Britain in Focus: A Photographic History

Britain in Focus: A Photographic History aired on BBC 4 on Monday 6th March 2017 as part of the BBC’s Photography season. This episode, the first in a series of three, explores the history of photography in the 19th century. The programme explored the development of science and art along side the British economy.

Eamonn McCabe explores the position of photographers at this time, and the challenges, both through ‘technology’ and support that they faced. Photography is something that in today’s age, we take for granted as something that is accessible to most. Photography is something that is all around us, in the media, in advertising, in the home and in our literature. However, everything must start somewhere.

Theoretically, photography, in both film and digital forms is painting with light. The photographer possesses a tool, the camera, which is used to capture the light and produce an image – the photograph. From a nation predominantly dictated by the painting, this development by scientists was not embraced in the early years.

In the first episode, McCabe explores the pioneers of photography in Britain, and how photography was initially deemed a science. The programme mainly focused on the male photographer, reflecting visions of the time. I found this particularly interesting. The programme explored how this advancement of science in the 19th century made photography develop from a scientific process, seen in the works of Roger Fenton to artistic masterpieces that mimicked the framing and principles of painting, shown by Julia Margaret Cameron. Without the fundamental advances in photography that were shown in this episode, we would possibly not be where we are today regarding photography.

In the second episode, McCabe explored the 20th century and how the photograph was now becoming more accessible to the masses. The photograph was firstly used in the studio, making it easy for the glass plate to be developed, but with the invention of the roll of film and mass printing, it made photography the key means of recording events, both in the home and by the media. The episode explored works by the media and Kristina Broom to increase the moral of soldiers, and artists like Cecil Beaton who developed fine art photography. Without the pioneers in the documentary and fine art genre it’s puzzling to think what we would be photographing today and if we even would be categorizing it as such.

The final episode explored the late 20th century up until the present day, looking into the sport photography industry, and the use of photography to react to disasters and industrialisation and the accessibility of photography to everyone. The episode explored pioneers such as John Hinde’s postcards, showing Photography’s ability to be manipulated in order to persuade. The documentary greats such as John Bulmer, Martin Parr and Vanley Burke were explored, showing the use of photography to respond to political and social anguish.

Although particularly biased, McCabe produced an interesting account of Britain’s history of photography. The programme triggers the thought that we take photography for granted, as it dominates our lives now – as so many men and women devoted their time to create such a brilliant trade which has now became such a large factor of my life.

Disability Talks

From exploring my project further, I have developed a polished project that still has the possibility to be expanded in the future. I have submitted a portfolio which sophistically explores the lives of disabled people, including myself and effectively challenges public perceptions of disability. The final statement is shown below.

Disability is a social construct that renders the position of the disabled person as lesser than that of an able-bodied person. This requires change; to induce change, we need understanding.

The majority of experiences of disability or life limiting conditions are ignored by the wider community; whether this is because the conditions are largely invisible or whether wider society has chosen to not consider certain conditions as worthy of regard. As a result, sections of the disabled community experience discrimination, ranging from subtle to the outright aggressive. Being disabled includes a horizon of having to explain, declare and justify your otherness and need for consideration.

This work portrays some of the societal complexity of the lived experience of invisible disability.

Futures Festival – Teaching

I attended a workshop organised by the university in order to learn about how to access teaching. The talk showed the two main routes that would be possible to take after graduation; a PGCE which is a years course with a short placement or the school direct route which is predominantly placement based. As the university does not currently offer the PGCE in Art and Design (the specialism needed to be able to teach photography), then the advised route into gaining my QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) would be to take the school direct route.

The school direct route is again a years course where the student trains in the classroom based in a working school. This would provide invaluable experience and allow to be tutored by those who have taught for many years. This is something that I wish to do, however I feel as though I need to expand my art, design and photography portfolio first.

The requirements of the course, which is to be applied for through UCAS, is to have two weeks of classroom experience, (which can be achieved through supply teaching), a portfolio, a police background check or DBS, and to pass an English and maths test. As teaching is something that I have only begun to think about recently, to fit in all of this before applying is impossible. This is why I am going to do this over the next academic year, whilst also completing my MA in photography.

I also received information in the same seminar regarding the careers I can access with both a degree and masters in photography and a QTS – the list was extensive. The three that stood out the most were to teach in a school or college, to work with young offenders and to work with the council. Although the QTS only seemed to cover schools, the doors that it can open are vast. Gaining a QTS will also give valuable life experience if nothing else, and advance my skills and knowledge base.

