Continuum (2014) by Chris Dorley-Brown

I have been encouraged to look more closely at Chris Dorley-Brown’s Continuum (2014) series than his The Corners (2009-17) work. That is because both my tutor and I believe this series is more pertinent for my upcoming extended essay and my project in general. Continuum (2014) shows change more explicitly than The Corners (2009-17) and utilises repeat photography like my body of work. I was a bit frustrated that Continuum (2014), which I consider to be an enlightening series of diptychs, has been covered so little by writers on photography. However, while looking for sources, I found that an essay by Stewart Home had been written inside Dorley-Brown’s Continuum (2014) book, available on Apple Books. Luckily, I have access to an Apple device so I downloaded it and here are my thoughts on the interactive book and its introductory essay.

Chris Dorley-Brown’s Continuum series is like looking at fragmentary sections of Google Street View but with much better aesthetics. The part of Google Street View I am referring to is the somewhat hidden history panel in the interface. Here, it is possible to see various iterations of the same location by clicking along that location’s timeline. I find looking at Deptford in Google Street View in this way fascinating and Dorley-Brown’s photographs elicit a similar response. However, his photographs are a kind of highlight reel of the changes in Hackney and are more extreme as their timeframe goes beyond the scope of Google Street View’s; further back into the past. Then there is the lack of clutter of the interface necessary with Google Street View, as Dorley-Brown employs a repeat photography method.

One part of the body that makes up Continuum (2014) that intrigues me is that it is unlikely he envisaged returning to any or all of the locations he photographed from: ‘The framing of the first shot is a matter of aesthetic choice, the second the result of chance since it has been self-consciously created with no regard to how changes in the built environment may have a detrimental effect upon its composition.’ (Home, 2014:1). The Continuum (2014) project probably developed from just an interest in the area, with maybe a lose idea to rephotographing it. In this regard it is a similar approach to my body of work, although of course the changes Dorley-Brown documents are on a much more drastic timescale.

‘it wasn’t until after the election of Tony Blair and New Labour in the nineties that the demolition job Thatcher had started on the post-war social consensus was seen through to its il(logical) conclusion.’ (Home, 2014:3). In one regard this resonates with sections of Minton’s Ground Control (2012) including: ‘The process of of introducing market forces into the part of public sector which was once housing policy began with Mrs Thatcher and was stepped up by New Labour.’ (Minton, 2012:114). However, while Home (2014:3) sees that: ‘the wanton destruction of perfectly good tower blocks takes away from rather than contributes to [the attraction of a city].’, Minton (2012:117) is of the opinion that the tower blocks were not suited for their purpose: ‘the council-house building programmes of the post-war period – many of which resulted in the disastrous system-building of tower blocks which had to be knocked down’. I can infer from these views that New Labour carried on or intensified what the Thatcher government had started, although whether one of the consequences of this – the demolition of tower blocks – is a positive or negative thing, is debatable.

© Chris Dorley-Brown (2004-14) 'bow back rivers'
Fig. 1 © Chris Dorley-Brown (2004-14) ‘bow back rivers’

By employing repeat photography with his before-and-after pairs, Dorley-Brown is enabling the past to inform and change the present (Home, 2014:4). Dorley-Brown accomplishes this with images appearing in diptychs which are ‘taken roughly fifteen years apart’ (Home, 2014:2). The changes are so stark in some cases that these locations are rendered almost unrecognisable. It is possible to navigate Continuum (2014) by Dorley-Brown on Apple Books by scrolling through the pages and pressing an unobtrusive button at the bottom of each page which reveals the later photograph from behind the photograph taken roughly fifteen years earlier. Pressing the same button again reveals the pair side by side and the whole experience is immersive if alarming (because of the drastic changes depicted).

In my body of work the changes are generally much more subtle, because of the much shorter span of time between each image in my pairs (roughly 6 months). In this regard my project is quite different to Dorley-Brown’s Continuum series even if they do employ diptychs similarly. However, it does aim to ‘rediscover a sense of community and all the interrelated and truly human aspects of living in a populous city like London’ that Home (2014:4) talks of at the end of his introductory essay for Continuum (2014). I have done this by employing a different technique as well as diptych use. Through a composite approach to making the images, I have placed people at similar points in the frame across the diptych with the help of Photoshop. This creates the effect of the people seemingly staying the same even though they have changed in appearance. For me this can be interpreted as a hopeful future for Deptford and other places that are undergoing regeneration.

I found looking at Dorley-Brown’s Continuum (2014) ebook to be a productive exercise and one that can inform both my Contextual Studies with the extended essay as well as my Body of Work.

References:

Fig. 1 Dorley-Brown, C. (2004-14) bow back rivers [Photograph] At: https://mmillmoredigitalimageandculture.home.blog/2019/06/18/chris-dorley-brown/ (Accessed 13.12.2019).

Dorley-Brown, C. (2009-17) The Corners. At: https://modrex.com/photoworks#/the-corners/ (Accessed 14.04.2020).

Dorley-Brown, C. (2014) Continuum. New York: FusionLab, Inc. At: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/continuum/id950929159 (Accessed 14.04.2020).

Home, S. (2014) ‘The Image Has Cracked’ In: Dorley-Brown, C. Continuum. New York: FusionLab, Inc. At: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/continuum/id950929159 (Accessed 14.04.2020). pp.1-4.

Minton, A. Ground Control. (2nd ed.) London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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