Notes for Assessor

This learning log / blog is my main submission for assessment supported by a presentation box containing:

  • The prints for each of assignments 1 through 5
  • Tutor’s feedback for each assignment
  • My written response to each assigment

This blog is organised so each assignment can be selected from the top menu. In each case, under the assignment number you will find :

  • The final reworked assignment
  • My response to the tutor’s comments and any further reflections arising
  • The tutor’s feedback (including links to follow up research)
  • My self assessment
  • The assignment as submitted
  • The specific research leading up to the assignment which usually provides an explanation of my thought and practical processes and relevant context in terms of other practitioners

Required exercises are filed under “Coursework”

There is a record of other, less specific, research throughout the blog and that is filed under the “Research and Reflection” category

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Assignment 5 Rework: Hanging On

Notes on Rework

Following a conversation with my tutor and after receiving his formal feedback (here) I have reworked this series.

It was pointed out that the series lacked a title; I had one or two different ideas in mind: a derivative of At Least in the City Someone Would Hear me Scream, the title of Wade Rouse’s book, was one option but it felt it needed the whole sentence to work and this was cumbersome and potentially plagiarism so I settled on Hanging On which not only neatly describes the status of small dairy farmers but references the Pink Floyd song Time which includes the line:

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” (iii & 7)

Which by bring Englishness into the idea links these farmers to the stout yeoman of England and the agrarian heritage that is being rapidly lost.

Beyond that the only changes are a slight tightening of the series.

Background

In the late 18th century British painters began to turn their attention away from the classic and romantic cities of The Grand Tour (i) to breath new life into English landscape painting which, until this time, had been a lowly, but distinctly British, genre. (1) The birth of the Georgian landscape in art as typified by Turner, Constable and Gainsborough had far reaching effects, stimulating a domestic tourist industry as people travelled to the countryside to find picturesque views and establishing a romantic, pictorial representation of rural England that would become closely associated with our national identity. (ii)

Three-quarters of Britain is farmed so the Georgian painters not only romanticised the countryside in general but established a tradition of pastoral imagery that has been proliferated by both painting and photography ever since; an imagery that Jesse Alexander describes as a “performance of the countryside, a generally idealised representation of uncomplicated rural life” (3).  The myth of the British countryside is of a sparsely populated rural idyll where people, divorced from the economic and social challenges of the cities, pursue a simpler and, by inference, easier life.

(A more extensive discussion of the creation and perpetuation of the myth of the countryside idyll can be found here)

Introduction to the Series

My second assignment featured a father and son operating two West Country farms; on its completion I was left with a strong sense that the project was unresolved and pursued within my comfort zone. To work with the same subject for assignment 5 demanded a fresh approach, clearer intent and a more sophisticated outcome.

Researching practitioners who had focussed on farming highlighted the challenge of addressing this subject without resorting to the pictorial cliché of depicting a tough job in beautiful surroundings, a common critique of James Ravilious (here) or Denis Thorpe (here) despite both being serious documentarists of rural life. John Darwell (here) was able to avoid such a trap by focusing on the emotional and physical impact of the foot and mouth disaster whilst Colin Shaw (here) focussed attention on farm workers by generally excluding contextual background that might have softened the representation of their working environment. The common ground between Darwell and Shaw was their exploration, not of farming per se, but of the human condition within a framework of farming, the despair of foot and mouth or the harsh working conditions of harvesting winter crops by hand.

This thought became the broad theme of the Crackmoor Farm series and as over ten months, like Mark Neville in his Fancy Pictures series (here), I slowly became less of an outsider. The narratives that interested me were universal rather than specific to farming; the relationship between the father and his young son who at only twenty-one had been given the responsibility of his own farm to manage who struggles to find time for his hobbies; the daughter conflicted by a desire to remain at the heart of a tight-knit family unit in a rural community and the demanding job she loves eighty miles away in Surrey; the mother intent on pursing her career outside of farming but who, like most farmer’s wives, is the glue that holds the family together, facilitating the remorseless, dawn to dusk, seven day a week grind of managing two dairy herds.

