Concerning Photography, Day 1: Institutions, Infrastructures and Pedagogies
Conference, Lecture – Shoair Mavlian, Anne McNeill, David Bate, Taous R Dahmani, Andrew Dewdney, Annebella Pollen, Karen Shepherdson, Juliet Hacking, Anne Lyden, Mahtab Hussain
- 25 November 2021
- 10:30 – 4:15 pm
- Th first day of an online conference marking 50 years of The Photographers Gallery.
10.30 Welcome by Mark Hallett (Director, Paul Mellon Centre) and Brett Rogers (Director, The Photographers' Gallery)
Panel 1: Institutions, Infrastructures
10.45 Shoair Mavlian (Chair) introduces panel 1
10.50 Anne McNeill, ‘Institutions, Infrastructure and Exhibitions: The Case of Impressions Gallery’
11.05 David Bate, ‘1979: A Snapshot of the UK’
11.20 Taous R Dahmani, ‘Creating Autograph ABP’
11.35 Questions from the audience chaired by Shoair Mavlian
12.05 Andrew Dewdney, ‘Forget Photography: The Arts Council and the Disappearance of Independent Photography in Neoliberal Britain’
12.20 Annebella Pollen, ‘Exploring our weaknesses on the international stage: British Council photography and self-critique in the 1970s and 1980s’
12.35 Questions from the audience and panel discussion, chaired by Shoair Mavlian
Panel 2: Pedagogies
14.15 Welcome back by Sarah Victoria Turner (Deputy Director, Paul Mellon Centre)
14.20 Karen Shepherdson (Chair) introduces panel 2
14.25 Juliet Hacking, ‘Talking Pictures: Teaching Photography as Art in Higher Education’
14.40 Anne Lyden, ‘The Glasgow Degree’
14.55 Questions from the audience and panel discussion, chaired by Karen Shepherdson
Panel 2: Keynote
15.20 Keynote introduction by Luisa Ulyett (Curator: Talks & Events, The Photographers' Gallery)
15:20 Artist Keynote, Mahtab Hussain
15.50 Keynote discussion and questions from the audience, moderated by Luisa Ulyett
Institutions, Infrastructures, 10.30–13.00
Anne McNeill (Curator and Director of Impressions Gallery), Institutions, Infrastructure and Exhibitions: The Case of Impressions Gallery
This paper will address the impact the UK’s independent photography galleries have had on shaping the ways in which photography has been encountered and understood; with particular reference to the role Impressions Gallery has played in the changes of attitudes to photography as to now having an accepted place within mainstream institutions and museums.
In 1972 Impressions was the first photography gallery in the UK to open outside London, and one of the first specialists in Europe. Back then, photography was undervalued in Britain, was not taken seriously with few opportunities to exhibit and our photography heritage relatively unknown or confined to an initiated few.
Opening in a room above a shop, Impressions has grown to be one of the UK’s leading independent venues for contemporary photography, championing photography in Britain and beyond. It has supported and encouraged photographers and artists who have challenged and changed photography.
Impressions has had an irreplaceable role in shaping the history of British photography; with its long history of exhibiting artists from culturally diverse or non-western backgrounds and a programme that has made central the viewpoints of those who are often marginalised and overlooked by majority culture. Visual case studies will include the critically acclaimed retrospective reassessing the work of Joy Gregory.
Impressions has given a platform to some of the best ideas that have emerged from our culture, presenting exhibitions that connect issues such as class, gender, race and identity. My presentation will be illustrated by the work of photographers the gallery has consistently supported to make new work, take creative risks and cement their career, such as Trish Morrissey.
The presentation will be informed by my experience of working at the radical gallery, Camerawork, in the early 80s, and as the founding director of the renowned commissioning agency Photoworks in 1995. As someone with direct experience of the photography scene in Britain in the 1980s and 90s, I aim to counter some of the misconceptions that have been presented in recent photographic institutional histories.
I will conclude that Impressions Gallery, and indeed all the other UK publicly funded, independent photography galleries (each with their own distinctive personalities), signalled the arrival of photography; placing it firmly on the centre stage of contemporary visual art practice long before it was accepted by mainstream institutions such as Tate. Without these galleries, it is unlikely that British photography would have developed into the successful medium it is today.
