Sunbury-on-Thames : Exploring an alternative for Assignment 4
When I was uncertain whether I had the right approach towards a Winchester series, I decided that, maybe, I needed to go to a smaller place that I could explore in more depth. I realise now that I had a village or small town in my head. I thought of various places nearby then decided to go to Sunbury-on-Thames. We lived there between 1978 and 1986 in what is called Lower Sunbury, near the river Thames.
The Assignment brief says:-
Decide on a place that you know well, or are prepared to take the time to know well, and have sufficient access to in order to complete a strong selection of a dozen images……… Aim to show the character of the place and of the people who live there with as much variety as possible. ‘Variety’ should include a variety of subject matter and of scale.
Whenever I think of Sunbury I first think of the man who used to regularly walk there from nearby Walton-on-Thames with a parrot on his shoulder. Secondly I think of a friend of my daughter who lived in a house that had a possible Bronze Age barrow in their back garden – a small one but still….. The family moved some time ago and my daughter lost contact, otherwise I would have paid a visit. I don’t really have the courage yet to go and knock on strangers’ doors.
A walk around Sunbury-on-Thames
Sunbury is an old village and Thames Street (once called Sunbury Street) is one of the oldest built-up areas with a mix of styles and sizes dating from the late C16th to today. Once there I parked at the Walled Garden, had a walk around there and then walked along Thames Street. It was a cold, miserable day, with no flowers in the Walled Garden and hardly any people around except in the café there which was very welcoming, I bought a nice little booklet there, “The Sunbury Trail” that provides a walk around lower Sunbury, with hand-drawn illustrations and descriptions/history of some of the buildings and houses. I didn’t really look at it at the time because I followed my nose.
I spent about three hours reconnecting with Thames Street by the river, walking along Old Rope Walk to the shops at the bottom of The Avenue (that runs down to meet Thames Street). I walked further along Thames Street before crossing over to the river side; saying hello to some ducks and swans and then walking back down by the side of the river. It really was quiet, presumably a lot of adults would be at work, children at school , and other adults staying indoors to keep warm. There were no boats up and down the river either.
Making sense of ‘Place’
I came back from Sunbury with quite a lot of photographs and what has struck me whilst I’ve been trying to work out how to organise the 46 jpegs I processed from RAW is that I can’t really see a theme emerging. I started this write-up and realised that I was doing a kind of travelogue – “This is this street, here is that street”. There were no people to talk to really to ask them what they think about Sunbury and no action to show. I can talk to myself of course – after all I lived there once. Thinking about it all now though, my life then was lived in lots of different boxes – a full-time demanding job, three children to deal with, and a husband who was often away – with a lot of ‘free’ time being spent ferrying children backwards and forwards between various activities. On that score, how much did I really know about where I lived apart from weekend walks down by the river and doing some local shopping? Casting my mind back now it all seems very far away.
The editing process
I wanted to complete this particular cycle for Sunbury, though, to see what I could make from the images and also for more practice on editing. How to go about organizing a series of images? I printed some contact sheets of the initial selection
that I then cut up. Originally, I grouped them according to street or river location. It didn’t seem right somehow so I moved them around several times and ended up with 16 that I hope give the flavour of the village., although I notice that I’ve missed out the Walled Garden completely.
The assignment brief asked for 12 good images from which to choose a final 6. I had another look today and have chosen a 12. During the gap I’ve been thinking around presentation. Quite a few of the images could certainly make postcards, even composite post-cards – a time honoured method of showing a place and good for tourists to post ‘back home’. I actually think that the booklet I bought is an excellent way of introducing the Village as it takes people on a walk around and provides information about interesting buildings – fill it in with information on people as well. I already knew that The Grand Order of Water Rats was formed at a meeting at The Magpie Hotel in 1889 (it has a blue plaque to prove it). I didn’t know that that Charles Dickens referred to Sunbury church in “Oliver Twist’, or that Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd used to live in one of the large houses down by the River (high walls so I couldn’t really take a photograph).
Here are the 12. I decided that they would just give a flavour of the village and wouldn’t be themed in anyway so have gone for a collage. Here’s one created with CollageIt Pro. It’s not too bad although the choice of templates is limited.
and here’s a WordPress version
I did come back feeling dissatisfied. The images are competent enough but there weren’t enough ‘people interacting with place’ to meet the terms of the assignment brief. Also I don’t think I’ve captured enough sense of ‘place’ in terms of a place that was actually settled by people way back in the C10th BC and still has people occupying buildings built in the late medieval period (even though they might have had several renovations since). People created Sunbury on Thames and I think that brighter weather would have brought out more of them around the place and given life to it. I would certainly have included a photograph from The Walled Garden in my final selection because I think that it must be quite an attraction when flowers are in bloom and people are out there enjoying them. I seem to have created an image of a village that’s waiting for something to happen. Even the river was quiet. I don’t feel depressed though and certainly I can go back there now the weather has improved – weekend would probably be better. I also had more practice around editing.
I keep thinking as well about my earlier statement as to how my life in Sunbury seems far away. I’d forgotten how long ago it was and how different the South of England seemed. I’m now so used to different colours – the lighter stone and brick, and brighter green of grass. I’ve remembered that when my father-in-law came down from Bolton to see us in Sunbury he used to say he felt as if he was at the seaside.
8th May 2013