Photography Matters

Any short conference that sets out to “…map out areas for discussion in photography’s relationship to the everyday lived experience, visual culture, evolving technology, archiving and history, news media, education at all levels and public perception.” (Joanne, 2016) is setting itself a huge challenge, and inevitably going to be a series of deep dips into various aspects of the medium, and so it was with Photography Matters at CAST, Doncaster on 21 May 2016.

Three of the lectures were from artists who either expressed themselves, or supported their interests through portraiture in some shape or form.  Of these, two  shared the common aim of presenting/re-presenting a community to itself, Les Monaghan’s Desire project (Monaghan, ND) and Keith Roberts’ Hardman Portrait (hardmanportrait, 2016). Both deal with archives – one self generated, the other existing and open to interpretation. There was much to enjoy in both these lectures. However, of the two I felt more affinity with Roberts work, perhaps because it was free of the political polemic I sensed in some of  Monaghan’s lecture and which I have a tendency to bridle against. I’m not sure that filtering out “for their own good” the views of extremists when re-presenting a society to itself is entirely consistent with presenting a community to itself either. I’d happily concede though that it fits with the idea of fairness and not wishing to harm the subjects that Monaghan espoused – and the implication that at least some documentary photography does its subjects a disservice is one I’d wholeheartedly agree with.

By contrast, and perhaps because he is still trying to establish the precise value of the Hardman collection, I felt Roberts’ work to be cooler, more analytical and as a result more personally interesting to me. He also showed a couple of examples of images of the same individual taken several years apart. Discussion following the lecture highlighted that we were using the time gap in some way to inform our reading of the images – perhaps even to create a meaning – which seems a very relevant observation for my work.

I find intelligent comment on Dawn Woolley’s presentation difficult…anything which seeks to provide a “pathology of capitalism” is likely to raise my blood pressure, not least because it effectively sets out by telling you the answer, and then seeks to justify it, which feels entirely upside down to me. This is my failing, rather than hers, and there were aspects of her presentation which struck a chord..such as the use of false personas to sell products through social media. However the basic problem I have with any such analysis is that it starts from the basic premise that we are all unwitting tools of big bad business. It is by no means clear to me that this is either true..or fair…and may well do the subjects of the analysis a dis-service.

The afternoon session consisted of two presentations. The first, from Rachel Smith, (Smith , 2011) examined  the materiality of the photo, which raised a couple of questions for my own personal work:

  • If I write on the surface, am I disrupting its transparency (probably yes) and what impact does that have on the reading?
  • Should I include images of the archive material, or actually incorporate the originals? Does the materiality of the postcards etc enhance or distract from my meaning?

The final lecture of the day, Derek Trillo’s examination of alternative paradigms for architectural photography seemed to have the impact of time as a core theme. While the buildings themselves are essentially chronostatic they depend for their utility on a whole range of time dependent phenomena…people moving in and out, traffic moving past, variations in lighting during the day and night and seasonal variations in their surroundings, goods deliveries and so on. Incorporating these into representations of buildings opened quite a wide ranging discussion, including a brief one on whether this was a limitation of photography and that other media were better suited to such representations.

In running through a number of ways in which buildings can be represented, Trillo mentioned a work by Somekawa (Somekawa, 20112) which involved removing buildings from images and re-assembling them as groups elsewhere. While the latter part of this is interesting intellectually, the first part, cutting things out of the image, offers the thought that I might try that as a way of photographing the absent.


Overall I found this a thought provoking and worthwhile day. Some interesting ‘hooks’ to my own work, a chance to catch up with some old acquaintances and a chance to put a real face on some virtual friends and chat photography at a level it is difficult to do elsewhere.


hardmanportrait (2016) There then: Here now – home. Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2016).
Joanne (2016) Photography matters. Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2016).
Monaghan, L, (no date), Les Monaghan: The desire project  Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2016).
Smith, R. (2011). Rachel Smith. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 22 May 2016].
Somekawa, A. (2012). Hyères 2012. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 22 May 2016].

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