Saturday, July 16, 2011

Assignment 1: Ideas

I decided on the theme and location for this assignment over a year ago, before I even decided to embark upon this particular course.  The location is somewhere that I have explored photographically many times, fascinated by the interplay of structure and space that exists there, together with a culturally diverse population,both permanent and transient.  I have used elements within other courses, but never completed a more systematic study.  The location is the site and surroundings of the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Olympic Park

A single word underpins my thoughts about this assignment and that is Legacy, in particular to look at the legacy of the 1972 Olympics and what it means for the people who still visit or live in the location.  This word is used frequently in the British press to talk about the 2012 Olympics in London and what it will mean for the city after the event.  I want to be able to show what this has meant for my city.

The Olympic Park has interested me for many years, it has a complex history full of joy and extreme sadness.  This is a location in which history needs to inform image making.  Most people around my age and older will remember the Munich Olympics for two reasons, The PLO and Mark Spitz.  The latter is a glorious chapter in sporting history, 7 gold medals in one games, whilst the former was a horrific attack on the Israeli team that left 1 policeman, 11 athletes, and 5 terrorists dead.  However, the site has an even more tragic Legacy that most who have not visited the city are unaware of.  

The stadiums are built around a small group of hills rising from the plain on which Munich is built.  These hills were not there 70 years ago, they are the remains of the city after successive bombing raids destroyed the fabric of 1940's Munich.   The damage to Munich was so great that at one point it was suggested that they should simply abandon the city and build a new one near by.  However, the decision was made to stay and clear up the mess.  Within the rubble, I have no doubt, lie the bones of many who were pulverized beyond recognition. When looking at the Olympiaberg from a distance it is hard to imagine that something so large was made from the destruction of a city.

Several times I have considered trying to work up a theme chronicling the footprint left by the 3rd Reich on the city of Munich, frankly there is no better reminder than this heap of rubble.  Again, I come back to the word Legacy and all of its meanings for this location.

Moving forward to the present, the Olympia Park as it is now known, is an active location and a home to many activities, sports, rock concerts, seasonal festivals, simply enjoying the sun on the weekend, and within the athletes village a community thrives.  Almost all of the infrastructure built for the 1972 games is still in continual use.

As I stated in my introduction this is a visually diverse environment, offering sweeping naturalistic vistas, overlooks of the city, juxtaposed against a striking modern architecture of steel, concrete and glass.  Last weekend I packed my camera bag with what I term an exploration kit of lenses, 17-40, 24-105, and 70-300mm zooms, ideal for exploring, offering great flexibility, although at the expense of distortion in the images.  I noticed when processing many of these images that at the wide end the distortion is very striking and even after correction left the photo looking unreal.  Architectural subjects are extremely unforgiving in the use of lenses.  It is my plan in any case to use primes and particularly perspective control lenses for this assignment, however for a mooch around a prospective site they are too cumbersome to use.

Arriving at the site the dominant feature is the Olympic tower visible across the city and from far away.

Climbing the hill and looking North over the entire site this is the view.  The curved tent like structures are the various stadiums that made up the main games site, behind them lies the Olympic Village, now a major housing area.  Whether or not I can capture an interesting shot of this landscape is a question right now.  I would like to firmly establish the geography with such an opening shot, however, I am not sure whether I can make it interesting enough.  Maybe it does not need to be interesting merely informative, the photos need to be seen as a set

Dividing the games site from the village is the Munich Mittlering, the inner ring road.  The two buildings in the distance are the BMW museum (front) and corporate HQ.  Lying within the site of the Olympics these two buildings represent a different legacy for Munich, that of industry and wealth.

Within the Olympic Park still South of this road my interest photographically is in the shape and form of the buildings that made up the stadiums and how they fall within the shapes and contours of the hills.  Most modern sports stadiums use curved lines within there structure, however, Munich's stadia broke new ground in the use of canopies of acrylic glass supported by steel cables, creating a series of peaks separated by curving valleys, symbolizing the Alps.  The following shot shows one of the venues, clearly illustrating the architecture of the roof:

A key goal for me will be to use these shapes and play with them in contrast to the "natural" landscape surrounding the venues.  Each of the following was taken froma high vantage point with varying telephoto focal lengths.  I have tried to extend the curves of the hills into the curves of the stadium.  These work best as landscape shots, perhaps an issue if I want to present a set that is all Landscape.  I would prefer a consistency of framing, maybe go square...

Closer into the stadium area, shots isolating people as the subject become possible, a key element of this series must be a look at how people use this space or at least occupy it.  As my theme is Legacy, but with an override of representing Summer in my photos, it will be important to include people enjoying the season to key some of the more architectural shots into the season.  This one does not achieve that, but is an example of where I want to go with this idea

The next example is under the canopy illustrating the possibilities offered by the local architecture, versus the grand statements of the buildings

Within this area there is a lot of scope to shoot more abstract compositions and in this case B&W really works to express the shape and tonality in absence of colour.  I do not plan to use B&W for this assignment, colour is a key indicator of summer, in winter B&W would work extremely well in this location.  I also do not want to mix B&W and Colour, guess I am not confident enough for that yet.  In any case I am not yet presenting so here are a couple:

The structures of the games stadiums are ideal subjects for B&W treatment, so would be the BMW museum, although I have kept this one in colour.  This could be better framed to eliminate the green, which adds nothing.  I am not sure how to work this into the set, it is even more dramatically architectural than my other shots.

Stepping across the bridge to the Northern half of the Olympic site, there is an area of open grassland across which multiple paths run taking people to and from the games site.  Just North of this is an area of two story apartment blocks, each containing back to back student accommodation, with two rooms one on each floor.  Built originally for athletes these make an interesting place to explore.  The students are encouraged to express themselves by painting the outside of the buildings, although in 2007 this expression got out of hand and a riot required 150 police to quell.  After this the area was scheduled to be demolished and has been rebuilt as it was, but with modernization.  It offers a strange environment in which to wander, odd sights greet you as you turn corners, there is a great deal of humour and pathos in some of the graffiti.

Climbing some steps at the end of the student village leads into the multi-story "village", now home to over 10,000 people, with the shops, churches, sports facilities, and other amenities that would be expected for what is in effect a small town.  The structure is quite unique as there are no streets visible just pedestrian walkways, great for disabled access and many wheelchairs are noticeable among the residents.  Cars do exist of course, but they are underneath the buildings, streets run throughout the complex, but hidden underground.  The village is in effect built on a massive bridge under which is an extensive car park.

The first and most striking aspect of the village is that there are coloured pipes running overhead throughout the space.  These were originally built as guides to help athletes from different cultures to navigate through the village back to their rooms, obviating the need for multi-lingual signage, using colour as a language for directions.

In the above two photographs, the signifier for summer is provided by the bold dark shadows resulting from the almost overhead sun.  The terracotta tiling is also very reminiscent of summer.  Closer into the apartments, the greenery of the balconies is another good sign that it is summer in the city.  These photos will be difficult to develop into a concept for the course, there is too much information, however, they possess something of the formal structure of traditional landscape imagery.

Close up, the balconies exhibit an interesting repetitive symmetry broken by the abundant greenery.  Not sure how I could use such an image, am giving thought to creating a Gurskiesk composition constructed from multiple frames, however, not sure if a. I am capable, or b. it would be any good if I did it anyway.

With this exploration I have proved to myself that I have enough variety of subject to create an interesting set of photographs for the assignment.  This is also a location that will change with the seasons, but also one that can sustain my interest over the year ahead.  A challenge will be to balance the social documentary aspect of this assignment against the landscape requirement.  Within such a theme it would be easy to become too focused upon the residents rather than the "landscape", this is a risk and one I will have to manage carefully.  I also need to begin the process of shot selection, i.e. deciding what I want to include in the 12 photographs and go out and create those images.

My goal here is not to find subject matter serendipitously, but to actively plan the shots I want to include and figure out the best way to capture that scene with my camera.  That does not preclude the happy accident that comes from a photo exploration, later today I plan to head back to the site, this time with a set of primes and repeat this exercise more carefully and with greater intent.

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