The River Cam is part of a longer term body of environmental and social documentary work in different media about ‘Cam Edgelands’ that is central to my practice going forward. The river is just down the road from my house and an area where in normal times I walk nearly everyday for exercise.
The A14 road bridge is one of a number of bridges across the river. On one side the bridge underpass dissects two areas of land that are used by travellers and migrant workers living on a Traveller site relegated to the margins of Cambridge. There is a well-established traveller community that has been there for very many years. Living on one side of the bridge, they use fields on the other side to keep their horses, using the underpass as a transit between the two. Before Brexit they were joined by migrant workers – particularly men – from Eastern Europe. It is unclear how much of the graffiti, litter and broken glass is created by either of these communities, and how much by other walkers passing under the bridge. Graffiti is certainly not confined to this bridge, but is evident in a range of styles also under the other bridges along the river.
The river itself is part of the University rowing Bumps course, and used by town rowers and also leisure boats.
The other side of the bridge is mostly farmland with a footpath linking the somewhat affluent villages of Horningsea to Fen Ditton.
It is a haunting, almost spiritual place. Large majestic concrete pillars with enigmatic graffiti create dramatic shafts of light in the early morning and sunset or dark shapes in the winter fog. Between shuddering bursts of traffic overhead, the water reflects and echoes the drips from the roof. The ever-changing artworks, puddle-life, scatterings of litter and sparkling broken glass tell stories, real and imagined.
I have nearly 2000 photographs of this bridge dating back to 2009, taken with cameras of varying technical quality and with varying technical skill on my part. But, together with my thousands of other images of other bridges and ‘edgeland’ features on this regular walk, the Bridge will continue to be an important ongoing part of my creative practice. There is also a potentially important local audience and market for physical images: photographic prints and art prints in different printmaking media, photobooks and sketchbooks eg as part of submission to Cambridge Open Studios, and more socially-interested Cambridge residents and tourists. As well as on-line presentation, interest from Cambridge Camera Club and other creative networks in Cambridge.
Thematically in this module, part of my motivation to focus on the Bridge in Assignment 5 is because it shows a body of work around peri-urban ‘sublime and grunge’ and concerns about poverty, alienation and pollution in the UK where I live. To balance work on these concerns in contexts like Kyrgyzstan where I am an outsider and where attention to the less than beautiful aspects could be misinterpreted as ‘rich world complacency and racist prejudice’ .
My ability to produce new photographic work of the Bridge has been continually disrupted over the period of this module. Firstly between March 2020 and May 2021 I was not able to go down the narrow river towpath to the Bridge because of Covid-19. The towpath was continually crowded in both Lockdown and more open times as one of the main places that local people went for exercise with very many runners and cyclists accompanying rowers, with very little social distancing and a lot of aerosols being expelled for long distance in plumes that are very alarming in cold weather. From May 2021 the area under the bridge was closed for repairs, and then towpath was closed for all of July/August for final works on a new cycle bridge across the river. The Covid pandemic also meant that it was very difficult to do the sort of documentary research I had hoped.
My focus in this module has therefore been on :
- Printmaking: Continuing experiments with photography-based print media: revisiting photoscreen and new images in solar plate.
- Photographic creativity: Web galleries that explore alternative perspectives on the bridge, and the way in which different narratives can be created through different selecting and formatting of the images and how narratives and moods can be enhance by different digital processing styles.
- Photobook Design: looking at different potential narratives and layout for Photobooks, continuing my earlier interest in juxtapositions and framing.
Slideshow of Page Spreads from Draft Photobook
For high resolution images and galleries of all the material presented here please see:
on my SMUGMUG portfolio site:
Photoscreen gives a grainy, documentary feel because of the duotone dot process that is similar to newspaper printing. Though different effects can be achieved through the way the initial image is processed and degree of detail, particularly in the highlights and shadows, the shape and density of the dots, then exposure and inking processes.
