Project 3: A sense of place – Ian Berry’s photographs

Project 3 considers place through the medium of landscape photography. Beginning with considering a series of photographs taken in Whitby, Yorkshire in 1974 by Ian Berry.

Asked to consider: Imagine the same images without the people. How would this affect your sense of Whitby as a place?

England. Whitby. A sunny Sunday afternoon brings tourists and residents on to the hill overlooking Whitby harbour to relax and dream. 1974, Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum photos.

England. Whitby. A sunny Sunday afternoon brings tourists and residents on to the hill overlooking Whitby harbor to relax and dream. 1974, Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum photos.

In the image left there’s a sense of parallel between the large numbers of people compactly filling an area and the density of the houses below them. In a strange way they compliment each other, I think without the people there the houses would look a little redundant. Having the seated man and woman laying in the grass in the foreground allows the eye to gradually move further into the image and take in the detail bit by bit.

 

 

If there were no people in the above image the scene could be interpreted differently, Whitby might appear to be an abandoned or poor seaside town, rather than a popular tourist spot.

G.B. ENGLAND. Yorkshire. Whitby. 1974. Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

G.B. ENGLAND. Yorkshire. Whitby. 1974. Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

The photograph left, I think would be very different without people in the frame. The man in the foreground, helps with a sense of perspective, and the figures seen walking behind him give the impression that it might be a place people regularly pass through. Without these figures, the eye would probably be drawn to the ruins or remains of the church or building in the right hand corner of the image. The church and the gravestones alone would give a more somber perhaps even, Gothic tone to the scene, enhancing any sense of loneliness inferred by the absence of human figures.

G.B. ENGLAND. Yorkshire. Whitby. 1974. Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos.

G.B. ENGLAND. Yorkshire. Whitby. 1974. Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos.

I think the scene left relies heavily on the figures within it. The catch of fish in the foreground adds a non human interest or focal point, but really my eye is drawn to the figure towards the background of the image, who is semi framed between the two moving figures. Given the nature of the subject of the piece, fishermen working, the absence of people here could imply a struggling industry, lack of work, an area of hit by economic hardship.

 

 

 

 

G.B. ENGLAND. North Yorkshire. A couple hold a discussion whilst paddling in Whitby. 1974. Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos.

G.B. ENGLAND. North Yorkshire. A couple hold a discussion whilst paddling in Whitby. 1974. Copyright: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos.

I think this photograph might be the most stark of the images, if the people were removed from the image. The dominant focal point without the people is clearly the edge of the pier or walkway in the top right hand corner. As it is the figures in the foreground and the dark peer in the background seem to contend for attention – perhaps because of the darkness of the peer it stands out, the figures are softer in comparison.

Perhaps the photography would appear more like  a tourist snapshot or a token photograph as without the figures the peer becomes the focal point – which might be more of a tourist landmark. In such a scenario Whitby becomes seen as a tourist destination rather than a place where people live their lives, work against the backdrop of the sea.

 

 

What is the effect of an absence of familiar subjects in Jesse Alexanders, Cathedral Box Freestone Quarry, Wiltshire, 2008, from Threshold Zone?

For me the most dramatic effect here is the sense of endlessness, you don’t know how far the drop is, are we looking at a steep drop or a shallow one, there’s no familiar object to gauge depth or distance from. There’s also the effect of the isolation, even entrapment, partly I think this is due to the darkness in most of the photograph, but also because there’s very little visible matter to guess where we are looking at. Obviously the name suggests a quarry or building, but we can’t see the sides of the building, any walls, there’s no framework to come to any conclusions about the construction, just rubble. The absence also of a visible skyline I think also adds to the sense of disorientation. We get a sense of where we are partly from looking up,the sky is such a huge part of everyday frame work, having it removed is confusing. The ground is also in darkness too, another familiar point of reference, we can’t see where the photographers feet are, are they stood in a cave, are they on solid ground, the effect here is a sense of uncertainty and questioning. These are my thoughts before reading the caption in the workbook, we’ll see if my thoughts make any sense!

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