At the beginning of this course I looked at several locations for this assignment.
Out of these I chose to photograph a location viewed from a bridge over the Thames in Oxford. In part I chose this because it is an easy location for me to visit regularly, but also because it seemed to offer possibilities in terms of being able to see changes over time. In my photography I often find myself drawn towards the ‘ordinary’, places that depict neither obviously sublime nor picturesque, but rather the often mundane nature of day-today life. My Tutor, Andy Langford, has reminded me to look at the work of John Davies, and in doing so have come to realise that my interest in landscape is not dissimilar to his. I am interested in shared spaces, where development and construction interact with natural features. I have also been influenced here by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ book “Edgelands”.
The central location is a slipway used by various groups but mostly by the Sea Cadets. The location is used mostly at weekends and the rest of the time is frequented mainly by water fowl. I have often explored the view from this location, and from past experience it seemed likely that the scene would change over time and demonstrate a progression, a sequence that could lead to an interesting set of photographs. Cranes in the distance in earlier images show signs of a large building project, and there are enough signs of human activity to suggest that changes over time would be visible. It seemed likely that a narrative would emerge confirming the temporal sequence of the images. In fact apart from seasonal variations, little has changed. The cranes have gone but otherwise there is little to imply a sequence to the images.
The river itself does provide a strong suggestion of time passing. Even though a photograph is only an instant in time we know that it is always in motion, always moving. Each photograph individually implies temporal movement even if little else in each scene does so. In her essay “The Eternal Moment”, Estelle Jussim explores how time is perceived and reflected in photography. She points out that “Few of us….doubt that spring will surely follow winter, and that summer will follow spring” (Jussim, 1989:165). But spring is eventually followed by another winter, and summer by another spring. Changing of seasons does not imply an order to photographs. Apart from the split between those images with and without the cranes, there is no other guaranteed sequence to these photographs. Elsewhere in her article Jussim says that though different photographs may “urge us to think then and now, we are forced to acknowledge we are looking at them in the now” (Jussim, 2989:163). This idea that we cannot help but be removed from the original also complicates any idea of an implied sequence.
Although I said earlier I get drawn to scenes that explicitly depict neither sublime nor picturesque, the changes in light and season do add elements to both in individual images, in particular to the river itself. A higher river level on an overcast autumn day adds a feeling of fear and uncertainty that is not present on a sunny summer day. The water becomes more obscured, so that we are far less sure of what lies beneath than when it is more translucent.
The British Landscape: Photographs by John Davies | National Science and Media Museum (s.d.) At: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/british-landscape-photographs-john-davies (Accessed 07/01/2020).
Roberts, M. S. and Farley, P. (2012) Edgelands. (s.l.): Vintage.
Estelle Jussim (1989) ‘The Eternal Moment’ in Wells, L. (ed.) (2018) The Photography Reader: History and Theory. (2 edition)x (s.l.): Routledge. pp.275-284