A note to the assessors

Thank you for taking the time to look through my Learning Log. May I take this opportunity to provide some guidance navigating through this blog. 

The 'People and Place' link at the top of the screen will display a menu of short cuts to the various sections and assignments for the course. Also, the images on the right hand side of the screen are short cuts to each of my 5 assignments. 

At the top of each assignment page there is a red text link to my tutor reports. They will open as a PDF file. 

The top image is a link to an interview I was able to have with Massimo Vitali. I had contacted him, via Twitter, requesting permission to use one of his images on my blog. He gave me permission and asked me if there was anything I wanted to know about his work. My blog post consists of my questions and his responses.

Finally, underneath the images on the right hand side of my blog are tags that relate to my work during People and Place.

Many thanks

Matt

Assignment 5: Untroubled

Click for Tutor Report

Brief: Produce 12 images for the National Geographic magazine that illustrate how Derry-Londonderry has accepted it's troubled past to secure, what appears to be, a lasting peace. The images should include, where possible, references to The Troubles.

Time is a great healer, and now 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it is all too easy for the outsider to forget the struggle endured by all those seeking their own resolution in Northern Ireland. When researching for photographers of the Troubles, it can be quite alarming to find that they are those same ones who specialise in photographing war zones.

It was the Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume, who said that 'In Northern Ireland, we should have institutions that respected the differences of the people and gave no victory to either side.' He summed up the conflict as being not to do with religion or politics, but to do with identity. Tolerating these differences, accepting the past, and moving forward has resulted in a 'Peace Dividend' for Northern Ireland. That there are great rewards from the peace that has been forged between nationalists and unionists. In a place where division and sectarianism has previously fragmented this society, it now appears to fit together quite harmoniously. Derry-Londonderry's dark, and not so distant, past is not hidden away inside a museum or history book. It adorns the streets and places as a reminder of a time that nobody ever wants to go back to.

In order to reflect this, I intended to produce images that contain references to Derry's past and sought opportunities to divide the frame. It is a city that I have visited lots of times, so I knew it extremely well and had a wide variety of images to choose from in order to complete this assignment.

The remnants of the Troubles have been the subject of many photographers. For example Cathal McNaughton photographed objects that had been thrown at the police by rioters. Belfast Exposed was an exhibition that celebrated 30 years of photography that related to Northern Ireland's troubled past. The peace process of the 1990s had caused photographers to reflect on the past and consider an untroubled Ireland. Adam Patterson's 'Men and My Daddy' project explores how loyalist paramilitary organisations are attempting to re-invent themselves as community-friendly, toning down the violent references in their murals and convincing boys and young men not to follow in their violent footsteps.

My assignment focuses on how the 'place' contains references to divisions that have become so commonplace that they are becoming blurred and part of normality.

1. Young Boy in a Gas Mask mural   [f/16   1/6   ISO 100   40mm]

1. On 30th January 1972 the Bogside was the scene for the Bloody Sunday atrocity. The murals there depict scenes from this era, and so I wanted to use them in some of my own images for this assignment. Popular with tourists, it would be quite easy to fall into the trap of taking predictable, replica photographs of these key pieces of art work that can be seen in many different forms. In fact I have taken lots of those sorts of photographs, so in a way I've got these 'out of my system' and have been able to think of alternative viewpoints and compositions. I nearly included the image below, showing part of the Free Derry Corner wall. The image contained lots of references to past and present conflicts but it didn't seem to quite portray the area it was in. Whereas the image above (my first for this assignment) shows a different, less common viewpoint of the area. The mural is a copy of Clive Limpkin's photograph of a Young boy in a gas mask, which won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for best photographic reporting in 1972. Limpkin took the photograph of a nationalist youth wearing a WW2 gas mask during the Battle of the Bogside. Therefore my first image represents the same place at different points in time. I chose to wait for someone to walk into the frame to make it look as though the youth in the mural is looking at the passerby, connecting the two events together and to create some tension in the image.

Carville refers to the purpose of those images created by photographers such as Limpkin. That the photo-journalistic image goes beyond its intention of reporting, to that of commemorating. What was a one off event has become part of the everyday.

