24th June 2013
‘You are building such a large ‘document’ of Gilbert Court. Perhaps it would be useful for you to write a reflection on all the work you have done so far – how it has worked for you or not, what questions / problems / areas of consideration it has raised for you, where you want to take it next and most importantly what are your aims for these images and is that aim changing / developing?’
When I started the People & Place module I wanted to see if I’d developed my practice, thinking and planning enough to make one theme work throughout all the assignments. I did think at the time that it was rather ambitious at the stage I’m at within the degree pathway, but I also realised that provided I used a subject with which I had sufficient familiarity it was possible to produce a meaningful result. People & Place gave me the opportunity to look more closely at what is essentially a closed community, Gilbert Court. Although it’s not a monastery or nunnery, where the outside is kept that way, the tenants of this small community do tend to keep themselves very much to themselves and over the last four and a half years I’ve lived here I’ve gained a real insight into the way the community works, co-operates and, more importantly, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the individuals quite well. This is where I think I’ve had the edge and it’s without doubt it’s their co-operation that has enabled me to produce the body of work I have, whether that’s good or bad I don’t think I’m in a position to say, I think that’s for others to consider.
I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want the images to look like before I make them and I suppose that means I know what it is I want them to say, but I don’t get a full idea of what that is until I see all the images at the end of a shoot, then I get the clear idea and maybe have to remake some images to fit the idea better.
The work must be saying something I want it to say or I couldn’t invest all the time, effort and, most of all, the passion, otherwise it wouldn’t work me up like it does. Having said that I have an idea of what I want to say but at the same time it’s all a bit fuzzy too, if that makes sense.
Whether the work is good or bad is very important to me. If I can’t make good work then I think I’ve let down the people who’ve allowed me to use their lives and experiences to form the work and although it’s not been shown publicly at all, only to OCA peers, the reactions of those peers is a very important indicator of how good the work is. If at any time I’m advised it’s going bad then I’ll stop and scrap that section, but in the meantime I think I’ll just follow the tenet of Jim Motram and see where it leads me.
Looking back at the beginning from where I am now, just about to shoot the final assignment, what has surprised me is the direction I’ve been taken which is not one I expected to take when I started. I’d begun to realise from the result I achieved with DPP that my tendency toward producing romantic, pictorial imagery wasn’t going to get me where I want to be in terms of final grading. I needed to look more deeply into myself and find something that made the subject stand-out from the average, show some grit and determination from me and find something in the subjects that made the viewer stop and take notice.
I’ve realised that what I’ve found in Gilbert Court is a subject I can feel passionate about. Not the building itself and not the people on their own, but the community and the way society looks at us and visualises us makes me somewhat angry, and this has led to me making images which have channelled that anger and passion to show that the community cannot be disregarded and treated as ‘used up’. The building does have its problems, the people do have their issues and neither of them should be disregarded simply because we’re no longer a productive part of society. So my intent from the outset was to try to raise compassion, as much as possible and with whomever possible whenever possible; and so I think subconsciously I brought a darker point of view to the images I made than I perhaps would have done prior to the result from DPP.
Although the darker perspective has made a great number of viewers comment on the plight and position of the subjects, and the building has come out as a very dark and somewhat forbidding place, the truth is that the people themselves are happy and the building isn’t all that bad a place to live in reality. It can be likened somewhat to the situation the lower classes found themselves during the industrial revolution, their surroundings were nowhere near the best, their lifestyle wasn’t the best, but they made the best of the situation and there would have been a great deal of happiness even so. Now in truth, Gilbert Court is many, many times improved on the situation of the nineteenth century and no-one can be said to live anything like a similar life, but a comparison can be drawn.
Has this project worked for me? I think it made me depressed at times, quite why isn’t easy to fully identify, but I think it has something to do with my realising the inevitability of having to live here, or somewhere similar, for the rest of my life, which isn’t something I’d ever contemplated in my life before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all that bad really, it’s just not what I’d foreseen for me and my family for the past forty years. I think the best thing from my point of view to come from this project is the realisation that I have something more to say by way of social documentary than ever I would from sentimental pictorialism and that my work is appreciated by a wider audience and has provided me with some acclaim, which is driving me on to do more and better.
It has raised a great number of questions which I’m struggling to find the answers to. I’d like to be able to show more in-depth views of the private lives of the subjects, but like most people they tend to want to keep that to themselves. So it’s trying to find a way to break down that barrier on a one-to-one basis to progress the work. Should I hold a mini-exhibition to display what I’ve made of their allowing me into their lives, or have I taken too many liberties and would that alienate them to me and prevent any further work? Not to mention the ostracism my wife and I might suffer publicly as a result. At what point do you call a halt to a project in a small community like this? Will I achieve any more than I already have with this community, or should I take what I’ve learnt here and apply it somewhere else? How do I break into another community?
Personally, having newly found this desire to follow social documentary, I want to look at other projects I’ve thought about and to take a break from this one because I feel I’ve become so emotionally involved with it I wonder if that’s what’s making it so much better, and if that’s the case can I take that involvement and make it work on another project? If I can’t, will my want to involve myself in social documentary be folly and I’ll lose my way?
So where to go? I know I need some help and guidance but I also know that I need to have confidence in what I want to achieve and how I want to achieve it. The problem is that time is running out as I need to make a decision about the next module I follow within a few weeks because I don’t think it would be wise to await the outcome of the November assessment of my work before making the next move, impetus and all that!
As to what I do with this body of work once its finished is open for debate. I think the most obvious thing to start with is to take the Gilbert Court work out of the document and look at it as a body of work without the incidentals of the exercises getting in the way. I think I’ll probably find that there are holes in there that will need additional images making to bring full coherence from it all. And finally I would dearly love to think that it’s good enough to exhibit somewhere, not close to home, I’m not that confident yet, or maybe as has already been suggested by someone else, a book, but I’m not sure what would happen to such an animal if I did produce one.
So, I’m not sure where it will go after this module, I’m not prepared to let it die, but on the other hand I’ve no clear idea where to take it next, so all in all it’s going to be a case of wait and see. I do think I’ll need to take a break from this work though as it can become too all consuming and I have other ideas I want to follow, but I will come back to it and probably bring a fresh aspect out from it as a result……. at least I hope I will.