Assignment Five: Personal Project Rework

The final assignment asks you to apply all you’ve learned in the course to build a collection of 10 – 12 images on a theme of your choice.

When you’ve completed the collection, return to the brief that you set yourself at the start and consider how well your completed project matches up to your original intentions.  Write a reflective account (around 500 words) to accompany your images and try to include some of the following ideas: –

  • How did you choose your theme? Was it a good choice?
  • What went well?  What went badly?
  • Did you stick to your original brief or did you find yourself departing from it?  Why?
  • What technical problems did you experience?  How did you solve them?
  • Are you pleased with your final collection?  What could you have done differently?

Brief

Make a pictorial documentary along the length of the once obsolescent, 18th and early 19th century Kennet & Avon Canal, showing the engineering feats of the designers and the uses it has had and still has today.  Ensure that there is a large enough pool of images to select from to obtain at least 15 artistically good and technically correct images for the final presentation.

Research

The modern-day Kennet & Avon Canal is in fact an amalgamation of three separate waterways built in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  The Kennet Navigation, between Reading and Newbury, a canalised river, was opened in 1723 and Avon Navigation, a river with locks, between Bristol and Bath in 1727.  The 57 mile stretch in between, The Kennet & Avon Canal, wasn’t finally completed until 1810, providing an inland waterway route from Bristol to London thus avoiding the more ‘accident’ prone channel route.

The accepted reason for the coming of the canal was that the English Channel route from Bristol to London was too prone to attack from French and Dutch privateers in time of war, and from the problems facing sail transport along the channel regarding poor weather and shipwreck.  However, by investigating the relative costs involved in both routes it becomes clear that financial considerations were paramount.  In the 18th century, to ship 1200 tons of cargo from Bristol to London would require a ship with a crew of between 75 and 200 and take a minimum of 3.5 days (given fair winds all the way), whereas to ship 1200 tons of cargo by canal would take 10 ‘Newbury’ barges, each with a crew of 6, and 8 – 12 horses (stages along the route), taking a time of 5 – 8 days.  Given that the barges would be able to drop off and pick-up cargo along the way and deliver directly to the merchants own wharf in London (something the larger sailing ships couldn’t do) on a guaranteed delivery schedule, the financial advantages are obvious.

What makes this project more interesting is the fact that at the period in time when this canal was built there wasn’t any mechanical means of digging the ‘cut’, building the bridges, assembling the locks and aqueducts, putting in the massive water management infrastructure, and the engineering works are still there and being used today, all dug and built by hand.

From the photographic point of view the most important reference I have researched for this project is Eric de Mare 1910 – 2002.  Trained as an architect, he later became the editor of ‘Architects Journal’ and also produced numerous books, including ‘The Canals of England’ in 1950, of which I have a copy.  He travelled over 600 miles of canal waterways throughout 1948 – 9 before producing the book.  In 1956 he was commissioned to travel throughout England photographing early industrial sites and building which culminated in a book ‘The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Architecture’. 

http://viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/story/intro.aspx?storyUid=73

Eric de Mare © English Heritage.NMRReference Number: AA98/05171

Image 1: Eric de Mare © English Heritage.NMR
Reference Number: AA98/05171

Eric de Mare © English Heritage.NMRReference Number: AA98/05351

Image 2: Eric de Mare © English Heritage.NMR
Reference Number: AA98/05351

In the context of photographing architecture one cannot ignore the prolific works of Eugene Atget 1857 – 1957, although his work was about the disappearing Parisian scene; he clearly influenced many future architectural photographers, but ironically only after his death did his work become widely known.

 http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Eugene-Atget.html

Francis Frith 1822 – 1898, spent his early career  in Egypt where he captured many of, the then, exciting images of the Pharonic architecture, he then set out to photograph every village, town and city in Britain and sell the images through a chain of shops; the archive now has over 300,000 images of 7,000 or more places. One of the early pioneers of architectural photography he quite possibly could have influenced both de Mare and Atget in their career choice.

http://www.francisfrith.com/

Zarina Bhimji 1963 – Extant, for some reason I associated her work with the style of image I want to be able to produce and her series ‘World Without People’ that was shown at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2012 hinted to me that her work had more than a passing interest in the architectural past of India and the Raj as well as with water and boat-building. Since seeing her work I’ve been constantly influenced by it, although she herself has moved on from still photography to film and sound.  There is currently no website devoted to her work and I can only assume it’s down for rebuilding.

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