Small ecologies:The personality of place

We photograph things. We picture things – which is to say, we imagine things – in space. We understand space by occupying – which is both entering and making our own – and being-in space. Small Ecologies concerns the human occupation of such spaces. 

How do we make space meaningful; turn space into place? How do we experience and occupy place? Small Ecologies provides a series of environmental portraits and detail studies, to explore the personal ecology of occupied space. The work is a visual and photographic exploration of the character of small scale spaces, shaped and occupied by individual human beings.

The underlying imperative for the work is descriptive clarity – to describe, clearly and accurately, the subjects – both person and place. Working from large format film, the portraits offer detailed, clear views of their subjects within the spaces they have turned into identifiable place. The places they have made are described with equal clarity, using a combination of film (large and medium) and digital formats.
Small Ecologies underlines the details of everyday spaces, details which are known intimately but lie beneath notice for most of the time. A photographer, entering the space of another, instinctively pays attention to these details of place and emphasises the direct connection between individual human beings and the places they occupy. Each place has its own, distinctive character, shaped by an individual human being, responding to space, its constraints, their own needs and personality.

As the  American photographer Paul Strand said, “Things become interesting as soon as the human element enters in.”

The portraits in Small Ecologies describe particular people in particular places but they also describe social and physical context. Together with the other images, the work in Small Ecologies goes beyond portraiture to an exploration of the spaces these subjects occupy; spaces they have shaped from day to day. It brings to this exploration a close description of the details which characterise place. The portraits and details should be seen together, emphasizing this close linkage of person and place.

The subjects of Small Ecologies are specific. They exemplify personal ways of occupying space for particular purposes. Because these individuals work alone, their occupations are also somewhat outside the mainstream - or is it the other way around? In any case, this tends to make the spaces physically marginal or obscure, and often economically marginal too. The combined effect of these factors is to produce a space that is visually diverse and complex, in which the evidence of human occupation and use is layered and accumulated. The relatively small, confined character of the spaces has generated an intensification of detail and sedimented meaning. Visually, this is perhaps what attracts the exploring photographic eye, providing a rich resource for photographic description.

(1) Paul Strand. Sixty Years of Photographs: An Aperture Monograph. Aperture.London/New York. 1976. p.16


All images and content © Damian Hughes 2009