Below the brief from the course as internal reference only:
Make a series of six to twelve photographs in response to the concept of ‘The Square Mile’. Use this as an opportunity to take a fresh and experimental look at your surroundings. You may wish to re-trace places you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or, particularly if you’re in a new environment, you may wish to use photography to explore your new surroundings and meet some of the people around you.
You may wish to explore the concept of Y Filltir Sgwar further, or you may deviate from this. You may want to focus on architecture and landscape, or you may prefer to photograph the people who you think have an interesting connection to the square mile within which you currently find yourself. You’ll need to shoot many more than 12 photographs from which to make your final edit. You should try to make your final set of photographs ‘sit’ together as a series. Don’t necessarily think about making a number of individual pictures, but rather a set of photographs that complement one another and collectively communicate your idea. You may wish to title your photographs or write short captions if you feel this is appropriate and would benefit the viewer.
Think of this assignment as a way to introduce yourself to your tutor. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to respond to this brief, as long as you try to push yourself out of your comfort zone in terms of subject matter. Try out new approaches rather than sticking to what you think you’re most successful at.
Within the assignment itself, there is some suggested reading on photographers as possible inspiration. Looking at the list I could not resist adding some non-Anglo-Saxon photographers to my own research path, as I would probably do the rest of the course as well, a bit closer to my own Square Mile one could say. Since I’m not from the UK and missing some of the local cultural knowledge, I did some additional reading on the concept Y Filltir Sgwar as described in the brief. I tried to relate that concept to some other photographers and their work and life.
My first assignment at OCA, still a bit searching for methods and habits, but also adjusting myself to read and look differently than recently. Glad within this assignment, the comforting paragraph was added:
Think of this assignment as a way to introduce yourself to your tutor.There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to respond to this brief, as long as you try to push yourself out of your comfort zone in terms of subject matter. Try out new approaches rather than sticking to what you think you’re most successful at.
After two years my English became a bit rusty and I deliberately took some extra time to read and write more than perhaps is expected for this first assignment, hence the remark: “don’t labour it.”
Being Dutch, the principle ‘Y Filter Sgwar’ was totally unknown, and I even needed to check again where Wales exactly was in within the UK. Drifted on reading around the subjects Wales and the UK but not worth referencing.
Next, some additional reading on ‘Y Filter Sgwar’ where I tried to comprehend it’s true meaning without being a simple translation into Square Mile. You can find my additional reading and research in this separate post: The concept ‘Y filltir sgwar’.
The suggested research gave me the initial thoughts, especially the work of Gawain Barnard and Tom Hunter who made perhaps the rawest and most local series. To visualize one’s true square mile you need perhaps emotions and expressions, although, in that respect, the work of Tina Barley provides most direct relation to a Square Mile or at least, as a more complete and personal social environment.
Looking at and reading about the suggested photographers I found myself a bit lost in for me not-related Anglo-Saxon artists and style even? I needed additional inspiration and reference perhaps. I started reading on physically Square Mile specific photographers. My research went from Ed van der Elsken, back to Ad Windig and Philip Mechanica. All Amsterdam based photographers, all artistically related and all influenced by the city Amsterdam and its very specific and unique atmosphere. You could see and feel the influence it had on their work and life and it gave me sufficient direction for this assignment. I wanted to register the city and its people in the same raw and close way hopefully. Not posed, not as portrait, not staged, but just as is. I know it would be out of my comfort zone for sure. I do urban photography more often, but it always makes me uncomfortable, always ending up with massive amounts of “failures”.
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
Reading the brief, done the research and looked at many other students work. Quite often I saw images of the place they grew up or some special scenery to the photographer in the direct area. And yes, more than once I thought about taking the car, drive back to the place I grew up and do the same. Despite I had a happy youth, did that place, time and people really represent my Square Mile as I am today? Looking back, what has the most significant influence and connection for me today, what is my present Square Mile?
Combining all it is the past five years that really changed my life and formed me to what I am and do presently. The people, the city, our house, my wife, photography even? But to capture that in 12 images seemed a bit ambitious. I decided to try capturing the city of Amsterdam, the city where we live and how it inspires me. The rush, the people, the unique atmosphere, the bicycles, the tourists, the canals, the art and musea, the diversity and its luxurious freedom to think, do and be whatever you want. It brought me even to studying photography as we do now.
Wanted to register the city and its people in the same raw and close way hopefully. Not posed, not a portrait, not staged, but just as is. I know it would be out of my comfort zone for sure. I do urban photography more often, but it always makes me uncomfortable, always ending up with massive amounts of “failures” and doubts.
