Longsight and Rusholme

I was quite apprehensive about visiting Longsight. A multicultural, diverse part of Manchester. I know the area well in a visual sense however my understanding of the people of this community is limited beyond the visual.

One of the intentions of my project is to generate a greater understanding of the communities of South Manchester and the main routs that facilitate the distance between Stockport and Manchester. Longsight is a key location however it is also the district I understand the least. It is a suburban area that isn’t the subject of gentrification although multicultural and diverse.

As I frequented the space I felt a sense of unease around my presence, I am unsure whether this was due to the way I looked or the colour of my skin. I didn’t feel welcome. I felt untrusted and a sense of suspicion around. Further factors may have impacted this such as the presence of my camera in or the current social distancing measures. However, I ambled around the shops and built up area, positioning myself as an observer of the local vernacular.

I was struck by the amount of fresh fruit stalls and the people shopping, ladies wearing head scarves and groups of males engaged in what seemed to be serious discussions, all in different languages.

Having scouted the area for twenty minutes or so I decided to approach people to ask if I could take some photographs. On each occasion I was met with an abrupt response of ‘no photograph’ or something to that effect. At points I felt attitudes towards me went beyond suspicion, venturing into the realm of active dislike.

When I returned home I begun to reflect on my experience and question my own perspective in addition to trying to identify with the perspectives of others about my presence. In wanting to further my understanding my reflections then moved away from specific events and I begun to research the idea of social construction and discourse. As a result I came to a conclusion that my experience did occur, but was it a truthful representation of Longsight or was it my own truth of visiting the area. Was it a truth or representation of realism at all? Burr (2003: p7) states

‘Social construction denies that our knowledge is a direct perception of reality. In fact it might be said that as a culture or society we construct our own versions of reality between us.’

Burr’s ideas, appear to advocate the abandonment of any opinions or conclusions i have made regarding this experience. In favour of a broader understanding of why I was there and what impact my presence may have had on others. In occupying this space my ability to experience the reality of this area and represent it is impossible.

I then begun to consider my reasons for being there and understand that my intention is to represent my own experience of someone who has spent a lifetime passing through the area. This leads to the conclusion that this space is used used in a number of ways beyond those that live and work there. My experience of this space is that of someone who passes through. I am not integrated within this community. Burr further states that there are multiple ways of seeing the world, therefore the result of this shoot may be used to reinforce my own perspective of being an ‘outsider’. A respectful outsider with a lack of understanding of how this community functions beyond the surface.

As a result of this shoot I was hoping to make some useful interactions with people and possible make some portraits however the lessons I learned are as useful as the work I have been making recently. I now possess a better understanding having visited this place.

Going forward, I need to consider how I will balance the representation of this place alongside the narrative I intend to pursue. How deep should I engage with this space? And in what context is it relevant?

Burr, V. (2003) Social Constructionism, Second Edition. Routledge, London.

Shoot 3 | Fletcher Moss

Before this shoot I wasn’t sure how the project was coming together, as I usually shoot in a digital format with a zoom lens I can quickly adapt to situations. However, throughout this project I have decided to shoot only using a 35mm lens in an attempt to think more about my work and work harder to identify vantage points.

Furthering my reflections of the work of Sian Davey I previously highlighted the sense of intimacy within her work. Upon deeper research and reflection, I see her work as being very much rooted in the present. This was an element that occurred to me while on this shoot.

Having previously stated that my work would be the result on an ‘insider’ I used a family walk to engage with this idea. Still trying to interpret and fully reflect on this shoot I feel that I have realised a range of intentions that align with my project:

Making work that is situated in the present

Identifying opportunities to represent a mediation of culture and environment

Making work insular

I am pleased to be considering these themes as the shoot served to alleviate some anxieties I have about the emotional nature of a new project. Furthermore, I see this work possibly making up a small part of a much bigger story. When making work of late, perhaps wrongly or right, I am continually thinking about where work such as this may fit within a broader theme.

In terms of the question of authenticity, I am quite pleased that I have encompassed elements of the local climate. Manchester is a wet place, and in encompassing echoes of the recent floods confirms the work as in the present.

Sian Davey | Contextual Research

Since my first tutorial and recommendation from Sarah I have been looking at the work of Sian Davey. At this stage I am used to engaging with the work of other photographers and commenting on their work in a critical sense. However, when looking at the work of Davey, what strikes me the most is the sense of intimacy achieved by her projects.

