Square Mile -Analysis

This is the body text of my contextual analysis document:

‘There is a Welsh term “Y Filltir Sgwar” (The Square Mile) which may either be taken literally or understood as the area with which one is familiar and concerned about.’ (Moore 2012)

My childhood ‘square mile’ is no longer available, being two hours drive from home and inaccessible without trespassing. I have therefore adopted Moore’s description and selected part of my current home town, Maidstone.

The brief calls for relatively small images (1500 pixels equates to 5” at 300 dpi) similar to the 5×3-inch enprints of former times. This suggested a ‘snapshot’ approach so I chose to use a snapshot camera, an Olympus Trip 35. I currently use home-developed monochrome films with my older cameras and selected Ilford HP5+ as being appropriate for expected light levels in February.

My original intention was to photograph the shopping streets in the town centre. However, my walk into town involves crossing the Medway; I took what I intended to be a brief detour along the riverside path and found there was enough of interest to spend an hour and two rolls of film there. I made three further visits, finishing with 162 images for editing and selection.

My photography on the first day was undirected, as a result of which, there is only one image from that visit in my selected twelve. My subsequent visits were made after researching other photographers’ work in specific localities and I had a clearer idea of what I wanted. I have chosen to cover the way in which people use the space for recreation, exercise and access.

For inspiration, I viewed recent OCA learning blogs of other students on this course, particularly those of Melanie Paul, Chris Haddon and Ludovic Marquez. Among established practitioners, I viewed online galleries with the work of Keith Arnatt (Tate), Venetia Dearden (Dearden 2014), Jimmy Forsyth (Amber) and Martin Parr (Magnum)

The main lesson learnt was the importance of the scale of the background. In Arnatt’s ‘Walking the Dog’ series the backgrounds are tight, sufficient to identify the type of place, but not the place itself; in his ‘AONB Area of Natural Beauty’ series, the background is wider and we learn more about the place. The Marquez blog shows the opposite effect; although wider than Arnatt overall, his tighter views give a sense of involvement in the place, which is lacking in the wider vistas.

The exercise was a personal challenge because I am uncomfortable with street photography. Several of the images appear voyeuristic, as I did not want to be seen to be invading subjects’ privacy, and would probably fall foul of Robert Capa’s oft-quoted maxim, If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” All twelve images have been cropped to some extent, to a field of view equating to a focal length of 50-60mm.

Given time and space to develop the project, I would track activities over the course of a year. For instance, there is a lot of boating activity during the summer months.


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