Part five, Project 2 Exercise 5.2
Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central
square, and write down everything you can see. No matter how boring it seems or how
detailed, just write it down. Spend at least an hour on this exercise.
Here are some areas to consider:
• Can you transform this into a photography version?
• Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?
• Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get
your tripod out?
• Would it be better in black and white or colour?
• Would you include your list with the final images?
You may choose to turn this into a photography project if it interests you.
To perform this Exercise I sat at a table outside a cafe on a centre city street. For about an hour I noted down in a notebook what I saw.
I had read beforehand Georges Perec’s ‘An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris’ (Perec, 1975) but this did not prepare me fully for the difficulty of the task: I had not appreciated that there would be so much to record, so much in fact that it was impossible to write it down fast enough. This means that I was forced at many times to edit, that is, to record some things knowing that others would go un-noted. This process of choosing what to include is reminiscent of the act of taking a photograph – what to include within the frame given the almost infinite possibilities. So it was with this Exercise, five minutes could have been spend recording the visual details of some of the individuals who stopped in front of me as I sat but then so much else that was passing would have gone un-noted.
Can you transform this into a photography version?
Yes, but as mentioned above the dilemma is what to choose to include. One possibility is if I included only the visually pleasing, or what provided a good composition, but this would not even come close to photographing everything that is present or happening. Perhaps setting up a camera on a tripod or on a table top and taking a time-lapse series of photographs would ensure that nothing was missed. But this is not the way people look at anything, it is necessary to discriminate in order to comprehend. Any photography version of the list would involve editing at the time of shooting (i.e. what to photography) and then again at the time of reviewing all the photographs that had been taken in order to tell a particular story or, by means of removing the ‘noise’ of other images, to reveal what I think has been submerged or hidden.
Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?
It would depend on what I wanted to say with the final set of photographs. Broadly, to stay in the same place will reveal literally the big picture, an overview of the scene. Getting in close to the detail could also do this but it would be necessary that the details were indicative of a larger situation. For example: photographing a wounded and frightened child can show the plight of hundreds of refugees caught up in a particular crisis; photographing the expensive jewellery and cloths worn by an individual can indicated the type of person to be found in a whole district or street.
Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get your tripod out?
Using a tripod gives people the choice as to whether or not they wish to be photographed, and this inevitably profoundly changes what appears in the photographs. The use of the discreet camera phone gives greater freedom to photograph – the scene is captured ‘as is’ without the changes that the known presence of a photographer would bring. If I wished to place the emphasis on portraiture I would likely use a tripod, whereas use of the camera phone would yield photographs of people in situations in which they were unaware that they were being photographed. Clearly the two approached result in two very different types of photographs, which could tell similar or very different stories.
Would it be better in black and white or colour?
Black-and-white abstracts the scene by enhancing the weight of form and contrast in the image, something that has been exploited successfully in street photography. Therefore if I choose to photograph discreetly I would be more likely to convert the images to black-and-while. Portraiture would likely be suited to colour, however, black-and-white could lend an element of social documentary to the portraits.
Would you include your list with the final images?
Perhaps, depending on the audience for the images. The list is exhaustive and contains much that (inevitably) is not photographed. The list cannot be produced simultaneously with the photographs; the scene and viewpoint may be the same but there must be an interval of time between completing the list and making the images – much detail will change, for example there may be people present at both the list-making and photographing events but they will not be the same people, they may be very different if for instance the scene was the same but the time of day differed.
A possibility is to visit the same scene and decide to make one or two photograph of somewhere within a 180 degree arc of my position at say five minute intervals which would yield twelve images over the course of an hour. If the list was provided alongside the twelve photographs it would have the effect perhaps of bringing to the viewer’s mind all that was not photographed rather than what was (as might be the case if the photographs were shown without the list).
When thinking about a photography project, as in answering the Exercise questions above, it is tempting to be definite and prescriptive about the outcome. It is worth remembering however that when faced with a scene or a situation to be photographed (or to be written about) :
A person does not process things as “a narration, a report”, lining up observations and interpretations like two sides of a zipper. Instead you absorb impressions, feelings, and sensations. Maybe you can spot a pattern, maybe not; maybe you only recognise things much later. As it is, what you see on the face of things may or may not tell you much about what it means – the same way you can be hypnotised by the play of light and shadow on a pool of water without ever knowing how cold or salty it may be (Jasanoff, 2017:147).
Jasanoff, M., 2017. The Dawn Watch. Joseph Conrad in a Global World. London: Harper Collins
Perec, G., 1975. An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. [online] Available at: https://iitcoa3rdyr.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/perec_readings.pdf [Accessed 18 01 18]
My list made at a particular place (see above)
- Light metal railing separating café table and chairs area from street
- The ground of the seating area is covered with large paving slabs – they look old
- The table and chairs are wrought iron
- A tram passes going into the city
- A bus stop on the street immediately outside the café; the pole has a number of panels on it giving times of buses
- A young man stops the bus stop, dressed in dark cloths, no hat.
