BoW.A5 Tutor submission

For my last assignment, I submit an introduction to my body of work, the body of work itself and an evaluation of the body of work that reflects on the whole of this module.

Introduction

I have written this introduction in the third person, on the basis that it will be taken forward to SYP as a starting point for describing and promoting my body of work.

Leeds and Liverpool is a poignant short film by Andrew Fitzgibbon featuring photographs made over two years, while walking the 127 mile Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The film’s story reflects upon the canal as a marginal but enthralling space trampled with the burden of deindustrialisation and reinvented as a site of leisure. Absent of people, the film shows the marks of humanity left by those who have claimed the water as their own. The narration is voiced by Yorkshire born actor Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty). An immersive soundtrack features layers of ambient sounds recorded from the canal, and samples of sound effects from historic archives, as well as oral histories from those who once worked the canal.

Although the canal is promoted as a place of leisure, it holds deeper interest as a complex space of many different interests: from ruins and heritage, to edgelands and urban gentrification. There are fascinating incongruities, with human culture working at the landscape and marking possession, use and abuse. Andrew sees this as the meeting of worlds within a world; the fluid world of the canal and its banks.

Body of work

For the optimum experience, please view this film in full-screen mode using headphones to enjoy the stereo soundscape. Viewing on mobile devices is not recommended.

Evaluation of body of work

I wish acknowledge the work of both my BoW and CS tutors in providing the insights, suggestions and encouragement that enabled me to reach this point. They have been an enormous support. Credit is also given in the end titles to the film.

I use the same categories of assessment criteria contained in my course materials and that I have used to self-assess my own progress throughout this module.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

 – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

The foundation of this work is photographic image-making based upon my observations during many walks along different stretches of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. In the beginning, the project was envisaged very differently to how it was finally realised; it was intended to be a work of portraits showing how people interact with the place of the canal over a specific 29 mile stretch between the town of Skipton and Leeds. This was revisited when I found that the idea of the canal inside my head as a populous place (like the urban city canals to which I was more accustomed) proved to be a fallacy. This is a mistake I describe in the context of my dissertation. Then, the idea was completely abandoned with the Covid epidemic, which has hit hard the former industrial towns of Northern England along the canal. The project was reimagined as a landscape work that showed the marks of socialisation along the entire 127 mile length of the canal. My CS research focused increasingly on social spatialisation, deindustrialisation and the power plays in shaping space in the context of the canal. This in turn was reflected in my image making. I believe that I have succeeded in making well composed, visually impactful images that show the canal as more meaningful than a simple place of leisure, as it is popularly represented. Also, that I have demonstrated a flexible and creative approach to the changing circumstances around the work.

The images themselves have gone through many edits to arrive at the end selection. There was a balancing act between choosing images with visual impact and choosing those that also fitted the story I wanted to tell. After many iterations, the level was found; my sequencing and editing skills and toolkit improved significantly during the process. I’m a photographer who works with RAW images rather than jpgs, so a great deal of work happens in Photoshop’s digital darkroom. Many of the images have been ‘printed’ several times to arrive at a rendering that fitted the mood of the canal and also highlighted the reflective qualities of water, to add a sense of contemplation to the images. Without going into technical details, my approach to working with images in Photoshop has become clearly defined during this module, with a set of riffs I can call upon to help images sing the song in my head.

The approach to dissemination of the images has gone through a number of iterations throughout the module. One decision I made early on was that I wanted to find an approach that would work for digital assessment and for digital sharing in the Covid world. Given a photograph is not tied to a single output medium, it appealed to make use of this characteristic. The work has evolved through straight digital prints, through a simple ebook, to an interactive ebook and finally to a film.

Enormous effort has gone into the different iterations and final version of the film, beyond the photographs upon which it is based. A narrative was written and initially voiced by myself before a chance collaboration with professional actor Paul Butterworth, who is also an OCA student. Paul visited me and we recorded his take of my narrative. Images were resequenced to echo the words of the narrative. The pace of slides and transitions was experimented with, so they beat to the slow drum of the canal. The narrative was sliced and mixed to the pace of the images. Ambient sounds were recorded on the canal and sampled from archives. I was delighted to locate the aural history recordings that feature in the film. I then practiced and learned new sound mixing skills to post-process the sounds and place them into a stereo mix. I’ve refined a whole skill set in realising this dissemination, and one that will be valuable in future projects, and allows me to combine my love of sound and photography.

