Exercise 5.2 – Everything I can See

My intention in the pages that follow was to describe …. that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds. “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris” Georges Perec 1975


So began M.Perec in his short 1975 work.  He sat himself down and observed the comings and goings in Place Saint Sulpice, Paris, over a period of three days.  His aim was to discern the minutiae, the details of the place rather than the obvious public buildings, statuary and other objects which usually catch the casual observer’s attention.

His purpose was to be other than the casual observer.  The intensity of his gaze, the relentless concentration on the small things, were meant to reveal the underpinnings, the true workings of a single place.

His technique rested largely on a lack of discrimination; everything he could see was written down some things several times accompanied by a wry again…  Here’s an example:

Srone: the curbs, a fountain, a church, buildings … -Asphalt – Trees (leafy, many yellowing) -A rather big chunk of sky {maybe one-sixth of my field of vision) -A cloud of pigeons that suddenly swoops down on the central plaza, between the church and fountain -Vehicles {their inventory remains to be made) -Human beings -Some sort of basset hound -Bread (baguette) -Lettuce (curly endive?) partially emerging from a shopping bag

There is a curious fascination involved in reading his lists.  They are almost free of comment and interpretation and the blank, unemotional way in which he renders his observations invites the reader to form their own imagined images.  I can see the Danon advert on the bus along with the cheese box picture alongside.

Here are some of the things I saw in the small westcountry town of Axminster one Thursday morning.

It is Thursday in Axminster

This is what I can see from a parked position in the main street.

At some point a parking warden will arrive and tell me to move because I am in a loading bay

From this position seat of the car a 180 degree view this is what I can see

Traffic lots and lots of traffic

Far too much traffic for a small market town with narrow streets

Commercial vehicles trying to get through, long, with caravans, trailers

There are grandparents with small children   I guess they’re looking after one of their parents won’t work

There’s a market, busy for a small town

Even though there is no sunshine people are dressed in summer clothes

Dogs looking somewhat distressed, trying to stay out of the way of people’s feet

Shoppers burdened with carrier bags

Families crossing the road at the road crossing

White legs

Skinny jeans


More cars

An elderly guy in a turban; The turban is bright orange his shirt is purple

The church is open but nobody is going into it or coming out from it

The new religion is retail

The sky brightens

There’s no let-up in the amount of traffic

A post-box faded red bleached by the sun

A scaffolded shop front

Charity shops

Advertising “A” boards, there is a new Indian restaurant opening

Spiky palm plants planted in the wall around the church

Knots of people chatting

A few people passing in the cars are eating

Snatches of conversation as people walk past

Harassed mothers with children another 6 weeks to go

Children who are taller by a long way than their parents


Spending more time looking at a scene reveals detail which might normally go unnoticed.  No great insights or revelations, just the quotidian events of a fading town.  Perec found a certain cohesion in these observations, a sense that the whole was made up of myriad tiny details, which could themselves be subdivided into smaller details and so on.  A richness in the everyday.

Perec sought an alternative to what he saw as the sensationalism of the newspapers – the train crashes, the floods, wars and earthquakes.  He employed the techniques of psychogeography and the maxims of the Oulipo movement in his writing, followers of which employed its constraints as a means of encouraging creativity.

This is Place Saint Sulpice today:

The brief asks us to consider whether this approach might make for an interesting project, but to my mind it is a triumph of technique over content.  The framework, the scaffolding of the method is apparent throughout the work and I feel that this adversely affects the creative possibilities rather than enhancing them.

This was my Axminster vantage point:

Photographer – Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack (UK 1985) photographs people she approaches in an empathic and direct manner which gives her work an apparent honesty and openness.  I have to say apparent  because, especially in the light of recent course-directed research, it is clear that what the image appears to communicate can easily be the result of manipulation.  But Pannack’s images as found on her website are accompanied by a detailed blog-based account of her photographic endeavours and the extensive travels which produced them.

In these accounts she is disarmingly open about her struggles with the nuts-and-bolts of photography, travel and personal organisation. Her readiness to declare what she sees as her failures, along with her modestly acknowledged successes, provides an engaging insight into her process, to me the most interesting aspect of a photographer’s work. Her work sometimes involves the use of a large format camera which she admits she has yet to master – her problems with keeping track of darkslides, for instance, has led to disappointing losses as well as serendipitous double-exposures.

Young British Naturists

Pannack came to the attention of the photography gate-keepers with her series Young British Naturists (which she now sensibly refers to as YBN), a project which took three years to research, coordinate and shoot.  It was slow and painstaking work;  she had to develop a trusting relationship with her subjects, who were unsurprisingly cautious about even being photographed, never mind exhibited and published.

allan.jpg   lounge.jpg

isi.jpg   jon.jpg


Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: https://www.laurapannack.com/young-british-naturists/

All of this work seems to have been made with natural light.  It is posed rather than candid and often the subjects look directly out of the frame at the viewer.  Is this a challenge?  An “I’m looking at you looking at me”?  I don’t think so – if anything it places the subjects in a superior position.  Differential focus is often used to isolate the sitters within their environment.  The final image format is very close to 5×4 so I wonder if she battled with her cantankerous view camera to modify the plane of focus.

“Nakedness is usually reserved for the private realm. We make sure the curtain is pulled before we undress. On the beach, we wriggle awkwardly behind towels to preserve our modesty and a dropped corner is cause for deep blushes. We keep our private parts hidden from view, known only to ourselves or given as a gift to a lover. It is about more than just skin. Nakedness is a concept as much as it is a state of being, and one wreathed in paradox. With it are bound notions of privacy, self possession, jurisdiction. It can connote innocence or sexuality, purity or depravity. It can signify both power and vulnerability, used to liberate or humiliate.” Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: https://www.laurapannack.com/young-british-naturists/


Young Love

Pannack further explores her interest in portraying  teens and early twenties in this project.  Empathy with her subjects plays an important part in her approach:

“Perhaps young people rely on relationships to ease the burden of the frightening time of handling adolescence and all its uncertainties; finding support in someone who will not judge but share the experience. Who will despite any fears or insecurities we have, accept and love us.”    Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: https://www.laurapannack.com/young-love/



kiss.jpg  8 david and emilya.jpg  laura_Pannack 0_a.jpg

Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: https://www.laurapannack.com/young-love/

Once more the need to gain the confidence of those she photographs is important.  She recognises adolescence as a ‘frightening time’ so needs to gain the trust of her subjects.