Critical Rationale – 367MC Realisation- Spring Valley

Stephen Hird – Critical Rationale


My project began as an exploration into my association with Coventry, with the intention to create a piece of work that sums up my time here, my current feelings and something that the audience can relate to. After creating a highly negative project in my previous module, I decided to avoid negative connotations and produce a body of work that celebrated my time in the city, and embraced change and progression. With this in mind, I felt it was important to avoid creating work solely on an emotional and personal level, as the work needed to be an artifact that represents my progression as a photographer over the past four years of study, and demonstrates my ability to create work of a professional standard.

I looked at photographers that had cultivated their own personal style, and researched classic photographers such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, alongside more contemporary photographers including Hin Chua and Simon Roberts. This enabled me to understand how to develop my own personal visual style. I researched into art and photography exhibitions and how different bodies of work were displayed in a gallery context. Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition in London gave me an insight into alternative methods of presentation, and the exhibition of a recent Nottingham University graduate Thomas Illsley demonstrated how simple framed photographs with careful attention to sequencing and layout could benefit the work greatly. As a result of this, I chose to have custom frames built by a professional framing company, so that I could ensure the final exhibited pieces were high quality, looked consistent and flowed as a complete piece.

After experimenting with film of different formats, I found that I could achieve a much more nostalgic feel, and produce images of a higher quality than that of digital images. The vast printable size of medium and large format photographs gave me more options when producing large-scale prints, with a minimal loss of detail. The use of film meant that I often had to re-visit locations and be much more thorough with my shooting plans, having only a limited number of shots per roll. This meant that I paid more attention to composition and framing of each image, and ultimately gave me better images as a result. I chose subjects that were both personal and impersonal to me, in order to capture a complete representation of The Spring Valley Estate. These included areas were I used to visit as a teenager, and also other distinctive locations that were unique to the area itself.

The old archive images of my friends living and growing up in the area gives context to the large scale, contemporary images, and perfectly represent the feelings I intended to portray from the outset, which is a sense of loss and nostalgia, but also one of progression. Using the original archive prints wherever possible was much more beneficial than having the images re-printed, as they are the original artifacts of my childhood and teenage years, and as a result compliment the contemporary images perfectly. The layout of the images is key in telling a subtle visual story, yet doesn’t force the audience to view the work in a typical linear style, allowing the images to be viewed individually and as a collective.


“Build-Your-Own” West Midlands Montage – A Critical Rationale

Stephen Hird – “Build-Your-Own” West Midlands Montage – Critical Rationale

My project began as an exploration into my own photographic interests, as I prepared to find something that would inspire me to create work. I’ve always been interested in the abstract, solid lines, and geometry, as well as creating something new and interesting. I chose to explore the use and creation of planned towns around the country, but as I visited these places and avoided working in Coventry, I found that I wasn’t passionate about the work I was creating. Instead, I was passionate about avoiding them. I realised my dislike for the West Midlands and my home town was the perfect creative force from which to create work.

I began looking at similar projects, and ideas of an ironic and satirical nature. Banksy’s Dismaland (Banksy 2015) was a big inspiration, as well as the work of Martin Parr (Parr 2004) and Maciej Dakowicz (Dakowicz 2012). While experimenting and researching image layering (Bush 2015), I found that I can create some really abstract images by printing on acetate and layering them. This formed the basis of my project, as I began creating a “Do It Yourself” photo book, in which the viewer can create images themselves by layering acetate, that represented my personal opinion on the region, particularly the architecture and re-development. The images are boring and dull, and the physical elements of the work are intentionally difficult to work with, which means there are only a few possible combinations available to create a typically aesthetically pleasing photomontage. I found it important to hand control of the image making over to the user, as I felt this way they could feel my own frustration and disappointment in how the development of this region has progressed. The images are mostly of an architectural nature, as I wanted the user to feel like they were a Town Planner within the region, being stuck with poor resources and options. I intend the work to not have a specific target audience, however a prior knowledge of the area would make the work more relatable.

