An initial project idea with regards to allotments, did not come to fruition despite completing some background research
Due to the way this assignment developed, feedback and reworking happened alongside each other, and therefore the ‘original’ and ‘re-worked’ pages are similar in content. The initial rough submission for tutor feedback is contained within my research page but was submitted in full knowledge that it was a very basic work in progress, and would continue to evolve up to A6 and final submission for assessment.
This is the original A5 as sent to my tutor for feedback – rough submission images:
To see all research, exploration and development leading up to the final assignment five please see the separate Research, exploration and development page.
A video produced was also constantly being added to with suggestions from Russell to: make it less of a walk down the high street, reflect more of the vernacular and character of the place including more shops if possible as well as more people, as well as including a soundtrack, which was my initial intention.
Assignment 5 – About the project.
The purpose of this documentary project is to look at the mix of commercial and residential properties and the character of Welling High Street/Bellegrove Road. Having lived in this area for over 20 years I have seen the changes in the shops and overall cosmetic appearance along this stretch of road. However, rather than just looking ‘on the face of it’ and capturing the shop fronts, projecting my take on the health of the local economy and characters concerned, I spoke to several of the shop owners to gain some insight into local issues as well as the broader impact of Brexit.
Some businesses are relatively new, whilst others have been in existence for several decades. In order to complete this project, do justice to the theme and keep a visual coherence, I chose to present the work in two parts; 15 stand-alone images reflecting the services/goods provided by stores, and a video presenting the vernacular and some of the uniqueness of the high street along the A207, from Danson Road to the Welling Way.
The A207 was originally the old A2, which ran from London to Rochester via Welling, Crayford, Dartford and Gravesend. This had been the historic coaching route for centuries, even used by the pilgrims mentioned in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, following the old Roman road, Watling Street.
Map copyright @ Googlemaps
Ine Gevers (2005) spoke of ethics, aesthetics and the use of stereotypes. The intention of this project is to reveal what is there without making the ugly look beautiful nor to choose stereotypical subject matter. Gevers also discusses Rosler who introduced the idea that photographs alone are incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate ‘descriptive documents’, embraced different disciplines and media and collaborative projects.
Assignment 5 – On The Face of It
To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight, appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers. Adam Smith 1776
England is a nation of shopkeepers. Napoleon Bonaparte circa 1802
Once packed with thriving independent shops, Britain’s high streets are now dominated by betting chains, charity shops and discount stores. In the first half of 2014, there were 16 store closures a day.
the Local Data Company commissioned by PwC. 2014
Welling United F.C. Shop
Welling United Football Club is a professional association football club, based in Welling in the London Borough of Bexley, England. The club’s first team play in the National League South, the sixth tier of English football.
“I used to bring my son, that’s how I got involved. But he supports Chelsea, he stopped coming…I didn’t.”
Seafoods of Welling
“I won’t be here next year, they are building flats on the land behind, this shop will be demolished to make the driveway. It’s been a seafood shop since 1968, but the building has been here circa 1800, it was a forge. I reckon dressed crab is my best seller, that and cockles. The exchange rate is a worry but more so the fishing quotas…”
Devils Work Tattoo Parlour
“We don’t make up as many design’s now. People see what they like on the Internet and bring the picture in. I work with Ian, we are expanding and I’m getting my own room next door. The superstores are great for us, people can park for free while they get their tattoos done!”
E Brittle & Sons
“I’ve owned this business since 1966. I guess the best selling product at the moment is Saxon, the deep pile. Most of my carpets come from Belgium and Holland, the exchange rate is a worry. I have had to put my prices up four times since Brexit.”
“This shop has been here for 43 years, the owner is thinking of retiring but he has so much stock I don’t know what he will do with it all if he does! Elvis is always the best selling artist, classic rock always does well, especially secondhand vinyl. Trends in music change, a few years ago only people over the age of 40 wanted vinyl, now there’s a lot more teenagers.”
Welling Home Stores
“The cost of business rates is crippling. Add to that electricity and wages, and everything is so much more expensive to buy now due to Brexit. I can’t pass it all onto the customer so my profits are going down all the time. My best selling lines are plastic boxes and the rolls of tablecloth.”
Pickering Estate Agents
Pickering “offering an incomparable service to buyers, sellers and landlords since 2000,” is now closed in Welling High Street.
The Door Hinge
The Door Hinge is the first micro-pub to have opened in London back in 2013 and was named 2014 Bexley Branch and London Regional Pub of the Year Winner. Landlord Ray has since sold over 1400 different types of ale.
The pub was named after his mum whose maiden name was Doreen Indge.
