ARPS panel

in October 2008 I submitted a panel of 15 prints to be considered for the prestigious distinction of Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. The standards expected are extremely high and I was incredibly proud when I was successful in achieving this recognition. The work centered on the Prince of Wales Dock in Swansea and the statement of intent read:

Swansea SA1 Waterfront Development
This panel records the changing face of the Swansea dock landscape as it is converted from deserted wasteland into a desirable and chic city environment. The juxtaposition of the remnants of the industrial past against the new development presents some exciting compositional opportunities to document the ever changing vista. My aim is to explore these relationships and utilise the textures and shapes to present a personal vision of the area. This series of images were taken between 2005 and 2008, illustrating the early stages of the project. Many of these views have already been transformed, making these images a unique documentation of a moment in time.

The inspiration for the panel came from a Swansea Camera Club competition in 1995: themed “Swansea Landscape”. Up till that point I had never really explored the city. One day I was driving around aimlessly when I turned into the old link road on the North side of the Prince of Wales dock (as I now know it to be). Unfortunately the road was a dead end and there were a lot of burly workmen standing outside the builder’s yard. Not wanting to live up to the stereotypical “lost girl” I decided to park up and see what was around – it didn’t look too promising; some building rubble and a massive sand mountain, but it was better than just turning around.

Within a few minutes I found a newly built access road and walked down that, into the area that took over my photography for the next couple of years. At that time it was obvious that some extensive development was starting and I was captivated by the textures and patterns that had been created by the building materials. The first two images of my panel were taken that day and although they were taken just a few meters away from each other, the difference between the shots surprised me and made me appreciate the potential of the area.

Over the next few months I visited the area many, many times, exploring all the aspects of both the SA1 waterfront development area around the Prince of Wales Dock and the original marina development of the old South Dock. The concept of recording the transformation of the desolate wasteland into what would hopefully become a thriving community developed and I considered ideas of trying to highlight the changing fortune of the areas, showing the decline of the traditional industries of the fishing and shipping and the emergence of newer service industry. Eventually I created a body of work that showed the initial stages of the development as I saw it, the juxtaposition of old and new and the blending of the textures in materials and landscape.

I found myself in many awkward situations in the pursuit of the perfect shot and given my habit of going out taking photographs in the most unsuitable clothing and footwear, I often got myself into scrapes. I found that wearing flip flops in wasteland is often not the best footwear – especially when you walk over filled in sink-holes and find yourself thigh deep in sandy mud – with no bottom to be felt! It was OK though – I managed to save the camera before dragging myself out, although the same could not be said for the shoes – they were goners. I also feel somewhat responsible for a number of areas around the dock being sealed off by the developers; I was followed round the dock by an overly officious Health & Safety Rep and castigated for not having the appropriate Hi-Vis jacket and hard hat – however given that she saw me from the other side of the dock, I don’t think I could have been that invisible! However these all made me feel more like a “proper” photographer and I think I must have earned some brownie points for my efforts.

The final selection of 15 images for the panel from the hundreds I took was a long and painful exercise. I asked many people for their views and they helpfully gave many opinions, which helped to only confuse me further! I produced at least 10 possible layouts and in fact I only chose my final selection the night before I submitted it to the RPS. I don’t believe in planning too far ahead and actually only applied the week before the assessment date, fortunately (and unusually) there was a spare place, so I didn’t have too long to worry about it.

The day of the adjudication was a fascinating experience; I don’t think I have experienced so many emotions in such a short period of time. The morning was interesting and informative – but that was because it was the projected images so I didn’t have to worry! The afternoon, however, was a different matter. Panel after panel was presented, some good, some not so and a few superb: then it was my turn. The heart pounded for 10 minutes as the assessors first complemented my work (yes, I’m going to get it), then criticised it (oh no I’m not!!), then the Chair encouraged the panel to look at my book and the debate continued! Unfortunately for my nerves, one of the panel was an expert in monochrome urban landscapes and to say his standards for his own field were very exacting was an understatement. Under other circumstances I would have loved to hear his views on what would have made my images better – but did he have to be quite so vocal about the negatives? To be honest I did agree with virtually everything he said – I just wish someone had said them to me before the assessment! By the time the Chair took the final vote, I was so convinced I wasn’t going to get it, I almost missed him say that I would be recommended, until the room burst into applause! What a roller-coaster – but what a feeling afterward. I think I was on cloud nine for at least a week.

To see more of my Swansea SA1 dockland images visit my Docklands gallery.