I thought this was a great project to work on for a week and a half.
Street photography is probably the area I’ve had the most experience in so it was really nice to do something I’m familiar with; at the same time the brief made sure that I tried new things. In this case it was making sure to stay in one area and to produce a thematically unified set of photographs. These were great limitations as I had to focus in on one thing rather than simply wander around and get some nice shots, which is what I’ve mostly done previously.
One of my previous photographs (London 2014)
It was great doing the research do rediscover some street photographers who I’d been completely obsessed by last year and find some new photographers like Mitch Epstein and the great Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama.
Mitch Epstein- New York West Side Highway 1977
I loved exploring the area around the Westgate development and went to areas of Oxford I’d never been to before. I also met a lot of strange people, like a man feeding geese who explained to me at length the excellent eyesight of the goose.
Westgate Project Excerpt
I’m really pleased with some of my photographs, especially the series regarding the strange clash of architectures around the large Westgate building site. This followed on nicely from architectural photography relating to urban gentrification which I’ve been interested in previously as a subject. I would even like to continue that part of the project later on.
Displaying the work and looking at everybody else’s photographs was also really great, getting good feedback and seeing amazing ideas by others doing the project.
One aspect I thought was brilliantly useful was being forced to use a digital camera. Previously I have almost exclusively used film and so it was valuable to consider digital. I now think that while film possibly is the more fun and intuitive process, there are advantages to digital photography, not the least the absolutely obscene amount of photographs you can take.
Wolfgang Tillmans- Corinne on Gloucester Place 1993
I would say that my least successful efforts were in presentation which I would love to explore more later on. I also think that the genre of street photography is inherently spontaneous, so it is probably quite impossible to get anything great down in such a short period; nonetheless I definitely took some pictures I’m pleased with.
Further in depth appraisal of William Klein’s work.
I started to think about how to present my photographs. I think this has been one of the most mixed areas of my project.
One aspect that went well was my presentation of some of the architectural studies of 70s estate architecture. I continued to take ideas from the work of Hockney and Brion Gysin by sticking multiple photographs together into a collage; I took the collage element of Hockney and combined with the architectural study of Gysin.
One of Gysin’s Paris photomontages.
This seemed quite derivative to me but I did come up with some original ideas; first I chopped up the pictures of the flats into perfectly square units to reflect the architectural design. Secondly I came up with the idea of using the cut away parts and then sticking those parts together. I loved the result which ended up being a sort of non existent impossible building derived from the real one. I also really liked the strange perspective effect.
I like the strange curve of this
And the stranger curve of this
I had some success arranging my photographs of shadows. I stuck them down in a simple series of seven. Then I noticed that turning the photographs upside down emphasised the shadows; they became looming black figures. This was a happy accident which is my favourite of all things.
I had less success arranging my findings with the cranes. I hadn’t got most of the reshot pictures printed out yet so had to use my earlier findings. I arranged the nine best photographs in a grid but really I don’t think this put across what I was trying to say. I think the study of the building site was a much grander idea and would have to have a slightly longer period of work put in to do what I really wanted.
All of this was done on heavy white paper which I think was sufficien as a framing device; in future I would like to try using black paper.
One artist who I think is brilliant at arranging photographs is the German Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans. He exhibits all his pictures in only three sizes and arranges them in really interesting combinations along the gallery wall; the eye is drawn to large images and then focusses in on the smaller, and interesting juxtapositions of contrasting images are used heavily. In future I would love to undertake a more ambitious project arranging photographs using ideas like this.
One of Wolfgang Tillman’s exhibitions
I went out with the small digital camera again yesterday and reshot some of my previous ideas. I went out at about 5 o clock to take advantage again of the long shadows and also decided to revisit the Westgate.
First I made some photographs in tribute to the great American street photographer Lee Friedlander;
Lee Friedlander’s ominous shadow in New York City
My own slightly less ominous shadow in Oxford
Then I discovered a way to get very weird interesting results by accident. I took a photo while holding the camera by my side, thus shooting from the hip. Then I realised this could be used to take photographs with a degree of secrecy, and furthermore the effect of shooting from a lower height massively increases the effects of perspective.
