Research point : Senses of place

Compare and contrast the strategies adopted in conveying a sense of local identity. Do you think this type of work is easier or harder if you come from the place you’re documenting ? Can you find any evidence that ‘the same geographical space can be different places at the same time’ ?

Jens Olof Lasthein b Sweden

Waiting for the future –pictures from Abkhazia

Born in Sweden and brought up in Denmark Jens Olof Lasthein is a freelance photographer who also works on self-directed personal projects. Curiosity about a breakaway state that did not officially exist led him to document the Eastern Europeans who inhabited an environment very different to his own.

The images were taken using a wide angle panoramic camera and 35mm film allowing him to include “more actions happening at the same time” . He does occasionally stage scenes but he says “mostly it doesn’t work ” , preferring instead not to direct but record spontaneously , getting to know his subjects through talking , sharing a meal or drink . However he acknowledges his being there will inevitably influence the outcome . Due to the panoramic view the saturated images are neither traditional portrait or landscape but a hybrid of both and have incongruous elements in the frame that at first glance seem strange and are difficult to read. He explains “the world is not easy to understand so the pictures should not be too easy either “.

The bleakness of life here is suggested by the backdrop of shingle beaches , derelict buildings and stray dogs . Yet life goes on , the inhabitants socialise , sunbathe and swim , make the most of their environment despite the harsh reality of their environment as they await their future , whatever that may bring .

David Goldblatt b1930 South Africa

South African Goldblatt considers his photography to be ” a conversation between me and myself and the subject ” . His early monochrome work was taken during the time of racial segregation and I find it interesting that he states his work was not particularly about apartheid . However by choosing instead to record the often routine details of every day life ” his views of shanty towns , billboards , shacks , and public monuments subtly alluded to the conditions of racial inequality” ( Warner Marien Mary , 2010 ,p.g 327 ) . He is not concerned with technical attributes but in what an image suggests, its real meaning. His images are intended to question who we are , our integrity , how did we reach this situation and “Goldblatt is enough of a documentarist to register the place without bias , seeing it as both ‘nondescript and elusive‘ ” (Jeffrey , 1997, pg.181) .


Despite using colour for his commercial commissions his personal projects were recorded almost exclusively in black and white, “you need to work to look at a black and white photograph. It doesn’t immediately come to you . Colour is much more sensuous , sweet and welcoming ” . However by the 1990’s the advance of new technology encouraged Goldblatt to also photograph his private assignments in colour . Apartheid ended in 1994 but social and economic inequalities continued . In 1998 shocked with he saw was happening to Johannesburg he felt “no sense of belonging” , he considered post-apartheid South Africa had become a “wasteland” . With political change and the end of apartheid his documentary work no longer needed to record racial inequality but the social disparity and decay he saw present in South African communities.

He initially began to photograph in black and white but , following a trip to Australia , he switched to continue the nine year project in colour , the images have muted almost dusty tones. Travelling around the countryside he documented the vast open spaces of his native South Africa , the landscape , cities , construction sites , derelict buildings , at the intersections where where past and future met. The landscapes form a critical element of the work reflecting on the plight of the dispossessed , questioning once again , as he did in his earlier work , the morality of past and present policies and the reformation of his homeland.

Mikhael Subotzky b1981 South Africa

Beaufort West

On a primary level , I still very much see my work as being about myself , and my place. It is photographs of my personal experience of my surroundings. But as I learn more about the power of images , or perhaps the power of all texts ( including photographs) , and the power of narrative , association and imagination , I get more and more excited about making work
Mikhael Subotzky 2009 .

Beaufort West is a detailed study of life in post-apartheid South African society containing beautifully considered and composed images with a mix of rich and subtle colour tones . Yet the narrative of life in a small rural town and of the inmates detained in Beaufort West prison is quite depressing . The Afterword from the book by Jonny Steinberg HERE is particularly interesting to read, but what really strikes me is how he discusses his own personal experience of the geographical space photographed by Subotzky.

Marco van Duyvendiijk b1974 Netherlands

I really like his images of everyday life in Mongolia that include some beautiful portraits of the heterogeneous population. The region is home to both traditional and modern cultures , a geographical space that contains a curious mix of monasteries and mines , contortionists , monks and punks .

Philip Cheung

Cheung’s images of everyday life in the West Bank are a world away from the usual images of war ravaged places. I particularly like this one HERE , an optimistic image that allow the inhabitants of a region , usually associated with strive and despair , to be seen in a positive and empathetic manner.

A lifetime can be spend in one geographical location but how it is experienced and understood will be influenced by , amongst other factors , political and socio-economic circumstances . Hence I do believe the same geographical space can be different places at the same time but I find it quite difficult to answer whether it is easier to document a place you actually come from .

An article in the latest issue of Black+ White Photography magazine considers Byker the documentary series by Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. She lived in Byker, a working class area of Newcastle -upon-Tyne , for six years and “puts her acceptance by the locals down to the fact that she was a foreigner explaining that:’Being a foreigner gave me one advantage-I could be nosey , and be forgiven. Many doors were opened for me that would have remained closed to another photographer, and invitations extended to the kind of hospitality and intimacy that would normally be reserved for family only” (p.g 52 B+W) .

However I feel all of the photographers I have researched above have successfully managed to convey a sense of local identity. Despite their differing approaches they share an ability to engage with their chosen subject on a local level , whether they originate from the place or not. By choosing to document in colour I feel the images are both contemporary and pertinent .

Bibliography /References

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

Mavlian S , (2015 ) A Modern Eye Black + White Photography (Issue 179) pg. 50-53

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK


Philip Cheung
Accessed 22/7/15
Marco van Duyvendiijk
Accessed 22/7/15
David Goldblatt
Jens Olof Lasthein 
Accessed 16/7/15
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Mikhael Subotzky 
Accessed 18/7/15
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3 thoughts on “Research point : Senses of place

  1. Catherine

    Has an ‘outside’ photographer documented the area where you live? If so I was thinking it would be an interesting experiment to do your own project and then compare the two.


  2. Judy Bach Post author

    I like the idea very much — (for my very first assignment with the OCA I had to document my neighbourhood) . We live in a ‘new town’ and I have found a site that has photo’s of streets etc that no longer exist or have changed beyond recognition , even in the time we have lived here. I rather like the idea of photographing the areas now and using these with older views of the town . I just need a 48 hour day to fit everything in ! Its certainly a project I really fancy doing at some point .



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