Self-reflection for Assignment 3 Documentary

I was asked for Assignment 3 to produce 10 images of varying viewpoints and compositions while still maintaining a consistent visual style. I feel I managed to maintain a consistent visual style of landscape documentary while employing different focal lengths and compositions. I tried to keep an open mind as to the intent of each photograph while taking them; instead editing the photos accordingly to tell my story later. At the same time, I remained aware while walking around Deptford for any mini-stories to play out which might help with conveying the general theme. However, I was more concerned with photographing and looking for signs of gentrification in the area, whether obvious or not than these ‘mini-stories’. Focusing on post-conceptualisation differed from what I have tended towards in the past, which made the shooting and editing process more liberating. I did find I had to put more thought into how to edit and sequence the photographs afterwards. This was because of the increased number of photos to edit down from compared to previous assignments and also because I had then to decide which photographs best fit the story and where.

I found the project came together to tell a convincing story of gentrification ongoing in the Deptford area. The requested PDF book form allowed me to lay out the photographs and select the order of the selected images until I was relatively happy with the layout. The content reflected my observations of Deptford although it was somewhat fictional for the reason that Deptford appeared a lot less bleak in half the photos. This was intentional however, as the story juxtaposed gentrified areas with the high street. The introduction to the PDF book contained clear and concise information regarding the project which in my opinion worked as an anchor to the book.

Creativity was one aspect I was worried about before the project started but by using post-conceptualisation I eventually started taking photographs. Then I could observe elements of Deptford where my creativity could be applied. I identified the billboards by roads as a possible source of interest. Using Inception (2010) and my own Assignment 2 Documentary as inspiration, I managed to create an image which I felt reflected gentrification in Deptford from a subjective point of view. Inception (2010) inspired me with the concept of ‘a dream within a dream’ or even ‘a dream within a dream within a dream’! I experimented with creating ‘a dream within a dream’ which could possibly reflect parts of society nowadays, though mostly unsuccessfully. Eventually I was inspired by ‘The Photograph Manipulated’ chapter in Graham Clarke’s: The Photograph (1997) to use image manipulation as well as picture-in picture techniques to produce Image 10 for Assignment 3.

In my opinion my learning log could improve by quantity of reading around documentary but in terms of the assignment I thought critically about my assignment with my Study Hangout group and in the post Imaginary Documents and I researched gentrification in Deptford.

References:

Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.187-205.

Inception. (2010). [DVD] Directed by C. Nolan. UK, USA: Warner Bros. Pictures.

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Editing and Selection Process

Because I used post-conceptualisation to form the basis for my project, I shot a lot more photographs then I usually would for an assignment. The essence of post-conceptualisation would be to photograph freely while keeping an eye out for any themes that may arise. Hopefully a theme stronger than other themes would arise from which basing your project is possible. Then afterwards you put together some of the photographs taken during this process in order to inform the viewer to the theme and this would be where editing and selection takes place.

Shooting more freely and then conceptualising afterwards was liberating but it meant I took longer editing down the photographs. My workflow was to import all of the photos taken, quickly process the images I felt applied to my decided theme of gentrification more readily and then put these in a group so that I had a loose first edit of all the photos taken. Then I would look more closely at these photos for an idea of how they might come together to tell the story of gentrification in Deptford. To accomplish this I set up a digital book dummy, edited out extraneous photos and rearranged selected photos until I had a rough draft of a book. I already had some idea of which photos I wanted where from the import and quick process stage but this was the moment to refine this selection.

Afterwards I performed a more extensive processing on the photos selected and made sure they were in the order I deemed best (I rearranged them more than once at this stage). Then I worked on the title page and accompanying text for the project which served to consolidate the story told. Lastly I added brief captions to the photos anchoring the photos in the storyline.

I have included all quickly processed images taken of Deptford during the time photographing the area in a gallery on this post so it would be possible to look at my editing and selection process and observe which photographs made the edit.

Assignment 3 Documentary – Gentrification in Deptford

Through visual storytelling I have created a set of 10 photographs which aim to show gentrification in Deptford. Using various viewpoints in a landscape style I have depicted a changing Deptford from my perspective. The story progresses from a seemingly vibrant Deptford high street market continuum to portray a poorer side representing the residencies and surrounding neighbourhood.

