Concerning Photography, Day 2: Material, Process and Magazine, Books
Conference, Lecture – Maitreyi Maheshwari, Mo White, Katrina Sluis, Dr Rowan Lear, Peter Ride, Diane Smyth, Derek Bishton, John Wyver, David Brittain, Jacqueline Ennis-Cole, Penny Slinger, Laura Smith
- 1 December 2021
- 10:30 – 7:40 pm
- The second day of an online conference marking 50 years of The Photographers Gallery.
10.30 Welcome by Jon Uriarte (Curator: Digital, The Photographers' Gallery)
Panel 3: Material, Process
10.45 Maitreyi Maheshwari (Chair) Introduces panel 3
10.50 Mo White, ‘The Use of Photography in Artists’ Slide-tape Works in the UK Since the 1970s’
11.05 Katrina Sluis, ‘Glimmering Screens, Institutional Dreams: Curating Post-Photography'
11.20 Questions from the audience chaired by Maitreyi Maheshwari
11.50 Rowan Lear, ‘Honey on the Elbow: Sticky networks, invisible workers and planetary processing’
12.05 Peter Ride, ‘Stepping into Space: new media practice and independent photography galleries’
12.20 Questions from the audience and panel discussion, chaired by Maitreyi Maheshwari
Panel 4: Magazines, Books
14.00 Welcome back by Anna Dannemann (Senior Curator: Exhibitions at The Photographers' Gallery)
14.05 Diane Smyth (Chair) introduces Panel 4
14.10 Derek Bishton, ‘Ten.8 Photographic Magazine 1978–1992’
14.25 John Wyver, ‘Screening photography: BBC Television's Presentation of Photography, 1969–1988’
14.40 Questions from the audience chaired by Diane Smyth
15.10 David Brittain, 'In-house publications of The Photographers' Gallery: 1970–80'
15.25 Jacqueline Ennis-Cole, ‘Photobooks 1980 – Black Women Photographers’
15.40 Questions from the audience and panel discussion, chaired by Diane Smyth
Keynote: 'Photography and Collage in the Art of Performance'
18:30 Welcome by Sarah Victoria Turner (Deputy Director, Paul Mellon Centre)
18:40 Keynote by Penny Slinger with Laura Smith as interlocutor
19.10 Questions from the audience moderated by Laura Smith
Material, Process, 10.30–12.45
Mo White (Lecturer in Fine Art at Loughborough University), The Use of Photography in Artists’ Slide-tape Works in the UK Since the 1970s
This paper will locate the use of photography in slide-tape works by artists during the late 1970s and 1980s in the UK. Slide-tape was a series of projected 35mm photographic slides with a synchronised audio soundtrack, using two or more projectors to fade between one image and another. As a technology, it is significant in the UK for being used by a number of key and emerging artists for a brief period before being abandoned. The moment when these artists’ slide-tape works circulated has been largely forgotten and the paper will consider this and the importance of slide-tape as an experimental tool used in artists' projected works.
Slide-tape was a time-based media form, with the technology – the slide projector – itself having a distinct presence in the live performance of the work.
Whilst slide-tape used the elements of time and sound, it was underpinned by photography which, as the slide transparency contained the qualities of both the still photograph and cinematic film, it then sought to combine. In the US, the projected image itself had produced formal interventions by gallery artists in the mid-1960s to 1970s but this was later taken up by artists in the UK in different social and political contexts, and with quite different approaches. The subject matter of works was critical and made relatively quickly in response to current issues that aligned to the issue-based work of the period. The projected image was often used with a spoken soundtrack narrating and addressing the concerns in the work, namely gender and race. Amongst the artists who used the medium were Black Audio Film Collective and Keith Piper, as well as Tina Keane and others who took part in the key exhibition About Time: Video, Performance and Installation by 21 Women Artists, which took place at the ICA, London in 1980.
In the paper I will account for the emergence of this work in the UK and suggest that slide-tape allowed for artists’ experimental work where the simultaneous projection of images and sound were transformed to establish a new medium, one in which the photographic was included, and consider the reasons for its sudden demise.
Katrina Sluis (Associate Professor and Head of Photography & Media Arts at the School of Art & Design, Australian National University),
Glimmering Screens, Institutional Dreams: Curating Post-Photography
Over the past two decades, photography institutions have faced an extraordinary challenge conceptualising how they exhibit contemporary photography and engage their audiences amidst a maelstrom of technological change. Confronted with the excessive scale of networked images, major art and photography museums have adopted a number of strategies, including thematic exhibitions in which information and image surplus is subjected to an art historical lens. These shows tend to position socio-technical change as always already a project of the artist, and map a familiar trajectory from Dada to Fluxus to mail art to Amalia Ulman. Others have invested their marketing budgets in promoting the artistic talent of a new generation of digital natives, reinforcing their own curatorial power as contemporary tastemakers in the process. Meanwhile, museum educators have turned to ‘slow looking’ as a strategy for rescuing visual literacy, even as computer scientists train machines to see based on datasets labelled via the millisecond glance of crowdsourced workers.
