A mile or so outside Dorchester in Dorset a controversial housing project has been in progress since 1993, under the aegis of HRH the Prince of Wales, who set out much of his architectural purpose in his book A Vision of Britain (1989). The development is now home to over 3000 people and 120 businesses.
Out-of-town housing estates are nothing new, but with Prince Charles at the helm this build has a visionary mission – to blend as many architectural styles, motifs, embellishments and protuberances as possible in the smallest feasible space, thereby encapsulating the very essence of the English Village in Dorset. Residents in the adjoining host town, itself no slouch when it comes to historical credentials, largely consider this aim a wild shot, missed by a country mile.
To me it is an astonishing achievement, to have spent twenty-five years in pursuit of a plan, the ineffectiveness of which must have clear as the first chimneypots where appearing – sans fireplaces. The hope was that by innovative building design a coherent community could be established, one where the traditional values of English country life would flourish. I believe communities generally grow and thrive despite their surrounds rather than because of them, so although there’s no reason why this should not be the case in Poundbury, I wonder whether relations are hampered by the very factors by which HRH sought to achieve them.
The dwellings appear tightly regimented; no brick out of place, no wall or fence dares rise beyond the prescribed height. Render is uniformly mute, the soberest of Farrow and Ball hues. Georgian sash windows (of 21st century uPVC) are the whitest of white; glass sparkles, letterboxes and hefty door knockers gleam in a superior, brassy fashion.
The very sense of community which was envisioned at the outset is stifled by the precision and orderliness of the place. I searched in vain for a weed, a discarded crisp packet, a neglected potplant, something to relieve the incessant air of perfection. No washing hanging out to dry (this is prohibited in the bye-laws, an appropriately feudal restriction), no children’s toys in sight. Nothing as vulgar as an on-street wheel change or a bonnet-up bit of trivial car maintenance – all forbidden.
The pictures I made for this assignment were taken on a single day. I knew what I would find at Poundbury, the challenge was to express my feelings about the place in a series of connected photographs. The text was already swimming around in my head, the result of reading years of news reports, discussions with friends and colleagues along with specifically researched online sources. I had the basic narrative already and chose to augment it with additional text.
At first I had not intended to include text in the series but whilst wandering round the place I was interrupted by words and phrases I’d encountered previously; I have sourced snippets of text to expand the sentiments I have about Poundbury and its Grand Plan.
I’m not really satisfied with the ‘slideshow’ presentation style but I felt that any attempt to ‘artify’ it would only make things worse. I think it might work better in book form. There’s plenty of scope for the viewer to ‘open up’ their understanding of the venture and I think the words do stimulate connections within the pictures themselves.
Technically things are quite straightforward. The day was bright, very sunny, so I worked on the RAW files a little to lift shadows and keep detail in the highlights. I always under-expose by a stop; I know this defies the prevailing wisdom but my choice is purely aesthetic – I get the look I want. Far be it from me to question Olympus Corporation but my light meter is In full agreement with this strategy.
I edited the photographs down to a selection which I felt spoke most eloquently, then mangled them a bit in Photoshop. Not really – I only spent a couple of hours on the whole lot and that was mainly adjusting perspective for the flat, expressionless look I wanted.
It goes without saying that this form of sardonic juxtaposition is nothing new. Victor Burgin was working in this fashion in the 1970’s:
© Victor Burgin
Burgin placed his appropriated text right inside his photographs to emphasise the contradictions he observed. I would think that he already had the text in mind and then, like me, he made the pictures to demonstrate the point. His are b/w, in keeping with the contemporary social documentary look. He has chosen a standard font, which doesn’t seem to connect with the more elaborate faces used in the original advertisements which looks a bit like this:
Burgin’s choice suggests authority – it was the face of choice for the broadsheet newspapers of the day (actually I think they were all broadsheet, the tabloids didn’t appear till later in the ’70s).
My intention was to present a somewhat parodic viewpoint, more ridicule than social commentary.
Slides 2, 4, 6 : Poundbury – Poundbury. n.d. Available at http://poundbury.org.uk/ [Accessed 11 July 2018]
Slide 8: Poundbury | the Duchy of Cornwall. n.d. Available at http://duchyofcornwall.org/poundbury.html [Accessed 11 July 2018].
Slides 10, 12, 14: Covenants & Stipulations – Poundbury Manco 3. n.d. Available at http://www.poundburymanco.co.uk/covenants-stipulat ions/ [Accessed 11 July 2018].
Slide 16: (PDF) Participatory Community Planning, Urbanist Style: Theory and Practice at Poundbury. 2008. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259972613 [Accessed 11 July 2018].