Sunday, 18 December 2016

History in the making

I've been prevaricating over buying a copy of Stuart Franklin's The Documentary Impulse for some time. Reading the revue on The Online Photographer prompted me to click on 'buy'. I'm glad I did. It's a thought provoking read about what constitutes documentary photography, its uses and purposes, and a whole lot more. I know it's one of those books I'll reread, maybe not all at once but certainly a chapter or passage now and then. It sits along side On Being a Photographer as a must read for anyone interested in reportage or documentary photography in my opinion.

With the book recently read some of the issues it deals with have been in my mind as I've been out with my cameras this week. Although I've not had much spare time as work continues to be hectic by my standards I have forced myself to take pictures this weekend.

With just the short afternoons to work in I returned to old themes which have stagnated. The first was a misty drive around the flatlands. I was looking for agricultural scenes to try out some ideas on but ended up photographing a pumping station on the river. I sort of liked the results but need time to let the initial impression fade to decide if they are any good. They might be a bit too picturesque for my liking. However, the book has made me think again about the worth of making 'nice' pictures as documents. At least I have found an angle (literally) to work from.

Earlier in the day I took my usual morning walk to the Post Office. At that time the fog had barely started to lift. I always like taking photographs when it's foggy. It can be good for hiding cluttered backgrounds and isolating subjects. I photographed a couple of trees on the edge of the playing field. Back on the computer I turned them into a diptych.

This afternoon I turned west and headed for the beach. If in doubt go to the seaside is my motto! I love the place in winter. All the summer attractions shut and either closed down or being renovated. I've photographed the rollercoasters many times before but today I took a couple of shots which again made a reasonable diptych. I'm wondering if there might be some mileage in making a series of these pairings.

Not an original concept, Sophie Green uses diptychs quite frequently. But she wasn't the first either. There'd be no point making pairs for the sake of it. There would have to be some thematic connection for it to work. Another one for the back-burner I guess.

Continuing my rather aimless afternoon wandering I came across a group of reenactors practising their fighting moves. I'd seen them in the same park once before, but this time I had a chat with them. Apparently Sunday afternoons are practice time and they meet up every week when they are not putting on a display somewhere.

Initially I thought I might have found another project. I could see how it could work out. However, once I began to hear about what they get up to and the lengths they go to I realised there was a problem. Just as with any group of fanatics (be they anglers, photographer, reenactors or poultry fanciers) they all have a wealth of in-depth knowledge of their subject. The trouble was that it wasn't knowledge that I wanted to acquire! This is a stressed lesson in On Being a Photographer - pick subjects that interest you.

Later I began to think there is an irony in what reenactors do. They are all about 'heritage' and history, yet they are not (certainly when it comes to the Norman period) directly connected with what they are representing. It's neither history in action or a maintaining of a cultural heritage. It's infotainment. Poultry fanciers, on the other hand, are maintaining a cultural heritage. They really are an example of history being made right now. And that is worth documenting.

These thoughts made me realise that it might be time to start getting my beach life pictures going again. A chance encounter with a coal picker who let me take his portrait (and I think this time I have made a portrait) got me back in the mood to progress this, and a way to do it. What it needs most is a commitment of time.

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