Barrier to Entry
Make a series of six to twelve photographs in response to the concept of ‘The Square Mile’.
There is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile). It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings.
Presented with the brief and concept of assignment one my first impression was to capture images of my immediate surroundings or my home town Darwen. Contemplating how else I could approach the concept I settled for exploring beyond my ‘immediate’ location in my new home, the City of Salford.
I wanted to find a new way of looking at the city, not just replicating images of the iconic locations associated with Salford. In walking the streets of the city I discovered a paradox of cultures. I set out to capture the duplicity of a developing and creative city, surrounded by some of the most deprived areas in the UK.
I named the series ‘Barrier to Entry’, I felt the large imposing buildings of the developed areas felt claustrophobic, and for all the opportunities they have created, for many they represent the life they may never have the chance to live.
I examined the facts behind my initial observations of poverty within the city. I found several pieces of information shocking.
‘Salford has ambitious plans to become a modern global city and significant public and private investment over the last ten years has helped to create more new jobs and opportunities than ever before’ – ‘No One Left Behind: Tackling Poverty Salford’ – Paul Dennett (Salford City Mayor) & Lewis Nelson (Salford Youth Mayor)
Despite the uplifting first quote from the 33 page joint strategy created by Salford City Mayor and Youth Mayor in February 2017, the reality is quite different. According to the electoral ward information provided by the city council via http://www.salford.gov.uk the city has home to some of the most drastic of living standards.
For example Irwell Riverside, one of the most prominent of Salford areas and home to Salford University, is reported to have male life expectancy 5 years lower than national average. Most shocking is the fact that 45% of children are classed as in need against a national average of only 15%. This is compounded by only 29% of children achieving 5+ GCSE’s versus 59% nationally, this is despite being above national average for Key Stage 2 achievement. Irwell Riverside has numerous more examples of poverty and its effects.
Comparatively, Claremont, which shares a boundary with Irwell Riverside has drastically different statistics. Adult life expectancy is inline with national average. But children in need is reported as being less than half of Irwell Riverside. 66% of children achieve 5+ GCSEs well above national average. Household income is over £10k more on average. Unemployment is 1/4 that of Irwell Riverside. And the trend continues across crime, environment and housing.
I find it shocking that two areas covering such a small area can have such drastically different potentials and opportunities. As a casual observer, the outcomes correlate with the locality to Salford University and Media City. The development of these areas suitable to attract skills and labour from outside of the city instead of developing the local residents potential.
Using the recommended research to explore different interpretations of the concept of ‘The Square Mile’ I found several pieces and practitioners that I connected with.
Keith Arnatt produced a series ‘Walking the Dog’. Not only is the title relatable, as I normally take my own dog out on my explorations, but the neutrality to the series and matter of factness of the composition and lighting really inspired my desire to shoot my series as I see the subject rather than skew the visual to something otherworldly or otherwise unnatural.
Similarly Roni Horn’s collection ‘Her,Her,Her and Her’ was influential in the use of grid display coupled with repetitious images similar in composition and subject with subtle differences through tech inclusions of ‘voyeuristic’ silhouettes. I appreciate how the observer can almost place themselves within the image as the unidentified subject.
Karen Knorr is an artist I found created images of great depth. Whilst her use of animals is engaging and interesting, challenging the preconceived idea of who resides inside the rooms and spaces captures, for me, I find that the unnatural appearance is not a creative outlet I wish to pursue. I do however strive to be able to capture the depth and interest she creates through strong use of colors and details.
Throughout the exploration of this brief I wanted to maintain an almost documentary style to the images I produced. Removing the temptation to glorify or vilify any scene I captured blows the observer to draw their own conclusions. I feel the scenes themselves garner a natural reaction through the way buildings and structures are designed and maintained. The story comes more from the juxtaposition of two opposing interpretations existing within the small physical area of one square mile.
All images were captured using a Sony A7II mirrorless full frame camera through a 50mm f1.8 prime lens. The camera is my go to for its versatility, excellent capture capabilities and small size. I chose the 50mm prime as I feel comfortable with this lens and its capabilities. I feel it lends itself well to the style I wanted. The field of view is close to that of the eye, for this series I wanted the viewer to feel part of the observations rather than seeing the scenes as an outsider. All images were shot in RAW format to allow for flexibility in processing to ensure a consistency across the series. All images received adjustments to counter any un-level captures. Some images were cropped to improve the framing especially in areas where verticals highlight issues. Edits were limited, exposure was balanced, saturation, contrast and tint were all mildly shifted to compensate for dull RAW images. One image was dodge and burned to balance the extreme contrast caused by hard light and shadow. Images were then all exported from Lightroom at the highest quality as Adobe RGB jpegs.
I chose to display the images in a book as I felt that the images worked best when displayed opposing each other for balance and contrast. Also I wanted the series to progress along from the pinnacle of what Salford has to offer to the reality. The decision to display the series this way came after feedback from my tutor in which he highlighted how well a story and ‘reveal’ can work in a series.
Overall, I am very happy with the quality of my images. Technically I feel they meet my expectations, but, technique has been something I have worked on personally for many years focusing on composition and execution. My personal thoughts are that the series isn’t the best it could be. I feel the Tyre and Poppy images don’t sit well together and not completely seamlessly within the series. I also feel that, whilst the overall objective has been met, I could have worked harder on reflecting the human aspect of the concept I set out for myself. I also feel that overall the series feels quite ‘safe’ on a topic which could be much more in-depth and ‘gritty’. I would like to incorporate a second series into my on going work as a ‘sister’ series. I would explore the human element more. This could be through spending time with a homeless drop-in centre I discovered during my research.
Upon further reflection and inspection of the images, I have realised that the final image of the series is rather soft. I admit I didn’t review this image 1:1 and in doing so spotted the lack of sharp focus. at the size required it is most likely acceptable but I would have rather captured the image correctly. I also realize that I sometimes don’t allow the image to fully load as my laptop struggles with full size RAW images.
Final Images – Barrier to Entry
Please see following link to presentation as book. Set your view style to two page for correct effect.