Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Final Prints and Evaluation)

After spending what seems like endless hours in the darkroom I finally printed my final series of 11 images. I did want to print more than 11 images however I ran out of time but overall I am very happy with how they tuned out. This assignment has had it’s ups and downs and throughout the process I believe I have gained many skills and developed not only as a photographer but as an image maker. By using analogue it made me stop and consider the overall composition of my images as well as what I wanted to show in that frame. When shooting in digital I believe we have the tendency to become lazy and rely too much on the camera to do the work. Whereas during this assignment I had to measure the exposure myself and focus the image myself.

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The name of my series is Urban Blight and the piece of text following my series would be “Urban Blight documents and highlights the throw away culture which we as a society have adopted. It examines the effects of our actions when we simply throw away rubbish with complete disregard for the consequences and the narrative this leaves behind. These areas then become magnets for urban blight and a never-ending cycle transpires causing mass urban decline. Although there is no human presence in the images, we can see the remnant of our actions and attitudes.”

At the beginning of the assignment I began looking into how we as a society have adopted a throw away culture and a disposable and neglectful attitude towards the objects we own and the areas in which we live. But also how these objects and areas still tell a story of what happened there or about the identity of the person who discarded the object. One of the issues I wanted to raise was how the places which are no longer in use or serve a purpose in society have all into disrepair and seemingly go unnoticed by society. In the worst case these areas which have fallen into states of disrepair have been degraded even further through land pollution such as graffiti and fly tipping and the lack of investment by city councils have let whole areas fall into decline. I wanted to show how these are issues within our society which need addressing. I aimed to highlight the state in which these areas are in at this moment in time. Therefore serving as a documentation. One of the questions I am to raise in my work is whether areas will always end up like this because of our throw away culture and whether this is an issue which society is aware of because most of these areas people walk past on a daily basis however nothing is done about it.

While shooting in areas of urban decay, which are dotted around the city, I began to notice a pattern on different visits. That the areas which are already facing these types of problems are getting progressively worse the more time goes on. They are almost like magnets for trash and the process of dumping the trash in this area becomes unheralded. In turn, the cycle will never be broken unless our attitudes change. I hope to raise this issue within my work and show people the how by not disposing of their waste correctly they are contributing to urban decay and it is an issue they should be aware of.

Although I only photographed Coventry I believe that my images can be put within the wider social landscape and still raise these issues. If I was to take this series of images further I would photograph different cities across the world to show how this is a global issue.

Overall I believe that through this assignment I have answered the questions I set out to answer. In the early stages of my investigation I was interested in knowing whether this is something new and will it always occur. I conclude that this way of respecting our environment will continue for future generations as this is what we as a society have been brought up to do. The places I photographed are devoid of human presence however the degraded scenes reflect the effects of human’s actions. Without this being monitored it becomes a place for graffiti and a dumping ground for societies un-wanted objects. This gives people an incentive to not take responsibility for their actions. In turn contributing to a trash culture.

List of references for whole assignment 

Andersen, H. (2003) Urban Sores: On the Interaction Between Segregation, Urban Decay, and Deprived Neighbourhoods. Aldershot: Ashgate Pub Ltd

Blincoe, E. (2014) The Home Place [online] available from http://www.emilyblincoe.com/thehomeplace [6 November 2014]

Brouws, J. (2000) Discarded Landscape [online] available from http://www.jeffbrouws.com/series/main_discarded.html [17 November 2014]

Cool Geography. (n.d) World Cities- Urban Decline [online] available from http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year 13/World Cities/Decline/Urban_Decline.htm [15 November 2014]

“Culture” The Free Dictionary available from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/culture [2 November 2014]

Divola, J. (n.d) John Divola Portfolio [online] available from http://www.divola.com/ [8 November 2014]

Fraenkel Gallery (n.d) Richard Misrach “Destroy this Memory” [online] available from http://fraenkelgallery.com/richard-misrach-destroy-this-memory [5 November 2014]

Girard, G., Gibson, W., and Rubinfien, L. (2007) Phantom Shanghai. Canada: Magenta Publishing for the Arts

Hido, T. (n.d) House Hunting [online] available from http://www.toddhido.com/ [6 November 2014]

