Imagine you are on an assignment for an intelligent, thoughtful travel publication (not tourism promotion) that is demanding a considered, in-depth treatment.
Aim to show the character of the place and of the people who live there with as much visual variety as possible. Pick a place that you know well and have sufficient access to in order to complete a strong selection of images
To draw together all the various strands explored so far, including technical skills; observation and reaction and “the underlying appreciation of what spaces and buildings mean for people who live in and among them.”
To compose a collection of 12 images for an in depth travel publication with 6 good, publishable images as the final selection
As part of my feedback from assignment 3, for this my tutor advised me to undertake some contextual research on documentary photography through websites such as Magnum, and American Suburb X. Spending some time looking at these sites and also the British Journal of Photography, I was looking for photographers who have a similar style to mine or a body of work similar to what I want to produce as part of this assignment. I enjoyed looking through these websites and seeing the different photographers and I have to reference Martin Parr, partly for his huge body of work that spans both black and white and colour and for taking images of everyday life certainly encouraged me to look for interesting people and situations. For me, I prefer the black and white, and when I was researching Manchester and looking to see if there are any contemporary photographers working on street photography in the North West, I came across some older images by Parr. Looking at some of these after I’ve shortlisted my images, I can see a similarity in the subject, but this can also be applied to anyone out on the street with a camera. I don’t feel that our styles are similar, I think that presented in a series my voice comes through and that they have been taken without any attempt to replicate other photographers work. I also spent some time researching contemporary photographers that I could compare and benchmark my work against, one of those that stood out more is work by Daniel Hoffman for his black and white series of everyday life. My favourite that stands out is the pedestrian and the bike, showing that what’s in the area can be added to by having interaction with people in the same scene.
I did find that as I’ve visited the Look 13 festival and attended a talk by Tom Wood, that his style of street photography was something that I liked for his mix of posed work and incognito street photography and with it being in the North West, something I could identify with (even though I couldn’t recognise any of the locations) It was with this in mind that I tackled this assignment using some of his techniques and seeing what I got. A lot of the images were pot luck but I liked some of the angles and reflections that felt more like real life to me, than any conventionally taken photographs from eye level.
I’ve not always been interested in street photography, while it’s fascinating to look at work in this genre, I always felt that it was something I’d never do. While I can be quite confident in getting most photographs, when it comes to people, I seem to revert back to my childhood shyness and I have to admit I’ve found this assignment to be well out of my comfort zone. With a willing model, I’m happy to pose and photograph them, with strangers and especially with trying to get natural, almost unseen images; I was more hesitant and a little fearful. During the course of my photography I had to make a call on whether it was a good idea to take an image and whether it was morally acceptable, Manchester has a lot of people begging on the street and while they would have fitted into the work and provided a more rounded profile of the highs and lows, I was conscious that this wasn’t the time and place and that vulnerable people should be photographed as part of a planned and considered treatment. I was really encouraged by Tom Wood, his images were fantastic and when he showed us his tip of holding the camera at his shoulder and looking away to take images, I thought about putting this into practice. I was also encouraged by the fact when he spoke to us, he had a Fuji x100- I’d just purchased the x100s as I wanted something faster than my Olympus PEN but smaller than my dsrl but with equivalent quality. I admit some of the images worked, some didn’t but I felt less obvious with this camera. While a couple of times I felt that people had figured out I’d photographed them, the fact I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder and kept moving gave the impression I was just going about my business.
I’d been struggling with defining the scope of what I’d cover within this assignment. I had a few ideas but nothing was really working for me. I’d scoped out the possibility of my town centre, of Chester city centre or of Manchester. I needed it to be easy to get to for repeat visits and a place that I knew well.
Ideally I wanted to avoid Manchester or Liverpool as I’d featured locations within these cities as part of assignment 3, but they had their advantages that I knew them very well, could get to them as many times as needed and offered variety. I’ve parked my ideas on Chester for assignment 5 as I feel these could work better there. After a lot of consideration on where I could get access to I thought that I could still use Manchester but show a different side to the galleries and museums that featured within my previous assignment.
For Manchester I’ve considered not just the social aspect of culture, entertainment and shopping but also that of a place to work, where business is encouraged and where transport links are strong to and from the city. It also co-incides with a number of visits I have planned to Manchester for different events and also business meetings.
