Assignment 2 – Urban Decay – Response to tutor

My tutor’s response to my assignment ‘Urban Decay’ was very pleasing, as I had put in a substantial amount of time and effort. The criticism was well founded and thought out and I shall respond to it in kind. You can find his assessment in PDF format here.

Response to the overall comments

The first two paragraphs are very complimentary of my work and show that I was on the right track when considering my project content and style. The main criticism of the body of work was that I had not broadened my viewpoint to include the human element in the assignment. I had never intended to include the human element and indeed had set out to explore the purely architectural side of urban decay. I had consciously thought this during my research but didn’t explain it in my preface to the piece of work. The human element, I thought, would expand my remit beyond what I was trying to achieve. However, I can of course see the validity in the comment and the use of people in the context of urban decay would be an extremely exciting prospect, but it would have changed my entire agenda for this particular project. This can form the basis of a future story to be told.

Another general factor to come out of the critique was the lack of more physically expansive images and the concentration on abstract and close detail. My tutor had brought this up in my previous assignment’s comments and he is completely correct although at the time of shooting I was very clear that I was taking ‘street detail’ with a ‘fractal nature’ which to me meant ‘close-up’. In retrospect of course it doesn’t and the act of recognising detail on a grander, larger scale within the frame is something, which, although I don’t consciously shy away from, shows through in my various bodies of work as being true. My tutor does also comment that I could show this wider scale even if it included the less decayed areas around it, which again is something I was trying to avoid. I need to train my eye to ‘see’ the wider concept of what I am trying to capture with my camera.

Response to assignment feedback

‘What is it about decay that suggests a moral or spiritual counterpart?’ is the first question asked by my tutor in this section which is very interesting as, the day I sent in my second assignment, I found myself asking almost exactly the same question. My tutor goes on to expand beyond this initial question to ask how I can show, within my photography, the more cultural, humanised side of urban decay without necessarily having to purely focus on the physical aspects. The night that I sent in my assignment for assessment I pulled out some books by Bill Brandt and Don McCullin, both famous for the work in black and white and ‘light’ and ‘dark’. They both also work extensively on a social narrative. One (Don McCullin) clearly shows in his work the socio-political nature of photography. The other, Bill Brandt, declared (when challenged) that he had no interest in this [political] side of photography although, even if this is true, his stark images bare out many harsh urban truths (so much so he was blamed, in part, for affecting the outcome of a local election). So, with this in mind, I have started to research the cultural and political values of black and white (Bill Brandt’s recent major retrospective is entitled, ‘Light and Shadow’), beyond the usual ‘goodies and baddies’ perspective that is implicitly assumed by viewers of movies the world over.

My tutor opens his comments on my photographs by saying that my ‘single point #1‘ could be the opening photograph to a significant body of work (which is an exciting thought). If I asked or answered more questions this could well be the case and indeed one of my photographs will be replaced to reflect this later on.

He is correct about the doorbell being two points, however, I didn’t spot it at the time.

The most disappointing aspect of the series was my attempt at the implied triangles. The photograph for ‘implied triangle #1‘ is good and shows decay well but the triangle itself is not implied. I would probably change this photograph.

Implied triangle #2‘ needs to be cropped to focus the eye on the main event i.e. the three holes making up the implied triangle. I am also not sure how’s much urban decay the image implies out of context.

In the photograph ‘diagonal #1‘ I have fulfilled the remit. Indeed, I still personally really like the image. However, within my decided narrative I have not moved the story on. On this basis I would change the photograph instead for this one.

The Old Palace

The Old Palace

This shows a wide shot of the ‘Palace’ and with it I could begin the narrative at the start of the series (superseding the image ‘single point #1’), using it as an ‘opening shot’ to give time and place to the series. This would enable me to better describe what the viewer is about to see in the following series of images. Within the frame, the viewer can see the grandeur and interest of the former ‘palace’, that is now falling into disrepute. It contextualizes by showing the surrounding urban environment and its part within it.

My ‘horizontal and vertical‘ needs less ‘Photoshop’ work done on it. I have given it way to much post-process and the final result is too heavy on contrast and doesn’t reflect the ‘look’ within the rest of the series. This is easily rectified but I must learn to spot it before I place it in my assignment.

I am very glad my tutor enjoyed ‘curved #1‘ as it was an image that leapt out at me before I raised the camera to my eye. It had very obvious connotations for dark and light and also the lighting was perfect when I came across it. Just enough for the highlights to pick out the form of the curve and dying away as the eye moves further inside the decrepit building.

My tutor suggests looking at the photographs of Steve McCurry, which frankly, is something I have done for many years as I really enjoy his style of photography. However, maybe now I need to look at his work with fresh eyes.


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