David Bate (Professor of Photography at the University of Westminster), 1979: A Snapshot of the UK
In 1979 the Three Perspectives of Photography exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London seemed to indicate a new phase of dialogue between art institutions and the growth of UK-based independent photography. Yet, at the same time, the growth of photography-based institutions also seemed to indicate a healthy development of new critical photographic practices. 1979 was also the year that ‘Thatcherism’ began its governmental project to change Britain. In the conflictual politics and aesthetics of these different factors, the year 1979 represents a pivotal moment in the repositioning of the relations between photography, art and the politics of culture. This talk examines the conflicting dynamics of this cultural period.
Taous R. Dahmani (PhD Candidate in the History of Art Department at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Creating Autograph ABP
Since its creation in 1988, Autograph ABP has aimed at defending the work and supporting author-photographers from the Caribbean, African and Indian diasporas, first in England and then beyond. Initially a utopian idea, then a very practical and political project and finally a hybrid institution, Autograph ABP has presented itself in turn as an association, an agency, an archive, a research centre, a publishing house and an exhibition space. To tell the story of Autograph ABP is to tell the story of its evolution, that of a militant space having become a cultural institution. To tell the story of Autograph ABP is also to tell the story of the people who created and crafted it. This paper is an initial proposal both to tell the story of the creation of the institution and begin to conceptualise its stages and, as such, recognise three essential moments in the history of the institutionalisation of Autograph: the first encompasses the 1980s and the events that introduced the creation and structuring of the project, which took the form of an association in 1988; the second, from 1991, corresponds to the restructuring of Autograph, its professionalisation and its progressive establishment in the British and international cultural landscape; the third and final period begins in
2007 with its definitive installation as an artistic and cultural institution, and the inauguration of its building in East London. These three moments in the evolution of Autograph ABP have distinct – though sometimes overlapping – stakes. The early stages were mainly about the creation and formalisation of an artistic and intellectual community (identification of peers, grouping, joint projects); they fostered a sense of belonging, of solidarity and nourished a strong opposition to the status quo imposed by traditional artistic institutions such as Tate or the V&A. The second moment existed primarily through the idea of giving back to its original community of photographers and making it known to the established art world. It focused on a long quest for legitimacy since, until the end of the twentieth century, Black British photographers were practically absent from the official circuit as producers and authors. The third phase, inaugurated at the turn of the new millennium, was that of inscribing its space in the long term as an ‘established counter-power’, oscillating between a formal artistic institution and the impediment of going against the grain.
Andrew Dewdney (Professor of Educational Media at London South Bank University), Forget Photography: The Arts Council and the Disappearance of Independent Photography in Neoliberal Britain
This paper starts from the perspective that for some time we have been living with photography’s afterlife in which contemporary photography is a ruined territory populated by archaic knowledge practices. The way out of photography explored in this paper is through forgetting the spectral presence of photography in order, on the one hand, to see the new conditions of the image and, on the other, to witness the trauma of photography’s several deaths. This is achieved by a trick of adopting the future present from which photographic knowledge practices of collection, exhibition and archiving appear as discontinuous with the present and capable of cold case reinvestigation. The art museum has absorbed photography through a process of modernist purification, continually expunging the hybrids of the contemporary image and hence, paradoxically, admits not a medium capable of examining the present but photography as heritage.
In November 2014, Tate released a press statement announcing its ‘continuing commitment to photography’. Like a guilty secret, the phrase introduces a note of doubt on the very thing it claims to have, a commitment to photography, as if Tate knew there was a whispering campaign which said, ‘Tate has never been committed to photography’. Photography in Britain, under the odd title ‘independent photography’ delineated a category of documentary photography distinct from the commercial and industrial. Independent photography was also considered distinct from photography in contemporary art and was championed and supported by the Arts Council of Great Britain through a photography committee established by Barry Lane. Lane built up considerable influence within visual arts at the Arts Council, with an increasing annual budget to support independent photographers and award grants to independent photography and galleries. British independent photography was forged by the consequences of deindustrialisation and the callous support of a Conservative-led state, which was resisted by communities and trade unions and led to social strife and displacement. This was the context in which renewed social documentary and community photographic practices emerged, which were disdained by the British art establishment. Barry Lane left the Arts Council in 1995 as a consequence of its decision to dissolve the photography panel, annexing its budget to visual arts on the very argument that there was no longer any distinction between photography and art. Thus, one obstacle to admitting photography to the art museum had been removed.
