The core brief for this assignment is below:
Core practice module 50% of this terms marks
Site Specific Brief (personal practice) 40%
Building on previous experience and concerns, your task is to make a piece of work, which integrates your personal interests with an assigned site in Coventry. You will need to download a map, a slice of Coventry from the 250MC moodle home page. Please be mindful that other students may choose to use the same section of map. To help clarify your personal response, you are encouraged to research your site fully before you start taking photographs. Consider using local social and cultural history, myths and/or the landscaped geography as starting points. Your project needs to be lens based but there are no restrictions about which direction you develop your project; it has been specifically designed to encourage your own personal interests and direction. However, it needs to be original to you. You are advised to use this flexibility as an opportunity to explore your own photographic direction and investigate an area of photography, which interests you. The presentation of your project should be appropriate to its development.
During my time throughout not just University but also college, I found myself always only considering one idea. The way I tend to work is I think of an idea straight away and I never even consider other possibilities. However when reading this brief it was so open to interpretation that I could not pin point a singular idea. This is when I decided to look at all the maps and see if certain places stood out within them. Any places that I thought would be interesting to look further into I would write down on a mind map in which I would then look into any history that may be within that location. Here is my mind map below:
There were a few places/ideas to consider such as the myths that surround Coventry including Lady Godiva or Churchills abandonment of Coventry during the Blitz. I could create photographs of then and now however this idea was ruled out straight away as I had done this previously with my city regeneration project. There were two parks that stood out but I did not feel inspired by these places, I wanted to work on something that I knew would interest me. One thing that had been looming in my head for awhile, even before I was considering ideas for this project, was the idea of death. This sent me in a direction of looking into any big murders or serial killers that took place in Coventry but nothing seemed to catch my eye. Until I came across the aftermath of the Blitz in which a mass burial took place at London Road Cemetery, I automatically saw this to be a starting point for a potential idea. The map which consisted of the cemetery was map 7.
My next step was to do some research regarding the Blitz and the burial ground. I did not want to concentrate too much on the Blitz event its self as I am not documenting what happened on the evening of 14th November 1940, I am documenting the aftermath of the event and the mass memorial that took place.
WHAT WAS THE BLITZ?
The Coventry Blitz consisted of multiple bombing raids in which the city was bombed several times during the Second World War, however the most devastating attack was on the evening of November 14th 1940 in which German Air Force dropped roughly 500 tons of high explosives, 30,000 incendiaries and 50 land mines. The word ‘Blitz’ comes from the German word ‘ Blitzkrieg’ meaning the lighting war. On November 14th 515 German bombers headed towards Coventry in the aim to carry out operation ‘Mondscheinsonate’ meaning Moonlight Sonata. The reason behind the Germans attack was to destroy the important industrial factories which helped supply armoured cars and important parts for the RAF/British Military before the Second World War. They felt Coventry’s production line could easily turn into a possible threat in the future. Even though Coventry had a mass manufacturing system they were in no form to defend against an aerial attack. The British intelligence knew an attack was approaching however they assumed London would be the place of target. The first attack was at 19:10 in which an aircraft dropped parachute flares to mark the places that would be targeted. Incendiary bombs were dropped first in which when they hit the ground they exploded and hundreds of burning red hot shards of metal would cover the streets, this then created over 200 fires destroying not just factories but also homes surrounding the areas of target. As the Germans had carefully marked their targets it made it hard for Coventry to fight back as they had taken out the water supply making it extremely difficult for them to put the masses of fires out. Phone lines had also been destroyed meaning they were cut off from the outside.
Here below are some photographs showing the damage the bombings caused:
So many people died during this raid, that the rebuild of the town was not their first priority. People needed to morn the family and friends that they lost during this horrible time. Their were so many victims who fell in this rad that making individual burials would be extremely time consuming so after much deliberation they decided to create a mass burial in which one advance was they would not need to identify each individual. There were two mass funerals that took place as on Wednesday 20th November not all bodies had been accounted for, so the second funeral took place on Saturday 23rd November.
Looking at the tragedy that destroyed Coventry helped me further develop my idea, my aim is to visit the burial ground at London Road Cemetery to create images of remembrance. My aim is not represent the death of the event but to show the peace that surrounds their burial. I will be looking at the things left behind by the family members that lost someone during the Blitz.
