Square Mile – Reading and Research

On examining the photographers and images suggested for researching the Square Mile project I noted that although all of them show some linking in their thoughts to an area that is clearly important to them the actual thought processes and end results are very different. They can be broadly divided into a group that use photographs of people to show the identity of the place, and a group where the focus is on the place itself.

Barney, Dearden and Knorr focus on using people to give identity to the area of interest. Tina Barney (Artic.edu, 2006) took images of her family and friends in New York. These images show details of family life and the tension that can occur, thus exploring the place though the people that inhabit it and whom she knows well. Cotton says ‘there is a compelling blend of a photographically distant perspective with a subject that is intimately known’ (Cotton,2015).

Venetia Dearden’s series ‘Somerset Stories, Fivepenny Dreams’ is set in the area where she grew up. She says ‘My passion and curiosity for Somerset has been fuelled by my long-term connection with this area where I spent my childhood. I am compelled to return again and again to explore my relationship with the landscape and the people living here……… I witness a sense of belonging and identity within these rich bonds of family and community’ (Dearden, 2014). Dearden looks at the lives and activities of the families’ resident in Somerset at present to explore a place she knew well in the past.

Karen Knorr (Karenknorr.com, 2014) uses portraits to show the ideas that were prevalent in a very wealthy area of London during the 1970’s.

Horn, Hunter, Taylor and Barnard have focused on the place itself to explain their sense of connection with an area. Romi Horn (Tate.org.uk, 2009) has published a series called ‘To Place’ where she looks at the identity of a specific place, Iceland, in detail though photographs, drawings and text. Interestingly, this is far from where she grew up in New York, however, has become an area that she has studied intensively.

Tom Hunter’s ‘Living in Hell and Other Stories’ (Purdyhicks.com, 2017) investigates the history of his local area in East London, re-staging stories which paint an unsettling picture of the area.

Jodie Taylor (Taylor, 2013) for her OCA project focused on the area she lived in as a child, and the memories of that place which have been revived by returning there as an adult.

Gawain Barnard investigates the wildfire burning in Wales which occurs yearly in ‘Boredom for Burning’. He focuses on small details of the remains after the fires, bringing back memories of his youth. He says ‘The landscape of youth is laden with memories………our place of youth, our ‘home’ and the memories created during this period, for better or worse can create an embedded sense of place and can go some way in self-defining our later life attitude.’  (Barnard, 2013).

Keith Arnatt has utilised ideas from both these of groups with two series that are linked to his local area. The series ‘Walking a Dog’ (Tate, 2010b) is a collection of 40 out of 200 photos taken in his local area of people and their dogs in a standard pose taken in 1976 -1979.  The number of images form a work that makes a comment on society and people and points up the oft remarked similarities between dogs and their owners. He later showed a further series based in his local area ‘Pictures from a Rubbish Tip’ (Tate, 2010 a) 1988–9. This shows close-ups of rubbish from a local tip. Although these are factual images the way they are taken gives the series a feeling of an abstract composition.

John MacLean has taken a fascinating twist on this approach in photographing the hometowns of artists and photographers that he is inspired by, looking for what has, in turn, inspired their work. He says ‘It’s about escaping the hometown to spending all our time exploring, only to find ourselves back there once again’ (Pantell, 2017).


Artic.edu. (2006). so the story goes. [online] Available at: http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/story/barney.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Barnard, G. (2013). Boredom to Burn. [online] Gawainbarnard.com. Available at: http://gawainbarnard.com/photo_13162026.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.
Dearden, V. (2014). Welcome to Venetia Dearden’s Website – Somerset Stories Fivepenny Dreams. [online] Venetiadearden.com. Available at: http://www.venetiadearden.com/en/somerset_stories_fivepenny_dreams.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Karenknorr.com. (2014). Belgravia | Karen Knorr. [online] Available at: http://karenknorr.com/photography/belgravia/ [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Pantell, C. (2017). Hometowns. British Journal of Photography, (7857), pp.60-74.
Purdyhicks.com. (2017). Tom Hunter Porfolio at Purdyhicks Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.purdyhicks.com/display.php?aID=10 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate. (2010). Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, Keith Arnatt 1988 -9 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-pictures-from-a-rubbish-tip-t13169 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate. (2010). Walking the Dog, Keith Arnatt 1976 -9 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-walking-the-dog-t13064 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate.org.uk. (2009). Roni Horn aka Roni Horn: explore the exhibition, room guide, room 10. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/roni-horn-aka-roni-horn/roni-horn-aka-roni-horn-explore-exhibitio-22 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Taylor, J. (2013). Photography and Nostalgia – WeAreOCA. [online] WeAreOCA. Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

A New Start

This is the post excerpt.

Life has changed recently. I have retired. At least partially so. This gives me time so I have decided to use it in a productive manner by learning a new skill set (to use a buzz phrase from my previous life).

Studying an arts subject is a very different experience from my previous learning which is all science based, other than one OCA course which I struggled to completely in a timely manner due to significant illness. I have had a long stranding interest in the practical aspects of photography, and also in looking at photographic exhibitions, however have never had any formal learning in how to analyse any arts subject.
I was brought up being very aware of photography on a daily basis as my step-father was a professional photographer, concentrating on landscapes and architecture. He used medium format cameras and was meticulous about recording all the details, well before the days of digital photography and exif data. We would spend hours waiting for the perfect light, a glimpse of sun, and, most importantly, no intrusive people unless they gave a needed scale.
The move from film to digital was an interesting change, with the possibility of instant reviews, histograms and altering exposure post facto – but I have found that it makes me lazy, as other than the in review time, there is no cost to taking vast numbers of similar, often practically identical, shots. A much more considered approach is required, more thinking and less pressing of the button.
Recent partial retirement should give me more time, however I remain concerned about my ability to be analytical about the photography of both myself and others. I am very much at the stage of ‘I know what I like – but don’t know why’, and certainly not at the stage of understanding what might appeal to others in anything other than a short term fashion. I hope that reading , looking and thinking will, over time, address this.