Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Further research + Idea Development)

Within my images I want to create a narrative so the viewer can begin to unpick the different parts of the image and create a story about the context of the image. From the image the viewer should be able to imagine the story behind what happened at a certain location or the story behind the object which I have photographed. Therefore I have researched into other photographers work which has a similar theme to mine and also a similar way of showing a narrative in their work. After reflecting on my research and initial thoughts I have become more interested on how the areas and objects which I chose to photograph reflect the type of person who lives there or who discarded the object and how this is a reflection of their identity. I aim to raise the questions about the person such as…from the environment or objects photographed does this person or group of people appear to be in conflict or in harmony with society? and perhaps what does it say about their culture and attitudes?

The assignment brief states that we have to use analogue cameras, at first I thought this would limit me to the types of things i could photograph because I only have a small amount of shots on one roll of film however it will make me think more about what I am trying to show in the image. However one elemement which I am most apprehensive about is shooting in black and white film. The darkroom only allows us to develop black and white film, therefore if I shot with colour film I would not be able to develop my film. On the other hand, the use of black and white film may make the different textures and tones within the environment become more prominent and rule out distractions within the image which colour would emphasise. I have limited experience in shooting with an analogue camera  therefore I am going to be using a 35mm camera in order to produce my images as I personally find it easier to use and it is more compact which makes it easier for me to move from location to location.

In order to understand my theme better and explore new styles of working which are very different from my own I conducted further research into photographers and their bodies of work.

Joel Sternfeld

One of the photographers I looked into was Joel Sternfeld and in particular his series On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam. I am also going to take this book out of the library to see first hand how the book is presented. We had talked briefly about his work in one of our lectures and from then on I have been interested in his work. Sternfeld photographed what appeared to be serene urban and rural landscapes. However once the viewer begins to understand the context behind them, which is supported by text they become much more significant and a deeper meaning is formed. Sternfeld describes the series as a “list of places [he] cannot forget because of the tragedies that identify them.” I found this series very interesting and it highlighted to me the importance of a caption or small piece of text to accompany the image and how this can change the way the audience views the image. This is something I am going to take into consideration when presenting my final images.

On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, The Happy Land Social Club

The Happy Land Social Club was a popular, unlicensed Honduran social club. On March 25, 1990, Julio Gonzalez was thrown out of the club for quarreling with Lydia Feliciano, his former girlfriend and a Happy Land employee. He bought a dollar’s worth of gasoline, poured a trail of gas from the street through the club’s single doorway, ignited it, and left. The fire killed eighty-seven people. Lydia Feliciano was one of five survivors.

On This Site: Landscape In Memoriam, The Northwest Corner of Florence and Normandie Avenues

On April 29, 1992, four white police officers on trial for the beating of motorist Rodney King were acquitted. A videotape of King’s beating had been extensively televised. The not guilty verdicts became a catalyst for widespread civil unrest. Riots began with several mob assaults at this intersection. Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, was pulled from his truck and severely beaten as a camera crew broadcast the event live from a news helicopter. The Los Angeles Riots caused more than fifty deaths and an estimated one billion dollars worth of damage.

Another key element I noticed when looking further into this body of work is that many of the places he photographed did not show any signs of the tragic events which happened there. This links back to one of our lectures which discussed the truth in photographs. For me these images question how much truth a photograph can hold and how he can only represent what he sees and the key to understanding the image is for the viewer to create the context from what they see and what they already know. I aim to work on a similar concept in my image. That the viewer creates the context themselves and from this a deeper meaning is formed about the culture of the place and the history behind it. Another idea I had relating to this is for the viewer to image what else lies beyond the frame.


Eirik Johnson 

Sawdust Mountain
Sawdust Mountain

Johnson went back to photograph the forests and mountains he grew up playing in. The photographs symbolise the icons of the region and begin to address how the landscape is intrinsically linked to the Northwest identity and the people who live and work there. Johnson explores the relationship between how the natural resources of landscape support the communities, this reinforces the idea that the environment in which you live shapes the culture in which you live. One of the elements I found most interesting about this series of work is it highlights how the logging industry is at odds with the ideal of a sustainable method of timber logging. As the industry begins to decline and the mills shut down it depicts how the surrounding communities have suffered. This is another element within his work which I want to try and embed within my own work within this assignment. Perhaps I could visit locations within coventry which have been effected by deindustrialisation and how this has effected the people there and the types of environment in which they live in.

It also made me question whether the peoples identities were intrinsically linked to the culture and area there were brought up in. Although the images do not contain any human presence it is very obvious how they have shaped the landscape and what activities occur there. This concept interested me greatly and related back to some of my previous research on human presence within an image. By these images not being populated it allows the viewer to spend more time looking deeper into the image and therefore they spend more time contemplate the image. It also allows the viewer to imagine what is beyond the frame. This not only captures the viewers attention for longer it draws them in and creates a studium. I want to be able to do this in my series of 10 images.

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Published by

Charlotte Pattinson

Photography student

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