Assignment 3: Buildings in Use

Assignment Brief
Choose five or six buildings and for each produce between two and four images that describe effectively and attractively the way in which these spaces are used.
You can choose to include people in the images or not
For each building it is important that you conduct some research beforehand either archival or personal (or both) so that you have:
– A good understanding of how and why it was designed in the way it is
– An opinion on its effectiveness as a usable space
Try to encompass variety in your choice of buildings including size and purpose
Write a short statement demonstrating your understanding of the function of each building, the way it was designed to achieve that, and how well you believe it succeeds
Describe briefly how you initially set about showing the important features of each building photographically, and what you learned during the course of shooting the assignment

Scope
After looking at the brief, I started off with an idea that I didn’t just want to go and photograph any buildings; I wanted a theme or a link between the images. The first idea that I’d had was to capture the space and buildings that had some relevance or meaning to me, such as the Liverpool Anglican cathedral where I graduated. As I progressed with this, I’d begun to see that I had a trend of using museums and galleries and there were more of them in my original work than I’d planned.
When reviewing the first few images, I wasn’t happy that I’d captured the space and its use effectively. Going back to the drawing board I then began to think more about how museums and galleries have changed and redeveloped with the changing trends in visitors. I subscribe to a museum journal newsletter so could see that audiences and the expectations were changing, for example “New museum policies should focus on how to become more stimulating, participative and inclusive, while staying educative and enriching. Museums should propose a multidimensional offer to visitors, without falling into an empty event promotion” (Hanquinet & Savage 2012)
It’s with this in mind that I put together a mix of images that show the change from what we recognise as a traditional museum and the changes, and improvements made for today’s and future audiences.
The brief asks you to encompass variety in your images and the sample journals that I’d seen online by other students all featured different types of buildings and space so I emailed my outline plan to my tutor to compare the different spaces in the same type of building, working to the same audience and he agreed that this could be done.
My new focus was looking at the change in museums and galleries, how the space was used for exhibitions, visitors, how they’d been improved and developed over time.

The Process
Once I’d confirmed the scope, I then started to look at a selection of museums and galleries and drew up a shortlist of old, new, specific, and general and those that had been through development. Visiting and photographing nine different sites, I followed my usual process of selection, review, editing, printing and re-selection. While I’d been through a process of selection using a shortlist on a contact sheet, once I’d received the prints back, I wasn’t happy with the way some of them had come out. While I’d viewed the edited images on different monitors to check the colours, some of them were darker than I’d planned or the colours were not as crisp as I’d envisaged on the screen. I put the images to one side for a couple of weeks while I caught up with some subject reading and went back to research my locations to see if I could revisit some of the images or if there were any other locations that might be more suitable. I’d revisited some of the previous images that I’d not thought of using as I found that as the more I progresses, the more my thoughts changed on what I wanted to show and represent.

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Editing, Processing & Technical Details
All of the images were taken on a Canon 7d with the lenses being used:-
Canon 50mm f/1.8 Sigma 24-60mm Lensbaby Composer
Minimal editing with Photoshop CS6 was undertaken with tweaks to colour, saturations and some black and white conversion. I’ve chosen to get these printed by a third party company as while my Canon 6150 printer does photo printing well with separate black ink tanks and a grey tank, I’ve currently run out of ink. However I would in future either stick to outsourcing from one company for all work or print at home as opposed to mixing through the term of submitting assignments. I prefer to use a matte paper for my images with a white border. While I’ve tried glossy images and have undertaken a side by side comparison between matte and gloss on a black and white image in this series, I find the high gloss far too reflective. Further inspection to my eyes didn’t reveal a great difference in tones between the two and at the moment I prefer matte or satin paper with some texture. There have and still continues to be plenty of debate on the student forums on printing, it’s something I will monitor and change if I feel that a subject needs a different approach, different paper type or has a different audience where it would be appropriate to use this.