Johnson, E. (2009) Sawdust Mountain [online] available from http://eirikjohnson.com/sawdustmountain/sawdustmountain [5 November 2014]

Landscape Stories (2011) Jeff Brouws Discarded Landscape [online] available from http://www.landscapestories.net/issue-02/002-discarded-landscape?lang=en [17 November 2014]

Merton, R. (1968) Social Theory and Social Structure. Enlarged Edition. New York: The Free Press

Pye, G. (2010) Trash Culture Objects and Obsolescene in Cultural Perspective. Pieterlen: Peter Lang

Shore, S. (2010) The Nature of Photographs. 2nd Edition. United Kingdom: Phaidon Press Limited

Steacy, W (n.d) Down these Mean Streets [online] available from http://willsteacy.com/projects/down-these-mean-streets/ [15 November 2014]

Sternfeld, J. (1997) On this Site: Landscape in Memoriam. First Edition. California: Chronicle Books

Sternfeld, J.(1993) On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, The Happy Land Social Club [online] available form http://www.berk-edu.com/RESEARCH/joelSternfeld/pages/bronx.html [5 November 2014]

Sternfeld, J. (1993) On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, The Northwest Corner of Florence and Normandie Avenues [online] available from http://zoltanjokay.de/zoltanblog/joel-sternfeld-on-this-site-7 [5 November 2014]

O’Hagan, S. (2014) ‘The Guardian’ Nadav Kander: Dust review [online] available from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/14/nadav-kander-dust-flowers-gallery-haunting-painterly [3 November 2014]

Vergara, C. (1997) The New American Ghetto. Paperback Edition. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press

 

Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Presentation of Final Images)

The overall presentation of my work can either strengthen it or weaken it and it will also effect how the work is viewed by the audience. In order for my work to be taken seriously and highlight the serious issues raised in my work,  I do not want it to look gimmicky. From the onset of the assignment I never wanted my work to be presented in a straight horizontal or vertical row. When researching into other photographers work I took note of how they presented their work and how this made me view the work. I really liked the way Todd Hido presented his series Excerpts From Silver Meadows. The range of image sizes makes you jump from picture to picture and the range of images allow the viewer to form their own story and come to their own conclusion of what he is trying to show. I think this method of displaying work is very effective as he had a wide range of subject matter. Also the use of no frames creates an informal and intimate element to the work, it encourages the viewer to get up close to the pictures and this is what I want to do with my work. I want people to engage with it and see the details of urban decay in the image. I think that presenting my work too formally will make the scenes appear almost beautiful when I want them to see the neglected and rundown state of the areas.

Excerpts from Silver Meadows (2013)
On This Site Exhibition

I also liked how Joel Sternfeld presented his work for his series On This Site. The use of diptych’s accompanied by a single image in a frame next to it allows the viewer to move from site to site. Like Sternfeld I photographed different sites however the subject in my image varies from site to site therefore I don’t think my work would be as effective presented like this. However the use of a plain white frame makes the image stand out more against the white wall and this is something which I am considering when presenting my images. I want them to stand out against the background yet not cause any distraction.

Another idea I had which was inspired by Todd Hido and Will Steacy’s work is the use of photomontage with magazine cuttings. Steacy made a photomage of his work which was imbedded within a range of magazine, newspaper clippings and articles which showed propaganda within America. While my intentions of this project were not politically focused it would be an interesting concept to include articles which show the trash and neglectful culture in the UK and also all the cases of vandalism and how society as a whole as responded to it. On the other hand this could also distract the viewer from the images and add to the already cluttered scene which would be quite overwhelming to view.

Down these Mean Streets Exhibition (2012)

I decided that I wanted to present my work in white frames however I wanted my images to be different sizes and presented in a collage like fashion. The frames will be clustered together and the scattered like appearance will take away the formality of the images. By having the prints different sizes it will make the viewer look closer at the images and get up close to them. In addition, by not displaying the images in a liner format it creates a slight feeling of disorder and makes them less perfect. This is what the images reflect.

