I&P Exercise 3.3
Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed.I&P p.80
— How might being an insider help combat this?
[11Jan21] This essay looks at the way the Establishment, sometimes aided by the established media, has used photography in what it might be considered the interests of society and how this can have a disproportionately negative effect on disadvantaged members and groups within that society. How these negative uses have been practically countered and overcome, often by individuals, movements and fringe media, is considered.
The original version of this essay ran to 4,000 words and included photography in times of war, from Crimea to Afghanistan. The sections on factory conditions and the suffragists form part of the I&P Final Assessment submission. The passages on warfare will be refined for use elsewhere.
Orphans and Factories
Tagg (1988) shows that the records maintained by various arms of the state apparatus (hospitals, workhouses and, of course, the police) began to use photographic records as soon as this became technically possible: ostensibly for the good of the populace in terms of efficiency and security at the broader level, but this can work disadvantageously at an individual level. Tagg provides examples of an 1872 record from Huntingdon County Gaol (fig. A1), Wandsworth Prison from 1873 and describes one use of photography in Barnardo’s children’s homes, to ‘make the recognition easy of boys and girls guilty of criminal acts such as theft, burglary or arson’. Barnardo’s also took before (unkempt) and after (‘scrubbed and clean’) images of their charges, used for publicity and fundraising purposes, which Rev.d George Reynolds criticised at the time as ‘not only dishonest, but has a tendency to destroy the better feelings of the children’ and Reynolds went on to describe how photographers ‘[tear] their clothes to make them appear worse than they really are’ (Tagg, p.85).
Because the technology of photography was not yet available to the general public, the poor had no means of ‘fighting back ‘ in this way until their cause was taken up by individuals. As will be shown in other examples, the increasing availability of affordable equipment subsequently gave agency to struggling sectors of society.
At the turn of the century, two individuals in particular were using photography to publicise poor working and living conditions, especially for children, Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.
[25May] My tutor made the fair point in feedback that
It might be worth considering whether the Brownie Box Camera did allow the poor to fight back. The possibilities for taking images might have been available but to access the outlets for these images would have been negligible. The groups that tended to be able to access the media of the day where the middle class with better equipment, time, contacts and education.
In my defence, I was thinking rather longer term than the Box Brownie, introduced in 1900, for example, the use by troops of the VPK (see Part 2 on Photography and Warfare) did have some effect resulting in a 1914 General Routine Order forbidding personal photography.
Riis used his magnesium flash photographs of slums and slum dwellers to illustrate his articles and talks on which he described in one of those articles as the ‘other half’ (Marien, 2002, p.204). Bate (2016, p.61) describes Riis’ work as ‘sensationalist journalism’ and Marien criticises his ‘intrusion on the lives of the poor’ and his ‘lack of sympathy’, nevertheless, his work did raise awareness of slum conditions, albeit with questionable motives.
Hine’s work is credited as more altruistically motivated than Riis. Bate (p.62) describes it as ‘more exemplary of modern campaigning social work’, although Tagg (1988, p.192) suggests that Hine was rejected from working on the FSA project because of his negative representation of workers.
The second example to consider is in the early C20th, by which time photography was more generally accessible and so the oppressed group had more opportunity to intervene on their own behalf and to make use of the media more generally. The women’s suffrage movement in the UK became particularly vociferous after the turn of C20th, leading to their initial victory in 1918 (votes for property-owning women over 30) and then in 1928 (votes for all women over 21, equality with men). While the battles for recognition were being fought, the police, acting for the State used (and misused) photography to undermine and oppose their cause.
Surveillance photographs were used by the police to identify activists and Phillips (ed., 2010, p.142) suggests this might have been ‘the very first use of this type of photograph’. In 2003, research in the National Archives in Kew showed evidence of manipulation of these images. Brown (2003) reports that imprisoned activists ‘refused to have their pictures taken’ pulled faces and refused to keep still so that the resulting images could not be used for identification. Figs. D2 and D3 show one prisoner, Evelyn Manesta, detained for damaging paintings in Manchester Art Gallery, being held in position by a prison guard, the latter being removed from the image before it was distributed for use (fig. D4).
The suffragists were active themselves in promoting their image as reasonable people with a just cause and publicising mistreatment. Marien (2014, p.197) shows both sides of this propaganda, ‘ridicul[ing] women as mannish brutes’ and ‘suffragists portray[ing] themselves as tender mothers and caring homemakers’ in figs D5 and D6.
One of the most prolific photographers of the suffragists was Christina Broom who photographed many of the London demonstrations and other events. Fig D7 shows Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Sylvia Pankhurst and Emily Wiling Davison leading a march in Hyde Park in 1910. In 1913, Davison staged the most dramatic event of the suffragists’ campaign when she was fatally injured by the King’s horse running in the Epsom Derby. The incident was recorded on film, shown in cinemas around the world and stills appeared on newspaper front pages (figs. D8-D9).
I have sought to show:
1. That nation states, their Establishments, and organisations and media supporting those states have, almost since its invention, used photography to maintain themselves and that this can work to the detriment of some sectors within society.
2. That, from the outset, images have been manipulated for effect.
3. That when suitable cameras and film became available to the general public, this gradually gave agency to those disadvantaged groups to redress the balance of information.
I&P Exc 3.3 References
Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [I&P]
Brown, B. (2003) Evelyn Manesta and the Resistance to “Modern” Photographic Surveillance [online]. notbored.org. Available from http://www.notbored.org/suffragettes.html [Accessed 6 February 2020].
Brugioni, D.A. (1999) PhotoFakery. Dullus, VA.: Brassey’s.
Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Abingdon,Oxon: Routledge
Heiferman, MÂ (2012)Â Photography changes everything. NY: Aperture.
Marien, M.W. (2002) Photography: a cultural history. (4th edn.) London: Laurence King.
Phillips, S (2010) Exposed: voyeurism, surveillance, and the camera. London: Tate Publishing.
Tagg, John (1988) The burden of representation. Basingstoke: Macmillan.