California Dreaming

California Dreaming

Sally Sharpe. B.A. Photography, Level 5. February 2018.

Rationale. Brief 510. Place.

These 6 images are from a large selection of photographs I taken on my recent trips over the last 12 months. From snapshots to portraits to landscapes all in the search of what Place means to me.

I started thinking about the theory of place and non-place last year so I actually started this project when visiting Berlin. I began just shooting which was a different approach for me as I had no idea what direction I wanted to take it. I photographed the streets of Berlin at twilight as the sun was streaming through the trees and creating wonderful shadows and the white fluffy clouds in a perfect blue sky. The Berlin wall covered in graffiti and the west-side areas populated by the cool kids and skate scene. I was drawn to this area of the town and yet even though there were teenagers everywhere I was attempting to concentrate on the actual place and the effect the people had on the place.

I was lucky enough to also visit Hong Kong where similarly I photographed the place itself. I photographed it from every angle at every time of day, I looked at all the things that make Hong Kong such an amazing place. The neon lights and busy streets it’s like everything there moves so fast I tried to show this in my photographs of the pastel coloured high rises and the hustling outdoor night markets. Even though I have been to Hong Kong before I felt I really saw the place on this time. I explored islands that have been long deserted and temples new and ancient, I went on rickety boat rides and speedy modern ferries, I travelled on the slick MTR, the Hong Kong Tube and the old open top trams around the city centre. I photographed it all. I was photographing it all as an outsider as a tourist. I put these images to one side with my Berlin shots knowing I had one more trip before completing this project.

Informed by research of great American photographers such as Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore, John Szarkowski and William Eggleston. I decided that on my next trip to Los Angeles I would try again.

“It isn’t what a picture is of. It is what it’s about.”

(Szarkowski. 1958)

I set off armed with my compact canon camera set in wide screen mode, well I was going to Hollywood after all. A medium format film camera and a bag of films ranging from newly bought Kodak Porta 400 to give my shots that soft retro feel, Ilford FP4 honestly just because I had some to 20-year-old Fuji colour film that added a certain amount of risk to the process.

I purposely booked myself into classic Americana motels with outdoor swimming pools, palm trees, corridors and stairs all on the exterior of the buildings, ice cream coloured walls and vintage signs. I walked for miles around Hollywood and Sunset Strip photographing the everyday America. Drug and liquor stores, street signs, cars and telegraph poles. All the things that the likes of Shore, Eggleston and Friedlander saw as commonplace. Even though I’ve spent quite a bit of time in California the little things that we all see as typically American are so familiar because of television and films still feel new and exciting, like stepping on to a film set. I tried to capture this.

I headed to the beach where the light was golden, something in my approach changed. As I wandered up and down the boardwalk I began to take portraits of the wonderful characters I met as well as the place itself, teenagers that looked cool smoking their joint in the evening sun, Mark a guy who lived in a tent on the beach, a couple of local kids who’d been skating at the skate park, surfers, buskers and bums the people here were as appealing as the beautiful sun kisses surroundings.

I rented a car and photographed through the window, I ate in 50’s style diners and photographed the clichéd table settings and my classic American meals. I still didn’t really know what I was trying to say with these images they were snapshots of my holiday more than anything a record of my trip.

When I came home I began to edit my photographs I had a lot to look through, it was only then I really began to think about where my place in the photographic canon could be. In my previous work, I looked at the intimacy between teenagers’ and the loss of intimacy in adults to the extreme of men using dolls to replace real relationships. These projects all meant a great deal to me and I wasn’t sure if I managed to keep within my framework on this project.

After reading Photography by Stephen Bull, I studied my images of my 3 recent trips and began my selection, with Philips modernist check list in my head

I was ultimately drawn to the images I took on the boardwalk in Venice Beach I believe they showed my strengths as a photographer. The light in these images is a major factor, the golden hues of the twilight hours in which I took them. But above all it’s the connection I can feel when I look at them. I didn’t feel as though I was an outsider, a tourist. I felt that I became immersed in the whole culture of the place the surfers, skaters, pot smokers and bums were people I had connected with and on closer inspection of my work you could tell in my images. These images were all taken on the Bronica with colour film they may not have been the most technically correct photographs I’ve ever taken but there was an intimacy within them. An intimacy I felt towards this place and it was because of the people.

In The Nature of the Photograph Shore talks of the depictive level.

Where the painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture. By choosing a vantage point, choosing a frame, choosing a moment of exposure and by selecting a plane of focus you give the image structure. ‘They form the basis of a photographs visual grammar. They are responsible for a snapshooters ‘mistakes’: a blur, a beheading, a jumble an awkward moment. They are the means by which photographers express their sense of the world, give structure to their perceptions and articulations to their meanings.

(Shore. 2007, pg. 37-38)