The Barking billboards and photoconceptualism

Never have I been offered such a fantastic opportunity.

But before I begin, I must thank all those who helped. Without your willingness to sacrifice time and expend energy on my behalf, this wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Many thanks to you all.

In March, I was asked to shoot three billboard images for Barking and Dagenham council. Working in collaboration with Muf architecture, I set about the project with zeal and zest. I had no idea what lay ahead; an extraordinary amount of stress, deliberation and some serious learning curves with gradients to suit.

How brilliant it all was!

Katherine, the lovely artist partner at Muf architecture, met me two weeks before the agreed shoot day. We talked concepts, wishes and hopes. Articulating the concept photographically and producing the project were my responsibilities. These were new duties and ones I had to learn on-the-go. I felt much like a long distance runner learning to sprint short distances – unable to regulate my breathing.

The architects had already redesigned and supervised the construction of an arboretum in Barking town square; there sat also a mock ruin designed by Muf. My job was to provide images for the billboards leading up to the space. The regenerated area sits rather incongruously, set within a stretch of concrete jungle and drab high streets. What it does, however, is set the tone for a newer, remodelled Barking. Whether this is an achievable challenge, I am not to pass judgement. It is, though, with the best intentions, a great project in a once great area of London. Back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Barking was one of the largest fishing ports in England.

The images themselves. Jeff Wall was to be the main photographic inspiration. In 1970s Vancouver, Wall amongst others, pioneered photoconceptualism. He meticulously reconstructed scenes he had witnessed in his day-to-day ramblings, and other images he had imagined initially as concepts. It’s all rather new to me, but immensely exciting and has definitely enhanced my photographic perspectives.

The aim was to use a dystopian bass note, add some optimism and then throw in three pre/post-apocalyptic scenarios for the actors to follow. I wanted the contrived scenes to appear as ‘natural’ as possible. I hoped that I could articulate the scenarios coherently so that the actors could then self-generate the scenes with little guidance and interference – it had to be fluid.

All the actors were tremendous and I was truly impressed by their ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude.

Community, duty, care and re-engagement with the local area were the buzzwords we worked with.

Below are some locations I scouted leading up the shoot. I acted upon Katherine’s advice, and headed up to Hampstead Heath.

We used this backdrop

The Scenarios

The two chosen images, to be split across three billboards

In situ

I appreciate that all that has been written and conveyed may not be all that coherent!

1 Comment

Filed under concept, freelance photographer, london, social photography, Uncategorized

One response to “The Barking billboards and photoconceptualism

  1. Pingback: The billboard | Photography and George

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