Introduction – Images – Also-rans – Lessons Learned – Assessment Criteria - Links
The aim of this assignment is to produce around a dozen photographs which I feel best communicate my personal response to the season – which in this case is summer.
It seems to me that one of the difficulties here is to avoid cliché – or at the very least put it to some constructive use. Another difficulty – or challenge if you prefer – is that this summer has been especially un-summery. It is possible to take a positive from this because it reduces the overall tendency to blue sky shots, and in truth forces a perhaps more realistic response to a British summer. One final peculiarity of this summer is that London has hosted the Olympic Games. For a period of around two weeks it was essentially impossible to avoid them, and so it seemed that perhaps I should find some way to link my shots to the Games. In My Weather Diary Jari Silomaki adopts an approach to daily photography that links images to news events by creating the photo at the time of or in step with a news item of the day, and this seemed an interesting angle.
Conceptually I felt it was important that I restricted myself to shooting during the events of the image titles. There seemed little value in shooting a series of shots and then simply naming them after Olympic sports as that would not be a genuine record of my reaction to the season’s events. Initially I had intended my approach to be rather cynical. Much was being made of the benefit of the Games to the UK – but looking from my window it seemed unlikely that it would ever make a difference to rural north-west Cumbria. However, in the face of British success and the general cheeriness of the coverage I couldn’t maintain this rather po-faced stance, and instead chose to incorporate slight visual puns or references to the sports in my shots. This is, in any case, rather more in keeping with my nature.
A final factor I needed to consider was the nature of the shots themselves. I live on the edge of the Lake District so with relatively little travelling it would be possible to capture any number of pictorial images of lakes, flowers, trees and hills. However, I do not tend to look to the Lakes for my landscape and countryside – I have a tendency to face north and west to the Solway and the Solway Plain. I was also restricted in travel terms by the need to be aware of what events were taking place in the near future, so I have concentrated on the landscape immediately around my home.
Produce a dozen images reflecting the features of summer in north Cumbria – particularly the variability of the weather – and which, in parallel, make oblique or humorous reference to the Olympic Games which were taking place more than 300 miles way in London.
In total I produced about 25 ‘finals’ for the series, which I have posted to my Flickr stream. I have then narrowed them down to the dozen featured at the end of this document trying in the process to ensure that I have captured a reasonably balanced set of images which reflect the aim of the overall series and meet the requirements of the Assignment proper.
1: The Opening Ceremony: Cumbria 2012. I had a shot like this planned from the earliest stages of the idea, although I had planned on using the gate which I featured in my shoot for Project 1. However, when I got there it was closed and there were sheep in the field, so I moved on to another nearby - gates are not rare where I live. It was intended as something of a counterpoint to the hype about the opening ceremony, and to make the point that in this part of the UK nothing unusual was happening. In terms of reaction to the season it has, to me, a typical ‘evening-somewhere-where-nothing-is-happening’ feel to it
2: The First Gold Medal: Cumbria 2012.
As noted in the introduction I was unable to remain cynical for very long. A dandelion is the obvious candidate for a gold medal and for me at least is a symbol of early summer in the lawns and hedgerows of my neighbourhood. I had identified this one previously as having potential for a shot because of the range of textures and greens in the leaves.
3: Women's Synchronised 3m Springboard Diving: Cumbria 2012.
I spotted this shot while driving past the pond, and returned during the diving events specifically to capture these leaves which reminded me of divers entering the water. I took a number of shots of the pond from a variety of angles but this caught the idea of synchronised diving best for me. From the seasonal viewpoint I like the fresh greens and the contrast with the blue water, and the fact that the ruffled surface hints at windiness – another feature of summer evenings this year.
4: Lizzie Armitstead wins Britain's first medal: Cumbria 2012.
This one was driven by the urge to go out and celebrate the first UK medal - so it is taken shortly after the event. I struggled to find something appropriately silver, but this came to the rescue. The backdrop is appropriately golden and the whole picture exudes a cheery atmosphere, which felt appropriate. These two are a combination which graces one of our garden banks every summer.
5: Women's 50m Rifle Final: Cumbria 2012.
This one is a little tongue-in-cheek, and I did consider adding some crosshairs over one of the rabbits but decided against it. Rabbits seem to have been particularly abundant in this field this year.
6: Women's Pole Vault Heats: Cumbria 2012.
The only shot of the series which I set up. Summer is traditionally associated with lawns and hay-making, so a rake - particularly a lawn rake - seemed a reasonable symbol, and the visual pun is obvious.
7: Finn Class Medal Race: Cumbria 2012.
I took several shots of this stretch of road with and without water as it floods and clears very easily. I shot the flood warning sign for a swimming final but chose not to include it in this series because I wanted to indicate the potential wetness of Cumbrian summers and the actual wetness of this one.
8: Men's Singles Tennis Final: Cumbria 2012.
