Assignment 5: Consume

Being able to determine your own brief can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is very liberating to be able to decide on a particular subject and context, however, this presents an infinite number of possibilities, which at first can be quite daunting. It might make it difficult to decide on which route to take. Being spoilt for choice can limit your choice!

Having researched the work of Frank Gohlke for my critical review, I have developed an interest in how photography can document environmental issues. Whilst Gohlke's work included after-math images of disaster zones, I wanted to focus on environmental pressures at a smaller scale. In addition to this, there have been so many adverse weather events in England recently, such as the floods in the North West, that there is a greater importance in all of us being more environmentally aware. Therefore I am interested in exploring how photography can achieve this. 

"Romantic aesthetics of the picturesque and the sublime have traditionally played on the side of the environmentalists," (Giblett and Tolonen, 2012, loc 2491). These idealised, pastoral views represent how the countryside is supposed to be.  However, with only so many ways of depicting unspoilt scenes, photographers have increasingly been focusing their interest in the 'marginal and maligned spaces of the city' (Giblett & Tolonen, (2012). These places of the wreckage of modernity are referred to by Sola Morales (1995) as 'terrain vague'. It is within these 'anxious spaces' (Picon, 2000) where my photography has become drawn to, especially after documenting evidence of fly tipping in my second assignment, Encroachment

Meanwhile, John Ganis' series, Consuming the American Landscape (2003), demonstrates how photography can be used to address some of these concerns, without the visible presence of people. However, Wells (2011, loc 2488) warns that 'Photography in itself cannot comment on the unseen implications...' of environmental degradation, because the underlying issues are complex. Therefore I needed to think carefully about how I would approach this assignment. I wanted my photographs to say the message that I want the viewer to hear.

Furthermore, Wells (2011) draws attention to the fact that we are in danger of being 'over-awed and disempowered' by the wealth of pro-environmental images that now exist. For example, Burtynsky has produced spectacularly sublime and picturesque photographs in projects such as ' Oil'. Burtynsky photographed this subject because of its huge impact on our society. However, these impressive images almost qualify the acceptability of the environmental concerns that lie beneath the surface. Therefore I needed to be sure about the techniques that I choose to use. The creation and presentation of my photographs should not mask the realities that I wanted to highlight. 

For this assignment, I was concerned with the day to day, un-newsworthy changes in my local environment. How we use and abuse the environment can affect it. Farley and Symmons Roberts (2011: loc 26) alluded to some of these vulnerabilities in what they defined as the 'edgelands': "We know that a long and complex interaction between constant natural processes and more recent human activity has largely formed all the landscapes we can see today." It is within this area, that I would like to explore in greater detail, and it makes sense to pursue this in my own locality. 

During my third assignment,  I used multiple exposures to create my submitted images. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process and the challenge that I had set myself. In addition to this, I believe that it is something that I should be building on in order to develop my own personal voice and style. Therefore I wanted to use a similar technique to convey my message, but in a different way. 

At first, I came across  Andreas Lie's composite images of wild animals with an image of their habitat inside their outline. I explored how to use this concept for my own project, such as bricks within the outline of a tree to show how woodland is being replaced by housing. However, the treatment seemed to hinder my progress, because I needed to combine a detailed image within the outline of a bolder one. I had a mental block and couldn't see any way around it. The outcome that I had in mind seemed to be directing the project too much, to the point where it was not achieving my aim.

After some thought, it occurred to me that, if I went out and took the photographs first, then I would have a clearer idea of what would work best. Bearing in mind Coverly's (2012) advice that "Walking makes for content; footage for footage," I went for my photo walk, towards the town centre. A 'stalker' hunting for pairs of images that could be combined together to show the environmental pressures that exist. As my walk progressed, my series of images started to make sense. For example, the clothes recycling bin, I had found on the outskirts, later contrasted with the pile of discarded carrier bags lying on the canal towpath. 

After using Adobe Lightroom to organise my photographs into pairs, such as metal fencing retaining bushes and a wall with weeds cracking through it, I used Photoshop to create composite images. The intention was that the space between the two illustrates our action, or inaction to prevent the change from the desirable to undesirable scene. I then used the resulting images in a slideshow. However, whilst reviewing the slideshow, I felt that it didn't communicate what I wanted to say. The linear nature of the slideshow did not represent how indiscriminate and continuous the changes are, since it directs the viewer on a visual journey that has been predetermined by the photographer. The environmental change that I was witnessing was indiscriminate and continually occurring, with no apparent beginning or end. I wanted the viewer to weave their way through the material in the same way that I had to make my way through the landscape.

As a result of this, I realised that an online exhibition of animated gifs, each showing the transition from one image to another, would enable the viewer to choose their own pathway to view each pair of scenarios. Therefore I needed to revise my project proposal. 

Revised Project Proposal

Produce an online exhibition, which illustrates how the space between urban and rural is altering. Animated gifs will consist of two exposures (each representing either rural or urban consumption), which will automatically transition between each other. The space and time between both images is intended to represent the environmental change. 

The original photographs will be taken as the photographer walks from the outskirts to the town centre of Nuneaton. The images will then be paired to juxtapose urban and rural aspects of similar subjects and situations. 

Artist's Statement 

At the end of 2015, Desmond and Eva visited England and caused misery for 16,000 home owners. This stormy couple were just two of the many freak weather events that have wreaked havoc with our economy and infrastructure. 

Whenever these unpredictable events occur, I always wonder if we really could have done more. News reporters comment on how the government needs to invest in managing the environment, however, it would be naive to assume that environmental damage is solely the result of large scale events, such as floods and hurricanes. Large scale events need more than large scale solutions.  

A need for more houses, as well as a desire for places to shop and to be entertained, have contributed to the urbanisation of the outskirts. Meanwhile, the overgrown countryside has become neglected and left to devour places that have become abandoned. The interface between urban and rural is a battleground, where it is a case of 'consume or be consumed'.

 My online exhibition for Consume

 

Evaluation

Overall I am very pleased with the outcome for this project. I have taught myself how to create animated gifs, which are becoming increasingly used in today's digital world. Furthermore, by displaying them together creates a sense of urgency for the viewer, in the same way that we should be responding to our own environment. Therefore I believe I was right to alter my project proposal. Furthermore it has made me realise that it is important to carefully think through the entire project to ensure that it is suitable and achievable. However I must also be mindful that the method of presentation should not be the driver for the project, at the expense of the message that is needed to be conveyed. 

As well as that, I had chosen a suitable and manageable location, which enabled me to take a good range of photographs that could be combined. If this hadn't have happened then I would have had to explore a different location. 

Meanwhile, this project has caused me to question where the edgelands are. Do they only exist on the outskirts of towns and cities? Or do they radiate out from the centre of urban places? In addition to this, I would like to pursue how animation gifs and other motion methods can be used effectively in photography. 

References

Coverley, M. (2012) Psychogeography. [Kindle Edition]. Pocket Essentials: Harpenden 

Farley, P. & Symmons Roberts, M. (2011) Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness. [Kindle Edition] Jonathan Cape: London  

Giblett, & Tolonen (2012) Photography and Landscape. [Kindle Edition] Intellect: Bristol  

Wells, L. (2011) Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. [Kindle Edition] I. B. Tauris: London