Feedback on assignment
You’ve written a good commentary to accompany your submission of your portfolio of
WIP (a selection of images shot at your chosen locale, comprising of close portraiture,
candid street-style photography and environmental shots). You yourself mention ‘I still
don’t quite know what I am working on. Is this a portrait of place or documentary about
a community or a commentary on life in London in 2019?’
Looking at the contact sheet/selection of images you’ve provided, I can see huge
potential in exploring two aspects of life in this community further:
1_The Community Garden
I don’t know if I mentioned this before that many of the themes that you’re interested in
exploring in your BoW project are of renewal and change. Using growth and nature as a metaphor to explore this is a well-used trope. Looking at your long shot of the raised
beds with women standing around them, I must admit I did think that this was a
fantastic opportunity to work with something that functioned as a metaphor for your
overarching themes. People who are tending these gardens must be there all of the year
– and not just for fun – but presumably to feed their families and foster community.
There’s powerful material there alone.
Research: Have a look at the way Lucas Foglia (who often works with communities
on the margins) photographs the natural world here:
Look too at the photographic portraits and environmental work in the cookbook Moro
East (you can pick this up very cheaply on Amazon). Alongside the recipes from the
predominantly Turkish gardeners, the cooks collaborated with a photographer to
document the community of an east end allotment before it was bulldozed to make way
for the Olympic Park.
Moro East follows a year in the life of this East End allotment, reflected in recipes that
are unusual without being daunting. Many of the recipes reflect everyday activities at
the allotment – Turkish women rolling flatbreads or clipping the young vine leaves to
make dolmades, families gathering to grill kebabs at the weekend – and the spirit of the
community is captured in the photographs and the dishes.
Looking through your images, I can see that there’s a very particular architecture that’s
sprung up within the community. Provisional materials (corrugated tin for roofs etc.) are
been repurposed to make a series of provisional structures that, when they come
together, make the community. That themselves say a lot about the nature of the
situation and politics of this space. As part of your ongoing research, I’d think about
documenting the buildings themselves in a careful way. You might find that as a series of
images they have something powerful to say about your themes? Look at the way that
photographer Marc Wilson has focused in on a particular structure and produced a
typology that speaks to his themes in an interesting way.
In terms of thinking about ethics and how you might approach working with your
subjects, have a look at Photographer and educator Anthony Luvera’s Let Us Eat Cake
project working with Belfast’s LGBT community as one model on how to work
collectively with community.
I think that for you, deciding on the scope of your own project will be the next task on
BoW. We can discuss this in more depth at our 1-2-1.
My second BoW tutorial was both encouraging and challenging. As Wendy pointed out, the next stage in the development of my work is critical as it needs to become focused. I have made a broad survey of the community who use the Nomadic Gardens and of the place itself but now need to drill down into it more. I should explore the symbolism of the physical space and what it represents – a place about collapse and disappear. If I want to capture the irrepressibility of the human spirit, how can I photograph that? Is it by someone making something or can I reflect on that by making a study of this community or by photographing the place itself? These are the key questions and I will find the answers through action, through photography.
Key takeaways from the tutorial
- I need to find a visual metaphor to explore my theme “otherwise it
becomes too sporadic”
- Think about the use of repurposed materials – the structures themselves
say a lot about the situation and the politics of the space
- Is there an opportunity to take a typological approach?
- Have an ongoing research strand which is looking at current thought and
development in terms of ethics and ethical engagement (Anthony
Luvera/collaboration in portraiture etc)
- The BoW final output will be 12 to 20 images – what is critical is the
sequencing and the quality, not the number – I have lots of images but
what is the narrative?
- The work should probably be about the place and about life in London in
- Go back to basics and write what I want to get over in this BoW in 300
words: What do I want to say? Why am I focusing on this community to say
what I want to say? What is my intentionality? This is confusing at the
moment in the work
- The portraits are quite ‘joyous’ but does that reflect life in London at the
moment and the reality for most of the people who are going to the NCG?
- Through the ‘doing’, through the visual research, it will start to come in to
- I have to produce a coherent set of images – that will involve repetition and
technical set-up – ensuring that everything is perfect. I will need to stretch
myself technically, getting the composition and light perfect
- Produce more contact sheets
- At this stage, I need to be showing more evidence of real enquiry and a bit
of a struggle: using sketchbooks; looking at, and commenting on, other
works; doing a recce – thinking about how I might go back and photograph it in a different way, with very detailed notes and drawings to plan and work
out vantage points; meticulous and pre-shooting research so I am very well
prepared to make best use of the light
- Negotiating for access is part of the job as a photographer
- Environmental portraits could be an option but do the portraits tell us that
much about people? More interesting to look at the actual places they
choose to be within – often says more about them than a portrait
- The fact that the NCG is not going to be there much longer is an important
part of the project. Maybe that is documented – a final image to depict the
closure? Or it may be included in the summing up comment or in the
imagery – that could be an interesting element
- Think again about the colour temperature and what mood is being
connoted. Everything looks great in middle-of-the-day sunshine but is that
right for the subject? Produce something that has a distinctive feel about it.
(Look at Rut Blees Luxemburg)
- The final work should be reflective of the research I have done
- The day after the tutorial, I learned that the NCG is definitely not going to
open again next year. Apparently, access will be impossible for anyone
after Dec 31 st and this is likely to be fully prosecuted due to fears of
squatting and threats from the Occupy movement. This is a huge blow –
although not without some positives – and is something I need to evaluate
in the coming weeks to work up a plan and new direction.
- Following my discussion with Wendy, I have concluded that I do not want
this to be pure ‘straight’ documentary. I also do not want it to consist of
posed portraits but would like to bring a more creative approach to my
BoW to find the right atmosphere.
- Rather than being concerned with the theme of renewal as it relates to
change, I am more interested in how we deal with temporality and try to
ground ourselves – and find hope – when faced with adversity and loss.
1. Spend some time on reflection and analysis to work out how best to move
forward in the face (ironically) of adversity and the loss of access to the
2. Define clearly what the work is about and what the scope should be
3. Do more visual research, with a methodical approach which is fully
documented – set up sessions; do drawings and pre-shoot planning and
take a lot more photographs
4. Identify a visual metaphor
5. Produce a more coherent set of images with high technical quality for