For the past 2 years I’ve been working on a new body of work about the woods next to my house. The resulting images have allowed me to explore how we relate to the abandoned rural landscape in Britain today. Formally a quarry, the woods have been left to grow unchecked for at least the past 30 years, and the result is a complicated mix of thick forest and sparse areas of quarried land. Here is a sneak preview of the work, more of which will be shown this saturday at my talk at The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
I’ve been very honoured recently to have been included in the 2nd Singapore International Photography Festival exhibiting my Thames Town work alongside the works of 47 other photographers from around the globe.
From the SIPF website: “The 2nd SIPF continues its purpose to unearth new works and talents while incorporating the theme, Human : Nature, to address the universal concerns of the world. There is a duality in this theme and it can be freely interpreted either as ‘Human Nature’ or ‘Human & Nature’; the colon representing a relationship or a balanced ratio between the words. This is an ambitious call for creative interpretation based on the theme, yet, the 550 works from 48 photographers from 23 countries selected by the four festival curators Ark Fongsmut, Bridget Tracy Tan, Chow Chee Yong and Yasufumi Nakamori, continue to inspire the photography community and elevates the understanding of photography.”
My Thames Town work is this week featured on the newly formed ShutterSpark website. Shutterspark was, “created to showcase the work of budding photographers to both the public and potential employers alike, shutterspark blog gives photography BA and MA graduates the best opportunity to promote their work.”
Please visit ShutterSpark now and have a look, there is some awesome work being displayed at the moment and if you graduated within the past few years, it is well worth submitting work of your own whilst the site is growing in popularity.
Well I have had an interesting week of it with trips back and forth to the Photographer’s Gallery in London. “The reason?”, I hear you ask… Well I have been part of a group exhibition showcasing who they deemed the most interesting graduates from the past 12 months on British photographic courses (I know, my MA was in China but it was run through the University of Bolton). 23 of us showed work and it was a varied mix of styles. It was interesting to see the work I was doing in China in the light of what other courses had been producing, including Goldsmiths, the RCA and LCC, all courses I hold in high regard. Overall I am chuffed to bits to have been included and more importantly my work held its own there. I will try and get hold of an image of the work in situ to add here when I go for the VIP reception tomorrow night.
There is also a mini site that will be up for a year promoting the work in the show so go and have a look at the variety of work for yourselves.
Deep Sleep is, in the words of it’s creators, “…a quarterly online photography magazine founded by and featuring work from a small group of contributors who share the same office space in Shoreditch, East London. Each issue (published in February, May, August and November) will be on a specific theme and guest contributors are also invited to submit a set of images based on that theme.”
Well their theme for issue two was Alien and as such they are featuring my work from Thames Town, which is jolly nice of them (too much Blackadder goes Forth means the word ‘jolly’ must make an appearence).
You can see the whole issue here: Deep Sleep
Tim Clark over at 1000 Words has featured my Thames Town work on his blog a little while back so please go over there and check out the blog. It is by far one of the more interesting blogs showcasing and reviewing contemporary photography online.
The light was fantastic today so I went and shot in the more open side of the zoo again to make decent images of the viewing platforms and enclosures. I am not worried about using these for my project at the moment, more just trying to get as many of the things I want shot done before I leave China in a couple of weeks.
I will post some images shortly but the biggest highlight was watching the zebra. Think I may be loosing the plot a bit cos I was stood waiting for a groundskeeper to move so I could shoot the enclosure and daydreaming of midgets riding zebras in a cavalry charge.
Oh, and I came across what I believe was some Emu. Never seen them up so close before and didn’t automatically recognise them without Rod Hull’s arm being elbow deep in one’s rear end… Weird thing that caught my attention with them though was the sound they make, much like someone banging a bongo type drum!
Shot the rest of the viewing structures including the ones I did a few weeks ago that inspired this concept, despite having to make a dash through the gates to stop a suicidal emu following me into the hyena and wolf area. One of the Hyena’s was on heat as well and so they were all very boisterous today. Made it round to the bear enclosure just as the light was disappearing and so the colours were all pastel hues but could only make some images because the main thoroughfare to the lions had been sealed off since my last visit.
Oh god it was cold yesterday, but unfortuately I didn’t realise this until I was standing in the wind with my tripod set up in Labour Park. Well, the wind had hinted at it earlier when I was shooting some billboards with images of trees set up in front of actual trees but the realisation that a hoodie was not going to be enough to keep me from freezing was quickly setting in 30 mins later as I focused on the vents and sky lights of an underground market seen from the grounds of Labour park.
