Assignment 2: Encroachment

Brief: Produce a series of approximately 12 photographs that are made on, or explore the idea of, a journey. 

Deciding the focus of this assignment has been a journey in itself! Having read about Ruscha's 'Every Building on the Sunset Strip', and how he took photographs at regular intervals, I had the idea of using time-lapse photography to record a journey to McDonalds Drive-thru. The automatic exposures would replicate the automatic process of driving to, through and away from the fast food restaurant. No matter which drive-thru that you go to, you can expect the exact same sequence. 

Inspired by my 'drive-thru' project, I wanted to experiment further. I had seen how Lee Freidlander's 'America By Car' had incorporated the car's wing-mirror in each shot. I thought this would create a stronger narrative to each image, reinforcing the idea of a journey. I chose to document my Commute to work, by setting up my mobile phone on the dashboard to take a photograph every 10 seconds. The automatic process of making each exposure was intended to reflect the automatic nature of replicating the same journey on a daily basis. 

However, after reading my first assignment tutor feedback again, I felt that my initial ideas didn't offer much variety in image framing. I had spent a lot of time selecting and editing each image, but each one was from an identical viewpoint. As a stand-alone piece of work, I believed that it was insufficient to fulfil all of the requirements for this assignment. Therefore I looked back through my course file and notes to find some inspiration.

 Having read about the survey pioneer photographers, such as Carleton Watkins and Timothy O'Sullivan, I thought back to what it must have been like for those photographers to see at first hand these previously unknown locations. I have recently moved house, and still discovering my new locality, so I decided to go exploring with my camera.

If this was to become a journey of discovery, I wanted to produce images that didn't appear to be pre-planned. Therefore I left my DSLR at home and took my smaller Canon G7x. Despite its size, the camera still has enough manual features to ensure that I had enough influence over the photographs I wanted to take.

Although it was a new place to me, I started to think of the countless others who had made this same journey. I decided to focus on the traces of those journeys, looking for evidence of things they had left behind. This reminded me of a saying I had heard of before:

Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

Unfortunately, in a few instances this wasn't the case. I photographed a number of objects that had encroached into the meadow, such as a trolley, a tyre and a skip. Maybe it was slightly naive of me to imagine entering an undiscovered, untouched landscape. Maybe I should have read Farley and Symmons Roberts (2012, p.27) view earlier, that:

We know that an unseen, untouched English landscape is a myth. 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, and that landscape is indivisible from the human world. 

The above view once again challenged my own preconceptions of what is 'landscape'? I needed to start thinking beyond the green-belt and into urbanisation. There is a romantic picturesque view of landscape, but with the encroachment of human activity, this view is somewhat confined to the discourse of the art gallery. 

Keith Arnatt's A.O.N.B (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) 1982-84, focusses on the marginalised areas that others tend to miss. In another series by Arnatt, Miss Grace's Lane (1986-87) the discarded rubbish bins and pot holes become a new kind of 'beauty spot'. Arnatt's images lack a human presence. The objects that they have fly-tipped have been consumed by the landscape, and are there to stay. Farley and Symmons-Roberts (2011, pp.58-59) knowledge this view by admitting that:

The edgelands become a place of forgetting, never more so than when they are used for dumping or for landfill, a place to put things out of mind on an industrial scale.

The longer I spent walking and coming across objects that were alien to the meadow, the more I realised that I was in Farley and Symmons-Roberts' 'edgeland'. This became the focus for this assignment. 

Whilst researching this assignment, I came across Joel Sternfeld's 'Walking the Highline'. It documents Sternfeld's journey along along an abandoned elevated railway line in New York. It offers a contrast to the concept of Edgelands, with nature reclaiming the landscape, overgrowing across the railway line. 

1) f/11   1/80   13.6mm   ISO 125

This image and the one below appeared to be a good starting point for this assignment. The gate represents the beginning of my journey into the unknown. 

2) f/11   1/80   11.6mm   ISO 250

The gate was slightly open, indicating that this walk had already been made by someone else.

3) f/11  1/160   8.8mm   ISO 125 The pathway through the meadow was an obvious image to choose for this journey assignment. 

3) f/11  1/160   8.8mm   ISO 125

The pathway through the meadow was an obvious image to choose for this journey assignment. 

4) f/8   1/125   21.1mm   ISO 160

Whilst I was walking I didn't expect to see a skip poking through the tree-line. It reminded me of Keith Arnatt's A.O.N.B., indicating the human encroachment into this natural environment. "...a place to put things out of mind on an industrial scale" (Farley and Symmons-Roberts 2011, pp.58-59). I liked how something so industrial as a skip, subtly peaks out, as if it is supposed to be there.

5) f/2.8   1/640   12.9mm   ISO 125

I wanted to consider other journeys that are made in the meadow, for example this dandelion, waiting for the wind to scatter it's seed.

6) f/8   1/125   22mm   ISO 400

This shopping trolley was another indication of walking through an edgeland. It provides the viewer with more questions than answers, including how on earth it got there in the first place. 

7) f/8   1/200   31mm   ISO 125

As I was compiling the final selection of images I wanted it to replicate the experience I was having on my walk. The occurrence of human objects was as staggering as the flora there. The fields were littered with buttercups, spreading across the meadow. Within this set of images each evidence of human activity is punctuated with an image of the natural environment.