The appointment of digital curators by European photography institutions in recent years reflects a desire for a more systematic and sustained response to the proliferation of image data we persist in calling photography. But beyond the absurdity of having to uphold medium specificity in a post-media age, what role or agency might ‘digital curating’ have in the photo museum? In this paper I will discuss the limits and possibilities of digital programming, drawing on my experience as Digital Curator at The Photographers’ Gallery 2011–2019. Rather than celebrate the democratic agency of the photograph, the digital programme was able to offer contradictory perspectives, mapping the photograph’s mobilisation in communicative capitalism as a lure or behavioural surplus. I will argue that in an age of Instagram bots, computational propaganda and machine learning, it is clearer than ever that the photographic museum has a role to play in contemporary culture, but it will have to radically reconfigure itself to meet these challenges.
Dr Rowan Lear (Doctoral Researcher in Photographic History and Theory at the University of West London), ‘Honey on the Elbow’: Sticky Networks, Invisible Workers and Planetary Processing
A long, exhaustive heatwave enveloped Britain in the summer of 1976. Those who could, flocked to beaches for cooler air, taking their cameras with them. Over the summer months, retailers experienced such high demand for photographic equipment that Kodak could not fulfil their orders. Meanwhile, exposed films began to flood in through the mail to photo-processing plants around the country, including one in north-west London. Here, 400 workers and their machines operated long shifts in a sticky photochemical haze: processing, developing, printing and packing thousands of snapshots each day, in a building without a working cooling system. Perhaps meteorological conditions contributed to what the Company Director would later dismiss as ‘bad feelings that summer’ (Ward, 1977, 32).
When the mostly female, East African Asian and Afro-Caribbean workforce walked out of Grunwick Processing Ltd, they triggered one of the most significant strikes in British history. The dispute is well studied in histories of labour organising, trade unions and immigration, but little attention has been paid to its implications for the history and theory of photography. Borrowing a phrase uttered by strike organiser, Jayaben Desai, this paper argues that what Grunwick made visible was the ‘honey on the elbow – you can smell it, you can feel it, but you can’t see it’ (in Bell and Mahmood, 2016).
Mass film processing, which peaked between 1970 and 1990, is one of the overlooked industries of photographic production. It was entangled with various strategies to expedite photographic production: the development of new cheap cameras and proprietary film formats; the phenomena of free films as a customer retention strategy; and the harnessing of the national postal service. Though marginalised in histories of the medium, employing the most precarious workers, and often seen as peripheral to the activity of corporations such as Kodak, the distributed and exploited work of film processing was utterly central to the expansion of photo-capitalism.
Grunwick the company was not an isolated, medium-sized enterprise on the periphery of a much greater project, but a node in the network that is photography’s ‘planetary processing’ (Lier, 2007). Grunwick the strike suggests that the flow of photography’s networks is less fluid than viscous, checked by resistances and incongruity. This paper calls for a rethinking of photographic production from the 1970s onwards, as a networked machine which runs precisely because it is sticky, embodied and leaking.
Peter Ride (Course Leader for the Masters in Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster), Stepping Into Space: New Media Practice and Independent Photography Galleries
This paper looks at the role of the independent photography sector in the 1990s with the emergence of new technologies, the internet and digital photography and explores how photography galleries played a crucial role in supporting the development of new media practice in the UK.
Independent photography galleries were important from the 1970s and 80s because of the breadth of photographic practices they represented, but also because they reflected the voice of the practitioner. They offered the space for creatives to explore emergent and exploratory processes, to look at processes as well as final outcomes. From the perspective of the 2020s it seems obvious that digital practices would have been embraced by the photography sector but the historical record shows that was not the case and that, instead, digital practices were regarded by many with caution as they challenged many of the positions that the photography sector had fought hard to establish. Other voices, of curators and practitioners working in the independent photography sector, championed digital technology because it was seen to be a continuation of the way that photography had developed, asking difficult and ambitious questions about the way that technology and creativity can work in tandem and, at different times, lead each other; about the way in which innovation needs to be interrogated; about the significance of participation and the way that platforms (as we now call them) can be open to the interaction of the audience; how the artwork can be an evolving form not a finished entity. They also recognised the important potential for interdisciplinary practices, bringing photographers together with practitioners from other creative areas, academic disciplines or other knowledge areas.