I used multiple cameras over a more extended period and numerous tours around the city or sometimes just because I was around and had a camera with me. I know it would be in monochrome as soon as I developed this idea. Unlike other cities, Amsterdam is so overcrowded with cars and worse: bicycles. They will always pollute any frame and distract from the subject if done in colour. I did not want to make a default city-scape; the series needs to reflect how I sense the city, up close but with sufficient context.
All images are shot with 28mm (or APC-C to FF equivalent 18,5 mm) Using only Adobe Lightroom CC (Mobile) to import and store the RAW files and manipulate to monochrome and minor adjustments as some acceptable cropping.
The images below are my selected shots for the Assignment Square Mile. They represent how I sense the city I live in, the rush, the people, the canals, the markets, the history, the freedom, old and new, bars and musea, bicycles and more bicycles, friendly, but also a bit dingy and the as difficult to translate as “y filltir sgwar” the Dutch word “Gezellig“. Amsterdam is of great importance in my present life and is defining my future, even as I write this. It is in many ways my Square Mile.
I tried to get “something” in the shot. An emotion, movement, gesture, situation, not being the apparent portrait or default shadow/light figures. In trying this, I could use some consistency and sometimes I’m just impatient. Series could be more coherent perhaps, or is slight variety also an option? Sometimes I’m too object focussed in the heat of the moment and forget the context and background. Speed, anticipation and response are essential, composing done on intuition almost. I notice when I use different focal lengths, my pace slows accordingly almost. The longer the focal length, the longer I grant myself time to compose and focus, but it’s not said the images become more interesting. Still finding my balance here. The use of only one focal length, I try to stick with 28mm (hence my favourite camera has this fixed mounted) in the city, it helps. It becomes second nature but still needs some more imprinting, convinced it will work out, someday!
Street/Urban photography is very intense but can be very rewarding but the failure rate is massive. Getting better is mostly practice and even more failures. However, nature and animal photography, specifically I find very relaxing and equally satisfying. Especially when I try to combine both genres, to photograph animals as if they were human. The latter might be my next development journey, but as always, doubts all-over, hence I started this course.
CONTACT SHEETS WITH ANNOTATIONS
At first, I was a bit sceptic about using “old fashion” contact sheet selection. I consider myself fully digital or at least, no need for me to use older methods or equipment, definitely not for nostalgic reasons only — digital camera, digital processing, digital storage, digital printing or posting online. However, having the option to annotate on PDF and JPG with my Touch-pen on-screen was suddenly well doable and a fun exercise. It did force me to look slightly different with a better overview? The final selection, however, was made using my usual big-screen inspection in Adobe Lightroom itself, working with tags, stars and albums.
Assignment One is, of course, intended as a mutual introduction. Nevertheless it the first step in a new period in my life, studying fulltime and therefore taken very seriously. Lots of doubts and searching on the log, the work, my level of English and more importantly, finding my way in the self-created new way of living the next years.
My assigned tutor took plenty of time to discuss and introduce ourselves towards each other, my goals and ideas and of course, my first assignment submission, a Square Mile. The Formative Feedback was more then I expected. Very helpful, relatively motivating as it should, at the early start of any new activity and truly made me re-think my choice doing this once more.
Gladly the feedback was not restricted at the images as such but more about the narrative and context. One of the main learning points to me was to stay closer to the intentions and goals of the visual work and do not confuse the submission rationale with the elaborated log. After the feedback, I noticed I simply skipped some major thoughts for the submission in my rationale that I did, however, included in my learning log. I also needed to write more explanatory about the idea and my execution. Why did I choose the specific location? Why did I use monochrome etcetera? It all seemed clear in my head but indeed, not sufficiently elaborated in the rationale. It also seemed there was not enough cohesion in the series and the series did not visualise the place sufficiently
Summary of the constructive comments by my tutor:
- I would like to have seen you add a few notes that were more focused on your relationship with the space that you explored,
- ‘Place’ is quite a significant theme of the assignment, but your rationale doesn’t say a great deal about this.
- I think it would have been just as valuable to say something about this and any difficulties that you experienced.
- On monochrome: Doing this has framed the work and its meaning(s) in a different way than if they’d been submitted in colour, so some reflection would have been welcome.
- I think they could hang together as a set just a little more effectively.
Hence these comments there is still a long way for me to go, especially to get my message correctly presented, something I thought would be okay.
Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. (2019). Alex Prager. [online] Available at: https://www.foam.org/nl/museum/programma/alex-prager [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Maibeeldbank.nl. (2019). Philip Mechanicus – MAI. [online] Available at: http://www.maibeeldbank.nl/fotograaf/25 [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Mechanicus, P. (2019). Resultaat – MAI. [online] Maibeeldbank.nl. Available at: http://www.maibeeldbank.nl/beeldbank?f_creator%5B0%5D=Mechanicus%2C+Philip+&f_what%5B0%5D=straatbeeld [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].