This is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback and reflection. I revisited the selection stage and replaced just over half of the images.
Reworking this assignment gave me an opportunity to apply some of the learnings from the journey I had made throughout the course, in particular the need to keep a coherent communication intent in mind and hone the image selection to support that message.
About the work
In the face of a nationwide downturn in usage, how does a successful pub attract and keep customers? The UK pub sector has been in steep decline since 2008, and by 2015 year an average of four pubs per day were closing down1 – though some pubs are bucking the trend. In 2010 my local (The Sun Inn in Pickering, North Yorkshire) was threatened with closure when the last owner threw in the towel. Under new ownership it was refurbished and now stands as an example of what a pub can do to attract and maintain customers in a tough market.
The key to The Sun’s reinvention is community. It blends traditional pub character – it’s won multiple CAMRA awards – with a range of communal activities that give people a reason to come along when they might otherwise have got out of the habit.
There are interactive activities such as quizzes, vinyl nights, folk music sessions, karaoke and family fun days in the beer garden, plus art exhibitions and one-off functions. When I think of my involvement with my local community, I think of The Sun – my friends hold functions there, I host charity quizzes there, I hold an annual photo exhibition there.
This photo essay depicts the range of activities my local pub carries out that help to engender a sense of community for the people in the town – to show what a pub can do for its customers alongside the obvious sale of alcohol.
Sample prints have been sent to OCA as part of the submission pack.
Click the first image below to start a full-screen slideshow.
Fun in The Sun
A quick note on each image and why it was included:
Establishing shot to show bright, vibrant activity against backdrop of dark street scene.
To establish the ‘normal’ activity of the pub before bringing in specific events.
A still life composition to give some contrast to the overall flow, and to allude to a traditional pub activity without showing people participating in it.
Introducing Sharon, a classic ‘friendly but formidable’ landlady, by showing her in command of the room on a quiz night.
I wanted to show participants in the quiz night and add a little character, show people letting their hair down.
The scribbling on hand signifies the informality of the event, while the open hand connotes trust, openness, friendliness; diagonal moving right and up signify positive movement.
A scene which I think captures the spirit of a northern working class ‘bit of a do’; the central subject acknowledging the camera and smiling drew me to this particular image.
The Sun is very dog friendly, as the owners have three of their own and support a local dog rescue charity – it’s a big part of the pub’s character (and Jasper here matches the flooring and furniture rather well).
I’m trying to get across a sense of not only the character of the establishment, but of the individuals that frequent it and participate in the community activities – and I love the facial expressions in this.
The Sun is very supportive of local artists and gives over the walls of its function room for month-long exhibitions all year round, and April is my turn. The hint of the Tetley sign through the window is a nice juxtaposition between traditional boozer and nouveau arts venue.
Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
With regard to materials, as specified I used one camera, one lens (Leica Q with fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens). I tried using flash for some of the shots as lighting was often very low, but it was a little too distracting so I reverted to wide apertures and high ISO.
Many of the images have a shallow depth of field, which was partly due to the limitations of lighting leading me to wider apertures and partly as a deliberate technique to emphasise foreground subjects; if I’m honest, for some of these images I would have preferred more depth of field but I needed to compromise.
This assignment really tested my observational skills and visual awareness for a couple of reasons: first, the venue was very familiar and ‘seeing things anew’ was a challenge, though repeat visits yielded fresh discoveries; and second, as I had to be alert to potential shots and react quickly due to the unposed nature of one-off moments – I probably missed more ‘decisive moments’ than I caught.
I appreciate that ‘classic’ documentary often adopts a very straight, dry design and composition style but I chose to inject a little more visual interest; I worked with deliberately saturated colours and strong contrast to support the vibrant nature of the subject matter. I tried as far as possible to find interesting subjects, framing and vantage points to avoid an overly repetitive ‘deadpan’ look and feel – I looked for movement, leading lines and front-to-back depth to help give a sense of what was going on in the scenes.
Quality of outcome
The limitation of 10 images made discernment and selection of content a challenge – I wanted to get over enough of a range of activities, and a good mix of ‘types’ of shot (wide, portrait, detail, interaction, gesture etc) to maintain the rhythm of a good photo essay. In rework I replaced six out of the ten shots and am happier with the overall flow and content of the version submitted here.
I endeavoured to apply the knowledge I’d acquired from this introductory section, including but not limited to: the definition of documentary; objectivity, ‘realism’, discontinuities and so on.
I believe I’ve presented the set in a coherent manner; I put a lot of thought into the sequencing (in both edits) to give a loose sense of visual narrative.
Whilst most of the images weren’t pre-visualised to a great degree, there was a broad conceptualisation of thought in as much as I had an idea I wanted to communicate – simply that a pub can be a community hub as well as a watering hole – and I think I succeeded.
Demonstration of creativity
The set is very much ‘realist’ i.e. captured rather than constructed, so ‘pure’ experimentation / invention are not so much in evidence; however, given the chosen format I believe that I have demonstrated some imagination (subjects, compositions, vantage points etc).
There are aspects of this set that I recognise as connecting to some of my other work – compositional elements, candid moments and so on; one thing that I would welcome as part of my developing personal voice going forwards, subject matter permitting, is that I enjoyed capturing something positive and celebratory – much of the documentary tradition is concerned with issues, hardship and negativity, and I think there’s room for documenting more positive aspects of life.
On reflection, this assignment has opened my eyes to the possibilities of making documentary work on what might otherwise be considered mundane subject matter – interesting stories exist on your doorstep; I have a fuller and richer understanding of the work of the practicing documentary photographer.
In addition to reviewing the established critical thinking on documentary photography (mainly Clarke 1997, Wells 2009, Bate 2009), I researched the work of a few other photographers who’ve worked on similar projects (similar but not significantly so: mostly about alcohol rather than pubs); for inspiration on documentary photography generally I have looked at some classic and contemporary photobooks, listed in Sources below.
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.
Fink, L. (2014) On Composition and Improvisation. New York: Aperture
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.
Soth, A. (2015) Songbook. London: MACK
Wells, L. (2009) Photography: a Critical Introduction (4th ed). Abingdon: Routledge.