Reflections
I thought that this was going to be a straightforward exercise, even after my change of scope. However as I undertook more research and spent longer visiting these locations, my thoughts on just providing a photographic representation of the chosen building and space changed. Partway through my work on this I’d reviewed the results of my formal assessment for my previous course. I’d been disappointed with my scoring so I hit a wall with what I’d done and what I needed to do. I wasn’t happy with the selective images and whether they had the ability to fulfil my brief. I’d taken so many images over the different sites that I’d almost made this too large a body of work with the number of images. I didn’t know whether I wanted to revisit some of the locations to see if I could do better or whether to rethink my whole idea. Reading through the assessment criteria provided as part of the study guide, I was looking for the gaps where I felt that I need to improve, one of the things that I realised was that I was just taking photographs of the space as a record of what’s there and that I’d lost some creativity as I’d worked through.
One of the exercises I’d undertaken when I wasn’t happy with the progress I’d made was to lay the images out in their series again and review, but I also started brainstorming what people expect in a museum or gallery and also what the spaces inside these are used for.

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Luckily the Easter break was upon us so I chose to forget about coursework and try to clear my head as I find sometimes some space away gives me more clarity and the thinking time helps. During the break I planned to visit two other museums that I visit quite frequently for a change of scene. As I had been there before, I had no agenda apart from just wandering around with my camera, I thought that I’d continue to focus on the space and while I had one eye on my assignment brief. I felt a freedom and a sense of experimentation using my 50mm prime lens and my Lensbaby composer. I’d been thinking about the previous images and wanted to be a little more experimental and creative showing a different viewpoint to the usual point of view.
Looking back, I think that the break away from working on this assignment helped but that in the future if I don’t feel that my work is what I expected or wanted, that I can start again and not be concerned as until you sits down with prints, it’s not always clear if you met the brief you were working to.

Manchester Art Gallery
The former city art gallery had been built for an audience very much of its time in 1892, a lack of space extended the building with an athenaeum in 1938. A redevelopment programme in the late 1990s cumulated in the newly developed galleries opening to the public in 2002.Bridging the gap between the older buildings and the newly built expansion is a glass walkway and staircase leading the visitors into the new galleries and the changing exhibition gallery compared to the traditional galleries. The space is not limited to being purely functional, the foyer on the ground floor holds an information desk, there are rooms leading off that can be used for events. I’ve attended a photography lecture in these rooms, and then hanging above the staircase is the metal sculpture ‘Filter’ by Antony Gormley providing a focal point of interest as you walk up and get higher to the individual galleries. It is all personal preference as to what you think of the space as a visitor, I’ve been many times to the gallery and love the older works such as the pre-Raphaelite collection, yet it’s where the newer, more spacious side that appeals to me more. The white walls are prime blank canvases for touring exhibitions, at the time of visiting for this the Raqib Shaw exhibition was on and the vivid colours and textures in his work benefitted from the neutrality. The space is very much a mix of old and new, however it works as the types of work exhibited is paired with the most appropriate gallery layout that suits its age, for example the galleries hosting the Victorian art is very much in keeping with the decoration and colours of that period.

The Balcony (Image1)

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The Steps (Image 2)
For both the images, when thinking about the effectiveness of the space, these are both areas where there are limitations. On a balcony there is only so much space so that paintings and hung 2d works will fit more appropriately than 3d sculptures. The use of hanging baskets is in my eyes innovative and really stands out as I’ve never seen that done before and the splash of green breaks up the colouring of the stone. Again there is limited scope that can be done as part of a staircase but the usage of modern materials and the light coming through the glass helps to create a focal point and maximises the feeling of space.

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Manchester Museum
As with the Manchester Art gallery, Manchester museum has also evolved from a traditional stone building to one that has been modernised and expanded with work still continuing in some galleries. While the gallery also features a connecting glass corridor between the buildings that is not what caught my eye when I visited. The ‘Ancient World’s’ gallery reopened in October 2012, originally it had the feel of a much older museum, dark rooms with lots of exhibits have been transformed in a much more open mix. It had previously had the feel of an older more traditional museum when the visitor experience has been moving towards a more interactive way of visiting. Now the gallery is a much lighter space, taking advantage of the large glass windows with a mixture of glass cabinets, stone exhibits and illuminated panels providing information on key people. When I visited the light was shining through the windows on the left and casting long shadows onto the cabinets. I took a number of photographs as I wanted the light but also to capture the new way of presenting information in the panels. I feel that this really shows the juxtaposition between the old and the new, and that this manages to be modern but still keeping its heritage.

