Reflection series: acceptance in Wild Park (1/4)

The next four blog posts are a series of reflections following a session I had over the weekend, exploring a number of public toilets across Brighton. What a way to spend a Sunday…

I felt incredibly nervous on the approach to Wild Park, Moulsecoomb. I wasn’t sure where I would find the facility, or whether it would be accessible. I was assured by Google Maps that I was nearby, although slightly unnerved by the heart-breaking memorial nearby, commemorating the two young girls who were murdered in this area over 30 years ago. Luckily, the sun had come out, dissolving any potential for spooky gloom or mist-covered hills. I soldiered on.

The facility was not what I expected. Having previously decided to focus on latrinalia (toilet graffiti) as my focus for this project, I was disappointed to find none. A seemingly boring toilet. With a second look, though, I noticed a sharps bin by the sink – a waste facility that means needles and razors can be disposed of safely.

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Having never seen a sharps bin in this context, I was taken aback by the apparent facilitation of drug use in the toilet. I felt that the bins might have the ability to ‘influence modes of behaviour’ (Wells, 2015: 356) due to the inherently private nature of a toilet.

Upon reflection and research, however, I found that the government is encouraging the installation of such bins where appropriate, since ‘schemes already make a vital contribution through managing needle returns and providing personal sharps bins for users’ (DEFRA, 2005: 20)’ The concept of these bins, then, is not to encourage drug use, but to promote safe practice and to prevent the spread of infection or injury. I also hadn’t considered the idea that the bins can be used by people with diabetes. Promoting safe use of drug paraphernalia appears to be a positive step by local governments to ensure minimal harm, instead of ostracising users from society altogether.

The image itself was a nightmare to capture. Riddled with nerves and anxious of prying ears, I snapped a few shaky shots which weren’t great. I was also adapting to using a 50mm lens for the first time, which meant warping my body into unnatural shapes to fit in the relatively small facility. The lack of natural light is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of this project; I shot on a low ISO at 1/50 of a second, f/1.8. Although difficult at first, I grew more confident throughout the day and I plan to go back to Wild Park soon to capture better versions of this image for my photobook, particularly in portrait.

The experience at Wild Park provided food-for-thought on my journey to the next location. Was latrinalia really the best focus for this project? Or would a better alternative be to enter each facility with an open mind, in order to construct a question around my personal findings and experiences? I chose the latter, and will continue to expand on this throughout the upcoming reflections.

 

From The Bottom Up: a project introduction and reflections

Project Introduction

The politics of toilets is something I have been interested in since the first year of my degree, when a lecture on critical geography got me thinking about the power relations tied up within them and the latrinalia (toilet graffiti) phenomenon. As spaces which are often unconsidered, a photographic project investigating public toilets seems necessary (although often incites confused looks and raised eyebrows). Such reactions, I believe, reinforce the need for such exploration.

Ultimately, my project aims to examine the way individuals can appropriate toilets as a means of expression, becoming spaces of commentary, resistance, or surrender. Using the image below, taken at The Level in Brighton, I would like to briefly outline some potential points of exploration to demonstrate the worthiness of this area of study.

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  • Ideas of ownership and ‘publicness’ – who are healthmatic? Who ‘owns’ the toilet? How is it funded? What does ‘public’ really mean? Consequentially, issues around maintenance and repair – who handles this? How long will it take to gain access again? Where is the nearest alternative?
  • Latrinalia / graffiti: clearly, the notice posted by healthmatic has been modified by a smiley face – visual analysis could be carried out to explore the implications and meaning within this. Is the artist happy that essential repairs are taking place? A sarcastic smile nodding towards the seeming lack of work being done? Or perhaps just a meaningless addition, if this is possible to achieve.
  • Semiotics: political and social discourse tied up within the image of the women and male figures holding the hands of their child. Ideas of nuclear family, heterosexual relationships, gender, and identity. This is particularly interesting with the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in some areas.

Evidently, there is a wealth of potential entry points for this photographic project. This leads me to a reflective entry following feedback on my first assignment for this module, the research proposal.

 

Reflections: Research Proposal

Receiving feedback for my first assignment has reassured me of this project whilst providing some useful starting points for improvement. I would like to reflect upon these below.

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How does photography contribute to answer the research question?

This is not a question I had truly considered before. I am unsure which area I want to focus my research on further currently, but I think photography will be a vital element in answering my final research question for several reasons.

