‘Living on the Edge’: Overview and Assignments

‘Living on the Edge’ is a body of work about ‘Edgelands’. It continues my interest in interlinkages, interferences and tensions between personal, environmental and socio-political ‘edges’ in documentary of place. Using a diversity of formats, each project explores what it might mean to ‘Make the World a Better Place’ through engaging with different audiences.

Inspired by the writing of Rebecca Solnit and others on the experience and philosophy of Walking, psychogeography and documentary practice, ‘Living on the Edge’ builds on earlier work and creates new work based on selected ‘derives’ in three Edge landscape projects:

  • Fen Edgelands, Cambridgeshire: selected derives along the ‘Fen Edgelands Way’: river edgelands along the River Cam from my house on the Fen Estate on the edge of Cambridge, Littleport, a Fenland town along the river Ouse where my daughter lives and fen wetlands that are managed environmental organisations as flood plain buffers against rising sea-levels and peat sinks for CO2 capture. These walks are also part of a movement to work with landowners to reclaim parts of the Fen landscape for use by people, and increase biodiversity in a landscape that is very degraded by large-scale industrial farming.
  • ‘Colours of Shingle’, Suffolk: continuing work on social and environmental issues in Shingle Street, Orford and Aldeburgh along the Shingle Coast in Suffolk.
  • ‘Love and Other Islands’, Cornwall: continuing my work on tourism, fishing and mining industries on the Penwith peninsula from ‘Woman Walking Lost’

Much of the content will be new since the start of SYP and through 2022, working more closely with organisations like National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts. It also builds on photographic work and/or background research that I had intended for audience-based documentary work in VCAP, but was unable to progress during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of the final outputs will continue to depend on the extent and nature of COVID pandemic restrictions 2021-2022.

Through the series of projects on different locations and in different media I aim to establish a flexible and adaptable creative process going forward through contrasting and comparing:

  • different approaches to the initial documentary process and experience in different contexts: some locations are completely new, others ones I have got to know well. In some cases I am more or less stationary (eg sitting sketching or video on a tripod) watching life go by over time, other contexts are linear where I make decisions when, what and how to make an image (eg walks long narrow paths), other contexts allow much more experimentation in where I walk and make images (eg psycho-geographical transects). In all cases there are questions about how far I follow a random process to disrupt preconceptions versus more considered seeking out of images to illustrate issues based on prior research – and anywhere in between these two extremes.
  • different creative processes and combination of media to create one or more final outcomes and ways in which working in one media can inspire new approaches in apparently different media. For example moving image and audio to inspire photobook design, printmaking to inspire drawing and painting etc. This will also further develop my technical skills across a range of media for future work. Some media eg printmaking series of photobook will be used in the final product, other media eg on-line video may be used more for promotion. Again selection will be guided by audience/market research feedback.
  • different narrative forms and ways of combining images and the documentary narrative potentials and challenges presented by single images, single image series, books/e-books and time-based media.

My experience and conclusions will be brought together and summarised in an interactive on-line pdf or e-book for myself, and also others interested in different visual documentary approaches.

Sustaining Your Practice Assignments

Creative Visual Documentary: Frameworks and Approaches

Made with Padlet

Everyday Edges: Personal Sketchbook Diaries

A series of personal Sketchbook Diaries explore my own ‘personal edges’ – philosophical and political views that characterise my ‘voice’ so that these can be explicitly and strategically integrated into my more ‘objective’ observational practice. My creative responses in different media aim to explore and provoke thought about what might be meant by ‘building back better’ and ‘levelling up’ in the light of disruptions after Brexit, the COVID-pandemic and the continuing climate crisis.

This first body of work looks at necessity, potential and attempts to create ‘new normals’ in my personal everyday life at home, in the garden and walking along the River Cam. motivated by global and UK discussions about ‘new normals’.

Sketchbook 1: Everyday Edges is a day by day diary April-May 2021 and April-May 2022 bringing together ‘old normal’ memories, daily reflections and serendipitous responses against a backdrop of news events and changes over the year. This consists of rapid responses to news items and thinking through many of my spontaneous ‘rages and rants’ to be able to express these visually, but calming down my thoughts for more objective analysis.

Sketchbook 2: Edges of Responsibility: Environmental Diary COP-26 Diary and environmental notes and infographics (forthcoming November 2021 onwards)


Exploring Edges: Derive Projects

Creative visual documentary work based on 10 ‘derive projects’ on environmental and political issues on geographical ‘edges’ in East Anglia, Cornwall and North of England. Each project explores in different ways the interrelationships between documentary, visual creativity and activism and how this is affected by different styles in different media, different narrative forms and for different audiences.

Making the World a Better Place

The project continues my interest in different subjective and objective ‘outsider’ approaches to documentary, focusing on environmental challenges, social challenges of marginalisation and rural poverty. and the changing and conflicting identities and interests that have underpinned debates around Brexit and future visions for our countryside and environment. I also link with relevant campaigning organisations like National Trust, Woodland Trust, local Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Rural England.

Much of the work is concerned with ideas of ‘Place’ and linking subjective and objective narratives. Whether image-making is based on illustration or photography or even where the aim is ‘objective documentary’, many choices are made in terms of what is communicated and how image design and technical aspects of the particular medium can enhance that communication. I aim to pose some serious questions about our lives in England, our use of the environment and the ways in which we relate to each other – posing the same questions here as in my international work.

But – further my response to First Things Next – I am aiming for different types of outputs that fulfil different purposes: direct messaging, for different audiences linked to a broad ethical commitment. Provoking questioning from the viewer rather than imposing one single message. My work also reconnects with some of the more beautiful, funny and light-hearted aspects of Britain, as well as dealing implicitly or explicitly with some of the serious social and environmental issues we face.

I look at how my creative process, particularly documentary work, can be significantly improved through working with other people to help me to develop alternative narrative threads and visual approaches, building on some of my professional qualitative research skills.

Audience engagement

All projects are further developed with the benefit of hindsight and perspective of deeper investigation and local knowledge to have wider relevance, appeal and impact. My body of work will include different ways of engaging with audiences to improve my work in terms of:

  • refining the ‘messages’ by getting a range of local views and information on social and environmental issues through conversations and interviews and local social networking sites.
  • engagement with campaigning organisations to get their input and advice on how to make my work most relevant and contribute to changes.
  • feedback on the effectiveness of the ‘communication aesthetics’ from local, national and also international overseas audiences to improve my technical and visual communication skills through ZemniImages Facebook page crosspasted to other social networks.
  • finding different marketing, promotion and advocacy outlets for the different dimensions of the body of work. Including campaigning organisations like National Trust, Woodland Trust, local Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Rural England.