5.2.1: Bridge Edgelands, Cambridge

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. I have nearly 2000 images 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’ .

!!NOTE STILL TODO

!!!! need more history here when I can meet and talk to people again over the summer. Not sure I will ever be able to find the answers. But it will be interesting to see how things have changed.

I have not been able to go along the river since Lockdown started in March 2020 because it has been used by very many runners working from home along a very narrow towpath without social distancing and a lot of aerosols being expelled for long distance in plumes that are very alarming in cold weather.

But over the summer, COVID/vaccine permitting and before going further with the planned books, I hope to again be able to spend a week or so around the bridge to do a sketchbook exploring the creative prompts as pencils, charcoal and watercolour/gouache. With a diary of text annotations to further clarify the narrative. I am also planning to at least draft a Moving Image version with audio from location in Adobe Premiere to yet further explore what I am trying to say, and as a promotional piece on Facebook for my work.

Feedback from Cambridge Camera Club on the Reflection series suggested that I crop in more closely for more complete abstraction. Something like the following.

Bridge Edgelands Photo Series:
initial brainstorming

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:

  1. ‘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.
  2. ‘sublime light’ with geometric angles, colours and finding beauty in the everyday.
  3. ‘human stories untold’
  4. bleak mist and murk
  5. 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.

!! detailed annotation of technical discoveries/questions about meaning communicated still to be integrated into an annotated pdf version of this draft: eg what is differently communicated in Black and White/colour. Lens profile correction makes things look more staged and less ‘real’. Soft focus vs sharpened. Referring to photography crtitical essays and sources of inspiration.

Narrative Creativity:
Photo Essay explorations

Aims

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.

8 arbitrary

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.

11: Make it obvious: traces and litter

12: Make it ambiguous: Reflections
13: Remind Yourself: people I meet

Finally one of the real motivations is because the people I meet – even if fleetingly – under the bridge are people from very different backgrounds to my own. People who use the space for a wide range of activities. And who I would like to get to know better.