Category Archives: Introduction

Exercise The Square Mile

The Brief:

In our earliest years we know a patch of ground in a detail we will never know anywhere again – site of discovery and putting names to things – people and places – working with difference and similitude – textures, smells – also of play, imagination, experiment – find the best location for doing things – creating worlds under our own control, fantasy landscapes.

(Professor Mike Pearson)

There is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile), described above by Professor Mike Pearson. It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings.

Make a series of 6-12 photographs in response to this concept. You may wish to re-trace places you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or if you’re in a new environment you may wish to … explore your new surroundings and meet some of the people around you.

You may wish to explore the concept further, or you may deviate from this … focus on architecture and landscape … Try to make your final set of photographs ‘sit’ together as a series to communicate your idea. Give your photographs titles or write short captions if you wish.


Well, I could definitely not visit any childhood surrounds as they are over 16,000 km away from where I am now, so that concept was immediately nixed. I know my surrounds in my new city where I live pretty well and have seen many changes over the twenty years that I have been here in Vancouver.

However, ever since we made the move to Canada, I have been continuously fascinated by the concept of the alleys that run between the houses on a block, giving access to the back yards. This is something quite foreign to South Africans. You tend to have a driveway off the street and your neighbour’s backyard abuts yours.

In walking the streets during snowfalls one becomes disoriented, and can quite easily end up in one of the alleys.

It has always been a source of fascination to me to see that the front of the house that is presented to the “public” is usually well kept, tidy and neat, while the back yard and more precisely the area bordering on the alley can very often be the exact opposite of the “public” image. All sorts of disrepair abound. Fences are rotted and hang higgledy-piggledy all over the place. Unwanted items line the alley, waiting for a passerby to come and take them away. Moss overruns roof tiles and some old garages just need a big bad wolf to huff and puff and blow them down. Every alley is a potential playground for the local children.

Of course there are the houses that have the same “public” image in their back yard that they do in the front. But those back yards are not as interesting. I find them more bland and sterile. Perhaps it is their predictability that disinterests me.

Lately the neighbourhood is undergoing a rapid change. Old houses are being demolished and huge, new million dollar homes are going up in their places. The historical homes are fast becoming a thing of the past. (A historical home is classified as anything from 50 – 80 years here in Vancouver). Any wooden structure that survives past 80 years in this wet climate is just a mould trap.

In traversing the alleys around my home, one does come across some amusing situations, a few of which I have included below. This then is my Square Mile of Backyards as Seen from the Alley.

Brooms, snow shovels, moss and logs
Brooms, snow shovel, moss, logs, trashcans and composter
Mystery object under tarp secured with logs and crate
Mystery object under tarp secured with logs and crate
Wash basin anyone?
Wash basin anyone?
No speeding in the lane
No speeding in the lane
Hot house in the alley
Hot house in the alley
Owner is long gone
Owner is long gone
The builders only have to climb a three foot wall to use these facilities
The builders only have to climb a three foot wall to use these facilities
Little honey bee
Little honey bee
Three free chairs
Three free chairs
House demolished - time for new development
House demolished – time for new development
Straining to stay upright with this load
Straining to stay upright with this load

Since completing this exercise I have come across Michael Wolf’s work on the back alleys in Hong Kong in which he has documented typologies of the ephemera found in these alleys. His images are quirky and humerous. His subject matter ranges from mops, rubber gloves to clothing blown onto neon signs to broken chairs. The images abound in bright colours, imparting a playful impression on the viewer. How can we take these banal items seriously anyway?

Bibliography

Wolf, Michael (n.d.) Hong Kong Trilogy [online]. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/michael-wolf-hong-kong-trilogy [Accessed 8 May, 2016]

Reflection Point – Social Media

I was so looking forward to watching the Grayson Perry series Who are You, but sadly it seems that I am unable to access that content from Canada. I was only able to watch this¬† 3 minute introduction from the National Portrait Gallery’s Youtube feed, which doesn’t really offer any information that is not already mentioned in the course manual.

According to the course manual, Perry sets about getting to know his ten subject by interviewing them, visiting them and their communities to find out what makes them tick. This is all under the umbrella of research which is crucial to achieving a strong outcome in one’s work.

For this reflection point we are asked the following:

If you have a social media picture, write a paragraph describing the ‘you’ it portrays. What aspects of yourself remain hidden?

For this exercise I am going to use one of my past social media photos. It was taken on a day when the whole family went ski-dooing for the first time. We had to wear full face helmets and goggles for some or other reason I found this terribly claustrophobic. I also struggled to breathe with the goggles as the padding felt as if it was constricting my sinuses. This photo definitely does not show my personality at all. I mean I look more like Darth Vader for goodness sake! Only my eyes are visible and portion of my frozen nose. What this photo probably does convey is the hidden trepidation I was feeling on this whole outing.

Past Social Media Profile
Past Social Media Profile

If you were to construct a more ‘accurate’ portrait of yourself, including various aspects of who you are, what would you choose to include? How might you visualise these things?

Try creating a new, more honest, self-portrait.

I am a very friendly person, for the most part a little introverted, but when the mood strikes me I can be rather extroverted. Obviously I would choose to open up my facial features so that my personality comes more to the fore. I’ve often referred to myself as being a WYSIWYG gal – what you see is what you get. I am not pretentious. I have unruly curly hair, which at my age I have given up on – it must do its own thing. I believe the eyes are key to expressing personality and my visualisation would take place around those areas. But there is that word again – self-portrait. Really difficult to take a decent photo of oneself I always feel. Here is one I took just recently, after a trip to the hairdresser.

New Social Media Photo
New Social Media Photo

 

Reference List

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? [vidcast, online] National Portrait Gallery 13/11/2014. 3 mins 30 secs.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oym9gw_u_L8 (accessed 23 April, 2016)

Reflection Point – Identity

For this reflection point, we are asked to think about collective or individual identity, drawing from our own experience or that of someone we know.

When I emigrated to Canada about twenty years ago, I entered the country as someone who is used to speaking one’s mind without being politically correct. That concept was only just rearing its head back then. South Africans are known for their sense of humour, and the ability to laugh at themselves and they do laugh often. I was so dismayed when I discovered that I would have to think very carefully before making a joke, lest I offend someone’s sensibilities. Canadians take themselves rather seriously (apologies to any Canadians reading this post) which I found very difficult to get used to. I found myself paying particular attention to my words, thinking before I spoke at literally every occasion for at least six months before I realised that I would never, could never fit into that mould if I wanted to remain true to myself. All spontaneity would disappear from my life. From that day on, I would preface my jokes with a statement to the effect that “I’m not politically correct …” so people were forewarned.

Even to this day, though these problems still arise and many of my fellow immigrant colleagues experience and comment on the same issue. I think as the city where I live becomes more and more multicultural in nature these problems are going to increase, as each culture will make an effort to maintain their peculiarities/traditions and ways of thinking. Canada is a country of immigrants and as such does not really have a strong national identity compared to that of the United Kingdom, France, or Italy for example. The country is also very young – it turns 150 this July. The overall identity of the country really is that it is a melting pot of cultures.

If one is not allowed to be oneself, one looses a part of one’s psyche – something gets lost. One’s spirit gets squashed. To be myself is to preserve my honesty and integrity, my sense of ethics and values, my courage and beliefs.