This assignment draws together all the various strands explored so far – including skills in camera handling, observation and reaction, and the underlying appreciation of what spaces and buildings mean for the people who live in and among them.
I am to imagine that I am on an assignment for an intelligent, thoughtful travel publication (not tourism promotion) that is demanding a considered, in-depth treatment. I am to produce sufficient images to fill six pages, meaning six final images as chosen, but at least twice this number of good, publishable images from which to make the final selection.
Initially I did some research into bespoke, “different” travel publications to get an idea of how the stories are told in pictures and what was available out there, I was looking for something away from the norm.
Renegade “sets out to give an honest impression of the world, to inspire people to travel, of course, but also to go back to the reason we travel in the first place – to attempt to understand a place by seeing it first-hand. It celebrates the best travel writing and is not designed to sell destinations, but to show the world as it is, the light and the dark together.” Freddie Reynolds. Editor
We Are Here travel magazine founder and editor Conor Purcell says; “…..it’s an attempt to move past the clichés that dominate most travel magazines. I also wanted to feature local voices, as a lot of travel magazines parachute a journalist in (often on a paid-for junket) and the content is by-the-numbers – how can you expect to understand a place without having lived there?”
I considered locations close to home – bustling towns, sleepy villages and Victorian coastal resorts. I looked online and in local libraries at books, photographs and publications. I didn’t find anything particularly inspiring, original or terribly interesting. After viewing other OCA student work on this particular assignment – many of which had chosen similar topics – cloned high street shopping centres, twee villages, city life etc; I decided to tackle a more original and challenging location and put my own interpretation on the brief.
I have selected Barrow Island part of Barrow-in-Furness on the west coast of Cumbria. I knew some history of Barrow itself – one time biggest iron and steel centre in the world, and major ship-building industry. The Island is still home to one of the largest shipyards in the UK now owned by BAE Systems.
In the late 19th century, to accommodate and retain the 17,000 strong workforce, a “planned town” was constructed in Barrow which included “company housing” on Barrow Island, a grid of tenement blocks in the main residential area. The end of the Trident submarine building programme in the 1990s led to around 10,000 job losses from the shipyard, most of those affected lived on Barrow Island. Hard times followed for the residents of this geographically isolated community. The industry decline led to further job cuts and depopulation.
Having chosen my “place”, I looked again at magazine publications. My research brought me to a non travel publication “Inside Housing”. This is the leading weekly magazine for housing professionals in the UK. It includes features on key topical issues providing an in-depth insight into all matters in social housing. Ideal for my subject.
I headed off to Barrow Island, what a revelation! It was an unfamiliar and slightly uncomfortable environment for me so it was important to get a good feel for the place and observe the local people. I wandered around for at least an hour, barely lifting the camera to my eye. I found a quote by Carolyn Drake in the book “Street Photography now”  “It can be invigorating to work in a place where I feel like an outsider because it usually means it is a place I don’t fully understand and I enjoy the process of trying to understand’. This was very true of me on Barrow Island.
At the end of the day I came away with 170 shots. On reviewing my photographs I recognised that I had many of buildings and insufficient of the inhabitants. I needed to revisit the location.
Michael Freeman in “The photographer’s Story”  stresses the importance of the planning stages: “Research the subject and it’s background – done. Stay around long enough to get under the skin of the subject” I planned another visit to Barrow Island, armed with a street map for reference….
The shipyard physically dominates Barrow Island, the map indicates this with the light brown area illustrating the shipyard buildings. The island is now a Grade 2 listed conservation area of architectural and historical significance. For my assignment I focused on the tenement blocks and surrounding streets.
….. having completed a third visit to Barrow Island, there followed a serious culling session of my 348 photographs. Due to the nature of my subject many of the shots were an attempt to “capture the moment” and I found myself in street photography mode, hence many unsuitable wasted images. Here I have shown a few I eliminated along the way.
These two shots show how the massive dock building looms large, impacting on the softer, greener areas of the town. I feel the composition of the first image is not showing enough of the children or playground rides. The second image I have replaced with a more emotive image (see “possible contenders”).
Too fussy. For better shots I could have positioned myself better and avoided the obstacles.
I took many of this outdated hairdresser’s shop, I decided on a tighter framed shot for my final selection.
I like these shots, but they are not contextual. I took several of the young girl in the window and have selected a stronger image in my final selection.
More research led me to the following photographs. I was able to make comparisons with some of my images.
Below: Steel Works, Consett 1989. Julian Germain.
Below: “Give my regards to Elizabeth” 1993. Peter Bialobrzeski
The following are runners-up to my final selection.
After several weeks and much deliberation, I have selected the twelve images I would send to the magazine editor. I have published these under the tab for Assignment 4 – A sense of place along with my assessment and analysis.
- Howarth, S. & McLaren, S. (2010) Street Photography Now. Thames and Hudson Ltd. New York.
- Freeman, M. (2012). The Photographer’s Story. Ilex, East Sussex
renegade. Editor Freddie Reynolds (now out of print)
We Are Here. Editor & founder Conor Purcell
Inside Housing. Editor Emma Maier