To complete the QTS is next on my to do list after completing my photography MA. Although different from being a full time photographer, this is sensible in allowing myself to live comfortably and also practise my photography part time.

Interim Crit

Following the introduction of the FMP and the proposal for the project I intended to explore disability in a multitude of ways, both theoretically and photographically. The project initially intended to explore the position of the disabled person in society. The concept was influenced by the ongoing trials and discrimination disabled people have faced, which is shown in the media. As a disabled person myself, I encounter discrimination on a daily basis and wanted to challenge the way in which people perceive disability.

The interim crit is a formative assessment, meaning that the assessment is not formally marked, and is given verbally. This means that the help and advice given will help guide us to our final outcome.

From my research and my photographic practice carried out throughout this project, the project began to fall into four parts; the discrimination landscapes, the people, their voice and the evidence. Initially, this combination would explore the position of the disabled person and how others treat them. This would be shown with a landscape where they face the most discrimination and a selection of images taken by the participants to show what their lives are like and the unseen challenges. Unfortunately, at this stage I struggled to find people willing to participate.

Following the feedback and evaluation from this assessment, it was highlighted that what I was trying to portray was the hidden illness and disability. This was because the majority of people speaking out about their disability had been unfairly judged because the disability was hidden. What also emerged was that I intended to say was that I wanted to give a voice to these people, to counteract the discrimination. From this, it was decided to show the people who are on the receiving end of this injustice; removing all contexts and portraying them as ‘normal’. A diary portraying the truth, from the participants, would then juxtapose this.

During this stage, I am still excited. I am passionate about changing the public view of the disabled and really feel this work will achieve this.

Redeye Mock Interview

As part of our professional development, we were required to undergo a mock interview for a job opening at the British photography firm, Redeye. Redeye is dedicated to providing advice, talks and support to emerging and established photographers in the UK. The job opening was for Assistant to Programme Coordinator.

In preparation for the interview, the Library and Student Services team provided a workshop on how to get the best out of interviews. In the workshop they discussed how we should always research the company, always draw back on previous experience, how you should act in an interview and how to answer questions to achieve the best. This workshop was helpful, however, I believe if we had had a mock of the mock interview we would have stood in better stead to achieve.

The job required someone who has a diverse skills set; someone who is a practicing photographer, good with IT, has good communication skills and has a grip on the position of the photographic industry. The workshop explored this, as well as potential questions that would arise in the interview. I have received the result of the mock interview, and received a 2:2. I have received my feedback and have been able to digest it and learn from where I went wrong. This will be valuable for the future, even if the job I am applying for is on the other end of the spectrum.

Research Presentation – Feedback

Following the success of the research presentation, I have now received the summative feedback (graded feedback). I received 80%, which is a 1st. I am really pleased with this result. The feedback given along side the mark is shown below.

“From the introductory title, Disability Talks, onwards this presentation has a clear, focused rational and delivers an interesting and personal narrative to great effect.

The motivations are clear and defined, that you wish to tackle discrimination and perceptions of the disabled people and categorize your approach to deal with issues surrounding identity politics, social media representation and the emergence of ‘Inspiration Porn’ following the Paralympic spotlight of recent ears.

You analyse rich veins of pertinent research extremely well and moreover are able to continually reference the processes and methods of photographic production that you are involved in. This synthesis between theory and practice is a strength Rachel and it is obvious that you enjoy being informed and thus providing an excellent critical footing for your project.

Rankin, Stallard and Borensztein are all evaluated and drawn to give a broad comparative context in the talk. Both Bates and Davis illustrate your deft in handling of theory as well.

Practically, you describe the collaborative process with your participants and one of the few areas to improve the presentation would be to highlight more clearly the photographic decision-making in your own work and intersperse your images with those of other artists to illustrate the rational at play. This would allow interesting dialogues to develop and may bring further opportunity for evaluation of your own personal strategies.

This too would acknowledge your own project as having valuable primary research worth.

Such were the complexities of the text that we would advise a slowing of your delivery on future occasions in life, so as to give time to enjoy the points that you are making.

Well done, Rachel.”

I am pleased with the feedback and my grades, and believe that this shows the progress that I have made during my time studying at the university. It also shows that if I can achieve that now, what will I achieve in the future.

The Hadfield Trust Creative Travel Award

The Hadfield Trust Creative Travel Award is an award scheme which is available to university students up to the value of £500, to part fund an activity or travel which will enhance learning opportunities in the final year of study. I have applied for the award in order to partially fund the trip that I will be taking to Free Range.