Annebella Pollen (Reader in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton), Exploring Our Weaknesses on the International Stage: British Council Photography and Self-critique in the 1970s and 1980s
The British Council, established 1934, has used art for cultural dialogue with over a hundred countries for more than eight decades. Initially funded by the Foreign Office but latterly receiving only a small fraction of its income from government, the art exhibited by the British Council can challenge as well as complement parliamentary agendas. This presentation outlines how photography in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s tested the Council’s principle of ‘arm’s length’ independence through its national messaging in international exhibitions. Art’s new and expanded forms, encompassing performance, installation and conceptual photography, challenged the supremacy of easel painting and plinth-based sculpture in the 1970s but it also posed challenges to the British Council. New forms provided new provocations but art’s most avant-garde manifestations and its increasingly explicit politics also led to controversy. The Council worried in 1979 about the extent to which ‘missions abroad could be seriously embarrassed by the use of public funds to support artists whose work ran directly contrary to what the Government was trying to achieve’. With the establishment of a dedicated photographic exhibition and purchasing strategy for the Council’s Fine Arts department in 1982, led by a young Brett Rogers, national communication again came under scrutiny. Reflecting a decade when photographers, from Paul Graham to Anna Fox, used their cameras in the service of political critique, Council exhibitions featuring this work travelled across Europe and South America. Photographs of urban decline and political conflict proved popular with local audiences but confused some British expatriates and ambassadors who wished for more promotional national content. These mixed reactions highlight a key sticking point about British art in international cultural relations. Is its purpose, as cultural critic Richard Hoggart asked in 1986, to show ‘the cleanly scrubbed best face of British society, a face which exhibits all that is positive and instantaneously cheering in the nation’s life’? Hoggart posited, instead, that ‘the arts may be doing their best work for us, and for the understanding of us by others, when they are exploring our weaknesses’. Photographs, this presentation will argue, for all their reality effects, are always more than a straight messaging system. They can clarify but they can also complicate. In the context of British Council travelling exhibitions, always enmeshed in the communication and renegotiation of national identity, photographs’ complexities and uncertainties make them risky ambassadors but also potentially profound sites for international engagement.
Juliet Hacking (Programme Director of the MA in Contemporary Art, and Subject Leader in Photography, at Sotheby’s Institute of Art),
Talking Pictures: Teaching Photography as Art in Higher Education
This talk examines key moments in the teaching of photography as a creative practice in relation to particular art historiographies of photography, comparing the UK to US and European models, and arguing for a cohesiveness of photographic aesthetics in mid-century US teaching that was not mirrored in the UK in the 1970s. In the mid-twentieth century, two dominant models of artistic photographic pedagogy would emerge in the US: one, a facet of what I have called elsewhere ‘Aspen modernism’ (associated with MoMA in the 1940s and the journal Aperture in the 50s and beyond) and the other, a facet of what we might call the ‘New Bauhaus’ model (associated with Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes, among others). In Europe, from 1959, Otto Steinert at the Folkwangschule in Essen, Germany inculcated his students with the values of subjective photography, less a codified aesthetic perhaps than a stand against the yoke of commercial imperatives. These pedagogic models would substantially inform the eventual emergence of credit-bearing courses in higher education.
By 1979, when Marta Rosler was identifying ‘a new intelligentsia of photography…currently developing in university programmes’, the scenario in the UK was somewhat different: the teaching of photography as an art form was predominantly the province of the art and design colleges and the polytechnics. The UK’s ‘new intelligentsia’ of photography were substantially on the outside of academia’s ivory towers. What did this mean for the teaching of photography as an art form? Tracing specific pedagogic approaches and the photographic aesthetics that they promoted, this study endeavours to lay the foundations for a more macro-analysis: the nexus between the classroom, photographic historiography and institutional photographic culture.
Anne Lyden (Chief Curator, Photography, National Galleries of Scotland), The Glasgow Degree
The Glasgow School of Art was the first of its kind in Europe to offer a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art Photography. This paper will explore how this came to be, by considering the national and international forces at play alongside key individuals and their contributions to formal education in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s.
The establishment of the Fine Art Photography degree at Glasgow required legislative changes and approval from both the Scottish Education Department and the British degree-awarding body, the Council for National Academic Awards. It was borne out of the vision of Tony Jones, Director of Glasgow School of Art, and Bill Buchanan, Head of Fine Art. Jones had spent time working in the Department of Art and Art History at the Texas Christian University at Fort Worth. When he returned to Scotland in 1980, he brought back an international outlook and a desire to shake up the existing departmental structures. At the time, many schools offered technical classes but few institutions allowed photography courses to count toward a fine art degree.