Continuing with the development side (and opposition) to gentrification, the changes can be observed taking place, culminating with a vision of gentrified Deptford. Although sleek and contemporary, the scene is sparse for now. A resolution to this is presented in recreational use of land.

Click on the link below to see my project Gentrification in Deptford in PDF book form:

Gentrification in Deptford

Researching Gentrification in Deptford

Different boroughs in London begin the gentrification process at different times with Deptford beginning the process later on than most. Therefore perhaps less information concerning gentrification would be available than other areas. I decided I would research gentrification in the Deptford area specifically in order to get a better idea of how and why it was occurring. A search of ‘Gentrification in Deptford’ on the internet yielded some varied and informative results.

First I looked at a history of old Deptford. The name Deptford was derived from a ‘deep ford’ which ‘crossed what is now Deptford Creek, at the mouth of the river Ravensbourne.’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This is also ‘where Deptford Bridge DLR station is now located.’ – (Calafate-Faria, n.d.). It was first mentioned as ‘Depeford’ in 1293. The main influx of wealth came when Henry VIII ‘founded a naval dockyard … in 1513 and within a century Deptford had become one of the leading ports and a major industrial suburb.’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This prosperous dockyard lasted for many years but in 1869 it closed ‘due to the silting of the Thames. Its use was restricted to shipbuilding and distributing stores to other yards and fleets abroad.’ – (Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, n.d.).

Despite the docks being replaced by a cattle market which subsequently closed in 1913, ‘Deptford suffered a long and damaging period of deterioration’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This occurred because of Second World War bombing and postwar industrial decline. ‘Many of the large firms in Deptford closed down in the late 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in a high level of unemployment in the area. The history of the 21st century will be about economic recovery and urban regeneration.’ – (Deptford.towntalk.co.uk, n.d.). This last quote proves that Deptford was still a relatively poor area until the turn of the century (20th-21st).

Admittedly I was more interested in the history of Deptford from the 1980s to the start of the 21st century because it shaped gentrification in conjunction with the old Deptford. However, there was limited history from then on, perhaps because the changes had been not well documented? So I collected tidbits from the various sources I could find. One useful source stated that: ‘As a result of economical decline and redundancy, the Creek and Thames waterfront saw much of their industrial heritage demolished to make way for new development, notably the clearance of the Royal Dockyards (to make way for Convoys Wharf – in use until 2002)’ – (Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal, 2012). This suggested that Deptford was undergoing a period of transition from the 1970s to the turn of the 21st century and beyond.

During this period, ‘When Lewisham Council changed its housing policy for the estate in the late 1970s – giving priority to young single professionals – it gave impetus to the development of a radical arts and music scene that gained Deptford an almost legendary status in the 1970s and 80s.’ – (Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal, 2012). This showed Deptford’s art and culture based heritage which was important to Deptford’s identity. This could be the first signs of gentrification but a much larger sign happened later with the regeneration of Deptford’s high street since 2008 – along with a £2.1 million refurbishment to the high street: ‘The town centre’s image has been further enhanced by its contemporary new station building with its steel framework and glass facades.’ – (lewisham.gov.uk, n.d.).

Then later on in 2014, ‘The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson yesterday (Monday, March 31) approved plans to build up to 3,500 new homes and create over 2,000 new jobs on a site in Deptford that has been derelict for 14 years.’ – (london.gov.uk, 2014). The decision to develop Convoys Wharf (the development in question), ‘was taken against the will of the local council of Lewisham.’ – (Calafate-Faria, n.d.). This perhaps suggested the flats would be out of budget for many local residents and gentrification would occur.

 

A few of the results showed photographers’ projects. In particular one project which stood out to me was Gill Golding’s ongoing project: Deptford: A Town in Transition. She too used colour landscapes to document a changing Deptford and the gentrification taking place. I liked looking at her photographs because they were clear, colourful and juxtaposed the new with the old Deptford well. I felt they offered a good insight into the changes and conflicts arising in Deptford as regeneration progresses and gentrification becomes more prevalent.

