Photomarathon Sheffield 2016: My Kind of Marathon

On Saturday 8th October I was one of the lucky 150 amateur (that’s me) to professional photographers that got to take part in Sheffield’s inaugural Photo Marathon. Put simply the brief was to take six photos, on six topics, in six hours. Phones or digital cameras could be used (I used my phone), and the photos had to be taken in order of the topics, which presented a unique challenge. The six topics were based on the theme of making, to complement Sheffield’s Year of Making 2016 which has been showcasing Sheffield’s creative community city wide this year. The topics were, in order: Making Shapes, Making a Noise, Making History, Making a Meal, Making Connections, and Making Faces.
Prizes were given for the Winner, Runner Up, and the special pick by Our Favourite Places for each topic (which you can browse here), but the photos of everyone who entered are currently being exhibited in the Millennium Gallery and you should absolutely check it out. So interesting to see Sheffield captured in one day, from so many perspectives.

My personal favourite of the winners is Jonathan Mordecai’s photo for “Making Connections”. There’s just something about those impromptu moments, when you catch someone breaking from the norm. When I manage to snap those moments they are always my favourite photos but there’s something really powerful about this image, especially contrasted against the people passing by, not paying attention. This photo literally captures a man going against the stream, engaging in a quiet and personal experience.
I’m so glad that Jonathan was able to capture this moment and fit it into the allotted sequence of topics. I’m not sure how I feel about the strict order that was required, I understand that it was intended to foster creativity but did feel that it also hampered the spontaneity that sometimes produces some of the best photographs. There were quite a few instances during the day where I had a fantastic opportunity to take a photo but it just wasn’t going to fit in with the order, or the time limit wouldn’t allow me to retake previous photos. Tricky, tricky!
Having to submit the last six photos, in order, was also the reason I opted to use my phone instead of my actual camera. For taking the photos this wasn’t too much of an issue as the camera on my phone has a pro mode and honestly does a pretty great job, but it made the submission process a lot easier as instead of having to delete all of the extra photos I’d taken that day, I could just quickly move the extras to another folder on my phone and leave behind my final choices. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been, for those using their digital cameras, to delete photos they loved. I guess if they brought laptops with them then they could have done the same as me but that takes up precious photo taking time! I’d have loved to have gotten some practise in with my camera but it just wasn’t practical.
On the day, I waited until the topics had been posted online, did a quick little bit of research, then headed down to the Winter Garden where I was given a badge, the rules, a map, and some discounts. I had a vague plan of action and some of the photos were definitely easier than others, some topics I honestly just completely failed to find inspiration. At times it was frustrating and I just wanted to get past a topic so ended up with one or two photos that I’m not necessarily that fussed about. My first photo though, was one of those happenstance moments.

Making Shapes

My original plan for this had been to head to Sheffield Cathedral to photograph the beautiful stained glass of the Lantern Tower, which I did, before heading to the back of City Hall to capture the rounded columns there and pick between the two. When I got there however, I noticed a man painting the door of a building I’d never noticed before. The elaborate stone sign above the doorway read “Science School” and the man beneath it was slowly filling in the doors with black paint, quite literally making shapes. Sometimes a moment just feels right and this was one of those, having been told that I must have the permission of any subjects of photos however, I realised I would need to talk to him! It’s an odd thing to approach a stranger in the street, there’s always that immediate wariness in their eyes. I quickly explained what I was doing and it turned out that I had no reason to be nervous. The lovely man, Richard, gave me his email address so that I could send him copies of my photos, and happily resumed painting as I snapped away. This is probably my most favourite photo of the lot, simply because for me it now represents having overcome a small fear of mine and opened up the possibility that I might engage in street photography a little more in future.

Making Noise

Having made this little bit of progress, I sort of stumbled on the next topic. I spotted fellow photographers capturing the many buskers but what I really wanted to do was to take a photo of some of the grocers or butchers in the Moor Market. The atmosphere in there really is incredible, there were many opportunities that would have been perfect for this topic or even for Making a Meal. I couldn’t quite work up the courage to brazenly stand there taking photos of the vendors though, and interrupting their busy work seemed like a momentous ask! As a result I ended up taking a photo of the, still lovely, stone carving above the entrance to the iconic music venue of The Leadmill. Lesson learnt though, where you don’t confront your fears you’re always going to feel slightly crappy about having to live with the outcome! (N.B. Apply to the rest of my life)

Making History

There were so many potential options for this, what with Sheffield’s rich history of making, industry, and protest. I chose however to take a picture of Sheffield Archives; as a Librarian the subject of conserving history is close to my heart. The building itself has those strong, 30’s lines that contrast with the slightly dilapidated, not-been-loved-since-the-80’s look that seems to creep in round the edges of so many places in Sheffield.
I would honestly love to be let loose in those archives, but would quite happily settle for browsing some of the photos freely available to view through Picture Sheffield, a service provided by Sheffield Archives. It is stuffed with so many pictures of Sheffield in days gone by including this one of Shoreham Street, pre-Archives and Showroom cinema!

Making a Meal

Halfway through, and after making my own meal (a quick toasted sandwich whilst recharging my phone in Nero’s …) I snapped this little picture of some pigeons enjoying their own lunch. I’m 50/50 on whether this is good or not, but I think there’s almost an element of that golden ratio in the composition which I quite like.

Making Connections

I love people watching at transport hubs, I actually took a few pictures of a couple having an intimate and prolonged goodbye, but wasn’t able to ask for their permission to enter the pictures into the competition. They reminded me of Will and Lyra and their Daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials though, I could tell that they really did not want to be apart from each other. When the train left it felt like that moment when Lyra leaves Pantalaimon, to enter the Land of the Dead, tearing them apart. (Apologies if that makes no sense to you … but I heartily recommend reading His Dark Materials!)
I like this photo too though, the way the lines are all neatly parallel with each other, the train guard having a quiet moment to himself and providing a dark focal point, and the guy doing that half walk/half run that we’ve all done when we need to make our connection but don’t want to look too uncool. You may have noticed by this point that all these photos seem to be in black and white, I honestly didn’t intend for that to be the case but it just felt right on the day.

Making Faces

This one seemed like the most obvious, there are so many wonderful murals all around Sheffield, although the recent spate of vandalism that’s occurred since then is very disappointing. I figured it would just be a matter of picking one. I have to be honest, I was flagging at this point. My fitbit told me afterwards that I’d walked 6.4 miles, 15,500 steps, and over 40 flights of stairs … darn Sheffield hills! (I do realise that is hardly a marathon, but it was a long time to be concentrating so hard on something and I was pooped haha) In the end though, I found this guy tucked away between the wonderful Tamper and LP Record store. I had a few other options lined up but there was something about the chain that made this a little more interesting for me, so that was my final choice. This was definitely one of those where I would have appreciated the chance to do a little editing but I guess that wasn’t the point!
So, I trudged up to the Millennium Gallery one last time and perched inside the entrance, with half an hour to go, archiving all the excess photos before handing over my final 6 and going home to have fun editing the rest! I’d love to take part again next year, although it’d be interesting to see what changes, if any, will be made to the rules after this first event. The exhibition is on all month and as a participant it was fun to try and find my pictures as well as to see all the other great entries, I imagine it must have been a very tough decision to pick the winners! I’d definitely recommend going to check them out and entering yourself next year!
The Handmade for Christmas shop is also open in the gallery now and I’ve already been in, of course. It’s stuffed to the gills with beautiful presents and a little browse of the marathon photos followed by a sneaky purchase for yourself … or another … is the perfect way to top off a Year of Making in Sheffield, 2016

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