[f/4   1/4000   ISO 400   36mm]

2. Rooftops of Fahan Street   [f/11   1/60   ISO 200   76mm]

The photograph above shows the roof tops of Fahan Street, with tightly packed buildings of the Bogside in the background. The image is a reference to the overcrowding that existed in the city which led to Civil Rights marches.

3. Glenfada Park mural   [f/9.5   1/350   ISO 200   50mm]  

The area around Glenfada Park was one of the main killing grounds on Bloody Sunday. This is commemorated in the mural above. I chose this viewpoint for the photograph above because it presents a juxtaposition between the men running for their lives, being chased by armoured cars and the present day car peacefully parked outside an apartment block, with a satellite dish. The frame is divided into the past (right) and present (left). 

4. The Derry Wall, looking towards the Bogside   [f/4   1/2000   ISO 800   55mm]

A 'Maiden City', Derry's walls were never breached. They wrap around the city and dominate its skyline, a constant reminder of its rich and divisive history.  I chose to use a very shallow depth of field in order to create a clear and obvious division between the wall and the Bogside.

5. A bonfire in the Fountain estate   [f/13   1/20   ISO 200   55mm]

As a city that is recognised internationally as a model of peace and reconciliation, parts of the community have adopted the cause of others in a similar situation. The image above shows a youth putting the finishing touches to a bonfire, in the loyalist Fountain estate, that is lit to commemorate the Apprentice Boys role in the siege of Derry. 'Free Gaza' signs have also been added to the bonfire. Meanwhile the sign on the right of the frame expresses the loyalist view of still being under siege.

6. Westland Street cuts through the Bogside, viewed from the city wall. [f/11   1/125   ISO 800   64mm]

Whilst walking along the Derry Walls I came across this view of the Bogside. I had been thinking about the idea of divisions and how they continue to exist. It was a striking view of the Westland Street cutting through the Bogside. I positioned my camera so that it divided the frame into two halves, illustrating how even the same community can be divisions within itself.

7. Bishop Street  [f/13   1/8   ISO 200   55mm]

Fences and security barriers were another feature of the Troubles at the interface between different communities. Standing on the Derry Wall, overlooking bishop Street, enabled me to get considerably close to the fencing. My choice of viewpoint was to make the barrier dominate the frame, whilst allowing some space and freedom for those walking by. The fencing remains as a reminder to the past and an accepted part of the present, whereby people go about their daily business.

8. A lamp post painted in Nationalist colours.   [f/1.8   1/8000   ISO 200   50mm]

Nationalist and Unionist territory is marked out by painting the colours of their respective flags. Again I wanted to divide the frame by placing it in the centre. I went about this assignment by thinking of it as a series of photographs that are connected either by the theme or how they are composed. This image inspired me to take the next photograph (below) of yarn bombing on Shipquay Street. People had knitted various features of the street, including this tree. I positioned it in the same part of the frame as the lamp post. It represents some of the humour and laid-back nature of the people.

9. Yarn Bombing on Shipquay Street   [f/6.7   1/125   ISO 100   60mm]

10. Shipquay Street   [f/16   1/60   ISO 400   161mm]

The image above is contrast to Photograph 7. People look relaxed, walking along the street with no obvious references to the Troubles.

11. Celtic dancers   [f/6.7   1/750   ISO 800   181mm]

Derry-Londonderry was the European City of Culture 2013, and various events have continued to unite the city. Whilst I was photographing these dancers I thought back to a statue, 'Hands Across the Divide' (below), which was reminiscent of how their hands are almost together. I had also waited until the girl was looking towards the camera, to connect the viewer to the subject.

Hands Across the Divide   [f/9.5   1/250   ISO 200   200mm]

12. Looking across the Peace Bridge   [f/11   1/125   ISO 100   17mm]

My final image for this assignment was purposely made to be spacious, with no apparent division in the frame. It looks across to the Peace Bridge with a single figure looking towards the camera. Following the City of Culture events there is an air of expectancy and high hopes for the city's future.

