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.