Assignment 2

Assignment 2 – Collections. Updated following Tutor’s comments

The purpose of the assignment was to photograph a series of locks showing that the fundamental engineering of the UK canal system had not been modified over the years given that modern technology now governs much of the civil engineering processes today.  Some locks have been electrified, particularly on the rivers, but most remain as they were, requiring manual input to work them.

To put this idea into context I then considered some of the pioneers of the 18th and 19th  century, those engineers who designed and built the canal system.

The development of the canal system in the 18th century was driven by changes resulting from the industrial revolution and the need to move goods around the country as economically as possible.  One of the first canals was commissioned by the Duke of Bridgewater, who owned coal mines at Worsley and needed to transport his coal, previously transported in carts, to be taken to the River Mersey  more efficiently and cheaply.  He commissioned James Brindley, a millwright, to design and build a canal.  That canal still exists and in regular use: The Bridgewater Canal.

I searched a number of archives to try to find photographs of the locks showing how they were worked in the same way as today, without success.  However, I found 2 photographs of the construction posted by John Nesbitt on Pinterest (origin unknown).


I also looked at the work of Bernhard and Hilla Becher.  Both keen photographers with an interest in industrial landscape.   They set out to record these structures in a detached way – thus if the structures were no longer required or irrelevant they would be demolished.  But the Bechers’ photographs ensured the images survived.

“The Bechers’ purpose has always been to make the clearest possible photographs of industrial structures. They are not interested in making euphemistic, socio-romantic pictures glorifying industry, nor doom-laden spectacles showing its costs and dangers. Equally, they have nothing in common with photographers who seek to make pleasing modernist abstractions, treating the structures as decorative shapes divorced from their function.

The Bechers’ goal is to create photographs that are concentrated on the structures themselves and not qualified by subjective interpretations. To them, these structures are the ‘architecture of engineers’ and their pictures should be seen as the photography of engineers – that is, record pictures.

So, in 1959, the Bechers drove around the Ruhr in a van photographing blast furnaces, winding towers, gas tanks, cooling towers, water towers, lime kilns and framework houses. They would use ladders and scaffolding to achieve clear vantage points from which to make their pictures. Like technical drawings, these would feature front and side elevations.

Becher Towers

Winding towers Germany, Belgium, France, 1965–98

My collection of photographs aims to achieve the same purpose.  If at a later date locks are modified, or changed completely and the old technology is no longer used, my photographs will remain as a record of how they once were

Finally, I took my lock photographs on two separate days with very different weather conditions and lighting.  My tutor suggested revisiting the contact sheets and creating two possible edits, one for each lighting condition.  I tried using photoshop to carry out simple edits so that they all appeared to have been taken on the same day.  However, I was not happy with the result, so I selected some different photos all taken on the same day.  Here is the final selection:




Assignment 2

Assignment 2: Collections: Views

The aim of this collection of photographs is to show how the majority of locks on UK canals continue to operate using Victorian engineering, and without any modernisation or 21st century technology.  There are some exceptions to this: e.g.: the Anderton Lift and the Foxton Incline Plane lift, and although some rivers do have electrically operated locks, the principle of how a boat progresses up or down hill remains the same.

I visited two locks to take the photographs: one at Napton on the Oxford Canal, a narrow canal, and one at Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union, a wide canal.  The only difference between a narrow and wide canal is the width of the locks, but I wanted to show the different winding gear and gates.  I avoided taking photographs of scenery or boats as there are many such photographs in existence.  This was an exercise in photographing the locks and their workings rather than a create a set of “postcard” images.

I used a 24 – 105mm zoom lens as this gave me the flexibility of being able to take close up photographs and also to stand back and zoom into the subject without falling into the canal!  All the photographs were taken on aperture priority.   I found the first set taken on the narrow canal difficult as it was a dull day and I each time I closed down the aperture to increase the depth of field the camera increased the shutter speed.  Without a tripod (which would have been impractical) some photos were blurred and some overexposed.  I had to alter the exposure compensation each time to allow for this.  The second set of photographs on the wide canal were taken on a sunny day so I had less complications with over or under exposure.  I have indicated on the back of the 10 printed photographs which ones were taken on the dull and sunny days.

I took some photographs of people working the locks, which I think worked well, but perhaps I should have taken more of the boats going down and coming up in the lock to show how the water controls the functionality of the paddles and gates.

I was pleased with the photograph of the wooden bollard.  It was taken with a wide aperture (f4) to blur the background and from this angle it is difficult to assess its size.  (Actually it is about 18” high). The bollard would have been installed when the lock was built, and now, with many years of ropes having been wrapped around it, has taken on a very different shape.  It’s no longer straight sided.

I felt the photographs of moving water worked well considering the camera was on aperture priority, rather than shutter priority.  Because they were taken on a sunny day, the camera set the shutter speed fast enough for the water drops to be in focus, which was my aim.  I also took some of the moving water where the shutter speed was slower, and these can be seen on the contact sheet.  My preference is for the drops to be visible.

When I assessed my work I was a bit disappointed as I felt I had not been able to show all the workings of the lock from the bank.  There is much more to see from within the lock chamber itself but of course that is only visible from a boat.

Although I am pleased with the technical quality of these photographs, I think overall the collection could be improved by telling the whole story of how a boat gets from one level to another using only mechanical technology. Whilst all the photographs are of the same subject, there is no narrative, and anyone who is not familiar with locks would not necessarily understand what is going on.

I intend to take more photographs in future when we next take our own boat through some locks.  The view of the engineering inside the lock chamber is easier to see and photograph.  I will then revisit this collection and aim to tell the full story.


Contact Sheet