Looking at photographs is a passive occupation, we view, we interpret but we don’t interact with the subject. We need never move from our own comfort zone. Chris Killips photographs show alienation, disassociation and implications of violence, but we do not experience a real sense of fear. James Ravilious invokes images of a simpler more community based life, but how much of what he portrays is real? We rely totally on the image one person has chosen to convey. Did Ravilious realize when he took photos of rural life in Devon that his sense of place would have such and impact. Did Killip show only one side of life when portraying industrial decline in the North East. The photographer chooses and the viewer interprets, can photography ever really convey the essence of a place if how we experience somewhere can vary so much?
Having lived overseas in developing countries for 20 years, I had many opportunities to talk to people who had never visited the UK before, and many had only encountered the UK through photographs, television and sometimes the Internet. Their image of England was predominantly of London tourist points such as ‘Buckingham Palace’, Big Ben, and the Underground. Manchester United was also well known though very few had any idea where Manchester was and assumed it was in some way connected to London. So do the photographs below convey a true sense of place or are they simply manufactured to sell the image a commodity. From this point of view, sense of place is can only be predisposed and manufactured.So where does this leave the photographer trying to convey a less commercial or predisposed sense of place? Is it possible? My own work conveys what I see but also what fulfills others expectations. It seems that if I put across what I see as ‘my sense of place’ it isn’t acceptable, because it doesn’t give a recognizable sense of place ie. it could be anywhere. The people are not ‘Cumbrian’ just people, they are not unique to this place. Yet in actuality they cannot be anything but unique, and what my critics are saying is that the subjects of my photos are not, how they expect them to be. So as a photographer, should I compromise on what I see and what is expected?