Image wise I basically spent a couple of hours wandering around the north and west sides of the park that I have not really visited before and focused on the little hints of man and the efforts at hiding the controlling elements within the park. Interestingly came across a make shift home presumably again for homeless immigrant workers built behind some bill boards but nobody was home so could not get any portraits.
Finished off by shooting a little in the now empty amusement park, specifically the rollercoaster and a tree in front of it. If I get a chance to go back here and the guy who was either the supervisor/watchman or someone trying to rob the place blind (could have gone either way to be honest) is not about I will hop the fence and shoot some more interesting images of the rollercoaster not in use.
Decided one last trip to the botanical gardens was in order after the light had gone last time before I covered the remaining exercise spaces so braved the gloomy looking sky (reminded me of English weather actually when I was actually there).
Turned out to be a wise move (isn’t being motivated to go and shoot always a good idea?) because I went to one space that had been occupied the past 2 trips and had one of the most interesting relationship between the trees and their adaption for use yet.
Made a point today to shoot images of the other parts of the park I found interesting as well including sie of the bank that supports the lake and the huge water pipes that are the output from the manholes I documented before here.
There is also an space here for an unknown game that is fenced off so managed a few frames of that although I have no idea what the game is at the moment.
Sadly I think my career as a celebrity in the park is over because bar a nod and Ni hao from the guys following me about last time as they passed me by I was left to my own devices for the afternoon. I feel strangely D-list and washed up now… !
After shooting a lot on Monday I intended to take it easy today and just shoot the wave defenses in Xinghai but the light was interesting and I felt like a hill so decided to stop putting off my Tai Shan visit. Turns out I should have come here in the summer really when there may have been a chance of getting some light on the North side but oh well, the dim light adds to the eerie feeling on the North side where I found broken down walls and buildings that are perfect fodder for me at the moment. If I get a chance with decent weather again (it is a few days later now and snowing heavily outside…) I’ll try and spend a day wandering through the woods both sides of the hill exploring whilst making new images. Near the top you get a spectacular view North over the vast identical housing blocks with the new high rise buildings to the rear. Had an interesting experience yet again when making images of this actually. Heard a rumble and the screech of brakes behind me and turned to see 2 army jeeps with soldiers pouring out. Obviously my heart sank a little and i was quickly working out what I had shot that may be deemed inappropriate that day (nothing came or comes to mind!) so thought I was all good even though I knew I didn’t have all my papers on me. Turns out they seemed to be escorting some officers who were going to watch the sunset at the top together… while the rest just stayed down with me at a lower level viewing spot. Despite us not speaking the same language they seemed nice, with some old man pointing at me and shouting various things a lot while talking with them that included the words foreigner, England and stop, but they were absolutely pissing themselves at this slightly senile old guy which was a huge relief. They even had a play with the camera while I was pointing out and trying to explain I was waiting for the tram to go through the frame…
The other interesting part of the day was on the way down the hill I found a small area set up presumably by an immigrant worker as a makeshift shelter. The light was failing fast so shot a roll or so around the scene to add to a growing collection I have of these from around the parks so will see how they turn out. Also should try to make time to go and hotograph the roads around the base of the hill because they are so very different than the more modern sanitised Dalian with overcrowding and power lines and pipes above the streets and generally looking more like most would assume China to look.
I made a second trip to the Botanical gardens in Dalian on the 26th November on a quest to shoot the rest of the exercise spaces there and make the most of the tripod that I didn’t have last time I was there, and have a go at getting slightly different takes on the chairs in the lake image that is currently in my edit for the leisure book (see a post with the pdf that will be here in about a week or two). I noticed on the the main scenes with the cross beam between 2 trees now had bright yellow tape over the beam so reshot this before moving on to a few of the other trees that now stood out more due to this yellow tape and some spaces I had not noticed on my previous visit.
Amusingly I gathered quite a bit of interest while doing this and after an hur or so had a solid fan base of 5 spectators following me through the woodland. I remember when I first started out in photography and being shy to the point of not even liking taking pictures in front of people let alone of people and now here I am, wondering through a random bit of woodland in China with 5 guys just following and staring in utter bemusement at what I am doing. Wish I had shot some portraits of them now but oh well, my complete lack of language means it is difficult to achieve anything approaching intimacy in portraits here so I choose to avoid them, instead feeling that the landscape speaks far more intimately about my relationship with the Chinese and all of our relationships with the landscape. I still feel that nagging voice in the back of my head that I should be making portraits though but I worry if that is genuine or if it is just me trying to do what I think I should do rather than continuing to just respond in my own vision to the questions in my head.
Before I start, in case he reads this, sorry for the title Mike, couldn’t resist really! Anyway, went for a walk done in Xinghai a couple of weeks ago just for a break from the essay writing really, I forget the exact date but it must have been around the 20th of November or so. Didn’t take the tripod cos it wasn’t really anything formal, just a chance for fresh air but took the camera down with me seeing as the cloud was dull and low.
Came across the deserted amusements from the summer that looked much like I remember the ones back home when I visit Weston during the off season. I always found these places so much more interesting visually when they are abandoned, something slightly eerie and melancholy about them. I could go on about ideas of how these things remind me of childhood dreams and the like that didn’t quite pan out as expected but you get the idea. I find the aspects of how an area thrives during the on season and then becomes so desolate during the winter months more in tune with my experience. Anyone from around small season areas would be able to relate to this concept
Anyway, I have added one image to this post that I feel sums up the ideas I am talking about well. The closed down confectionery stand with the fake rock behind that would appear to now be home to someone from the look of the makeshift curtain doorway. The flat lighting helps as well add to the general feeling of a loss of innocence felt by the kids who would have been buying ice-cream here only 2 months ago. The large fake rock is built as well to make people feel that the large park this is in that has been transformed for tourism is really still a natural environment, with the explanation mark sprayed on just to remind people that the natural is far to dangerous and they should remain in areas where their money can be procured. In reality all that was once natural has been laid waste in the the urban sprawl. Dalian serves as an interesting example of this with the Mayor in the ate 1980s adding many green parks for people to relax in. The only problem is most of these have given way to commercial ventures and remain only as a weak facsimile of the natural environment, the remnants of which are only seen in the steep surrounding hills that are inaccessible but still littered with power stations, quarries and pylons.
Weather today was good for shooting and I’m sure it will be one of the last during this trip to China so I went out and shot a load of film today all from Xinghai Square and Eastwards through the Shell Museum (a giant recreation of a fairy tale castle) and out along Binhai Xi Lu again.
Before I get too engrossed i should add that I have been shooting since the last post, just lost my internet last week and have yet to catch up with the missing posts. That and book editing have been taking up all my time lately so expect a flurry of posts about the past couple of weeks over the next few days.
The plan was to go down to the zoo to re shoot a couple of images that were soft from my earlier inability to pull my thumb out of my arse and use a tripod, and after much deliberation decided on the decent end for the day with an early go at the bathtubs again with better light. As is often the case with me this plan went to the wall almost as soon as I got off the tram to walk to the zoo the long way through Xinghai Square. I’ve never really shot much in there so trees with fairy lights attached and the plugs hanging loose by the trunks was too much to pass up really…
After making a nuisance of myself sufficiently around the main bits of the Square including trampling through the flower beds with the tripod to get something interesting with the colour purple (photo will be here in about 2-3 days) and annoying a sleeping policeman enough was enough. There should be quite a few interesting images from all of this and one of the things that I really found helpful in removing the distraction of having everyone stare at me like I’m from Mars (its really, really off-putting sometimes for those of us with no desire to join the stage) was having the iPod on. Gogol Bordello to the rescue again! Something about their music always puts me in a happy and inquisitive mood (and want to drink vodka for some reason..!) so I think it added to my work today.
Anyway, went up the Shell museum as well and made some interesting I hope images of electricity cables coming out of a window. Doesn’t sound that great but the window is made to look like a fairytale castle and these were big think cables, so it should work.
Oh, and the other place I managed to get to today was the bathtubs again, and I think at pretty much the same time as last time so we shall see what the lighting was like. Thinking tomorrow morning is the time to go and get the definitive shot -it looks like it will snow later in the week so this could work as well but would like a well lit non snowy shot to start with. As has been my habit lately I went off wondering again in the little trails at the sides of the road today and I swear i spend as much time treading around people’s makeshift toilets as i do making images, but I think it is worth it. I found a whole area covered in empty clam and oyster shells today in a bit of woodland so I think that tactic of exploration is worth it photographically. Hell, I enjoy so even if the images are no good I’ll still keep exploring.
I noticed today there have been a couple of Beth Dow’s images up on Flak. For those that don’t know Dow won the book prize on offer from Blurb this year with a series entitled In the Garden that presents a series of visages of man’s encroachment upon nature. You can see the series on her site here: Beth Dow. My interest in the work is pretty obvious to anyone who has been paying attention but what with the reading into the concepts of Imagined Geographies and historical and culture depictions I have been doing for my MA, I find Dow’s use of Platinum printing fascinating. Think of the my current work dealing with the expansion of the ultra modern and artificial into the natural and how this would look presented as prints visually familiar to those early photographs from travelling Victorian tourist photographers.
There are a lot more details on contemporary use of old processes -today utilising digital technologies interestingly, on Keith Taylor’s website. Taylor did Dow’s printing as well as apparently undergoes work for a range of photographers from Eve Arnold through to Mario Testino. I’d be interested to know what Arnold work he prints because I know Glen Brent was doing all of her printing up until at least a few years ago, but I’m not sure if Brent uses any old processes.
I realise I have not been updating this as much as I possibly could recently so thought I would add something about what I have been working on lately. Today being the last day to finish the 1st draft of my MA dissertation means my head has been in the books recently but I have been trying to get out and about to shoot and find new and interesting locations for later shoots. One thing I have been expressly looking at is the sports areas flood lit at night. I’ve visited a few of these now but have to find one that is going to be appropriate -either the flood lights are insufficient to allow me to make a useable image or there is nowhere from which I can get a suitable vantage point. I swear with my current quest to find high ground I feel like a sniper half the time.
One thing that has become clear over the past few weeks of shooting and looking at work for my paper on contemporary practice, I am becoming more and more interested in the periphery of spaces. This idea has been addressed before in Mark Power’s 26 Different Endings and Steffi Klenz’s (of Nonsuch fame, a series that heavily influenced my Thames Town work) A Scape. Both if these bodies of work concern the edge of the city of London, Power in regards to how we artificially create borders and Klenz in an examination of the nature of a space in flux.
What I am interested in with this periphery concept within leisure spaces is how we have a more fluid relationship with the landscape. These spaces are less about the commoditisation of the land and present more of a balance between man and the land. However when we dig deeper we see that this is still a highly managed landscape and our relationship is still one of dominance over all.
Shooting wise I have also been revisiting spaces now that it is November and officially the off-season. Ever sonce first picking up a camera I have been obsessed with the notion of a landscape virtually abandoned during the winter months with only the remnants of a vibrant summer industry left behind. Never sure that the images I capture of this are not overly cliched but if nothing else there is something both calming and poignant about photographing something so familiar when so far from home.
This leads me onto another point about my work that has become more focused and resolute in my mind. By attempting to a China so different than the manufacturing giant depicted in the western news, or the mystical historically rich ideal of the travel books, my work is attempting to comment on globalisation and homogenisation of culture, how in the 21st century the global culture means that the land is shaped in much the same way no matter where you are based and it is only in the small details that we can see references to individual cultures coming through. Those spaces that are altered by groups of people and not by industry are the spaces where we will be able to truly observe some level of individual culture.
On a technical note it has been difficult to add images lately because I blew a harddrive and as such have to redo all corrections on my film based work. I knew I should have burnt the back up disks last week… It also meant I lost 95% of the digital work I shot in China but I am strangely calm about this and find if anything it actually to be a freeing experience. The only images I truly rated I have A3 sized copies available of and the rest to be honest were in two modes -a form of diary of my initial time here, annoying to lose but lets be honest, I would have never even converted the RAW files anyway (I am not and never have been one to shoot in this way before or after my first 2 months in China -I just have no interest in photography outside of using it as a method to explore my ideas. I guess this is a family thing because there are relatively few snapshots of us from my childhood when compared to the horrendous experience most we are subjected to when other families pull out the photo album). The other lost pictures were just my initial explorations, all of which have led to the work I am doing now but form only the basis of the initial ideas. That they represent the desire for me to leave behind the more reportage style for the time being would have been interesting to look at again but overall their loss feels almost like a weight has been lifted -the sum of my work in China will rest in that which is on the physical artefact that is film.
On a whim, partly because I felt I was yet t have made a successful picture there and partly because I wanted to go exploring, I went back to Labour Park in Dalian a few days ago to work my way up to the top, Lu Shan, and have a look around for more of the subtle (comparatively speaking) signs of our influence and control over the environment. I found a whole series of spaces used for tai qi and other morning rituals and also some presumably for more violent martial arts further up the hill. Also had an interesting experience with the local, ‘wildlife’ again when a couple decide to get together in the background of one of my shots while a strange guy crouched and watched them from the bushes, completely uninterested in the fact he was in full view of me. I guess the wooded edges of city parks are pretty much the same no matter what country you are in…
Anyway, here are a few random selects from the shoot that have caught my eye initially.
Castagnoli’s work -Provincial Japan, is available to download from his site and is a very interesting look at Japan form a Western perspective, utilising a very western style reminiscent of the work of the new Topographics and also more contemporary artists such as Joel Sternfeld and Mark Power, but with a more snapshot aesthetic in his representation of colour. The work is very relevant to mine when looked at in light of Edward Said’s theories of Orientalism and as such will be included in my dissertation in relation to how it represents the East from a Western perspective.
You can look at Castagnoli’s work on his website here: Guido Castagnoli
Thanks to the ever valuable Conscientious blog run by Joerg Colberg for this info which I would have undoubtably missed otherwise. The web does have its uses afterall…
Thought these would be better in a separate post to keep things uncluttered. Anyway, here are some more of the spaces cleared for exercise, this time in Xinghai Park.
Just for all the haters out there I spent a couple of days this week in Xinghai looking for images that were completely different than the usual from what is quite possibly the most photographed part of China by the MA course -its an easy location to test ideas out and get used to China when you first arrive, I should know, I still have around 3000 digital images off my old Canon I need to edit properly.
Anyway, on Wednesday I stupidly didn’t take the tripod out with me, even after knowing how much it is essential on the more dull days and is generally a wise more to slow my image making down. I managed to make images for about an hour, maybe 2, until I was down to shooting at 1/30 at f4.0 which was useless so packed it in for the day. Once again, I need to carry my tripod.
Anyway, I spent the time basically rooting around in the arts of the park away from the main paths and found a few areas marked out for Tai Chi, similar in concept to the ones in the Botanical Gardens. Due to my general uselessness of no tripod I will have to see whether these will work with the shallow depth of field or not, ideally if I was working that angle properly I would have a 5×4 down there and use some movements to really isolate just little traces of footprints or the like in sharp focus with the rest falling off, but for now I’m relying less on camera trickery and more on just the sense of tranquil space created around a manipulated environment to make my point. I’m going to post some of these images in a separate post for now and just include the the later ones here.
Before the light completely vanished and the rain came I managed to make some images around the closed up shower facilities and the green areas adjacent. Not 100% yet but think these should be ok technically -they were not in amongst trees and so there was enough light to gain sufficient depth of field.
After the balls up of not taking the tripod I went down to Xinghai again on thursday with the tripod in tow. The sun was much brighter today but patchy cloud meant I could make images with and without scattered light to see which work more effectively. Traditionally I’m always thinking that even lighting s better but then I look at work like that of Michael Schmidt’s and his woman in a park image with mottled light hitting her through the leaves and i think I should really experiment with this a lot more, so now consciously make the effort to shoot the same scene in different lighting to see how it looks on film.
I basically re shot the same images as the day before plus more from the last section people use for Tai Chi that had been occupied the previous day. I liked this last area because it had the option of standing on a raised up section to shoot slightly downwards which is a viewpoint I both like ad feel is sorely missing form some of the images. A step ladder would be a good purchase… (plus naturally a bigger tripod then, oh the joys…). Interesting (well to me at least) side note, this spot is either where the local (non existent according to those in charge) gay male population hang out looking for ‘friends’ or I have the worst luck in the world for men exposing themselves to the camera for me… Kicking myself for not releasing the shutter in any of the right moments but I get enough problems from my lab as it is without those images as well. I also shot a load of frames of two kites in the sky, tiny with the lenses I had with me but the idea would be to print these big; Its an experiment really after looking at some Joel Sternfeld work recently.
Headed over to another slightly wooded area after this where I know more pensioners meet ot play cards and practice Tai Chi. Was hoping to find more of the lashed on brace beams like in the Botanical gardens but alas there were none. Spent some time shooting a manhole cover in an apparently tranquil forest though and some random concrete blocks. Not sure how successful these will be but it was interesting to shoot them nonetheless.
Just taking the work to the lab now so hopefully they won’t screw loads of them up this time (last zoo trip I lost about 10 frames due to fogging, most likely when the films were being loaded into the machine. Annoying but at about 80p for a whole roll of 120 to be developed and scanned to 72mb each -about 5000 px square, I can live with remembering to reshoot any image on the end of a roll again at the beginning of the next roll…)
Bit late updating this but thought I would add a little about a shoot I did last weekend. I finally manged to make some images along the coastal road Binhai Xi Lu, or West Binhai Road if you prefer. The one part of the actual road I wanted with the painted tarmac and blue lamppost wasn;t going to happen -waited for 45 mins but a saturday early afternoon is possibly the worst time possible to not have a landscape full of people, which is fine for some of the images but not the one I am trying to make here.
Made my way over to the zoo and the the beach opposite where there is a carpark that has been interesting me for a while before the beach at the base of the cliff. Not sure if I any of the beach images work -I seem to be inept at the moment getting appropriate images involving beachs after my early successes but I will continue to experiment until I find something that interests me. On the path down to the beach i found a series of bath tubs set into the ground. Light was awful so may go back and reshoot but will post one here so you know what I am on about at least.