27th October 2014
Most of the regular attendees to the OCA – Thames Valley Workshops, and others who’ve had any longish discussions with me, will know that I’ve found it hard to determine which photographic genre to create as my journey along the OCA degree trail has developed. So far I’ve toyed with documentary, social documentary, portraiture and had some thoughts on landscape, but I’ve not found anything that’s fired my imagination enough to create a body of work that has a coherent narrative, and by that I mean something that is not related to OCA work and can form a story/essay in itself; ‘Finding My Voice’ I think it’s probably classed as. I really envy those colleagues who seem to trip over one idea after another and then go on and make worthwhile bodies of work with them. Every time I think of something and do a little research something in me says, ‘nope, this isn’t right’, I perhaps shouldn’t be too picky and just take up my camera, make some images and see where they lead. But this hasn’t appealed to me as being the sort of thing I can get my teeth into, in a way that idea for a process bores me and my photography shouldn’t do that, it should be something I enjoy, and whatever else an idea I follow has it must be something I can really like and get into.
Interestingly two pieces of good fortune have happened recently which have given me much-needed guidance and impetus to start something. The first was a discussion that was brought up at the last OCA – Thames Valley Workshop by John Umney. He brought along a new work he is in the initial stages of developing for his level three OCA work about marks and traces and although the idea is purely John, the methodology and his thinking were to lead me to the conclusion that if I followed a similar path I too could come up with something to excite me. The next piece of good fortune was receiving posts from Keith Greenoughs’ blog about his work for level three ‘Lifting The Curtain’. Keith’s detailed writings on how this work developed, the influences, the research and everything else that went into it, along with the marvelous images gave me a starting point.
An influence Keith wrote about that had affected his work is David Gillanders project ‘Uncivilised’, this attracted me greatly, as it probably does others, through morbid curiosity mainly. The way he’d taken contemporary murders in Glasgow and placed images of the scenes, home streets and other areas associated with the crimes alongside text from the reported facts and trial transcripts to create a compelling series of stories/photo-essays gave me an idea that I’d like to follow. Gillanders work is of contemporary crime, which I don’t feel particularly attracted to it as it’s too recent, it still has memories for people still alive. To follow in that vein would be easy, say take the Hungerford Massacre of 1987 where Michael Ryan shot and killed 17 victims in one afternoon over a wide area around the town, make the images of the scenes, his home and other sites associated with the crime, and there’s a very similar story to those of Gillanders. There are several problems with this approach though; the first is it’s very plagiaristic and whilst taking the idea is OK to my mind, an actual copy is a definite no-no. The second is, that although it’s more than a quarter of a century since the shootings took place the town is still very sensitive about it and the townspeople do resent visiting photographers intent on capturing the scenes. I think this would be true of any other modern crime where victims, survivors and relatives are, or could be, still alive and I feel sensitive about dragging the details up again. This is not true though of historical murders (although all murders must be historical regardless of when committed) that were committed up to say 1960 where records still exist, crime sites and buildings still stand and are really of great interest as some of them did lead to changes in laws and regulation, not to mention the fascination of reconstructing the scenes themselves.
Over the past few days I’ve spent a considerable amount of time investigating a series of stories that have been written by John Van Der Kiste and published in a book entitled ‘Berkshire Murders’, twenty-four stories of murders and murder/suicides from 1700 to the end of the Victorian era. Using this as a starting point I’ve searched the internet for further references and corroboration, used up-to-date maps to locate the sites mentioned and the buildings involved and found that it’s very possible to reconstruct the cases very accurately. The local library has microfiched copies of the local newspapers dating back to the early 1700’s and there’s plenty of secondary source material from national newspapers dating back just as far on-line, so I think with copies of Ordnance Survey maps from 1831 – 1837 I should be able to research everything I need. This sort of work is clearly documentary and is something that brings together my passion for photography and a long-standing interest in history.
The real benefit I believe is that it gets me going with a project, having to research my material, find the sites, get the images, put together the narrative, write the words and then publish, whilst it’s not necessarily the sort of work that’ll attract a great deal of artistic attention or be much reviewed, it’s a start, and a start is what I need. Once I’ve begun this work who knows what will spin-off, who I’ll meet that will give me further ideas, the main thing is it’s experience.