Look back at the themes we’ve examined relating to place and our presence within it. What areas inspired you most?
The culmination of this course is a self-directed assignment where you have free rein to choose a subject that relates to any of the material discussed in the course. You may have gathered skills and insights through the projects that you want to revisit or you may have been inspired by other ideas.
The only stipulation is that the final outcome must represent a notion of identity and place that you are personally inspired by. Make sure that your work is visually consistent, relevant to the subject matter you choose and holds together well as a set, both visually and conceptually.
Think carefully about your editing decisions.
- Which images need to be there?
- Which ones repeat other images?
- Are you holding on to a favourite that is no longer required?
- Do you need to re-shoot anything?
Aim for a coherent set of no more than 15 pictures, accompanied by a reflective commentary of no more than 500 words.
Mother Nature played a role in making me change my initial idea that I had for this assignment. Forest fires, which are still burning about 300 km away from where I live, and a stubborn low pressure belt, were responsible for dousing Vancouver in a dense cloud of smoke for about two weeks, reducing visibility and rendering the air quality twice as bad as that of Beijing.
I have always been fascinated by the type of stuff that is thrown out in residential alleys and I began to think about the throw-away society we have become. As I went through my own neighbourhood photographing this project I started to wonder if there would be a difference in the rubbish that is disposed of in alleys in low/middle and high income neighbourhoods. As I reported in my planning post update, due to the crazy housing prices here in Vancouver there isn’t really any low income area (my research was confined to residential single family dwelling areas and not to apartments blocks). Interestingly the objects discarded in the “low income” area were of better quality than those in the upper middle income suburbs. While I was doing my research on the throw-away society, Thompson’s Rubbish Theory was suggested to me by a fellow student, Morris Gallagher. I also looked at photographers Andrew Ward and Dewald Botha, both who have photographed furniture on streets and alleys (please see my further comments about these two photographers under Context below).
Michael Thompson posits that possessable objects have some value, while those having little or no value, i.e. rubbish, are largely invisible. There is a system of valuation at work here, even though we might not be conscious of it ourselves. We can only understand rubbish in relation to the categories of transient and durable, which make up the visible and valued objects in society.
Consumer goods come off the production lines and make their way into our lives; their value declines over time and the goods reach the end of their finite life span. These are the transient objects. The durable items are those that have increased in value and have an unlimited life span, such as an antique dresser.
But there is another category that lies between these two mentioned above and that is rubbish. The rubbish category is not subject to the “same control mechanisms of the valuable and socially significant categories of transient and durable” (Parsons, 2007: 390). It is a very flexible category and provides the means of transfer for an object from transient to durable.
Once a transient item has been consigned to the rubbish heap, it serves as a reminder of bygone fashions or technology, past routines and habits and past ways of living, revealing the temporality of daily life. It sits there waiting to be rediscovered or recycled via the secondhand shop, or jumble sale (if there is potential) at which time the item makes its way to the durable category and is reabsorbed into society again, the consumer hoping he/she has picked up a valuable antique for a bargain.
‘These objects are disconcerting because they are located at the end of a temporal process which, caught up in the cyclical rhythms of daily habit, we were not even aware was occurring. Amidst the leftover material of daily life, we encounter the unsettling evidence that routines have histories’.
We only notice rubbish when it is in the wrong place. ‘Something which has been discarded, but never threatens to intrude, does not worry us at all, but rubbish in the wrong place is extremely visible and embarrassing’ (Parsons, 2007: 391).
The social status is ever fluctuating. That chair one ‘discovers’ in the secondhand shop was similar to the one your parents/grandparents owned. Our memories rise to the surface, and we claim the recognition of the item. The discarded objects all represent the routines of our daily lives and these routines have histories and memories of the duties performed by them and their erstwhile owners.
Is it not the material things we tend to gather that reveal so much about ourselves? Are we the yuppies who have a constant need to be in the height of the latest fashion or perhaps we are the ecological tree huggers who need to recycle and repurpose everything we come across or do we fit somewhere between these two extremes?
