Photographing the Unseen – Roadside memorials

Two weeks since my last posting. Partly, I can blame the day job and a holiday but, mostly, it is down to procrastination because I am comprehensively outside my comfort zone in my project for Assignment 2.

I have approached the brief, ‘Photographing the Unseen’ by looking at roadside memorials to accident victims. The memorial becomes a metaphor for the person being remembered. This connects with the concept of photography as memento mori, as advanced by Barthes, Sontag and others. My approach, mixing image and text, is influenced by Karen Knorr, Duane Michals and, especially, Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murder series.

Here are the first three:

The technical exercise is interesting, as I am having to pay attention to typography, particularly a choice of typeface appropriate to the subject. I am also finding that researching the local news websites to discover the background to each memorial is giving me a sense of connection, or at least understanding, of my unseen subjects.

My difficulty is in the process of locating and photographing the memorials. I feel quite ghoulish photographing an expression of grief, even if it is a form of expression that has been made public. So far, these are examples of memorials that I have seen in the course of my normal travelling, and there are a couple more that I know of but have not yet visited.

The aspect that I do not look forward to is researching to find more examples. This will require me to actively search news websites for reports of fatal accidents, then cold-bloodedly visit the site in the hope of finding flowers there. Ghoulishness squared. Is this how paparazzi feel?

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2 thoughts on “Photographing the Unseen – Roadside memorials

  1. This is really interesting and well-executed work so welcome to the zone-outside-your-comfort-zone! I do have a couple of comments/suggestions though – firstly, have you tried keeping the shooting angle consistent through the different images? e.g. this feels like they might work well if they were all shot straight on / ‘deadpan’ style, as it would help them feel more static which I think suits the subject matter. Secondly, your choice of typeface is good (readable, traditional and somehow respectful) but the text blocks are laid out differently between the images and this disrupted the viewing between photos for me. So I guess both my points are about visual consistency across the set. Good work though – crack on with this and you will end up with a really strong series.

    One last thing: to your point about feeling ghoulish working on this – I empathise completely, as I did an assignment last year about memorialising the victims of a terrorist atrocity, and for a long time even reading the newspaper reports to gather the names made me feel a bit uneasy, but in the end I decided that as long as what I’m doing isn’t in bad taste, and is ultimately some form of tribute to the victims, then it’s not ethically wrong. Hope that helps…

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    • Rob,

      Thank you for your comments. I had thought about viewing straight-on, but I wanted to show each memorial with a sense of its environment. There is also the practical aspect of standing in the road to do it (I felt uncomfortably exposed on the M20, even sticking to the hard shoulder). Plus, I am trying to do a quick ‘in-and-out’ because I would be uncomfortable about being challenged – particularly if it was by a relative. Oh well, I guess this is the world outside of camera club pretty wall-art pix.

      I agree about the text. Rough positioning only at present. Once I have all my images, the tweaking starts. Palatino is the typeface I use in my business letters. A sans-serif would be a bit too clinical (IMHO), and an informal script font would be too light-hearted.

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