Exercise: Exploring function
Aim: The aim of this exercise is to choose an interior space and consider it from the point of view of its function. First make a shortlist of what you think the space ought to be doing. Then consider how well it succeeds. Having made your analysis, make a carefully considered photograph of the space in order to put across the way it works – or should work – for the people who use it.
Approach and results: For this exercise I have chosen a café in Manchester that I particularly like for it’s unpretentiousness. It’s a small café in the Northern Quarter of Manchester where you order and pay at the counter and then take a seat in one of the red vinyl clad booths. The table has a tray with a big bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup and the usual salt, pepper, sugar etc. There are murals on the walls and free ‘what’s on/art house’ type newspapers dotted round the place.
What ought this space to be doing? It is a social place, a place to meet, a place to grab something to eat or just sit with a coffee, people watching. It is used by a regular clientele and also by a range of ever changing builders.
Technically what do I want the shot to achieve? I feel that capturing the people using the place creates a more interesting image than capturing the place alone; suggesting tighter crops rather than wide angles. I find the example picture in the course manual to be rather uninteresting, only being lifted by the fact that it is of an unusual structure made from bamboo; this being an architectural trait. The flip side of this argument is ‘can you appreciate the function of the space if you cannot see the space itself’. This is my dilemma. I don’t want to take a ‘security camera’ view. The character of a place like this impacts on the clientele it attracts but the ultimate character is made up of the architectural character, the staff and the clientele altogether. Do I need to capture the character of a space in order to put across the way it works? Currently I think not.
The image I have chosen is below:
This image is of a couple having a ‘full English’. When I go out in Manchester early I usually start here with a coffee and it is surprising the amount of people in the café having a full English breakfast. I chose to sit in the middle of the café so I could get people sitting in the window flooded with sunlight as it was a rare bright day. Using a fairly bright almost high key exposure helped in capturing the strength and angle of the sun. I also wanted the window reflection as the shot captures the woman in the first instance and her partner/colleague in the reflection. The shot captures the reasons for using the café; a sunny city centre spot, social interaction and a necessary big breakfast to start a busy day. This could be a working breakfast or the start of a shopping trip. The matching vinyl seats and table with the accompaniments tell you not only that it is a café but what type of café it is. I like the fact that the first impression is of the woman on her own but then the reflection comes into play. The person in the reflection could also be at a different table suggesting individuals just there for the purpose of eating and going.
Learning points: I think pulling back and trying to capture all the functions of a busy space can make for an unfocussed, unengaged image. I’m better off focussing on the most important things to me. That said, too tight a crop or close-up can capture just an action that could be anywhere. This issue of how much to capture will probably come up again and again and is unresolved for me.
I think that capturing the use of a space is more difficult without people. People help focus the viewer and obviously provide a more literal or graphic narrative to an image.