This is my third iteration of the Square Mile assignment, having done it here and reworked it here. This time I wanted to look at my 8 year old daughter’s square mile. She is at the age of crystallising her favourite places, making the memories of places and activities that will stay with her for life. Her “mile” differs to mine in more ways than geography. Growing up in a family with two cars, no siblings and with a raft of extra-curricular activities, her range of familiar and favourite places is far wider than mine was at the same age with no car and four younger siblings. Growing up with the internet, and online gaming, her square mile extends into a virtual world too. I’m pretty sure she spends less time outside than I did, more traffic and living in a built-up area have restricted her choices in a way that mine weren’t. We formulated the list of places to include together. Thinking about square miles got me thinking about how we interact with it – often with our feet and hands – and about how we have not just physical landmarks but also event landmarks. She often conflates memories of places and the events that happened there. Geographically, we’re quite a bit over the mile, but her world feels like an equivalent size connected by car, no doubt also a function of two cars as well as the way leisure activities seem concentrated in larger conurbations. When I grew up so much more was closer, accessible by foot whereas a mile doesn’t even get my daughter to her local school (and it’s the closest school to us). Some of these favourite places are (relatively) on our doorsteps, some, like the climbing wall, are in the next big town yet she still knows each place inside out. Mindful of my tutor’s comments first time around, I wanted to make a set that was about her as much as it was about her immediate geography.
Having identified the places, the next issue to consider was how to add meaning by including the girl in each image. Thinking about child photography, and the tropes of Instagram and other online media, I was keen to show authentic portraits, well as authentic as I can given my obvious bias. I wanted to include the gauche, the grace, the geek, the strong, the playful, the thoughtful; without succumbing to the coy, the clichéd, the filtered. I wanted to include images that are both staged and unstaged, I wanted to include her direct gaze and her focus to show that she was complicit in the work, that she had an element of control in how she was depicted. I wanted to include an idea of the extent of her physical interaction with her world – hands, feet, taste, moving herself.
I have kept the processing deliberately simple; there is lens correction, auto-toning, shadow/highlight fixing; there is some cropping but no cloning out. I aimed to include enough of each place to give context and to show how she interacted with it. I saw a photograph by Margaret Cameron at the V&A Photography Gallery, showing a small child asleep on a sofa, and it struck me how Instagram bulges with similar images. Granted, sleeping babies are a staple of photography, but I wonder if they say more about the relief of a tired parent than the character of the child.
I still wonder about how to show the other side of my daughter’s life – the fairy/princess/stereotyped/media elements that are always there and that we try so hard to balance. This has left me wanting to include a counterpoint to each image, probably using textures and cut images. I may however leave this to the rework and keep this version simple.
Photographers from those that I researched and who influenced me include Sian Davey Looking for Alice, Evgenia Arbugaeva Tiksi, Charley Murrell’s Constructed Childhoods, OCA student Penny Watson’s Where have all the children gone? and Mimi Mollica’s Norah There. My full research post containing all researched photographers can be viewed here. All of these practitioners offered me a different way to see childhood – from curiosity and physical interaction (Davey), independence and wonder (Arbugaeva), self-image (Murrell) and the outdoor nature of childhood (Watson). The huge spanner in my research work was Marc Rees, whose attention to the smallest details of the Square Mile concept had me wondering if I should instead make a series on the domestic textures and textiles that my daughter is growing up with. That’s one for the ideas catalogue.