’ve got it

I confess I find this approach comes across as overly restrictive, and would seem to take photography projects as quite dour, predictable things rather than opportunities for experimentation or happy accidents.

Hurn and Jay repeatedly emphasise a point that can be summarised in the sentence: “The aim is to take images which become your memory of the event.” (ibid). This advice makes absolute sense for photojournalism, where ‘authenticity’ and ‘neutrality’ are important.

However, photojournalism is not the only medium for a photo essay – a wider view of documentary photography would encompass the more subjective, expressive, authorial work that other photographers practice. One could easily accept a variation on Hurn’s quote above that said ‘The aim is to take images which become your impression of the event.’

So I’m inclined to take the advice with a pinch of salt. That said, I will endeavour to take on board at least some of Hurn’s workflow in plotting out and shooting the anti-fracking assignment.

Sources

Hurn, D. and Jay, B.(1997) On Being a Photographer. USA: Lenswork

Assignment 3: David Campbell on narrative

Assignment 3 is all about Visual Storytelling – incorporating a sense of narrative into a photo essay. While I have attempted photo essays in the past, I really want to start work on this assignment in earnest with a deeper understanding of photographic narrativity, and a refresher on best practice for photo essays generally.

To this end, the two main sources of theory have informed my planning for this assignment are the 2010 David Campbell lecture as directed in the assignment brief, and a re-reading of Hurn & Jay’s chapter on photo essays in On Being a Photographer (1997). I’ll cover the Hurn & Jay advice in a separate post.

David Campbell lecture

The main points I took away from Campbell’s lecture (and his accompanying text article, which is a summary rather than a direct transcript):

  • Narrative is a construct
    • It is an account of connected events, it is not the events themselves
    • It is an account inherently based on inclusion and exclusion, whilst (usually) aiming to communicate a representative version of the events
    • The editing of real events into a narrative is a form of constructing coherence – of ‘making sense’ of what is, in real life, very messy and often incoherent
    • Narratives do not exist fully-formed, they are subjectively made – someone decides which ‘dots’ to place for the audience to connect
    • Subjectivity does not mean that a narrative can be made-up or misleading
  • Context is crucial
    • Need to understand how the events became connected
    • And how the events connect to a wider pre-existing (or evolving) context
    • Reading and research!
    • Question (unanswered by Campbell): does context need to be embedded in the photo essay? or should one assume that the audience already has the context?
  • Hierarchy of actuality:
    • Issue (context) -> Event(s) -> Story (narrative)
  • Simple narrative structure (from literature):
    • Beginning -> Middle -> End
  • Further narrative elements:
    • Exposition
    • Conflict
    • Climax
    • Resolution
  • Dimensions of narrative:
    • Time (whether linear or not)
    • Space
    • Drama
    • Causality
    • Personification (putting a face on the issue)
  • The paragraph that closes the text article merits including in its entirety:
    • “For someone developing a visual story, the most important thing to ask is ‘what is the story you really want to tell?’ Answering that can mean working through these questions:
      – what is the issue?
      –  what will be the events/moments?
      – if needed, who are the characters?
      – what is the context?
      The relationship between story, event and and issue requires knowledge of the context above all else. That demands research because not everything that drives photography is visual.” (Campbell 2010)

The message that comes across very strongly is one of subjectivity and authorship. Deciding what story you want to tell before you start is a double-edged sword though – does it risk being blinkered? Do you just look for moments that fit your preconceptions? The flip side is that unless you know what you’re looking for, you won’t see it…

The alternative approach is to be more open, to select the overall issue and observe events until a narrative emerges, and refine as you go along.

My experience on this assignment has been a blend of the two: general subject matter (anti-fracking movement) was chosen first, but the ‘story’ is something that presented itself to me after a couple of weeks of observation and thought.

Campbell closes the lecture with a discussion of the responsibility of the photographer. In the light of the degree of reflexivity, subjectivity and authorship inherent in documentary photography, the gravity of this responsibility is not to be underestimated.

Sources

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)

Hurn, D. and Jay, B.(1997) On Being a Photographer. USA: Lenswork