Serge Maes – Ambiguous City

Although this may just look like street photography, Serge Maes is engaging with his environment to gain something from what we would look past. Photographing the little things in life, you may say.

Serge Maes

He stated the images were not to tell a story but more to show the viewer how he perceives the world through his camera.

This is something I need to focus more on, engaging with my surroundings more and becoming more free with the camera. At the moment I am quite reserved and look for objects to create images and spending a significant amount of time producing a photo from this scene. Maes’ approach is aspiring to me, in that I need to let go and capture my surroundings as they are, naturally as we first see them.

sergemaesambiguouscity

There’s only so much you can talk about wanting to do something and photograph more like someone, and then there’s actual production and going out and shooting.

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Urban Exploring (Urbex)

From previous posts, it may be apparent that I have attempted ‘Urban Exploring’, but I never thought it could be used a project at Uni.

My original concept was looking at the divide between public and private land and our activities occupying each. I had an original idea of photographing windows, from public space (streets), and what we can see in them from the outside world. This developed into maybe creating potential crime scenes in these windows and posing a question to my audience about the ethics of their ability to step in and stop crimes even though it would be on private residence.
This concept is still current in my research and potential for production.

Although, when discussing topics and paths around this, my tutor guided me in a different direction. The way I would attempt to describe it, almost sounds exactly the same as above… but is more directed to the private land of disused areas. For example, Urban Exploring. Urbex has almost become a cult of photographers with a growing social media presence and forums sharing locations and updates on their conditions and the security surrounding them.

Photographer Bradley Garrett produces work which feels like a documentary of his life exploring the world and the private sections we usually would never see. My view on his work is; that he is occupying private areas and opening the public eye to these usually unseen areas, using photography as a gateway between the private and public divide.

As I have literally just research Garrett yesterday, it is rather uncanny to see such similarities between his and my photos from my urban exploring day, especially of the abandoned buildings.

The only problem now is; how can I shape a project around the urban exploring and public/private concept that is different to the way Garrett has captured images. The work I’ve produced is just too similar for my liking, plus when I originally shot I never had a clear concept of using any of the images for a project, they were just for personal documentary form.

I need to break into a higher level of critical thinking; bringing in social, political and economic concepts to hopefully approach my work to a more critical audience?

Social. There is already a massive social presence behind Urband Exploring, with sites like  28 Days Later, and on other social media platforms. There is definitely a community of people who want to help each other finding new locations and ways into them, but they’re also very careful in the way they post information on these forums as to not get caught by police. For example, if someone was listing how to get into a derelict building, and then the building was sabotaged shortly after, police could easily use these forums to hold users accountable for damages. Debates arise about how much they could be held accountable for, I mean some buildings are on their last legs.

Political. The legalities around this ‘sport’ (term used loosely because I can’t think what else to call it…) are obvious; trespassing; breaking and entering; etc… But why is it considered trespassing if no one uses the land and they are usually such rich sources for art (like photography, not the pathetic excuses of graffiti usually found in buildings) that are just left to waste, rarely being rebuilt upon for much, apart from Bracebridge Heath.

Economic. Most of these disused buildings are owned privately, and were acquired for a large some of money. The actual cost of these buildings to restore to original would probably cost considerable amounts more than bought for, and so they are sat there burning money as their value decreases. Although, some do get renovated to alternative builds, like housing estates.

I need to explore how to exploit these social, political and economic aspects to produce work keeping with current themes that my audience will relate to.

24 HOURS IN

24 HOURS IN is a project to generate collaboration of user generated footage from mobile phones, building around the concept of viewing 24 hours in a city.

The fact it is user generated content draws on a completely new platform of documentaries, usually only viewed from one perspective, the director’s, this is quite a communist approach, whereas the 24 HOURS IN approach is more favourable to democracy and exploring the diverse people around the world.

24 HOURS IN makes strong reference to Dziga Vertov’s innovative Man with a Movie Camera (1929). It was a documentary style but, unlike films at the time used no intertitles, actors, sets or scenarios. In essence trying to capture natural environments, nothing staged like films, and present them in (almost) a non-chronological structure.

This concept, giving the power back to the individuals, is very relative to my current photography research towards Media Project 2 this semester. I’m looking at how certain activities we do are taking responsibility back to ourselves by rebelling against the common practice of following the crowd like sheep. 24 HOURS IN is giving the power back to users who wish to submit to the project and taking responsibility for content they can view, rather than being spoon fed from producers and directors with their narrow vision of a subject.