“At school they shortened Doreen to Door and she was known as Door Hinge. She would have loved the place…a typical old London girl from Deptford.”
“Mum’s been here for years. I’d say our best sellers are hand-ties and funerals. The prices of flowers has gone up so much due to the exchange rate. I get my flowers from all over, Holland, Israel and Colombia.”
D&D Haberdashery, Alterations and Repairs
“Oh my goodness me, the business rates! I couldn’t stay open on sales alone, it’s the repairs and alterations that keep me going. Maybe your project will bring in more customers…”
“Dad’s 90 and still works here! We’ve been here since 1975 and seen so many changes, the internet is killing local business. At Christmas I used to sell hundreds of bikes, now it’s probably more like 10! It’s the repairs side that keeps me going.”
C.H Fowler & Co LTD, Tools & Equipment Supplier
“Screwfix opening up right opposite us hasn’t helped business what-so-ever! We get most of our goods from China and imports have gone up a lot recently, we find it hard to complete.”
“I started off as a customer but now work here, the shop’s been here three years and we’re expanding out the back. What used to be the stock room will be part of the shop. People vape for lots of reasons, to cut down on smoking, to stop smoking or just because they like the experience.”
Skoops Gelato & Dessert House
Krazy Horse Motorcycles
“We have been here for about three years. Economic uncertainty makes trading difficult but on the upside, our product is unique and desirable. We sell mostly Indian motorcycles, but sell custom built machines too.”
I am still experimenting with best render settings so this may change for final submission.
On attempting to improve the quality I discovered that the main project file was corrupted :o/ or I had possibly deleted some of the files the VE project needed, I am learning! I do have a better quality video but it has a few typos in it so what I have is what there is :o(
This has to have been the most ambitious assignment undertaken during this module, which is quite ironic bearing in mind I probably had to complete it in the shortest time-frame. In places it was frustrating; my initial project idea changed and then, due to then choosing to complete a collaborative piece where I struggled to find suitable or enough participants, my approach had to alter.
The original intention was to deliver a more traditional social documentary photography project on the use of allotments, has their use increased/declined and the reasons behind people ‘growing their own’, was Brexit or the current financial climate an influence? Due to time constraints and the season, this then became an exploration of my local High Street, examining its characters and impact of the current financial climate on independent traders.
To make the project more interesting and fulfill a more documentary role, I metaphorically threw down the gauntlet and opted to create a video to support the photographic body of work. I had to approach shop owners for permission to take photographs inside their premises and ask pertinent documentary type questions. In this respect it was enlightening, irritating and very challenging on a personal level. I can be shy in approaching people I do not know, I had to be prepared for refusals and repeated photo-shoots. Returning to the same stretch of road several times to undertake many photo-shoots, as my ideas evolved, or gaining permission to photograph was fairly tedious but necessary.
I strongly believe that my research skills and the other assignments completed assisted in the culmination of this final project. My approach allowed the subjects to express a personal voice as to how their businesses are faring, presented a multi-media body of work that could be expanded further and could be of interest to other organisations, such as Bexley Archives, means I could sustain my practice over time.
One of the most important lessons emphasised within this assignment was for me to recognise that when ideas were not working it was possible to throw them away and start again, or work on them until they did.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
- Materials: To complete this project I used a variety of lenses and perspectives for the video, but used a more consistent wide angle for the shop interiors: using 24-70mm a 50mm and 100-400mm. Inside shots were on a tripod and semi-staged as most shop workers did not wish to be photographed, I waited until there were no customers, but nothing was tidied away and shop interiors were photographed just as they were. I also used video editing software, Wondershare Filmora, for the first time.
- Techniques: Initially I took landscape images of the shop exteriors to stitch together in the video, with the idea to also include interior shots. After feedback this approach was slightly altered, I included close-up details, attempted to obtain more interior shots, included more people and some of the unique features found in Welling High Street. Photographically I shot candid and posed portraiture, still life, street photography and urban landscape. Different techniques I had to learn were video editing, adding sound as well as editing the images so that some would follow others more seamlessly. This was probably the most challenging project I have attempted to date as far as conceptual ideas, techniques to deliver and which images to include/exclude.
- Observational skills: Subjects/location were chosen dependent on the narrative of the shops or aspect of the High Street I had researched, or observed whilst participating in street photography and urban landscape. As per A3 I was looking for a mix of busy/tranquil scenes, spaces that were full of visual interest and aided the narrative. I watched for grey low cloud to provide a constant flat light with no harsh contrasts, ensuring that each photo-shoot I undertook had the same conditions, shots were timed to ensure people were entering frames within frames or provided figure to ground ratio.
