EYV 2 Collecting
My initial plan was to use the theme of Views and follow Fay Godwin’s example of making images that highlight an issue, and to document the extreme delapidation of Madeira Terrace, the eastern side of Brighton’s seafront, using a wide-angle lens and very small aperture in order to capture as much detail as possible. I took nearly 100 photos but wasn’t at all happy with them because the images had no focal point of interest and didn’t convey the message I intended.
After mulling it over I decided to drop the idea of a campaigning series and to make a set of images that capture the kiss-me-quick character of the western side of the seafront instead. In particular I thought I would attempt to portray the combination of grandeur and shabbiness that is so characteristic not just of Brighton but of many English seaside resorts.
I turned to Tony Ray Jones’s 1966 images of Brighton seafront in his series The English, and Martin Parr’s 1980s images of New Brighton in The Last Resort series for guidance and inspiration, and decided I preferred the more neutral tone of Ray Jones’s images, which seemed to be as much about the place as the people, while Parr’s images came across as being more of a commentary on the ways people behave. I felt their respective uses of b&w and highly saturated colour were at least partly responsible for this difference in interpretation, so decided I would make my images b&w. I also decided to take a wider viewpoint than either Ray Jones or Parr and to make my images views of the seafront itself and not just of people.
My first shoot for this new brief was not a great success. I took just over 70 photos but when I reviewed them I saw that at the fairly close viewpoints I was shooting from there was a lot of perspective distortion. I also noticed that very few of them included any people, and the ones that did were better than the ones that didn’t. I decided I needed to re-shoot and include people in all the shots, not just to make them more coherent as a series but also to give the images points of interest and invite the eye’s attention.
I realised that both the perspective issue and the fact that there were very few people in the images were a direct result of the decision I had made to stick with the wide-angle lens and small aperture, hoping to capture as much detail as possible. My setup, with tripod and large lens, was so cumbersome and conspicuous that people moved out of my way and walked behind me so as not to interfere with my picture-taking. It also made setting up so slow that there was absolutely no possibility of grabbing an image spontaneously if I saw an opportunity that looked interesting. And on top of all this, it had drawn the attention of a security guard on the pier who told me I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there without permission.
I decided to go out again the next day without a tripod and with my unobtrusive 50 mm prime lens. I also decided that since I now intended to include people in most or all of my images, I would use a much larger aperture of f/5.6 in order to reduce shutter speeds and reduce the possibility of motion blur. This time I took about 120 pictures and was much happier with them.
(Contact sheets for all three shoots can be seen here.)
I went through all the images from this final shoot and picked the ones that worked best. This amounted to 30 images, all of which I then converted to b&w, also adjusting the light balance to help direct the eye through the image. This is something my tutor picked up for me to work on when he reviewed my First Mile submission, and the images were enormously improved by this process. I used different adjustments for each image, depending on what seemed to work best for that particular one. Exposure levels, white levels, black levels, mid-grey levels, contrast, brightness – all these and more were in my toolkit for this processing.
I then went through this shortlist putting the images that made me instinctively say yes into a finals folder and rejecting the ones that felt like definite nos. At the end of this second edit the finals folder contained six images. The next day I went through the remaining shortlisted images and identified a few more that I felt I could work with a little more editing and/or some cropping to make the scale of the figures more consistent with the others. When this was done I had 10 images in the finals folder, felt they worked well together and decided to include them all in my series.
Reflection before tutor feedback
I feel the final images do capture what I set out to express and work well together as a series. I like the fact that they show something of the bleakness of a seaside city out of season. I feel my processing techniques have improved significantly compared with the First Mile project, for which I actually did no processing except converting the raw images to b&w, partly because for some reason I had assumed that post-capture processing would be frowned upon, but more significantly because I couldn’t see what my tutor saw – that they needed some manipulation of light and shade.
In turning my focus more towards people than I originally intended I may have strayed a little from my theme of Views. The brief did, however, offer the alternative option of “a subject of your own choosing”, so I would give my theme the title Scenes.
Things I feel worked well
After two false starts I feel I made the right choice of lens and aperture to get sharp and spontaneous images. This combination captured some nice details, in particular:
– The focus on the girls’ faces on the beach and the fact that one of them is looking towards the camera.
– The presence of the pigeon and absence of a baby in the pier shot. I also like the distant figures in this image.
– The passerby getting involved in the work to update the price of fish and chips.
– The perfectly matched step of the couple walking past the fish and chip bar.
Things I feel didn’t work so well
Obviously I wasted time on the wrong idea and the wrong equipment to begin with, although it wasn’t really a waste because if I’d gone straight to the lens I eventually used I wouldn’t now have such a clear understanding of why it’s a better choice.
In relation to the final images, there are a few things I think could be better:
– Some of the shots are a bit busy, for example the pier shot, the Copper Clam shot and the kiosks shot. I considered whether this might exclude them from the series but decided it was not necessary for all the shots to have the same texture, and that the kiss-me-quick seaside theme is the element that connects them with the others.
– Not all the people are the same scale across all the images. There was previously a greater discrepancy and I cropped the girls on the beach and the Copper Clam to increase the size of the figures. I eventually decided they didn’t need to be identical in scale and were now close enough to work together.
Reflection after tutor feedback
After receiving and considering feedback from my tutor I made some changes to the assignment. I cut the amount I’d written about my first (campaigning) idea by about half to make it more concise and less like diarising. I removed one image from the series that my tutor identified as being weaker than the others and which I realised on reflection I was not really happy with and was not very well composed, and another three that had only one or two points of interest. I can see that these changes make the series stronger and more cohesive, but I did find it difficult to let go of the ones that had something about them I liked despite knowing they weren’t as interesting and/or well composed as some of the others. This is something I need to bear in mind… sometimes less is more, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, etc.
I also recognise that I do need to get closer to people and be bolder in shooting them face-on. Having said that, I’ve come a long way already since I took a course in street photography at Evolution Arts in Brighton last October and managed to avoid having any people at all in the overwhelming majority of my images. Even though I didn’t get really close to my subjects on this shoot, I did make eye contact with a few of them and smiled, and they were fine when they saw that I was friendly and wasn’t going to continue. I even got chatting to the three men in the price-change photo and they were all flattered that I found them interesting enough to photograph. These experiences have helped me to feel more confident about just going ahead and taking pictures of strangers – something I never imagined I’d have the bravado to attempt. I do think my 50mm prime lens is very helpful in these circumstances as it means the camera setup is pro-looking enough to give me a degree of authority (I feel it might be different if I were shooting on my phone or my old Canon Powershot, for example), without being as intimidating or intrusive-looking as the larger lens I used in my first outings for this assignment.
References and resources
The Guardian (2013) ‘Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr: English rituals of the 60s’. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/sep/20/tony-ray-jones-martin-parr-exhibition [accessed 31/01/18]
Lovane, M. (2011) ‘Tony Ray-Jones (1941–1972)’. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/tony-ray-jones-tony-ray-jones-1941-1972 [accessed 31/01/18]
National Museum of Photography Film & Television (2002) Martin Parr Photographic works 1971–2000. Bradford, UK: National Museum of Photography Film & Television.
Parr, M. (2018) Martin Parr. Available from: https://www.martinparr.com [accessed 31/01/18]
The Science Museum (2013) ‘Only In England’. Available from: https://group.sciencemuseum.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/only_in_england_brochure.pdf [accessed 31/01/18]