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The Gallery (Image 3)
The Allotment (Image 4)

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While there is a large focus on the inside of a museum/gallery, one of the features that I felt needed capturing was the allotment space. I’ve included this for two reasons, it’s very obvious, being positioned outside the main entrance to that all visitors walk past this to get entry to the museum, the other reason is that it’s a prime example extending the gallery space outside and also provides hands on education. Again it’s an evolution of what exhibits should be in a museum combined with what’s needed for the audience and to educate with

Foundation of Art and Creative Technology (FACT) Liverpool
The Foundation of Art and Creative Technology (FACT) stands out within the series of images due to the very modern external profile. This purpose built site opened in 2003 and while I took a number of photographs within the building, I felt that it was important to show the exterior and the colour contrast between the orange and the grey. The façade of the building is very different to the exteriors of some of the other museums due to the relative newness of the building and its purpose built manner. While this image isn’t about the internal use of space, if a building doesn’t appear attractive on the outside, it won’t be able to attract in the visitors required.
The second image shows the building in use, while there were a number of photographs taken of the inside space, most of it is very open and can be utilised in whatever way they need. They have static unchanging spaces such as the café and the box office, the rest of the space in neutral grey can be used as a blank canvas as required with floor space and hanging space. My chosen image of the staircase is a strong image that has shapes and lines that draw the eye in and the people at the top help to show the use and the fact it connects the two main spaces within the building leading up to the cinema, bar and a further exhibition space. While there were a number of photographs taken of the inside space, most of it is very open and can be utilised in whatever way they need. They have static unchanging spaces such as the café and the box office, the rest of the space in neutral grey can be used as a blank canvas as required with floor space and hanging space. My chosen image of the staircase is a strong image that has shapes and lines that draw the eye in and the people at the top help to show the use and the fact it connects the two main spaces within the building leading up to the cinema, bar and a further exhibition space. Is it effective space? Well it’s been designed with a modern architectural style and materials compared with that of the older galleries, it’s also been built for a specific purpose of a space that can be used, adapted and is open to different art forms.

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Staircase (Image 6)

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Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Manchester
For the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, I’ve included these images as I feel that there is so much variety in the use of spaces. The site is based on an old railway and this can be seen with some of the tracks still remaining in place. There are four main buildings as a part of the visitor complex, some have been redeveloped and modernised, yet some are still as they were when I first visited on a school trip some years ago. The first two images were taken in the steam hall, a very large space that houses static steam engines and some full size locomotives. With this visit, I tried to be a little more creative in my subject and the composition. Within the power hall, there are large glass windows that allow the viewers on the street to look in, and also for light to come through. I was focusing on the gauge on the equipment but my eye was drawn to the triangle of lights falling onto the back wall. I decided to focus on this instead to show the brick structure of the building but still keeping the equipment in the background so that the viewer can see more than just the exhibits.
The second image was again in the power hall, and I wanted to include an image of the equipment and steam engines to enforce the message that this is a very specific collection and focus of the museum. I took two versions of this, one was a close up just on the movement of the working engine, but while it was effective at showing the action, it didn’t show the context. I opted for the wider image to show the engine working in its setting but also capturing the movement to give the viewer an idea that this is more than just static displays.
The final image is in the air and space gallery, this has been in need of some redevelopment for some time and is looking tired and even empty in some areas. I did focus on these but felt that that it didn’t fit what I wanted to show, there will always need to be a process of change and improvement which does rely on funding to do this. While there are some weaker areas in this gallery space, it’s also full of different vehicles and planes as the structure is large. While it wasn’t possible to get everything in shot, even with my widest lens, I focused on the one plane that really caught my eye. The former Lower Crumpfield Market hall and later city exhibition hall comprises of a large iron framed and glass structure that previously had fallen in dereliction before being bought by the museum. From the upper balcony, it’s possible to look out across the aeroplanes and through the large windows into the surrounding streets. The light was quite bright coming through the windows in the early afternoon so while I took the image in colour, my eyes saw this as monochrome so I converted it later in Photoshop. With the view of the plane and the large windows, it gives the sense of scale and space needed to exhibit this type of subject.
Power Hall (Image7)

