Forget Photography: The Arts Council and the Disappearance of Independent Photography in Neoliberal Britain.

Conference keynote


Dewdney, A. (2021). Forget Photography: The Arts Council and the Disappearance of Independent Photography in Neoliberal Britain. Concerning Photography: The Photographers’ Gallery and Photographic Networks in Britain, c. 1971 to the present. Online 25 Nov - 02 Dec 2021
AuthorsDewdney, A.
TypeConference keynote
Abstract

This paper starts from the perspective that for some time we have been living with photography’s afterlife in which contemporary photography is a ruined territory populated by archaic knowledge practices. The way out of photography explored in this paper is through forgetting the spectral presence of photography in order, on the one hand, to see the new conditions of the image and on the other, to witness the trauma of photography’s several deaths. This is achieved by a trick of adopting the future present from which photographic knowledge practices of collection, exhibition and archiving appear as discontinuous with the present and capable of cold case reinvestigation. The art museum has absorbed photography through a process of modernist purification, continually expunging the hybrids of the contemporary image and hence, paradoxically, admits not a medium capable of examining the present, but photography as heritage.
In November 2014, Tate released a press statement announcing its ‘continuing commitment to photography’. Like a guilty secret, the phrase introduces a note of doubt on the very thing it claims to have, a commitment to photography, as if Tate knew there was a whispering campaign which said, ‘Tate has never been committed to photography’. Photography in Britain, under the odd title ‘independent photography’ delineated a category of documentary photography distinct from the commercial and industrial. Independent photography was also considered distinct from photography in contemporary art and was championed and supported by the Arts Council of Great Britain through a photography committee established by Barry Lane. Lane built up considerable influence within Visual Arts at the Arts Council, with an increasing annual budget to support independent photographers and award grants to independent photography and galleries. British independent photography was forged by the consequences of deindustrialisation and the callous support of a Conservative led state, which was resisted by communities and trade unions and led to social strife and displacement. This was the context in which renewed social documentary and community photographic practices emerged, which were disdained by the British art establishment. Barry Lane left the Arts Council in 1995 as a consequence of its decision to dissolve the photography panel, annexing its budget to visual arts on the very argument that there was no longer any distinction between photography and art. Thus, one obstacle to admitting photography to the art museum had been removed.

Keywordsphotography, arts council, Tate.
Year2021
Web address (URL)https://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/whats-on/forthcoming/concerning-photography/event-group
Accepted author manuscript
License
File Access Level
Open
Publication dates
Print21 Nov 2021
Publication process dates
Accepted21 Nov 2021
Deposited12 Apr 2023
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https://openresearch.lsbu.ac.uk/item/93qwy

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