The aim of this exercise is to assess if it is possible (and perhaps how easy it is) to create a false impression of a place and how this then feeds into integrity issues for social documentary photographers.
Part one: to photograph the local area using just a compact, capturing it in a straightforward, honest way that would be self-explanatory for future generations. As I live in an area of great visual interest (Shoreditch/Spitalfields/Whitechapel) I decided to restrict my shooting to a short walk from my front door to our local cinema on Bethnal Green. The resulting images largely reflect how I see the more gritty aspects of the neighbourhood without being too repetitive. Having reviewed the entire set, I then listed the key themes that my eye had been drawn to and selected 12 final images to reflect most of these.
My list included: fences, roadworks, litter, market stalls, street art, gentrification and Asian culture. I had originally also included gangs, dismembered bikes, overcrowding and tall buildings but I realised that apart from ‘gangs’ these are all issues applicable to most of central London so can be set aside for now. And gangs can be tackled later (carefully).
Considering these have been taken on a very wide angle camera (my GoPro) I am not unhappy with the final 12 and I believe that I have showed the ‘truth’ about the area. Of course, I could have presented a set that show a much more grim side to the neighbourhood but that would have been a distortion. I think they are quite interesting images with depth and pleasing shapes and textures. I had wanted to include more people but found them to be distracting and less quirky than is usual for the area (perhaps revealing that the gentrification has set in more than I had thought!). The four images with no people have strong indications of recent human activity (empty seats, empty clothes, empty bottles and a half finished road excavation).
There are of course many good examples of social documentary photography in this area, not least by Phil Maxwell who has recorded scenes in this area since 1982. His book, Brick Lane, published by Spitalfields Life Books in 2014 will be a great inspiration for the next part of this exercise…