This blog is about my Documentary photography project a Typical English Village – Little Eaton, Derbyshire. I have been a documentary Photographer for 25 years and lived in the village nearly twenty years, but hadn’t thought of photographing my doorstep. I had always been too busy travelling around to notice what community activity there was in the village, it was rare to be home during the week when the carnival was on, always something happening.
Then after spending 4 years on a project covering a social movement to no avail, I decided to look for another new project, some months later I was looking at photographers who had made the” English” as their subject matter. I travelled up to the National Media Museum in Bradford to do research on Tony Ray-Jones, Brought a copy of “A Record of England: Sir Benjamin Stone and the National Photographic Record Association 1897 -1910” and “No Such Thing as Society: Photography in Britain 1967-1987” and others…
I think this gave me my motivation and the issues that drove those photographers was they were seeing the changes happening, they were trying to preserve what they had amidst the age of modernisation. England was in an identity crisis after the war and when we (English) have an identity crises, out bursts of racism start, the country squares up to other countries over a struggling economy, people take to the streets issuing demands and the poverty gap widens as well as unemployment increases and that sort of thing; and in a way I was having my own identity crisis, that of a person born in England, from English parents and not being able to identify “Englishness”.
The English as subject matter didn’t quite fit what I was looking for; there was something missing that I could not pinpoint, I even took a trip abroad to find it.
It had been years since I last went abroad, so took a trip after finishing University, just to see what was missing, I had been living in England far too long to be able to see what is “English” about the English, so I made some detailed notes of the things I noticed on the way, the differences, like houses built with a slightly redder brick, traffic lights, the lack of signs like you see in London telling you (and the tourists) which way to look for the traffic. An Englishman abroad is in a lot of danger as we look the wrong way when we cross the road, so it’s not surprising I had several near missus, but even the close call of death did’t give any mystical revelations to what I was missing.
Both Tony Ray-Jones and Sir Benjamin Stone had photographed traditions, some very rare ones, some not widely known, so one year I found myself at home, thanks to the recession when the Picnic in the Park, the Carnival, and The Duck Race was on; so of I went with my camera over my shoulder with a half interest as I was looking mostly for traces of this elusive “Englishness” visual scenes in front of my eyes just like I had found doing my research, but this time it was personal.
My grandparents lived at Breadsal village just down the road, and used to go courting at the Queens Head in Little Eaton (still hear) some of the old timers remember his service station which is now the site of the Pektron Island and they used to play football in the fields at the back, while using his workshop as the teams changing rooms, I remember seeing the albums of photos as a kid, while they reminisced over the family history (their identity)
Then a mate of a mate gave me a book on the history of Little Eaton, “Native’s Tale: Memories of Little Eaton, by Cathie Woodward” (the book was actually published by a publisher in Little Eaton) I was amazed at the history, shocked to see how much history there was recorded as wellas how much an important part the village had played to the industrial revolution, the connections seemed to go on and on.
However one of the limitations in photography is it can’t photograph the past or the future, only the present, and although a building from the past may still be present today, it is still photographed in the present tense. So my next step was a very literal what was I going to photograph and how a strategy was needed. This has taken some considerable time up and heck of a lot of thinking about, although I have still been photographing the carnival I avoided the building improvements to the village hall as I could not place it into a context. A collection of photos doesn’t make it documentary, although the photos may be documents in their own right; further research and brain time was needed.
The Blog and Strategy
So here I am now, just setting up this blog with my new strategy on how I am going to document the village. There are still plenty of things still not resolved, I need to ask permission, get access to areas and other things like that, the research is ongoing as well.
But at least I have my strategy in place thanks to another book Cities fit to live in: themes and variations A to Z that has given me an insight on how I can organise my strategy on what to photograph and that is simply from A – Z of categories and themes, some will have multiple entries for the letter, but that does not matter. The blog is also important as it will show transparency of how I am working and how the project is progressing, as well as providing contact with other people in the village. So if you now of some interesting history please do get in touch. (email and phone number on top of the page) In essence the blog has become my workbook or my journal
Obviously, with all projects funding is needed and although I have cut out what is normally my biggest expense, (travel) funds will still be needed and as today is the day, the cuts are announced, and art is to be expected to be cut heavily, the normal source for funding from art grants looks unlikely for some years.
The costs are for things like the camera sensor needs cleaning every so often and I need some lighting to full-fill some of my ideas and concepts, there is also some travel planned to document people who travel and commute out of the village. To raise funds, I intend to sell prints as well as look into crowd funding, but I also think it is important to give back so I want to give a percentage of print sales back to the carnival which started it all of, and showed me what I was missing. I also hope to have this as an exhibition in the future not just in the village, but travelling to galleries