For more detail and discussion of the development of the printmaking images and different effects of photo screen see:
Printmaking: Solarplate – new images
Solar plate gives a much dreamier feel. A double exposure solar plate starts with a fine mezzotint stochastic screen. This enables much finer detail. Again the effect depends very much on processing of the initial image – the pylon image on the left is very dreamy with more grain. The ‘underworld’ image on the right is much more contrasty, retaining details in the highlights and shadows.
Five interactive web galleries have been uploaded with introductory text to my professional SMUGMUG portfolio site as part of my audience presentation and promotion.
For links to the individual galleries click on the titles below.
Bridge Edgelands: project evolution
In order to get an overview of the ‘spirit of place’, I started with a free brainstorming of what I thought were potentially the most interesting images and angles that I could use – with some processing in Lightroom and/or Topas AI and/or DxOFX and/or Photoshop to improve technical quality.
This led to an initial ragbag of images that did not have coherence in themselves, but sparked ideas on at least five very different narrative approaches with focus on:
- ‘Colour grunge’ traces of human activity: graffiti, wire netting, ‘horse has bolted’, dark reflections. With an overall dark mood of the mess that people leave when they live on the margins.
- ‘sublime light’ with geometric angles, colours and finding beauty in the everyday.
- ‘human stories untold’
- bleak mist and murk
- stark dark black and white.
I then decided to use the Creative prompts to explore a series of alternative narratives that would further extend my understanding of potential themes and styles. Before making decisions on themes and styles to combine in an overall narrative – possibly adding further images to fill any important thematic gaps in what I do not already have.
Alternative Narratives: Web Galleries
My next stage was to use the Creative Prompts to see whether and how they might help me to identify different themes, how the images might best be processed and ‘pushed’ to communicate these differences. To help me think more clearly what I want to say, and how I might say it.
!! Still to do – all these to be combined into one hyperlinked annotated pdf in InDesign with references to sources of inspiration and notes on different variants that were tried.
What I learned
As with single images, this process really helps to tease out different themes and start to indicate potential linkages. It also very much helped then to indicate different processing/style options to differentiate the themes and work out where images best ‘fit’ in terms of narrative.
1 Define it: Tony was here
Photo Essay 1 ‘Define It’ focuses on the things that immediately interested me about the Bridge: ‘grunge traces of humans’, graffiti, wire netting, ‘horse has bolted’, dark reflections. With an overall dark mood of the apparent mess that people leave in Edgelands. I started by eliminating from the initial brainstorming selection all images that did not conform to this theme and ‘grunge’ aesthetic. Then I reordered them in a rough narrative: starting on the traveller side of the bridge: ‘horse has bolted’ opening shot, bridge context shot, then Power Queen, graffiti, netting and wire, reflections and algae. Then some images of mangled bikes like Still Life on the other side. Finally some ‘dark reflections.
2: Make it bold: narrative in black and white
3: Let’s Look at the Real Thing: Angling
These need to be more natural looking – remove the saturated colour. Got mixed up in all the virtual copies.
4: Introduce time, motion and sound
5: What is the key moment/ 12 Combine seemingly arbitrary content
I decided to interprete this as a series of ‘decisive moment’ images that capture thinsg happening or chance juxtapositions.
The use of black and white means that the focus is on the action, rather than being distracted by colour.
I did not have many of these images – a gap that I would like to fill.
6: Create a variation
The series of misty winter images was the most obvious outlier. But I wanted to include these because they are so atmospheric. Showing also the way in which people continue to use the river in different ways in the cold – and polluted – weather.
7: Play, fantasy, dreams
Sections of texture, graffiti and algae growing in stagnant puddles suggest faces, figures and stories.
Arbitrary marks of water and chemicles.
9 erase distinctions between original and copy
Possibly some context shots of the edgelands around the bridge, and wildlife, particularly herons. I like this reflection shot where the reflection is what one sees first.
10: Consider again your motivation – golden light bridge
My fascination with the bridge is not only the social diversity and ‘grunge factor’, but also the beautiful light and shadows in the early summer evening.