Conclusion

These photographs are intended to be viewed as a complete set. They begin with intense images that are strongly connected to the Troubles and end with relaxed, open images. I have tried to include a range of viewpoints, but also images that convey a similar concept.

In terms of my previous assignments, I believe that I have had a much more considered approach to this project. Whereas before I have put too much time in planning and preparing for the photographs I was going to take, this time I used my instincts and allowed the assignment to develop whilst I was taking the photographs. This enabled me to take more photographs, so that I had more images to choose from.

My Response to Tutor Feedback

Overall I was very pleased with the telephone conversation that I had with my tutor and the feedback that he gave me. After looking through my previous Tutor Reports, I felt that this was my best one. This is what I would have hoped to achieve when I began People and Place. That my final assignment would be better than the others.

One thing I have learnt from doing this assignment, is taking the time to think through an interesting, achievable brief. My tutor thought my idea was good and an interesting perspective. 

Another thing that I have learnt, which helped with this assignment, was to approach the brief with an open mind. The images that I submitted were a culmination of a few days walking around various parts of the city, looking for ways to illustrate the brief. This enabled me to be open to unexpected happenings. For example, I hadn't planned to photograph a bonfire, but when I saw it, I made the most of the opportunity. Also, my tutor encouraged me to shoot, shoot, shoot as many images as I could. This meant that I had a wealth of material to refer to when making my final selection. It also meant I could choose replacement images following my tutor's feedback. 

Finally, I have also learnt to spend more time reflecting and considering my final set of images as a connected series of photographs, rather than separate entities. Below are images that I would include in my assignment following my conversation with my tutor.   

11. Celtic Dancers lacked something in the image and it was quite dark. Conversely the image above is much brighter and shows the dancers in motion. It creates a sense of positivity that I wanted to portray. 

4. The Derry wall didn't show enough focussed detail to provide a context for the image. Luckily I had taken a number of alternative compositions of this view. The image above shows the wall blurred and the political murals in focus below. The image gives a sense of being beyond the walls.

12. 'Looking across the peace bridge' was quite a static image which gave a sense of the wider city. Above is a closer view of the Peace Bridge. I purposely chose this viewpoint to show the beams of the bridge wrapped around the Guildhall. 

5. 'Bonfire on the Fountain estate' didn't really do justice to the scale of the structure. When I walked around the corner of the wall and saw it, it was an intimidating presence. This view (above), with the boy perched precariously on the top, shows the scale of the bonfire, squashed into the frame. 

Suggested Viewing

My tutor also signposted me to other photographers that have covered a similar subject. Jonathan Olley's work is very stereotypical of many people's view of the Troubles of Northern Ireland and the greyish tones of monochrome images that could be seen in newspapers and on the television. I had thought about creating black and white photographs for this assignment, but I felt that coloured versions would be more representative of a forward thinking place that has put the past behind it. 

Meanwhile, Paul Seawright's 'Margins' visited the remnants of fires burnt on the edges of Belfast housing estates. The scorched remains document the previous existence of fears and anxieties. These are scenes are not as closely tied to any political or religious affiliation, but they have encouraged me to think deeper into a brief. I am sure this will help me when I begin Level 2: Landscape.   

References

Carville, J. http://www.photoconflict.com/case-studies/conflict-photography-northern-ireland/

Preparing for assignment 5

For my final assignment I have decided to base it on Derry - Londonderry. It's  the 'city of culture' status in 2013, a just reward for the way it has reinvented itself following its troubled past. During my own childhood, Northern Ireland was a regular news feature, for all the wrong reasons, but now it is a city that appears to be at peace with its past.

Echoes of Derry - Londonderry's history can be seen across the city. A city once divided, but now reconciled following the Good Friday Agreement, is a beacon of hope for those communities around the world who face conflict.

For this assignment I intend to document an 'untroubled' city, as opposed to the Troubles that were reported during my childhood. It is a city that I have had lots of opportunities to photograph and explore. Tourists flock to Derry - Londonderry to see the maiden city's struggle depicted in murals and sectarian symbols. These provide a backdrop for the everyday normality of people enjoying the peace.