When previously researching the work of Felicity McCabe, she made a comment that hugely resonated and I think applies to the work of Davey. McCabe states that in the long term process of making work ‘there is no beginning, no end, just chapters’. When looking at the various personal projects of Davey I am compelled to feel that the viewer is invited into her personal space. Her approach encodes a sense of intimacy that I feel few photographers are able to achieve.

The synthesis of technical decision making through elements such as use of light and the very personal nature of her work enables a deep connection to be established with the world that Davey invites us.

My recent contextual work has been directed at the representation of urban environments. I often encounter a barrier between subject and photographer. I also feel that within my own work I am guilty of not finding as much intimacy as I could.

Admittedly, Davey focusses her work around the family sphere and perhaps I would benefit from a closer focus on those in the family sphere.

Thinking forward, I currently feel (maybe due to the disconnection caused by lockdown) that I need to work harder to establish deeper connections with those I intend to include within my work. Subotzky (2014) states of his project Ponte City ‘Photography has always been about relationships for Subotzky anyway — “the pressing of the button is almost a by-product of engaging with people”. A key theme which I consider one of the most central important factors concerning the development of my own work.

At present, I am not as close to my project as I’d like to be, therefore I need to continue to make work in addition to cultivating relationships and making more of an effort to engage others. At the very start of this project I felt that my knowledge and understanding would lead the work that I intend to create, however I now feel that the work will lead the project. I previously felt quite nervous about this being the case, but at the same time I feel like I need to have faith in the continued progress of the project through the work.

Sian Davey from the project: River (Ongoing)

Abel-Hirsch, H. (2014) Ponte City and the urban myth. The Mail and Guardian. [Online] Available at:
https://mg.co.za/article/2014-08-22-00-ponte-city-and-the-urban-myth/ (Accessed 12th Feb 2021)

Davey, S. (2018) [Online] Available at: https://www.siandavey.com (Accessed 15th Feb 2021)

The Street | Film by Zed Nelson

Having watched the film with the intention of generating a better understanding about my own project, I was unsure how relevant this would be.

Without providing a broad context, the film explores the decisive landscape of Hackney. A place of clear divisions between urban hipsters and the ageing local population. A story told mainly through the eyes of local residents and business owners, the film falls short of an attack on words like ‘gentrification’ but it’s not far off.

An interesting approach used be Nelson is the use of human interest stories, some of which remain throughout the film, some of which subside as they leave the area such as the owner of the garage who eventually sells up and by the end of the film his former space has been renovated into trendy offices. The new owner appearing very proud as the building retains some of its former some of its original features. Almost using them as skeleton type trophies to act as a type of justification. This to me appeared quite an ugly justification of capitalism succeeding in removing or reappropriating history. I think this was probably the intention of Nelson in order to entice the audience into aligning with his own subjectivity.

Identifying objects which provide echoes of the past is a theme that I will pursue in developing my own project. The juxtaposition between the past and the future coming together in a visual sense. A major question being:

Is redevelopment a good thing?

Is retaining objects from the past a genuine effort to preserve or are they merely symbolic possession of the past?

One of the more powerful scenes from the film was the opening of a gallery where the curator can be seen nervously waving at a local man on the street receiving a meal from a soup kitchen. This served to illustrate the inequality in Hackney and the poor circumstances that local people find themselves.

In conclusion, this is an engaging film told mainly through the voices of local people unhappy about the gentrification of their home. The challenge of continuing to live in a place that is increasingly becoming unaffordable for the people who live there is a sobering message to come out of Nelson’s film.

Upon googling the vicinity of Hoxton Street to central London, one fears that the future of Hackney has little space for its past.

The Street (2019) [Film] Directed by Zed Nelson. UK, Verve Pictures.

William Eggleston

When researching the work of people I admire and with the future vernacular of my project in mind. I have come to learn that ‘endless looking’ at photographs especially online is helpful and in doing this I usually re-establish a relationship with photographs that perhaps I had forgotten in the past.

At this stage I have a number of thoughts and ideas in mind, at this moment, my reflections are in the direction of quieter, more poetic work. Reflecting and looking at my own work I feel that I haven’t quite given myself the credit I deserve for my efforts and output. Looking at the body of work i have created over the last eighteen months or so, I think that I probably have a good edit of something. What that is I am unsure, maybe it will reveal itself in months, years to come.