I created a light-box within an old book, and made the project into a portable guide, that would be too cumbersome to carry around, again playing on irony and satire. The book I have chosen is oversized and chunky, which is perfect to represent this idea. It’s also a play on the idea of ‘book burning’, and the fact that I’ve used a book from 1930’s Germany is a great way to demonstrate this, with the rustic nature of the book really reflecting the image I have of the West Midlands. After some deliberation, I expanded the project to include a permanent fixture, and have the book as an extension of this. I created a glossy guide-book to instruct the viewer on how to create their images, which is contained within the old book along with a portable light-box. This created a ‘kit’ that could be carried with the user, and the text within the guide-book helps to demonstrate the ironic nature of the project. In an installation setting, a professional lightbox is available on which to create the images, and an instant camera and tracing paper so that the user can create a souvenir to take away with them. The use of these outdated methods of image creation really compliment the feeling of the piece as a whole.

Banksy. (2015) Dismaland. Self Published
Parr, M. (2004) Think of England, 2nd. Edition. London: Phaidon Press Limited
Dakowicz, M. (2012) Cardiff After Dark. London: Thames & Hudson
Bush, L. (2015) Metropole. Self Published


The Return To University (And Reality)

This week I began my final year at Coventry University, and the very first lecture was an immediate reality check. Having just had the best year of my life so far living abroad and travelling, the introduction to our module assignments for this year was like going for a hike wearing flip-flops and a pair of three-quarter lengths. I was massively unprepared. I knew the year was going to be difficult from having known people who have just graduated, and listening to their stories about the workload, but it was still a shock and has made me realise that I need to get my head down this year and create work that’s at least up to the standards that I expect from myself. From here onwards I’ll be posting drafts of my work and small projects that I’ve set myself to hopefully receive useful feedback that’ll help keep my workflow on track.

My Erasmus Experience – Post #8 – Norway Part 1

Since the turn of the year I’ve been trying to do as much exploring as I can, realising that my time in Madrid is nearly over. With only a few months left, I’m trying to fit in as many trips as I can, and my most recent one was a weeklong road trip in Norway. Me and two other friends rented a car and spent the week driving around the most beautiful country I have ever been to, visiting the big cities in the south and the treacherous mountain roads in the north. The scenery was ever-changing from one moment to the next. One minute we’d be skirting the fringes of a seemingly endless fjord, and the next we’d be winding our way up the side of a mountain, flanked by giant rock formations all around. It was the perfect location to practice and improve on my landscape photography, and a chance to experience something truly unique.

We arrived in Oslo in the early hours, without any real plan at all. We’d reserved a small 4 door car but the rental desk didn’t open for another 11 hours (convenient), so we spent our first night spread out on the wooden chairs and tables of the airport waiting area. I soon ran out of things to entertain myself, and went to find an ATM to inspect the currency we’d be using for this trip. Norway, not technically being part of Europe, still used their own currency Norwegian Kroner (NOK). The exchange rate made even a cup of average-at-best coffee on par with Starbucks pricing, with Norway famously being one of the most expensive countries in the world. I took out 200NOK (Just over €20) and hoped it would last me at least until the next day.

Sleeping in an airport was actually a lot easier than I’d expected. People leave you to it, whether you’re on the benches, the floor and hidden away under a set of stairs. Tucked up in my make-shift blanket with a denim shirt as a pillow, I took my spot on a set of three Scandinavian inspired chairs and napped for a couple of hours. I’d wake up periodically and check to see if our bags were still with us. Looking around I’d noticed we’d been joined by a portly gentlemen with an Alienware laptop, who had taken the opportunity to charge all of his electronics in one go, using an ageing extension cable plugging into one of the few plug sockets available. He caught me looking at him and I simply nodded, with him returning the gesture. I fell asleep and felt confident that my attempt to communicate had convinced him not to steal our cameras and laptops.

It was soon time to get to the car, and after making ourselves familiar with the facilities on offer, and spreading the majority of my luggage around all the holders and compartments on the passenger side, we left the airport and joined the motorway. The car was fairly new, with only a few thousand miles on the clock. The woman at the desk had informed us that there was a device fitted to the car that tracked our toll charges, as most of the main roads in Norway have automatic toll booths to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the highways. While only being an average of 25NOK (€2.70), the thought of getting lost and having to pay 10 times to drive up and down the same road was a little unnerving. Thankfully I’d brought my SIM card from home, meaning I could use the data I’d bought in the UK out here. Windows Maps would be our saviour. The woman asked where we were heading, and we said “Not sure really, maybe Molde?” with her replying, “Really? That’s a bit bumpy up there…”. Worrying. Having set the GPS for Lillehammer, we ventured onto the motorway. We’d agreed to only have one driver on the trip, as to get another insured would cost too much, so my friend Charles drove and I navigated, with Emma roaming free on the back seats.