- Visual awareness: As well as all the above I also looked out for other aspects that revealed the character/individualism of the local area. I had to decide what made Welling High Street unique as well as portray the everyday.
- Design and compositional skills: Compositionally I looked for frames within frames and different vantage points for the video, but kept the wide angle frame and low vantage point consistent for the 15 still images. The overall design of the video was to make it more ‘film like’ than a continuous panorama, which hopefully provides a simple and natural flow to the narrative. I looked for leading lines, repeat patterns and in some images symmetry.
Quality of outcome:
- Content: I felt it important to place the standalone images within the video in order to link to two pieces of work and to tell a complete narrative. I hope that my final choice of images and presentational techniques work for the video. The internal shots reveal what is behind the shop facades, I had hoped to include more portraiture and more unique outlets but time constraints and negative responses made this concept difficult to fully achieve.
- Application of knowledge: As with the previous assignments I applied knowledge gained from previous courses, current exercises as well as independent research. Looking specifically at photographers such as Tom Hunter, Thomas Struth and Chris Steele-Perkins informed my decisions. The work of Struth and Hunter did not convey a sense of ‘place’ only venue, whilst Steele Perkins video presented the sense of disaster and place really well, yet did not give a sense of the people or character of the place. His choice of music was highly appropriate so I made sure that the accompanying soundtrack was a good fit. Past exhibition visits to see Misha Henner was invaluable too. Discovering some of the background information from owners did not necessarily affect how I stylistically photographed the shop interiors, but provided me with the relevant text to include. Attending the Magnum photography talk chaired by Aaron Schuman, with speakers Matt Black and Antoine d’Agata as they discussed the photographic road trip: the journey as a framework for making photographs, was very useful. Especially d’Agata’s use of a PowerPoint slideshow to present his work which helped inform my choice of video and different images contained therein.
- Presentation in a coherent manner: I believe I’ve presented the final body of work in a coherent manner – the images flowing in the video to introduce different aspects and the character of the High Street. I took on board feedback from Russell that in order to present the story it would possibly work even better if it was not told as a straight ‘journey’; a literal walk down the road. As already mentioned I felt it important to have the standalone images embedded within the video to provide some visual coherence as well as link the different media.The video communicates the ambience of the area well, especially with the addition of the soundtrack and captions whilst the still images provide an insight to the stores.
- Conceptualisation of thoughts and Communication of ideas: As I was very unsure of the idea, was short on time to gain feedback I initially did not post my intentions on any of the forums. I have seen other students use the concept videos in their work and had been impressed by how effective they were. Looking at the Magnum site was also useful. The video communicates the ambience of the area well especially with the addition of the soundtrack whilst the still images provide an insight to the stores. Tutor feedback was supportive at first and then positive towards the outcome subject to revision as discussed.
Demonstration of creativity:
- Imagination: Whilst the still photographs are fairly straight forward documentary images with less implied or metaphorical meaning, they are shot using a less traditional photo-journalistic/reportage approach, employing a low vantage point/wide angle, and I have explored different photographic techniques to express my vision within the video.
- Experimentation and invention: My main area of experimentation was with the different approaches to convey the narrative, a mix of video and stills, exploring several different photographers work for inspiration and a combination of photographic genre within the video. I had to learn how to edit images to stitch together in a video format, use editing software to stitch them together, use transitions, animations and add multiple text and sound tracks. I then had to work out the best format for rendering.
- Development of personal voice: This section is always difficult for me to self assess. Whilst I can recognise the consistent style in the work of others I can’t always spot my own, especially in this last assignment which due to its very nature was consistent in its inconsistency of shots in the video. However, that could be interpreted as me developing my own style; not sticking to one presentational technique. I felt that had I just submitted stills it would have been solely a copy of the style of for example, Candida Hofer. Thinking again of reflexivity and authorship I think my attitude towards the subject, sense of place and the narrative concerning real events and real people comes across in the second iteration. Whilst the stills are more ‘straight’ documentary, the video has more of my expressiveness and openness to explore more creative ways to convey a body of work set in reality.
- Reflection: One of the important lessons or ideas conveyed within this part of the course is the understanding of new forums for Documentary and new digital technology, the sharing of stories and fostering social change, whilst reaching new audiences. By creating a video which could be played within any environment the plight/success of small business can be brought to many audiences. Hopefully the images and text, the direct quotes, could spark a discussion about the best way to keep our local high streets alive and prosperous without each one becoming full of generic chain stores and charity shops.