References:

Calafate-Faria, F. (n.d.). Urban ‘regeneration’ in Deptford. [online] Goldsmiths, University of London. Available at: http://www.gold.ac.uk/news/comment-urban-regeneration-in-deptford/ [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal. (2012). [ebook] London: lewisham.gov.uk. Available at: https://www.lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/planning/conservation/conservation-areas/Documents/Deptford%20Creekside%20Conservation%20Area%20Appraisal.pdf [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Deptford.towntalk.co.uk. (n.d.). About Deptford Town Centre & Historical Information – Deptford TownTalk. [online] Available at: http://www.deptford.towntalk.co.uk/local/history [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Golding, G. (n.d.). Deptford: A Town in Transition. [online] Gill Golding / Photographer. Available at: http://www.gillgoldingphotography.com/deptford [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). Deptford – Hidden London. [online] Available at: http://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/deptford/ [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

lewisham.gov.uk. (n.d.). Deptford town centre regeneration. [online] Available at: http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/regeneration/deptford/deptford-centre/Pages/default.aspx [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

london.gov.uk. (2014). Mayor approves plans for major new development at Convoys Wharf. [online] Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/development-at-convoys-wharf [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London. (n.d.). Royal Naval Dockyards. [online] Available at: http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/royal-naval-dockyards [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

The Photograph Manipulated – Chapter 10 – The Photograph – Graham Clarke (1997)

I have been reading through parts of Graham Clarke’s The Photograph (1997) – in particular a section which caught my eye was ‘The Photograph Manipulated’ (Pages 187-205). Usually I would skip by chapters such as this as I have in the past preferred to keep my photos in general realistic and so I would be less interested in a chapter of this nature.

This was slightly narrow-minded as I usually post-process my photographs so they are manipulated to a degree either way (just not in content usually). However, I decided I would try out reading this chapter because I was enjoying the parts of the book and I perhaps thought in my mind reading a chapter of this nature might prove to be more useful than I previously imagined.

The chapter immediately grasped my attention when it began with a statement concerning ‘pure’ photography. ‘Pure’ photography postulated an ideal image which transcended the everyday world.’ – (Clarke, 1997). I had come across ‘pure’ photography in landscape photography along with ‘straight’ photography. Much of my photography to date has been these kinds of photography.

(Clarke, 1997) goes on to say: ‘From the 1900s onwards we can chart a series of photographic responses [to ‘pure’ photography] that seek to recast the photographic act in the new language of modernism. Such photography sought to manipulate the image’. The fact that image manipulation in the language of modernism subverted a lot of the kind of photography I had been practising so far made me interested to see what these ‘photographic responses’ looked like aesthetically and semantically.

The Constructor - El Lissitzky - 1924
The Constructor – El Lissitzky – 1924

The first work that struck me was by El Lissitzky called The Constructor (1924) and this was because his self-portrait held a lot of narrative to it by use of unusual composition combined with the juxtaposition of hand and eye. This composition and juxtaposition suggested to me the meaning that as constructor, the hand and eye work together mutually and accurately. The meaning was quite rigid rather than inferred. Part of this reason was that the image was obviously manipulated which allowed meaning to be more easily invoked.

Although Clarke deduced a rather wider meaning than mine from The Constructor (1924), parts of the meaning deduced was similar. He also raises an important point: ‘this is literally a manifesto on the way we do not interpret our world so much as construct it (or have it constructed for us).’ – (Clarke, 1997). I had begun to come to terms with such a point in my own work for Assignment 3 where using images in combination with each other, I was able to construct a story.

Object (or Complicated Imagination) - Gingo Hanawa - 1938
Object (or Complicated Imagination) – Gingo Hanawa – 1938

Further along in the chapter, I looked at montages and in particular Gingo Hanawa’s Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938). One reason I had shied away from image manipulation (of contents) in the past was down to the unrealism of montages or collages. This image however, seemed to address the very nature of montages or photographs by playing on what constitutes an object. It used multiple objects juxtaposed to make one object and it was this juxtaposition of objects that created meaning.

