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Opening my heart to new possibilities

I had the real pleasure this weekend of joining a workshop led by the inspirational landscape photographer Paul Sanders and organised by the Travel Group of the Royal Photographic Society. Paul was recommended to me by Charlie Bellamy, who has been an inspiration to me over several years now as I have developed my creative practice.

I was drawn to Paul's mindful approach to photography. His philosophy includes:

Through photography, we can discover a better way to understand ourselves, our thoughts and our feelings, and to reconnect with a world we normally rush through. Paul Sanders

And during the day's workshop we did just that. Paul encouraged us to slow down, take the time to notice what was around us, using all of our senses. This enabled us to tune in to how we felt about being in that particular place, which in turn shaped the images that we created. As an Early Years specialist, I particularly appreciated his advocacy of play and experimentation!

I will not disclose here any of the prompts/exercises that Paul led us through, just urge you to join one of his workshops if you can: I found it to be a powerful learning experience!

I arrived late (because of my own incompetence at map-reading and poor sense of direction, having had to drive to Bristol rather than use the train as planned). Whirls of emotion, flustered, embarrassed, cross with myself. But the reassurances of Paul, the welcome by the group and the calm atmosphere in the room soon eased some of my anxieties. I went from despair to hope, and even captured images that represented that:

As you know from previous blogs, I enjoy both writing about my photography and taking creative images, so the rest of the day was spent in this flow. I was totally absorbed.

I set myself a challenge in post-processing to organise the images that I had taken into sets, each with a theme. The first is colour. Focussing on one colour gave me a brilliant starting point to explore this unfamiliar place:

The second theme was one that emerged for me very strongly as I reflected on the sense of the place. The tension between the newly created built environment and the marginalisation of the plant life on the estate struck me. The buildings were dominating, domineering and oppressive, filling the space, with little pockets of flowers in narrow beds squeezed between pathways, and some individual trees, planted in isolation, away from their support networks. Here is a set of images that capture this, using composition and perspective to emphasise the theme:

By coincidence, I was introduced to this poem today, discussed recently by Maria Popova in her amazing blog The Marginalian. :

Bloom by Emily Dickinson

Bloom - is Result - to meet a Flower

And casually glance

Would cause one scarcely to suspect

The minor Circumstance

Assisting in the Bright Affair

So intricately done

Great Nature not to disappoint

Awaiting Her that Day -

To be a Flower is profound

Responsibility -

(You can listen to the poem sung by Joan as Police Woman here.)

As I edited these images, I reflected on the 'responsibility' that the flowers carry in our environment, as hosts for bees and other insects, but also on our responsibility to make sure that they have the space and conditions to thrive. We have to improve the balance, especially in newly-created urban ecosystems such as this.

I then turned my attention to the images of the buildings that I had captured. I played around with black and white while post-processing and realised how much that emphasised lines, angles and textures, as well as the oppressive feeling as they towered above me. I felt overlooked, observed, renminding me of Foucault's panopticon. The plants are the rebels! Anyway, my architecture photography is gradually improving although I still need to work on composition. How much of the frame to fill is an ongoing puzzle.

I also experimented and played around with ways of putting myself in the place, how was I feeling in the different spaces? I drew on the female photographers that I have been researching.

Vivien Maier used reflections in windows in her street photography:

Uta Barth puts just a small part of herself at the edge of her images, and I wanted to include elements of the previous themes too:

and lastly I played a bit with ICM. I like that I have captured the colours in the environment, my transient presence, and also the razor wire on the wall illustrates that oppressive feeling:

I experimented with putting them into black and white (in the style of Olga Karlovac) but for me they lost some of the impact. What do you think?

Certainly a worthwhile workshop, giving me so much food for thought as I take my next steps in my RPS research journey. And do I have a 'style' of my own as yet? No! But I am developing my eye for the 'moment', trying out new perspectives and drawing on the work of others, so moving forward.

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