For my research I will be looking at different photographers who relate their work to death. I will be looking at work that I may relate to what I want to achieve with my own project but I will also look at work completely opposite of what I want to achieve to show how different photographers process the idea of photographing a subject matter known to be quite dark.
During a University lecture we watched a documentary called ‘Alive: Rankin Faces Death’. In this documentary Rankin explored the idea of death in which he himself is terrified of the idea. He decided to photograph different people who were facing death yet they felt so alive. Rankin is know for his vibrant studio ideas and even though in a ‘normal situation’ people think about taking on a documentary style of working with death, Rankin stuck to his specific style producing an extremely unique take on the subject matter.
Louise Page was 42 years old and a charity worker. She found out that her bone cancer had returned and that this time it was untreatable. At this point she decided to write a blog to share her story with others, she felt that if someone out their can draw support, comfort and strength from her experience then her illness wouldn’t have been for nothing because some good would have come out of her illness. Her aim was to live to be a witness to Rankin’s exhibition in which she managed to achieve this, unfortunately she died 3 days after the exhibition surrounded by her loved ones. This photograph, even though tears stream down her face, you can see a fighting determination within her eyes, this illness will not control the way she lives. This illness will make her celebrate the life she has lived and the time she has left. The illness makes her vulnerable but she fights it with her might.
Jim – Aged 68 and is currently at the end stage of emphysema. When I was watching his photoshoot, Rankin asked if he could sit up straighter, so he did, however this was extremely uncomfortable for him. When he looked back at the photograph of himself he couldn’t believe his eyes, he was thrilled with the final result and couldn’t believe it was him. I feel Jim does not have as much determination as Louise did, you can see a sadness within his eyes that really make you realise the pain he has suffered. I feel the use of black away always brings emotion to photographs and allows you to see a deeper emotional connection within the eyes.
Sandra Barber – 48 year old mother of a 16 year old boy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 8 years ago in which it spread everywhere in 2007. She talks about how she does not want people to worry or pity her. A quote she said in the video was:
“I’m still here, kicking and fighting, and at the end of our lives, we all go to the same place. It’s just a matter of time” – Sandra
When she looked at the photograph of her she said she feels as if she is displaying her ‘inner warrior’ as she fights her condition. I feel this image being in colour shows how powerful she is and how much she is fighting to live her remaining life. There isn’t a form of vulnerability like the other photographs so I feel this relates more to being ‘alive’.
Rankin was not just looking into how other people face death, but he wanted to face his own fear of death also. This is where he decided to photograph himself even though he knew people would see this as him being self obsessed. He produced a series of photographs of different version of a skull like below:
For me when looking at these photographs, I do not see him as being self obsessed. I see a man who was once terrified of the idea of death facing his fear and accepting that death is a part of life and something he will face in the future. How is someone supposed to live their to the fullest if they are constantly considering that death could happen at any moment. Take life for what it is because it could all change so suddenly.
Tom Hunter: Life and death in Hackney
Tom Hunter created a site specific piece of work in Hackney. Many of these photographs were loosely inspired by iconic paintings such as Henry Wallis’ Chatterton as seen below:
His aim was to show the various lives of sub-cultural groups, he looks into squatters and travellers in their environment. You can see throughout this series of work Tom Hunter tries to portray the political problems in which others see these people as outsiders of society. Each of his photographs have a story behind them such as the the photograph of the girl lying in the canal, this was based on Hunters knowledge of a girl falling in the canal after attending a party at night. Here is the photograph below:
You can see how he has drawn his inspiration from the previous painting. When looking at this photograph there is a huge atmosphere given off that you actually feel you are drowning. You feel like you are witnessing the crime scene itself which is terribly daunting for the viewer.
Another image that stood out to me from his series was this one:
I feel this really related to the location I will be shooting at. You can see the clear mourning of the people as they are surrounded by the gravestones. As my location is a memorial burial ground, gravestones will not be apart of my series but my aim is to create some form of emotion such as what this photograph portrays.
