Exercise 2.2

Explore a road


Whether you live in an isolated village or a city centre, roads are something we all have in common.
● Make a short series of photographs about a road near where you live. You may choose to photograph the street you live or work on, or another nearby. How you choose to approach this task is your decision, but use this exercise to develop the observational skills that will be challenged in Assignment Two.
The objective is to try to think about something that is familiar to you in a different way. You don’t need to make any preparations for this exercise. Work intuitively, and try not to labour the exercise.
● Compile a digital contact sheet from your shoot and evaluate your work, identifying images of particular interest to you, or, potentially, to a wider audience.
● Watch one of the films mentioned in this section or any other ‘road movie’ of your choice. Write a short review (around 500 words), focusing on how the road features within the film’s narrative.

LP&E, p.72

[26Dec21] I intend to subvert the task a little and photograph a route combing three contiguous roads linking Eltham’s two principal features — Eltham Palace and the Stephen Lawrence memorial. I keep returning to the conjunction of these two things.

I will photograph a typology of repurposed buildings, from the splendour of the Palace (playground of Henry VIII at the turn of C16th and the younger Courtauld dynasty in the early C20th) to the ordinariness of the paving slab converted to the Lawrence memorial. There’s a cinema-turned-gym along the way and numerous shops: Barclays → Wetherspoons; church → Burtons → MacDonalds, funiture → Polish grocery; residential → dentist. Not to mention the houses that made way for a railway and its station and the church that moved.
There may be other typologies along the way that I have not yet thought of, but that will do.

I’ll set off on the next dry day

30th December

[30Dec] The rain stopped and I took the planned route, starting with Eltham Palace and ending with the Stephen Lawrence memorial. Most of the images were taken in black and white † with supplementary colour work on the last subject as it is also a possibility for Assignment 5/6.

Box A
Contact sheets
30th December

I could easily spend far too long on this exercise, developing it as a follow-up to I&P Assignment 5 as there is some overlap. I am tempted to go back to my researches on old photographs of the repurposed sites, but will try to resist that as Assignment 2 beckons.

Most are the straight Jpegs, straightened and cropped but I used the RAW files for the cinema and for one of the Lawrence memorial, in both cases in order to extract more detail.

Fig. B1 shows Eltham Palace, viewed from the moat bridge, the Courtaulds’ 1930s addition to the left, the Hall which Henry VIII would have known behind. The block of flats in B2 replaced a 1960s (as I remember the architecture) square of shops which in turn replaced residential housing. The residents’ choice of balcony decoration is always a source of interest, but less so than the strange glass-heavy building to the right of the block (B3).

McDonald’s (fig. B4) replaced Burton’s tailors which itself replaced a church. Wetherspoons replaced Barclays Bank and Specsaver occupies what was once Express Dairies (B5). The rather fine 1930s Art Deco police station (closed for business, fig. B6) probably replaced housing).

The square, grey car showroom on the other side of the Parish church graveyard (fig. C1) replaced an earlier garage and the flats behind the Municipal swimming pool and baths. The rather good Polish deli (C2) replaced Alan’s second-hand furniture, the entrance to which remains. Residences have become a dental surgery (C5).

Housing made way for a dual carriageway (C4) and new railway station (C5). The early 1900s saw numerous Co-Operative Retail outlets built in SE London that were later replaced with less interesting versions of themselves (C6).

Fig. D1 is a recent rebuild of a petrol station but judging from the workshop behind, the site has a history of vehicle maintenance. There must be a case for a book of 26 Metropolitan petrol stations, even if it has already been done: it starts here. D2, as its form suggests, was once a splendid cinema (I attended it only a few times) that fell into disuse and eventually became a gym: I waited a while for a few birds to fly past but in vain. D3 is a church that was moved, stone by stone, from Greenwich Dockyards when it was no longer of use. D5 and D6 are of the Stephen Lawrence memorial paving stone. It sometimes has a flower on it but this was an unusual profusion, presumably for Christmas: his birthday was 13th September. At first it seemed an orderly grouping but when I turned towards the bus stop, I saw the bunch that was separated, perhaps kicked: that is just speculation, but it is the first thought that occurred to me.

† Using the Acros+R simulation setting as modified by © Ritchie Roesch:
Dynamic Range: DR200
Highlight: +2
Shadows: +2
Noise Reduction: -2
Sharpening: +2
Grain Effect: Off
ISO: Auto up to 12800
Exposure Compensation: +1 (typically)


[30 Dec]
1. This project benefited from my prior knowledge of the area having lived here for around 35 years.
2. The images need supporting text to give context and support cohesion.
3. The images are fit for purpose, illustrating local changes but if used for anything more serious than a module exercise should be created with more care regarding intrusive vehicles (both parked and moving) and pedestrians (wait at each location longer for more interesting contents).
4. Consideration could be given to finding third-party images of the sites in previous states, as was done in I&P Assignment 5.

