Visit Britain (working title) – Diversity in British culture

Following on from my last post, during this week I have been doing some research into how Britain is portrayed and exported across the world for tourism purposes. The two major themes that have emerged for me are culture and diversity.

The marketing world, by necessity, shows a very stereotypical view of Britain. It is also appears very narrow. What I would like to do is show more of the actual diversity of British culture. I like would like to create bodies of social documentary work that illustrates this idea.

I thought about the angle that I could take. Like a lot of people who do photography, I started with the idea of highlighting the differences between the rich and the poor. But, everyone has done poverty porn, and whilst it gets the point across – it’s a point that we have all heard a thousand times. So, I have decided to take a more simple view – to just show different sides of British life. It’s not a celebration or a commiseration about British life, but a more ‘straight’ viewpoint. It’s just my view of what I see (in a post modernist sense). I’m kind of happy with that. What I would like for you and other people is that you just look and think about the images – whether you like them or not is up to you – but the important thing is that you stop, look and think.

Gatherings. I have started to refine the potential focus of the ‘Visit Britain’ project over the last week. An idea that struck me shortly after writing the last post was that of gatherings of people. I was thinking about gatherings of convenience (such as people waiting at a bus stop) and gatherings of a more social nature, like raves (do they still do them?). Either way, the idea of people gathering together really interests me. I am admittedly, not a huge fan of crowds – they can be a bit claustrophobic for me. I really like the idea of photographing gatherings of people as its shows the collective nature of being human, but also their individuality.

I also really like the idea of taking ‘overview’ images of people gathered together to create a kind of ‘where’s Wally’ effect, where you can actually study a photograph for ages to see all the little things that go on in it. The idea of creating a photograph with lots of things going on in it, but with a common purpose really interests me. It’s also why I am increasingly thinking about getting a large format camera – to be able to record all that detail. Even a 50MP digital wouldn’t be able to record that much information (my Mamiya is equated with about 150MP, and even that would probably struggle with densely populated scenes!).

Festivals. Another theme that has emerged is how to document gatherings of people in a meaningful way. But, also a way that illustrates diversity. I grew up in Cornwall, which is well-known for its strange annual pagan festivals like Padstow May Day and more locally to me, Flora Day. I have visited these events on many occasions over the years. I like the idea of documenting these festivals; how they still have relevance today; what sort of people turn up to them, and what they get from it. This means that to shoot it, I would like the overview photographs showing the mass of people (it runs into thousands for each of these events), but also closer and more intimate portraits of people at the events. Rather than live action shots, I am thinking a bit more of portraits with short descriptors to highlight the individuality of people against the gathered mass. This is where my thinking is at the moment. Large format for the big overview photographs, and the Mamiya 7ii for the more individualised shots.

The next step for me is to find out what unusual festivals are running across the UK, when they run, how they run, and importantly how to shoot them. In reality, the project is going to take a couple of years to do, but that’s fine. In between, I will develop some other shorter projects exploring the theme of diversity in British culture.

Diverse Britain. Another idea that I have come up with this week, mainly one for the blog, is to find contemporary British social documentary photographers who are creating bodies of work that illustrates the diversity in British culture. When I find an interesting blog or website with some good work, I will post it up as a link. I am not a professional photographer, or a curator, or a photography journalist so it’s going to be fairly hit and miss how I do this – still that’s half the fun!

It seems relevant to me to build up a bigger picture of the different types of photographic work and contemporary British life that is going on around us. Personally, I find this stuff interesting. But also, if you have no photographs, then you may have no history…

Walking to the horses
Walking to the horses – Salisbury Magna Carta 800 year celebrations

One roll of film

I have come across these two Hasselblad projects for shooting one roll of film. One is a video done in Japan, the other is a current story where one roll of film is being given to twelve photographers to shoot one frame each on that roll. These are great ideas, I really like how they are so counter to the ‘point and squirt’ approach to digital. I guess you could try and recreate the idea on a digital camera, but I don’t think it would be quite the same as having the genuine physical limitation of 12 shots. Might have a play with that idea myself with my Mamiya (where I get 10 shots to a roll)!

Here is the link to the website for the one shot project: Twelve photographers

Clever Hasselblad of course, I would love to find one of those cameras now!

In the meantime, here is a film shot taken from Swanage on a 35mm camera (36 shots seems like a luxury!)

Lazing in the sun

What I see depends on what I bring

At one level, a photograph is a simple thing – it’s just an image. But, at another level it’s a whole different ball game. What I see in a photograph depends on what bring – in terms of my previous experiences and how I probably am feeling at that point in time. Some photographs by their raw emotional content have the power to seemingly transcend the immediate context – they almost forcibly grab you and shake you up. Those photographs, as far as I am concerned, are rare. I can think of a lot of good photographs, but not many that have that powerful emotional pull.

Often, a photograph creates a strong emotional response in me due to the story that goes with it. This is one of the reasons that I like reading documentary work, as it provides a contextual backdrop to more fully understand the image. However, some stories just bore me as I am not interested in them. Whilst others, due to my experiences, beliefs and interests are much more stimulating. Darcy Padilla’s The Julie Project (Now called Family Love) is a very powerful story which gripped me.

This got me thinking recently about my own work. Like most people (I presume), I shoot with a particular idea in mind of how I would like the audience to respond to my work – do they ‘get’ the message that I am seeking to communicate? I have no idea really, unless I talk to people or provide an explanatory text. But, when I do that I have already sought to shape their views and opinions about the work. What might be a more interesting angle to explore is that of not providing an explanatory context, etc. to the work – just putting the images out there and let the viewer make their own minds up about the work. What expectations do they bring and does the work match it in any way?

I like the idea of using the ambiguity in the ‘space’ between my intention for the work and the audience’s expectations as a possible point of exploration. I can try to influence what people think. However, because I don’t know, nor can I know, their previous histories or immediate context, I can’t actually control what they think.

I guess the next thing to do is to explore this idea in a little more depth, and shoot some work or look at the work I have done to build something that reflects this concept.