To me personally this series also speaks of lost opportunities. Before emigrating to Canada, I personally held regular garage sales in my mother-in-law’s garage in South Africa and sold items ranging from secondhand clothing, to furniture to car parts in order to raise money towards our emigration to Canada, thereby facilitating the transition of items from rubbish to durable. I can only shake my head at the complacency of Canadian society who take for granted the cheap prices of most consumer goods on sale in the stores. It is pretty easy here to buy a new washing machine out of one pay cheque and have money left over for essentials. Not so in South Africa where such items were usually purchased on hire-purchase plan or one saved for about 12 months before one could afford to buy the item cash. Society has lost the culture of fixing things that don’t work, preferring to toss the inoperative item without even investigating as to what the problem might be, sometimes as insignificant as a loose screw or wire. If we all paid a little more attention to the items while in the transient stage, our landfills would be a lot emptier.
The contact sheets for this assignment can be seen on my Assignment 5 – Contact Sheets page.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)
On the whole I am happy with the images. I would have loved to reshoot fig 09 as it is a bit soft as I took it on the way to work out of the car window as we were turning the corner (no I wasn’t driving). Unfortunately by the time I came home that same day the sofa was already gone. It is such a quirky image that I felt I had to include it as it has its own little narrative – the sofa placed close to the bus stop, on the edge of a park modelled after the Champs-Élysées at a busy four-way intersection.
I tried to keep the tones as consistent as possible, but the smoke haze which hung around is clearly visible in some of the photographs rendering the sky a yellowish/grey tone. But instead of detracting I think this seems to emphasize the invisible setting of the rubbish.
I relied on natural light in this assignment and made a few contrast and clarity adjustments in LightRoom. It seems that I have created typologies for two other assignments in this module and have finished it with another one. I’m obviously drawn to creating some sort of order.
Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)
Even though I had a bit of a false start to this assignment, I think that my ideas and thought processes flowed fairly well and I was able to do very interesting research into this Rubbish Theory. This subject, photographically, holds lots of potential for expansion as I mention below.
Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)
As I mentioned above, this project was not my initial idea for this assignment. Please refer to my planning posts (Assignment 5 planning and Assignment 5 – Planning call for peer review, Assignment 5 – Back to the Drawing Board) for my first workings of this assignment. Assignment 5 – Idea 2 – Life is Scrap details my initial thoughts on this current project, while Assignment 5 – Something to Consider explains one of the tangents I had. Assignment 5 – Planning Update details a few more thoughts I had as well as some feedback from my peers, which can be seen on the various posts in the comments sections. The feedback that I got from my peers was on the whole positive and I was reminded to refine my angle (I had only presented a very broad outline of what I was doing at the stage when feedback was requested). I believe I have communicated my idea well through my images and supported it with my narrative above. While I was working on this assignment ideas for off-shoots from this assignment were constantly popping up and I may very well take up one or two in a later module or for a personal project. I could launch an investigation into garage sales/secondhand shops; the homeless people who push shopping carts around picking up rubbish to exchange for money; the landfills and so on – all outside the parameters of this assignment, but lots of food for thought for the future.
Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)
In preparation for this assignment I looked at the following photographers (my detailed remarks can be found on their pages):
- Dewald Botha – social context of abandoned sofas and chairs in China
- Andrew Ward – typologies of sofas on sidewalks
- Julia Nathanson and Mariko Hino – different approaches of photographing alleys – fun, light-hearted and colourful vs contemplative and muted tones
While Botha and Ward have concentrated on sofas and chairs for their projects, I have concentrated on the items I found that still had some usefulness (a mixed bunch of objects). Items that might potentially make it out of the rubbish category and find their way into the durable category. I did not move the items that I found, as Ward did, but chose to photograph them exactly where their owners had placed them, and tried to include as much of the surroundings as physically possible, given the limited space in an alley. I feel my images do not contain the sadness that permeates Andrew Ward’s work, nor do they reflect the communal ambience of Dewald Botha’s set, but they do have their own identity which seems to convey a demand for attention.
I watched a vidcast by Ted Forbes, listed below. The in-depth write up is on the page linked below.
I did reviews on the following journal articles, detailed notes are on the pages linked below:
- Indexicality and the Depiction of Time
- A Matter of cleaning up: treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall
Moran, Joe (2004). History, Memory and the Everyday in Rethinking History Vol 8. No.1, March 2004, pp. 51-68
Parsons, Liz (2007). Thompson’s Rubbish Theory: Exploring the Practices of Value Creation in European Advances in Consumer Research Vol 8, eds. Stefania Borghini, Mary Ann McGrath, and Cele Otnes, Duluth, MN: Association for Consumer Research, pages: 390-393.
Thompson, Michael (2003). Time’s Square: Deriving Cultural Theory from Rubbish Theory. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2003 pp 319-330