Here’s the story:-
I was born and brought up in the same area of Sheffield, called Southey A large estate of council houses built in the late 1920s and among the first to be built and, when I left home, my parents continued to live there until they moved into a new house in a different area around 1976 which meant that I never returned to Southey even though I could have done. After this I had regular recurring dreams where I was going in and out of various houses on the street and walking around the shops where I used to spend quite a lot of time, either doing the shopping for my mum or just hanging around. I know that probably the dreams were about something else – me sorting out my new place in the world or something like that – but it was a kind of comforting dream.
My dad died in 1986 and, for some reason, I decided to go back to Southey and drive around all the streets; past the house where I had been born, the house nearby where we went to live when I was about 7, my infant and junior schools and the shops. It was so depressing! Everywhere looked as if it was going into decline and uncared for. In fact it seemed quite a scary place to drive around. Some shops were boarded-up and the post office had iron grids across the windows. I was told by relatives who had also lived there in the past that, as the housing stock had deteriorated, the Council had moved in tenants with problems etc and so the vicious cycle continued.
Those comforting dreams went away and I missed them. Instead I kept having dreams that my dad was still alive after all only to wake up and realise the loss all over again. My mum died not long afterwards and I didn’t go back to Southey until 2002 when everything looked even worse and then again in 2011, during which time I had started studying with the OCA. I think I was going through Gestalt cycle of trying to complete.
2011 was a shock in a different way. A Regeneration Project had been agreed (instead of pulling down the whole estate and starting again) and so the whole area looked refreshed and cleaner and those houses that are for sale are a surprisingly high price.
However, the large shopping area was just about defunct. I think about two of the shops were still in existence along the one-stop lines and the others were blank shells of their former selves. A Community Centre had been built in one of the four greens and the other greens had been landscaped see here . That was good as previously large hedges had prevented access. But there was no community feel, only one or two people walking around, with quite a few of the shops being taken over (heavily protected it seemed) by an organisation called 4G which provides access to services and activities. To me any sense of community was lost.
I walked into the Community Centre, introduced myself and asked a few questions. The closure of the Post Office and other shops, with availability of a supermarket in another area was given as the reason for ‘lack of community feel’ but I think it was more than that. To me it was as if there was an inertia to actually create something within the shopping area itself, something to bring the shops open and alive in different forms maybe but as more of an open hub where people would meet and greet each other, pass time together. I was thinking of ideas similar to the country market idea, places where people could sell their own produce etc. Maybe the Project and already thought of ideas like that but discounted them.
I went away feeling sad at all those changes and intended to create a project around ”Reconnections”, including visits to Derbyshire where I used to go for family weekends when I was small and rambles when I was older. In September 2012 I took some of the images with me to the OCA Student Residential in Leeds and received a lot of encouragement to go ahead and create the Project. I still haven’t done it. Something has been holding me back. I think part of it was thinking that time has passed and I should go back and re-photograph because maybe there have been further improvements. I did go back in July last year when I visited Sheffield again to go and see the OCA photography Exhibition. Everything looked the same and more lifeless somehow – even the Community Centre. I’ve tried web searches several times but haven’t been able to find any up-to-date information on what’s happening in the area.
Recreating a childhood memory
If I was going to go back and do it all over again I think I would actually be taking a documentary style approach and comparing my memories with those of people living in the area, particularly the older generation, and then newer residents. I have recently been experimenting with self-portraits and so I could photograph myself as I am now in front of the two houses I lived in, the shopping area and the Park. I don’t have any photographs of the area itself from my childhood although I have found some in the Sheffield archives. All of this would need careful planning, with some networking for with local residents – probably via the Community Centre.
Another idea could be an audio walk but then I’d probably have to use a video camera. I’m envisaging something like the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller . If I’m to be in the video as well though I’d have to have a partner operating the video. A further alternative, and less intrusive, would be for me to wear my GoPro camera, with a separate microphone clipped to my clothing. I could walk around the area recollecting memories. For example, I could say something like “This shop used to be called Shentalls, and I went there every Saturday for my mum, with shopping basket in hand. I used to have to stand so long in the different queues that I often almost fainted” (that’s true!). If I’m still concerned about reactions of local residents then I could do something similar but with the GoPro camera on my car windscreen.
A less complicated option would be to photograph myself in the present environment but holding a photograph of me when I was younger. Alternatively, I could write on the photographs themselves. Given that I’m not currently planning another visit, and in the interests of keeping it simple (as this is just an exercise). Here are the images I utilised:-
The Shopping area (in the late 1960s/early 1970s I think) as a reminder
Me as a child
These are from weekends in the country, but they fit my mood. I think that small me, Catherine Anne (with an ‘e’) looks a little bit anxious and intense (in fact I wanted to give myself a hug and say, “Everything is going to be okay sweetheart”.) It might have been that I wasn’t keen on being photographed; probably had more important things to do, like play with the others – who knows!
The shopping area
Recreation of the memories
a.Writing on a photograph
I was immediately presented with the mix of older b+w and new colour images. I therefore took two of the more recent images, converted them to mono and then used them as background for composites. I followed the instructions in Kelby (2015, pp 211) to remove my child self from her backgrounds and insert into new ones in Photoshop CC. I then used Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert the images to a soft sepia. I still then had to use the blur tool in Photoshop on my small self as I was standing out too much from the background.
They aren’t ever so successful and I know I need more practice on this technique. What I’m hoping I captured somehow is that inner child of my adult self that was so shocked at seeing the denuded shopping area. In fact I started this blog post the day before yesterday and I woke up yesterday morning feeling quite depressed. It was if a large part of my childhood had just disappeared – first the dreams about it and then the actual shops.
I know I’m being illogical and self-centred because the regenerated area as a whole must be so much nicer for people to live in and they do have a supermarket to go to somewhere else. Probably not having local shops anymore, apart from two one-stops doesn’t really bother them. It’s harder though now for me to remember those shops from when I was younger and the sense of community, with people being busy about their daily lives, stopping for a chat and to get up to date with the latest gossip. I really have to think myself quite deeply into a sensation of going inside them to recall the memory. I don’t think a Community Centre can really replace that kind of spontaneity because it’s too organised and structured.
Maybe that’s the problem with memories and reconnections through photographs. I recall Keith saying his memories are like photographs, and there is a view that people might think they remember an event but it’s the photographs of them that somehow ‘create’ a false memory. Well – I don’t have any photographs from those times of the shops or of me going into them but I definitely have memories of shopping!
I’m thinking at the moment that photographs can be a double-edged sword. A photograph of now on a happy occasion can play a large part in replacing older, negative, more traumatic memories, but the reverse can happen. Looking at these photographs has really made me realise at a deep level that I’ve moved far, far away from that little girl who lived on a council estate and did the shopping every week for her mum. Sheffield no longer gives me any sense of home. All of it has altered so much and it’s as if someone else lived there not me.
There are other old photographs though that have made me realise why I have such a connection with landscape and that’s another of the options I have for Assignment 3.
Kelby, S (2015) The Adobe Photoshop CC Book New Riders, US