Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Assignment 4: progress report

I might, ideally, have blogged my progress on the assignment bit by bit over the last few weeks but, frankly, I havn’t had the time – work + OCASA + trying to progress the assignment itself.  The good news is that I am more or less there, with my 12 images chosen.  They need a little more tweaking for final print & then I have the notes to write, but I hope to complete that over the next week or so.  I’m not necessarily going to put my final choices into this note; it is more of a reflection on what I’ve done and how it has gone.  I havn’t ended up with exactly the pattern of images that I planned, but not far off.

These are the ‘overview’ images that made it to the long list.

The first two are ‘repeats’ of images that I have made before, with the first creating an attractive overview of the Holme Valley, the town nestling in the bottom of the valley and clear evidence of the textile mill history visible via the chimneys.  The second is a more intimate view from the other side of the valley, with an indication of the way the town is built onto the steep hillsides.  The ones that follow reflect an attempt to show more clearly the way the town sits at the end of a valley,  sometimes resulting in an almost claustrophobic feel.

The second of this group of three has some technical issues – not as sharp as I’d like, but it does reflect how the town centre feels closed in.  It’s interesting to note that I have often observed this sense when driving into the town from either of two directions.  When I went to take the photographs, I found that the view from the pavement was subtly different – and the middle of the road wasn’t an option!  The first and third above are both taken from a small piece of wasteland, just off one of the main roads, leaning over a temporary fence around a building site!

I planned to take some ‘people-oriented’ images and to make at least some of these portraits of shop/restaurant owners in the town centre.  I have done three such arranged images, in the end, as follows.  Firstly, the joint owners of Mezze, a town centre ‘eatery’ & bar.  I had the idea that my portraits might reflect ‘old style’ posing – the frontal, standing/leaning pose that one associates with early photography (necessitated by slow shutters, of course), which could also reflect Holmfirth’s roots in the industrial revolution.  At the same time, I wanted to make them obviously contemporary – not least by using colour.  That is exactly the approach I discussed with Adam & Sam, below, which I think they have carried off pretty well!

The building in the image below is one of the oldest in the town, dating back, almost certainly, to the fifteenth century.  It is what remains of a row of cottages that fell into the river.  It was, apparently, a pie shop back in the fifties, but its current use (and the one it has had for 40+ years) is very clearly signified in this portrait of another local tradesman.

Once again, he has followed my ‘brief’ very well, I think!

The third ‘arranged’ portrait proved a little harder to implement.  Gary is a tour guide.  He meets coach loads of visitors to the Holme Valley, by prior arrangement with the tour operators, and provides a commentary as they are driven around the local TV sites associated with ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘Where the Heart Is’, both of which have used the area extensively for location filming.  He also takes ‘on foot’ town centre tours to places like ‘Norah Batty’s House’ and ‘Sid’s Cafe’.  I was able to take a shot of him waiting, with his dog.  But, as soon as the coach pulled in, it was all action as he leapt on board to ‘sell his wares’, decked out in blonde wig, microphone in hand.  I felt a bit like the paparazzi trying to grab an image of a celebrity as he went about his business – then, the doors closed and they were away.

But I did grab this one, through the door of the coach – and it does have a ‘sense’ of place in the background, with the stone built weavers’ houses visible in the background.

I’m quite pleased with the way the ‘people’ pictures have turned out – reflects the increased confidence in asking people for portraits and then producing something reasonable.
In my planning, I also made reference to some images from this year’s Holmfirth Folk Festival; but I had another opportunity for something similar during September, with a Festival of Food & Drink.  The town has regular markets in the Market Hall on several days of the week, but this was a weekend festival, taking over large parts of the town centre.  I spent a couple of hours there on the Saturday, but was a little disappointed by the outcomes, which I felt were, on the whole, a little too ‘generic’ to be relevant to this assignment.  Here are a few of the images from the day, and I think the first, although still fundamentally ‘generic’, could work as an illustration of the fact that the town does host festivals and does, from time to time, get very busy.

I also planned a ‘heritage’ element to the selection.  There is some oblique reference to the industrial heritage in some of the images above, but the next few were specifically targeted in that direction.  The first is detail of a mill, including its name and date of opening – 1869 – and a terrace of cottages next door.  It is a good representative shot of the heritage architecture around the town.  The second is taken within ten minutes walk of the centre of town and shows a disused mill pond, with a brick built (unusual) chimney behind, and clear evidence of the contemporary use to which the mill pond has been put.  (I took this image with the full knowledge and involvement of the man fishing.)  Then the final one signifies the ongoing process of change in the valley – mill buildings recently demolished and the even older heritage of grazing land & dry stone walling behind.

Finally, I wanted to include other images around the town centre, some at the detail level and maybe one or two that included reference to the heavy traffic that passes through.  The first is a general image with quite familiar view that I have taken before.  It shows a familiar Holmfirth skyline, with the church tower and the cottages rising up the hillside behind it, but I have chosen to use a wide angle, which puts that view into the context of the small car park and bus station that sits immediately in front of it.  This where visitors to the town are most likely to start their visit and, on the right, is where Gary waits for his coach parties.  I quite like the way that the cloud is bursting from behind the church, on a typically blustery day.

Picking up on the car theme, the next is one that I actually took on one of my early ‘scouting’ sessions, but which I have never managed to better for an interesting image that also tells the story of Holmfirth’s battle with the internal combustion engine!  The colour makes it potentially effective for a magazine article, and I worked on quite a tight crop of the original, which makes the lorry seem to be almost upon us whilst at the same time dwarfing the people trying to drink coffee and eat ice cream at the pavement cafe behind.

Looking for detail led me to take the following two photographs, but they have turned out to have more than detail in them.

In the first, I was working on a shot of the old signpost and mileage sign on the side of one of Holmfirth’s two small bridges when these two ladies walked in front of it and then stopped to look over into the river.  One, obligingly, was wearing a striking purple coat, giving me a colourful composition with the brick wall and tree; but there is more in this image.  Notice the very narrow and uneven pavement that they are negotiating, and bear in mind that they are about 20-30 metres from where I took the previous image!  They are, by the way, typical of Gary’s customers.  In the second, below, it was the sign in the stone on the wall that I was targeting.  It indicates the height the water reached when Holmfirth was flooded after a reservoir collapsed in 1852 – and it clearly would have comfortably covered the two people who appeared in my picture.

Two more detail pictures below provide unusual views of familiar aspects of the town centre, and I could see either of these acting as useful ‘fillers’ in a magazine article.

The first looks down from the side of the church towards the old cinema, which still performs that very function from time to time and is also a highly popular venue for gigs, as demonstrated by the banner outside.  Then finally, there is this absolutely typical scene of the small cobbled streets and alleys around the town centre, which house a range of small shops that attract the visitors and which certainly provide much of the character of the town centre environment.

There are 22 images here, which is more or less in line with my guess at a 20 image long list.  They have been taken over about ten or twelve different sessions, including three for the portraits, of course.  Living close to the town and being familiar with it, I have been able to make quick, short term trips as and when I needed.  I think that, in here, I have the variety from which to make a selection that gives a ‘sense’ of the place that is Holmfirth and which would have the potential to provide some choices for a magazine picture editor looking to illustrate and article about the town.  The initial research has helped; for example, looking at the magazines made me determined to include some portrait-style images, which do usually and rightly for part of a photographic presentation of ‘place’ in its roundest sense.  Of course, knowing somewhere well and living close certainly helps – but it also makes the choices tougher.  I know that there could be a whole host of other possibilities and variants that I might have included.  Doing a similar set of images over a longer period would allow for more public events; more arranged sessions; more opportunities to demonstrate the variations that the seasons bring to a place like Holmfirth.

One of the key things I’m pleased about is that I successfully set up the ‘people’ sessions and carried them off in an OK manner.  I already knew one of the people at Mezze, but the other two were ‘cold calls’, so to speak.  That gives me a certain amount of confidence to go forward and do more of the same, which might be particularly useful for one of the ideas I have in mind for Assignment Five.

I won’t try and analyse the overall effectiveness of my set of images until I am making the submission to my tutor, but I’m reasonably happy with the way the process has gone.


  1. Interesting to follow your thought process as ever Stan. Thanks for sharing

  2. Good job on the posed portraits Stan.

  3. Dave - thanks for reading & for your interest.

    Clive - really greatful for your support - much appreciated.