Photo Adventure Day

Luckily my friend has a car and loves taking photos as much as I do, so we ventured out into Lincolnshire yesterday to photograph some picturesque areas in the flat county.

Our first stop was RAF Stenigot’s disused radio satellites. After driving through and around Stenigot for over half an hour we eventually spotted a small tower on the horizon, as we stopped to check directions, and of course we found the dishes in a farmers field next to the small tower, with a very easy entrance.

Demonstration of the immense size of the dishes.

Demonstration of the immense size of the dishes.

Above you can see, in comparison to Tom, how large these dishes are. We both agreed it was an unreal feeling, and neither of us had experienced anything like this before. They were also a lot harder to photograph than expected, due to the huge size but also to the way they were sprawled out on the ground. When they became non-operational they were collapsed from their supports and landed on each other, which proved difficult to frame, but we made a few good shots before the farmer owning the land asked us to leave.

Our next target was RAF Nocton Hall. On our journey there we stumbled across two more personal points of interest, an open church and a derelict farmhouse.

St. George’s, Glotho, was a quaint church on a small hill overlooking the farm land of Lincolnshire.

Not the usual sunny blue, but a moody sky adding a different tone.

Not the usual sunny blue, but a moody sky adding a different tone.

The exterior featured deep red brickwork, perfectly contrasting with the green grass, but the interior was refurbished and painted grey. This restoration felt too modernised, personally, and didn’t feel like they’d kept it true it’s original state, apart from some old wooden pews upstairs of the building.

Continuing our journey to Nocton, we passed many farmhouses, but one caught our eye above the rest due to its dereliction.

A dilapidated farmhouse still standing with minimal support

A dilapidated farmhouse still standing with minimal support

A bricked farmhouse half dilapidated with piles of rubble spread around. The buildings were so photogenic and this location turned out to be one of the most profitable of the day so far. As we searched the area for more photos we found a large building with a tractor in, and loads of large 600KG bags of Ammonium Nitrate. I later discovered that Ammonium Nitrate is explosive and is used in improvised explosive devices (IED’s).

Finally we arrived at Nocton, and to my surprise it was rather close to Lincoln. Tom and I had read online about having to park far away and it being a long walk in. False. We drove straight up to the hall and parked in the car park 10yds from the tree planted by King Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, in 1541. It’s now held up by stilts.

We first photographed the RAF Nocton Hall hospital, which was in use between the 1940s-1984 when it was then leased to the USAF.

The grounds were immensely overgrown with trees everywhere, even growing through the windows of the buildings. The buildings themselves were rather vandalised, graffiti and walls smashed in by sledgehammers and axes. At first this seemed like a perfect opportunity for photos, and I seized it, but after a while my thoughts were that of ‘why would people vandalise places like this?’ The whole area we saw was amazing and I personally felt it was disrespectful that people felt the need to destroy a place that nursed Her Majesty’s troops back to health during WWII.

Just enough light from a window.

Just enough light from a window.

The first building we entered, we were not prepared at all as, an owl silently glided from the point we entered to the exit. It was a surreal moment for me and that image is now imprinted in my head forever, literally breathe taking.

We racked up a large amount of photos here, everything was so photogenic but it always felt like something was missing, almost as if the photos needed a subjet. Then we hit the jackpot. A building that looked hardly vandalised compared to the rest, it still had carpet in one section. The photos here felt a lot better in terms of capturing a moment, it led me to think and explore more with props in other projects, as props supply the audience with more questions.

Fridge/freezer left behind

Fridge/freezer left behind

We then ventured back to Nocton Hall. The state of that building is in complete disrepair, it is nothing but a shell of walls, and no floors. We entered and could hardly move anywhere safely. We only ventured into a small area that still had a ceiling that I would assume was a basement area. Throughout the whole day, this was the only location I felt unsafe in, the fear of the one ceiling left coming down on us with the force of the other ceilings currently on top of it was not what I expected. Tom also mentioned this was probably the worst building he’d ever been in for its dereliction.

Perfect lighting for the mood of the building.

Perfect lighting for the mood of the building.

Although, the photos produced from Nocton Hall were stunning and the objects left behind that survived the fire in the 1980s proved excellent subjects for photographs.

All in all a successful day for photographs. To see more images from this day’s adventure click here.