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Direction of Travel

James Duncan Clark’s Direction of Travel is an immersive and curious series which documents a London landscape in the midst of change; the “urban regeneration” caused by the 2012 Summer Olympics.

James uses found objects off the streets of the areas surrounding and within the evolving (or devolving?) landscapes, hand in hand with large-format photographs.

The effect is an astounding narrative that works beautifully between the sometimes hilarious, sometimes emotive handwritten notes and the images that depict the visual changes. It’s a completely different view of the typical “landscape” and the typical “portrait”. James tells us more about the project…

Using photographs and ephemera found on the streets of east London, Direction of Travel documents a landscape in transition on the periphery of London’s Olympic Park. The work seeks to distance itself from the official, public narrative of the Olympic spectacle and attempts to grapple with the local and everyday, exploring the complex relationship between the landscape and its inhabitants during a time of radical change.

I began the project after moving to London in 2012 to study for my masters at the London College of Communication. To get onto the course, I had proposed a project which explored the privatisation of public space within London, and I found myself living in Bow which was a stone’s throw away from Stratford and the Olympic Park. Even though I was coming into the area fairly late in the grand scheme of the Olympic project, I read a lot about it and couldn’t help but be drawn to photographing changes in the landscape. It seemed like every couple of days there’d be something new or something removed.

It wasn’t long before my proposed MA project gave way to this project instead, and at the same time, I also began collecting ephemera from the streets – scraps of handwritten notes, discarded leaflets and rubbish.

This all started after picking up what turned out to be an escort card, which had illegally appropriated the Olympic bid logo for its own benefit. I resolved the project in a self-published newspaper publication, which used a combination of both large-format landscape photographs and the found objects.

The aim was to use the products of the environment to try and say something about that environment from which it was created, or in which it was discarded. In a slightly oblique way, the project seeks to interrogate ideas surrounding Olympic-led urban regeneration, and attempts to use these fragments of people’s everyday life to do so.

I hope to continue working with this genre – exploring the landscape as a reflection of society; however, finding enough time to pursue personal projects when working full time in London is another challenge altogether! I still plan to revisit the themes I hoped to explore during my MA, and I specifically plan to explore the phenomenon of Business Improvement Districts, which represent an interesting shift in the context of public/private space in cities.

My advice for graduates is that, depending on what line of work you want to go into, the most important thing is to realise that you’ll have to use all your skills wisely.

Let’s be realistic – very few students who study photography will actually earn a living taking photographs in the long term, especially not via personal, art-based projects, so my advice would be to be streetwise enough to realise that you may need to use the other strings to your bow.

Perhaps it might be simply being web-savvy, or by using your written skills. Also, the photography world is relatively small, so get out there, chat to people at private views and fairs etc – as well as being a new friend, everyone you meet could be a useful contact at some point in the future.

“Still more silent were those narratives that did not reference the games at all – people continuing about their lives, absorbed in other things besides gold medals and multi-million pound sponsorship deals.

For some, the games barely registered on their radar. Clark’s photographs and the detritus he has collected from the borderlands of the Olympic zone attest, amongst other things, to lives lived below the horizon of this event. Thoughts of far smaller ceremonies.”

From ‘Travelling Back’ by Lewis Bush, published in ‘Direction of Travel’.


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