Shooting from the hipness
Then I went back to the Westgate site. The light was much better and from my previous days shooting I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted. I focussed much more on the relationship between the site and the surroundings, the scale of the cranes, and above all the contrast between the architectural forms in the area.
Inner city chimneys meet huge cranes; the time of day meant many forms were reduced to silhouette
I particularly liked this shot in which the crane appears to be physically interacting with the 1970s house; the aerial and the mast of the crane meet one another and the concrete forms block together
While I hadn’t previously considered it this study of architecture also has an affinity with Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Anarchitecture” projects during the 1970s, and especially Richard Nickel, a Chicago based photographer who took pictures of the demolition of older architectural styles in Chicago during the 1960s.
Richard Nickel- Demolition of the First Regiment Infantry Armory, Chicago 1967
Panorama of site and part of a housing estate very literally next door
I hope some of these photographs have captured the genuine strangeness of this part of Oxford. Photographing from street level may not have captured just how large the building site and just how close it is to two housing estates. At the very least I think some of the photographs are interesting aesthetically, and make a comment about the slow demolition of an older UK; presumably once the shopping centre, which will be a kind of glass palace, is finished, there will be an even stranger contrast in architectural styles.
The bulk of the days photographs were taken in the city centre at around 5 o clock. The light was very gold and the shadows of people on the street were lengthened. This created some interesting results.
I was thinking of creating a series of images and at one point took a huge number of images of people walking across the street; the camera was in a fixed position. This created a cinematic effect as different people move across the cameras view. However I decided not to use these for a physical presentation because there were so many images.
My most successful series of pictures were the camera fixed at one point on the pavement, and then capturing figures as they were at the edge of the frame. This meant the focus was on giant shadows which dominate the frame in most instances.
I stood and tried to capture the amazing light but ultimately I think the compact digital camera I am using was too basic. The photographs don’t really capture the effect of the light on the buildings and people. However at the very least I did get some results which are good and which show an approximation of the weather.
My main influence here was the great American street photographer Joel Meyerowitz. He used colour brilliantly, often also exploiting long shadows. Above all I think his work brilliantly captures the chaos of the street scene but manages to control the chaos and turn it into beautiful images at exactly the right moment. This is incredibly difficult to emulate.
Joel Meyerowitz- New York 1975
The second day of shooting on the street was much more successful. I shot in both 35mm film and with a very compact digital camera- this was very useful for taking candid shots such as the one above.
I focussed on finding areas and ideas that could be interesting as a theme. Having found some success with the panoramic supermarket pictures yesterday I continued in this vein.
I found that while initially I had thought my area was mostly the historic centre of Oxford, in reality much of the space consists of the more modern, developed section of the city centre, which in spots is actually very urban and sometimes quite run down.
I centred on the Westgate centre which was a pretty brown atypical 70s shopping complex, and now as a result of expansion is a gigantic building site. The cranes are absolutely huge.
I wandered around the edges trying to find some spots of interest, the best being a small housing estate from which all the cranes are very visible.
Here I also continued making panoramas of the blocks of flats which so far are looking very good alongside the supermarket panoramas. However I want to go back and reshoot on digital and make something more ambitious with lots of photographs.
I really liked the estate as a subject matter because in photography previously I’ve been really interested in documenting architecture in the UK, especially the kind of brown post war 70s styles that are disappearing slowly from regeneration and gentrification that are so much on show here. The giant redevelopment in the background only strengthens this idea for me.
This project is more or less a straight street/documentary photography project, with the area of streets confined and with a focus on presenting a series of photographs based on a theme.
My area of Oxford that I am confined to is more or less the dead centre so immediately lots of ideas are possible.
For the first day I decided to wander around only taking a few photographs to get a sense of the area and come up with some ideas for themes.
I know the area well already so I had already a few ideas, including focussing on butcher shops in the covered market, or photographing faces on Cornmarket street covertly.
A very promising idea presented itself when I revisited a fairly hidden mews off St Aldate’s called New Inn Yard. The yard is a slightly surreal corner consisting of a taxi rank, a casino and a gigantic wall, which I believe is the back of Marks and Spencers.