I wanted to challenge the myth of the rural idyll without resorting to the muck and physicality that had been a strong feature of the earlier assignment and to this end I took inspiration from Scott Mcfarland (here) and Gregory Crewdson (here) who bring a physiological or atmospheric edge and narrative ambiguity to their work through staging, lighting and post production manipulation; the isolation of farming seemed better described by the herdsman in an cold industrial space than the farmer in a sunlit field.

Recognising that my comfort zone is straight documentary I challenged myself to question the veracity of this genre; in this I was again influenced by McFarland and to a lesser extent by Anna Fox to create my own realities by the introduction of infeasible lighting, composite printing and directed staging. By mixing these directed or manipulated images with straight photographs I am asking myself perhaps more than asking the viewer which is the true representation of my subject.

Assignment – Hanging On

Crackmoor Fig. 01 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 01 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 02 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 02 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 03 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 03 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 06 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 04 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 06 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 05 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 08 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 06 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 09 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 07 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 10 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 08 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 11 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 09 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 12 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Hanging On – Fig. 10 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Assignment Research

Henrik Duncker and Yrjö Tuunanen – Hay on the Highway

John Darwell – Dark Days

Denis Thorpe – A Shepherd’s Year

The Myth of the Countryside Idyll

Colin Shaw – Farmwork

Scott McFarland – A Layered Multiplicity of Time

Reflections on the Progression of a Project

Project Sketchbook

Notes on Text

(i) Between c.1550 and 1850 affluent Britons travelled a well trodden path through the great sites of Europe on what became known as The Grand Tour. According to Adam Matthew, who has established a significant digital resource on the subject, the Grand Tour was “a phenomenon which shaped the creative and intellectual sensibilities of some of the eighteenth century’s greatest artists, writers and thinkers” (2) Amongst these travellers were J.M.W. Turner and other artists who, inspired by the light and landscapes of the romantic cities of the tour went on to create a new era in British romantic landscape.

(ii) In his interesting paper on Englishness and the Countryside Julian Michi (5) argues that “The countryside is a central feature in national symbolism and rural images often serve as signs of the Nation”, a point that I have previously discussed here but further to that he points out that imagery of the home counties is not only used to represent national identity to residents of the South of England. “The symbolic imposition of one part of England as a symbol of English rural life and so of English identity is made that much more powerful as it tends to cover all of Britain, beyond just England” (5: p.4)

(iii) Time by Pink Floyd

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day 
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. 
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town 
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way. 

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain. 
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today. 
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. 
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun. 

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking 
Racing around to come up behind you again. 
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, 
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death. 

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time. 
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines 
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way 
The time is gone, the song is over, 
Thought I’d something more to say. (7)

Sources

Books

(3) Alexander, J.A.P (2015) Perspectives on Place: Theory ad Practice in Landcape Photography. London: Bloomsbury.

(6) Rouse, Wade (2009) At Least in the City Someone Would Hear me Scream. New York: Three Rivers Press.

(7) Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour (1973) Time. From the Album dark Side of the Moon. EMI / EMI Music Distribution

Internet

(1) Prodger, Michael (2012) Constable, Turner, Gainsborough and the making of Landscape (accessed at the Guardian 7.10.16) – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/23/constable-turner-gainsborough-making-landscape

(2) Layton-Jones, Katy (2009) The Grand Tour (accessed at Reviews in history 16.11.16) – http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/839

(5) Mischi, Julian (2009) Englishness and the Countryside: How British Rural Studies Address the Issue of National Identity (accessed at Dijon Cedex 16.11.16) – https://www2.dijon.inra.fr/cesaer/fichiers/pagesperso/mischi/EnglishnessMischi.pdf

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Assignment 5: Tutor Feedback

Feedback was provided during a telephone conversation on 5th December 2106.

