DPP: Part 5: Assignment 5 – “Recycled?”: Research – Processing, Composition, Subject

While I’ve shot around 300 images on a few walks along Rochdale Canal, and had already looked at some work from Chris Killip and articles on “aftermath” or “late photography” prior to my outings, I haven’t as yet put that reading in context or expanded on it.  This post summarises some research I’ve done, now I have the images, as it should give my image selection and processing more decisive context.

…On Processing

The images I’ve put up o Flickr have all been given a similar treatment – reducing the saturation to around -60 in Lightroom.  I initial considered using black-and-white, as the assignment does need to demonstrate the learnings from the entire module, however general processing and tonal choices are also something covered in this module.

I’ve looked at Chris Killip’s work before, and it was suggested again by my tutor.  Getting hold of it in print is extremely difficult, however I picked up a Phaedon 55*1 on Chris Killip- a little pocket book of 55 of his images.  Killip’s work is all presented in black-and-white, with high-contrast.  I liked the idea of using contrast and reducing the diversion of colour to give a fairly “cold” look to the images, which I feel reflects the almost forensic approach to some of the images, and that’s the initial approach I’ve taken with the images I’ve done so far:



However, another idea I had was to contrast the processing depending on context – for example the more decayed or older structures presented with a more vibrant treatment to bring out the “beauty” in the generally industrial structures, while more modern and “renewed” areas might be presented with the more desaturated or even black-and-white look.  In some ways it seems less obvious than the other way around and challenges the idea that “new is better”.

One example of different treatment being used to great effect is Paul Graham’s “American Night“*2.  Here Graham uses deliberately-overexposed shots of slums adding a new layer of contrast to vibrant images of newly-constructed suburbia.  The result is images whose stark contrast is both in context and presentation.  It’s effective because it’s unusual and not obvious:

Paul Graham - American Night

Paul Graham – American Night

 …On Composition

From my first review of articles I was pointed to I noticed that “late” photography tended to have a very forensic appearance – I took this a bit further and on my walks took a lot of shots which were framed straight-on at the subject without an overtly-stylistic approach.  I was referencing some images I’d done previously in this manner – firstly this one in Cyprus in 2010:

Weathered Door

And this image from exercise 17:

ISO 400, f/8, 1/80s

Red Door

Since then I’ve looked at the work of Robert Polidori*3 – who switches between this style of presentation and some general “architectural”-style images.  The example below is from his collection “La Memoir des Murs”.  I really like this style of traight-on image, with its’ vibrant colours, framed to include hints at what was present, but focusing on the gaps and grime between paintings, where another image once hung.  Direct, forensic but not showing the “whole picture”, leaving the purpose and context ambiguous:

Robert Polidori - Salle le sentiment religieux, 2008

Robert Polidori – Salle le sentiment religieux, 2008

Looking at “late” and “aftermath” photography I also took in some of Richard Mosse‘s*4 work – specifically “Breach”.  This isn’t pure “late” photography – where “late” is defined as showing the decay/ruin after an event; Mosse mixes “late” with “current”.

“Breach” shows the former palaces of Saddam in the aftermath of the second Iraq war – with most showing the US forces in residence – reusing the palaces as their operational centres and accommodation.

From Richard Mosse's "Breach" collection

From Richard Mosse’s “Breach” collection

While Mosse doesn’t shoot straight-on, there is an overall less stylistic approach to his work, it’s even more forensic and makes the straight-on approach in the examples above seem a more deliberate interpretation by the photographer.

In Mosse’s work I get the sense the viewer is invited to reach their own conclusions.  Overall I’ve favoured the straight-on look, but there are a few images where that forensic presentation suits the subject better and presents a different angle (metaphorically), inviting the viewer to get involved more with the image and it’s meaning.

 …On Subject

My chosen subject is Rochdale Canal.  Throughout this module, and course so far – in fact, I’ve used it as a subject for exercises or backdrop to assignment images (Like, for example in assignment 3), so thought I’d give it an assignment of it’s own – especially as when shooting “Like” I paid a bit of attention to the varying states of buildings and structures near the canal.

The Canal was the first trans-pennine route, opening in 1804 – a few years before the Huddersfield and Leeds and Liverpool canals.  It was fully closed between 1954 and 1962, though the Castlefield to Manchester section was restored in 1974.  Between 1996 and 2002 the entire canal became navigable once more. *5

The focus of my assignment is on how the restoration has impacted the areas bordering the canal – how land and buildings have been recycled and the impact (or not) the canal has on it’s environment.

Initially I gave myself the brief:

“The Role of Rochdale Canal” – Assignment Brief

Create between 10 to 12 images showing the state of past and present active and expired industry alongside the Rochdale Canal.  The shots should illustrate a contrast between decay and revitalisation beside the canal, and where possible demonstrate the canal’s role.
My tutor made a couple of suggestions – firstly that I drop the “illustrate” and secondly that the title hint at what the images will be doing.  Looking at the images by Mosse, I originally saw some of them out-of-context, without knowing the title of the collection.  After reading the blog and discovering the title “Breach” it immediately put the images in context, without being a stale statement of what the work contained.  I’ve therefore revised the title and brief accordingly:
Rochdale Canal: Renewal, Recycling and Rejection.

*1 – Phaidon (2001). Chris Killip 55. London: Phaedon Press Limited.
*2 – Paul Graham. (1998-2002). American Night. Available: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/americannight.html. Last accessed 13th November 2014.
*3 – Robert Polidori. (1998-2010). Polidori on Artnet. Available: http://www.artnet.com/artists/robert-polidori/ . Last accessed 13th November 2014.
*4 – BLDGBlog. (2009). Saddam’s Palaces: An Interview with Richard Mosse. Available: http://bldgblog.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/saddams-palaces-interview-with-richard.html. Last accessed 13th November 2014
*5 – Pennine Waterways. (unknown).  History of the Rochdale Canal.  Available: http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale/rc2.htm . Last accessed 13th November, 2014.

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