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Air and Space (Image 9)


Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford
In companion to MOSI, Cosford also displays aircraft and some other vehicles. Partly converted from an RAF training base, and still featuring in training and air shows, parts of Cosford are housed in large hangars with large opening doors to manoeuvre the aircraft around. In addition to this is the newly built cold war hangar that opened in 2007 and from the outside is a very tall, silver metal structure. I did take some images of this, but for me the most appropriate use of space was from the inside. I’d visited here many times previously and felt that I’d gone as far as I could in photographing the displays and space with my normal camera lenses. When I visited this time, I took my Lensbaby composer which I am still experimenting with. I wanted to capture the visitor interaction but without direct focus on the people, for me it’s all about the visitors using the space

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Airfix (Image 9)
I feel this image really shows some of the space of the hangar but the effect of photographing this from the balcony and using the changeable tilt focus of the Lensbaby gives the image a sense of looking down onto something small. As a viewer you know the size of a plane and the building must there therefore be large to accommodate this but the effect tricks the eye and mind. As there were a lot of people visiting that day, I focused the lens on the right hand side to show the space but to get the blurred effect of the visitors moving through.
Cosford Balcony (Image 10)

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Within the cold war hangar there are planes hanging from the ceiling in different positions as well as static displays over the different levels with a small high viewing balcony. My two images from within here show the different floors and levels. Image two is included as again it gives a sense of scale of the building with the large planes and then in the background the lift and balcony populated with visitors.
The next image is also within the cold war hangar, on the middle level you can see the ceiling of silver metal stretching up to the top of the image, the focus on the full size plane that’s hanging stands out with the yellow stripes on it. In the foreground there is a mixture of place and visitors with the Vickers Valiant in white on the right hand side of the screen. Again, I didn’t want the people in sharp focus, there were a lot of families visiting and for me the image was about the space bring used effectively and the visitors showing the scale and the fact this is a place that people choose to come to. The effect of blurring is an added advantage that no people or children can be identified so I didn’t need to get permission for the images.

 

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Hanging (Image 11)
The final image was taken in the warplanes hangar, again the Lensbaby has rendered the people out of focus as I wanted a feel that the planes were static but the traffic of visitors was moving, and I think this is added to with the leading lines around the plane on the floor.

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Visitors (Image 12)
I think that Cosford does use its space well, there are a few areas of free space and for events the hangar doors allow the planes to be moved (they can be moved out to make space for events) Where the space is most effectively used is within the cold war hangar, a purpose built building so that the planes and exhibitions have been planned in.

Summary
I’ve looked at the images that I’ve taken to see where they fit into the context of today’s photography. Some of the images such as the stairs are very much in keeping with the work of older photographers such as Aage Strüwing and City Hall stairs from 1956 with very defined lines and patterns.

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However due to the number of images that I’ve taken and of the difference between the content in each, in this case its hard for me to find a current context with the varied styles covering the images within this project.
What I expected to be an easy assignment has proved to be a very tricky one, which I feel has really pushed me. I’ve struggled with the scope, narrowing it down, feeling creative and feeling that I’ve met the brief that I’ve set myself. However I’ve worked through the processes and am happy with
the final results. From this I feel that the time and effort that I spent in consideration and redoing this until I felt it was right, was worth it.

Bibliography
Elwall, Robert (2004) Building with Light: The international history of architectural photography. Merrell Publishers
Hanquinet, Laura & Savage, Mike (2012) ‘Educative Leisure’ and the art museum
Kopelaw, Gerry (2007) Architectural Photography: The Digital Way. Princeton Architectural Press
Website
A guide to current architectural photographers http://blog.buildllc.com/2010/09/a-guide-to-current-architectural-photographers/ (Link valid 23/04/13)

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