After a long drive, a stop at McDonalds and a break to pump up the tyres (Thanks Avis), we arrived in Lillehammer around midday. For those of you that don’t know, Lillehammer is a small skiing town in Oppland County, which is famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics. We drove straight through the town and up towards the Lysgårdsbakken Ski-Jump, which was something I really wanted to see (Thanks to Top Gear). The jump was closed to skis when we got there, but there was still access to climb to the top, and the views were breathtaking. For the first destination, we’d picked a good one. After many photos and time-lapses we quickly visited the Olympic Village in search of the bobsleigh and luge track, but failed to find it thanks to poor phone signal. Leaving Lillehammer satisfied that the trip was going to be an incredible one, we drove on into the night towards a place called Åndalsnes.

Lillehammer Ski Jump

Lillehammer Ski Jump

The small town of Åndalsnes turned out to be one of the weirdest places on the trip, we arrived early in the morning, around 2am, and after a lot deliberating and driving around we parked up in a grim-looking lay-by next to a quiet B road and settled down for the night. Seeing as the hostels in Norway were incredibly expensive, we’d decided we’d sleep in the car most nights, and try our luck at finding showers and toilets on the roads. Turns out this was a lot easier than expected, and Shell garage toilets were basically heaven. After the most uncomfortable nights sleep of my life (yes, I slept on wooden curvy chairs in an airport), we woke to find out we’d parked next to a giant mountain range clearly not visible at night. This would become a trend throughout the trip, with it actually becoming exciting to see what scenery the daylight would bring us. Like I mentioned before this small town turned out to be really strange. Stopping at a petrol station to decide our route, I noticed a giant blue American pick-up pull into the station and a grotesque, pig-like man jump out and walk over to a group of men in a decrepit Cadillac sedan (American cars are apparently really popular in this country). The men conversed and then separated, only to return numerous amounts of times within the next few minutes. I forgot about it and we drove off towards The Atlantic Road, which is a really incredible stretch of road that traverses the small islands that make up the Atlantic shoreline in the north of Norway. This was the ‘bumpy’ bit the Avis woman had mentioned. The government had built the road to make travel easier from Molde to Bergen, and had constructed giant curved bridges that jetted out over the water at incredible angles.

The Atlantic Road

The Atlantic Road

We drove around for a while, stopped in a cafe that was apparently closed even though it definitely wasn’t, and then drove back along the scenic roads towards Åndalsnes, to try to find somewhere to sleep. It was dark when we arrived, and we stopped in the same service station as before to try to get something more than rice cakes and peanut butter to eat. It was then that I heard the roar of a V8 engine, and into the station came the giant blue truck driving pig man. I bought some food and returned to car, and watched the commotion that followed. The man would drive up, walk into the petrol station then leave and drive away. Then another car would do the same, and the process was repeated for the next hour or so. A multitude of American pick-ups and other cars would mill around the pumps, all looking incredibly suspicious. We left quickly.

Mountains Near Andalsnes

Mountains Near Andalsnes

We had a rough idea of some of the scenic routes dotted around the country, and so we departed towards the nearest, which was Trollstigen. This translates literally to Troll’s Path (Trolls are a big thing in Norway, like, a ridiculously big thing). The plan was to find a place to stop along the route and have a look in the daylight. The road is described on the Geiranger Fjord tourist website:

Trollstigen is a road through west Norwegian nature at its most powerful, with a dizzying view of sheer mountainsides, waterfalls, deep fjords and fertile valleys. Since tourism was in its infancy, tourists from all over the world have visited Geiranger and Trollstigen.

Sounds incredible right? Turns out the road was closed at that time of year due to snow, which we soon discovered can appear from nowhere. Driving up the initial part of the road was fairly treacherous, as the road is lined with small boulders that would probably help you over the edge rather than hinder. About halfway up a small stretch of mountain road, the snow came. The weather in Norway can change in a second as the roads ascend and descend rapidly. Blind from the snow and terrified from local Troll abduction stories, we came upon a red barrier telling us the road was closed, and we returned down. Taking a huge detour we decided to visit the other end of the road the next day, which was also partially open. And hopefully free of trolls.

In part two: fjords, ferries, military bases and the longest tunnel in the world.

