This week’s theme has been Noticing the Ignored, and has allowed us to look at experiential drawing, capture, writing, recording, play, photography in the design process. The theme encourages curiosity, investigation and studying of surroundings usually taken for granted. Over the course of the week I have carried this theme with me, taking time to divert my eyes away from my phone screen, or the ground, as I walk, and appreciate scenery, buildings, decor, people and nature.
Our course leader, Susanna Edwards, led this week’s lecture, discussing numerous projects, artists and designers who have sought and endeavoured to notice the ignored. The lecture introduced me to John Smith’s 1976 film, The Girl Chewing Gum. The film is a brilliant and de-stabilising direction of ordinary life, which opens up discussion on the balance between the real and the constructed (Ingleby Gallery, 2014). The film is titled after an ‘extra’ who appears in the film for a matter of seconds as she crosses the screen.
Smith’s film consists of two camera shots, the first of which accounts for a major portion of the film, located near a cinema in Hackney. During this section, people and cars cross the scene as ‘directed’ by the voiceover. The second shot is much shorter, and is set in Letchmore Heath, fifteen miles away from the first scene in Hackney. At this point it becomes clear to the viewer that the voiceover track’s artist is actually located here, and unable to see what is being directed first hand. They are instead simply narrating movements within the scene at a later point in time. The film does not seek to glorify or dramatise the goings on within the street scene, but rather record everyday actions objectively (Tate, 2020).
This film stuck with me after I’d watched it during the lecture. The voiceover track constructed in such a way that the viewer truly believes the individuals in the scene are being directed, with commands to change direction, glance behind them, or put a cigarette in their mouths. The realisation later that not one of these ‘character’s’ actions had been scripted made me as a viewer feel quite gullible, but amused by the convincing voiceover, and left me with a lasting reminder to take notice of everyday life.
During the lecture, Susanna also touched on the work of London-based photographer, Maxwell Granger. The project, a series of photographs, first began in 2017 when Granger began photographing 5 or 6 friends in their respective homes. He told Its Nice That in 2018 “I have always loved seeing people’s houses – and how they work with such a usually shit space in London” (Its Nice That, 2018). This really resonated with me, as a 20-something with several cramped house share bedrooms behind me. There was a great sense of pride in ensuring that the tiny space I called home truly represented me, and I also take great pleasure in seeing friends’ decor, trinkets with sentimental backstories, whether professional organiser Marie Kondo could’ve arranged the space herself, or if they are more the type to have a chair which doubles as a wardrobe. The things we surround ourselves with speak a lot to our characters and identities.
Maxwell’s series began when he found himself shooting things he simply wasn’t interested in, and forced himself to work out exactly what did interest him. The photo series now stands at around 300 portraits depicting 40 people and their homes. With subjects ranging from couples relaxing on the sofa together, to friends competing in video games, Maxwell was able to capture intimate moments in an authentic way. He describes turning up to shoot with little to no notice, leading to largely unprepared spaces, and allowing us to see the subjects in their natural environments.
Granger’s portraits acknowledge the unnoticed by bringing a person, their home and in ways, their story, to an audience who may otherwise never have encountered them. We can learn a lot about the people within Maxwell’s work, from their style to their likes or dislikes and more.
This got me thinking about the ‘Humans of New York’ project; a photoblog and now book of portraits accompanied by interviews collected on the streets of New York City by photographer Brandon Stanton. Started in 2010, the project inspired hundreds of other ‘Humans of’ blogs around the world sharing the stories of people in other cities. Today, Stanton has photographed people in almost 20 countries, as well as interviewing former U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office in 2015.
Whilst Humans of New York offers context by accompanying each portrait with an interview, Maxwell Granger’s work allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Looking back at The Girl Chewing Gum, it is clear that whilst the film uses a voiceover to provide context, i.e. that the scene is a film set and the subjects are extras being directed within the shot, it turns out that this is untrue.
Humans of New York and Maxwell Granger both offer us the truth about their works’ subjects. With this in mind, surely it does not matter whether the truth is provided to us in interview format, or simply presented to us in one still image? The phrase ‘A picture speaks 1000 words’ comes to mind when reflecting on Granger’s work. Perhaps this is because the subjects are at home, their own personally-crafted spaces where we can tell a little more about them. Arguably, on the streets of New York City, it is much easier to be anonymous, a face in the crowd. Brandon Stanton’s work seeks to highlight the stories of people New Yorkers may have passed in the street without a second glance.
What we can draw from all these works is; that people are not ‘extras’, and each has their own unique personality, perspective and story, even if we don’t know it.
With this in mind, I felt ready to get out and capture my local area for this week’s workshop challenge. For this challenge, I decided to focus on Grand Avenue in Hove, a street I regularly walk down but rarely fully appreciate. Our challenge was to document, explore and evidence the location, and come up with something unique to it, presenting our interpretation in a media and format of our choice.
I decided early on that I would take 3 pictures, with one being my focal point, and 2 to add to it. My images are of; a beautiful building and its immaculate garden, a particularly pretty-coloured tree that stood out to me on this grey and horrible day, and later, the sun setting over the building I previously photographed. I was slightly disappointed by the weather conditions in my first shots, and then later, that if I had been earlier, maybe I could have caught the sun reflecting off the building’s windows. However, my research this week has made me really want to convey the truth in my final outcome for this workshop challenge.
As I looked over my images later, all I could think of is how often I had commented on or been disappointed that in my opinion, I could not capture Grand Avenue in a ‘better’ light, in better weather. I felt a bit of guilt as I looked at these images, which I had ended up really liking. I love where I live, and it is perfect rain or shine.
I needed time to think about how I could present my images, and ‘signed off’ for the night. As I was scrolling social media, I discovered a Tik Tok trend where people film their area with a low saturation, before restoring the levels to normal to show how much colour we live in. This made me think more about my images – there are plenty of beautiful colours within each, and I was intent on using them.
I used the eyedropper tool to find two colours in each image, six in total, and set out to use only these six colours to show my findings. I was particularly drawn to the building’s windows, and in my notes had mentioned how I wished I could’ve captured the sun reflecting off them. In my final output I decided to recreate the style of window in Illustrator, and use the two colours I’d picked from my sunset image as their reflection. From the image of the tree, I selected two greens with which I drew plants in similar styles to those in the photograph. I wanted to draw these by hand with my Apple Pencil, convincing myself it represented the level of care I thought had been put into looking after and maintaining these plants.
I am really pleased with my final output for the week. I feel as though it captures the essence of the street, and the area as a whole. It has also challenged my ways of thinking and encouraged me to venture out of my comfort zone. Documenting my surroundings so meticulously is new to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so and pushing myself to notice as much as I could.
A key takeaway from this week for me is that I really don’t need to be quite so much of a perfectionist. Sunshine and rainbows were not at all necessary for a creative output that I am proud of. I hope as I continue to develop I become even more confident embracing unexpected changes and adapting quickly. Overall, I am pleased with my reflections this week, and how I was still able to achieve my aim of depicting the truth, whilst appreciating the beauty of the world around me.
Ingleby Gallery, 2014. John Smith: The Girl Chewing Gum. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.inglebygallery.com/exhibitions/4662-john-smith-the-girl-chewing-gum/overview. [Accessed 28 October 2020].
Its Nice That, 2018. Maxwell Granger captures irony and authenticity in portraits of his friends in their rooms. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/maxwell-granger-photography-090818 [Accessed 28 October 2020].
Tate, 2020. The Girl Chewing Gum. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/smith-the-girl-chewing-gum-t13237. [Accessed 28 October 2020].