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DPP: Part 5: Assignment 5 – “Recycled?”: Submission Write-up

So, here’s my assignment 5 – the final assignment – write-up for “Digital Photographic Practice”.  Printing and posting will take place tomorrow, then it’s on to the final level 1 module – People and Place!

Introduction

The objective of this assignment is to apply the learning from across the course to build a collection of 10 to 12 images on a theme of my choice – a personal project.

The title of my project is:

Recycled?
Rochdale Canal: Renewal, Recycling and Rejection.

The Rochdale 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.*1  Through that time industry has risen and fallen – some which made use of the canal, others which simply took over land beside the canal and has a limited relationship with the canal.  More recently, with the return of navigation to the canal buildings and land in Manchester have been “prettified”, with the canal a focal point for urban regeneration.

This project explores the relationship of the canal with its surroundings and to some extent challenging the idea that “traditional is good” and “modern is bad”.  My choice of processing supports this challenge, and my rational is covered in the “Research” section of this write-up.  The project is presented as social documentary, while also aiming to satisfy the demonstration of my learning throughout the Digital Photographic Practice module.

This assignment write-up will talk through the images and my decisions which resulted in their inclusion, before explaining the workflow and research involved in this project.

The images were all taken on a series of 4 walks – from Littleborough to Manchester (approx. 20 miles) and were shot in RAW using a Sony A7 Full-frame camera.  Initial  editing and processing was done using Adobe Lightroom 5, with one image processed further in Photoshop CC.

The Images

Stained Glass Trolley (Recycled) 

Recycled - Stained Glass Trolley

Recycled – Stained Glass Trolley. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 1600, f/11, 1/200s

This first image is of a shopping trolley outside a former lock cottage at Castleton, “recycled” into an art piece in itself.  There were a number of other reclaimed items (a crocodile made out of old tyres, for example), but this felt like an obvious image for inclusion.  I’m pretty sure that in urban areas the idea that canals are filled with shopping trolleys is a given; one afternoon we saw six pulled out of the water from near a bridge beside where I used to work.  It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the very reason this is displayed by the owner of the cottage right beside the lock.

Detached House and Warehouse (Renewed) 

Renewed  - Detached House and Warehouse

Renewed – Detached House and Warehouse. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO1600, f/11, 1/1000s

This second image was taken in Rochdale at Kingsway – a new development dedicated to warehouses but with a stipulation for mixed housing to be included.      I had Chris Killip’s Terrace House and Coal Mine in mind when I saw this; in the modern age of online shopping fuelling the rise of huge distribution centres by the motorway network this is the “new industry”.  Just like the mines it’s not a pretty addition to the scenery, but it is part of how society works now – the impact of consumption and convenience.  Meanwhile the houses are squeezed onto the site, provided with the outlook on the canal to contrast the new industry with a more pleasant outlook, which is captured here in the green space by the fence in the foreground.

I did some additional work on this in Photoshop to try and relate it more to Killip’s original.  I created a mask in Photoshop and placed a white fill over the warehouse itself.  I blurred the warehouse too, and made the white fill partly transparent to get closer to the mist and distance in Terrace and Coal Mine.

Castleton Factory (Rejected) 

Rejected - Castleton Factory

Rejected – Castleton Factory. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 3200, f/8, 1/125s

This factory is active, however where once there was a relationship with the canal that is no longer the case and this area now has soil and plants reclaiming it.

Office Space (Recycled) 

Recycled - Office Space

Recycled – Office Space. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 3200, f/8, 1/180s

This is the Ancoats area of Manchester, where Mills have been recycled into accommodation and office space – the boards along the fence advertise this, showing the character-full interiors, while an office appears in the background.  Recently-laid stone roads are in the foreground showing how reuse has gentrified areas which were historically “no go” areas.  The stones lead down to the stylish re-use of the mills and new apartments (one of which sneaks in to the left of the lampost) and fashionable stores (see the picture later “The Other Roche”).