Firstly, since I am dealing predominantly with public toilets, these spaces are regulated and controlled by some form of governing body – in this case, mostly Brighton and Hove City Council. I expect this means that, for example, forms of resistance (latrinalia, political posters, stickers, and so on) are removed as quickly as possible. Capturing evidence of these acts will be vital in proving there existence and securing them for analysis. In privately-owned facilities, such as toilets in cafes and pubs, these activities are allowed and sometimes encouraged.

Why shall this topic being approach by photography/visual practice and not by critical discourse analysis for instance?

I believe photographing different spaces will help contribute to analysis in a more accessible way and help draw attention to these activities. Research does exist on these spaces, but they are often lengthy academic research pieces which pander to a certain audience while excluding others. I believe visual practice can help to combat this whilst evidencing the existence of toilet politics in real-world scenarios.

Images could also help complement a survey which I would like to conduct on perceptions of public toilets – these could help contextualise a research survey and make it more appealing to complete or engage with.

 

Anticipation of challenges, constraints and resources

As my feedback suggests, there are interesting questions here – but too many. Further reflection reinforces this as the case, and focusing down my research area is my main concern. Following my research plan, I will continue taking images regularly and, through this, develop a more precise goal. Right now, I am considering focusing solely on latrinalia, but I will need to continue visiting facilities to ensure that such phenomena actually exists on a scale I believe it does. I will continue reflection regularly to ensure my workload is managed effectively and my project is a success in the time-scale available.

 

Understand your limitations

This is something I constantly battle with in academic and personal life – taking on too much – and is perhaps the most valuable piece of feedback to me right now. I understand that analytical and critical depth is becoming more important as my degree progresses, and so I will be sure to focus on careful curation and scaling back the scope of my research projects to ensure realistic and manageable goals. I will also think about my use of photography and how I can practise in a more creative and innovative way.

Studio session: portraits

My irrational fear of working in a studio was challenged during a session designed to start getting to grips with portrait photography in this environment. This post reflects on my experience using continuous light and working with a model.

With the help of a light meter, I set the camera up to the appropriate aperture and shutter speed. The studio was set up with basic lighting, using a main light and fill light on either side of the camera and a fixed lens.

At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the information I needed to remember, and think my nerves were evident in the pictures I captured.

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As I grew more confident in my abilities, I feel this translated more effectively to the model and I began to engage with him better. This, in turn, produced higher quality images in which I had more control and was able to provide the model with clearer direction. Switching to portrait shots instead of landscape changed and, in my opinion, improved the compositions dramatically.

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I like to think that one of my strengths in this exercise was making the model feel comfortable. As an anxious person, I understand the need to interact with the subject and make them feel at ease in order to facilitate generally better compositions which are less forced.

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Portrait-phobia: a reflection

I have always been petrified, and admittedly a little bit repulsed, by the notion of shooting portraits in a studio setting. After three weeks doing just this, I felt it important to reflect on my reasons for feeling this way and face my portrait-phobia as I embark on my latest project. I have featured a couple of my own photographs within this article – although these; you can also see my reflections on a selection of portraits which I have found inspiration in recently on my blog.

It’s probably already been done?

Oftentimes, I formulate an idea or a concept for a shoot, only to end up crippled by my inner voice who is adamant that such work has already been done (and probably done better). Cushioned safely in the bosom of Instagram and LensCulture, I often end up telling myself that I have no original ideas and should just leave it to the professionals. Attempting to avoid clichés seems to have become part-and-parcel of my everyday life.

Chanelle Manton. Tamara (2016)

Triangles are quickly becoming my least favourite shape

Only recently through workshop sessions did I truly realise how much skill I lack in my technical knowledge of photography. This has subsequently leant itself to a general feeling of incapability and a lack of confidence in my ability to take pictures. A necessary lesson, but a difficult one – ‘point and shoot’ was never going to be a sustainable approach. However, I have realised that exposure to such experiences are key (pun intended) to the learning process. Triangles help too (kind of).

Chanelle Manton. Tamara (2016)

But…who am I?

A debilitating question. Carefully constructing a photo in a studio setting is something I have practically no experience in, always thriving off spontaneity and candidness in my work. I love taking photographs of people, yet the notion of doing so in a studio feels daunting and enough to put me off my breakfast. Knowing what I want to say, and communicating effectively through my work, is something I aim to develop through my practice this year.

