Note to assessors: I have also printed these twelve images and included them with my submission for assessment. I felt it was important to view them as a physical body of work and have the flexibility to view them together in cohesion as well as individually.
Barrow Island, Cumbria
Barrow Island, part of Barrow-in-Furness on the west coast of Cumbria – 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.
The twelve images I would send to the magazine editor are;
Juxtaposition of soft focus and the sunlit windows of the houses against the harsh barrier of the barbed wire fence creates visual tension. My intention here is to convey the conflict of residents remaining in their homes, in their town, regardless of the hardship and steep decline in employment.
I captured this young lad (Jason) leaning against the wall of an empty street under a nuclear sign. The wall and fencing form a barrier between the lad and the factory. I approached Jason, he told me he used to work here, but the jobs are long gone.
Some of the luckier lads deep in conversation on their lunch break. The colours in this image convey a feeling of a brighter, more cheery existence.
The eye is immediately drawn to the discarded chair in this back alley, conveying a sense of deprivation. The eye wanders around and to the child running – away from or towards? The blue fence clearly states the fact that beyond is strictly out-of-bounds. A clear contrast between public space and private space.
My favourite shot. I feel this image is very emotive and poignant. A hint of luxury among the urban desolation. The boy’s face is hidden from view, leaving the viewer to interpret his body language.
Picking up on the exercises leading up to this assignment, “figure small”. This image offers the powerful visual presence of the tenement block – unforgiving yet impressive, then the eye catches the figure walking out of the frame. The grass and weeds growing in the pavement adds to the sense of neglect.
Bill, now retired on ill-health, served in the shipyard for 45 years. No escape though as the Devonshire Dock Hall (the tallest building in Cumbria) a constant reminder, looms large over the sanctuary of his allotment.
Every picture tells a story……. The barricades block entry to anything pretty and bright.
I selected this image for the composition as well as the subject – the concrete posts (more barriers?) reinforced with double yellow lines. The many satellite dishes – yet good old-fashioned conversation continues beneath them. The woman is clearly very comfortable in her surroundings.
I took several shots using varying focal lengths. I selected this one as I like how it puts my subject (Leanne) in context and portrays the tenement building as solid yet fragile – mirroring the community as a whole.
This shot captures the spirit of the children of Barrow Island – innocent, playful and divorced from the real world.
This shop had closed down a month prior to my visit. To me it speaks of tradition and unchanging values, resistance to the pace of the modern world. I like how the tilting signpost symbolises the instability of the docks.
The final seven
This is the order I would present them in the magazine. I have chosen seven images, the first would be complimented by introductory text about Barrow Island. I would name the article “Shipwrecked”.
- What did I set out to achieve? I wanted to produce something a little different from the norm and give myself more of a challenge. Feedback from my last formal assessment, (The art of photography), was “Little evidence of risk-taking with a few imaginative outcomes”. I also aimed to incorporate my learning from the exercises within the module “People interacting with place”.
- The character of the place? For me it was important to have to have a sense of empathy with the place and to consider how it affected me. I would describe Barrow Island as a traditional, industrial, tight-knit community that has not moved forward with the times. Economic hardship and declining population is very evident. The buildings are impressive, unforgiving yet fragile and crumbling. The streets mostly deserted. All of these things leave me with a nagging concern, a sadness and hope that life will get better for the proud Barrovians. I believe my images succeed in conveying the above.
- I have spent a good deal of time on Barrow Island, chatting to the few folk I could find. One of my big successes was an increase in confidence in approaching people to gain permission to take their photo. I now accept that the worst that could happen is they tell me where to go! I also had to win their trust; I was asked twice “Are you from the press?” I had some banter with the kids too and became known as “Camera lady”. One up from Tom Wood being known in Liverpool as “Photie man”! Time and access were not an issue for me, my biggest challenge was finding people to photograph! Even on a sunny Saturday in the school holidays, I was pushed to find many residents. Initially I found myself orientated towards street photography, attempting to “capture the moment”, some successes, but many discarded images too.
- The hardest task of all was compiling a shortlist of just twelve images, pouring long and hard over the resulting shots I brought home with me. Decision making is not one of my finer points – images were shortlisted and then eliminated, then returned to the pot several times over. I am still wanting to offer more than twelve photos. My learning from this is to keep returning to the brief and not become swayed by “strong images” that are too remote from the subject matter. I also understand and appreciate that all art is open to interpretation, therefore I needed to be creative, not fixed, in my thinking.
- How would I have approached the assignment if I’d simply been taking photographs with no end result in mind? I guess my approach would have been more loose, more street photography style, any strong and interesting shots would have made it into the final twelve…or twenty…. or more. My research would not have been so thorough and I would have been more relaxed about the whole thing. Would the final selection have been as strong and cohesive? I doubt it. Being given a set brief, basically told what to do, be disciplined…well that’s a tricky call for me! But, I’ve no doubt in my mind this method will always produce more effective results.