As we discussed over the phone, I believe that you have produced an excellent project. The submission demonstrates both your technical and contextual skills. It’s clear that you have pushed your practice along with your conceptual understanding. This is demonstrated through all the hard work that you have applied right the way through the course. This final submission is a culmination of the learning that you have undertaken. You have evidenced that you were prepared to push your creativity and take yourself out of your comfort zone. The success though is really down to your ability to apply critical analysis to contemporary photographic practitioners and relate this to your own work. Throughout the course you have engaged in fantastic research resulting in considered and well informed reflections. These reflections and your willingness to critique alternative methodologies has developed your appreciation and understanding of the complexities of photography and ultimately pushed your personal practice.

The final images are very successful. Your commitment and enthusiasm is really impressive. The methodology that you have employed identifies your inspirations and references yet they are not pastiches, your personal vision is evident. Collaborating with your subjects has aided your concept and visual strategy. Overall the series is strong and works well as a coherent set of images. As I commented on though, you should reflect again on the relation of image 4 and 7 with the rest of the series. Essentially these images are repeating 3 and 8 and upset the rhythm slightly but it’s not a major issue, just an editing point to be aware of. Your composite skills appear to be sound but do review again once you have produced the final prints as visuals have a tendency of looking different in print form to digital.

I agree that images 4 and 7 are unnecessary and I will remove them at rework to make the series tighter. I have completed test prints for the composite photographs and at A3 they appear to still work well.

When we spoke on the phone we discussed at some length why I had used composite strategies. There were two aspects in my mind; firstly that I wanted throughout the series to challenge the documentary nature of the series and then, secondly, there were practical and logistical challenges to get the right combination of settings and subject. 

Clearly you are aware of the assessment process due to your previous submissions. Just make sure that all physical work is presented in an appropriate and professional form. Prints are produced to the best of your ability and uniformed and presented in a portfolio box with the relevant information. It’s a great idea to produce a document that explains in a coherent and minimal way were all the appropriate information can be found online and physically.

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Assignment 5: Self Assessment

Crackmoor Fig. 12 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 12 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Introduction

This assignment evolved from assignment 2, a fact that brought specific challenges to the project in that it was important to move forward both the overall subject narrative and my approach to the project.

Working with the same subjects in much the same locations over a period of ten months can easily lead to repetitiveness, or even what one might call the blindness of familiarity. To avoid this I took a step back from the project to visualise an end result that met the dual objectives of describing the subject more effectively than I had in March and to explore new perspectives that enabled me to develop my practice.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

There were two technical challenges; the lighting on location and the post processing to combine images and balance the natural and artificial light. I am reasonably satisfied with the approach to both these challenges. For the location lighting I used my knowledge of the site to preplan the shots and then carried out a series of test shots without the human subjects until I was satisfied with the balance and position of the flashguns. The exception was fig. 02 which being in the milking parlour left no scope for setting up lights and a tripod and where I used a handheld flashgun.

I have come to recognise that I am not a decisive moment photographer, I believe that my work is strengthened by a combination of subject knowledge and pre-planning so all but fig. 07 to 09 were to a greater or lesser extent pre-planned making this series the most “designed” that I have completed. I had visualised the basic concept for most of the shots and am satisfied that they generally met expectations. There are small details that disappoint me such as the lack of an interior light in the caravan shot – fig. 12 (no key) and the lack of depth in the interior of fig. 05 (too large a space for the number of flashguns).

Fig, 01, 02, 03 and 12 are manipulated to various degrees, fig. 12 being the most manipulated as a combination of three originals with the other three combining two originals. This gave me the scope to balance the background and, where relevant, the skies with the artificially lit subjects. My main concern is whether I should have warmed the flashgun light to imitate ambient artificial light rather than the bright whites that I settled on.

Quality of Outcome

Overall I am satisfied with the outcome. I believe that the relation between the subjects and their working spaces has given a dimension to the project that straight portraits would have failed to produce.

I believe that the concept of presenting farming without falling into the trap of presenting a rural idyll was strong and that the idea was carried thorough effectively. It is all about choices and I chose a route that presented the subjects’ environment as working spaces, economic entities, and then placed them into those spaces to highlight the isolation and uncomfortable, if not harsh, working environments.

