Project 15: Public space, public activity

Project brief

Find an organised public space such as a public park with a variety of things happening.  Try to capture the sense of varied use – how people make their own personal or small-group activities within the same general area.

Results

The organised space I chose was Richmond Park.  Despite it being 2,500 acres it is always remarkably busy – and especially so on a Sunday.  In order to try to keep to the brief, I concentrated on quite a small area of the park, all within a few minutes walk of the Roehampton Gate.  Initially, I found this assignment hard going.  I had decided not to take a long lens so that I might engage more with the activities.  I regretted this decision as I found that both potential subjects and I myself were somewhat less comfortable with photography in the context of family Sunday outings.  However, after a while I began to realise there were images that I could make and these are commented on below.

P15-A: 84mm, ISO 400, 1/400@f5.6

I adopted a tactic of staking out a location and waiting for something to happen.  This bridge and path were being used by dog walkers, joggers,  strolling families and as in this case mountain bikers.  The structure of the bridge itself provided some visual interest for the ‘activity’ to happen in and also made it easy for me to be pre-prepared to shoot.  As you can see, the cyclist was too immersed in his ride to notice me photographing him.

P15-B: 73mm, ISO 400, 1/400@f9

I had timed my visit to the park specifically to include one image of the rugby that takes place on Sunday mornings.  I’ve always been fascinated by the tower blocks that border the park’s perimeter and felt that their presence in the background gives the location an identity. This helps to make the image about the public space rather than just about the game of rugby.  This photograph was also planned as a lead in for an image later in the day as I knew that the rugby pitches would switch use in the afternoon. As I did not have a long lens, and did not wish to get in the way of the game, this image has been cropped letterbox style which also suits the receding line of tower blocks.

P15-C: 65mm, ISO 400, 1/400@f10

I was somewhat nervous about photographing the joggers who were running nearby – but soon realised that the only image that would make sense would feature a jogger running towards me and he/she would need to be reasonably close at the time the shutter was fired.  Once again, I staked out my territory, choosing the line of the path as the context for my image.  After a surprisingly long time this gentleman duly appeared and to his credit kept on running towards me even though he must have known that I was about to photograph him.

P15-D: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/400@f6.3

Whilst still berating myself over my decision not to bring a longer lens, I managed to start thinking outside the box.  I had been thinking that I needed to show people’s activities quite large in the frame but then I realised there was a different approach.  For some people, such as these dog walkers, their aim is to get away from the frenetic activities, happening just yards away, and walk into a space that has peace and quiet.  By making these people small within the space, I’ve managed to emphasise the size and apparent emptiness of this area of the park – just what these people are seeking out.

P15-E: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/500@f5

My final image was made on the same rugby fields as featured in P15-B, in fact you can see one of the sets of rugby posts in the background right.  I had to wait more than an hour for the wind to become strong enough to encourage the kite buggy drivers to make an appearance.  This activity moves very fast indeed and is quite challenging to photograph – with the main options being a large rider with a small kite in the distance or, as in this case, a large kite with a relatively small driver.  I made this choice because what mattered for this particular project was the context of the space, it was not about the kite driver’s stunts.

Overall

I found this perhaps the most difficult of the projects within this part of the course.    I was surprised by this.  It took me quite a while ‘to get into’ this project and I was surprisingly apprehensive about photographing people.  I think this has something to do with the fact that these are ordinary weekly activities where people have less expectation of being photographed than at some of the other ‘special’ events that I have photographed.  However, I have learned from the experience, found ways to make these close in shots and also found flexible ways to think about and set up my shots.  As this project is a lead in for the next major part of the course that is all good experience.

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