My Erasmus Experience – Post #7 – Segovia

The Erasmus scheme appears to have gathered considerable attention in various educational communities around the world, and it’s something that is especially obvious in Spain. Recently I have applied for a handful of cheap/free trips to various places that were being advertised on Facebook through student travel pages. A group called Smart Insiders advertised a free trip to a small town called Segovia, and after many frantic attempts to get a place I finally succeeded, and went with a group of friends.

Segovia is a small historic town about 2 hours outside of Madrid by coach. High up in the mountains the drive there offered countless breathtaking views and photo opportunities, not to mention it was freezing that day and the mountain tops had a healthy blanket of snow covering them. Famous for its yellow-orange coloured buildings, Segovia boasted a castle, a cathedral, an aqueduct, narrow winding streets and of course, tourists. With dogs. When we arrived it was freezing cold, as I mentioned, and we began following a guide around the town. I’m sure the information she was telling us was probably quite interesting, but we’d soon got bored with standing around on the edge of a group of around 30 straining our ears to hear her, and so left the group to explore by ourselves.

There was plenty to see in Segovia, the aqueduct was impressive to say the least, and the cathedral was awash with golden statues and structures, exquisite stained glass and ancient wooden pews. Being a modern student however, it soon got boring and we left to find a coffee shop for something to eat. There were plenty of shops and restaurants, but with it being a sunday most of them were closed. There was even a Burger King and McDonalds, cleverly disguised with subtle stone signs and hidden away behind the facade of a row of old buildings. They clearly make a huge effort to keep the historic look to the town, which is probably the main thing drawing people there. With no attractions as such, it wouldn’t exactly be a great trip for the whole family, but it was free so we couldn’t really complain.

After having a tiny cup of coffee and something that was labelled as a ‘Queso Snack’, (Basically just a baguette with melted cheese on top), we left for the coach. The organisers of the trip seemed desperate to make friends with everyone, with one man standing up the entire coach trip just to walk around and chat. We got the usual questions about being from the UK, and were even asked if we were going for tea and scones at one point, and a friend of mine was given the title of Milton Keynes for the majority of the trip, which was funny. We left Segovia around 4pm to travel to a famous castle nearby, which is the apparent resting place of a famous king, but I was too tired to really pay attention, and by the time we’d gotten there no-one wanted to cough up the €4 to enter, so the trip was ended early.

Overall I enjoyed my time as I managed to get some good photographs, and I’m glad there are groups organising such free trips, especially as we have to watch how much we spend out here. I’ll definitely attend some more, and attempt to go further afield in the future. If you’re thinking of going on an Erasmus trip soon, I’d definitely recommend travelling as much as you can. While I haven’t done much myself, my friends have and they say it’s probably one of the best things you can do. Travel in Europe, save for maybe France and Germany, is relatively cheap if you don’t mind taking budget flights and trains. Inter-railing is definitely on the cards for the future, but Segovia is a one-off.

The title of the featured image this week is ‘The Mountain’.

My Erasmus Experience – Post #6 – The Festive Period

Christmas and the festive period is probably my favourite time of year, as cliché as that might sound, it’s true. Summer is great and all, with the hot weather and holidays, but as I’ve got older I’ve found less excitement in being able to go outside in t-shirt and shorts. The transition between Autumn and Winter is a brilliant time for photography. It’s as if the whole colour palette of the world changes, bringing a blue hue to everything and being accompanied by deep oranges, yellows and golds. That’s what winter in the UK is like, but Spain was different. The day before I left to go home for Christmas, I was sitting outside on our balcony reading a book wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sunglasses. It felt like a slightly colder summers day, and didn’t give me ‘that Christmas feeling’ at all. Which was disappointing, as I’d hoped to be in a festive mood for my journey home. I didn’t even have ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ on my iPod.

The centre of Madrid had been decorated for Christmas in a truly outlandish manner. In truth it was pretty, especially in the late evening when the sun was setting and the lights came on. But something I hadn’t considered was just how religious this country is. Now I have nothing against religion at all, and I am in no way slating the Christian faith, but a person can only see so many fake plastic recreations of the nativity scene before believing their going a little mad. Everywhere we seemed to go there’d be another beautifully crafted, perfectly arranged recreation of Our Savior’s birth, set into huge glass cases or wooden houses. They looked wonderful and seemed to make a lot of people happy, but what annoyed me was that nearby to these displays would be a conveniently placed, brand new cigarette machine, or a pop-up bar or baked corn stand of some kind. Any excuse to make money of people during the festive period seems to have been put in motion.

