The Town of Tomorrow – 50 Years of Thamesmead

I was recommended by my Contextual Studies tutor to have look at The Town of Tomorrow – 50 Years of Thamesmead (2019) by Here Press. My tutor didn’t explicitly say why he recommended it but I think it might have been to show me how other photographers have approached large-scale regeneration in different ways. He did also say he was fascinated himself by the older, mostly black and white photographs, which pointed to happier, more hopeful days. I feel looking at other photographers is important even if they’re approaching a similar subject in a different way because it can open new avenues to explore or just show how there is more than one route to follow.

Tara Darby, who produced the majority of the newer photographs taken in 2018, uses portraiture interspersed with landscape photos to bring variety and a multi-faceted approach to depicting regeneration happening in Thamesmead. I have seen this approach before with the like of Zed Nelson’s A Portrait of Hackney (2014) – see Influences for My First Assignment for Body of Work. Here Darby provides a portrait of present day Thamesmead (or at least 2018 Thamesmead) as well as giving contrast to the older mostly black and white photographs of the past Thamesmead. The approach of using two genres of photography is very different to mine and while it gives the project a more personal, intimate feel, it lacks consistency. This is not a problem; it works well and breaks up the rhythm of viewing the book for me. It is however, a different style to my photography which employs consistency throughout. In fact I feel my project for Body of Work might be a little too consistent in terms of aesthetics, repeating the framing and even compositing the people in similar places when making the repeat photography. However, a lot of my inspirations have the same, almost banal style of cloudy-weather lighting and rigid framing. Some examples of this are Alexander Gronsky who I recently was inspired by and also Andreas Gursky.

© Tara Darby (2018) 'Titmuss Avenue, The Moorings'
© Tara Darby (2018) ‘Titmuss Avenue, The Moorings’

In the end and going back to Darby’s work, I think there is a difference in style and approach which reflects something of the photographer. A photographer who approaches a topic like regeneration in a completely different way to mine (i.e. Darby) might be more outgoing. In contrast, my approach could reflect that I am inclined to be more introverted and reflective. I don’t think I would have the confidence to approach strangers in the place where the regeneration is occurring and take a portrait. I have thought in there past this would be a good way of breaking the project up; interspersing the diptychs/grids of repeat photography with portraits of the locals. Instead, I’m inclined to skirt around portraits of strangers in Deptford and I’m left with a set of diptychs/grids. Whether these diptychs/grids will be compelling enough by themselves or even with the addition of text remains to be seen. I am still looking for ways to make my project more diverse although I realise time is of the essence in these regeneration projects! The approach I’ve taken is quite time-consuming to produce composites and repeat photography. As well as this time needs to be taken between repeat photographs.

© Tara Darby (2018) 'Walking by Southmere Lake'
© Tara Darby (2018) ‘Walking by Southmere Lake’

With Darby’s and Nelson’s similar approaches of uncomplicated documentary-style photography, encompassing both portraiture and landscape aspects, an effective dynamic is formed between the images. However it does require an outgoing personality or at least somebody who feels comfortable approaching and photographing strangers. I feel my project is still strong but perhaps I have overcomplicated parts of it as it has developed and it needs refining or something to break it up.

References:

Chadwick, P and Weaver, B. (2019) The Town of Tomorrow – 50 Years of Thamesmead. London: Here Press.

Darby, T. (2018) Walking by Southmere Lake. [Photograph] At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/02/thamesmead/ (Accessed 12.02.2020)

Darby, T. (2018) Titmuss Avenue, The Moorings. [Photograph] At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/02/thamesmead/ (Accessed 12.02.2020)

Nelson, Z. (2014) A Portrait of Hackney. (3rd ed) London: Hoxton Mini Press.

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