‘Community Photography’: Radicalism and a Culture of Protest in the London-based Photography Collectives of the 1970s
London College of Communication
AHRC Studentship Award Holder
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 and the radical photo magazine Camerawork. My scope encompasses oral history and analyses of the archives of Camerawork 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. The original contribution to knowledge lies in the combination of interviews with photographers, archival research and theoretical analysis.
Professor David Chandler (University of Plymouth)