Harrison, Judy. (3 of 4). Oral History of British Photography.
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Harrison, Judy, 1953- (speaker, female)
Read, Shirley (speaker, female)
Part 3: Discussion of the huge impact of theory and the new writing about photography in the late 1970s and 1980s, Susan Sontag, Victor Burgin, John Tagg and Camerawork magazine, the significance of writing by practitioners and meeting people who were active in photography and starting up new projects including Andrew Dewdney, Paul Carter, Sunil Gupta and members of Autograph. [00:07:05] Description of the touring exhibition of Asian photography Fabled Territories curated by Sunil Gupta which included work by the children from Mount Pleasant Workshop. Further discussion of attitudes to documentary photography and ‘the burden of representation’ in the 1970s and the revisiting of the work of Chris Killip and others now, the revival of documentary after years of constructed work. Comments on the politics of the 1970s and the absence of politics amongst students today. [00:19:50] Comments about worsening racism, Dave Lewis’ work after Stephen Lawrence’s death and the difficulties of showing racism. [00:24:56] Description of working with the children, camera ownership, the absence of visible theory and the politics of it which have only been recognised more recently, that the camera allowed them to go on the streets and gain confidence, that the children controlled it and were on the Management Committee, on growing up with it. [00:31:59] Comments on JH’s surprise at the development of the project of making a book from the original work, re-meeting people, the slow development of the book, that most of the negatives had been kept, the reasons for setting out to do a book, raising funding, working with Stephen Foster and Adrian Hunt at the John Hansard Gallery. Comments on giving the participants’ voices equal weight with the academic essays, that the book is about to be launched and that there is great excitement about it. A description of a photograph of David (Narinder) Roath [DR] [p56] and reading of his text, discussion of DR’s comment that photographs were only taken in India till they started. [00:46:10] Further description of the way the workshops worked, the different user groups, the crèche, that it was available to anyone in the community. [00:48:15] Conversation about stylistic aspects of the photographs, in the streets they are performative and about control whereas the indoor images are much more formally composed, dignified and serious, the combination of two cultures, Asian tradition and modernity, JH’s deliberate absence of compositional input, their lack of interest in stereotypical images, their focus on the family and the streets, cameras were too expensive for the families to own, the children’s responsibility in looking after the cameras, entering competitions. [00:55:50] Comment on the importance of face to face interaction, that the children were dislocated, the parents kept ritual alive, a description of some of the rituals and the perception that coming to the west was a big achievement. [01:02:14] Comments on the children going to university, the sending of photographs to India and how the children were representing their families by taking pictures at weddings and so on, the size of the archive and the difficulty of reducing it to make a book of about 200 photographs, having good prints. [01:06:15] the children’s printing skills, how todays students can’t always print b&w, their love of the darkroom, the naughty children and an anecdote about the night a fire extinguisher was let off, using fibre based paper and having a rotary drum, a reading from the book about being in the darkroom. [01:14:14] Comments about the way the images were stored and that JH would like to archive them properly. [01:16:50] Comments about how the pictures were used – sent back to India, as classroom exhibitions and to make books to learn to read from, that these were sold out almost immediately and went to libraries all over the country, the use of photographs in classes such as history and geography, to make maps, as collages, face masks, puzzles, jigsaws, work cards, alphabet cards & they combined photography with creative writing and poetry; they wrote poems which went with photographs. Discussion of a wedding photograph [p88] and description of a collaged map [p90]. [01:22:47] Comments on the magazine, Step Forward, set up and produced by the children and the teenagers project for The Bhatra Sikhs Look Back with text in English and Punjabi which traced the history of their migration from India, the very different experiences of men and women, two copies of the laminated exhibition and one toured Britain. The gudwara has now framed their copy and is displaying it again. Description of the Bhatra Sikhs as travellers, street sellers and traders and of other sects, that it is a welcoming and socialist religion, serves food to people on benefits.[01:33:38] Description of the different backgrounds of the children and that photography was the common denominator between them. [01:36:19] Description of JH’s role and the way it developed, that she left in 1992 and it closed in 2013, that there were always two workers, on Martin Reid who worked from 1989-2013. [01:40:40] Comment that it changed JH’s life and that she left when her second son was born and because she wanted to work more on her own photography. She had completed the project on Smallholdings in the early 1980s, did a lot of work for the Trade Unions, she a book called Women Working which the Trade Union Congress had commissioned with Ruth Elliot who wrote the text, images from all over the country, textile mills in Lancashire, Aberdeen where they spun wool, she worked through the shop stewards and stayed with them, also worked for Unison and the Transport & General Workers Union. Most of JH’s photographs from Aberdare during the Miners’ Strike are in the South Wales University library. Women Working was an educational book used for shop steward courses to show women workers in a positive light. [01:48:11] it was trying to represent all sorts of work that women did, paid and unpaid. It was through that work that JH was invited to be in Format but also Network, comments about both organisations. Mention of members Maggie Murray, Brenda Prince, Joanne O’Brien, Melanie Friend, Val Wilmer, Raissa Page, Michael Ann Mullen, Pam Isherwood, Janina Struk. Anna Fox and Nancy Honey joined then left. Description of Format and the way it worked, that it closed in 2003, possibly because it hadn’t transferred to digital quickly enough. Comments on what it gave JH, an outlet for projects she wanted to do as well as some stock photographs. [02:00:22] She was interested in photographing Asian religions and knew the subject, JH covered ritual & religious practices and lots of the temples commissioned JH to take pix for them, she worked on a book on religious rituals with a writer. When she was at home with her children she could use the time to work, got interested in child-minding, started to document the day and, for instance, herself being stitched after childbirth.
Life story interview with photographer Judy Harrison, 1953- (copyright Judy Harrison)