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.


Published by

Charlotte Pattinson

Photography student

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