How we see photographs

In her introduction, Liz Wells (2003, p.1 ) raises the question 'What is a photograph?' And continues by defining the photograph as "...a particular sort of image, one which operates through freezing a moment in time..." 

This ability to dislocate time and space enables the photograph to be used in a variety of contexts. Photographers, curators, critics and relatives will read a photograph in a way that suits their concerns. The scene captured in a photograph could be interpreted as a memory, a document or a piece of art. 

Many photography books begin with this attempt to translate what a photograph is and yet the majority of people who take photographs know the reason why they take them. Photography fulfils their own need.

However photography finds itself questioning its own purpose and intention. The history of what photography is, is almost as long and complex as the history of photography itself. Following on from this Wells (2003) raises the notion of 'histories' of photography rather than a single timeline of events and development of ideas. This medium is so complex and diverse that it is impossible to begin to interpret it linearly. 

The context of how we view photographs will also determine how we see photographs. Whilst Wells (2003) considers how an image could be interpreted differently on a gallery wall as opposed to a magazine, she writes at a time before the upsurge of social networking. Facebookers upload photos to be shared and tagged, to communicate to their friends. Meanwhile, Apps like Timehop unearth and re-post old photographs on social networks, for the sake of nostalgia. To re-view images beyond the moment and audience they were intended for can arguably alter their interpretation. Subsequently, the reason for taking photographs alters. Photographs become pauses, reminders, in a fast-paced world. 

Reference

Wells, L. (2003) The Photography Reader. Routledge: London

 

Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins - The Photograph as an intersection of Gazes

 

Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins The Photograph as an intersection of Gazes

Lutz and Collins (p. 354) make the claim that 'All photographs tell stories about looking'. In many ways working through the coursework for P & P has enabled me to consider the gaze as photographer, editor and subject. The seven kinds of gaze that Lutz and Collins believe can be found in the photograph and its social context are:

1. The photographer's gaze

2. The institutional, magazine gaze

3. The readers' gaze

4. The non-Western subjects' gaze

5. The explicit looking done by Westerners who are often framed together with locals in the picture

6. The gaze returned or refracted by the mirrors or cameras that are shown, in a surprising number of photographs, in local hands

7. Our own, academic gaze. 

Whilst using the theme of intercultural relations, they refer to the camera as a mirror in which the gaze is returned by the person being photographed. The camera might also be thought to be a window that reveals the photographer's strong point of view.

The photographer's gaze

A photograph in essence tells us what the photographer is looking at when the exposure is made. What the onlooker is unable to see is the visual information beyond the frame that the photographer has either consciously or subconsciously chosen to ignore. The photographer has chosen the angle of view, aperture, and composition for a specific purpose (Geary 1988). 

During the photographic process there will often be the coming together of the photographer with those they photograph. The interaction maybe just for a split second, during which time both parties make decisions that may make or break a photograph. Lutz and Collins (1993) refer to Sontag's (1977, p. 10) claim that 'photographer's are usually profoundly alienated from the people they photograph. This view could be extended further to include the disconnection of the photographer from the context of the photograph. Very often when I take photographs at events, such as weddings, the need to take photographs is greater than the need to be photographed. 

Furthermore, when I am selecting photographs I tend to think back to my view as the photographer. Reading this article has made me think more about how others view the image, include people who may appear in the photograph. 

The magazine's gaze

Lutz and Collins (1993) base their views on how the National Geographic acquire images, having a preconceived idea that the photographer is required to replicate. Although the photographer has been immersed in taking photographs and developing an understanding of the location, it will be the editor who will "bring out the desired meanings, reproducing it in a certain size format to emphasise or downplay it's importance. This process is something that I have been lucky enough to experience. I was contacted by the National Geographic picture editor in Washington, who had seen my photograph of the Beau Rivage Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. I felt I had taken better photographs than the one they wanted, but the editor had a particular image in mind and that's all that mattered.  

References

Geary, C. (1988) Images from Bamum: German Colonial Photography at the Court of king annoyance, Cameroon, West Africa. 1902 - 1915. Washington D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press

Lutz, C. and Collins, J. (1993) Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. New York: Dell/Delta

Wells, L. (Ed.) (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge