FMP Week 1 | In the City

Still in the very early stages of developing my FMP, I have been conducting research in order to understand what themes I will be challenging. I have already established the emotional nature of this work and its connection to me personally. However to pursue this avenue alone would be foolish. Having had a productive first meeting with Laura, the last couple of days have consisted in contextual research specifically looking at the work of Sian Davey and Zed Nelson.

For a number of months I have been looking at the work of Nelson in order to inform my own approach to making portraits. However in researching his book ‘A portrait of Hackney’ Nelson makes a number of pertinent observations similar to the quandaries that I am currently facing. Perhaps the most pertinent at this stage, is how do I put my ideas into some type of order and make comments on the on the connection of lack of, between the places that I intend to include in my story.

Nelson speaks of a juxtaposition between ‘underprivileged teenagers’ and ‘urban hipsters’ and a ‘co-existence in spite of a complete separation’ . A comment that in some respects I feel is relevant to my story, although my project will cover a broader distance, a number of binary opposites are in operation. The most pertinent from a, is the question of identity and geographic location.

Man on Kingsland Road, Hackney. London

As a small boy I, my childhood was spent on an estate on the boarder of Stockport and Manchester. A field separated the communities of Levenshulme and Heaton Chapel and this is where I spent my childhood playing football and running round the streets. Beyond this field was a different city, in a different county. Growing up I was often told that I wasn’t a Mancunian, I was from Stockport. This wasn’t puzzling and is rather obvious. However as I grew older and went to primary school, I would walk down one road and be in Stockport, if I turned off the road I would be in Manchester. As I went to high school, I was faced with the same quandary.

Back to the idea of representation and city living, Franklin (2016:p135)…

City living, in one example of photographic tendentiousness, has been portrayed in film and photography in a highly polarised way. Cities are seen either as the cause of moral decay or as sites of opportunity or chance encounters.

I agree with such representations in a general sense and the ideas purported by Franklin are a good starting point, when looking at historical such as that of Shirley Baker who photographed inner city Manchester slum clearances in the 60’s. The work very much portrayed the city as an urban dystopia, the slum clearances well under way and images of children playing on building sites certainly lends itself to the idea of an urban jungle. However looking at the work of Nelson in Hackney, I feel that the work in more complex. An element which possibly distorts my observation are the timing of his project.

Zed Nelson | A Portrait of Hackney

When I went out to take photographs yesterday I wouldn’t be wrong in thinking my surroundings were rather dystopian, the concrete is vivid and grim, the roads are uneven and damaged by the freezing temperatures. However when I look at the work of Nelson, I could be in a film set of a British movie.

How much of this is aided by the weather is a current point of interest as. At this stage the work i’m making looks and feels cold. In Summer I fully expect this to be very different. Nelson and Davey with their iconography of long summer evenings within green spaces dominated by concrete do create a sense of romanticism that I am moved by. And the prospect of making similar work, only with a Northern accent is a prospect that excites.

Franklin, S. (2016) The Documentary Impulse, Phaidon, New York.

Nelson, Z (2014) A Portrait of Hackney, Hoxton Mini Press, London.

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