- Research: I carried out extensive research into photographers who created bodies of work around shopkeepers and different ways to present work. Previous exhibition visits proved to be excellent areas to draw upon and another Magnum talk, with regards to ‘The Journey’ was very useful.
- Critical thinking: Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics by Ine Gevers (Documentary Now! 2005) was influential in that the article highlighted the need for a documentary stance than was not ‘numbing’, how it can be used as an archive, a goal can be to know the world not change it, that I did not want to produce something that could be used for propaganda/indoctrination and finally reminded me of Martha Rosler and the belief that a photograph cannot tell the entire story. This assignment called for a methodical approach and to use a wider scope than previous assignments and my learning log, both on line and physical were invaluable in keeping track of my ever changing ideas.
One thing that you might consider in your reflection is the difference between a straight video of this subject and this photo-video; do you feel the latter engages the viewer in a different way; from that sense of time and movement; what extra dimension of experience does it bring?
Further Reflection on the use of video
Apparently articles with images get 94% more total views but including a photo and a video in a press release increases views by over 45%…so making a video would help to market a body of work.
There are many benefits to using video in education as shown in several decades of research.
Shepard and Cooper (1982) and Mayer and Gallini (1990) joined the dots between visual clues, the memory process, and the recall of new knowledge. Allam (2006) believes that the creative challenge of using moving images and sound to communicate a topic makes it engaging and insightful. Therefore it is highly likely that people will remember more detail of the work from watching a video.
With a multimedia approach the interactive features of modern web-based media players can be used to promote ‘active viewing’ and people can consume/learn at their own pace. In a gallery setting people can sit and watch a video rather than walking around a large room with others getting in the way. A video can be displayed in a smaller area and target more people.
Many people consider film and video to be just a progression of stills a bit like a flip book, however stills can be incorporated in many different ways for different reasons and effects.
There is in fact a history of Hollywood using this technique: Snatch (Ritchie, 2000) , The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 1966) and more recently Juno (Reitman, 2007) are films which delved into the use of stills. Stills assist with setting the mood and for introducing main characters or important plot points.
When considering the documentary genre, many documentaries would not even exist if it weren’t for stills, mainly due to the fact that still photography has been around since 1826, whereas the motion-picture camera only came about after Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 experimentation. For example the American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865 when there was no video or filming capability. With no-one alive from that time period the only way to produce a more visually appealing documentary would have been to include stills.
On completing more research I came across the phrase ‘the Ken Burns effect’. Ken Burns names his inspiration as the 1957 National Film Board of Canada documentary City of Gold (Colin Low and Wolf Koenig). In fact he did make a documentary about the American Civil War, which apparently won ‘over 40 major motion picture and television awards, including two Emmies, two Grammies, the Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild of America, the People’s Choice Award and the Peabody Award, to name just a few.’
‘The Ken Burns effect’ is a slow pan or zoom added to a still photo to direct the viewer’s eye and make the content less static and more interesting. Had I more time I may have added this effect but would have had to completely alter the way the video was presented.
The Civil War (1990) is a nine-part series comprised almost entirely of still photos with voiceover. Burns used the rostrum camera to pan across or zoom into or out of thousands of still photos. Other films of note from this prince of PBS documentaries are the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge (1982) and The Statue of Liberty (1986), as well as his Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001) and The War (2007) docs.
Technology helps us embrace these new or old ideas – the sixth-generation iPod, MP3’s incorporate the “Ken Burns Effect” by animating album art in its video interface.
Stills can also be used to incorporate more recent history into a narrative when a film or video camera was not present at the time. A personal example for me would be my children’s first birthday parties, or my mother’s wedding day.
There are many other techniques that can be used to present stills some can be found on Coffee and Celluloid
For me the inclusion of certain images helped to illustrate important points, for example the transience of businesses, vendors and customers, pertinent architectural differences, historical links to the community and the quirky individual characteristics of Welling, as well and the ‘sameness’ of other High Streets. I think stills do engage the viewer in a different way, it slows down the subject matter and highlights more detail. In particular the shop interiors add an extra dimension that a straight video would not, allowing me to capture a visual constancy and sense of purpose of each space. I believe the photographer’s authorship is more apparent as the focus is concentrated on one place and for a longer period of time. The captions helped me give a voice to the shop owners but to tell the narrative in a way wished to project it. The final result possibly gives the viewer more time to feel an affinity for the subject matter, or learn something about a place they did not know. It may even inspire them to discover more about their local environment.
Gevers, I. (2005) ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ in Documentary Now!
Rosler, M. (1981) ‘In, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography)’ in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press