Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Assignment 2: People and activity - some initial thinking

I am interested in building on the ‘street’ work that I have been doing over the last few weeks by photographing people in some form of ‘street-based’ activity.  I have already been observing/shooting people eating in a public place – on the run; on benches; perched on concrete walls; in groups; chatting; etc.  I have also discussed this with my tutor, as a potential subject for the assignment.  He has one or two reservations about the fit to the brief, but seems to be broadly supportive, providing I can develop sufficient interest, variety, intent, purpose ...
So, it needs some thought and planning, but I do feel I’d like to explore this route further.
·         What sort of photographs might I take?
·         What examples can I find from other people’s work that I can learn from and/or develop?
·         Do I go entirely down the ‘unaware’ route (the brief doesn’t say that I have to) or do I try speaking to people before photographing them?
·         What practical/technical/organisational issues and challenges might there be?
·         Why am I doing it?  What do I want to say?
I have already started to take a look at the second of these bullet points – Examples from other people’s work – and the outcomes are quite interesting.
Starting with ‘Street Photography Now’, I have been through the 300+ images in there, and there are only two pictures of someone eating in a public place.  One is  of people sitting in a bus shelter, from Maciej Dakowicz’ “Cardiff After Dark” series - http://www.maciejdakowicz.com/gallery2.php?dir=01cardiff/01a_cardiffnightlife - though I can’t find it on the website (but there are others of similar type).  The other is from Matt Stuart, of a woman eating in a shop doorway on Oxford Street - http://www.mattstuart.com/Photographs/Colour/30-OXFORD-STREET .  Neither of these looks a public eating with a terribly sympatheitc eye.Thinking of others, Martin Parr immediately springs to mind, with (similar) images of public eating in New Brighton, in the ‘Last Resort’ series - http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.StaticPage_VPage&SP=photographers_list&l1=0&XXAPXX=SubPanel10 .  Of course, he has also taken plenty of photographs associated with eating - fast food restaurants, for example. Going back much further, John Bulmer took this picture in 1965, in Elland - http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2010/jan/29/john-bulmer-photographs-north#/?picture=358711394&index=6 - and you could say that it sets the scene for some of the others above.

But, the truth is, not that much evidence of leading photographers taking public eating as a major topic; and an apparent tendency to see it in a less than positive light – supported, perhaps by this type of article - http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/oct/17/ariel-leve-eating-in-public . 
And, researching FlickR doesn’t prove much more fruitful. For example, taking some of the leading street photography groups on the network and searching on the work ‘eating’ gave 461 results from 130,000+ images in one group and 818 from 200,000+ images in another.  Many of those results are not in line with my public eating topic, of course.  Google Images produced 66million results in 0.43 seconds (!!) but the main topics were celebrities ‘caught’ eating in public (once again the negative overtones) and a campaign to ban eating on public transport (though I didn’t explore all 66 million!).
So, initial impressions are:

·         Relatively speaking, images of people eating in public are not amongst those most regularly featured in street photography.
·         Where these images are taken, they are rarely well posed/composed/framed ... and they mostly show eating in public in a negative light.
·         On the face of it, this isn’t a popular subject amongst the better-known photographers.
Taking the ‘natives don’t where shoes’ approach, I could give up now, but alternatively, I think there is an opportunity (challenge) to try and explore this further.

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