Sunday, 26 May 2013

It's what we have and how we use it

'It’s what we have how we use it, where we place it and it’s importance in our lives that helps those we meet get to know us, on a personal level it provides a sense of place …. Our place our space'

A TV show begins a scene with an establishing shot of a city or a building before we see what is going on inside? And how once inside, the set designers create rooms that are unique and reflect the personality of the characters? Storytellers know that when defining characters, place is important.

Paint your house a different colour than the 100 matching homes surrounding it. Hang photos in your living room that you or a local photographer took rather than buying them at Target. Shop at the small-scale grocery store. Appreciate and emphasise the unique things about the places around us and allow them to shape and explain our personalities.

Sense of Place in photography may work in a similar way, setting the scene, creating the characters and showing the detail, but this doesn't have to be in one single image. In a series of images, a wide vista may set the scene, the characters are created and defined not only by the inevitable people and place shots where they are placed in their immediate environment but also by closer shots showing detail that is related to the overall concept of the specific place and what it means to the photographer. 'Sense of Place' is subjective. Overall the tourist visiting the lake district sees the beautiful vistas and the quaint shops, they see the Herdwick sheep and buy Kendal mint cake but how much of this is manufactured and sold as the character.
(Photos by Annabelle Studholme)

Out of the ordinary

In the article below Martin Parr talks about his approach to sense of place and how he  reveals beauty in the banal and says how even mundane objects have charm - you only have to notice them.

The Guardian, Saturday 4 April 2009

As we travel around Britain, I am convinced most of us cannot really appreciate what we are seeing. We take too much for granted, because it is all so familiar.

We float through our cities and countryside with our eyes half closed. However if we go abroad, especially to countries which are very different to 
our own, our sensibilities are awakened; everything is fresh and exciting. I am proposing that same approach should be rekindled when we look at our own environment.
I have made a career as a photographer and my main subject matter has been the normal; I try to show how extraordinary it really is. I have taken supposedly boring subjects such as supermarkets and the English seaside and shown them as new and appealing.
Most of us, when we go out with a camera in our own country, try to find exotic subject matter to photograph.
I am sure you know what I mean: a glorious sunset, a beautiful old building, the picture postcard view. We are also influenced by expectations of what interesting views or photographs should show: the unusual, the unfamiliar as well as the pretty, cute or beautiful. In fact, everyday objects are unusual, but we are not able to see this clearly.
I want to put forward a case for taking more seriously the everyday object, we should appreciate those objects that are so familiar we usually don't notice them. Take the scarecrow, a wonderful example of outsider art, and made with a real purpose. If you were to say to their farmer creators that they were sculptures, they would look at you as if you were mad. However if you take photos of them in splendid isolation, the results are both compelling and surreal.
There are two categories of everyday objects: those that are constantly changing in terms of design, and those that are reassuringly constant. In the former category, take something as simple as the petrol pump. I photographed one in use in Salford in 1986, and now it looks like it is from another era. What at the time may have been rejected as a photo of great tedium has become a fascinating image.
The benefit of photographing such objects now is that time is on your side. These images will improve with age. The older examples of the everyday become more fascinating in comparison to the modern.
Think also about "timeless" objects. Personally, I love the humble postbox. The simple design, the distinctive colour add up to make this a national icon. For many years now, I have been trying to locate the postboxes with the most stunning backdrops, particularly in the Scottish islands. Here you can find postboxes literally on the beach and at remote and beautiful crossroads. I have also looked for remote phoneboxes, but I believe the postbox has the edge, as it is smaller and visually stronger.
Sadly, the classic red phonebox is in decline and any remaining public phoneboxes are more likely to be the glass and metal variety.
I would urge everyone to start looking at the world in a different way. Spend some time looking at everyday objects, at their design, their shape, their individual characteristics. Think ahead and imagine their significance. Many are interesting and aesthetically pleasing in their own right, if you just give them some attention. And of course, the discipline of taking out a camera and documenting the things around you on film is a great way to start to open your eyes wider.

The Guardian, Saturday 4 April 2009
Martin Parr is a Magnum photographer;

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