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Chanelle Manton. Tamara (2016)

Ultimately, I think I got too comfortable in my comfort zone, and have consequently felt a loss of mojo in my work recently. I am looking forward to embarking on a new endeavour in my practice facing my fear of portrait photography through confident, committed practice and further self-reflection.

 

 

This Is Not Your Family

“I try to walk the delicate balance between father and artist—yet no answers seem to be forthcoming. These photographs are a chance to examine the space between chaos and comfort…” Matt Eich

I’d like to think I’ve channelled Matt Eich’s timeless style throughout this project. His collection, This Is Not Your Family, is concerned with exploring ‘family dynamics, as well as notions of home and community…marked by a subtle air of unease’ (LensCulture, 2016). In an interview, he discusses his doubts surrounding the authenticity of the images which I found incredibly interesting. Looking at the images creates a nostalgic feeling where we are allowed an insight into Eich’s own family, despite the fact that many of the images feel posed or constructed.

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Holding Madelyn. Charlottesville, Virginia, 2016. Matt Eich.

‘Photographs only present what’s on the surface, they can’t show the entirety of someone’s character—but I’m trying to use the camera as a tool to get there as best I can.’

I find Eich’s philosophy incredibly intriguing. The idea that a photo cannot show the entirety of something is one which I have experienced numerous times throughout my work on Sense of Place; although the photos I have captured reveal certain things to the viewer, no-one can truly understand their subjective value, the people behind the photos, the stories and memories that exist within the page, except for me. I find this simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. I want my viewer to understand but, at the same time, I think there is such a beautiful fragility in being the only one holding all the cards.

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Dissolution. Charlottesville, Virginia, 2016. Matt Eich.

‘That’s What Flickr’s For’

This project, entitled Sense of Place, is a thematic one, exploring feelings of isolation, vulnerability, and having a sense of belonging – or lack of. Organised as a set of sixteen images, the photographs alternate sporadically between documents of recent visits home to Surrey and my life as a student in Brighton. The collection is post-produced in black and white, so as to not distract from the fundamental spirit of the images and to lend a sense of timelessness and silence to my photographs; a feeling of suspension in these precious, ordinary moments which I have recently come to appreciate more profoundly. The images are presented in my portfolio in a horizontal manner where each photograph is accompanied by the previous and subsequent, in order to create a holistic – yet slightly disjointed – experience, as opposed to a transitional, structured one. In addition, the locale of each image is different, intending to encompass perspectives of my life and to further instil an immersive understanding in the viewer. Furthermore, the collection is also concerned with appreciating light and darkness, both in practise and metaphorically, which developed unsurprisingly as a result of my own admiration for images which utilise natural light.

Sense of Place has been a journey of self-reflection, exploring my introvertedness and learning to accept that, firstly, it’s perfectly OK to be creative, and secondly, that one should embrace such a longing for expression through art. Although extremely difficult at times and feeling in a position of discomfort at the amount of exposure I allowed the camera, I have learnt to be critical without taking everything to heart. Following a session with my tutor where she vigorously cut two of my favourite photos from the collection, I thought I’d cry at the critique. I replied, simply;

‘That’s what Flickr’s for!’

and proceeded with my day. This project has reminded me to laugh at myself, to be OK with other people’s opinions but to not have to take it as gospel, and, ultimately, has helped me to explore my home and my relationships with those, my own sense of place.

Protect Youth Services!

Yesterday, I had my first experience of canvassing for a political cause. Attempting to collect signatures for the Protect Youth Services! campaign, a movement which is aiming to prevent the cut of £1.35 million to the youth service budget here in Brighton, I was unsurprisingly ignored, disregarded, and, on more than one occasion, met with the response, ‘I’m not from here’. Baffled at the fact that these reactions came mostly from those with young children, I couldn’t help but mourn for civilisation and what it has become. Here I am, in one of the most forward-thinking cities in the UK, yet ignorance, as they say, is still bliss. I am sure those shoppers went and enjoyed their days, spending money on their wants whilst unaware of the struggles that lie ahead, as myself and Elijah stood soaked by the rain with sodden leaflets. The weather seemed emblematic of the fight ahead and all of a sudden I felt tired. We didn’t falter, though, and gained thirty-four signatures by the end of the day. An amazing feat, but melancholy still found its way to my heart.

