Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?
Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case?
Jim Dow, Window Detail, Wallpaper and Lino Shop. Leytonstone, London. June, 1983 © Courtesy of the Artist.
Niki South, Closed B & Q DIY Store front, Cardigan, Cardiganshire, June 2016.
When I visited the Exhibition Strange and Familiar: Britain as revealed by international photographers (Barbican 16th March – 19th June 2016) I was drawn to Jim Dow’s photographic series of British storefronts “Corner Shops of Britain, 1983-1993.” His colour images capture these shops re once prominent on every high street, but were even then fast disappearing then at over 3,000 per year, “victims less of the recession than of Suburbanization” (Wakefield, 1995). According to the wall texts accompanying his photographs at the exhibition, Jim Dow set about “photographing his subject with taxonomical clarity, appreciatively recording a traditional way of life seemingly on an inexorable path towards cultural extinction” (Barbican 2016). Dow was concerned with capturing “human ingenuity and spirit” in endangered regional traditions…artifacts of a vanishing era” (Getty, nd).
My attraction to his image was two-fold. On a superficial level as I had a previous life in retailing, I am always attracted to shop windows and merchandise displays and it’s fascinating to see how these have changed over the years. On a deeper level I feel pained at the demise of village and town shops and the rise of out of town superstores. This is more marked in rural areas and it has particularly upset me to see especially in Pembrokeshire, where I spend much of my time, the ruinous impact that it has on the towns and villages as they become ghosts of their former selves, with empty and decaying buildings and a rash of charity shops.
My initial impulse was to photograph a modern day DIY shop, with a window characteristic of today (with little merchandise in it if any and no visual appeal). As I planned my location I realised that 23 years on from the original image even the more generic DIY shops were no more and items such as Wallpaper and Lino are most commonly bought from superstores like B & Q. I scouted a couple of locations intending to show an out of town position, unappealing store fronts with no advertising of specific merchandise as a contrast to Dow’s traditional images. On visiting the location of this photograph I was further surprised to find that even where a more local DIY superstore chain, previously bought out by the larger B & Q chain about a year ago, had now also become unviable and had moved to a larger regional town (in the next county). This I felt illustrated on a continuing larger scale, the disappearance of familiar shops and endangered regional traditions that Dow had photographed 23 years ago. I emphasised the meaning of my photograph by cropping the image to focus on the shuttered shop door and the “We’ve moved” sign.
I have responded to several of Barrett’s types of information in Dow’s picture. Firstly the “internal” context of the subject (Window detail, Wallpaper and Lino shop, 1983) with my internal information (Closed B&Q DIY shop 2016). Secondly the “External” context surrounding the picture: In the original attractive product displays compared to the lack of product displays in the modern shop. However the true thrust of my response is to the “original” context as outlined in my narrative. My response is agreeing and providing evidence for Dow’s representations of “a traditional way of life seemingly on an inexorable path towards cultural extinction” (Barbican 2016).
Barbican Centre (2016). Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. 16 March–19 June 2016 Wall texts and captions. http://www.barbican.org.uk/media/events/17922strangefamiliarwalltexts.pdf. (Accessed 26.6.16).
Barrett, T (1997) Photographs and Context: www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf (Accessed 16.6.16).
Dow, J (1983) Strange & Familiar: See beautiful Britain change decade by decade. Knowels, K march 2016 http://www.thememo.com/2016/03/18/strange-and-familiar-barbican-exhibition-london-martin-parr/ (Accessed 26.6.16).
The J. Paul. Getty. Museum (nd). Jim Dow. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/3727/jim-dow-american-born-1942/ (Accessed 26.6.16).
Wakefield, N (Nov. 1995) Jim Dow. England 1981 to the present. Art forum International: http://jimdowphotography.com/England-portfolio.php (Accessed 26.6.16).