Mishka Henner as part of a college project recently set me a photo book brief, in which I had to choose a favored photo book, deconstruct it and then produce two images based around my findings. For my book I chose the previously mentioned “Trees from Germany”. This book obviously holds sentimental value for me, being based in Belfast, but I also felt the work would require an extensive investigation due to its complexity.

Below are my deconstruction notes and the two final images I produced.

Trees from Germany: John Duncan.
•    John Duncan is a documentary photographer from Belfast Northern
•    Current works as the editor for Source magazine
•    Apart from a personal, interest I thought it would be an interesting book to look at due to his day job as an Editor
•    Duncan has worked almost exclusively within Northern Ireland, and often staying within the boundaries of Belfast.
•    “Trees from Germany”, Duncan’s 2003 book exploring the ongoing regeneration of Belfast is a fascinating look into a City attempting to emerge from a troubled past.

Title: “Trees from German”
•    The title originates from the ideologies behind the peculiar and ironic notion of importing nature.
•    It reminds us how nothing is safe from the oddities that surround of regeneration and business in general.
•    Reinforces the idea of an instant gratification, things can be built to a particular schedule, but there is no time to wait for nature. (Planting new trees etc)
•    Made me think of plastic surgery, and how people in this day and age try to trick nature, by making themselves look younger.
•    It’s like the city is trying to fool us into believing that it looks natural.

The design and construction:
•    The physical design of the book, as in its appearance before you open it seems pretty standard. It’s maybe slightly longer in width than some other photo books.
•    One thing that is interesting is that it’s not a hardback as with most photo books. This could be a reference to some of this issues the book address’s. (i.e. construction and the rigid nature of building and such)
•    As for the layout within the book itself. Each image is placed on the right hand side of a double page spread. With nothing other than the title of the image on the left.
•    I assume this is the Robert Frank method of book printing, creating individual images within a series, and assuring that no one image is more important than the other and the viewer is not distracted by anything.

The role of introductory / contextual text:
•    The book has two short essays by David Brett and Glenn Patterson. Duncan himself has decided not to write a foreword.
•    Prior to that there is a three-line quote from Robert Lloyd Praeger, a prominent Irish historian and naturalist.
•    The two essays are split into a deconstruction of the images by Brett, which explores the images and concepts surrounding them.
•    Whereas Patterson, relates personal experiences to the work in a more literary manner. Almost like a short story to animate the images
•    This seems like an interesting way to approach the beginning of the book, both essays induce new thought process in different ways.

Recurring themes, signs and symbols:
•    Apart from the geographical themes (all images shot in Belfast) the most obvious recurring theme of the work must be the colour pallet Duncan uses.
•    Pale orange and the brownish tinge brick houses give off with the only bright colours coming from the first image, the blue truck cover.
•    The images also lack any real contrast; the light is soft and as Brett puts it “shadows less”.
•    There is a constant reference to old and new Belfast, on many occasions we see old Belfast set in the distant background.
•    It could be suggested that this is a positive reflection of the regeneration of Belfast as the old stereotype of Belfast and Northern Ireland takes a metaphorical backseat.
•    However I get the impression that it is more to emphasize the idea of a transitional period as opposed to and simple good vs. bad opinion.

•    There is a definite purposed sequence to this work, it begins with a trees being hauled into place, reminding of the title of the work.
•    Moving on to a look at the new developments of Belfast with there new nature. (Imported trees positioned in a row)
•    To a mix of old and new, with the old tower blocks barely visible in the background.
•    To a more clear view of old and new Belfast, reminding us that with the old city come old problem (loyalist murals) which won’t be going away with this regeneration
•    On to a more shocking view of the old with the debris of a 12th of July Bonfire in the foreground and a huge bonfire ready to be lit in the background. Being framed by the relatively new Days hotel.
•    And eventually ending with a shot over looking a small new housing development with some wasteland in the foreground which will no doubt be the grounds for the expansion of this housing estate in the background.

With both images I wanted to maintain a similar aesthetic to that of Duncan’s images. The light is a key factor in these two images and Duncan has softness to his images and has been described as “shadow less”. Luckily Blackpool, like Belfast, is not short of overcast cloudy days, which will produce this type of light. With the above image I held on to the central horizon line, strong leading lines taking us into the frame with an emphasis on construction, seen in the huge piles of ruble. Following the image through I wanted the “standard” homes to be creeping just over the top of the ruble, letting us know they are there but not as significant anymore. Finally as with Duncan’s work we have the traditional housing block in the distance, offering a reminder of the fail attempts in the past of previous regeneration.



With image two I continued this idea of displaying a transitional period within the frame along with the use of straight lines, in this case diagonals. The inclusion of the workman is again empathizing this idea of transition. There is an obvious human impact factor of regeneration and including the physical presence of a workman is an attempt to suggest this. The signage on the left hand side of the frame not only acts as a reminder of what is physically happening but also offers an image within an image. This is an artist’s impression of what these building aspire to be. Interestingly the dying weeds are locked away by this awful man made fence or being suffocated by the partially built wall. No doubt some awful fake potted plants or hanging baskets will be shipped in to take pride of place in the back “garden”.

Overall I was pretty happy with my results and it has given me confidence to pursue this type of project in the future should I decided too.

Off to email John Duncan now and ask him to check out this post. So if you’re reading this John, hello and thank you.