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The problem, I have to come to realise, is the boundaries which we imagine, so as to separate and detach ourselves from the injustices which are occurring every day. Asserting ‘I’m not from here’ seemingly gave each passer-by an excuse, a justification, and somehow allowed them to continue their day without qualm. This attitude is toxic. The idea that someone can cross some imagined border, into their warm home where these issues don’t knock on their door yet, put their feet up and survive in a universe that revolves around only them, must be far too comfortable to pick up a pen to sign a piece of paper. On approaching my trip to Calais to work with HelpRefugees, I was met with the criticism that I should be ‘supporting people at home’, as if I am in some dystopian football game, where I am marginalised for supporting the ‘other’ team or chanting the wrong anthem. ‘Away’ is somewhere far beyond the horizon that I shouldn’t care about because, in some form, they are the ‘opposition’ and we are indoctrinated to feel threatened and to compete against that which is ‘foreign’ or ‘different’. In reality, such boundaries are merely lines drawn with a politics-coloured Sharpie pen by people with far too much money and power than they know what to do with. Telling me to ‘help those at home first’ is a subterfuge; when was the last time you helped at home? Did you take the leaflet? Did you listen to what we had to say? Did you even acknowledge me or look up from your phone? No, because you had somewhere to be. Is it ridiculous to assume then, that the place you so urgently had to get to, was merely a place away from the reality that is becoming so much more difficult to ignore?

 

Read more about Protect Youth Services; prequalukblog.WordPress.com

Sign the Petition; https://www.change.org/p/youth-workers-don-t-cut-the-youth-services-funding

Attend the Protest March; https://www.facebook.com/events/242124549561261/

Gioia de Bruijn’s ‘Weekend Warriors and Beyond’

‘Sometimes you have to choose: is this situation aesthetically more interesting to me? Or is it a situation I want to experience?’ (Bruijn, 2017)

This hypothetical question posed by Gioia de Bruijn in an interview for lensculture particularly resonated with me during my Sense of Place project endeavours. Following a meeting with my personal tutor, who brought to my attention that I was letting my emotions rule the images I was capturing, this quote could not have come at a more appropriate time to aid my reflections as I approach the end of this project.

As an aspiring photojournalist, I can at least understand the basic concept of becoming the ‘invisible’ photographer, discussed in this interview piece. It is easy, particularly as an individual who suffers from acute social anxiety, to use the camera ‘as a shield, a way to create some distance between [the photographer] and their surroundings’ . Perhaps even easier, then, is to assume the position of the impartial photographer, the one who looks in from the outside, observes, and provides a narrative. I have always assumed this to be a quintessential part of the photojournalistic practice, however Bruijn holds ‘moral qualms with documentary photography’ for its voyuerism. She notes,

‘When I photograph someone, we enter into a symbiotic relationship, if only for a little while – I really prefer not to be on the outside looking in’ (Bruijn, 2017)

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My Boys, Guido and Sam, 2010. Gioia de Bruijn. Courtesy of Flatland Gallery.

I think this perspective is depicted with ease through Bruijn’s Weekend Warriors and Beyond. The typical ‘detatched’ photographer doesn’t seem present; rather, she creates space for aforementioned ‘symbiotic relationships’ with the subjects on every occasion which echoes such spirits of togetherness and comprehension to the viewer.

This is particularly meaningful for Sense of Place. Admittedly, I have begun to allow my emotions to rule the situations in which I am photographing, most likely as a consequence of my time in Calais and the ever-increasing distance I feel between my life back in Surrey and the one I live now, as a student in Brighton. I photograph protests and demonstrations in my spare time, always unable to resist the temptation of hiding behind my camera and assuming the ‘invisible’ photographer position. This project, however, has been far more difficult, but has brought this distinction to my attention and has allowed me to make informed decisions about the photographs I am choosing to present as my final collection.

‘[t]he camera definitely creates a barrier—once you’re invested in operating the apparatus, you can’t be simultaneously invested in the situation.’ (Bruijn, 2017)

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The Bath in Frankfurt, 2014. Gioia de Bruijn. Courtesy of Flatland Gallery.

 

Below, you can view some of the photographs which were removed from my final collection, following this critical self-reflection. These photos feel much more spontaneous and loud, influenced by how I felt in these situations. Although I like these images, they created a sense of incoherence when juxtaposed with the other images I have selected.