What isn’t obvious on the small reproduction is the sign on the lamppost.  The contradiction amuses me – “Welcome to Ancoats” it says; “24 hour CCTV area”.  So basically “Hello. We’re watching you!”.

New Islington Construction (Renewed) 

Renewed - New Islington Construction

Renewed – New Islington Construction. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 3200, f/8, 1/250s

This is simply about showing the renewal of the Ancoats area in progress.  They call the development “New Islington” in some attempt to make it sound “cool”.  The background building is “Chips” a ridiculous example of “cool” stupidity.  I looked at renting an apartment there once but it’s essentially house-prices for rabbit hutches.

Security (Rejected) 

Rejected - Security

Rejected – Security. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 800, f/11, 1/25s

This is one of my favourite images from the set, I love the brutality of the concrete fence, corrugated tin roof and barbed wire which seems almost over-the-top in terms of security.  It represents rejection in that this is a more modern factory construction which secures itself from unwanted access from the direction of the canal.

Splash (Recycled) 

Recycled - Splash

Recycled – Splash. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO800, f/11, 1/5000s

Two children throwing stones (actually more like rocks!) into the canal near Castleton.  This I see as “recycled” as this is the kind of thing that is timeless and was likely to have occurred since the canal was built and will continue.

The extremely short shutter speed was a result of the camera setting exposure for the sky.  While it froze the splash it did mean I had to do some significant adjusting of shadows and black levels in Lightroom so the children and bank of the canal was actually noticeable.

Terminus (Renewed) 

Renewed - Terminus

Renewed – Terminus. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 800, f/11, 1/400s

This is the Castlefield terminus of the Rochdale Canal, where it meets the Bridgewater canal.  Here the canal is the centre piece of reuse of the former wharf buildings as accommodation, restaurants, pubs and bars.  In the background is the most ostentatious addition to the Manchester skyline in recent years – Beetham Tower, in the foreground the curved lines of a modern footbridge which crosses the canal.  Framed within that is an original bridge across the canal by the last lock on the Rochdale Canal.

Hope (Rejected) 

Rejected - Hope

Rejected – Hope. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 200, f/11, 1/200s

Here’s a bin beside the canal at Castleton, fatalistic graffiti adorns it, presumably the author is rejecting society as it is and pronouncing it hopeless.  This stretch of the canal has a few such declarations written on the canal furniture, a lot more thoughtful than what is typically seen (further into Rochdale you hit the foul scrawling of the English Defence League youth).  The graffiti along the length of the canal and what it represents could be a whole project in-itself.

Mill and Mast (Recycled) 

Recycled - Mill and Mast

Recycled – Mill and Mast. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 800, f/11, 1/400s

This is a very common sight – the towers of factories and mills hosting mobile phone towers.  In Warrington when I worked as a journalist I’d report on planning applications and the use of schools for mobile phone masts was controversial as people feared nebulous “health risks”.  The ample supply of high towers like this in the Manchester area and satellite towns makes for a far easier option.

The Other Roche (Renewed) 

Renewed - The Other Roche

Renewed – The Other Roche. Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 3200, f/8, 1/80s

This is new development alongside the canal at Ancoats where mills have been re-purposed for stylish homes and office space.  This designer store therefore gives a view on how people occupying these homes may be likely to fill their living spaces.

The Rochdale Canal is of course named for Rochdale, which in turn is named for the River Roch.  Roche Bobois meanwhile is named for the Roche family of France.

I really like the depth in this image because of the high contrast between the dark areas, lit areas and the shadows within the building.  The more you look at it the more details within the store are revealed.

At Home (Rejected) 

Rejected - At Home

Rejected – At Home.  Click to see on Flickr.

ISO 800, f/11, 1/80s

Rejected here is the idea that this person has either rejected societal norms or society has perhaps rejected him – but here he is engaged in a pretty everyday activity of relaxing, reading the local free newspaper.  He could be anybody lay across a sofa at home catching up on local events.

