An aspect of my photography practice is an ongoing response to the portrayal of Blackburn (Lancashire, UK) in national media since the 1970s. The visual language used to describe the town – specifically by televisual and news media – continues to position Blackburn as a poster child for dystopian subtexts such as ‘Broken Britain’. My proposal to develop a new, photographic portrayal was submitted to the Northern Centre of Photography (University of Sunderland) in summer 2015, forming the basis for PhD that I completed in 2022. Utilising the principles of autoethnography and the global philosophical paradigm of slow, the proposal stated my interest in generating alternative visual narratives to the town’s portrayal, led by the voices of others, who became central to the location for the photographs. Since that time, I have worked with communities, photographers, writers and designers to develop a socially engaged practice situated in Blackburn (a selection of the work is provided below). From 2018, the practice was developed with sociologist Abdul Hafiz (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Abdul-Hafiz-4) and photographer Shaun McAllister (http://www.shaunmcallister.co.uk/about) – outcomes have been presented in several exhibitions and conferences, to local and national artists, commissioning agents and community leaders: SelfScapes (2021 and 2018), The Talbot Conference (2018), The National Festival of Making (2018), The British Textiles Biennial (2019) the Cultural Difference and Social Solidarity Network Annual Conference (2017), PRISM Contemporary (2017), the CDT Art and Design Annual Conference (2017) and Blackburn University Centre’s Research and Scholarship Conference (2019 and 2016). Subsequently, the outcomes form one part of a number of recent local responses – arts festivals, public talks, photography exhibitions and conferences, led by community interest groups and local stakeholders – seeking to respond to the portrayal of Blackburn in television programmes and tabloid newspapers.
A Double Parallax (2015-2016)
The early stages of the practice sought to establish my history, as a ‘Blackburner’, through photography and writing: an inward, autoethnographic study of lived experience provided a route – a starting point – into my relationship with Blackburn. Nominating places that related to my own history, experiences often centred on past (utopian) experiences, revealing politics, cultures and places of significance. The use of long exposure photography provided a temporal ‘window’ within which I created autobiographical writing.
Wiki: Blackburn (2017-2018)
The photography from the Wiki project – influenced by the places of significance listed within the Blackburn’s Wikipedia page – is both documentary and autoethnographic. I photograph both the places I grew up in, and played in, and those which I have no emotional or historical connection to, all within the same geographical boundary of my home town, Blackburn, Lancashire, UK. Rather than being defined by social injustice or racial segregation, the photographs explore Blackburn as a town of community regeneration schemes, decaying Victorian structures, ancient sites, industrial architecture and transportation links built across medieval streets.
Slow Walking (2018-2020)
Slow Walking is a socially engaged slow photography practice, developed with writers, designers and other photographers. The aim is to reveal alternative visual narratives to those presented in televisual documentary, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation’s White Fright: Divided Britain (2018). Locations for photographs are selected by the project participants as places that remain significant to them. Participants provide autobiographical writing to accompany the photographs made, often made before the photograph is taken. The photographs below were made in a specific delineation of Blackburn, during the early months of 2019: the route from the town’s ancient spring (All Hallows) to the town’s border in the east (The River Roddlesworth). The project was presented and exhibited to a range of local stakeholders at Blackburn University Centre’s annual Research & Scholarship Conference in July 2019 and the British Textiles Biennial Politics of Cloth Conference (Chaired by Dr Stephen
Pritchard) in November 2019.