Below is the order in which I would want the images displayed in if they were in a gallery which is where I would want my images to be displayed. However I understand that this may limit my audience and therefore if they were to be presented in a newspaper or magazine I would display them in this format without the frames. Due to being on a limited budget I purchases 3 different frame sizes to show how my images would be displayed if they were in a gallery. I did originally want my frames to have a thinner boarder however I was limited as to what I could buy from the shops in coventry as they had to be within walking distance and they had to be affordable. If I was to do this again and could afford it I would purchase white frames similar to the ones in Joel Sternfeld’s exhibition.

Final layout presentation

Final layout framesAccompanying the images to the left I would display the title of the series, Urban Blight and below this would be a brief summary of what the series is about. I do not think that the series needs an in depth piece of text or explanation to support it. Plus I want the viewer to view my work with no preconceptions and to gather most of the context through viewing the images.

Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Further Initial Prints and Tests)

In order for me to produce my 10 final prints I produced what seems like endless test prints and test strips to determine the right exposure and size for my images. Using my contact sheet I selected the strongest images and went through the process of developing them. Along the way I did face a number of challenges in relation to developing the prints and using the enlarger correctly. However I think this is due to my lack of experience in the darkroom. Having never used a darkroom before, it was a big learning curve and a lot to take in. As a result this project has really pushed me and tested my ability to learn quickly as well become more patience in my photographic practice. This is also one of the main reasons why I did lots of test prints as I wanted to ensure my final images came out as best as possible under the short time scale.

Initial test prints – Failed Prints 

Scan 21

On the contact sheet and negative this image appeared to look in focus and when I shot it I thought I got the whole scene in focus. I did not want a shallow depth of field, however the bench in the foreground appears to be the only object in focus. Therefore I decided against this image being used as a final image. However I still believe that this image relates to my theme greatly and it would of been good to add to my series. If I had more time I would of reshot this.

Scan 22

This was another image which I did want to include in my final series however it took many attempts to get the exposure right and when I did manage to ensure the exposure/contrast was right the text on the box was too small to read clearly and this was a key part of the image. However I do not have evidence of this because I forgot to pick up the print in the darkroom. The box was discarded next to a trolley full of rubbish and gave instructions of how to expose of needles correctly. I wanted to include this in my final series as I believed it supported my main idea of a trash culture and how it applied to other aspects of our life. That even though help is given we still throw that away. The bold title ‘Do the right thing’ plays on morals and if the person does not discard of it in the manner shown on the box it is as if they are going against societies morals. In turn, because the box was to discard of needles it was more than likely it was used for drugs and this further reinforces the context behind the image and tells a story of the objects life and the type of person how discarded it.

If I was to visit this site again I would re-shoot the object, however I would move closer to the image and just get the detail of the description.

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Again I wanted to use this image in my final series however no matter how many times I changed the print size and exposure time it was not very sharp. I came to the conclusion that it was out of focus when I took the shot, I am quite disappointed that this image did not turn out in focus as it gives context to my other images. This is where I shot many of the pieces of rubbish and graffiti. The industrial like structure shows what the area within coventry was once used for however now after most of the industry has moved out of the city centre it has fallen into disrepair and a place where people dump their rubbish.

For this image I found it very difficult to get an exposure and contrast that worked well. The first image was very underexposed even at 17 seconds. In order to make it darker I increased the aperture on the enlarger to 4 and then set the time to 12 seconds with a contrast of 2.5. However I felt that the brick white brick wall behind the skip was too white. I then tried the same exposure & aperture time but I decreased the contrast to 1.5. However this made the image very grey and there were no clear highlights and shadows. I do want to use this image so I will continue to experiment with different exposure times and contrasts.

Scan 19

I also tried to re print this image however I over exposed it again even on 10 seconds. I do want to use this as one of my final images therefore I am going to keep experimenting with different exposure times in the darkroom. Although I am planning on my images being relatively dark, you cannot see any detail in this.

Scan 23The same with this image. Although I want the main focus to be on the graffiti on the wall the image overall is too dark and you cannot see the detail in the brick work. I will have to re print this and decrease the exposure time in order for this to work well as a final print.

Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Second Shoot)

After my first shoot I decide to re-visit some of the locations and photograph different parts of them, from different angles. I wanted to ensure that I had at least 3 strong images of the graffiti. I feel like in my first shoot I was not 100% certain of what I wanted to photograph specifically, however this time around I had a better idea of what I truly wanted to show in my work. As a result, I feel that there are more useable negatives from this shoot. I produced a contact sheet in order to select which images to enlarge and produce test prints with. Although the majority of the negatives were exposed correctly the top two rows of images appear to be overexposed which made it difficult to see how these images turned out.

Scan 12From the contact sheet I decided to enlarge 4 images, the first one being one of the overexposed images on the contact sheet. I had to use a lot of test strips in order to get the exposure right. In the end I ended up having an exposure time of 10 seconds, the contrast of 2.5 and an aperture of 5.6. However I still feel that this image is lacking contrast just like the rest of the images I printed last time. Therefore I am going to go back and experiment further with the contrast and exposure time.

Scan 13

After focusing my attention more on items of rubbish and discarded items I started walking to more run down areas and alley ways. Admittedly I did feel nervous and uneasy about visiting these places, however I believe that the results were worth it. If I did not push myself to go to these places the images may not of been as honest and impactful. I believe that my images are more powerful and allow the viewer to envisage the atmosphere of the place. I found a sofa which had been abandoned in an alley and a trolley which was full of rubbish. I like how the rubbish is almost comedic and makes a point of highlighting the throw away culture in our society. I interoperated it as showing how we as a society shop are shopping for rubbish. Essentially we are a society which buys rubbish and we as consumers are not taking the responsibility to dispose of the waste correctly. In turn we are creating a culture and habit of being nonchalant and turning a blind eye to the issues we are creating. This also links back to the original question posed by the assignment. “Are you in harmony or in conflict within the social structure that you are part of?” and after taking these series of images I am closer to answering the question. I personally believe I am in conflict with this throw away culture and attitude towards waste as I actively take it upon myself to be as economical and environmentally friendly as I can be.

Scan 16

After using many test strips to find the correct exposure time I decided to develop these images. However when enlarged the exposure times were incorrect (as seen in the images above) The left image is underexposed even though it had been exposed for 17 seconds. The image on the right of the vandalised wall and roof which is in a state of disrepair would of been a good image however it is very overexposed. I am going to re-print these two images again.

After having a solid idea of which prints I want to develop further and become my final series of images I am now going to research further into presentation techniques, what type of environment I would want my work displayed in as well as considering what size I want to print my images.

Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Initial Shoot)

For my initial shoot for the assignment I took out the 35mm Pentax K1000. Having previously used the camera I was familiar with how to use the settings and I was able to predict how the images would turn out. I decided that by using a 35mm it would give me more flexibility when shooting as it is more compact and portable compared to the medium format cameras and this was important because I would be walking to all of the locations. Also because I would be photographing a wide range of subjects and I only had a short period of time to do so it would also be more time effective to have 35 shots available per roll of film compared to the 12 shots I would get on a 120 film. However before I started shooting with film I decided to take a few test shots on my DSLR on the black and white setting to see how the images are likely to turn out.

After doing this I then shot in black and white film (ISO 400). Although the Pentax K1000 had a built in light meter I took out a handheld digital light meter so I could get a more accurate aperture reading. Before I went to develop the negatives in the darkroom I used the Nikon Cooscan to scan the negatives in digitally. From here I was able to get a rough idea of whether the negatives had been processed correctly. I experienced a problem when rewinding the film which meant I had to temporarily open the back on the camera to realign the film. Therefore the first few shots of my film were exposed, however these were only test shots so it did not affect the rest of the images. Satisfied that my film was useable I then went onto produce a contact sheet in the dark room.

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For my first shoot I decided to focus on areas which show signs of urban decay and neglect, highlighting how as a society we continue to let areas get into this state and we continue to leave it untouched. In turn, by photographing the graffiti I began to notice a pattern. The graffiti only appeared in these types of areas and in the modern/regenerated areas of the city there was no sign of graffiti or land pollution, this made me question if people’s attitudes to dumping waste and vandalising were effected by the area in which they live. If these areas were redeveloped would this still happen due to the attitudes of the people living there? or would the throw away culture change?

From the contact sheet I saw that there was a number of useable images which could potentially make my final 10 images. I chose the strongest 3 images and enlarged them. For these images I used an exposure time of 14 seconds and the contrast on the enlarger was set to 2.5.

