Six months in and I am starting to feel rather panicky about the slow speed of progress with my Body of Work and the close to zero progress with Contextual Studies. Finding big chunks of time to get my head down is proving to be very difficult and at this level of study it is very difficult to just dip in and out for an hour or two at a time.
Despite this I am really enjoying Level 3 so far. I feel optimistic about my subject choice for BoW and am enjoying the reading aspect of CS.
Posting more frequently to this blog should help provide impetus and framework to stop me from drifting or disappearing down too many rabbit holes. I have a queue of about a dozen blogs at draft stage and need to make sure that I don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘OK’ when it comes to publishing. No one is reading any of this anyway.
So for my first official reflection blog I am going to use that time-honoured diagnostic tool: SWOT analysis.
- The feedback so far from tutors and other students has been positive. I seem to be successfully conveying a sense of the space.
- The regulars at the Nomadic Community Gardens have been fairly tolerant of my picture-taking with only a few issues so far and one significant altercation. I am glad I got some new business cards printed with images from the NCG (none of people) so anyone can get in touch and ask for copies of their portraits, without feeling like they have to share their personal data with me. I have been going to the gardens as often as time allows (for socialising as well as camera work) so am becoming a familiar face and now feel more inside than out.
- The great subject matter is endless with a parade of interesting people every weekend and constant changes to the physical environment.
- I still don’t know exactly what I am trying to say or if ‘just’ documenting the NCG is enough. I like the idea of raising awareness but I also worry about it getting that wrong kind of attention. I usually tell people I am making a portrait of the place which seems to satisfy. I want my images to make people feel the way the space makes them feel: that there is such a thing as community still, even in a fragmented metropolis like London, and that intriguing, artistic, recycled, self-renewing spaces can exist for years rather than months, despite the relentless voracity of the property developers. But sometimes, I look at my work and ask myself ‘so what?’ and don’t really get an answer back.
- So far I have not been great at capturing spoken stories carefully, in case I decide to use them along the way (eg Selim talking about his children). Anything of interest that I hear there should be treated as research data and documented as such, including getting quotation approvals.
- Lighting: I have been happy with the sunlight in many of my images as this conveys a sense of the ‘third place’ of fun and relaxation that is a draw to so many of the visitors. Wendy thinks it is not quite right though and has urged me not to make the work too ‘happy clappy’. I hoping some evening light will be easier to capture as the days start to shorten.
- Not enough pictures of the gardeners. I snapped a few today as I managed to get inside earlier in the day. It may confuse the narrative but could work if I go for a ‘zones’ approach. Not sure that many of the Bangladeshi women will be too keen on sitting for a portrait so I will sneaky-street-steal in the meantime.
- It doesn’t feel very London-just-before-Brexit at the moment but I am not sure yet if this matters.
- I haven’t really made many inroads with depicting the temporality and the idea of the ‘meanwhile’ occupation. Again not sure if this matters or is already inferred sufficiently.
- Video. This is a no-brainer really as it would add to the portrait of the NCG and create more of a multi-media experience at the exhibition stage. However, it feels quite invasive and could open up a lot of permission issues which is problematic. A possible solution is to record an ambient noise soundtrack.
- Selim has said he can convert the boxing ring into a gallery space so I can exhibit within the gardens. I love the idea of being able to show my work there and want to explore ways to respond to the space in the presentation of the images. It would be great to think about how this could be interactive.
- Stories and text: I am still undecided about how much I will caption the images with expositional text. There are some fascinating stories but this would need very careful handling.
- Explore what I can get from up a ladder or perhaps from the top of the caravan.
- The archive: nothing has come from my request for old pictures on Facebook (East London Days Gone By) or NextDoor. This doesn’t feel essential for my approach at the moment but I could see some value-add for a local exhibition space. I will try the Whitechapel Library and think about some other strategies.
- Interviewing some of the ‘management’. Damian said he was very disappointed that Time Out didn’t seem interested in his statement about the ideology behind the space and piece they printed was very light. It would be good to be able to give him and others more of a voice.
- I have not yet sorted out a model release form and fear it could spook people at this stage. Am hoping I don’t end up with portraits that I would love to show but can’t.
- The issue of plain backgrounds has been vexing me for some time. Wendy suggested a white background and that I set it up almost as a studio shoot. I have wanted to portray the regulars as being connected to the gardens so bringing in an external backdrop has seemed like it would be invasive and wrong. Nothing stays the same for long so consistency was always going to be a challenge. Today I used the sky blue caravan as a backdrop so it will be interesting to hear if Wendy thinks this is a successful strategy.
- In her feedback to assignment one, Wendy was quite adamant that the street art was not adding much. I am still keen to incorporate some of the colour and dynamism as this is an important part of the visual atmosphere at the NCG. I just need to work out how.
- Getting a view from afar: this is very challenging due to the location and security around the train tracks. I used NextDoor to ask if anyone lives overlooking the gardens and a very nice guy let me shoot from his bedroom and bathroom window this morning. It doesn’t add as much as I had hoped but may work as a collage/panorama. I think the POV would need to be from the east end of the gardens and I am not sure I can get high enough, unfortunately. There was a chance I could have used the cherry picker during the Meeting of Styles event but that seems to have been postponed/cancelled this year.
- Still no news on when the gardens might close. No one wants to talk about it – if they even know anything. There are lots of long term plans being made – such as an application for a liquor licence but that in turn is causing disquiet locally. Some opponents have been leafletting to gain support to lobby the council and insist noise levels are kept lower. The amps for the sound systems seem to get bigger every week and there are often drum jams which must thump around the neighbourhood. Only so much can be drowned out by the trains.
I need to get Assignment Two done in the next few weeks to feel that this is moving forward and smoke out the next set of challenges. I worry too much about logistics and practicalities of execution so it is better if I tackle things sooner rather than later before it grows into something too scary. I got small prints of all my images so far, took them to the NCG yesterday to show to Selim and they seem to have been misplaced or possibly stolen (as they were in a bag with a fan and a book). This is extremely frustrating (and costly) but might force a tighter edit (I am struggling to find silver linings here). Haven’t decided yet.
Onwards and upwards.
Next and future steps
- Get my images reprinted (sigh!) for sifting and grouping
- Check out the model release situ properly
- Try to get up onto the hill to get a view from above
- Check out the picture archive in the library and experiment to see how archival material can be incorporated
- Experiment with collage/bricolage
- Experiment with diptychs and triptychs
- Try sound recordings and video
- Experiment with night shots