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Kiss. 2017. Chanelle Manton
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Embrace, 2016. Chanelle Manton.

 

‘A photograph is a subjective impression. It is what the photographer sees. No matter how hard we try to get into the skin, into the feeling of the subject or situation, however much we empathize, it is still what we see that comes out in the images, it is our reaction to the subject and in the end, the whole corpus of our work becomes a portrait of ourselves’ (Silverstone, M., in Short, 2011)

 

Bruijn, de G., 2016. Weekend Warriors and Beyond. Interviewed by Alexander Strecker. [online] LensCulture. https://www.lensculture.com/articles/gioia-de-bruijn-weekend-warriors-and-beyond. Last accessed 13th Jan 2017.

Silverstone, M., in Short., 2011. Context and Narrative. London: Thames and Hudson

‘Family remains, forgives, endures’

Gone are the years where I resolve to invest in a gym membership or eat less chocolate bars (it’s just not going to happen). However, in an attempt to make 2017 a more active, compassionate, and positive year, I ventured out to Calais on the 2nd January to volunteer for HelpRefugees, a fantastic organisation with the desire to restore dignity to those displaced by the dreadful consequences of war and greed. Fully equipped with my camera, spare battery pack, and a romanticised backpack filled with wonder at what the week would hold, I set off, unknowingly launching myself head-first into a whirlpool of emotions to be had and lessons to be learnt.

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I didn’t touch my Canon 100D for the first three days. I think, at one point, I forgot that I even had a camera which, if you know me, is unheard of. Those around me will vouch for the fact that I am always the first to be snapping a quick picture, much to the annoyance of my friends (unless it’s a Facebook-worthy profile photo, of course). Anyway, I was immersed in the work being done at HelpRefugees, finding such validation in the mundane sorting of donations – many of which were too large, culturally unsuitable or, in some cases, offensive.

A side note: a t-shirt donning the phrase ‘Happy Camping’ with Mickey and Minnie Mouse cuddling around a campfire is not an appropriate donation.

I didn’t want to leave. Never have I experienced such a feeling of satisfaction, of getting up out of bed, signing out of Facebook and actually doing something. It’s so easy to write a status or to stick 10p in a charity bucket now and again. Bizarelly, I felt a sense of belonging being surrounded by people with none. I experienced a glimpse of humanity in a world that I believed had none. I felt purpose knowing I was making a difference, no matter how insignificant. I was a part of the change, and that almost justified the excuses I’d made for my lack of activism in 2016.

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Overflow (2017) by Chanelle Manton

My rose-tinted glasses were snapped, however, when I met Faisal.

Some of the volunteers went out for a drink mid-week which, I must say, was absolutely needed after the exhausting initial days we’d had. I was sitting outside, consoling another volunteer who was vomitting on his coat (doctors are the worst drinkers… Sorry Matt!) when a man approached me, and asked if he could sit beside me. He perched, and looked at me, asking my name. We chatted coloquially, as people do after the effects of alcohol kick in. Sobering up, I noticed the sadness in his eyes but put this down to drunkeness. We came to the subject of my purpose in France and I told him about HelpRefugees, to which he disclosed to me that he was a refugee, almost in a whisper, and that he lived with a lovely French family. He clenched an Afghanistan necklace that he wore around his neck, secretly showing me as though he was embarassed by this origin, and said:

‘I am so ashamed. I am so ashamed.’

I asked him why, but he couldn’t answer.

‘I never ask anyone for anything. This is the life that has been given to me. And I have to be OK with that. I am OK with that. I’ll never ask for anything’.

If it is possible to feel your heart physically break into two, then that is the feeling that shattered me as he uttered these words; it felt like a song that he’d sung a thousand times before. What had I been doing in the warehouse for the past few days? What romanticised view had I constructed of the work I was doing, the difference I was making, when in reality I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what needs to be done? I couldn’t change Faisal’s situation; I couldn’t even get him to accept a cigarette from me. We embraced, and on my return to the hostel in which we were staying, I collapsed on the balcony and cried. I cried for the injustice, for the lies, the media, the loss of humanity, the desire for wealth and power that consumes those who are supposed to guide us, for my ignorance and naivety, and for Faisal. It was real, then. The perspective I’d been blessed with brought my feet back down to the ground and I suddenly, for the first time, realised the extent of what is being allowed to happen beneath our noses, practically on our doorsteps. The next day, after much consoling from my friend and colleague Bella, I picked up my camera with one concrete goal; to communicate reality, not just for the sake of a pretty picture.

