‘Community Photography’: Radicalism and a Culture of Protest in the London-based Photography Collectives of the 1970s
Community photography in Britain in the 1970s was born of a convergence of political and artistic concerns and thrived in the economic and political upheavals of the time. The London of the 1970s produced an extensive network of radical photography collectives whose members worked together, fell in and out with one another, and, I propose, contributed to a paradigm shift in visual presentation. The collectives in question are Exit Photography Group, the Hackney Flashers, North Paddington Community Darkroom and Blackfriars Settlement, viewed through the lens of the radical photo journal Camerawork. My scope encompasses oral history and analyses of the archives of Camerawork journal and Exit Photography Group, together with an interrogation of the theoretical bases for these projects within an historical perspective. As the Statement of Aims in the first issue of Camerawork in 1976 makes clear, there was a single purpose in bringing together the Half Moon Gallery and the Photography Workshop, publisher of Camerawork: ‘The running of the Half Moon Photography Workshop will reflect our central concern in photography, which is not, ‘Is it Art?’ but, ‘Who is it for?’
‘Community photography’ built on the desire for socially concerned documentary. But it also went beyond this because it was motivated by a desire to work against and around the established means of production and distribution in the photography world that many felt excluded a large chunk of the population. By the means of production and distribution, I mean the cost and availability of film stock, developing materials and darkrooms; and by distribution the newspapers and magazines that were owned by large commercial organisations. It was about strengthening the hand of those in the photographs and giving them a possibility to take photographs of themselves and their environment.
It is this question of dissolving the boundary between the observer and observed that lies at the heart of this research. It is the question of ‘who’ in these projects - whether behind or before the camera - that generates questions about autonomy, process and production, and the formation of a network of influences and associations that enabled these projects to thrive at this time.
My PhD research is funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I am attached to Photography and the Archive Research Centre at University of the Arts London. I completed my MA in the history and theory of photography at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in 2010 (awarded Distinction, 2011). Before returning to education, I worked as a freelance picture editor and researcher for publications such as Guardian Weekend Magazine, The Guardian and The Independent on Sunday. I have also worked as a TV news producer and journalist.
Talks, conference papers, seminar and workshop presentations:
- 'Photography for the Community: How the London-based Photography Collectives of the 1970s Showed Different Ways of Seeing', conference paper, Counterculture and its Legacies, 1966-77, Association of Art Historians 40th Anniversary Conference, Royal College of Art, London, 2014
- 'Different Ways of Seeing: Community Photography in the London-based Photography Collectives of the 1970s', conference paper, Dissent!: Histories and Meanings of Opposition from 1968 to the Present, Aalborg University, Denmark, 2014
- ‘Women and Work, 1975’, article on the Hackney Flashers in Aperture magazine as part of a series of articles highlighting forgotten exhibitions, ‘Photography as you don’t know it’ (Winter 2013)
- Study day on community photography for PARC’s Moose on the Loose Biennale 2013, organiser and presenter, 'Community Matters: Photography Collectives of the 1970s, and Today’
- ‘Nobody told us about it’: Socialising photo-history, invited speaker, convened by Laura Guy, PhD Candidate, Manchester School of Art, with support from the North East Photography Network, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland, 2013
- 'Different Ways of Seeing: Camerawork in Northern Ireland in the 1970s', conference paper, War in the Visual Arts, University College, Cork, Ireland, 2013
- ‘Contemporary Photography, Community and the Positive View’, chaired by Charlotte Cotton for Art13 Talk, panel member, Olympia 2013
- Excerpts from MA dissertation ‘Community Photography in Britain in the 1970s: Photography, Pedagogy and Dreams’ (Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London, 2011), published in the National Media Museum’s online magazine Archive, 2011