Quality of outcome

 – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas

I feel that the final film is a high quality output. One cannot judge one’s own work but I’m please to have also received some enthusiastic feedback from viewers so far, including the poet Ian McMillan who’s words are quoted in the narrative. The film conveys the story I want to tell of the canal described in my introduction, and has the quality of a meditative wander along the canal. The images, narrative and soundtrack all come together to carry the narrative and reveal layers of meaning through sight and sound. It shows that the canal is far richer in meaning than the place of leisure commonly portrayed. I hope it will encourage people to reflect upon broader meanings of space when by the water.

For the presentation to evolve during SYP, I am considering two main areas:

  • Fully developing the website that I’ve already started for SYP as a vehicle to share the film and related work. This seems to a practical way of sharing work in what looks like will be a reduced-touch world until at least mid-2021. The website is www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk. I have already started to use this as a platform for viewers who enjoy the film to donate to my local food bank if they can afford to; I hope that this will allow the work to do some tangible good as well as being enjoyed.
  • I would like to produce a book of the work, using the text from narrative that accompanies the film, ideally in conjunction with one of the small alternative-placed focused publishers that I’m following on line, or through a publish-on-demand service. However, I will have to see how this plays out with costs et cetera.

Within my timeframes, I suspect it is unrealistic to run a small physical exhibition of the work given lockdown and social distancing requirements. However, there could be the possibility of a physical presence that points to the film through a QR code. For example, fliers or posters in places near the canal.

Demonstration of creativity

 – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

Over the course of this module, the work has gone through many different iterations and experiments; some of which I’ve described above. For sometime, I’ve been interested in work that comments on space and people’s interaction with that space. With my CS research, I now also strongly connect that to meaning and how meaning determines who belongs and who doesn’t in a place; the boundaries put on place. What I have come to accept and embrace is the aestheticisation of subject matter to draw attention to it and the voice of its story.

Context

 – reflection, research, critical thinking

There is significant research that informs this body of work in my dissertation, which is presented separately. In that, I conclude with the same words used in my film narrative, so they act as a portal between the textual research and the visual work. Below, I talk about the research specifically targeted at the creation of the visual.

While I am not enthusiastic about the term psychogeography because of its general obscurity to the majority of people, my work is situated in that genre both in terms of its making through wandering and its dissemination through a film that is a wander with a contemplative narrative. Patrick Keiller’s London is an influence, even if I just appreciate rather than enjoy that work. However, a more significant influence in terms of photography as a video production is the work of Laura El-Tantawy, the Deutsche Börse Prize shortlisted photographer. La Jetée opened my eyes to the possibility of what could be achieved with still images in film but is beyond my capability and perhaps requires the resources of a feature film.

I of course have many photographic influences but I found in making this work Frank Watson’s Soundings from the Estuary and Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi inspiring in the way they photographed banal, marginal places, and in the quietness of their images. The quietness in images is important to me as it seems to allow more space for a viewer to reflect and find their own meaning. I also took some encouragement from the way in which Nadav Kandar works with his image files in Photoshop; when it seems only the use of film is a worthy discussion point among practitioners and critics.

Conclusion

Part-time study inevitably means a very long learning journey. Yesterday, as I finished the final rework of my dissertation, the realisation came that the journey is ending. This sometimes background and sometimes persistent, but constant pressure of effort will be no more. When I began, I had no idea of how much the learning would change the way in I see photography and the world.

Once one realises that photography is a tool that can be used in many different ways and accepts that there is not necessarily a good way or a bad way, but a way that is right for you, one’s own voice can be discovered and expressed. For me, I have learned that photography is closer to literature and music than the other visual arts. At its best, it expresses a story or emotion through a sequence of images. This is an important lesson to me, though I of course could not make successful images without the many image making, editing and post-processing skills learned along the way.

Perhaps even more important is the realisation that photography is mostly about seeing, and seeing-well requires a breadth of understanding. I have found the insights gained of different ways of thinking about the world enlightening and fascinating. The ideas of visual culture, cultural geography, and sociology have taught me how to unpick and understand meanings imposed on both people and place. These and other disciplines have become new friends.

Finally, I have learned what it takes to make a body of work; the dedication, persistence, repeated iterations and perseverance necessary. Importantly, that there is also consistent collaboration, even if not always visible, through the support, advice and suggestions of those around me.