I chose to look at Poundbury for Assignment 4. It is a long term ( 30 year) housing estate being built on the outskirts of Dorchester in Dorset. The resulting pictures were well received by my tutor, so I decided to continue the theme and try to expand on it; assignment 5 attempts to get more ‘under the skin’ of the place.
It’s worth bearing in mind the original ethos of Poundbury as outlined by Prince Charles in his 1989 book “A Vision of Britain”. He was concerned to establish a true community in surroundings which would foster English Village values and a sense of cohesiveness among the residents and workers. Well designed, visually appealing buildings, both public and private, were the key to this objective. Houses for people on low incomes would be built ‘using local materials’ cheek-by-jowl with spacious five bedroom executive homes, thereby avoiding the ‘monotonous uniformity’ of modern housing developments. It is ironic that, in my view, a new kind of monotony has spread westwards from Dorchester, an unintended result of this laudable aim.
The fervent drive to include architecture of every possible genus has resulted in a huge estate-of-the-bizarre. Palladian columns share an uncomfortable proximity with early Baroque features. Neoclassical porticos eye neighbouring Gothic arches with ill-disguised scorn. Some of this uneasy shoulder-rubbing is evident in the relative standards of upkeep visible in adjacent dwellings – not quite ‘white goods in the garden’, but socio-economic divisions are apparent where the big houses meet the small.
Despite my natural animosity towards environments built on a Grand Plan basis, I admire the consistency with which the project has developed. Over its twenty-five year history there has been no let-up, no deviation from the original vision, rather a remarkable certainty of purpose along with a supreme confidence which the uncharitable may consider verges on the arrogant.
. On the suggestion my tutor I looked at work by David Wyatt
© David Wyatt Thames Town 2008
Wyatt became interested in these new town developments in China, where the architectural style imitated the Chinese impression of English vernacular. Like Poundbury they were being built for a purpose, to house those in need of accomodation, although the pressure on Chinese housing stock is significantly greater than its UK counterpart. Wyatt has adopted a ‘flat’ unaffected approach in his depiction of Thames Town. The photographs are not the least bit contrived, the better to emphasise the anomoly of their situation. He photographs in hazy sunshine and every detail is allowed equal prominance.
Emily Shur was fascinated by similar aspects of Japanese urban building:
© Emily Shur Morning Walk, Ginza 2004-14
These appear to be photographs of the commonplace but they each identify an aspect of the built environment which could easily go unnoticed. Here it seems she is concerned with the verticality of the construction, the way that the buildings appear to be reaching urgently up towards the sun. Again, a flat approach has been adopted – Shur makes no attempt to embellish or slant the pictures, they are allowed to speak for themselves.
© Michael Collins South from Battersea Power Station 2006
Michael Collins likes rather dull, overcast days for making what he regards as ‘record photographs’ in a fashion developed in the mid-nineteenth century. This technique relies on what Collins refers to as the “ calm, unembellished aesthetic characteristic” and and absence of “didactic or subjective emphasis.”. He goes further, adding
“There is great freedom in a picture, particulary a photograph, which does not expose the artist’s motivations or autobiographical engagement within it – both for the artist and the viewer.”
Michael Collins Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.michaelcollinsphotography.com/ [Accessed 26 Jul. 2018].
What about my pictures? Although I did what I intended, they are disappointing to me. I feel that I haven’t been able to say what I wanted to about the place – I haven’t been able to utilise photography to express feelings. The pictures are quite faithful in a Collins ‘record photography’ way but in their flatness and lack of expression they appear dull and uninteresting. The technique is there but the content is boring.
In our house we have a little maxim for appraising the quality of television programs; we ask ourselves “do we care”? about any of the characters. There has to be some kind of emotional engagement with at least one of the players which invokes feeling about them. These photographs do not make me care. They do produce a bit of feeling along the general lines of despair but I don’t want to persevere with them. It’s the same with the work of those I have critiqued above – I’m just not bothered.
The pictures for this last assignment should not be considered a failure, I tell myself. I tried something and it didn’t really work – for me; perhaps they would be more satisfying to others. But I have to involve myself in work which captivates me and I think I am able to recognise whether this factor is present quite early on in a project, so in future I will be more strict with myself!
It’s probably worth pointing out a few things about the contents of the photographs I took. Poundbury has very few pedestrians at any time of day so I didn’t have to hang around waiting for the streets to clear in order to get that barren look.
The place is scattered with anomalies – the carefully chased-in flashing above the yellow door, what’s that about? Did they forget to attach the pediment? Have the new purchasers been assured it’s on its way?
Yes, that’s a mixer tap without a sink unit. The gutter downpipes seem to merit careful foam protection – more than the rest of the house? Is there a pvc vandal at large?
Early on in the project a wicked ruler imposed a draconian window tax so many residents avoided it by bricking theirs up. In one picture you can see the result – the window surrounds are now stuck-on the walls, avoiding the necessity to build any kind of opening yet maintaining that authentic walled-in look. I could go on, with ever more examples but it’s already a bit old.
Finally, Queen Mother Square. It’s lit up like St Mark’s Basilica on Good Friday, Presumably energy resource conservation takes a back seat when a massive boozer is involved (I mean the pub, not the royal personage).