Written Articles

Looking at Home

Article text





Looking at Home

Looking through any photographic publication will leave many of us feeling that there is a need to travel to distant lands to produce interesting photographs. We have at all times be seduced by the idea of a photographic holiday with one of our hero’s. Is this worshipping at the masters feet or hoping that some of their glory will rub off on us?

Making your name by working in foreign lands is not new, Ian Berry and Don McCullin to name but two. However both have another common link, in that they then returned home and produced work about Britain. Berry with The English and McCullin with Homecoming. In this work they return to places they knew, for Berry this was the North and McCullin trod the streets in London. A return to looking at our own communities rather than parachuting in and providing an outsiders view will give a far more insightful outcome. It is difficult to make comment about something you don't understand. Many photographers have attempted to cover the past troubles in Northern Ireland but it is Willie Doherty who has shown only what someone born and who lived in the community could.

We dream of the escape from our daily routine, to travel and explore. Our mode of travel and camera we carry will control and influence the view we provide. In recent years several photographers have used a trusty camper van to provide both transport and home. Mark Power’s The Shipping Forecast was the product of such experience and more recently, so was Harry Cory Wright’s Journey Through the British Isles. A more recent and potentially more interesting body of work is Simon Robert's We English. There could be some parallels to Homer Sykes’ Once a Year, but Roberts has stood back and used a large format camera. His work is as much about the landscape and how we live with it, rather than being a record of an event.

Even a 6 month journey around the UK is beyond most of us with other commitments, although Roberts did take his family with him. So we must therefore look closer to home and maybe take a little longer. Somehow our local landscape and community seem to lack interest, they are too familiar. We drive past the same scene each day, totally ignorant to the visual possibilities that are in front of us. It may prove beneficial to take a walk with a friend who is a visitor to your local area. Perhaps they may start your ideas and see things that we have become too familiar with. We then can start to look with more insight having an understanding of the community we live in. It may also make us actually learn more about where we live, using the camera as a research tool. Our wanderings become a motivation to learn more about where we live.

At times we may consider our communities lacking in interest, simply just boring, but then Martin Parr has made a whole career out of making the ordinary look extraordinary. That’s not to say we should go out with a camera mounted flash and saturated colour film. He has developed a way of working and looking through the work of famous photographers we should be able to identify the author just by composition, approach and subject matter. Our task is to develop a working method and use this to look more closely at our chosen subject.

The development of a working method is essential; in this way we can create our view and identify ourselves as the photographer. The advantage of working in our own back garden is that we can continue to explore our approach by returning to the same location, recording the changes in light and shade, the events and gatherings. While many would look to cover the larger scale event, a record also needs to be made of our everyday lives, as photographers we have a moral responsibilty to record the smaller events for future generations. The challenge is greater but so are the rewards, not financial but in the personal feedback you will receive, not from the so called experts, but from the people who form the community that has been the focus for our work. You will show them a view of where they live, it may be a view that is new. As a photographer our job is open the viewer’s eyes to a world that surrounds us. To quote Tony Ray Jones:

“Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk like Alice, through a looking-glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.”