MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 9
I was fortunate in having an opportunity to build upon three previous workshop style pieces of work I had done with three different communities in Birmingham to create the fourth, a photowalk around the city centre for 2 hours on 22nd July 2017. The theme was Remaking Birmingham; experiencing the historic and contemporary ways in which the city is being reconfigured.
This session was slotted into the Developed in Birmingham programme of photography activity as an 8 week long festival of lens based experiences. Whilst the session was two hours long, inevitably success depended upon the thoroughness of preparation. This spanned back to the first discussion and framing of the walk in April 2017 and agreeing that it should be a digital version; the parallel and complementary walk used pinhole cameras around the city during earlier weeks.
The session sold out in the previous week, meaning there were 12 attendees. I regarded this as an ideal number as I wanted to be able to have both group and individual conversations and avoid herding a larger group across roads and into clusters to talk, listen and image make.
The workshop was based upon rephotography. I obtained maps from 1839, photographs from the late Nineteenth century through to late Twentieth and etchings from the Eighteenth century along with an 1828 poem. These were stapled into a 15 page A4 set (figure 2) of papers, along with other information in 12 tote bags.
As part of my preparation I was able to present the draft set of information to a tutor and peer group during a webinar on 20th July. The feedback included ensuring I understood what the audience would expect out of it, ensure that is delivered and seek feedback at the end. I should, at the introduction, show what was meant by ‘rephotography’ via a quick demonstration. I implemented all of this advice. I also invited the group to use the hashtag ‘remakebrum’, having checked that it wasn’t active with an overwhelming level of images. I checked with the group that they were familiar and happy to use hashtags. One participant wasn’t and he asked if he could send via a transfer site, which of course was fine.
The introduction (figure 3) took circa 5 minutes (including a reading of the first two sections of the 1828 poem that lamented the amount the city had changed as the poet was returning to his city of birth 20 years on), then we walked to Paradise Circus, spotting a Walcott camera and Raspberry Pi live streaming kit from a window en route, then around the edge of the revitalised New Street station, comparing the map and photographs on the way, then through the new entrance to the station, via the interior and out to the new urban space to the eat of the station, then via St Philip’s cathedral yard (viewing an etching within that space for a brief dwell time to explain that the cathedral would have been, in 1858, the tallest building in the city) and on to the Grand Hotel which has been very substantially stripped back to its origins in order to create a new hotel operator to occupy the original structure. We were able to spend time hearing about the story of the life of the hotel from the building owner and use the three inertial images I had obtained from 1891.
The images show amply the variety of locations we spent time in creating an opportunity for the group to find the best location from which to create their rephotographs moments, discuss what they were seeing and the pace with which the city changes. The audience of participants was pleasingly diverse from every perspective, but not least the fact that there were 10 women and two men, plus Pete James the photographic historian and a friend of mine (who was able to document most of the process – which was fortunate as I had little time to record the press). Feedback forms were completed at the end but I have yet to have sight of them, however the verbal response was very positive from the whole group.
A number of images were deposited during the session using the hashtag. I would have liked there to be more.
The A4 paper packs were quite fulsome and may in future be best printed out at A6 to make it easier to hold the images and shoot to create the rephotographs.