‘Factory Fantasies?’ Article and photograph by Nick Hedges

Camerawork 6, page 3, 1977

This image by Nick Hedges is typical of his inspirational documentary photography, work that certainly inspired myself.  I was lucky enough to be taught by Nick at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, 1988-1991 and sometimes some simple advice goes a long way.  He identified in my student work a need for me to communicate what others are not seeing - in this case it was my own experiences as a working-class young man from the West Midlands and the environment I came from.

The innovative and sensitive consideration of representation was and always has been an important aspect of Nick’s work; in 1978 he endeavoured to exhibit this image within the factory where it was taken, which I find inspiring.  Recently I agreed with a local fish-and-chip shop owner to display a copy of my book Estate for customers to look at while they waited to be served, on the very estate where my pictures were taken almost thirty years ago: bringing the work back to the people, beyond the traditional confines. 


The skill to capture a fleeting moment, not only in a pleasing aesthetic of balance, composition and timing but also the rich narrative on offer makes for a compelling single documentary image.  The attaining of these visual attributes and metaphors in my work motivates me as a documentary photographer; the opportunity to perform this role is often a wonderful privilege.



‘Inside Offshore’ ,article and photograph by Don James

Camerawork 9, page 12, 1978

The North Sea, always drawn to the North Sea. The words 'Oil Rigs', and 'North West of Aberdeen' drew my interest first. I looked at the photo essay, recoiled from some images and was drawn to others. I surprised myself, I thought a story about class in the North of England would be the one. BUT I can't face another middle-class view of my life without ever having to live through very real poverty I experience daily. Call me narrow minded, a great image is a great image... it puts me off. My love for those images is not enough. Instead I looked to the oil rigs. I've met workers in Flotta, one of the islands that makes up Orkney. I'm interested in decommissioning, in seeing the realities of life on a rig. The issue is from 1978.  On further reading the article offers an eerie warning of globalization, of the North Sea being used as a bargaining chip. There is something about the sea that draws me in. Those that work on the sea know the feeling well, it's hard to dismiss or to forget. The image focused on work, the sea, the north.  All topics that draw me in. 



‘An Unfashionable Opinion’ article and photograph by Roger Mayne

Camerawork 6, page 11, 1977


Rather than get caught up in weighing the ‘power’ of respective single images, I chose a photograph that was used as the context for a debate within the letters’ pages of Camerawork. It is illustrative of the point I want to make – and underlines how important the Camerawork space was – but it is not so much the photograph itself, rather that the photographer chose it to make his point. Photographer Roger Mayne was given the opportunity to illustrate his second letter in Camerawork 6 with two photographs. The first is from his street series that many of us will be familiar with. It isn’t the most evocative of that body of work, which I have long admired. Yet it illustrates the kind of debate that Camerawork was set up to engage with, one that the photographer removed himself from. A debate we so rarely hear in today’s neoliberally framed forums: could a photograph show us more than just a scene, could it point to social and economic factors, and could it then prompt us to act? Should photographers create work accepting Ariella Azoulay’s civil contract thesis and do more than record injustices? Should photographers resist? Mayne said, no. I say, yes. Resistir!



‘Photography in the Community’, front cover of Camerawork 13, 1979

I have had no formal training in photography or its history but when the calling of the camera came I immersed myself in discovering as much work of others as I could, especially work that dealt with the community or was humanist, made with people, made to amplify voices, conditions, testimony. It was (is) a usual practice of mine trawling book sites, and in the early days not necessarily knowing what I was looking for but yearning to discover peers on this journey. 

I'd never heard of Camerawork seven years ago when late one evening I saw the cover of Issue 13.  It stopped me in my tracks. Beneath the cover photograph, four words, bone-white against night-black ‘Photography in the Community’.  It was the first time I'd ever seen the words photography and community placed together.  Suddenly everything made sense.  Issue 13 is filled with compassion, empathy, information, stories and activism. It is impossible to overstate how profound finding this magazine was: its content, design, focus and function.  In that moment of discovery I no longer felt alone, to learn that there had been other photographers, writers, designers that strived to let photography be a conduit for testimony within their communities.  This was work with the focus firmly on community, not the identity or celebrity of the photographer.  Now, still, I pour myself into issues of Camerawork. It is a booster jab of drive, a fuel of inspiration. The voices are not dulled nor dimmed by time; on the contrary, they have become sharpened.

Little has changed for communities since Issue 13, but photography certainly has. The lack of Camerawork leaves a hole today, and my god, it's needed now, as a blueprint of giving a damn, of solidarity, of how powerful photography is (and should) be a vital part of community and community action.  I lament Camerawork not rolling from presses in 2019 but I love that it existed.  For it calls to us "What are you doing about it?"  I love its edge, angst, unity, solidarity; its ever-evident passion for photography, for work that cares, dares to be made.  It is a motivating force as resonant and powerful as when the ink was still wet.  Little has changed.  The work, the solidarity, the amplification of testimony must always exist, it's our duty to ensure so.



Photograph: Nick Hedges, “Well, it’s a nice beginning!”

Camerawork 1, page 5, 1976 

I chose this image because of the article which it inhabits - talking about the "community photographer." In my work as a social documentary photographer, I spend a prolonged period of time within the communities that I photograph.  This is especially true of my ongoing series, 'In Brutal Presence', which documents the community of North Kensington, specifically the social housing tenants residing in the remaining council estates of the area. The project has been ongoing for almost two years, and still I continue to return to this community as a photographer and witness - to record the strength and resilience of these tenants, who face the negative aspects of gentrification and the threat of social cleansing.  So this article in Camerawork about the community photographer truly resonated with me, and fittingly the image is of a mother and child on their estate. It is also a reminder that the same issues of housing and gentrification in London continue today, making my work even more weighted in significance and urgency.



‘The words say more than the pictures: Jo Spence’s work reviewed’, Liz Wells.

Photograph: Jo Spence, Camerawork 32, page 26, 1985

In amongst the riches of the Camerawork Archive, I come across images of Jo Spence. Self-portraits, black and white, defiant. She looks directly out at me, her neutral gaze, her exposed body still as controversial today as it was then, surprisingly in these times when the blurring of private and public is prolific. There are many more 'artistic ' images in this archive but Jo Spence dares to make images that disregard that aesthetic and concerns herself with the raw authentic expression of her personal experience.


I first came across Jo Spence when I was a student in the 80's. Her work embodied subjects that interested me – I had turned the camera in the direction of my intimate and private world and was starting to discover how photography could facilitate, like therapy, a process of self-investigation. I resonate with her desire to challenge stereotypes, to explore the representation of women, to work collaboratively and to raise questions rather than make statements.  My work is not ‘Phototherapy’ but for her, as for me, the personal is political.


As a photographer and psycho-therapist I strongly feel the connection between these two different disciplines, something that Jo Spence so bravely put together.  


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