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American Flag (2017) by Chanelle Manton

I came across the phrase ‘increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow’ somewhere a few weeks before my trip and I was ridiculous to assume I truly knew what it meant. But we can’t continue to live in ignorance to maintain a facade of happiness, to share a Facebook post and to believe that is enough, to live such narcissistic lives because it is simply easier. If we have to live in a world where these warehouses and charities even have to exist, then this is not a world I want to live in. However, the incredible work of HelpRefugees has given me faith, the kindness of those who I met during my time there has given me strength, and those who continue to fight against such injustice and loss of humanity give me hope.

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Martin (2017) by Chanelle Manton

We are all human-beings, with aspirations, emotions, needs, and wants. Those who are lucky enough to have homes, jobs, families, are not entitled to these by any means. Life is a lottery of birth, and it could have easily been me, or you, your parents, or your children trapped in the purgatory that is France, or even ‘democracy’ in general. You don’t have to quit your job, get dreadlocks and solemnly swear to a life of warehouse work. Just show compassion, kindness, donate when you can, try and reason with those who hold toxic views, take a weekend out and do something. Remember, boundaries are imagined, reinforced for the sake of power and politics and these need to be forgotten.

Faisal was kind; he was not angry or self-pitying, just desperate to find safety, a life of his own, and his family, because family remains, forgives, endures. I think we could all learn a thing or two from him, my good friend.

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Choose Love (2017) by Chanelle Manton
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Remember Home

I have become increasingly aware of the effect of music on my photographic practice and ideas recently. Remember Home by Sebastian Cole appeared on my Spotify a few weeks ago and I fell in love immediately, overwhelmed by feelings of emptiness and longing to feel at ‘home’, both spatially and mentally. The song is pertinent to my developing project and I allowed it to infiltrate my consciousness; memorising the lyrics and listening to it on repeat for something like five days. Although a ballad of romantic love, the song casted my thoughts to my mother and sister back in Surrey, and my father, all of whom I left in September to embark on my degree, but also have felt increasingly distant from thanks to my restless, adventure-driven life. Particularly since I moved from home, I have felt an ever-growing sense of guilt for dismissing my family and for refusing the feel any connection or longing for my old life, created in a desperate attempt to forget parts of my adolescence which still insist on creeping back in now and then. Cole’s song reminds me to be grateful and, appropriately, to remember home.

‘Oh, found a star to lead me back to you
Shines like you do
It shines like you do
(Send my love)
Send my love so you won’t feel alone
As soon as I can, oh
(Oh you know that) I’m coming home’

Following this experience of incredibly uncomfortable emotions combined with a significant amount of introspection, I decided that I would take photographs of my family on my upcoming visits back to Surrey for birthday celebrations. Coindentally, at the same time as my epiphany I discovered Matt Eich’s We Are Not Your Family, a stunningly heart-breaking portrayal of the ‘American Condition’. He states,

‘Through a series of photographs of my family, I attempt to give form to the tumult of love, fear, forgiveness and acceptance that goes into making a life together.’

For me, a single image cannot adequately sum up the undulations of a family’s dynamics. This work was made while observing the dissolution of my parents’ 33-year marriage, and their attempts to repair it. This has caused me to consider my own role as father, husband, provider and son. I’ve been forced to confront my fear of inadequacy and the unsustainability of my current occupation as an independent photographer.’

Eich’s work is an expression of his life and those who influence it, and I am infatuated with his work. His choice to use black and white photography helps the viewer to concentrate on the relationship dynamics between those photographed without distraction, whilst creating a tone of melancholy and tumult, but also unconditional love. This is what I hope to achieve, in essence, through my work. I take great inspiration from Matt Eich’s style and resolve.

Below are a select few of the photographs I took on my sister’s 16th birthday, a journey from my mother’s perturbation watching my sister turn 16 to my old, now empty room, to our beloved cat, Alfie. I wanted to attempt to imitate the atmosphere which Eich creates in his series, also using black-and white to keep from distraction and to communicate a desired atmosphere and tone.