This paper looks at a number of initiatives from the independent photography gallery sector from 1992 to 2000, addressing projects championed by organisations such as Impressions Gallery, Focal Point, Fotofeis, Site Gallery, Cambridge Darkroom Gallery and others. Together these examples indicate the importance of the photography sector in generating discussion about the place of photography in digital media and the importance of independent galleries – as spaces of photography – in exhibiting, supporting, commissioning and championing the new.
Magazines, Books, 14.00–16.15
Derek Bishton (Journalist and Author), Ten.8 Photographic Magazine 1978–1992
Ten.8 began as a regional magazine published from Birmingham. Over the course of 14 years from 1978, it published 39 editions and quickly became an internationally recognised journal circulating widely across Europe and America, with contributions from many of the most progressive and articulate photographers and cultural theorists active during the 1980s and 90s. When it ceased publication in 1992, it had a print run of 5,000 and was a staple and valued resource on photography and cultural studies courses worldwide.
Ten.8 was created by Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardon at their community design and photography agency, Sidelines, in Handsworth, Birmingham. It immediately attracted support from many academics and photographers working in the West Midlands, including Nick Hedges, Dick Hebdige and John Taylor. It soon outgrew its regional brief and attracted contributions from many people concerned with the politics of the image and the power relations inherent in the production of the photographic image, such as Jo Spence.
This presentation traces the development of Ten.8 from its initial concerns about the nature of documentary photography and the assumptions about its validity and usefulness. It examines how Ten.8 explored the role that cultural theory can play in helping us develop new ways of seeing and understanding how images are inscribed with meaning and pinpoints the way theorists such as Stuart Hall made decisive interventions in these debates through their involvement with Ten.8. It recognises the way Ten.8 provided a platform for black image makers, feminists and gay and lesbian photographers to put themselves in the frame with key contributions from Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani Kayode, Pratibha Parmar, David A Bailey and many others. The final edition of Ten.8 – Critical Decade – remains a landmark publication in the emergence of Black British cultural production. The presentation also examines how Ten.8 predicted the impact of digital technology with its Digital Dialogues edition in 1991. Finally, the presentation celebrates the achievements and legacy of the work Ten.8 undertook in touring exhibitions and opening up international venues for photographers such as the Rencontres au Noir presentation at Arles in 1993 and the Black British photography exhibition at Houston Photo Fest in 1992.
John Wyver (Director of Screen Productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company), Screening Photography: BBC Television’s Presentation of Photography, 1969–1988
Across the past 50 years, BBC Television has been a central focus for the presentation, discussion and evaluation of historical and contemporary photography in Britain.
Illustrated with a number of brief extracts, this presentation outlines the development of BBC programmes about photography during the first two decades of The Photographers’ Gallery and compares the mainstream broadcast coverage with the gallery’s exhibition programme.
The presentation highlights a number of key broadcasts, including a film first broadcast in 1969 (stretching the temporal boundaries a little) that featured Don McCullin, Eugene Smith and George Rodger; a 1977 film profile of Eve Arnold; a 1982 Omnibus film which tasked Lord Lichfield (who also featured in a 1971 One Man’s Week film), Jane Bown and Jo Spence with photographing the model Jilly Johnson; Snowdon on Camera (1982) exploring the market for photography; the 1983 series Master Photographers; and Nigel Finch’s 1988 Arena profile of Robert Mapplethorpe.
The examples discussed are situated against BBC Television’s dominant understandings in these years of the medium, its makers and meanings, and the conservative visual languages of the films are considered in the context of innovative screen strategies from other documentary contexts.
Jacqueline Ennis-Cole (Photographer, Writer, and Researcher), Photobooks and Black Women Photographers From the 1980s Onwards
Through a questionnaire process we will look at the role of photobook publications post-COVID and in the light of Black Lives Matter commitments. There is an absence of photobooks representing the work and genres of Black women photographers from the 1980s onwards in the UK. Furthermore, there is an absence of photobooks more broadly by women of colour photographers from the 1980s onwards. What interventions are publishers and editors making to remedy the situation. I will be mapping out the impact that this absence has had on my ability to research Black women photographers. I will be enquiring into the late Maud Sulter's legacy as an artist and photographer and how as a photography community we counter erasure.
David Brittain (Editor of Creative Camera), In-house Publications of The Photographers' Gallery: 1970–80
If The Photographers' Gallery was to win legitimation for an art of photography in 1970s’ Britain it needed to overcome public and press scepticism. While researching the use of the exhibition programme to achieve this objective, I became aware of a lesser known – and so far under-researched – area of activity: in-house publishing.
