chapter  10
11 Pages

TEN YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP

By(with Terry Dennett)

As a group which has been involved in many debates within photography and the politics of representation as they have emerged recently in this country, we feel slightly strange in writing about ourselves. Ever since Photography Workshop was formed in 1974, from the shared photographic and political interests of its founder members, it has either been ignored as a group (most of its work is attributed to single members) or else rejected outright (as in the case of our working hard to found, run and then write for Camerawork magazine). And one of the ironies of the Left and women’s movement must surely be this: that groups which are set up and do innovative work usually split into differing political segments; these segments then go on to found new dynasties, or just quietly fade away. In time, the original differences, cracks, fissures and explosions come to be neatly laundered over, erased from the memory of those involved because they are too painful, not fully known to those who came later because ‘nobody told us about it’ and, finally, mythologized through the accounts of others writing about them from outside. It is surely contradictory, then, that very little is actually known about most groups who are involved in the politics of representation; that, although they themselves raise fundamental questions about representation, the question of how they represent themselves is almost always

ignored. This prevents the emergence of any serious mapping process becoming discernible from ‘outside’. It also prevents the development of dialectical or polemical discussion in any real sense and means, too, that we go on ‘inventing the wheel’ over and over again. In this sense, then, Photography Workshop is an unusual group. It started with two core members and ten years later it still has the same two core members. And this is our account. The drive for the work of the group has always come out of the obsessions, bitterness and passions of these two members, sometimes collaborating with others, or working together, or working alone. We believe it is this passion and determination to survive in the face of all criticism that has helped us to be here today. However, in the course of this survival the group has changed drastically. We started with the ultimate in ‘independence’—poverty-moved on to the use of voluntary labour, donations, ploughing back the earnings of members; we always housed ourselves in our own home and very latterly decided to apply for a grant. We have ended up with a combination of all these things. We now have a small grant from the Greater London Council for very specific purposes, still work voluntarily, and are very poor. But nobody tells us what to do-we can make a lot of noise or be silent if we need to. But we don’t have to behave like performing seals for the grant-funding bodies. Throughout we have always attacked particular types of opportunistic radical-professionalism and have tried to open up the very big question of how to rework and redefine the term ‘amateur’.