Scan 2

Although I like this image and the angle it is shot at I am going to revisit this area again to try and photograph it from a different perspective. Although I feel the building works barrier adds to the ‘untouched’ atmosphere of the image I would like to see what it looks like not in the shot and how this effects the overall appearance of the image. I believe that it makes the image look slightly cluttered.

Scan 1

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Scan 11

Although the test prints turned out in focus and neither too underexposed nor overexposed, I feel that they do look a bit grey and are lacking contrast and clear shadows and highlights. Therefore I will reprint them and experiment with a higher contrast setting on the enlarger. I believe that the images work well with what I am trying to portray in my work, the viewer is able to see enough of the subject matter in the frame to get context. However it makes them think more about what lies beyond the frame – just like in Eirik Johnson’s work.

In my other shoot I am going to experiment more with photographing different areas and different subjects such as items of rubbish and discarded objects.

Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Additional Photographer Research)

After researching into Joel Sternfeld and his series On this Site: Landscape in Memoriam, I decided to take the book out of the library so I could view the images in person and see how they were presented. This would also give me ideas of how I could present my final images. I did want to view the book sooner into my assignment however I had to file for a reservation in the library which took time. After finally getting hold of the book I was exited and intrigued as to how the work was displayed within the book and how this affected the way in which I viewed the images.

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The book allowed me to see details within the images which I had previously missed when viewing the pictures online. The text accompanying the image on the white page next to it gave me a greater insight into the context of the image. In turn, this allowed me to have an emotional connection to the individual image and the series as a whole. This is something I am going to take into consideration when presenting my final images.

While I was in the library I found a photobook by a photographer which I had never heard of before and thought their work would be helpful to look into for this assignment. I found Greg Girard’s Phantom Shanghai series very moving. Although the series is not shot using an anallogue camera, nor is in black and white, the images still tell a story and create an eerie atmosphere.

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House on Songshan Lu (2005)
Huangpi Lu House (2005)

The series shows how the city of Shanghai has transformed itself in the early years of the 21st Century. As Shanghai modernises and becomes a mega city, the buildings and neighbourhoods which were once preserved in many cases by accident are now being demolished. Girard has been photographing the effects of this transformation since 1998. He has managed to capture how buildings, shops, homes and neighbourhoods are being turned to rubble during the process of urban development. This unique series of images allowed me to gain a further insight into how other cities around the world respond to urban decay and buildings which have fallen into disrepair. This series of images has really inspired me and made me think of the wider context surrounding the image. This is something I want my audience to gain from my images.

Another photographers work I researched into was Jeff Brouws. Having briefly viewed his work in a lecture, I wanted to know more about his series Discarded Landscape. Although this series is shot in colour, his style of photography is very similar to his black and white analogue series Twenty Six Abandoned Gasoline stations. In this series Brouws’ work is presented in the form of a diptych and I think that this method of presentation works very well. It allowed me as a viewer to see more of the scene in the frame and therefore see the scale of the abandoned area.

Abandoned House near Chene Avenue, Detroit, Michigan (1999)

Brouws stated that “Photographs always exist in a context—they are laden with social or political meaning” (Landscape Stories 2011) and this is an idea which he explored closely for twenty years. Having experienced a philosophical affinity with the New Topographic’s movement and how this acted as documentation for the impacts the suburban world had on the natural one, he wanted to get to the core of the issue. Through his images Brouws asked how suburbanisation after World War 2 affected the city centres in America and what the consequences were as America moved from an urban lifestyle of high density living to a suburban lifestyle.

By the mid 1990’s Brouws turned his attention to discarded landscapes which were composed of abandoned manufacturing sites he “wanted to investigate these obscure parts of our social landscape, environments shaped by a devolving decay.” (Landscape Stories 2011). While reading an interview Brouws did on this series of work I picked up on a key point which links directly to my own assignment. Brouws explains how photography plays a vital role in our understanding of social issues and social structures, and this is something I aim to show in my work as well.

Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Further development 2)

In order to begin shooting for my assignment I walked around Coventry trying to find possible places to photograph to represent my chosen theme.  Although I am not overly familiar with Coventry, it became apparent from the short walk that it had the typical characteristics of a major city in regard to land use and the socio-economic environment. I did not have to walk far from my own accommodation to see signs of urban decay and land pollution such as vandalism, litter and gap sites where buildings have fallen into disrepair and have been knocked down as a result. Urban decline can be defined as the deterioration of the inner city which is often caused by a lack of investment and maintenance and is accompanied by characteristics such as a decline in economic performance, poor quality of living, unemployment and crime (Cool Geography 2012). Following on from this I am going to research further into the characteristics and make this the focus of my assignment.

John Divola 

Before I started shooting I wanted to research further into bodies of work by photographers who documented graffiti, urban decline and link in with my One of the photographers I came across was John Divola.

Zuma Series (1977-1978)
Zuma Series (1977-1978)

For this particular series of work Divola said he visited a house and every time he retuned he would notice minor changes from rearranged papers to empty beer cans carelessly discarded in the corner of the room. However, sometimes the changes were more substantial such as it being set on fire and full of tree branches. Although he found these changes interesting they did not compel him enough to photograph them, instead he took to spray painting the house in a doodle like fashion. Divola saw the graffiti as an aspect of what was there and a way of communicating his own planned and deliberate actions and how this could further alter the space. It shows that the graffiti becomes part of the scene and begins to create a new layer to the story of discarded and abandoned objects. Further reinforcing one of the questions I posed earlier on in my research of the items which are thrown away create an identity for the person who left them there.

Throw away society and Urban Decline 

While exploring further into Devola’s work it made me go back again to one of my original questions and thoughts about living in a throw away and trash culture. In order to gain a better insight into the modern throw away society and consumer culture I read Trash Culture Objects and Obsolescene in Cultural Perspective by Gillian Pye. The book offered me an insight into the significance of trash and the representation of social and cultural identity as well as how our views on ‘trash’ have been altered by products such as films, literature, exhibitions and visual art. Pye makes an important point on the role in which trash plays in being a visual representation of a memory or period in time. In turn, how the objects which we throw away often hold a memory. However I would also argue that trash can also be very utilitarian and simply serve its purpose and then be disposed of. For example a crisp packet does not hold any significant value or memory, it simple serves it’s purpose.  As a result this has altered my approach to photographing ‘trash’. I will move away from photographing the obvious, instead I will focus on more conceptual ideas and photography more ambiguous items which have been thrown away. This will allow the reader to visualise the context themselves and form the link between the other images in the series.

Furthermore it can be argued that as a society we don’t seem to remove the old and make room for the new like we did in times of mass development, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century during the industrial revolution. Instead evidence suggests that UK cities are not developing as rapidly as cities in NIC’s or LEDC’s such as Shanghai and Rio De Janeiro, therefore many areas within cities face decades of neglect and a lack of investment. Development is stagnated and development projects are often small scale and don’t stretch to these areas of the city. This leaves many areas in need of regeneration such as the areas which I aim to photograph in Coventry. These areas serve as a place for people to dispose of unwanted items and get away with vandalism. I’m very interested in how this reflects society’s opinion on run down areas and what this says about peoples attitudes to waste. Is it morally right to dump waste in these areas just because other objects are dumped there? Is this a new type of culture or has it always been like this but has developed into something new?

Another example Pye uses to show how society holds onto the old is through heritage sites and museums. In particular, Pye focuses on trash museums where rubbish has been regenerated into pieces of art in order to make a comment on how we live in a consumer lead society. In many of the museums the artwork reflects behavioural uncertainty in the relationship of modern industrialised societies to material objects (Pye 2010: 45). However in many cases the rubbish isn’t displayed as rubbish, in fact it’s rubbish status is stripped away – leaving it up to the viewer to form an opinion of the art without any preconceptions.

After this further research my initial idea has changed slightly. I want to incorporate different aspects of a throw away society and trash culture into my work. The pictures will all have a similar aesthetic however they will all encompass the same theme. As well as photographing waste on the street, areas of urban decline and graffiti I am also considering collecting important documents which serve as a record such as a receipts, bank recipes and even notes with important dates and times on as well as ambitious objects which are linked to the narrative of a trow away society.