Friday, August 18, 2006

That sweet city with her dreaming spires

This is my first attempts at playing with shutter speed and aperture. I wanted to try to capture movement. I'm getting there with the focused foreground and blurry background but having a little trouble vice versa. These photos are a nightmare to take. I wanted a typical Oxford shot - "cyclist in front of the Sheldonian" but Broad Street is so busy at the moment, full of tourists and red buses it's hard to pan with the movement without something else getting in the way.

Passing the Sheldonian

This is one of the first photos for my Oxford Series. The city is such a great place to photograph with its ancient colleges, hidden alleyways and secret gardens. I've heard it described as a "scholars fairy-land", which is certainly one side of the city. The city that the tourists see, the city that the university students holed up in the comfy colleges see, the city that exists in novels and poetry. But there is another much darker side to Oxford. Alan Human puts it perfectly:

At the lowlife end of Oxford there's three basic scenes. There’s the loony scene, there'’s the drugs scene, and there's the ordinary down and out scene, which is the street scene, having no money. They do overlap, but they are distinct scenes. On the loony scene you get snapped up by the loony industry - the mental health industry - and they never let you go once they've got you. They supervise your life at some level or try to. You'’re in a scene where youĂ‚’re always mixing with loonies. The drugs scene does partly overlap, because some loonies turn to drugs to keep their experience within bounds, to block out the bad experience. I don'’t do the drugs scene at all myself. The down and out scene is the kids between 16 and 25 who are homeless and so on. They get a really bad deal because they get an income of about £25 a week I think, and they'’re expected to keep themselves in cigarettes, food and shelter for that.

I am going to attempt to capture all of Oxford, not just its veneer. Its people, its grime, and its real beauty.

Title from Thyrsis a poem by Matthew Arnold.


Hev said...

Thats a great photo. I love the motion of it. Almost makes me feel home sick.

Seth said...

I agree that Oxford has a seedy underbelly, but I don't think it's fair to describe the university as a veneer. I'd rather say that the university is the heart of the town--has been for 800 years--and that its present troubles are the product of misguided city planning in the mid C20 (for e.g. the Rose Hill estate, where the Orlit houses didn't last 40 years, and are now all boarded up).
It's true, though, that few students will know much about Rose Hill, Blackbird Leys etc. Perhaps if they knew more about it there would be more incentive to improve things.