There were changes already happening in Europe but while the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany had appointed Bernd Becher Professor of Fine Art Photography in 1976 – the first such position at a German art academy – the degree awarded to his students was in Fine Art, not Fine Art Photography. Glasgow therefore became the first art school in Europe to offer a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art Photography.
The degree course was created and taught by Thomas Joshua Cooper, himself a graduate of the Photography programme at the University of New Mexico in the United States. Although a native Californian, Cooper was no stranger to the UK, having previously taught at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham alongside Paul Hill and Raymond Moore during the mid-1970s. In addition, Cooper had exhibited his work at several British institutions, with his first solo show held at The Photographers’ Gallery in 1974.
The introduction of this new degree course coincided with the formation of the Scottish National Photography Collection held within the National Galleries of Scotland. Through first-person interviews and research of institutional archives, I will demonstrate how the Glasgow degree was a defining moment in formalising photographic education during the 1980s and was a catalyst for the growing photographic community in Scotland and beyond.
Mahtab Hussain (Artist)
Mahtab Hussain will be presenting a talk around his practice and research, discussing important themes around, immigration, representation, self-hood and the power of the gaze through portraiture. He will also discuss why community collaboration is important to respond to the poor visibility and stereotyping of Muslims communities globally, and how, through the power of gallery walls, a different conversation can take place – one that not only challenges across all spectrums but uplifts and enriches the understanding of a community that has felt silent and muzzled.
There will be an exclusive in his talk: Mahtab Hussain has agreed to share some portraits from Muslims in America, a new body of work in collaboration with Chris Boot as producer and editor; Boot’s first public project since leaving Aperture in May 2021 and supported by East Wing.
About the speakers
Shoair Mavlian is Director of Photoworks. She is responsible for the strategic vision and artistic direction of the organisation including exhibitions, publishing, digital content and learning, and engagement. From 2011–2018 Mavlian was Assistant Curator, Photography and International Art at Tate Modern, London, where she curated exhibitions including Don McCullin (2019), Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art (2018), The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography From the Sir Elton John Collection (2016) and Conflict, Time, Photography (2014). While at Tate Modern she helped build the photography collection and curated collection displays enjoyed by over five million visitors per year. In 2018 she was named one of Apollo magazine’s 40 under 40 Europe – Thinkers.
Recent Photoworks projects include Photoworks Festival: Propositions for Alternative Narratives (2020), Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Zone Grise/The Land in Between (MEP, Paris 2019) and Brighton Photo Biennial: A New Europe (2018).
Anne McNeill has played a role in British photography as curator, editor and writer in a career spanning nearly four decades. She began her career in the darkrooms at Camerawork 1984, founding Director of Photoworks 1995 and Artistic Director of Photo98, the UK Year of Photography. Since 2000, McNeill is the Director of Impressions Gallery, a charity that helps people understand the world through photography.
Recent writing includes Zanele Muholi (2019) Granta Art+Photography and Being Inbetween (Bluecoat Press, 2020).
Her most recent project In Which Language Do We Dream? (2021) considers the power of authentic representation from the photographic perspective of a Syrian refugee family. This is a co-authored exhibition, with McNeill guiding the photographic selection through collaboration and discussion with socially engaged photographer Rich Wiles and the al-Hindawi family.
David Bate is photographic artist, historian and Professor of Photography at the University of Westminster in London. UK. Publications include: Photography: Art Essentials (Thames & Hudson, 2021), Photography as Critical Practice: Notes on Otherness (University of Chicago/Intellect, 2020), Photography: Key Concepts (Routledge, 2019), Art Photography (Tate Publications, 2015), Zone (Artwords, 2012), Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent (London: IB Tauris, 2004) and Zero Culture (Danielle Arnaud, 2000). He is co-editor of Photographies journal (Oxford: Routledge) and has made many contributions to the history, theory and practice of photography.
Taous R. Dahmani is a PhD candidate in the History of Art Department at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is writing a thesis in the history of photography, under the supervision of Professor Michel Poivert, and has taught the history of twentieth-century photography there for three years. She is the recipient of the Prix de la Chancellerie and as a consequence was based in Oxford at the Maison Française in 2019/2020. Her thesis is entitled Direct Action Photography: A Typography of the Photographic Representation of Struggles and the Struggle for Photographic Representations (London, 1968–1989). Her chapter on Polareyes, a 1987 Black British female photographic journal, is forthcoming in Feminist and Queer Activism in Britain and the United States in the Long 1980s, (SUNY, 2021). In October 2020 she organised and convened the conference Let Us Now Praise Famous Women: Women’s Labour to Uncover the Works of Female Photographers at the Weston Library, University of Oxford. She is also editor and content advisor for The Eyes magazine and a trustee of the Photo Oxford Festival.