Although the meaning was obscure and the image was unrealistic, when meaning was inferred from the image this negated the unrealism. This was because ‘Object is this a play on the nature of the object and meaning, … Object moves us back into the three-dimensional world and recalls us to the play between image and photograph which is the basis of the photograph.’ – (Clarke, 1997). The image Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938) in my opinion was ahead of its time because it addressed itself.

Office at Night No.1 - Victor Burgin - 1986
Office at Night No.1 – Victor Burgin – 1986

Lastly I looked at the work of Victor Burgin in Clarke’s book, specifically: Office at Night, No. 1 (1986). Like Hawana’s Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938), it was a montage, however it used a variety of media including photography, painting and typology. This postmodern approach for me explained the image within itself well by drawing on these various forms.

It was interesting how the image of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the left was a painting (from the painting Office at Night (1940) by Edward Hopper) and yet this was mirrored by the photograph of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the right in pose. This mirroring in my eyes signified the questioning of reproducibltiy which was further magnified when I realised the image of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the left was a painting. This was because if read from left to right across then the photograph mirrored the painting; perhaps suggesting while photographs were inherently reproducible, paintings were not.

All of these works made me wonder whether I could somehow incorporate image manipulation into my own work and I was glad I read the chapter after all.

References:

Burgin, V. (1986). Office at Night No.1. [Photograph] New York: John Weber Gallery.

Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.187-205.

Hanawa, G. (1938). Object (or Complicated Imagination). [Photograph] Osaka: Sanya Nakamori Collection.

Hopper, E. (1940). Office at Night. [Oil on Canvas] Minneapolis: Walker Art Center.

Lissitzky, E. (1924). The Constructor. [Photograph] London: David King Collection.

Assignment 3 Brief

The brief for Assignment 3 was quite a technically detailed bit of information describing how the photographs should be taken in order to produce a set of photographs that tell a story visually. Despite this detail for the brief in this regard, it was still up to me which subject I chose to tell a story about and this was the part I struggled with. I had an idea in my head about gentrification in Deptford which I liked the sound of on the surface but I didn’t have much clue on how to carry out the brief concerning the story-telling aspect.

I posed this question to my tutor in these words:

Me: I have been struggling with Assignment 3 because I haven’t come up with many ideas for a strong story to tell. I listened to David Campbell’s podcast on Narrative and that helped somewhat but the problem I’m having is conceptualising a beginning, middle and end (or a theme, complications to the theme and a resolution). One idea I’ve had which seems stronger than the others is to document gentrification in the Deptford area. Here, the theme would be examples of gentrification in Deptford, the complications would be that there is still poverty evident as well as high-rise buildings being built rapidly which don’t necessarily conform to the middle-class image. The resolution or non-resolution could be a sense of the new being mixed with the old. My visual strategy would be a kind of late photography but with the inclusion of people to help give identity to the place. Do you feel this sounds like a strong story outline which I can adapt as I get further along with the assignment?

 

My tutor responded with very helpful suggestions which I felt I could take forward with me throughout the rest of the course. His response was:

Tutor: If you’re having trouble pre-conceptualising the assignment why not just start shooting gentrification in Deptford and see what comes up? You already mention this strategy yourself, but I would go a step further and say you don’t necessarily need to plan anything, such as including people or taking a ‘late photography’ style, you can locate the themes in the work as you look at it and organise it at home. In a sense it’s post-conceptualisation, but what matters more is that you’re open to something entirely new. Of course it’s more risky, but (I suggest) much more interesting!

 

I have to admit I have had a tendency to overthink exactly how I would take photographs in past projects before I took them and this approach sounded fresh and more productive as I could continue to conceptualise after I had taken some photos. My tutor’s response was very helpful and made me think about just photographing my area with a mind to gentrification while keeping an eye out for any themes that may develop. I immediately started photographing in Deptford and took some photographs I wouldn’t have without the suggestion.

Example of My Exploring Deptford While Keeping an Eye Out for Possible Themes I
Example of My Exploring Deptford While Keeping an Eye Out for Possible Themes I

I mentioned to my tutor I had listened to David Campbell’s podcast on Narrative and a positive result of listening to the podcast was that, combined with my tutor’s comments and elements of the course, I started to look at Deptford with new eyes as can be seen in my post: Imaginary Documents.