Workflow

My workflow was very similar to what I used in assignment 1, augmented with my learnings from that assignment – incorporating research and preparation of equipment.  It’s summarised below, along with thoughts that occurred as I went through the project:

Topic Selection

I decided to look at the relationship between Rochdale Canal and it’s surrounding area – focusing on what was left of the industry that the canal supported and what had sprung up since it’s abandonment and subsequent restoration.  I was particularly interested in the old mills and factories and how their use differed in Rochdale compared to Manchester.

Initial Research

I reviewed the Phaidon 55 for Chris Killip, essentially just a flick-through as I’ve seen a lot of his work on the web as it’s come up in past assignments as much of my work for this module has been of a documentary style.  I also briefly reviewed articles on aftermath photography (more information on this in the “Research” section).  I also reviewed the history of the Rochdale Canal – from construction to restoration.  I felt I had enough of a start from this to get on with shooting.

Planning

I decided I’d do several walks along the Rochdale Canal, at key points.  Ultimately I had some time on my hands so was able to do four walks – including one of 14 miles from Castleton to Ancoats, Manchester.

Preparation

This consisted of ensuring my photography equipment was ready before each walk – charging both batteries and ensuring the memory cards were empty and formatted for the camera.  The formatting of cards was especially important for the long walk as I expected to take a lot of shots to avoid having to repeat it and a few of my cards hadn’t been used since I switched from Canon to Sony, so I wanted to make sure they’d work!

I also checked the length of the route from Castleton to Manchester to ensure it was realistic.  Oh, and I filled a bottle with water and put proper walking shoes on!

Shooting and Reviewing

It was mostly dull when I was shooting and I tended to opt for a kind of “fire and forget” ISO as my camera produces low noise at high ISO and it meant less fiddling as I stopped to take shots.  I wasn’t shooting with a tripod so short exposure minimised camera wobble.  That said I think a number of times I left the ISO higher than I would typically after changing it for dark shots.  Within the selection for this assignment there are clear examples of high ISO and ridiculously short exposure (1/1000s for example!) which just isn’t necessary.

When shooting I’d review on screen and recompose and reshoot if I wasn’t happy; this didn’t happen a lot though.

Import and Basic Key-wording

After each walk I’d import the images in to Lightroom, adding basic key-wording to tie the images to the assignment.  I’d put them in a separate “Technical Edit” set within a parent collection set of Assignment -> Walk Number.

Technical Edit

Once all the images were imported in to Lightroom I’d work through removing any which had clear problems (accidental shots of the ground, unwanted motion blur or out-of-focus).

Processing and Selection

I applied the basic processing style I thought would work – basically desaturating the images.  I then flagged images I felt had potential for inclusion in the assignment.  As I got to more manageable numbers (I had 327 images from the long walk, for example) I did further processing and went through several “select” stages until I had a core of 10-20 images from each walk which I really liked.  The final 10-20 had more processing attention a this stage too.

Tag and Captioning

I added further detailed tags and captioning to the 10-20 image core.

Backup and Cleanup

I exported the walk Collection Set as a Lightroom Catalogue – this preserves the RAW files while also preserving the data on the edits I’ve made in Lightroom.  This was then copied across to my Netgear ReadyNAS – a 4-disk RAID array NAS drive.  I then removed all the items from Lightroom that hadn’t got past the first round of selection.

Refined to “Assignment Candidates”

Once the walks were completed I narrowed down my assignment candidates to around 30 images, from which I intended to choose the final 12 – once I’d completed more detailed research.

Research

This is covered in detail in the next section as I feel it warrants it’s own section.