The images- I was toying with the idea of presenting these all in black and white as homage to the early days of street photography and photographers such as William Klein. While a couple of the images really lent themselves to be black and white, some of the images had strong colours in them, and its these that had caught my eye when I was looking for subjects to photograph and when I reviewed this in monochrome, they didn’t have the original visual impact so I used colour to provide a coherent link between the images and to help suggest that these are a series to be viewed together.
Part 1: Twelve Shortlisted Images
Man reclining in street
On one of the days where I was wandering about Manchester with a list of different areas to try and photograph, I came across a large crowd outside the Arndale centre, as I got closer, I could see that there was a man sat reclining in the street, but without a chair, and just an umbrella for balance, and a chain leading to an old suitcase (which I presume was weighted to act as a balance for him) I took two different images for consideration, and have chosen this one as you can see in the background other members of the public watching him. I’ve never seen him before or indeed afterwards, it captures for me fact the street is used as a performance space, and also money generator as he was getting coins thrown into a pot he had.
He did put his umbrella up at point to show it wasn’t used just for balancing and I really wish I’d got this image, unfortunately at this point in time, my battery decided to die on my camera and I missed the key image while I switched over.
Glass Bridge, two small figures
Manchester is very well known for shopping, not only does it have the Arndale centre, but in recent years some more designer shops have been built including Selfridges. As part of the redevelopment and add on to the Arndale centre, there is a glass bridge over the road linking the two. Conscious that photography in shopping centres can be restricted or banned, I was walking through and I saw the angle of the round bridge curving so I photographed that and then I waited until someone crossed it. The figures are small so are almost anonymous and the curve of the bridge just draws the eye into the centre and to the people, while representing the connection between the shoppers (people) and place.
Part of what I wanted to show in this series was the fact that Manchester is also a transport hub, as well as people coming into the city, there are people passing through via the bus and the tram, this wide shot shows the hustle and bustle of people crossing over the tram lines and around the bus station near to Piccadilly gardens, which tends to always be busy as a transitional place. I like the people moving in the image, however viewing it now, I feel its more two dimensional than most of my other work and in some ways reminds me of work by L.S Lowry. If I redid this, I’d be tempted to wait for rush hour to capture even more movement and activity.
Two women on a break
I was taking a lot of these images in the method of Tom Wood, using my Fuji x100s away from me as if I was just holding it, not using it and hoping that I had my angles correct to capture the subject. In most cases it worked and I got some really interesting images. I saw these two women stood outside Primark, they were obviously on a break, and this area gets a lot of people waiting or having a break here. From the low angle I was able to frame both of the women in full; you wonder what their topic of conversation is.
Women shopping outside Debenhams
This is a strong image for me as a snapshot of a weekday morning, with the subjects just going about their normal business and getting the shopping done. With hindsight it reminds me again of Wood’s images as a lot of the women in these are holding ‘Kwik Save’ carrier bags and they tend to feature quite strong, characterful subjects that I don’t think are really seen in images today compared to photographs taken in the 1980s and into the 1990’s . Rob Bremner’s work ‘Unfinished Liverpool’ also features strong subjects. The feeling I get from this is that Manchester is their town, a place of functionality not fun.
Woman in Debenhams café
I took an image last time which I wasn’t happy with of the window of the café and people passing, I felt it wasn’t quite there technically. I was walking past at a later date and was caught by the blue of the woman’s outfit and also her expression. She looked lost and lonely and I wondered what her story was. I had to photograph this and I feel the lines of the window frame her, the empty space and cut of frame on the left hand side also adds to the sense of loneliness as this isn’t a busy bustling place. I walked past later on and she had been joined for morning coffee and that mood and expression that caught my eye had gone.
Woman buying flowers
Another event where the colour caught my eye, looking at different places and businesses in the street, the woman picking flowers stood out in pink with the red canopy above, which didn’t work as well when converted. In amongst the old buildings and established high street are an ice cream stall and flower stalls. Both a temporary but adding more character to the city, I feel I’ve captured something that might not be here next time I visit.
Shoppers at market stall
More colour grabbing composition in this image, I’d taken one of the market stall on a previous visit and wasn’t happy with it, I saw these people and the little girl stood out. I’ve been wary on photographing under 18s as part of this but have gotten around this by taking the image from the back, it was the colours then subject that caught my eye, it doesn’t matter if you can’t see the faces straight on as for me it’s all about representing the street market and activity of daily life. It also fits well with the previous image of temporary space, albeit even more transitory..
