The choice of location plays an important role in staged photography, it being one of the key components of the final photograph, the stage upon which the narrative will be played out. Both Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall tend to work in areas that they know well, Vancouver in Wall’s case and the small towns of Massachusetts for Crewdson. Sheena Wagstaff (1) suggests that Wall has chosen Vancouver, which he describes as “not an impressive, but ordinary city” to represent any twentieth-century metropolis and this fits his general theme of re-creating excepts from ordinary lives. Crewdson says that he drives around Massachusetts scouting locations and one senses a difference here; for Wall the concept drives the selection of location whereas for Crewson it is possibly the other way round.
For assignment 5 I want to explore the idea of crossing from outside to inside, of gaining entry and how that effects identity or, at least, perceived identity. I wanted a location that would provide an outside to inside set, a sense of a journey having been undertaken but now nearing completion. Having previously used late photography to consider a social issue, the vulnerability of homeless people (here), I now want to use staged photography to explore migration and the vulnerability and identity of the refugee.
My first thought was to use West Meon Station, an abandoned pair of platforms, track bed and a road bridge that remaining standing after the closure of the Alton to Fareham line in 1955. (i) I had photographed this location when looking for architectural palimpsest as part of assignment 2 and it appeared to offer many of the attributes I was seeking. The two platforms are in poor repair but their relationship with the tunnel formed by the small road bridge gave me an outside before the bridge and an inside on the platforms. When sketching ideas before revisiting the site I considered photographing from the right hand platform towards the bridge with lights set up the other side of the tunnel to suggest the approach of a train. My models would be on the platforms.
However, on revisiting the site in August I found that the track bed and edges of the platforms were now very overgrown. This had changed the whole atmosphere of the location and unless I waited for winter and went equipped with a strimmer the site was not going to work.
I then considered using a fence as the division between inside and outside and scouted most of the old military roads around the semi derelict military land around Aldershot.
This proved more challenging that I originally expected as, perhaps not surprisingly, although there are plenty of high fences around Aldershot I could not find anywhere where access to both sides was possible. It seemed irresponsible to ask my models to clamber over a military security barrier in the interests of art.
I considered other options for fences but anywhere that I could gain access to both sides, such as tennis courts, were usually green fences or in the wrong settings.
All of this led me back to Waverley Abbey.
Only a tiny fraction of Waverley Abbey (ii) remains visible above ground but one of its best preserved features is part of the West Range which was originally the Lay Brothers dormitory. Part of a cellar, including two pillars holding up the floor above still stands forming one of only two enclosed spaces on the site.
This location includes several windows that can be used as points of transition between the outside and the inside, a fireplace which offers the possibility of “lighting” with speed lights and red gels to suggest a fire and the two pillars which could be used as divisions between danger and security.
I like the idea of using a medieval monastery with its connotations of offering sanctuary to strangers in need and visualise a narrative starting outside and ending inside but using the same actors at each stage of the story and thereby using some montage techniques to build a final image.
The next phase of research and planning includes:
- fleshing out the narrative;
- considering lighting strategies;
- “costume” design
- transformation of identity
- gesture design for the models / actors
- creation of story boards
- building a shoot plan
Notes on Text
(i) When I first visited the site of West Meon station I assumed that it and the Alton to Fareham line had fallen victim to the vandalism of Dr. Beeching whose 1963 report “Reshaping British Railways” (4) was the death knell of 1.924 stations and halts across Britain. However subsequent research shows that passenger services were withdrawn from this line nearly ten years before Beeching. The great mystery of this line, which connected two comparatively small towns and serviced nothing larger than a village along its route, is not why it was closed but why it was ever built on such a remarkable scale, a feat of engineering that still amazes people who walk along its route today. It is still possible to see huge cuttings and embankments, several tunnels and bridges and the foundations of, what was once, a huge viaduct at West Meon. David Packman (5) refers to the Railway Historian, Dr Edwin Course, who believes that the line was built to enable the rapid movement of troops to the south coast in the case of an invasion by France.
(ii) According to English Heritage “The monastery at Waverley, the first Cistercian house to be established in Britain, was founded by William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, in 1128. It was colonised with 12 monks and an abbot from Aumone in France. By 1187 there were 70 monks and 120 lay brothers in residence. In 1201 the abbey buildings were badly flooded. This became a common occurrence and as a result the abbey was substantially rebuilt during the 13th century. It continued to grow in the 14th century. The monks and lay brothers farmed the surrounding land, were active in the Cistercian wool trade and provided shelter for pilgrims and travellers and an infirmary for the sick. In 1536, with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site passed to Sir William Fitzherbert, treasurer of the king’s household. Much of the abbey was dismantled and some of the stone was reused to build Sir William More’s house at Loseley, a few miles to the east.” (6)
(1) Wagstaff, Sheena (2005) A View From an Appartment ( An essay included within Sophie Howarth’s Essays on Remarkable Photographs (2)) London: Tate Publishing
(2) Howarth, Sophie (2005) Essays on Remarkable Photographs. London: Tate Publishing
(4) Beeching, Richard (1963) Reshaping British Railways (accessed at British Railways Info 15.9.15) – http://britishrailways.info/BEECHING%20CLOSURES.htm
(5) Packman, David (date unknown) Rural Rides: West Meon Railway (accessed at Rural Rides 15.9.15) – http://homepage.ntlworld.com/ron.strutt/rrcor3.html
(6) Waverley Abbey (accessed at English Heritage 15.9.15) – http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/waverley-abbey/history/
(3) Crewdson, Gregory (2011) Gregory Crewdson speaks with ARTIST PROFILE (accessed at Youtube 24.8.15) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQy4uiS6iKw