Final Major Project PHO705 Week 19: The Windrush generation; Critical Review of Practice Part 2
This document provides a critical reflective look at my practice and the outward-facing element of my FMP, initially the outward-facing component of this project was to be an exhibition. I had already begun working through my Lottery funding application when due to Covid-19, the country was placed into lockdown. This unprecedented event meant that I had to reconsider my approach and adjust the project’s public outcome.
I considered multiple other avenues, a virtual gallery was amongst these, as I had already created a draft layout using sketch-up (3d design software) based upon the space in which I intended to exhibit my work (ORT Gallery)
The images submitted are part of a project looking at the Windrush generation and discussing their views and experiences moving to the UK. The progress of this assignment from the beginning and the exhibition planning can be seen on my CRJ.
The Pictures in this assignment are very personal to me, but they are also something that I want other people to see. And so I decided that a virtual gallery would not be the right platform for this project, due to the likelihood that this would not have as far a reach as a traditional exhibition.
I decided, based on these circumstances, that a book was the best public outcome for this assignment. This was something that I referred to in my FMP proposal and something that I intended to create at a later date; the circumstances created by Covid-19 and the lockdown meant that I decided this was perhaps the ideal format for the public outcome of this project.
“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses” (Sontag, 2001) my understanding of this statement is that as photographers we share content, the event, whatever it is that transpires in front of the camera we only have a certain amount of control over. The elements leading up to that point are not completely controlled by the photographer.
“The decisive moment is thus the instant when the photographer must click the shutter to capture not ‘reality,’ but the dramatic instant that will come to signify it. In this mode of documentary work, the camera is perhaps better thought of as a portable theatre or studio, where the photographer’s stages create a scene from the flux of life.” (Bate, 2013) I believe that documentary photography is dependent on the opportunity or decisive moment presenting itself to the photographer; this can then be captured, and although the direction of the person posing is optional, the situation with documentary photographs should always be somewhat organic.
The decisive moment is captured by the photographer with the sole intention in many instances of disclosing the resulting image with an audience. Without a public platform for documentary images waiting and attempting to arrive at this opportune moment, in my opinion, is pointless.
It became essential for me to capture the surrounding elements in the homes of each of the people I photographed (Fig. 3, 8) as the ethnography of this collective of people became one of the critical factors of the project. The people from the Windrush generation migrated to the UK but retained some aspects of their culture, and that also eventually became a part of British culture.
The format of each of the photoshoots and the images in the book consisted of an interview in a location familiar to each of the people photographed (primarily the living room). Each person and the pictures of that person has an accompanying interview as part of the set, due to this compulsory text element of each image a book is a perfect format for this project.
“That England, a country not properly invaded since 1066 but which has invaded almost every nation on the planet, can have a party named the UK Independence Party win 13 per cent of the national vote in 2015 speaks volumes about collective amnesia and ability to distort the facts.” (Akala, n.d.)
The Windrush Scandal became front-page news in 2018; The scandal involved people being wrongly detained, denied legal rights, and in some cases, deported. The underpinning factor in many of the actions taken by the UK government in the mistreatment of this collective of people was racism.
Perhaps naively, the people from the Windrush generation believed themselves to be British; in fact, the message from England was that people originating from Commonwealth colonies were British citizens. The 1971 immigration act meant that Commonwealth citizens living in the United Kingdom were given indefinite stay, and before this, the message had always been that they were British.
Despite the message being communicated to them, secret documentation uncovered recently highlighted just how far the British government was prepared to go to justify prejudices that they held against those people of colour who considered themselves British citizens.
“Ministers in the 1950s commissioned researchers to come up with reasons for concluding that non-white immigration was problematic,”(Gentleman, 2020) right from the very beginning discrimination underpinned the decisions made and actions taken concerning this collective of people
Photographers such as Gordon Parks, who focussed on the African American experience between 1940 and 1970 and Pogus Caesar, who captured the black British experience beginning with his local community, focussing on famous people before documenting the Handsworth riots; helped to influence my creative vision.
Although these two photographers lived in different parts of the world and also lived through different periods, the images that they captured served a similar purpose. Their photographs highlight the life experiences of ethnic minority diasporas and address inequalities in society.
Visually and from a compositional perspective, the images from these photographers couldn’t be more different. Parks has captured highly saturated images, although throughout his catalogue you’ll see many strong monochrome images such as the iconic American Gothic. His project ‘Segregation Story’ Parks ensured that his photographs were captured to include the surrounding environment as well as the person in the picture this allowed him to better paint a broader view of the scene and better communicate the narrative. This use of the surrounding environment as a tool to aid in the communication of a story is something that I gradually attempted to embed into this my work.
The first set of photos taken for this project was monochrome after some consideration and due to the circumstances surrounding the image, I decided against the use of these images. Many documentary photographers both historical and contemporary traditionally shot in monochrome; however, the decision to shoot using colour and discard the first set of pictures from this project was a decision made due to the importance of embedding some of the vibrancy I associate with Caribbean culture. And because I believe that that the use of colour communicates something about the personality and character of each of the people in the images.
The experiences of the people in the photographs are not homogenous. As such, due to many factors, the images are captured in different ways that I believe best visualise the events occurring and the use of colour allows for a level of variety not in my opinion possible with monochrome imagery. The most important thing with these images is their use as a vehicle to drive change and highlight perceived injustice.
Another photographer who has focussed primarily on Ethnographic make up of a multicultural city is Brian Homer, Brian alongside two other Birmingham based photographers Derek Bishton and John Reardon recently exhibited a series of images that they captured in 1979. The project effectively captures the intersection in cultures that existed in multicultural Handsworth six years before the eventual civil unrest and rioting.
My approach to photography throughout this project was consistent in that the most critical element with each of the photographs was to communicate something of the personality of each of the people. Many of the images are in a seated position as I believe that this makes the people appear more friendly and relatable. The photos are very candid and I attempted to ensure that the people were not posed for the pictures each photo was capture organically throughout the conversation.
The colours and composition of each of the images are all deliberate and hopefully serves the same purpose that is to edify the perspective people have of this collective of people.
My initial intention when starting this project was to focus exclusively on the lives and stories surrounding each of these people’s migration. The stories, however, were being shared by a variety of books, such as David Matthews Voices of the Windrush Generation: The real story of the people themselves and Colin Grant’s Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation this literature had already attempted to communicate the story and experiences of the Windrush generation.
One of the sole criticisms I’d level at this literature is the lack of current images of people from the Windrush generation, as well as the lack of information identifying how the people involved feel about their own experiences. The story attached I also wanted to determine how people from this collective felt about the ongoing injustices still occurring today.
“ethnography is what you do when you try to understand people by allowing their lives to mould your own as fully and genuinely as possible.” (Desmond, n.d.)
In addition to identifying feelings on the ongoing Windrush scandal, the ethnography surrounding these people became important I started to realise how vital the artefacts that paint the entire picture of this collective were and how they would enable me to paint a better view of the time in which these people arrived in the UK.
I began to focus on capturing a variety of details from around the home that painted a striking image of the period and dynamic of the environment in which they arrived.
Creating and laying out the pages of the book was both times consuming and rewarding I attempted to ensure that the layout was as simple as possible with a minimalist san serif font type to ensure that the images are the central focus.
The book is now in the proof stage, this prerelease version of the book has been shared with my peers and other professionals (inclusive of Brian Homer) for me to collate opinions. These opinions have been very positive and informative.
Upon completing the first draft of the book and movement into the proofing stage, I began to share it with people to garner opinions.
As previously mentioned, the book was designed entirely using Indesign; it is 120 pages long and sized 20 by 25 centimetres. It is a standard 70 GSM with white uncoated pages. I decided on a softcover due to the price of printing as I intend to make the book available for purchase on Amazon affordability is very important, and the hardcover costs would mean that base pricing would be an additional eight pounds.
The image quality suffers slightly with this trade book option. Although the pages are standard thickness, the uncoated textured finish means that some of the images have a slightly grainy finish, and this isn’t noise as previous A3 prints do display this noisy finish.
The pages with the text from the interview are intentionally very minimalist, and I have, in most instances, tried to have no writing on the pages with the images of the people captured. This is except for the Denzil of The Windrush images.
I believe that by having no text on the image pages, it enables the person viewing the images to focus on each image; without distraction, this also meant that for some of the pictures I was able to use a full-page design and this enables the images to be more impactful.
Throughout the project the colours have been consistently vibrant intentionally I believe this when accompanied by the simplistic design and minimalist appearance of the book allows for the colours to convey warmth.
It became important to capture the warmth I encountered when interacting with each of the people.
The feedback (Below) I received after sharing the proof of the book was very positive, the contemporary nature of the content means that people are prepared to engage and discuss the topic from perhaps more of an open-minded stance. However, Brian Homer has also agreed to look over the book he has yet to provide feedback.
“I love it! on the whole it’s really good.” Michael Lowey
“I love your work and have enjoyed seeing your project develop. Beautiful colours and composition balanced in every way. You have amazing images which tell a story in their way without words.” Leonard Williamson
“What a great concept for a publication. The narrative of each individual is excellent and I particularly love the closeup portraits. They are very expressive and when I look at them I can see your subject’s life stories.” Joanna Kurowski
“Read through your pdf which was interesting and I loved the images. I have been fascinated with your project from the start and its now brilliant to see an almost complete version.” Clodagh Moreland
“The design of the book is beautiful, slick and minimal which I like. I always like the full bleeds of some images, amplifying the emotions within them.” Rehab Eldalil
“I’m hooked I love it! You need to publish this ASAP perfect timing for it!” Toni Robinson
“Thank you for letting me take a look at your book. It is amazing, clear and concise. Your images are high standard and extremely beautiful. Your front cover is great, bold colours and exciting makes me want to look through and learn more. The layout is perfect and each story is told with honesty and the images supporting the narrative is filled with so much life here in Britain, which is beautiful to witness.” Beverly Thomas
“This is an extremely well-written book it provides great insight into the negative and sometimes positive experiences encountered by the Windrush Generation.”
This project has been very fulfilling and rewarding completing an MA has reinvigorated my passion for the subject and me deciding on the Windrush as a topic has benefitted from it’s continual coverage in the mainstream media and the ongoing discussion of the topics that underpin the circumstances that led to the scandal in the first place.