Demonstration of Creativity

I felt that with this assignment more than any other that there was an imperative to create an approach that distinguished it from not just my previous work but also from the straight documentary style of some of my references. Although Colin Shaw, Denis Thorpe and John Darwell all influenced me in different ways it was the work of Scott McFarland that helped me devise a strategy that could introduce some much needed ambiguity into the final photographs and challenge my tendency towards a straight documentary style.

I also recognised that my relationship with the subject had evolved and that we understood each other far better than at the start of assignment 2. This allowed me to consider strategies that explored the use of a mixture of ambient and introduced light and the introduction of an element of staging. To achieve variety in the series I decided upon using both staged and un-staged photography and both natural and artificial light.

It is not exactly experimental to combine multiple images into a single image but to use these techniques for a final assignment felt as if I was developing my practice in a demonstrable way. I believe that by adopting a combination of pre-visualisation, careful planning, directed staging and post production manipulation I am finding an approach that extracts the most from my limited creativity, a kind of organised rather than spontaneous creativity. I found that I related to Scott McFarland’s words as much as to his photographs and saw in his approach a way of working that made sense and that allows me to pursue documentary subjects in a more contemporary manner.

Context

The series is strongly contextualised by reference to contemporary photographers and a few more traditional documentarists. At this point in the course the contextual links are perhaps less direct and many of the practitioners I looked at earlier in the course such as John Goto, Yrjö Tuunanen, Gregory Crewdson and Henrik Duncker have continued to influence my thinking.

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Assignment 5: Crackmoor Farm

Background

In the late 18th century British painters began to turn their attention away from the classic and romantic cities of The Grand Tour (i) to breath new life into English landscape painting which, until this time, had been a lowly, but distinctly British, genre. (1) The birth of the Georgian landscape in art as typified by Turner, Constable and Gainsborough had far reaching effects, stimulating a domestic tourist industry as people travelled to the countryside to find picturesque views and establishing a romantic, pictorial representation of rural England that would become closely associated with our national identity. (ii)

Three-quarters of Britain is farmed so the Georgian painters not only romanticised the countryside in general but established a tradition of pastoral imagery that has been proliferated by both painting and photography ever since; an imagery that Jesse Alexander describes as a “performance of the countryside, a generally idealised representation of uncomplicated rural life” (3).  The myth of the British countryside is of a sparsely populated rural idyll where people, divorced from the economic and social challenges of the cities, pursue a simpler and, by inference, easier life.

(A more extensive discussion of the creation and perpetuation of the myth of the countryside idyll can be found here)

Introduction to the Series

My second assignment featured a father and son operating two West Country farms; on its completion I was left with a strong sense that the project was unresolved and pursued within my comfort zone. To work with the same subject for assignment 5 demanded a fresh approach, clearer intent and a more sophisticated outcome.

Researching practitioners who had focussed on farming highlighted the challenge of addressing this subject without resorting to the pictorial cliché of depicting a tough job in beautiful surroundings, a common critique of James Ravilious (here) or Denis Thorpe (here) despite both being serious documentarists of rural life. John Darwell (here) was able to avoid such a trap by focusing on the emotional and physical impact of the foot and mouth disaster whilst Colin Shaw (here) focussed attention on farm workers by generally excluding contextual background that might have softened the representation of their working environment. The common ground between Darwell and Shaw was their exploration, not of farming per se, but of the human condition within a framework of farming, the despair of foot and mouth or the harsh working conditions of harvesting winter crops by hand.

This thought became the broad theme of the Crackmoor Farm series and as over ten months, like Mark Neville in his Fancy Pictures series (here), I slowly became less of an outsider. The narratives that interested me were universal rather than specific to farming; the relationship between the father and his young son who at only twenty-one had been given the responsibility of his own farm to manage who struggles to find time for his hobbies; the daughter conflicted by a desire to remain at the heart of a tight-knit family unit in a rural community and the demanding job she loves eighty miles away in Surrey; the mother intent on pursing her career outside of farming but who, like most farmer’s wives, is the glue that holds the family together, facilitating the remorseless, dawn to dusk, seven day a week grind of managing two dairy herds.