Processing Experiments

I experimented with different processing of some images I felt were almost certainly going to be included in the assignment submission.  Ultimately I settled on how I was going to process the images, and why.  This experimentation is summarised in my learning log, here:

http://phillong.me.uk/digital-photographic-practice/part-5a-assignment-personal-project/dpp-part-5-assignment-5-recycled-research-processing-composition-subject/

Final Processing and Selection

With the research and processing experiments giving me a new direction to how I’d present and process the images, and a more specific “topic” for the project I altered the processing and looked again at images I’d previously dismissed – bringing a couple back in for the final assignment selection.

Research

This section breaks down the research I did during this assignment prior to submission which helped lead to the decisions on how I processed shots and ultimately selected those for submission.

Processing

My initial processing style constituted reducing the saturation of my images to -60-ish in Lightroom and increasing contrast.  I felt I’d avoid black-and-white altogether and present a fairly “cold” and gritty tone to the images.  The use of contrast was inspired by reviewing the Phaidon 55 for Chris Killip *2 and I felt this would achieve a forensic look the images.

I had also entertained the idea of presenting images in different style depending on subject – with new being in black-and-white and old/derelict in colour.  After reviewing Paul Graham’s project “American Night” *3 I experimented with this idea again and ultimately settled on it.  In Graham’s work he overexposed images depicting slums, while presenting vibrant images of newly-constructed suburbs.  What I liked about Graham’s processing was how it added a new layer of visual contrast to the images – an extra “starkness” to the images of slums.

Composition

My initial review of articles on “late” or “aftermath” photography pointed to a tendency for images to have an almost forensic quality.  I took this further and took a number of shots on my walks which were framed straight-on to subjects with solid horizontal and vertical lines.  “Security” is the best example of this, included in this assignment.

Since I took the shots I looked at the images of Robert Polidor *4 – who switches between this style of presentation and what, to me, look like a more general “architectural”-style.  “La Memoir des Murs” is an example I really like, 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.

I also looked at some Richard Mosse*5 works from his “Breach” project.  It fits broadly into the “late” photography style, though is mixed with images of current uses which is a similar idea to what I’d decided to explore in this assignment.  “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.

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.

Self-Reflection

I’m ultimately satisfied with the work from this assignment and to some extent could expand upon what I’ve done to a larger study.  I am torn on how effective the punctuation of “rejection” through the use of colour versus black-and-white is.  I’m worried it appears gimmicky, on the other hand watching the set as a slide show it brings connotations of a cycle – almost like the colour image is a “prediction” of what will come around again; the black and white is past, the colour images are the future.

I think the project would have benefitted from more up-front reflection on my ideas – perhaps shooting with the knowledge of how I’d be processing the images ultimately would have led to different choices on composition.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

I think composition on the images for this project overall is strong – especially for the black-and-white images and the deliberate parallel between Detached House and Killip’s Terrace House image.

I’ve made use of Lightroom and Photoshop, using layers, selection tools, and transparency.

Quality of Outcome

I’m satisfied with the results; however as noted perhaps “front-loading” my research would have resulted in better outcomes.

The images do tie together and I feel they do reflect the brief. and I can justify their presence in the project.

Demonstration of Creativity

I’ve experimented with different processing to vary the impact of the images which I think has worked overall.  The image selection is ultimately my view on how the canal has affected its surroundings so does reflect my “voice”.

Context

I feel I’ve engaged in more research than previously in the context of my chosen subject, albeit not much of it was prior to actually going out to shoot images.  I do think my writing on why I’ve chosen the images I’ve chosen has developed more, as has my justification of creative decisions – coupled with my assessment on how successful those decisions have been.

References

  1. Pennine Waterways. (unknown).  History of the Rochdale Canal.  Available: http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale/rc2.htm . Last accessed 13th November, 2014.
  2. Phaidon (2001). Chris Killip 55. London: Phaedon Press Limited.
  3. Paul Graham. (1998-2002). American Night. Available: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/americannight.html. Last accessed 13th November 2014.
  4. Robert Polidori. (1998-2010). Polidori on Artnet. Available: http://www.artnet.com/artists/robert-polidori/ . Last accessed 13th November 2014.
  5. 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
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