Example of My Exploring Deptford While Keeping an Eye Out for Possible Themes II
Example of My Exploring Deptford While Keeping an Eye Out for Possible Themes II

Going back to the rest of the brief, the requisites were that 10 photographs were to be produced and they should be taken at a place local to myself. Through these 10 photos I should tell a story of my choice. However, not one that is a day-in-the-life exercise but a story with the theme laid out, complications to the theme and then a resolution or non-resolution, depending on the nature of the story. Although it was stated I should use a variety of compositions and viewpoints, I should still maintain a visual consistency so shoot in a similar style throughout. Therefore there was quite a lot of detail and components making up this brief but the part that stood out to me was to tell a story visually.

Imaginary Documents

Wandering around Deptford for my upcoming Assignment 3, I realised I wasn’t going to have a story suddenly jump out at me from the blue; I had to make the story arise. This was due to the apparent bleakness of much of Deptford apart from the high street. It was what my eyes showed me and was obvious too in the snapshots I was producing. This bleak appearance was however, a blessing in disguise as it made me start actively thinking for the first time what stories I could begin to put together and therefore what imaginary set of documents I could construe.

At first I was a bit tentative about creating an at least partly fictional story as most of what I had learnt about documentary photography so far seemed to veer towards the factual. I decided actually, after all, a lot of documentary is constructed on the most basic level of selection and framing anyway. Therefore, how much of what is selected and framed by the photographer is objective, factual documentary and how much of it is subjective?

Having said all of this, I selected a story which very much had its roots in the notion of this bleakness in Deptford which in my mind was quite factual. I thought I would contrast this with the hubbub of the market on Deptford High Street on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday.

As I was having the realisation that most documents are on some level subjective and so pulling a story from it was acceptable, I came across some text in my course. This text effectively mirrored what I was thinking but was written more eloquently. Here Jose Navarro, the course author, wrote:

Traditional thinking documentary photography supports the idea that the photographic document is evidence of something that happened out there, something that occurred without being choreographed or prompted by the photographer. Which is precisely what Mohamed Bourouissa doesn’t do. – Navarro (2012)

'la main' - périphérique - Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)
‘la main’ – périphérique – Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)

Bourouissa’s work intrigued me because it featured a style where a story was ‘pulled’ from reality but was done in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether the scenes had been staged. The work I looked at was: périphérique (2005-2009) and in particular la main (the hand) and la rencontre (the encounter); a couple of a series of edgy, unrestful images where the viewer was unsure of the authenticity of the scenes. I looked at these for a while and I’m still not sure whether they were staged or not. This was because it was hard to imagine the photographs being taken without being staged but the actor’s faces were so convincing and the snapshot framing was so dysfunctional that the scenes were believable.

I envisaged a landscape/documentary approach for photographing Deptford, which would mainly rely on found scenes. This would function quite differently as the scenes wouldn’t be staged but as a set I would be creating a narrative within which these found scenes fit in.

'la rencontre' - périphérique - Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)
‘la rencontre’ – périphérique – Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)

One other realisation about tendencies for my own documentary practice was that I invariably seemed to want to try to create single-image narratives. Whether this was down to Assignment 2 – Documentary where I was asked to try to produce single-image narratives I was not sure. Either way I realised I was attempting to complete the assignments in single shots rather than thinking about how multiple photographs could relate to one another.

One possible solution I could foresee would be to focus on creating numerous images which, while quite possibly not depicting single-image narratives, when edited down and then put together produce a more telling narrative than singularly. Bourouissa’s series: périphérique (2005-2009) certainly worked as single-image narratives and together as a series, proving that both approaches could exist in tandem. However, I wanted to concentrate on looking at how multiple photographs could relate to one another in a series.

References:

Bourouissa, M. (2005-2009). périphérique [online] mohamedbourouissa.com Available at: http://www.mohamedbourouissa.com/peripherique/ [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017]

Navarro, J. (2012). OCA Documentary Course.