I wanted to challenge the myth of the rural idyll without resorting to the muck and physicality that had been a strong feature of the earlier assignment and to this end I took inspiration from Scott Mcfarland (here) and Gregory Crewdson (here) who bring a physiological or atmospheric edge and narrative ambiguity to their work through staging, lighting and post production manipulation; the isolation of farming seemed better described by the herdsman in an cold industrial space than the farmer in a sunlit field.

Recognising that my comfort zone is straight documentary I challenged myself to question the veracity of this genre; in this I was again influenced by McFarland and to a lesser extent by Anna Fox to create my own realities by the introduction of infeasible lighting, composite printing and directed staging. By mixing these directed or manipulated images with straight photographs I am asking myself perhaps more than asking the viewer which is the true representation of my subject.

Assignment

Crackmoor Fig. 01 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 01 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 02 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 02 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 03 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 03 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 04 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 04 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 06 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 05 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 06 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 06 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 07 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 07 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 08 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 08 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 09 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 09 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 10 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 10 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 11 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 11 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 12 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor Fig. 12 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Assignment Research

Henrik Duncker and Yrjö Tuunanen – Hay on the Highway

John Darwell – Dark Days

Denis Thorpe – A Shepherd’s Year

The Myth of the Countryside Idyll

Colin Shaw – Farmwork

Scott McFarland – A Layered Multiplicity of Time

Reflections on the Progression of a Project

Project Sketchbook

Notes on Text

(i) Between c.1550 and 1850 affluent Britons travelled a well trodden path through the great sites of Europe on what became known as The Grand Tour. According to Adam Matthew, who has established a significant digital resource on the subject, the Grand Tour was “a phenomenon which shaped the creative and intellectual sensibilities of some of the eighteenth century’s greatest artists, writers and thinkers” (2) Amongst these travellers were J.M.W. Turner and other artists who, inspired by the light and landscapes of the romantic cities of the tour went on to create a new era in British romantic landscape.

(ii) In his interesting paper on Englishness and the Countryside Julian Michi (5) argues that “The countryside is a central feature in national symbolism and rural images often serve as signs of the Nation”, a point that I have previously discussed here but further to that he points out that imagery of the home counties is not only used to represent national identity to residents of the South of England. “The symbolic imposition of one part of England as a symbol of English rural life and so of English identity is made that much more powerful as it tends to cover all of Britain, beyond just England” (5: p.4)

Sources

Books

(3) Alexander, J.A.P (2015) Perspectives on Place: Theory ad Practice in Landcape Photography. London: Bloomsbury.

Internet

(1) Prodger, Michael (2012) Constable, Turner, Gainsborough and the making of Landscape (accessed at the Guardian 7.10.16) – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/23/constable-turner-gainsborough-making-landscape

(2) Layton-Jones, Katy (2009) The Grand Tour (accessed at Reviews in history 16.11.16) – http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/839

(5) Mischi, Julian (2009) Englishness and the Countryside: How British Rural Studies Address the Issue of National Identity (accessed at Dijon Cedex 16.11.16) – https://www2.dijon.inra.fr/cesaer/fichiers/pagesperso/mischi/EnglishnessMischi.pdf

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A5 Preparation: Sketchbook

Trimming Hooves - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Trimming Hooves – Steve Middlehurst 2016

I am in the habit of using a sketchbook to collect ideas as I develop a project. The following are pages from assignment 5’s sketchbook roughing out ideas that were carried forward and a few that were not.

print-2016-018

print-2016-019

print-2016-020

print-2016-021

print-2016-023

print-2016-025

print-2016-026

print-2016-027

print-2016-024

print-2016-029

print-2016-028

print-2016-031

print-2016-030

print-2016-032

print-2016-033

 

