SEVENOAKS IN A TIME OF CHANGE: Dynamism Diversity Resilience
Sevenoaks 2020 is a photography project which celebrates the diversity and dynamism of the town centre and, hopefully, helps sustain its resilience.
It was conceived by Victoria Granville-Baxter as a riposte to the challenges faced by town centres in the age of internet and car-based out-of-town shopping at the time of the 900th anniversary of the first written record of Sevenoaks.
However, the rapid onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 presented – and will continue to present – a far greater and more intense challenge to the town’s businesses and activities. Most have, perforce, been stilled. And so the photographs have, thereby, taken on a greater significance as a portrait of a decisive moment in time
Undertaken by Victoria along with Elizabeth Purves and Roger Lee, work on the project began in late October 2019. The photography was completed in early May 2020. Over half of the images are of the individual businesses and activities along with the people who make them work. The remainder are shots of the premises of all the other businesses and activities which, for one reason or another, were unable fully to participate.
The photography and printing
A number of explicitly photographic decisions had to be taken at the outset and then had, of course, to be observed throughout.
Particularly important was the decision not to use a polarizing filter. This meant that apparently distracting reflections in the windows of many shops would be apparent. Retaining these reflections marked the fact that the project is about the town centre as a whole and the cheek-by-jowl relationships between activities rather than the individual activities themselves.
Despite the relevance and urgency of the project, it might have been expected that photographic boredom would quickly set in whilst taking 250 plus almost identical images. But exactly the opposite was the case. Each image posed unique questions.
The 250 or so images which involved both staff and premises are especially intriguing. They offer not only great variety in terms of the numbers of people involved – ranging from one person to over 30 – but also present fascinating differences arising from the relationships of the subjects between each other and with their place of work as well as with the photographer.
At the same time, however, all the photographs were given an essentially similar treatment to try to ensure visual comparability between them. And all were shot in mono. This ensures a degree of uniformity and helps avoid the kinds of distractions associated with colour photographs.
The same camera and lens (f2.8-4.0 24-90 mm zoom) was used throughout and, in making all the pictures, the same photographer occupied the space behind the viewfinder.
Graham Upton and Justin Rainey in the Print Studio of Sevenoaks DC printed all images onto vinyl paper at approximately A2 size and mounted them onto foam board.
The exhibition and book
The major outputs from Sevenoaks 2020 is the Kaleidoscope exhibition of photographs and an associated book-of-the-show. As Sevenoaks 2020 is all about demonstrating and reflecting the vibrancy of the town centre, it is the exhibition which gives the project its meaning and direction. Books are for private perusal whereas the exhibition, like the town centre itself, is a public space which is always experienced with others even when those others may be physically absent.
Purchase the book at Sevenoaks Book shop for £10 or via the exhibition website www.sevenoaks2020.com