The process requires a submission of a form that highlights the ins and outs of the trip. The form required an outline of the trip, how this will help your future career and learning and an outline of the financial implications of the trip. Below are the explanations that I gave in response to this.

I have been invited to be a part of a group exhibition with other photography and fine art students at the University of Cumbria. The exhibition is called Free Range. This is a collective show of graduate art and design courses in the UK. The exhibition will be shown at The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL. The exhibition space is already paid for by the university, and will enable our work to be viewed by potential employers from the photographic industry. The exhibition will be shown from 6th July 2017 to the 10th July 2017. However, I am also required to help with the installation of the exhibition on the evening of the 5th July and dismantle and pack the exhibition on the afternoon of the 10th July and the following day. Showing work in such a well regarded establishment for graduate photographers like myself will potentially kick-start my photographic career and allow for my work to be exhibited to a larger audience. This will help build my reputation and will also allow for networking with other photographers who are working with similar subject matter.

Due to my disability, going on self-funded trips are a lot harder due to my limited mobility and constant pain, as I can’t walk from place to place. As a result, I have often missed out on going to events and exhibitions. I receive a disability benefit, however, this will not cover the extra transport I will need when I get to London. I will need transport from the station to my hotel and from my hotel to the exhibition.

This is a fantastic opportunity that could really open up my career prospects as well as giving me invaluable exhibition experience.

By participating in this event, I will gain experience in both showing work in a large exhibition and invigilating an exhibition. Also, by showing the work to a large audience, some of whom are from the photographic industry, there is potential to kick start my photographic career. I will also be showing my work alongside other likeminded people, which will provide an excellent networking opportunity and the potential to collaborate with people working on similar topics to myself.

I have been shortlisted to be interviewed for this award. The next stage of the process is to attend an interview and presentation, where I will explain the plan for the trip.

The Research Presentation

The Research Presentation is a new way of assessing the way in which we conduct and present our research for our photographic projects. The presentation can last a maximum of 20 minutes and will be a spoken analysis of the research and how this is going to inform the photographic practice. This post will show the research carried out and presented for the module assessment.


Disability Talks is a project that challenges the public perception and position of the disabled person in society. Following the dissertation, exploring the current position of the disabled body in photography and how to improve this, a personal awareness was developed in relation to discrimination and lack of acceptance in society for the disabled.

Although there seems to be a rise in the inclusion of the disabled body being shown and circulated, there still needs to be more change. In order to inflict change, there must be understanding.

Disability is an issue that affects around 11 million people in the UK (Department of Work and Pension, 2014). This seems a large amount, however, the majority of those with a disability or life limiting condition are unseen to the wider community; whether this be because the conditions are largely invisible or whether wider society has chosen to ignore it for numerous reasons. Parallel to the ignorance of society is the disabled community, who by no fault of their own have been discriminated against in many ways without their voice being heard. Their voice is what is portrayed through this photography project.

This presentation will explain how Disability Talks is informed through the research that has been undertaken.


Buxton’s dissertation (2016) explored the position of the disabled body in photography, as well as in wider society and explained how it can be improved. The theses covers two areas, Notions of Representation and Identity Politics. Social construct, Social spectacle, the gaze, Lacanian theory, Overall findings. The main points are shown below.

  • Lennard J. Davis (1995, p. 131-132) discusses the idea of beauty and aesthetic value in relation to Medusa and Venus. Due to her adultery and provocative nature, she is transformed into an unsightly creature, and as a result, her provocative capabilities are disabled, as all who look at her are turned to stone. Davis describes how this is poignant in early disability studies and the idea of the gaze, as by decapitating her and making her unbearable to look at, we suffer a discomforting sensation (as described by Siebers, 2010, p. 85-86).
  • “This can be interpreted, in respect of photography, that the disabled body is something that can only be included and understood if society changes their perceptions of them. Davis highlights that:

What does not occur to many people is that disability is not a minor issue that relate to a relatively small number of unfortunate people; it is part of a historically constructed discourse, an ideology of thinking about the body under certain historical circumstances. Disability is not an object – a women with a cane – but a social process that intimately involves everyone who has a body and lives in the world of the senses. Just as the conceptualization of race, class, and gender shapes the lives of those who are not black, poor, or female, so the concept of disability regulates the bodies of those who are ‘normal’. (1995, p. 2)”