People stood outside Primark with bikes and bag
Again the low angle of this has captured the moment of the person on the phone and the people behind her. The image is quite cluttered with a phone box, people, bikes etc. but they all combine to give the viewer a reflection that Manchester is a busy city and there are always people coming and going within the centre. I wasn’t originally going to include this as part of the series but I kept coming back to it and I loved the moment of the woman with a suitcase, has she just arrived or is she leaving?
One of the first images I took for this, I’d seen the sign and thought that was a good starting point and then I saw the man walking in to so I waited, took two image and had this one. I like the purposeful stride and the glance towards the sign. Not only are people entering into Manchester, it’s a portal out so you see someone who has just left the station in the background and someone just arriving ready to move on.
Selling the Manchester evening news
I’ve debated a lot on whether to include this or not, I wish I’d been closer or had a telephoto lens to get just the interaction of the face of the MEN seller and the customer. However every time I look at this, I like it, the use of yellow in his coat and stand is tied in with the yellow to the right of the image, the rest of it is quite neutral in comparison so it really stands out. Monochrome didn’t suit this, it lost its impact which is in the strong colours.
Ice cream seller at Fatsos
I walked past this girl selling ice-cream on the street on my first photography expedition here, I knew I’d missed a chance so doubled back and asked if I could take her photograph. The vintage style costume caught my eye and she really stood out against the rest of the street and in front of the shop she worked at. I would have like to have taken a couple more images and posed her but this was a quick shot between ice cream sales and not someone who I could model.
Shortlisted Six Images
I did originally have the image of the ice cream seller in here as she really stands out as a welcoming figure with the uniform and ice cream sign. However when I started to review this in the context of a series of images that captured the spirit of Manchester showing both people and place, I felt that there were other images in the series that had both people and place in them and fitted into the series more appropriately and this just stood out which indicated that it just didn’t fit in.
When I shortlisted the images, I managed to reduce these to 14, and I struggled to decide which of these I wanted as my 12. I wanted to show these as part of my thought and working process in editing and reducing the numbers of images to meet the brief.
Near the Corn Exchange
On a later visit, I was walking near the Corn exchange and looking at more of the buildings, my first thought was of the person walking through the image, I wanted to capture them but then I saw the path leading into a central point of the image and that also caught my eye. I took the photograph but would prefer it if the person was a little stronger in the frame, I think I was too far away when I saw them and should have waited in position for someone else to pass through.
The other image that I decided to reject was the image of the people crossing the street, its an interesting image but compared to the set, I feel this isn’t as strong as some of the others and as I wouldn’t consider it as part of my 6 final images, have decided not to include this.
Pedestrians at traffic lights
I’m not sure that I would have done anything else differently, I had locations and types of images that I felt would capture the ‘sense of place’ brief pre planned and a few visits to ensure that I had a large enough pool to select from. I think during the first few visits I was still trying to get comfortable with the idea of taking images that captured the spirit of the place and people and while I got some images that I’ve used, it was more on the last visit that I actually felt happy with the output.
I’ve certainly faced more issues than I expected during this assignment, I found the brief quite wide open so instead of being filled with a sense of freedom, I had too many ideas and struggled to tie them down to one. I was conscious of the fact that after the first batch of images had been taken and I’d got some sample prints back that I looked through them and felt very much that I was on the wrong track. I wasn’t happy with the ones I’d shortlisted, the rest of the images didn’t seem to fit my brief either and I had couple of weeks where I didn’t do anything on this apart from debate what else I could do. I had the option of starting again or having another attempt at capturing the images I wanted. As I’d already completed a lot of work, my preferred option was to revisit and then see what images I’d captured through just walking about and not worrying about trying to get every different part of the city.
One thing I’ve noticed while looking through other street photography is that there can be items in the background that can clutter the image. Always conscious that I should only include components in the frame if I purposely want those in the image, it’s not always possible, especially when you only have a moment or two to capture the image. After this assignment, I’m still aware of this but am more accepting as it can add to the context and situation you are presenting.
I also found it quite hard to actually shortlist just 6 images from the set and it did take me some time to keep looking through and reviewing them as a set and then individually to see if I’ve got a set that worked well to meet the brief. I think I’ve achieved this and am happy with the final images that I’ve selected.
Bibliography & Websites
Manchester Evening News (2004) The Changing Face of Manchester, MEN Syndication