This is not set up. Shoes regularly wash up on the beach near our home, so I was reasonably comfortable that if I went for a walk during the men’s single final I would find a sports shoe, which proved to be the case. I shot it on a very wide angle simply to provide some visual variety - I was conscious that a lot of the shots I was producing were quite tightly cropped or close-ups. the relatively shallow depth of field was also deliberate to isolate the shoe from the background. Here the weather reference is provided by the sky.
9: Men’s 3000m Steeplechase: Cumbria 2012.
A pure visual analogy, with the gate and picnic table substituting for the rather dramatic obstacles in the steeplechase. The lighting reflects one of the challenges of doing a set like this - you are restricted to the timing and lighting available. This is a much more attractive shot in sunlight – although that continued to be scarce all summer.
10: Men’s Fencing: Cumbria 2012.
When I was a child we used to mock 'sword-fight' with grasses like this, and they - and the sword fights - are forever associated with summer my memory. The back lighting of the seed heads adds to a summer evening feel to the image.
11: Boxing Finals: Cumbria 2012.
This is simply a fairly obscure visual pun. The fencing in the corner reminded me of the corner of a boxing ring. In the context of the assignment it is a fairly obvious summer shot - but in view of the relatively dull lighting in many of the other shots I wanted something to highlight that the sun does sometimes shine - even in the far north-west.
12: The Closing Ceremony: Cumbria 2012.
This is a simple re-run of shot 1 and by happy coincidence the gate was closed when I got to it. It is taken at about the same time - the darkness showing how fast evenings close in once the peak of summer is over. It was largely composed by guesswork as there as too little light to do it sensibly in camera, even using the live view system. I simply set up my tripod in as close to the previous position as I could remember. I think the colour scheme and the darkness have a certain finality to them which made it a fitting final shot.
A couple of ‘also rans’
I haven’t provided links to these, as they’re ‘also rans’ but I thought I would include a couple of shots here which almost made it. The first is the Swimming final shot, which I left out for it’s relatively drab, could-have-been-any-season feel. The second is a shot I took to represent the archery final. Although I like the imagery I feel it lacks a little in quality because of the difficulty in getting the balance between foreground and background exposure correct. The final shot is a close run second for the closing ceremony. I walked into the shot halfway through to make myself semi-transparent. I intended this to reflect the fact that I had changed my mind about the project, and indeed the event, during the process of shooting. However, that does seem rather obscure, and I preferred the idea of re-visiting the opening ceremony shot.
Concept: I think the key lesson for me in this assignment is the benefit of a having a clear concept which allowed me to take the working premise of the assignment as written and develop it into something I felt a genuine passion for. The last time I tried this I forgot about the assignment – this time I don’t believe that is true.
Planning: At a more practical level the importance of planning and location research was driven home. I frequently had relatively short time windows in which to take a shot so it was important to have a stock of ideas and locations built up, at least in my mind.
Research: I put quite a lot of effort (recorded in my paper log) into identifying events and times to fit in with the times I had available for shooting. The BBC and LOCOG websites were frequent features of my web browsing throughout the period of the assignment.
On a slightly different slant, the references to Jari Silomaki (see intro) which I was reading about in at the time also provided some assurance that the concept was not completely mad! The material in Land Matters has also (I hope) steered me away from being too pictorial.
Technical and Visual Skills: I find this difficult to assess. I believe that I have demonstrated the ability to link my observation to the concept I had in mind, and to capture those observations in a competent manner. Beyond that it is difficult to comment.
Quality of Outcome: I believe I have communicated my reaction to the summer of 2012 in Cumbria, as set out in my original concept. I acknowledge that the series could be seen as lacking a consistent feel, but that is the nature of summer in my neck of the woods. I also acknowledge that communicating a pair of ideas “summer” and “Olympics” has added to the challenge, but I feel that it was not possible to do one without the other in this particular year and that my result offers both readings.
Creativity: Still not sure I really understand ‘personal voice’, but I believe that in producing a range of visual analogies and puns I have forced to exercise my imagination and experiment with ideas. I would also like to think the idea of addressing the assignment in a way which addressed my personal concept also demonstrated a degree of creativity. Does it convey what I wish to say about the season – I believe it does. Summer in Cumbria is indeed difficult to distinguish from other seasons – but there plenty of hints in the grass, the flowers, and the cereal crops.
Context: This is the first time of have felt comfortably able to point to another practitioner considered worthy of critical comment and say that my work fits alongside. That seems to reflect my increasing knowledge, the changing nature of my reading and thought processes and my increasing engagement with photo theory.
Links and references
www.london2012.com/schedule-and-results/full-schedule.html - the schedule pages of the LOCOG website. Absolutely invaluable for the planning of the project.
www.bbc.co.uk/sport - again invaluable as being plugged in to the coverage helped me with both planning and timing.
My Weather Diary: Jari Silomaki – as noted in the intro, a much longer series than mine but with a related concept based around the news
Land Matters: Liz Wells – recommended course text which emphasises the potential of Landscape to convey messages.
Learning Blog – Posts associated with this project