I will show some of the ways that The Photographers' Gallery deployed its bulletins, newsletters, fliers and so on to pursue its mission during its early years. Such in-house publications functioned both paratextually – complementing the popular exhibition programme – and as techniques of persuasion for galvanising audiences around the notion of a modernist art of photography and enlisting individuals to support the gallery through charitable giving and other forms of participation. The main producer of these texts was Sue Davies who used the medium of print to her advantage.
I will argue that precedents for this use of text and photography can be found in the specialist photography magazines of the 1960s. By initiating readers into the arcane realm of art photography they prepared the ground for the photography galleries of the 1970s. I will confine my talk to two British magazines: Photography and Creative Camera. The first was a standard bearer for elite photography during the mid-1950s and early 60s and the second became the unofficial voice of the 'creative photography' movement in 1968. I hope to show that Davies took something useful from the contrasting approaches of both titles.
Artist Keynote, 18.30–19.40
Penny Slinger (Artist), Photography and Collage in the Art of Performance
In 1969 I presented my diploma exhibition at Chelsea College of Art. Part of this presentation were three handmade copies of 50% The Visible Woman, my first book of collage, accompanied by my poetry.
In 1971 the book was published and this year, 2021, the book is being republished to mark its fiftieth anniversary.
The presentation will take us from there to the present day, examining and demonstrating my use of photography as a tool to record my performance art and to disrupt consensual reality. I have used photography – both photos I have taken myself, those taken of me, combined with those I have incorporated as 'found objects' – as elements in my practice to confound and challenge the status quo.
Initially inspired by the Surrealists, in particular the collage work of Max Ernst, I adapted their language to probe and express the feminine psyche. I have peeled off the layers, using photography as a plastic medium, to reveal the Visible Woman that I am. I will share the photographs of 1973, where I designed and posed in a wearable wedding cake as part of my Opening exhibition.
We will look at my second book of collage, a photo-roman entitled An Exorcism, evolved in the 1970s over a seven-year period of intense self-analysis, and examined in the documentary by Richard Kovitch, Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows (2017). I will complete the presentation by documenting my transition from analogue to digital collage and with my recent series, My Body In A Box, which records my experience sheltering in place during the pandemic in 2020, using photographs of my naked body as the centre point to express the experience.
About the speakers
Maitreyi Maheshwari is the Head of Programme at FACT, a Liverpool based organisation for the support and exhibition of art and film that embraces new technology and explores digital culture. There she manages an ambitious artistic programme that connects with science and digital technologies, engaging people with some of the most pressing challenges of today. She was previously Programme Director at the Zabludowicz Collection in London and has also worked at Tate Modern and Artangel.
Maitreyi has a degree in History of Art from Edinburgh University and a research masters in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the London Consortium, Birkbeck College.
Mo White is an artist, writer and lecturer. Mo works in moving image and photographic media and has exhibited widely, including exhibitions in New York, Dublin, Athens, Belfast and Birmingham. Her research concerns gender, diasporic and queer identities and their effects on contemporary artists and art practices and she was awarded a PhD in 2007 for her research examining artists using the moving image in the UK since the 1970s and has since published on slide-tape, most recently in Practices of Projection: Histories and Technologies (2020) Oxford University Press. Mo is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Loughborough University.
Katrina Sluis is Associate Professor and Head of Photography & Media Arts at the School of Art & Design, Australian National University. She was previously Senior Lecturer and founding Co-director of the Centre for the Study of the Networked Image (CSNI), London South Bank University. From 2011–2019 she also held the inaugural post of Senior Curator (Digital Programmes) at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, where she is presently Adjunct Research Curator.
Dr Rowan Lear is an artist and a Doctoral Researcher in Photographic History and Theory at the University of West London under the supervision of Professors Michelle Henning and Helen Hester. Informed by feminist new materialist, posthumanist and process philosophies, their thesis argues that photography has constituted a new kind of body. Rowan has delivered research papers at leading photography conferences in Europe, and has conducted research in archives and collections in the UK and North America. In 2018–19, Rowan organised Planetary Processing, a peer forum for experimental photographic artists at The Photographers’ Gallery.
Dr Peter Ride is the Course Leader for the Masters in Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster. He has worked in a wide range of arts organisations including the National Museum of Photography, Film and TV, The Photographers’ Gallery, Cambridge Darkroom Gallery, The Arts Technology Centre (Artec), London and DA2 Digital Arts Development Agency. He is the Co-author, with Professor Andrew Dewdney, of The New Media Handbook (Routledge, 2006) and the Digital Media Handbook (Routledge, 2013) and he has published widely on new media projects in museums and galleries.