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Chanelle Manton, Elise and My Mother (2016)

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Chanelle Manton, Embrace (2016)

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Chanelle Manton, Elise (2016)

my-old-bedChanelle Manton, Old Bed (2016)

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Chanelle Manton, My Mother, Crying (2016)

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Chanelle Manton, Mother Kissing Alfie (2016)

These photos, combined with others depicting my life now, will aim to portray my experiences of family, friendship, and feelings of belonging (or lack of) at times.

Is Black and White Really Dead?

Throughout the course of my current photographic project, I have been at turmoil with myself as I try to decide whether to present my work in black and white or colour. I have seen much speculation recently as to whether black and white photography is ‘cool’ or ‘cliche’ in the present day, which lead me to find an article by David Geffin at https://fstoppers.com/education/why-its-still-important-shoot-black-and-white-48141 discussing ‘Why It’s Still Important to Shoot In Black and White’, which I found fantastically reassuring.

Geffin discusses how the absence of colour helps to emphasise emotion and this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of my own photography, particularly in my current exploration of family, homesickness, isolation, and a sense of belonging (or lack of). Colour, Geffin argues, often distracts the subject and therefore shooting in black and white allows for a stronger emotional connection experienced by the viewer, which he illustrates with a photograph of his showing a couple kissing. He maintains, “If this was in color, you’d have at least 4 colors in the background and middle ground elements alone, excluding the colors of their clothing and bags. Instead I just focused straight on the split second connection between them as they share a kiss”. I can’t help but agree with him.

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David Geffin

With reassurance from Geffin, I decided to shoot some photos in black and white during a visit home for my sister’s 16th birthday, in addition to raw colour images. When compared, I felt compelled to favour the black and white shots since they communicate a completely different message, in my opinion, through the simple lack of colour.

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Chanelle Manton, Mother and Sister Embrace (2016)
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Chanelle Manton, Mother and Sister Embrace (2016)

The black and white seems to portray the emotional connection in this photograph which much more conviction that the coloured one. As Geffin suggested, I think that the colour distracts from the focus (the embrace that my mother and sister share) and so this moment is emphasised greatly through the use of black and white. In addition, I would like to think that the second photo communicates something about my own mental state when taking this quick, spontaneous photograph. I wanted to capture this real moment and the blur, accompanied with the black and white, aims to create this desperation to immortalise an important and emotional embrace between my mother and my sister on her 16th birthday.

Appropriately, Geffin also discusses the timeless quality achieved through black and white photography, which is something else I have been considering in my own work. A great part of my project is trying to capture moments of my own life and family to preserve my ‘sense of place’ which, as Geffin maintains, can be done effectively through black and white to create ambiguity and an air of mystery, as colour can often be much more indicative of periods in time.

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David Geffin

“Again this dapper fellow looks like he could easily have been out of the 1950s. Color in the subway, and the person in the background would have certainly not created as much ambiguity in the image” (Geffin,  2014)

And most importantly, in my opinion, Geffin discusses how the use of black and white helps both the photographer and the viewer see light differently, which is something I have been investigating in my own work.

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Chanelle Manton, My Old Room (2016)
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Chanelle Manton, My Old Room (2016)

I fell in love with the coloured version of this photograph as soon as I took it. The light from the landing outside my old bedroom created this beautiful composition as I was lying in bed and I scrambled clumsily to capture it, as it seemed to communicate something to me about being ‘home’ (since I practically live in a hotel room in Brighton with no light source other than an overhead ceiling light which is incredibly bright and almost office-like). However, in black and white this seemed to say something completely different, creating a much more lonely, isolated composition.

I would happily shoot in black and white for the rest of my photographic endeavours, however I do feel there are occasions where colour simply can’t be replaced.

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Chanelle Manton, Bella’s Flat (2016)

Now We Are Free

Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer’s Now We Are Free is playing almost inaudibly as I am trying to make sense of my ideas, thoughts, and hesitations towards committing these things to a blog post, yet this Gladiator hit still manages to resonate with me. I must admit, Spotify does an incredible job at compiling playlists that seem to illustrate my mental states with such ease on every occasion.