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A5: Reflections on the Progression of a Project

Crackmoor Fig. 10 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Crackmoor – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Sometime around 2001 Mark Neville was in a bookshop in Glasgow looking at a large collection of social documentary style photo books when it struck him that “these books were not aimed at the kind of people who were in the pictures …… images of poverty and hardship made for comfortable people” (1: p.32). This thought was to initiate an approach to his practice that, if not unique, is highly unusual. Neville decided to challenge the status quo and embark on a project to create a photo book that only ended up in the hands of the community it represented as opposed to the coffee tables of “white, middle-class people” (1: p.32). Gerry Badger describes Port Glasgow, Neville’s first book, as an attempt to “confront one of the main problems of social documentary photography: that it is so often a matter of outsiders – however sympathetic they may be – taking a patronising view of those who are ‘other’.” (2: p.134).

With funding from the Scottish Arts Council and the Lottery Neville immersed himself in the area of Port Glasgow that had once been home to Britain’s busiest shipyards but was now “clinging to a post-industrial identity” (1: p.32). At the end of the project he printed 8,000 copies of the book which was then delivered by the local boys football club to every address in the community. Fancy Pictures (1), his first conventionally published work, is a monograph of six projects that focus on seemingly closed and isolated communities ranging from Port Glasgow to Helmand Province.

From the series Fancy Pictures - Mark Neville 2008

From the series Fancy Pictures – Mark Neville 2008

I was initially drawn to Neville’s work to look at his second project, also called Fancy Pictures, which documents a small, and in many ways feudal, farming community on the Isle of Bute. The first  impression of this series is well described by David Campany: “Wildly imaginative, technically sophisticated and visually intelligent.” (1: p.33) And, it would be easy enough to continue to review Neville’s work along these lines, indeed there his technical approach has influenced my own project, but it is potentially more important to recognise that the results he achieves come as a direct result of the depth of the relationships he builds with his subjects.

I started the Crackmoor Farm project in the early part of this year, assignment 2 Two Fortunate Men (here) was an early result but it now feels to be more of a premature spin-off than a coherent project. Neville’s interviews with David Campany have helped me to understand why, despite being of exactly the same subjects, assignment 2 and assignment 5 are, to my mind, so radically different.

Before starting to photograph the Kellaway family on their west country farms I had only met the main subjects once and then only very briefly. Over the course of several shoots I began to understand their world but, despite their hospitality and generous nature, I was very much an outsider looking in on their lives. The photographs reflect the subjects’ discomfort, eye contact was rare, poses uncomfortable and false and as a result the majority of the shots were captured when the subjects were preoccupied with their work. Quite obviously a significant proportion of objective documentary photography records a relationship between strangers, the photographer as an outsider, the subject being objectified. This in itself is not necessarily an issue if photographer has a real understanding of and sympathy towards the subject matter, neither Colin Shaw’s Farmwork nor John Darwell’s Dark Days are the result of the kind of immersion that marks out Neville’s work but in both cases the practitioners were not outsiders to the overall subject matter just to the specific subjects in their photographs and both projects were developed over an extended period of time.

Neville talks about going into his target communities to build relationships and eventually “negotiate some kind of performance from the people I’m with.” (1: p.31) This has also been my experience when working with the Kellaways; at first any kind of posed photograph was challenging and discomforting to them and left me feeling predatory but by the end of ten months they were willing participants in the creation of tableaux.

This changes the dynamics of the photographic process, the relationship between the photographer and the subject becomes collaborative, and because staged photography has a strong sense of theatre there is even a sense of being co-conspirators in creative subterfuge. By bring and element of staging into a documentary style project Neville challenges our expectations and express a scepticism towards the claim of truth in the photographic document but to achieve this he needed a level of cooperation from his subjects that could only be achieved by developing mutual understanding and trust.

Sources

Books

(1) Neville, Mark (2016) Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl

(2) Parr, Martin and Badger, Gerry (2014) The Photobook: A History volume III. London: Phaidon

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