Assignment 1: planning progress

I haven’t provided an update on this for a while, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I got started on the Documentary module, which I will continue in parallel with Gesture & Meaning for the foreseeable future; and secondly, I was awaiting a planning meeting with a key individual whose approval is required for shooting at the various locations and events I wish to cover. This meeting took place yesterday and I can now articulate what I’m going to do in a little more detail.

Note that from this point on, and most likely for the entirety of this assignment, I will not be able to post any photos that will be publicly accessible. I will need to protect certain pages on my learning log.

Subject and theme

As previously noted, my proposed subject is a local pentecostal church.

The reason I am drawn to this (I will refine these words into an ‘artist statement’) is that I have been a lapsed Roman Catholic for just over 30 years, and consider myself a ‘humanist’ rather than being aligned to any religious faith – or taking a particular anti-religious stance as some atheists do. Meanwhile, the vast majority of media representation of religion (across all religions) tends to focus on the negative aspects: fundamentalism, diversity issues, sexual abuse and so on. In an increasingly secular world it’s easy to get a very skewed, negative view of religion.

Then I made the acquaintance of a very enthusiastic, positive, progressive and friendly Christian who suggested that there’s more to religion than I thought. With an open mind I’ve decided to investigate what a church community is and does that I am not aware of.

In terms of focusing the subject matter down to a manageable theme, the meeting yesterday with the church minister was extremely enlightening. Initially I thought that the thrust of the photo essay would be built around the Sunday service (I attended one such service and came away full of ideas on how best to capture the atmosphere), with a handful of images that depict other aspects of the church. Following the meeting I’m more interested in flipping that the other way round: a couple of images from a church service and the majority of images covering other aspects of their community work that I wasn’t aware of.

The big message that came across from my research and encounters with the church members is centred around the phrase “a church is not a building, it’s a community“. The church has a number of projects and services that connect it to the wider local community, such as youth activities, food banks, debt advice services, coffee mornings, informal prayer groups and scheduled educational courses on exploring Christianity.

I came away from the planning meeting with a sense that the more interesting story to tell is what the church does between Sunday services…! Everyone knows (or assumes) that church has a Sunday service, but how many people know about all the other activities?

As well as providing a greater variety of imagery, the mix of locations and events may become a necessity as the only real concern that the minister has about the whole project is whether it is appropriate to photograph people worshipping without their explicit consent. He has agreed to consult with his peers, his regional leadership and some congregation members to come to a set of parameters on what is acceptable for me to photograph as part of an actual service. It may be that I am limited to photographing the minister himself, or a handful of pre-approved congregation members; or it may be that I need to anonymise the churchgoers by excluding faces, etc. The exact restrictions will determine how the church service itself can fit into my narrative.

Rough shooting plan

  • Confirm three individuals willing to participate as subjects:
    • the minister
    • someone with a reasonable level of seniority / specific responsibility in the church (minister has suggested someone)
    • someone younger who is actively engaged in the church and represents the ‘up and coming’ element of the church (minister has suggested someone)
  • Shadow each person for a day or so while they are carrying out activities that demonstrate the breadth of community engagement
  • Potential structure:
    • opening shot/s at the main Sunday service to set the scene of the ‘expected’ representation of the church
    • 2-3 shots each from 3-4 different events or aspects of church-community outreach (featuring the three ‘characters’ identified above to represent different facets of the church)
    • conclude the set with an image from a ‘Christianity Explored’ session (the educational project for potential new church members), to give a narrative direction to the series
  • Timings:
    • this is the tricky part!
    • due to the need for scheduling meetings and negotiating with the minister, I am about a week further behind than I’d like to be
    • I have set a target delivery date for the assignment of 24th February
    • the earliest I can get started this week is Thursday 11th – which will give me 11 possible shooting days (including weekends) and 3 days to pull it all together
    • should be fine… :-)

Next steps

  • Research similar projects from other photographers (for inspiration / to avoid too many clichés)
  • Schedule shadowing days with three key individuals
  • Confirm shooting parameters for Sunday service (next couple of days)
  • Shoot at this Sunday’s service, subject to above
  • Carry out shadowing days (ideally between 11th and 19th February)
  • Select, process and finalise images
  • Book dummy layout
  • Submission

EDIT: updated later in the day… the minister has confirmed that I am OK to start shooting at church events on Thursday and at the service this Sunday. So my timeline remains intact!


4 thoughts on “Assignment 1: planning progress

  1. Catherine 09 February 2016 / 11:40

    Very detailed plan and such a good idea to take a different angle. Wishing you luck with it Rob.


    • Rob Townsend 09 February 2016 / 11:43

      Thanks! I might need that luck, given the timetable I’ve given myself :-/


  2. Kate 21 February 2016 / 21:53

    This sounds like a really interesting piece of work. My father is a very active CofE Reverend and I am always surprised by how much of his work is outwith the church buildings. Most of it in fact, and it’s blinking hard work too. I’ll be interested to read more about your progress, for various reasons I’ve had a Seventh Day Adventist Church on my ideas radar for a while but the timings didn’t work out for my final Foundations assignment so I’m keeping it in the box for the degree. Maybe.


    • Rob Townsend 21 February 2016 / 21:59

      Cheers. Spent the weekend editing 1000+ images down to 12 then did one final shoot tonight so might be re-editing tomorrow! It’s been an extremely interesting project, I must say, despite (or because of?) my aethism. I’d love to share my pics but so far the minister is asking me to keep it restricted… hoping to persuade him otherwise in the next couple of days.


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