I live in a semi-rural spot. The local pub closed down a long time ago, leaving only the working men’s club, which will be demolished soon and given over to residential housing. That leaves the church and the post office. How could I do an assignment on the post office? I gave my square mile not inconsiderable thought. Though I love living so near the countryside, the stillness and quietness did not initially inspire my photography for this assignment. However, I have a particular interest in the real lives of ordinary people, and I gradually became aware of the activity within the community. I thought about my own life.
My home is almost exactly one mile from the motorway, and, since I can reach it via two different routes that roughly make a square, I began to think of my journey to work each day as significant in terms of what happens in this small area of the world. I decided to document the mile within the context of one day, thus highlighting the many things that actually happen within such a small space and short time in the area where I live.
I then began to think that I am not the only person doing this each day, and, far from my initial view that not a lot happens here, I realised that, in fact, everyone is busy doing something, all the time, and that many of us are linked in our routines, our interests and lifestyles without really thinking about it.
I was inspired by my previous (non-photography related) studies that highlighted the personal experiences of individuals as important in a political context, and I wished to draw attention to the reality of lives in hidden northern corners. I was once asked, by a Londoner, ‘what on earth do you do in the north?’ I was also inspired by artist, Jenny Saville. She made images of herself as an ordinary woman, naked mostly, showing her reality in terms of the body. Also, the photographer Jen Davis, who, in her exhibition Eleven Years (Davis 2017) documents her reality of vulnerability and relationships in the context of her weight loss. It is the ideology of the personal being significant that interests me, not especially the subject matter of these two artists, though I certainly admire them.
I took my first photograph, actually of my mobile phone, showing the alarm set for 6am, on my bedside table. I wanted this to convey an image of the community rising as one, to begin their unrecorded and ordinary days.
I include my photograph here because, on reflection, although I didn’t use it in the end, it taught me a lot. It struck me how different this photograph is from any I have taken before. I would never previously have considered taking a photograph of my mobile phone. Why would I want to do that? It would not work as a picture of something, but it might work as part of a series of pictures about something. How interesting. I thought of films like Kes and Saturday Night Sunday Morning that capture the ordinary and make them visible and significant.
I considered that my selection of photographs might include perhaps an image of travelling to work, taken from inside my car, pictures of daily routines, things I love doing, the beauty of the landscape, people walking their dog and doing other suburban ordinary things, an evening glass of wine etc., to show real life in this quiet part of the world. I even considered a macro shot to show the importance of the detail in people’s lives.
However, my subconscious turned this round and round, and after looking at comments from tutors on my fellow students’ blogs, I realised that this particular project would not fulfill the brief of the assignment since my images would say very little about the place in which they were taken – they could have been taken anywhere. So, further consideration needed!
I was fascinated by the quotation at the beginning of the introduction to this assignment in which Professor Mike Pearson writes about ‘gestures and stories – textures, smells…'(course notes p14). Can a photograph evoke a smell? Can I put smells into my assignment? Even if I can’t, this quote made me re-think my storytelling. I am very interested in ordinary people’s lives but this assignment is perhaps not the right avenue to pursue it.
I began to think about the area surrounding my mile and this made me question by image of it as a lovely but static village. Yes, I knew it was the site of an old mine, but that was a long time ago. I decided to go on a photo-walk of the village. I realised that a once popular pub where men had shared a pint and swapped shooting stories, was now half demolished. The working men’s club, where mining stories and banter were freely shared, was soon to be so, and with it, the oral story telling tradition around the village’s mining heritage. New housing is to be built instead. A significant employer has moved his business elsewhere, disrupting some working lives I am sure, but creating new opportunities in bigger new premises. A school has been demolished, the school yard now unused and empty. No doubt the children all found modern new schools in the area.
I began to think about how the past is locked to us and, although we can access stories of the past, it can never be changed and it can never be lived again. I wanted to document something of the changes that have occurred in my village to preserve the old, while acknowledging the new, and present them if possible side by side to show a village that is in constant movement and development, living in the past, the present and the future.
My brother-in-law was photographed some time ago by Moira Lovell, OCA tutor, for her project on miners. I was inspired by the sense of absence in her image of him – a miner without a mine. I thought of the school yard without a school, the farmers without their pub, and the miners without their meeting place.
I took a few photos to see if I could make my story work. I was pushed out of my comfort zone in terms of identifying images that might work and in terms of the reactions of other people as I walked around with my camera.
I took a few photographs of the pub from the front but really wanted an image from the back where the new-build housing, adjacent, was more visible. The gate in the security fencing was open so I stepped inside. The owner was busy with building work and I asked if I could take an image not visible from the road. He declined, saying that his plans for the site were controversial and he did not want to be exploited. As I took a photograph through the railings of the old school site, a man from a passing van shouted ‘stalker’! However, I am aware that I would have taken none of these photographs before but, pushed to tell a story through a set of images, I feel that this is a creative step forward for me.
On trying to select my photographs for inclusion in my assignment, I realised that the mood I was creating was quite gloomy; one of decay and loss. While I want to acknowledge the significant loss within my community, I also want to celebrate it as a success, and a happy place and show that although things change, it is not necessarily a bad thing. To that end, I found myself out with my camera again to capture more of the ‘new’ within my square mile, with the hope of presenting an image of loss, yes, but also movement and progress. With these additional images, I was happy with my story.
Davis, Jen (2017) Eleven Years. [online] Available at: https://www.jendavisphoto.com/eleven-years/ (Accessed 13 April 2017)