  • Millet-Gallant (2012, p. 115) discusses how Dianne Arbus’ work according to David Hevey (1992) is problematic as by photographing them, she is supporting the traditional freak show and therefore contributing to the objectification of the subject. Millet-Gallant (2012, p. 115) argues that due to this, a question has arisen, “does photography somehow offer an anonymous, disembodied gaze for the viewer versus other spectacle venues, particularly live ones?” In relation to the information about the gaze that has been explored in this section, the answer would be yes.
  • Siebers (2008, p. 33) indicates three conclusions as to why the disabled body is viewed the way that it is. Siebers states that it is a combination of knowledge, identities and ideologies. This is reminiscent of Bate’s (2009, p. 63) idea of how we view an image depending on the social context. Goodley (2011, p. 1) supports the idea that disability studies are purely social phenomena. Millet-Gallant (2012, p. 53-54) applies the concept of disability being a social construct and applies it to the position of art and photography in the public eye. Millet-Gallant states that the acceptance of artwork in any form in society is controlled by society. This would indicate that in order to implement change in relation to the position of photography in society, one would need to implement change in the mindset of society as a whole.
  • Overall found that photography is advancing but it isn’t where it needs to be. To inflict change we have to produce more images and make them more accessible.

Social Media Representation

There has been an influx of representation in the media regarding the position of the disabled in society.


Media Issues

  • A large case that showed the fight one man, Doug Paulley, had because a mother and child would not move out of the disabled space on the bus. Cases like these show the battle disabled people have on a daily basis. Disabled passengers win partial Supreme Court victory in battle for priority use of bus wheelchair space (Bulman, 2017).
  • Due to lack of public awareness, people like Lucy Britton reach out to the Internet about how they feel they have to perform their disability to be accepted as disabled. (Guest post: Invisible illness – ‘I’m fed up of having to perform my disability’, Britton, 2015).
  • Scope supports this lack of acceptance by stating (Aiden and McCarthy, 2014) Current Attitudes Towards Disabled People. [Scope Leaflet]

Two thirds (67%) of the British public feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people. Over a third (36%) of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else. Over four fifths (85%) of the British public believe that disabled people face prejudice. A quarter (24%) of disabled people have experienced attitudes or behaviours where other people expected less of them because of their disability. One fifth (21%) of 18 – 34 years old admit that they have actually avoided talking to a disabled person because they weren’t sure how to communicate with them.

But how can we improve attitudes to disabled people?

Much of the discomfort people feel about disability may stem from a lack of understanding. Not enough people know a disabled person – nearly half (43%) of the British public say they do not know anyone who is disabled – and many are concerned that they will do or say the wrong thing when talking to disabled people or about disability.

  • (Mencap, 2016) Here I am Campaign is a selection of portraits of those who have learning disabilities (shown in fig 1 and 2) to combat the negativity associated with it. The series, shot by Rankin, shows the people in a positive light and describes what they are, opposed to their disability.
  • Time To Change (2017) campaign, Be In Your Mates Corner and Change A Life, shown in fig 3, is combating mental health stigma for men in the media much like Mencap (2016) is. This influx of awareness in the media is effective as they are showing the disabled as normal people. This is something that I aim to carry out in my project.
  • Kate Magee (‘The Invisibles.’ 2016) describes how the head of scope Richard Lane stresses that he doesn’t want campaigns to “Slip into inspiration porn”. This is something that advertising of the Paralympics tends to do (Maisie McCabe, 2016). McCabe shows how Channel 4’s attempt at bringing the disabled to the forefront of the media was successful, however, it seems that it is something that dies after the games and then is revisited every four years. This is important when thinking of disability, as in order to inflict change; we must not display them as ‘other’ and always include disability in the media.
  • Divya Parashar and Narayan Devanathan (2006) state that especially in magazine advertising has done little to alleviate the negative stereotypes associated with disability. This is something that the project will challenge.
  • Jonny Cassidy (2017) wrote for BBC’s Disability Work Week about how UK businesses should be making things accessible and adapts their businesses in order to receive a share of the Purple Pound (which is estimated to be worth £249bn). By doing this, especially from places like the BBC, shows that the issue is moving forward. However, this can be interpreted in two ways; the UK economy is genuinely concerned about the welfare of the disabled community and wants to contribute to help move it forward. Or they simply want the money.