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Chanelle Manton, Now We Are Free (2016)

I am currently exploring ideas of homesickness and belonging for my ‘Sense of Place’ project and Gerrard and Zimmer’s song epitomises (in my opinion, anyway) the way in which I am feeling at this moment in my existence, following my move to both Brighton and to study in higher education, my transition from teenager to adult, and the embarkment on a newly discovered freedom from an old life of restriction. My lecturer has emphasised on many occasions the importance of this project as being a personal experience, and this approach is one that has been weighing on my mind since the brief was first delivered to me. I, therefore, feel that I have been confronted with a great task and responsibility  in exploring the struggles that I am facing right now through photography, in an honest and raw fashion, because what is more personal than that?

I stumbled across an article on https://www.brainpickings.org which discusses Eric. G. Wilson’s Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (2008) from a creative perspective, exploring how ‘the modern happiness industrial complex seems bent on eradicating this dark, uncomfortable, but creatively vitalizing state’ (Popova, 2016). This source kicked my brain into an inspirational overdrive as it considered ideas of ‘unease’, ‘agitations of the soul’, and ‘the value of sadness’ – concepts which I aspire to communicate through my photographs in my exploration of loneliness, vulnerability, and a yearning to belong. Popova states, ‘I am also of the firm conviction that access to the full spectrum of human experience and the whole psycho-emotional range of our inner lives — high and low, light and darkness — is what makes us complete individuals and enables us to create rich, dimensional, meaningful work’. Taken in a very literal sense, this idea encouraged me to consider light and darkness in my photographs, and the atmosphere I could create through the manipulation of these natural phenomena. Below you can see Steven’s Room, an incredibly spontaneous photograph, taken in the bedroom of one of my flat-mates, as his beautiful south-facing bedroom (in contrast with my cold, north-facing one) was filled with light and warmth, illuminating his Gay Pride flag in such a way that could not have been anticipated. I aim to build on this spontaneity throughout this project and allow myself to become ’emotionally in-tune’ (as my lecturer described it) through interpreting light and composition in this way.

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Chanelle Manton, Steven’s Room (2016)

 

Appropriately, Lily Zoumpouli’s photographic work has begun to greatly influence my own. Her Discolouration project is breathtakingly raw in the self-documentation of her life, her environments, and the people around her. She discloses;

‘In order for me to photograph something or someone, there has to be a sense of connection. Creating an atmosphere between them and me so that the final outcome will display parts of us. A mix of selves into one image.’ (Zoumpouli, 2016)

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Zoumpouli, 2016. Elephant Chest.
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Zoumpouli, 2016. Christos Green Eyes.

Zoumpouli’s candid photographs combined with her manipulation of natural light instills a great emotional response to her work, in my opinion.  She seems to effortlessly portray her experiences through self-documentation, whilst maintaining an air of mystery which, to contradict, also appears to be incredibly revealing. Jim Casper describes her photos as holding ‘a sense of discovery’ and ‘a bit of self-consciousness’ (Casper, 2016) which is what I aim to establish within my own work. Subsequently, I have been experimenting with aperture and shutter speeds (completely new concepts to me) to create restless, unprocessed photographs as works in progress towards documenting my own life and ‘sense of place’.

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Chanelle Manton, Phil (2016)
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Chanelle Manton, Bella’s House (2016)
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Chanelle Manton, Sunset (2016)
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Chanelle Manton, 0:13 (2016)
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Chanelle Manton, Room 1 (2016)

 

Sources used:

Casper, J. 2016. Discolouration. In: Lens Culture. [online]. At: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/lily-zoumpouli-discolouration?utm_source=fb-social&utm_medium=social&utm_content=ART-194&utm_campaign=ET16-ART&utm_term=ET16#slide-12  [Accessed 23 October 2016].

Gerrard, L. Zimmer, H. 2000. Now We Are Free. In: Various Artists, Gladiator: Music From The Motion Picture. [Spotify]. London: Decca Records. Track 17

Popova, M., 2016. In Praise of Melancholy and How It Enriches Our Capacity for Creativity. Brain Pickings. [Blog]. Available at: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/28/against-happiness-melancholy-wilson/ [Accessed 23 October 2016]

Wilson, G. E. 2008. Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy. USA: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Zoumpouli, L. 2016. Elephant Chest. [photograph]. Available at: 0b94cccd-c0c7-42e2-ac5e-308bf5ea9ce5.jpg [Accessed 23 October 2016].

Zoumpouli, L. 2016. Christos Green Eyes. [photograph]. Available at: 0c352a4c-f1cf-4661-9f26-048fc8c05911.jpg [Accessed 23 October 2016]