The festive period is definitely a lot shorter in the UK. After Christmas it’s just a countdown until the New Year, and then after that it’s a slow trudge back to school, uni or work. In Madrid the celebrations keep on going for a while afterwards, with a festival called The Three Kings being one of the main highlights of the year. This article explains it very well. I’ve heard this festival is more beloved than Christmas, as it’s the Spanish time for giving gifts more so than the 25th of December. Not that festivities should be enveloped in the glory of the modern Capitalist world, but who doesn’t like opening presents under a tree that was more expensive than the neighbours’. So the decorations are still hanging and the parties are only getting better. As I write this I wonder if our town of Villaviciosa de Odon are having some kind of community wide celebrations, and if come this evening of the 5th of January, I’ll be watching a float go past in the street with three men dressed up as kings throwing sweets into the crowd. I doubt it. Clearly the only way to bring the masses together to celebrate an ancient tradition on a national scale is to give away free food.

The image with this weeks post is titled: “New Years Walk”


Creative Commons Licenced

My Erasmus Experience – Post #5 – The People of Spain

It’s not often I say this, but I absolutely adore this photo. There’s just something about it. The woman in the dress pulling an awkward face, the fact that the man’s head in the suit is half covered by the baby, the fact the baby has spotted something off-camera? I think it’s the feeling that it’s not quite 100%. It’s an image that came about almost by accident. I was taking a shot of the people across the street, when they (seemingly a wedding party) emerged from around the corner. I had only a split second to frame the image, focus and snap. Thankfully the settings were near perfect and I managed to capture one of my favourite photos I’ve taken so far in my photography life.

Now that I’m comfortable in Madrid, one of the most entertaining things to do is people watch. The culture out here is so vastly different from back in Coventry, but also incredibly similar in some areas. You still get the classic stereotypes within the crowd, but the people just seem much more entertaining and care-free than in any other city I have been to. For a country that isn’t used to saying please and thank-you after every phrase, it’s a nice surprise to find that the majority of people are welcoming. Behind this image is the end of the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is regularly swamped with tourists from every country imaginable. It’s the Buckingham Palace of Madrid, if that helps you imagine. The proximity of the palace to the bar we were sitting in would suggest that it was a busy place to be. Not at all. Madrid is full of these quiet little havens of beer and free tapas. (I should explain, there’s a law in Spain unwritten or not, that means if you order alcohol you get free tapas either in the form of a bowl of olives, crisps, bread and meat or something similar). We sat out in the sun after a long day of filming a music video for the Coventry band Flygone, and watched the world go by.

Back to the people of Spain. The only issue I have had so far are the street vendors and the Policia. The street vendors seem to pop-up out of nowhere, and have refined the art of running away quickly when the police arrive. They could be selling anything, from legit-fake Ray Ban sunglasses to designer handbags and other items of expensive clothing. All fake of course, but not that that’s stopped me from spending a fiver on a pair of sunglasses at 6 in the morning on the walk home from a club. It feels like there are a fair few of these unsavoury characters, especially as it’s the capital city, but the police seem to have everything under control and the tourists can mince on by without any worries at all. In contrast, I recently took a trip to Paris for Pitchfork Festival, and on one of our first trips on the metro my friend nearly lost his wallet to a pickpocket. We were in France for less than a day.

The Policia here are incredibly intimidating. Being a big group of students who like to make inconceivable amounts of noise at 3am in a residential area, we’ve had a few run ins with the local authorities. There is a strict noise curfew here, which means that if you make any loud noise after 11pm, the neighbours have the right to call the cops who’ll turn up at your door, armed to the teeth with pistols threatening you with a €300 fine. Me and a friend were once chatting on a street corner after a few drinks at a local bar in Villaviciosa, when the Civil Guard came out of nowhere, hopped out of their 4×4 and demanded that we empty our pockets onto the nearby wall. Safe to say the event with humorous to us, as we weren’t drug dealers, but if you were you would’ve been in for a rough night.

Obviously the police are there to keep the neighbourhood under control, with it being rumoured that our local area is the Breaking Bad of Spain. However, the general public are some of the friendliest people you could ever meet, and it has definitely opened my eyes to the contrast that the UK has to other countries in Europe. We just need to lighten up!

The title of the featured image is ‘Wedding Party, Royal Palace of Madrid’.