‘Anywhere Road’ brings together three documentary photography and video explorations of life on the street where I have lived since 1984 – one of the very many peri-urban semi-detached housing estates of upwardly mobile residents in UK.
Although they are about the place where I live, the fragmented nature of the place and my own circumstances within it mean that this is an ‘outsider view’ in some ways more than my understanding of places I have lived in other cultures. I starts to disentangle some of the underlying ontological and representational issues inherent in the process of ‘documentary’ itself – partly a sociological dialogue with the writings of George Perec and Marc Auge, visual documentary of Laura Grace Ford and video of Frances Alys.
Fragments Walking : I start with my own subjective journey through the place with experimental iPhone video clips of the process of walking along the road, seeing fragments of my body, sounds and events around me. (MI3 project).
Layered Appearances: I go on to look at the externalities of appearances: the ways in which people assert their identity through their house fronts and gardens and building work, concreted drives for multiple cars for ease of ‘tidy maintenance’ and to avoid vandalism isolation. And particularly issues of privacy and loneliness – shutting out and protecting property. I construct collage and photomontage of photos since 2014 of how houses, gardens and objects on public view have changed and what can and can’t be said from these appearances about the life of inhabitants.
Happenings in No-Place a web gallery/photobook? of creative photography images that explore how these everyday private images can be manipulated to create anonymised images that raise questions about everyday ‘anywhere/anytime’, traces of unknown dramas and ways of coping in what is quite a sterile environment. They also present glimpses of beauty in the present: changes with the seasons, light and shadows, reflections, colours and the occasional appearance of people, pets or wildlife.
Research and inspiration
I moved to our current house in 1984 when the area was one of the cheapest in Cambridge because of poor infrastructure, large council house population and distance from the centre of Cambridge.
When we first moved here the area was very much on the cheaper fringes of Cambridge, surrounded by fields to the East and South and council housing to the West and North. But the immediate area has been rapidly changing over the past decade, partly driven by the building of a new station of the main London to King Lynn line (the cranes at the end of the road). This has led to escalating house prices and – to judge by the amount of building work – rising prosperity. The population has also become more diverse. The majority are older people, but also younger international professional and business people some of whom are investing in sustainable technologies.
In the 1980s opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s policies also motivated active local community groups of council house tenants, Traveller communities and Asian Communities. I was one of the founders of Fen Estate Residents Association (FERA) that successfully fought against Tory plans to build a main Cambridge artery road past our house that would divide the community in two. This led to defeat of the Tories as city and county councillors of the area from which they have never recovered. Council elections ever since have been between Labour (generally the majority), Lib Dems and more recently green candidates.
In 1990s after birth of children I was less politically active because of juggling work and family commitments. But I was involved with more ‘family-friendly’ activities with the allotment society, and bringing together local wildlife, conservation and political activists to form the Bramblefield Nature Reserve.
From 2000s onwards no longer involved in local issues to focus on my international work and growing family.
This project is part of a reflective re-engagement with local issues. Laying a basis for locally useful and relevant visual communication work and becoming more directly involved in 2023 when I hope Covid-19 vulnerabilities will have ended.
‘Fragments Walking’ explores the fragmented ‘now’ perceptions of walking along the road as recorded with an i-phone.
It started with time experiments comparing SloMo and Hyperlapse clips of my feet, also a series of panorama images moving the phone as I walked – resulting in a series of fragmented still traces on one image.
Then taking my time-based explorations further to look at the fragmented nature of our perceptions of self (reference Lacan) because we can never see ourselves whole except in a mirror.
Going forward I plan to develop this further as integrating more documentary and manipulation of ‘sound music’ inspired by the work of Frances Alys and Philip Larkin.
Layered Appearances 2014 – 2022
As part of early documentary photography assignments in 2013-2014 I started to photograph the houses in the streets around where I live, experimenting with lenses, viewpoints. An experiment in local ethnography. These photographs were very much an external view – like the New Topographic typographies of photographers like the Beckers and others. I photographed every house in each street to see whether they were the impersonal repetitions of rows of featureless houses with cars and concreted front drives to park them on that I assumed they would be – they were.
It was no accident that there are few people in the photographs. It is true that I felt embarrassed to photograph people who lived in my street but did not know. And wary of people being suspicious that I might be some sort of local terrorist or burglar (there had been a spate of break-ins and vandalism of cars and property) if I regularly trawled the area with a camera. I also felt a bit awkward as they were neighbours even if I did not know them. But there were in fact very few people ever around, except at school drop off and pick up times as a few families walked through and a few people getting on and off the bus. The few people I did talk to were actually quite friendly.
Amidst the monotony I also discovered some flashes of personal identity and occasional humour in items in windows, as well as abstract beauty in puddles, shadows and reflections.
I had intended to continue this work in more depth, but in the end was too busy with other projects abroad.
The images here will be added to periodically throughout 2022 and brought together as a series of documentary collage/photomontage – though I have to be a bit careful because people are understandably suspicious of people walking down the road photographing their houses. There have been some worried posts on the local Facebook page about security concerns – though not I think about me, and there are also ethical privacy issues. As there are so few people around it is difficult to ask permission and I am not sure of the security implications for me of sending a postal message with my details to contact in case of any objection. I have applied to join the local Facebook page, but not so far received a reply. So I am following the normal guidelines for Street Photography. In order to make the final book more anonymous, I will probably include a more random selection from the whole estate once I am clear what I want to say.
I started taking photographs again as an accompaniment to the ‘Fragments Walking’ moving image project. Inspired partly by the pumpkins someone had placed on the roof of their porch, together with the beautiful golden leaves, frosts and mists.
December 23rd 2021
Christmas preparations were fairly late this year – pretty muted because of Covid. Most families had very little in the way of lights or decorations on show. But I started to notice some interesting elements – some families were obviously very religious and eager to show it. Others put some quirky elements in the garden – windmills and meerkats and some ordered bottled milk. The house top right had not changed the window features since 2014. And Number 17 had taken Number 19’s bin – I wonder why and what happened?
December 26th 2021
I had hoped to go aout and take photos for a couple of hours on Christmas morning before family acivities began – to mirror the ones on Xmas Day 2014. But it was raining all day. So I went out early on Boxing Day. The weather was miserable, and the whole place was completely deserted. Maybe a lot of people had gone away. The overall impression was one of veils drawn, barriers put up and all the little notices to keep away people knocking on their doors.The only living thing I saw was the neighbour’s cat.
Happenings in Noplace: Creative Documentary
This work continues in much more detail my VCAP experimentation with different potential monochrome and colour documentary styles and the subtleties of meaning communicated by nuances of tone, contrast, sharpness, grain and framing.
I envisage a resulting book in one or more styles that chart the ‘happenings’ – moments of difference – the bus (changed companies), ‘goings on’ in the bus shelter, rare figures crossing the road, bin day, installation of solar panels (also electric cars) etc.
Please click on the galleries to view. There seems to be some sort of WordPress bug that stops me from re-ordering the images – should resolve itself with a further update.
The Bus, bin day and people: Use of sepia vs black and white street styles? and selective colorisation
‘Someone has done this’ Film Noir framing of broken glass and litter textures
Colour reflections – cars and (last image) ‘Christmas 2021’. Some images work better in colour.
‘Progress’ building and sustainability