- Bus number 145 pulls up at the bus stop, passengers alight quickly and waiting man steps on. This action is too quick to write down in any detail. The bus pulls away.
- Immediately a white delivery van stops in bus-stop space – logo CWS/boco on side; CWS in red rest in blue colours.
- Hazard lights begin to flash on van and driver walks to path-side of van and opens the door; driver is a man dressed in dark cloths with red flashing inserts in jacket
- Tram passes on far side of street – going out of the city
- Van driver removes packages from van, closes door and walks away
- Pedestrians pass, all wearing cloths suitable for cold day – lots of ‘puffer’-type jackets, some with hoods, some without, others with fur trimmed hoods. No time to write down full descriptions when many pass at once
- Van driver returns to van and drives off
- Man on red coloured bicycle cycles down street towards city, cycles between tram tracks
- Young woman with red coat and small yellow back pack stops walking suddenly to attend to something on her phone screen
- Three men, two well wrapped up against the cold, the other with open coat and heavy scarf swinging
- A taxi passes
- A red double-decker sightseeing bus passes
- A taxi and bus number 46A passes
- Woman in red woollen hat with white wires of earphones emerging from beneath it
- Woman in bright yellow jacket with shoulder bag
- Tram going to city
- A couple, both man and woman in peaked caps
- A man smoking while walking
- A taxi with yellow livery
- A lot of traffic suddenly, cars, taxi, white van, green van
- Woman and child holding hands
- Man wearing woollen hat slows passing coffee shop, looks in, and passes on
- Blue coloured Aircoach passes – ‘Travel in Luxury’ on side
- Taxi stops outside the coffee shop
- Black van with ‘Guinness quality team’ on side, slows and the nmoves off
- Figure in dark green long coat, hood up, small black back pack – man or woman?
- Man passes to enter coffee shop
- Tram passes going into city – many passengers looking down at phone screens
- Bus number 37
- Young woman with ear phones; old woman pulling empty (deflated) shopping trolley bag
- Taxi moves off with new fare, man
- A couple, talking, pass to enter coffee shop
- White van, ‘Vernon Catering’ passes
- Woman in white coat passes to enter coffee shop
- Green hop-on, hop-off, double-decker bus
- Man with red woollen hat
- Tram going out of city—not very full
- Woman waits at bus stop – light pink jacket with hood, large shoulder hand bag
- Two men and a woman talking animatedly
- Number 145 bus
- Old man, green woollen cap, walking stick
- Mother and daughter, daughter with ‘top knot’ hair style
- Four young women, students, talking animatedly pass to enter coffee shop
- Taxi stops outside
- Across the road man carries small folded ladder
- Taxi fare leaves taxi, moment later another man sits in and taxi moves off
- Number 78 bus arrives, passengers alight but woman in pink jacket remains
- Young man walking with folding-type bike, wearing yellow bicycle helmet
- Number 39 bus arrives, lady in pink jacket leaves on it
- Number 61 bus passes
- Woman with hood
- Young woman talking on phone, pulling shopping trolley bag
- Tram going out of city
- Fast walking young man wearing headphones over yellow woollen cap
- Man on phone carrying green bag with shop logo
- Tram going into city
- Man in high viz. jacket, carrying parcel
- Man with shoulder bag
- Number 46A bus
- Number 38A bus
- Two men, a woman in mauve coloured coat
- Number 11 bus stops and passengers alight
- Elderly man with crutch waits at bus stop; wears mustard coloured jacket with hood down, grey hair, black trousers
- Red double-decker sight-seeing bus
- Man with short rolled umbrella carried beneath his arm crosses road
- A postman with high viz. jacket with company logo cycles past, post bag held in front
- Couple holding hands, woman wears stylish black beret
- Young woman waits with man with crutch; she stands apart from man and constantly looks at her phone screen – wears sneakers and carries large shoulder handbag
- Green hop-on hop-off bus
- Man passes leaving coffee shop
- Couple (not young) holding hands, man wears black woollen hat, she carries small white bag from some shop
- Tram going out of city
- Man with bright red jacket with ‘City Tours’ company logo on back
- Young woman with red ‘bobble’ hat
- Tram going into city
- Young woman wearing matching jacket and scarf – light pink
- Number 39A bus stops and man with crutch and young woman get on; bus leaves
- Old man with walking stick enters coffee shop seating area and stands, waiting
- Bus showing ‘Sorry, not in service’ passes
- Number 46A bus passes
- Number 37 bus passes
- Woman member of coffee shop staff comes out talking on phone and begins at the same time to collect some wind-blown rubbish that has collected in the seating area
- Man with laptop case on shoulder passes, smoking
- An blue Aircoach passes – ‘Travel in Luxury’
- Woman with long white hair, wearing white coat crosses from other side of street
- Fire engine ‘Dublin Fire Brigade’ passes, no speed or flashing lights
- Van stops – ‘clean bed for 250,000 patients every day’ on side
The list runs to several more pages of hand written notes