8) f/5.6   1/125   9.8mm   ISO 125

As I followed the River Anker I came across the scene above, which reminded me of one from Keith Arnatt's 'Miss Grace's Lane (below). Looking at Arnatt's image, I wish now that I had chosen a portrait view to replicate his photograph. 

© Keith Arnatt 1986-1987 Miss Grace's Lane  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-miss-graces-lane-t13153 

© Keith Arnatt 1986-1987 Miss Grace's Lane

 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-miss-graces-lane-t13153 

9) f/2.8   1/1000   36.8mm   ISO 125

The grasses in the meadow are on an upward journey of their own. 

10) f/5.6   1/800   36.8mm   ISO 125

The train line that passes alongside the meadow was another indication of humans invading the environment.   

11) f/10   1/100   8.8mm   ISO 125

This was an unusual occurrence. The wool lying on the ground indicates some form of activity that has been and gone. However I didn't see any sheep throughout the course of my journey. I chose a low viewpoint to lead the viewer along the path.

12) f/2.8   1/100   8.8mm   ISO 125

13) f/11   1/125   19.9mm   ISO 200

As I was getting closer to the end of my walk there was more evidence of how close the meadow is to urbanisation. 

14) f/11   1/100   17mm   ISO 320

15) f/11   1/100   15.2mm   ISO 125

My final image illustrates further control humans are having on the environment, to the extent that they are creating clear delineation of a sporadic environment. A clear message to me that my journey has ended. 

Reflection

Having read 'Edgelands', by Farley and Symmons-Roberts (2012) I had a different perspective on how to view my journey and the work of Keith Arnatt helped me to fit my photographs into a narrative of photography. Many of Arnatt's Miss Grace's Lane photographs were taken at the 'golden hour', replicating the use of warm colours in the romantic landscapes, such as that of Samuel Palmer. I could have done something similar, choosing a different time to go on this journey and consider the use of light. Farley and Symmons-Roberts (2012, p.69) consider Arnatt's series to be ‘one of the most beautiful, sustained and overlooked explorations into our edgelands’. 

Furthermore I felt that taking a smaller camera was the right decision for this assignment. It enabled me to have to move around much more and consider my viewpoint, rather than relying on zooming in and out with my lenses. 

In the Guardian video 'Edgelands: Between the urban and the rural (below), Farley and Symmons-Roberts raises the possibility that these edge lands will disappear or change over time. This is something I am considering to include in my Transitions assignment.

Jason Orton and Ken Worpole's collaborative book 'The New English Landscape'. Wilson (2014) considers their work to trace:

a rich history of cultural tradition and artistic heritage, connecting social-historical contexts and patterns human settlement with the changing ecology of the region.

The images include evidence of nature reclaiming the land, such as overgrowing the metal skeletons of greenhouses.

Reading around this assignment has enabled me to understand that there is another interpretation of the picturesque, and that the beauty of landscapes can be found in the hinterland between towns and the countryside. These are places that I previously would have passed by, but now I am beginning to understand the value of paying more attention to them. 

Whilst reading back through my course file, I remembered Ian Brown's series Walking the Land (2007), in which he layered 10 photographs taken on walks. I decided to create a composite image (below) of some of the photographs used in this assignment, to signify the pressure that we're putting on the environment by expanding our edgelands. 

Response to tutor feedback

Click here for tutor feedback.

Having received my tutor's feedback, I was very happy to read that she could se how I have taken onboard the feedback from my first assignment. Naively, my first assignment consisted of similar view points. However, in this assignment I had concentrated on varying the angle of view and considering the best composition for each shot. 

In addition to this, my tutor believed that my message and personal voice really came across in every image. Throughout the OCA modules we are encouraged to develop our own style and voice, so it is reassuring to see that this is coming across in my images. As a student, it is an area which is difficult to learn, due to the very nature of it being associated with the individual photographer. It's something you become, rather than be taught. 

My tutor suggested that image 13 had too much going on within it, and that using differential focus would be a better alternative. I returned to the location and tried the same position, however there wasn't enough distance between the houses and plants to focus on one. Therefore I moved further away from the houses and used a telephoto lens to focus on the plants and create a shallow depth of field. I decided to have the plants in focus (below), as opposed to the houses, to  reinforce the idea of their being no distinct boundary to signify where the edgelands begin. 

My tutor felt that my weakest image was of the fence, since it didn't have the same feeling of a journey.  This has taught me to consider not just what should be in a series of photographs, but also what should be left out. I was drawn to the uniformity of how the fence had been constructed, mirroring the regularity of some journeys. I had not included a caption for this image, so this could also be a reason for the purpose of this photograph. I must make sure that I also think carefully about the text that I include to accompany each photograph. 

f/11    ISO 125    1/125

The composite image in my reflection intrigued my tutor, and she asked me to evaluate it further. I believe that I had been successful in creating the image, layering it so that features such as the houses are visible. However, I think that the 'No Unauthorised Persons...' sign is a little too strong. This technique could have been used for another voice, expressing the pressures that we impose on the environment. It is something that I would like to develop further. I can envisage how layering images could be used in my 'Transitions' assignment at the end of the course. 

Sources

https://fraenkelgallery.com/exhibitions/america-by-car [accessed 31.5.15]

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-aonb-area-of-outstanding-natural-beauty-t13129 [accessed 28.6.15]

Farley, P. & Symmons-Roberts, M. (2012) Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness. [Kindle Edition]

Wilson, A. (2014) The New English Landscape. Creative Review [online] http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2014/february/new-english-landscape