A DIFFERENT FORM OF DEATH RELATED PHOTOGRAPHY:
In the 1800’s death was a lot more of an everyday occurrence. Many infants died due to simple infections that can easily be cured today. Back then photography was use as memorialising the dead and post mortem portraits were available for the middle class. Having these photographs were cheaper than having one painted but it was still rather expensive and would have only been used on ‘special’ occasions. In many cases photographs wouldn’t have not been taken after the child was born, so if they were to suddenly die they want to hold a visual remembrance of their child that they lost. The aim in the photographs were not to show that the person has died but to make it look like they are still living but they are just sleeping. In most cases they just show the person lying in bed with their eyes closed such as the ones below:
As you can see it looks like these children are just peacefully sleeping. However in some disturbing cases, some family members chose to have them sitting up whilst holding a flower and having their eyes open giving the sense of them still being alive. Some of the photographers back then may chose to add a bit of blush to the persons cheeks and may even go further by drawing on pupils to the eye lids. Due to the price of having a photograph taken some family’s chose to pose with their deceased family member such as the photograph below:
As disposable cameras became available they were able to photograph people when they were living, so having post-mortem photographs were no longer necessary or desired. Whilst these cameras were now available so were vaccines and antibiotics to stop infections meaning less people died, however now the idea of dying started to frighten people as it was less of a occurrence. Now in our century post-mortem photographs are seen as morbid form of photography and is looked down upon.
For my photo shoot I wanted to make sure I went on a day when the sun was shining as I felt this would be a great representation of peace. I felt if I would have gone on a day where it was dull you would have felt the sadness of the situation a lot more and I did not want that representation to come across in my photographs. I did not want to rush this shoot, so I took my time to observe and take in my surroundings. I also needed to be in the right mind set, meaning I had to be relaxed, calm and in some forms at peace. This helped me relate to my subject matter allowing me to develop the certain style I wanted to achieve. I knew the use of narrow depth of field would help to create a soft natural environment as I did not want my photographs to be to harsh and abrupt on the eye. I did not want to just show the burial ground and the civilian monument, I wanted to show the peaceful environment that surrounds their burial to show that people still care about the environment in which these civilians were buried.
Here are the shortlist contact sheets:
I shortlisted all my images to narrow down my finals, I did not want to include too many photographs of the same thing as I wanted to show a variety of surroundings. During this time I started thinking about the presentation of the photographs. I considered framing them however I did not feel this would give the desired emotional impact that I was looking for. So I then thought of maybe just showing them one by one on a powerpoint and then talking about them when I have to present them but I still felt something was missing. This is when I finally decided to make a photo video of the images, doing this allowed me to add text at the beginning of the video setting the right ‘mood’ for the narrative. Now at this point it looked rather nice with the use of gradual transitions between the photographs allowing that softness and peacefulness to continue the theme. However one thing I find that really makes a piece of work like this shine is by adding some form of music. I knew it had to be an instrumental piece as it doesn’t distract away from the photographs. After much deliberation and searching I finally found the perfect of piece of music to go with my video it is called ‘Hymn to the Fallen’ by John Williams. I do also feel my images could work in a book, however I would like to include more information regarding the Blitz and the burial at the beginning of the book. But for my final piece I chose to stick with my video.
My Final Piece:
Overall, I feel this has been my most successful piece of work since being at Coventry University. I delve into a genre in which I have been keen to explore ‘Social Documentary’ and it is a genre in which I hope to visit once again as I thoroughly enjoyed this project. My aim was to create a body of work in which brings a sense of peace and hope to a tragic situation that was the Coventry Blitz and I feel I have achieved this, not with just my photographs but the way in which I presented my work adds to the remembrance of the civilians that lost their lives. I also wanted to add quotes that were written on the flowers within my video to bring it back to the families who lost someone during the Second World War adding even more emotion to the body of work. I also feel I became really observant during this project, if I were to look at the subject I was photographing I would pre-visualise the way in which I thought it would look best such as the angle, the depth of field and the lighting. This is something I will take forward and use more throughout future projects as it brought my work to higher standard than past projects. Something that was different compared to past projects was my idea development. I feel I was constantly adapting my idea to give the best final result, I considered what would work best if it was to be shown to a viewer. What would leave more of an impact and make my work more memorable? This then creating my final presentation as a photo video. In the future I will be using mind maps to encourage more potential ideas as I felt this really helped my development.
http://www.historiccoventry.co.uk/blitz/aftermath.php (Information regarding the aftermath)
http://www.historiccoventry.co.uk/blitz/blitz.php ( information regarding the Blitz)
http://www.tomhunter.org/life-and-death-in-hackney/ (Tom Hunter)
http://content.photojojo.com/photojojo-original/memorial-post-mortem-photography/ ( 1800’s research)