Andrew Dewdney is Co-director and Co-founder of The Centre for the Study of the Networked Image, and Professor of Educational Media at London South Bank University. He has written and lectured widely on new media and museology. His new book Forget Photography (2021) is published by Goldsmiths Press. Of particular note to this paper is that he chaired the Arts Council Photography Advisory Panel between 1992–95.
Dr Annebella Pollen is Reader in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton. She has published on the history of photography in Britain. Her books include Mass Photography: Collective Histories of Everyday Life (2015) and Photography Reframed: New Visions in Contemporary Photographic Culture (2018, co-edited with Ben Burbridge). She has two new books forthcoming: Nudism in a Cold Climate, a study of British nude photography, 1920s-1970s, and Art Without Frontiers, a commissioned history of the British Council’s art collection and its use in international cultural relations since 1935.
Dr Karen Shepherdson is Programme Director and Reader for Photography at London College of Communication. Karen is a recognised academic researcher and practitioner within the field of photography. Since 2016 she has been a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College and in 2017 was appointed Co-editor of the Journal for Photography and Culture (with special responsibility for Europe and the UK). She considers her roles as curator, writer, practising artist and academic researcher emphatically supportive of each other, with research underpinning practice and practice illuminating research and teaching. Prior to joining UAL, Karen was Co-director of the Centre for Research on Communities and Cultures and also Director of Postgraduate Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University’s School of Creative Arts and Industries. Karen has supervised and examined PhD and Masters by Research students and has designed learning materials specifically for practice-based postgraduate researchers. She has a continued an interest in theory-practice interchange.
Juliet Hacking is the Programme Director of the MA in Contemporary Art, and Subject Leader in Photography, at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. She is the General Editor of Photography: The Whole Story (2012; 2021); author of Lives of the Great Photographers (2015) [both Thames & Hudson], author of Photography and the Art Market (Lund Humphries, 2018) and the Co-editor (with Joanne Lukitsh) of Photography & the Arts: Essays on 19th-Century Practices and Debates (Bloomsbury, 2020). She is also Co-series Editor of Hot Topics in the Art World with Lund Humphries (forthcoming, beginning October 2021).
Anne Lyden is Chief Curator, Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh where she is responsible for a collection of 55,000 photographs. Prior to joining NGS, Anne was Associate Curator of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. She has curated numerous exhibitions, including the work of Hill and Adamson, Paul Strand and Diane Arbus. She is the author of several books including, Railroad Vision: Photography, Travel and Perception (2003), The Photographs of Frederick H. Evans (2010), A Royal Passion: Photography and Queen Victoria (2014) and, most recently, A Perfect Chemistry: The Photographs of Hill & Adamson (2017).
British artist Mahtab Hussain (b. 1981) explores the significant relationships between identity, heritage and displacement. His themes develop through long-term research, articulating a visual language that challenges the prevailing concepts of multiculturalism. He received his BA in History of Art at Goldsmith’s College, London, specialising in postcolonialism and photography (2002) and his MA in Museum and Gallery Management from City University, London (2006). He completed his MA in Photography at Nottingham Trent University in 2013.
His You Get Me? series focused on young working class Asian men in contemporary Britain. The exhibition was curated by Mark Sealy and launched at Autograph ABP, London in 2017 before travelling on to Impressions Gallery, Bradford and Gallery Oldham. His Going Back Home to Where I Came From, series made in Kashmir and Pakistan explored ideas around homeland, loss, memory and the overview effect, and was exhibited at New Art Gallery Walsall. His Honest With You series is about femininity, sisterhood, resistance and the political defiance of British Muslim women.
Mahtab Hussain has been recipient of numerous awards and commissions from institutions including; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; New Art Exchange, Nottingham; Arts Council England; and the Arts Humanities Research Council. He was also winner of the Curators Choice Award, Culture Cloud at New Art Exchange and Format 13 Portfolio Review Award for most significant review. Hussain was selected as the 2015 Light Work + Autograph ABP Artist-in-Residence, and was chosen from five hundred international artists to be ‘discovery artist’ under the prestigious Discoveries Award in 2016 at Houston FotoFest.
01 Dec 2021
Concerning Photography, Day 2: Material, Process and Magazine, Books
02 Dec 2021
Concerning Photography, Day 3: Exhibitions, Touring and Archival Futures