Assignment 5: response to tutor feedback

Although Russell states that the assignment presents “an overall interesting study into the Durham Miners Gala”, his main criticism is that the set of images come across as being two projects. I am pleased that he finds that the night time shots of former mining sites work as a concept and that he finds these “beautiful, almost piercing” as I was unsure if this conceit to shoot in darkness as a way of identifying with the miners working in darkness was a step too far. I agree that the two sets of images are jarring in their differences, this was intentional on my part as I wanted to create a tension between the past and present as a way of responding to the mixed feelings I have about my area and its heritage. The use of bright colour in the Gala pictures contrasting with the muted palette of the night shots was another way of achieving this, however, given Russell’s comments I have to consider the success of this. My instinct is to continue with my initial approach, however, I concede that the set could be improved by concentrating on one approach or the other.

Night time photographs of mine sites:

Russell suggests I shoot more of these sites and concentrate on achieving similar lighting conditions. He comments that the images of Morrison and Morrison Busty are strongest as they are shot at dawn rather than in total darkness.

he also cautioned me on being aware of leading lines and how these can effect the reading of the image by drawing reference to the image of South Moor colliery.

During our hangout conversation, Russell and I discussed my interests and the next course I intended to take with Russell suggesting that landscape may be a good option as these pictures fit with that. This is something I reflected a great deal upon – the static nature of these images remove them completely from my original intention of attempting to show the complex reality of living in an area that was built by heavy industry that is now long gone – the rose tinted nostalgia combined with the air brushing of history. I think there is a wider project for me to explore in the future but am now uncertain if this is the right way to do it, although I am also conscious that I may be too wedded to my original approach and this could be influencing me too strongly.

Russell points me to Andreas LeversAt Night’ series as something to look at and consider if I was to pursue this approach to night time photography. I was not aware of Levers and appreciate that Russell has brought this to my attention. The images are evocative, melancholy and beautiful – all things I wished to achieve in my own work but are sadly lacking in comparison. By photographing urban scenes in foggy conditions the series is unified aesthetically and a dream like, eerie feel is achieved.

Durham Miners Gala:

Russell quite rightly points out that some of the images I have included, although adding to the overall atmosphere and context of the day, are distant and not as engaging as those that focus on peoples engagement with the event. In my selection, I deliberately wanted to show a balanced view of the event and juxtapose those that had a more voyeuristic, ‘Martin Parr’ quality with wider views. This means the set is more a ‘day in the life of’ approach which rather than gaining strength through juxtaposition weakens the set. He suggests removing the following images:

The last two images here I would completely agree with, however, the first image of the three men walking through the crowd wearing NCB shirts for me is one of the most important pictures in the set as the symbolism of what the men are wearing contrasts with the wider view of people attending for social reasons rather than being directly connected with mining itself.

Russell points to this image as being one of the strongest in the set because of its tight composition:

I would agree that the balanced composition works and it is one of my favourites as it manages to capture something about the day. As I captured the day I had the work of Simon Roberts in mind and the way his images often show complex scenes in which multiple narratives can be read. This is work that I found difficult to appreciate at the beginning of the course as it seemed to lack focus, but something that I have come back time and again and gains in resonance with me. Of course, Roberts works in a very different way using a large format camera and elevated viewpoint which produces a detailed tableau, however, it seems important to me that my images capture a wider viewpoint rather than concentrating on details. I have to concede however that Russell is potentially correct and this detracts from the strength of the images. As I am unable to go back and reshoot these images the only way I can tighten the composition is through cropping which is something I will explore.

If I choose to focus on the Gala images rather than the night time shots then I need to put aside my initial desire to show a balanced view of proceedings. The images that seem to resonate the most are those that are more quirky – perhaps there is a comment here about how the images are both an objective document of an event and also a complete construction because of my selection and presentation.

Context:

Russell rightly criticises the lack of contextual information presented with this assignment. I had drafted some detail giving some background to my approach and work that had influenced me but had not posted these before submitting the assignment which was a mistake and something I have now rectified.

Russell suggests I look at Jeremy Deller‘s ‘Battle of Orgreave’ in which Deller recreated the infamous flash point of the 1984/5 miners strike. This event has remains controversial with a campaign to have an enquiry into it still going. On his website, Deller states that the reenactment culminated in two years research and featured 1000 re-enactors, 200 of which were miners that were part of the original conflict. On his website he describes the work as “digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem, or as a thousand person crime re-enactment.”

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