Creating a collaborative Worktown Archive : photography, place and community

Edge, CRA ORCID: 2017, Creating a collaborative Worktown Archive : photography, place and community , PhD thesis, Bolton Museum and The University of Bolton.

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This practice-based thesis uses photography as a method to examine how photographic archives constitute community. It develops a case study of the Worktown photographs, which were taken by Humphrey Spender during Mass Observation’s experimental study of everyday life in Bolton, Lancashire, 1937 -1938, and are now held as part of Bolton Museum’s Worktown archive.
As ‘old’ photographs, the Worktown photographs prompt nostalgia for an idealised community of the past, destroyed through the decline of industry. In academic contexts they have been critiqued as exemplary social documentary photographs, ideologically charged visual representations of working class life which construct history as a false national memory of community and consensus. Here, I argue that this critical narrative of photographic subjugation has limited the productive potential of the Worktown photographs, and ask instead what understandings arise if we consider the photographs as material objects which constitute community in relation to place.
This theoretical perspective, derived from contemporary practices of visual and sensory anthropology, informs the practical investigation and reinterpretation of Mass Observation’s experimental use of photographic and creative research methods at the intersection of art and anthropology. By responding to this archive in collaboration with local communities, I demonstrate that processes of taking, documenting, sharing and photographs generate new meaning in relation to the contingencies of place. In this way photography may be understood as an experiential form of knowledge, and the photographic archive is reactivated as an active medium creating new understandings of past and present communities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media
Related URLs:
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Depositing User: Dr Caroline Edge
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2019 14:59
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:32

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