The “This is where…” project ran from the 30th March to the 5th April in Bournemouth library and was a great insight into Bournemouth through the eyes of those that live here.
The project’s aim was to rediscover everyday places through lived experience. We asked for memories, observations, reflections and stories people might want to share about places they felt an affinity with and felt were part of their own story. These were recorded on digital audio.
There is a dedicated local history scene in Bournemouth and I was lucky enough to spend some time with the members of some of the different groups. It added another layer of texture to talk to people who have historical insights into the locations they chose.
The age range of the participants was wide, from people in their mid thirties to late eighties. This added a rich diversity to the body of stories.
When I was researching images of locations to display in the exhibition which accompanied the project (to act as a prompt to spark potential stories) I came across pictures of a cinema that had been bombed on May 23rd 1943. Bournemouth has had some great cinemas over the years, being a resort town. I didn’t include these images as I thought it unlikely there would be anyone passing through the library old enough to have personally witnessed the event. And yet I found myself sitting talking with a couple that could both clearly remember that afternoon. John, who had been talking with his friend at the back fence, saw three planes passing overhead and “dived indoors under the stairs”. Eileen, on her way to the very cinema (it was a Sunday) arrived shortly after the bombing. “Ooh, it’s gone! We were most put out”.
Interestingly, a largely untold story of poverty in Bournemouth was touched on. A couple of participants described areas of deprivation not found in the postcards of the 1930s seaside town.
There was a, and I use the word advisedly, pyschogeographical quality emerging as certain areas and a particular associated mood came up repeatedly.
The River Stour, and Throop Mill for example – what appeared to me to be the border between civilization and wilderness for the Bournemouth kids of the 1950s. Where the town ended and the countryside began. Groups of friends setting off unaccompanied, jam jars in hand. Boundaries. Different ideas of safety and danger, past and present, emerged.
Planes came up a lot. The airport. The air shows at Meyrick Park. The aeronautical industry has been a big part of the local history since the turn of the century. Eileen and John talked about an incident at the old racecourse at Ensbury Park, where horses, planes and motorbikes were raced in the 1920s. People also mentioned relocating to Bournemouth as children as family members were employed at the airport or associated industries.
Filming at the end of Bournemouth pier, with the Carlos’ story (which you can see here) fresh in my mind, I felt there was something slightly lost about the space. Stuck between heritage and underwhelming funfair. The aerial runway seemed a glimpse into possible imaginative future uses. It felt like seeing an old bewildered workhorse still in harness. I wanted to juxtapose this to the narrative to explore the changing role of the pier in the life and experience of Bournemouth’s local people.
The sea, maybe unsurprisingly was a popular subject. The pull of the sea, the way the sea reflected and influenced the storytellers’ moods and the soothing effect of the sea’s power.
I revisited the locations after the interviews and photographed or filmed details. As a lot of the stories were historical some of the locations had completely changed. Some had changed surprisingly little.
I am interested in allowing connections to be created through the films. I wanted to use them to look under the surface of the everyday, re-examining these specific environments, using the camera like some kind of sonar, looking for clues, some details that I could ‘ping’ off, and find some kind of connection that slipped through time. I was looking for some kind of continuity in the landscape, like the sound of the water rushing through the sluice gates in Dorothy’s story on Throop Mill (which you can see here).
So out I went, wielding the camera like a metal detector finding possible resonances that might chime with the stories while being conscious of the need to respect the integrity of the stories.
It was interesting as I was editing the audio and the films to see the project change as it grew from one story to a few stories and a community began to emerge.
There was a tension between traditional oral history and personal storytelling in this project that would be interesting to explore.
“The analytical historian's business is to disentangle shred by shred like plucking the strand out of a rope. The result is the length of the rope but only one strand’s thickness, and although the strand may still be twisted from its position among the other strands it is presented nevertheless alone. The poet might be compared to a man who cuts a short section of the whole rope. The only thing is he must cut it where it will not fall to pieces.”
Humphrey Jennings Pandaemonium