Part 2

● Watch one of the films mentioned in this section or any other ‘road movie’ of your choice. Write a short review (around 500 words), focusing on how the road features within the film’s narrative.

LP&E, p.72

[26Dec] The only film I could see referenced in the text was “The Road to Perdition (2002) directed by Sam Mendes” (LPE p.67).

My first thought was Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988), then Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) and then Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969).

I ran a few searches, as below, which established that the Netflix search routine “understands” the concept of “road film”, (fig. E1) whereas Amazon is rather more literal (figs. E2, E3).

BFI (Lunn, 2018) had an article on the matter that recommended American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016), Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001), The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003), The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004), The Puffy Chair (Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass, 2005), Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005), Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2006), Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006), Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2012),

1. Search, Netflix
2-3. Search, Amazon
© the artists, their agents or their estates
img: 1. Netflix; 2-3. Amazon Prime

From Netflix the choice had to be Kodachrome (2017).

The story, written by Jonathan Tropper, is based on a newspaper article “about a father and son who take a road trip to Kansas in order to develop photographs at Kodak’s last Kodachrome lab before it closes its doors forever” (IMdB quoting a Variety article, 2017).
The main character works for a company in the music business and is about to lose his job. His father’s nurse visits him to announce that his estranged father has only weeks to live. His father is a famous photographer who has found four old, undeveloped rolls of Kodachrome and wants to get them processed while the last lab is still open and he’s still alive. The detail is quite similar to Jack Nicholson’s As Good as It Gets (James L. Brooks, 1997) with the son equivalent to Melvin Udall (Nicholson), the father = Simon Bishop (played by Greg Kinnear) and the nurse = Carol Connelly (the waitress played by Helen Hunt).
They have to drive, as he’s too ill to fly; the son is eventually persuaded; the father shows himself to be a cruel bully (until the final, inevitable reconciliation); the son and nurse fall into a relationship (which inevitably goes sour, but rights itself at the end); they get to the lab in time; the father dies; the four films depict the son’s childhood and (inevitably once-) devoted parents.

In true road movie tradition, the father’s old car is a red convertible, though a SAAB, and the roof doesn’t operate – they have to shelter under bridges when it rains. The car is old and “all analogue” — there’s a message there, of course, he uses a Leica.

The actual road trip sequences do not reveal anything other than the past and currently developing relationships between the three main characters. It emphasises the physical constraints of a car journey, enforced companionship, limits on what can be taken (the father throws away the son’s digital GPS route mapper and the son responds by tossing his father’s cassette of favourite songs – when they’re gone they’re lost to a closed environment). It is interesting to contrast the enclosed car (even a convertible with a broken roof) and the motorbike – as Robert M. Pirsig states in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974),

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

Pirsig, R, 1974, p.4

Which is, of course, why they used bikes in Easy Rider, buying into the mythology and the reality.

From a photographer’s, point of view, the images come pre-framed and also allow a wider perspective incorporating car parts to add a flavour of deconstructionism and an easy reference to US consumerism and car culture.
There is, perhaps, a parallel between the difference between the driving experiences provided by car and by bike and the difference between a photograph and the reality it depicts (back to Magritte and his pipe.)

Box F
1. Lee Friedlander, from America By Car, 2020
2. Henry WesselNew Jersey, 1967
3. Marta Rossignol, from The Bear’s Dreams, Les Rêves de l’Oursin, n.d.
4. Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair, 2004
5. Anon. Production still, Easy Rider, (Dennis Hopper, 1969)
© the artists, their agents or their estates
img: 1. Whitney; 2. BJP; 3. L’Œil de la Photographie; 4. 200-percent.com; 5. hollywoodreporter.com

The film does offer a lesson on how to load a Leica M4-P.

It is a middling pot-boiler with, for me, three notable scenes:
1. when he son is first waiting for the car he sits outside his home near some handily-placed mirrors that would do Vivian Maier justice with the car and father in reflection (fig. G1).
2. In a hotel room the father affects a self portrait at a dressing table mirror after Ilse Bing (fig. G2).
3. As the father’s body is wheeled out of the hotel, the many photographers (who had been at the lab for its last days of Kodachrome) held their cameras aloft and fired flashes in his honour. That was a nice moment. Fig. G3)

That was 1 hour 45 minutes of my life definitely not wasted.

1-3. Broadcast stills from Kodachrome (2017), Netflix
© the artists, their agents or their estates
img: 1-3 Kodachrome (2017), Netflix

LPE Exc 2.2 References

Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

IMDb (2017) Kodachrome, 2017, TV-MA 1h 45m [online]. imdb.com. Available from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1880399/ [Accessed 26 December 2021].

Lunn, O. (2018) 10 great road movies of the 21st century [online]. bfi.org.uk. Available from https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-road-movies-21st-century [Accessed 26 December 2021].

Pirsig, RM (1974) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [online]. bartneck.de. Available from https://www.bartneck.de/projects/research/pirsig/zen.pdf [Accessed 27 December 2021].