Diane Smyth is a freelance arts journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers’ Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival.
Derek Bishton was born in Birmingham and, although he admits to significant and long-established love affairs with Jamaica and the East End of London, he still lives part of the time in his home city. He’s a journalist, published author, photographer, publisher and internet pioneer. During the 70s and 80s he worked with scores of inner-city political groups and agencies as part of the Sidelines collective, a community design and photography resource he co-founded in 1977 with Brian Homer and John Reardon in Handsworth. They initiated many projects, including the formation of Ten.8 magazine in 1978. Bishton was a founder member of the editorial collective and continued his close association with the magazine until it closed in 1992. He edited many issues. In 1983 he helped his wife, Merrise Crooks, establish Handprint, a community publishing company specialising in adult literacy materials for African Caribbean students. From 1986–88 he was Director of the Aston Centre for the Arts Photography Gallery. In 1994 he joined the launch team of the UK’s first internet newspaper, Electronic Telegraph. In 2010 he won a UK Press Award for his work on the exposé of the MPs’ expenses scandal. He is now working on a book about his time in Handsworth.
John Wyver is a writer and producer with the independent production company Illuminations, specialising in documentaries about the arts and screen adaptations of performance. He is Director, Screen Productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he produces the RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcasts and recordings.
He is Professor of the Arts on Screen at the University of Westminster, and his publications include Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts in Britain (2007) and screening the Royal Shakespeare Company: A Critical History (2019).
For a number of years John was a Trustee of The Photographers’ Gallery and was Acting Chair when the gallery secured the site of its current home in Ramillies Street.
David Brittain has been engaged with photography as a writer, reviewer and editor of Creative Camera since 1980. He is a documentary maker, curator and academic researcher in the Media department of Manchester Metropolitan University. David wrote Inside Photography: Ten Interviews With Editors (2012), The Jet Age Compendium: Paolozzi at Ambit (2009), edited Creative Camera: 30 Years of Writing (2000) and has contributed many essays to journals and books including The Journal of Magazine Media (2020) and A Companion to Photography (2020). He is curator of the current Light Years exhibition series at The Photographers' Gallery.
Jacqueline Ennis-Cole is a neuro-diverse Black female photographer, writer and researcher with a postgraduate interest in Black women in photography. In September 2022, she will begin an interdisciplinary PhD research-led and practice-led programme at UCL/The Slade focused on black women photographic practices from the 1980s onwards. Jacqueline graduated with distinction from UAL Wimbledon (MA in Drawing) and Kingston University (MA in Photography) and earned an MSc in Anthropology from Brunel University. Her undergraduate BA study at UCA Farnham involved weaving and textile design; and she achieved a BSc in Social Science from the Open University.
Penny Slinger (b. 1947, London, UK) is a British born, Los Angeles-based artist who has been exploring feminism, eroticism and mysticism in her art for over fifty years. Slinger found Surrealism in the 1960s and 1970s, using it to plumb the depths of the feminine psyche. She created three books of photographic collage: 50% The Visible Woman (1971), An Exorcism (1977) and Mountain Ecstasy (1979). She co-authored the best-selling book Sexual Secrets, The Alchemy of Ecstasy (1979).
She continues to work in many mediums, including collage, photography, drawing, sculpture/assemblage, performance arts, film and video. Her work is shown internationally and is in museum collections. She is the subject of the documentary, Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows (Kovitch, 2017). In 2019 she collaborated with Maria Grazia Chiuri to create the set design for Dior’s Autumn Winter 2019–2020 Haute Couture collection, Avenue Montaigne, Paris.
She is represented by Blum and Poe Gallery, Los Angeles and Richard Saltoun Gallery, London.
Laura Smith is Curator at Whitechapel Gallery. Most recently she curated Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy (2021) and has previously produced exhibitions with Sol Calero (2021), Helen Cammock (2019) and Anna Maria Maiolino (2019). Prior to Whitechapel Laura was Curator at Tate where she curated exhibitions including Nashashibi/Skaer (2018), France-Lise McGurn (2017), Rebecca Warren (2017), Liliane Lijn (2015), Lucy Stein (2015), Claude Cahun (2014) and Linder (2013) as well as group shows such as Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings (2018) and Turner Prize 2016. Laura writes extensively on modern and contemporary art, recently contributing to Oxford University Press' Virginia Woolf Reader, as well as monographs on Lisa Brice and Pia Arke.
25 Nov 2021
Concerning Photography, Day 1: Institutions, Infrastructures and Pedagogies
02 Dec 2021
Concerning Photography, Day 3: Exhibitions, Touring and Archival Futures