What are you shooting about?
February 12th, 2020
Slow shutter-speed in landscape photography is mostly applied to blur water and clouds. In urban photography it helps to record light-streaks from cars and busses and either slightly blur people to add additional sense of movement or make them altogether disappear. In all those applications the chosen shutter-speed should not be longer than necessary.
While in landscape photography the idea of ‘necessary’ shutter speed may vary quite considerably, long exposures created in urban environment are usually of similar and relatively (for LE photography that is) short length.
Anchored is an image taken with a shallow depth of field to keep the focus on the foreground artefact (the chain and anchor) while ensuring that the background, and most importantly in this case, Tower Bridge, is rendered with a slight fog-like effect. The shutter speed used was below 30s, just enough to lose a few people who happened to stroll by at the moment of taking this picture.
I specifically did not use the word object when referring to the anchor and chain as they are by no means the real objects of this picture and only serve as tools I found useful to crate this image and its message with.
Anchored is a part of my ongoing series London Less Visited, the idea of which came to me almost twenty years ago at the very same spot. The series aims at presenting the places located in plain sight from the known spots frequented and photographed by tourists but never, or almost never, visited by them. Just as they can see the places I chose to photograph but do not care to visit them, the photographs from this series present famous London landmarks as Londoners perceive them – pieces of the city which are in no way more important than other spots and often of not enough significance to be noticed on a daily basis.
Twenty years ago I used to live in Elephant and Castle area. While it is close enough to allow for a walk to Tower Bridge and shooting in its vicinity after work whenever I cared for it, the less-than-two-mile walk took me though what might not necessarily be called a reputable neighbourhood.
One evening, as I was sitting on the grass near London City Hall, watching tourist stroll by without care in the world and taking pictures of Tower Bridge as the sun went down, it occurred to me that they are completely oblivious to what is at the very same time happening not even half a mile down the road, among the buildings clearly visible, if they cared to turn their heads in different direction. ‘They have no idea where they really are’ I recall myself thinking.
London, Paris, Mew York, Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona and other cities frequented by tourists including myself, are only ‘visited’ but not ‘known’ and the appreciation of this fact is where London Less Visited series stems from and the first meaning that I can attribute to the image discussed here. Everyone who read my previous articles knows how important it is for me as a photographer to get to know and understand the place I point my lenses at.
There is also another, in my opinion deeper, way of understanding this image.
Its title comes of course from the massive anchor which is permanent fixture of the Thames Walk, just by Butler’s Wharf Pier in Shad Thames area.
I first tried to take this image almost twenty years ago. I did not succeed. Even if I had, I failed to realise it. Only now, after all those years, I stood in the very same spot and took the desired image with ease and one shot only, almost as if I was my daily routine. Some things take time and need a lot of patience.
A monochrome composition, it is bound to be viewed as a set of lines, curves and connections.
The anchor and chain seem to be the central points of the image but they are incomplete without the lamppost in the middle. It lends balance to the image. The anchor itself – via chain – is connected to the bottom of the frame while the string of lightbulbs serve the same purpose for the streetlamp. The bridge in the distance is ‘fixed’ to the right-hand side of the frame with massive railings.
All three main elements are solidly ‘anchored’ to the frame offering a sense of firmness, balance and definiteness.
Some viewers might be tempted to stop here. For myself no reading could be further from deciphering the true object and meaning of this image.
The geometrical arrangements of the lines and curves, so principal in monochrome photography, here are nothing more that tools of deception. Thanks to them the phantasm of stability and solidity and the initial, skin-deep understanding of this image has been fabricated. Let us scrutinise the image further, shall we?
The lamp, although situated in the very heart the image and a traditional symbol of enlightenment and direction, here, without light, is a lifeless artefact. Bereft of any sagacity it lights no way and provides no understanding.
An unemployed anchor, jettisoned from a ship not even present in the image, lies nugatory in the heart of the country that once ruled the waves.
A workless iron chain on the ground. Do you recall Robert Howlett’s photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel posing proudly in front of massive chains belonging to his ship, the SS Great Eastern, chomping on a cigar in mud-spattered trousers?
Finally, Tower Bridge, one of the most important landmarks of London, presented as a trivial part of an inconsequential background.
Some viewers might perhaps take pains to understand this picture as anti-British. If that had been my intention in creating it, I would have called it Toothless Empire or something along those lines. I live in London and London is what I use to create my photographs. Were I a denizen of another place, that location would be used in my images.
Others might be tempted to appreciate this image as one registering a modern sculpture hailing the birth of new Britain, a country fairer and more open to its all citizens. A country not build on horrifying working conditions and exploitation of its masses to create wealth for a few. A country respecting its people and offering opportunities not known for previous, less lucky, generations.
Even the most powerful of empires eventually evanish. Is this what this image is about? Yes, it is, partly. As wise Heraclitus of Ephesus noted change is the only constant. It would not come as a surprise to me if someone currently living in a country build on oppression, dreaming of living in a fair society, looking at this image ventured to call it There is always hope. This is what I was shooting about.