  • Tina Stallard was the first photographer investigated in the research of this project (shown in fig 4 and 5). The series, Disability, is an intimate portrayal of the relationship between the disabled person and their carer. The testimonies shown with the portraits give a truth and understanding to them. However, this project focuses primarily on the visible disability, rather than the invisible. This is problematic as disability presents it’s self on a spectrum. This project is predominantly presenting its self for the awareness of the visible, which is something that I would like to avoid.
  • Fig 6 and 7 show Christopher Capozziello’s (2011) project The Distance Between Us. The project is an intimate portrayal of the life of Capozziello’s brother and his interaction with the outside world. This is affective, however, the portraits are passive in that they just observe the life he has, rather than making a statement. This has lead me to decide that the project I will make will make a statement, as this is more likely to have an impact and inflict change.
  • Leon Borensztein (2016) project Artists With Disabilities (shown in fig 8 and 9) is an intimate view of the disabled artists. The lack of contextualisation with the project (although the images are self explanatory) shows the disabled as just being good at art. This project is passive as well. Although the style of the portraits, coding them with something that the people are interested in, is something that I will carry through to my project. Fig 10 shows another series by Borensztein, Sharon (2016) that is a more intimate display of the life of the disabled. This intimacy and the recording of the unseen is something that I wish to carry on through my project.
  • Emer Gillespie’s (2017) Picture You, Picture Me is an interesting project taken from the disabled and their families eyes. Gillespie states that:

Photography, by its nature as a visual medium, only shows the surface of what are complex relationships and subjective realities. There is a desire to examine and document subtle relationships in contemporary, re-envisioned family life.  As a participant-observer, these images are my own examination of appearance and existence, perception and thought through the visual exploration of my modern family.

This approach is affective, shown in Fig 11, as it shows how the disabled see themselves in relation to nondisabled. This is important, especially in my own project, as to inflict change, there must be an understanding of the normality of disability in today’s day and age.

  • Polly Braden (2016) project Great Interactions: Life with Learning Disabilities and Autism shown in fig 12 is a project that explores the achievements and milestones in the lives of those with learning disabilities and autism. The work was published in a book to raise awareness and also make it accessible. By putting the work in a book, it allows the viewer to shut away the topic as and when they please, however, it allows the viewer to understand the work with contextualization, which is often avoided in the media. Braden frames her work in the styles of paintings, much like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1495-1498).
  • Mark Neville’s (The Photographers Gallery, 2013) project Deeds Not Words, shown in fig 13, is a political comment on the lives of those affected by birth defects caused by environmental pollution in Corby, Northamptonshire. Neville created a book, which was not sold publically, but sent to the 433 local authorities in the UK in order to highlight the issue and inflict change. The project was successful and allowed for a greater understanding of the lives of those affected.
  • Rosemarie Garland Thomson (2010, p24) stated that:

“The argument here is that bringing representations of people with disabilities into the public realm via traditional portraiture is an act of sociopolitical integration. To be recognized as a member of a traditionally socially discredited group such as ‘the disabled’ reduces one’s social capital. In contrast, being the subject of a public portrait symbolizes membership in a high status group, literally framing the subject as an appropriate member of the public sphere who is worthy of contemplation and commemoration.”

My Response

  • From the research, the project needs to make a statement about the position of the disabled in society, showing them in a positive light, but not as something that is above others. The project will be a collaborative project that gives a voice to the disabled. The models that I am involving in the project have disabilities that are not always visible.
  • The project will fall into four parts; a series of portraits showing the disabled people, a selection of discrimination landscapes, documentation of disability aids and finally photographs of the unseen.
  • Fig 14 shows the style of portraits that will be hung, borderless on the wall in the exhibition. Photographing those with invisible illnesses is crucial as it will challenge the viewer’s perception of what disability looks like, as well as challenging the conventions of disability portraiture (Garland Thomson, 2010).
  • Fig 15 and 16 show the discrimination landscapes. These will be shown in a book format, away from the portraits. The landscapes will be made up of landscapes where the subjects have been unaccepted as disabled. This is more prominent then is thought, and the participants have experienced it daily. By removing the landscapes away from the portraits, it is intended to make the viewer think before they discriminate against others.
  • Fig 17 – 21 are documentation of disability aids. They will also be presented in book format. The disability aids are almost passes for those with hidden disabilities, and allow them to be accepted as disabled. By removing them from the portraits, again, we are challenging the idea that it is something that we cannot see, and that we should not judge.
  • Fig 22 and 23 are photographs taken on 35mm disposable cameras by the participants of the project. They will document the lives and daily activities of them, giving a voice and insight into their lives as those with a hidden disability. They will explore the other elements of their lives as well, adding another layer to the portraits. The photographs will be presented in a book, much like a diary, to explore this.
  • Overall, the project is successful in challenging the attitudes of society, however, it is something that needs to be constantly assessed and dealt with to achieve change.

Overall, I felt that this presentation was successful and the issues presented fully informed the development of my project. I will be posting again with the feedback given following this assessment.

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