3. Exploring an alternative for Assignment 4:- Sunbury-on-Thames

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

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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.

16 selection of Sunbury

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.

Sunbury Collage

and here’s a WordPress version

Conclusions

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

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunbury-on-Thames

http://www.collageitfree.com

http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHHER_229

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Spring is here at last

It’s such a beautiful day and I’m briefly at my computer before going out to enjoy the sun. John Martyn is singing in the background.

Listening to the song reminded me of a photograph I took a while ago when doing one of the exercises on focal length. Two adults, with children, asking what I was doing (photographing a tree). The children were trying to get into the frame so I checked it was okay (also saying I had a blog) and the adults agreed.  I think they match the song well.

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2nd May 2013

Part 4: People interacting with Place – Projects and Exercises

People & Place

Part 4 : People interacting with place

Projects and Exercises

I tackled these by keeping both mental and written notes of the exercises in mind as I visited various locations. My aim was to then analyse why I took a particular photograph at a particular time.  The exercises covered:-

A single figure small

Busy traffic, i.e. ebb and flow of people

Anonymous figures (2 to 4)

small/many

facing away

in silhouette

partly obscured

motion blur

Balancing figure and space – varying attention between them

Selecting processing and prominence – using digital processing methods

 My first thought was that I should be pretty good at making figures anonymous given my reluctance to get up there close!

Here are the locations

London September 2012

London Coliseum

I have a fascination with these doors (even though they don’t really make a good backdrop because of their beige/brown colour) and endeavour to take a photograph every time I’m in the area. The main problem is that I have to stand across the road to get a good view. Thinking about balancing figure and space; I think the last one works best. They are walking towards each other but both appear oblivious of place or people; one of them with his ear phones and the other on his mobile phone.

 

Leicester Square

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Mainly anonymous – facing away, almost in silhouette. I framed this shot so that I could include the two men back left.  I was interested how the sleeping man was guarding his  trolley bag, whilst being ignored by the two young men front right. They were standing so near to him. Would I stand so near whilst talking to someone? I think probably not as there would be my inner politeness regarding not wanting to disturb him plus not wanting him to overhear what I was talking about. Is this something again about anonymity in a City full of strangers? Would they stand so near if it happened in Woking rather than London?

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Figures fairly small and few rather than many. I was interested in how they were spectators ‘on show’.

Trafalgar Square

The interesting aspect for me about Trafalgar Square is, why do people want to climb on the lions and sit on steps?

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Small and many; facing away, party obscured.

The young men below were organising themselves for a group shot so  I took one as well ‘surreptitiously’ and was then rather taken aback when one of them gesticulated at me.  I thought he was telling me off but in fact he wanted me to take a photograph of them with his iPad. Of course, that then gave me carte blanche to ask if I could take one also. At this point they moved from ‘unaware’ and ‘anonymous’ to ‘aware’ and ‘slight acquaintance’.

Could have done better. There’s some distortion from my smaller camera, pointing upwards;  portrait format or TSE lense would have been preferable I think, but they did pose nicely for me. I think this is actually more of a snapshot than my first one though. Also ‘people unaware’ can show more animation and liveliness.

Anonymous figures and facing away again apart from the gentleman left front. I was intrigued – was this really a policeman or someone wearing a policeman’s hat? Was he helping her up or down or pulling her down off a rather precarious spot?

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Almost a single figure and showing his smallness in relation to the lion

More on balancing figure and space

 

the last one works better for me in terms of balance.

Brighton, November 2012

People interacting with place

That wonderful, long wavy hair drew me, another young woman’s pale blue eyes matched the stands and there was some motion blur as well.

and also performing.

He had a very appreciative audience and I also moved further around to take the second shot as I liked his posture.

What interested me here was his total absorption in what he was doing and also that he was doing this without an audience (except for me of course), although I don’t recall him being aware of me.

London 7th December 2012

 

Small, anonymous people, ebbing and flowing on their way from here to there.

Figures in a landscape 8th December 2012

 

Anonymous and mainly small figures and, as ever, they are there to enhance the landscape for me.

London January 2013

On the way to Somerset House

There can be a crowd of anonymous people but, then, someone stands out and the girl in the grey coat did that for me..

 From Somerset House along Waterloo Bridge

It was misty and late afternoon – people getting ready for the end of the day. As I followed them I was drawn by their silhouettes against the skyline and buildings.

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I waited until the sunset deepened against the mist so I could look at the view as well.

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Victoria & Albert Museum – February 2013

Anonymous people, indoors, coming; going and sketching

 

Thoughts

I felt self-conscious to begin with, as I usually do but once I started photographing people it became easier and I relaxed.  I began to realise that it isn’t usually the people in themselves that attract me but the patterns and shapes they make in the environment. I wondered about the life that people give to built environments as in what would an empty Trafalgar Square look like? I also thought again about the differences between  portrait, landscape and social documentary in terms of the balance between people and space and how much focus is given to activity.  For instance, I think most of the photographs I took in London/Trafalgar Square are mainly on the social documentary spectrum, apart from the posed young men which is a snapshot cum group portrait whereas the ones I took on the Common are still landscape (I think?) because the figures are small. What about the ones on Waterloo Bridge though?

30th April 2013