Planning & influences

I continued with research and thought processes over the development of Square Mile project. As suggested by the handbook, I looked at  – Tom Hunter and Dan Holdsworth. Both were of value for this project. I also made scribbled notes during reading in books, online and YouTube interviews. I also looked at the work or the Bernd and Hilla Becher – for their standard, analytic approach to the structures. I did some research on the mixture of image and text – none of which was especially fruitful. I even looked at the handwritten pieces of Tracey Emin for pointers on how to utilise text as a visual image.

I also looked at Keith Arnatt’s use of text. The majority of text integration I found was either single words, phrases, or it became advertisement. I looked at some of the house images of Stephen Shore. I also looked at the series Boom Town by John Duncan. The research for this was all done prior to taking a shot – however the notes have been typed up subsequently and I have therefore been able to see how I reacted/ approached working on something location based. I have included scans of my notebook created during the planning of the project.

Reactions in response to questions posed by handbook (page 60).

Dan Holdsworth.

Why do you think he often works at night? Is it because there’s less people and traffic about to clutter the view? Is it because of the effect of light in a long exposure and the sense of artificiality or ‘strangeness’ that brings to the image?

Yes I think that both statements play an important part of him shooting at night. The absence of people and of cars add to the look of ‘gods foresaken outposts’. Though the subjects are quite unique structures (a power plant) they are quite mundane structures, or certainly perceived as such (there arent many holiday trips to power plants), but Holdsworth by directing his attention and yours onto these structures, by making them art works, he by association gives them ‘worth’ and interest.

Working at night allows for the longer exposure to help create the sense of ‘other’ – like scenes from a science fiction film. The camera is dragging light in from anywhere, reacting with it and creating colours and tones that the eye cant see, woulld have missed and reactions that simply wouldnt happen without long exposure. Plus having worked around people wanting to know why you are taking a picture, what its for blah blah, I can really see why people would chose to shoot at night, or in an environment where there arent people – but that might just be me.

Things like cars and people also age a photograph – you can tell when the image was taken by the style of car or the way people dress. For example the 1970’s photographs by Stephen Shore of Philidelphia with men in flares driving big brightly coloured cadallacs just couldnt be taken today. But Holdsworths images could have been taken yesterday, last year, 10 years ago, or 10 years from now. And I think this is essential to atmosphere and aim of Holdsworths Mad Max apocalyptic frontier.

What happens to your interpretation when the views are distant, wide and the main emphasis is on the forms of the man-made landscape?

Holdsworth regards himself as a landscape photographer, but to me the images are as much about time as place. Though we have an emphasis on form, the photographs are certainly not abstract but they are also not clearly definable as to what the structrures are. They are attractively bleak. To harness that bleakness it must be shot wide, we wouldn’t believe it otherwise. We would be sceptical that this is a small window and milling around it is normal life with people and cars. But with this distance we feel we see it all, and there is no one there – maybe a plague has happened, and all that is left is the andscape we made and now don’t populate.

Is there a sense that these images are both objective (because you are looking out at the world) and subjective (because they seem to deliberately conjure up a mood)?

Yes. They do look out at the world but because of the mood we couldn’t even be certain it is our world. These works are objective also in that they give the impression of being removed, detached and not influenced by personal feelings or opinions. Yet the contrived, carefully chosen view which creates a distinctly issolated mood would lead me to believe they are subjective and greatly influenced by his feelings.

Tom Hunter

Do you notice the connection between the people and their surroundings? How does Hunter achieve this?

I think this varies. I do see a great connection between the people and their surroundings and the back stories behind some of the images makes this connection even greater. However the developing direction of Hunters work to more contrived tableaux set-ups alters this connection somewhat. Yes a girl reading her eviction notice in the squat she must leave has an iherent connection between people and place. However, though the people do sit well and are compositionally well enveloped, do models being staged within an environment have such a connection? It may be an imagined connection; it may be the photographers connection, but it is questionable whether ‘the people’ have a connection to their surroundings.

Though I like many of these images and his tableaux approach and process really interests me, the interaction between people in their surroundings/ environment (sitting on the grass/ lying in water etc) is not the same as a connection. I believe Hunter has a connection to the area with interesting hidden away places, but at times the environments and the people seem disconnected and false, which is ok, that can be intentional, but I get the impression it isnt meant to be like that.

What kinds of places are these photographs set in? Are they exotic, special or ordinary, everyday places?

Generally I think they are normal, unextraordinary place. However at times they can have a romantic feel to them. Hunter says he is essentially a romantic and aims to give Hackney that feel as well. His use of Ophelia imagry or dramatic high brow painterly homages are hihglighted by being contrasted with the low-life environments they are set in. It is as if he is letting us know that there is beauty and great value to be found in these surroudings too.

There’s something ‘mythical’ and yet also ‘everyday’ about Hunter’s pictures. Look carefully at one or two images and try to pick out the features that suggest these two different qualities.

Probably the most obvious mythical reference is his use of Ophelia in “The Way Home”, from the Life & Death in Hackney” series. We see the reference to Millais’ painting “Ophelia” depicting her drowning from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.  Like Shakespeare’s Ophelia we dont know if Hunters girl has drowned by accident or by suicide – no modern girl would kill herself like that anymore – so even the suicide becomes mythical. Was it her way home or is this Hunters way home? Has a poor girl died on her way home? Has Hunter found her on his? Dressed in the everyday she is placed in the mythical posture – why doesn’t she just get out? Something mythical given a Hackney ordinariness.

He utilises very much the same framework in his photograph The Vale of Rest, again associated with a Millais painting (he must have bought a book…). We see two grungy, camping females seated around a bonfire in an industrial wasteland. The light is reminiscent of the Millais painting, the composition similar. However Mallais’ painting shows us nuns digging a grave. Hunters girls aren’t nuns, they arent digging a grave, so why the contrived link? The everyday modern environments are clearly considered, chosen, utilised, but by tying them in with paintings and references of the past, he has given them a mystical, romantic feeling.

Further reading on other references

Bernd & Hilla Becher –

John Duncan –


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