Relief, joy and pride at completing this project, which I have been working on since January 2017. I can’t believe that I have finished it, and I am very pleased with the result. A photomontage that includes almost 500 photos of graffiti, tags and street art.
Idea Development:- Walking around with my camera I noticed writing on the wall, not tags, not street art, just writing. My assumption was that if people are excluded from some participation in society, if their voice is ignored, then they will find a way to express themselves. Self expression is a vital part of the development of self-identity and involvement in culture, community and society. The working title for this project was “Making my mark”. At this stage I had no idea of where I was going to go with this, just that I wanted to take as many photos as I could so that I could develop this at some point in the future. Street art often looks wonderful, and so do tags, and they both stem from the same roots, but I felt that it was just as important to include things that people had scrawled on the wall in marker pen. The writing may be plain but I felt that it strongly fitted with the sociological theme that I wished to explore and express.
Watching Anti-Social (Reg Travis; 2015) helped me to consider how these forms of expression are part of a youth counter-culture that is often anti-establishment in nature, but is only so because they are excluded from politics and society on some level, from policies that discriminate against young adults, a lack of engagement from the political elite (who ignore young adults as they have been seen as non-voters) and social and financial inequality.
I have read a couple of interesting snippets from books which I found links too on Google Scholar (an amzing site to discover reputable sources and peer reviewed research). These explained how graffiti developed as a means of personal and political expression by those who have been both under and misrepresented, and whom have also been heavily disadvantaged within their societies (Rhan; 2002; Lupton and Power; 2002; 118).
What pulled the project together though was a comedy clip that I viewed on YouTube at the end of last year (Russell Howard’s Good News Extra; Series 7, Episode 11; 2012). Towards the end of the clip Nathan Caton discuss his brother and his friends and how they use the word “standard”, which I then looked up as a colloquialism to find out that one of its definitions means “it goes without saying” (Urban Dictionary; 2018). The penny dropped at this point about how I could make a montage of many photos with the word “standard” as the backdrop, and “When you take away my voice” as the title.
The basic part of the technique was to go out with my camera and take the photos. When I saw exercise 3.2 Series, typology, I figured that I could make use of this project for the exercise. My intent is to make the kind of photography that matters to me as a theme for the exercises on the course whenever it is possible to do so. This meant that I had to get a wriggle on with taking the photos, which I managed to do on a holiday in Cork, and the final push was a planned two-day visit to Leeds just to make photos for this project.
Thank god for my computer. I have 16GB ram and 4GB dedicated NVIDIA graphics card, which was needed for the amount of layers that I used in Photoshop. At the end of the project the working PSB was 10.2GB, and although for the first 200 of layers my equipment could keep up, during the later stages lag was a significant problem. My computer is not connected to a monitor but a 48inch 4K TV. This was also a necessity for a project of this size (240cm by 135cm, 16:9 format).
The first process was to develop and save the photos so that they were all 1080p, create a background in Photoshop, and find the font for the word “Standard”. Next I opened up 10 photos at a time, and began by copying one photo at a time onto the board as a new layer, and placed the darker tones and more vivid colour photos onto the writing, and the lighter colours into the background.
Using the free transform, perspective and warp tools I altered the shapes of the photos so that they would create smooth edges over “standard” and joined the edges. It wasn’t easy to decide which part of each photo should be hidden under other layers and which should remain visible, aesthetics were highly important to me to get the result that I wanted. After I had created “standard” with photos I then developed a lighter outline, and finally mixed lighter and darker photos into the background.
At first glance the project looked successful, and I only re-arranged or replaced a few photos that did not fit with their surrounding. However I realised that with a final project over two meters on the long side, I would need to ensure the edges were perfectly aligned. I didn’t want to make a white background that would hide where the edges were not aligned. It would have been the easier, softer and weakere option. This is a huge and significant project for me and I wanted the outcome to be complete and to a professional standard.
Aligning the edges
Thank god that’s over. The process was intense, time-consuming and left me exhausted. The first step was to create a new layer, place it above my background and use the paint bucket tool so that it was bright orange, which would show through the gaps. The next step was to zoom right into each edge – 500 photos, 2000 edges, 2000 corners, all which needed to align perfectly and have no gaps, and with lag between each zoom and shift around the page. Aligning the edges wasn’t as straight forward as it may appear. As I had previously imported each photo and moved them around the board to position them where I wanted them to be. This meant that four photos next to each other would not be on adjacent layers. Often when trying to align one edge, it would reveal part of the photo next to it that had been hidden. This was due to the fact that most of the photos had been warped so the image had a sense of movement and flow. Consequently, working out which layer was above or below, and which would be better to adjust the edges of was a challenge, and there were several occasions where the easiest option was to import a new photo as the top layer and warp that to fit in with the others. The reason that I had to do this was that with the original warped photos there were times when it was not possible to un-warp them to make the suitable adjustments.
I spent several 8 and 10 hour days putting this project together to get a final result that I am happy with.
The story doesn’t end here. I have been collecting photos of street signs and health and safety notices, which I consider to be a blight. These signs should be criminalised rather than graffiti in my opinion. The aim is to create a second project with the title “The voice of control” using the same process as above. I am relieved to say that I have a long way to go with making these photos, so the laborious task of creating the result can be delayed and allow my brain to recuperate. Yay. My aim is tha tthese two completed projects will gain some exhibition space, which I believe that they are worth.
When I enrolled on Foundations in Photography my aim was to develop my creative ability. Anybody that wants to technically improve their photography can do so if they are willing to put the effort in. But how do you become creative? I am fortunate that my mind generates many ideas, too many infact, and I am learning to filter out those that are a distraction and not worth persuing at this moment in time.
Creativity is a process that cannot be rushed and takes time to ferment. I am quite happy to have an initial idea, to pick that up and reflect upon it, then leave it alone and allow life to inspire the development, and this is what happened with “When You Take Away My Voice”.
Watching Anti-Social because it looked good, listening to Nathan Caton because he’s funny, finding graffiti on my travels, research into the modern history of graffiti, having knowledge of Leeds and where to find the best street art there and going on holiday to Cork, all allowed this project to develop and be ompeted in its own time
The idea developed with little help from me, an initial idea and faith that life would reveal itself in the process. The major part for me was, having been inspired by Caton, to visualise how I could tie the project up into a work of art, and then creating that in Photoshop.
My process is my process and we all have our own creative workflow. I am discovering and developing a technique that works for me, and for this I am truly grateful.
I have produced a work of art that I am very pleased and impressed with, and proud to have created. Art that explores and expresses sociological themes, and this is the kind of photography that I want to make. I am so grateful to the Open College of the Arts, and look forward to my continued development.
Lupton, R and Power, A; 2002; Social Exclusion and Neighbourhoods, In; Agulnik et al; Understanding Social Exclusion; Oxford; Oxford University Press; pp.118-140; Can be viewed online here (accessed on 04/04/2018)
Rhan, J; 2002; Painting Without Permission – Hip Hop Graffiti Subculture; Westport; Begin and Garvey; Can be viewed online here (accessed on 04/04/2018)
Russell Howards Good News Extra, Series 7, Episode 11[Television Programme and YouTube clip online] Pres. Howard. Perf. Caton. BBC UK (2012) 14 mins AT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQmn-nJIM1U (accessed on 04/04/2018)
Travis, R; 2015; Anti Social; london/Hungary; RST Pictures, JRSM Films, Origo Film Group; Online AT: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3475596/ (accessed on 04/04/2018)
Urban Dictionary; 2018; Standard; Online AT: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=standard (accessed on 04/04/2018)