In growing frustrated with my usual method of contextual research I decided to do something different. I set myself the task of researching a specific photographer using google images and taking screen shots of the work that stands out. This process may or may not prove fruitful as a future reference so I thought i’d give it a try.

Here is a selection of work from William Eggleston which I felt represents the spaces in between spaces.

Week 1 | FMP Petcha Kutcha Presentation

To say I winged this presentation would be wrong, however the difficulties in deciding to change my project theme have been tough. Deciding to abandon my football project because of COVID restrictions has been upsetting however the prospect of taking my work in a different direction and entering a new context is exciting.

At this stage I understand that I have lots of questions to answer and this presentation is an outline however I feel the central themes are strong and I believe in them.

Andrew Findlay PK Presentation | Jan 2021

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.

Week 1 | FMP

So it starts again, only this time it is the beginning of the end and the time has come to put the learning of the last eighteen months into practice and deliver a project that is meaningful and capable of featuring in an exhibition. At this point I could eulogise about the huge journey I’ve been on however that is obvious and not unusual for a committed MA student.

More importantly, I am currently looking for a route to start this process as the last four days have been challenging and slightly worrying. Having had a productive first meeting with Laura, I received the usual critical insight and have engaged with the contextual research well. At present I have engaged with the work of Sian Davey, and in my position as the ‘spectator’ (Barthes 1980) I had a feeling that I had seen this work before. I hadn’t, but what I was trying to comprehend was the warmth and intimacy of the work I had been researching. Unsure whether this is achieved by the attitude of the photographer? In addition to an overriding consideration of a gendered response. A sense of matriarchy, an intimacy or a specific impulse to fire the shutter.

Such observations led me to consider whether I could achieve this within my own work. Thinking back to one of the earlier modules of the MA, I remember Michelle Sank once commenting that my work is ‘quite dignified’ or something similar, I’m not quite sure. Over the past week or so I’ve been mulling over this point, wondering if it’s a quality in my approach that I can utilise in the future work I make.

Back to the intention of this first post, which has digressed before it has really started. I felt the natural starting point for my FMP should take me back to one of the starting points, in this case, Roland Barthes. Upon re-reading Camera Lucida, only this time from a much more educated starting point. With my project, only a loose consideration at this point the following passages became interesting;

(Barthes, 1980:p36) ‘Society, it seems, mistrusts pure meaning: It wants meaning but at the same time it wants meaning to be surrounded by noise which will make it less acute. Hence the photograph whose meaning is too impressive is quickly deflected; we consume it aesthetically, not politically.’

Here Barthes make a pertinent observation when considering my own project ‘Seven Miles South’ . At present I intend to make work led by portraits, supported by quieter work with the intention of furthering a story alluding to meaning. Environmental portraits will raise questions about the space I will be occupying in addition to what Barthes describes as ‘noise’ which will further meanings that may appear less straight forward. I won’t comment specifically on work, rather apply this idea when I have made the work. At present I think of the work of Alec Soth ‘Niagara or Sleeping by the Mississippi. His use of motifs and sequencing and the powerful relationship his bodies of work have collectively to make a sequence.

Barthes (1980:p38) further states…

‘If we expect the realm of Advertising, where the meaning must be clear and distinct only by reason of its mercantile nature, semiology of Photography is therefore limited to the admirable portraitists. For the rest, with regard to the heterogeneity of ‘good’ photographs, all we can say is that the object speaks, it induces us, vaguely, to think. And further: even this risks being perceived as dangerous. At the limit, no meaning at all is safer:

Here Barthes makes meaningful comment in trying to decode my philosophical approach. Whilst at the same time demonstrating the development of my own photographic literacy in the sense that my appreciation of quieter or more metaphorical work has perhaps seen the furthest distance travelled since my time on the course. I see this photographic literacy as a type of restricted code which possibly confirms Barthes idea that the heterogeneity of photography is seen as a threat to a capitalist society. Such observations are complexed and serve to create a wider gap between photography that resonates with new audiences within the community and work that resonates with audiences that have an existing understanding of photographic literacy.

Barthes. R. (1980) Camera Lucida. Vantage Classics, London.