Creating a collaborative Worktown archive : Photography, place and community.

Edge, Caroline (2017) Creating a collaborative Worktown archive : Photography, place and community. PhD thesis, University of Bolton.

C.Edge Thesis_web.pdf - Submitted Version

Download (12MB) | Preview


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)
Additional Information: An electronic version of the thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University of Bolton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. This research programme was carried out in collaboration with Bolton Museum. This research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Divisions: University of Bolton Theses > Arts and Media Technologies
Depositing User: Tracey Gill
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2017 12:55
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2017 12:55

Actions (login required)

Edit Item Edit Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics