‘Space’ is a “continuous extension viewed with or without reference to the existence of objects within it.” (Borruso, 2007) Meanwhile, ‘place’ is a “particular part of space; part of space occupied by person or thing.” (Coulson, 1975)
Spaces do not hold simple all-encompassing ‘truth’. The ‘truth’ of a place is constructed by our interaction with it. In Inside/Out, Abigail Solomon-Godeau claims that, “photography can only show the outside and cannot make visible the subjective and integral truth of the subject.” (la Grange, 2005) In support of this, Martin Matthews states “A sense of place describes a particular kind of relationship between individuals and localities.” (Bremner and Matthews, 1992) Spaces have no objective meaning and are personal to the relationship between the observer(s) and subject.
As a photographer I interact with a space in order to capture my subjective experience. The intention with this medium is to share that point-of-view with the audience. To capture my specific relationship in a way that was evident for the audience was the challenging element set by this brief. When it comes to capturing a sense of place, we have to understand that spaces are subjective to the photographer. When viewing a photograph, it is important to note that, “As with human memory, we can no longer verify the original experience or sensation of the photograph” (Bate, 2010)
Halnaker windmill sits atop of the hill which shares its name, in West Sussex. I went into some detail on the history of this site in ‘Ex.3.5: Local History’
It’s current state as-of-publishing is a building that has completely lost its identity. Surrounded by multiple layers of fencing and long-uncut grasses, it is a derelict mill with little sign of its original purpose.
Dereliction speaks to what was, of prosperity and life beforehand. Yves Marchland called ruins “the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension. The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires.” Alongside the worsening state of the building, my emotional response to Halnaker has also deteriorated over the years. I’ve been many times, but taking shots from every two years from the past six, it’s apparent just how much has changed.
This ties into the concept of ‘place attachment’ which is a major element of ‘environmental psychology’. – “to be attached to places and have profound ties with them is an important human need” (Relph, 1976). The role of memory is very important to our sense of place; “memories go beyond simply remembrance of the event, but also take into account the emotions, details, and stages of one’s life that contribute to their life story” (Fitzgerald and Broadbridge, 2013). It is memory that maintains our connection to a place.
I questioned what ‘place attachment’ means to me. To explore and connect with a place is to experience freedom; to interact with the ‘normal’ elements of a place without the anxiety that comes with encountering unknown people. Halnaker no longer holds that freedom for me, it is a place that holds and associates memory with anxiety.
“Too Close for Comfort”
I set out to create a photographic analysis of how the ‘truth’ of a subject can change depending on the viewpoint. I wondered if I could somehow capture that change- could I give the impression of former life with the real, cold reality of dereliction as it stands now?
With ‘place attachment’ and my perspective comes my truth- a truth affected by a mental health condition. The Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that I suffer from can be summed up as “emotional intensity”, which means that I cannot regulate my emotional responses.
My ex-boyfriend lived in Havant, Hampshire and I spent a lot of time with him there. The breakup was bad (for sufferers of BPD, a breakup can be akin to the pain of a death) and I’ve not been near Havant since. Halnaker sits atop one of the highest hills in Sussex, and the landscape stretches out for miles at the top.
I had a nice time trying out my first camera on a couple of nights at the Windmill, until, on my third visit I turned my back and saw the lights of Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower. Instantly, I saw Havant, and I was right back in the clutches of depression and abandonment. From that moment, I wouldn’t see the Windmill the same way again.
Whilst I have been to Halnaker many times, these three images (from my first visit up, then two years later and finally for this assignment) catalogue the deterioration of the building. The area has changed from a nice, quaint tourist-attraction to a gloomy, off-putting area that doesn’t invite interest.
I began with 29 photographs from my hour-long visit to the area, and whittled those down to a final 8 which would become my set. My final choices are made up of what I considered to be the most useful distances from the windmill. Some were too close to or taken too far from the windmill to work with the other choices. Others weren’t composed particularly well or had similar shots that worked better.
I used three lenses during the set. From the furthest point away I used a 24-70mm zoom. The next shot took me much closer, but I didn’t want that to be too obvious to the viewer so I changed to a wide-angle 21mm. This would give the impression that I hadn’t got much closer to the windmill. Finally, getting much closer, I used a 55mm to hone in on the details of the building itself.
What particularly inspired me was the film, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) and the use of colour to express its narrative. To begin with, in the ‘real world’ of Kansas, the sepia tones reflects the dreariness and oppressiveness of Dorothy’s life. In ‘Oz’ within her dream, colour is used to reflect the freedom and wonder she experiences in contrast with her life in Kansas.
To match a ‘drain’ in colour with getting closer to the ‘reality’ of the place, I wanted to desaturate the images as I went along. I decided on removing 14% of each shots saturation at a time beginning with 0%, 14%, 28% etc. until the final black and white shot.
The disparity between the impression of the windmill at different distances is most apparent when comparing the first and last shots in the set.
The first, in full colour, gives only the slightest of hints that the windmill isn’t what it once was- the lack of sails instantly noticeable. The blue sky and lush trees negate any negative associations, however. In contrast, the final shot is lonely and exposed rather than warm and appealing. The area is fenced off, overgrown and unapproachable. The removal of colour brings out the imperfections.
I am not particularly happy with the shots themselves, which look more like snaps during a walk. With specifically planned stops at measured distances and better light, I think I would have better quality photographs.
I think I met the brief- creatively, at least. I think the concept works. It’s difficult to show change in a place that is ‘stuck’. It’s the execution that’s lacking. It could be that the place I chose to focus on isn’t dynamic enough for the ‘distance’ aspect that I went after.
In wondering how to possibly expand on this idea and what i’d do differently, I considered what the opposite idea of what I’ve done would look like. If I had chosen to explore more positive avenues, I would have looked into ‘life’ and how that’s shown through colour and movement. Likely this would have been city and light based, with the benefit of being at night to use my talents.
Bate, D. 2010. The Memory of Photography. Photographies, 3(2): 243-257.
Borruso, S. (2007). A History Of Philosophy for (Almost) Everyone. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 250.
Bremner, G. & Matthews, H. (1992) Making sense of place: Children’s understanding of large-scale environments. Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Coulson, J. (1975). The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 643.
Fitzgerald, J. & Broadbridge, C. (2013). Latent constructs of the Autobiographical Memory Questionnaire: A recollection-belief model of autobiographical experience. Memory, 21(2), 230-248.
la Grange, A. (2005). Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Burlington: Focal Press, 128
Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London, UK: Pion Limited.
Figure 1. “The Wizard of OZ “(1939) [Film Still] At: http://loud-dreams.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/the-wizard-of-oz-where-are-you-on.html (Accessed on 12.10.16)
Figure 2. “The Wizard of OZ “(1939) [Film Still] At: http://diariodiunacamionistaperbene.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/il-mago-di-oz-l-frank-baum.html (Accessed on 12.10.16)