Listen to Daniel Meadows talking about his work, then read the essay ‘The Photogrpher as Recorder’ by Guy Lane.
(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 40)
For some reason the Vimeo link provided in the course manual comes up as ‘not found’. Luckily I think I have managed to find the same video on Youtube by looking at the full reference given in Jan Foray’s write up and doing a google search (thanks Jan!).
Daniel Meadows doesn’t like to think of himself as a photographer. He prefers to call himself a documentarist, and uses different tools, as well as photography to express himself.
Having led a very sheltered life – boarding school at an all boys school – very limited exposure to the opposite sex or to other cultures, Meadows toured the country in a double-decker bus after graduating from art school, running his Free Studio. His reason for running a free studio was to meet people and hear their stories. He quickly realised that his photographic interests didn’t lie in advertising photography, but his work centred around ordinary people and that engagement played a huge role in his work. He saw himself as a mediator for other people’s stories.
As he progressed he picked up new skills and ran digital story telling workshops using technology that was easy for people to learn. The stories were all in the first person, briefly scripted and the people making them tended to use photographs to tell their stories. Visual histories began to emerge.
Meadows feels that it is important to do these things because it is all about power. The ordinary people in the street “live in awe of people who live on the TV screen” and feel that time is slipping by without addressing the issues that we would like to talk about. After all not everyone is madly concerned about high end politics or affairs on the other side of the world. Very often what goes on in one’s own village is of more importance. Meadows states that if one can make one’s own media then the power has shifted. I found this a very interesting point and quite profound. Perhaps we don’t always realise that we do actually have a voice and the means to use it.
The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England
For the second part of this exercise we are to read G. Lane’s The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England. In this journal article Lane discusses Daniel Meadows’ The Bus Statement. Lane tackles the work in three sections: the first deals with representation of the English photographic practise and its history. The second discusses the relationships that exist between documentary practices, modernity and the idea of a national identity. Finally Lane deals with the document’s function and distribution.
Drawing inspiration from Michel Foucault’s The Archeology of Knowledge, Lane unpacks his theories quite succinctly. When Daniel Meadows embarked upon his Omnibus project he was working outside any photographic mould that existed at that time. His work reflected something new – there was a youthful element to the way he worked and also that ran as a theme through his work. His advertising pamphlet also reflected this. By photographing himself full length, full-faced in front of the bus dressed in a trendy jacket his potential subjects could see what type of record he wished to make. The object of Meadows Free Photographic Omnibus survey was to create a historical record of English life ‘especially those whose quality of life … were under threat’ (Lane, 2011:157) as according to Meadows no such survey had been created since that of Sir Benjamin Stone.
The importance of this seminal photographic work is borne out by the fact that a copy of the Bus Statement now resides in the archives of the Arts Council at the V&A Museum as evidence of changes that were happening in photographic practise at that time. Other benefits that arose from Meadows’s work was that new types of photographic courses were being offered at colleges, galleries geared for photographic work were opened, e.g. the Photographer’s Gallery and discursive spaces were created in the Creative Camera and Album magazines. Meadows received funding from the Arts Council for his project, but he also raised sponsorships from private enterprises. As a result of this, private companies saw this type of sponsorship as further means of furthering their public relations in the community.
Daniel Meadows’s project was a contemporary debate – he identified issues such as social change, over-population, pollution, and urban modernisation.
‘Meadows’ apparent fears can be identified as part of a broader discursive shift
within the history of documentary practice, occupying a moment when anxieties “come
less from disturbances associated with class than from beliefs about race and gender, or the fear of ecological disaster”’ (Lane, 2011:170). Has anything really changed since the 1970s? Aren’t most news stories these days about some or other race or gender issue/war or the latest ecological disaster (climate change)?
Meadows’s Omnibus Project was a “record of life in England”. But was it really? Didn’t Meadows concentrate mainly on the working class segment of the population? How then, can this be a record of life in England when portions of the population are missing? How can one propose to offer an idea of national identity when not all classes are represented?
Lane concludes his essay by stating that it is the absence of tradition that unites the three themes previously mentioned. However, by photographing certain calendrical events such as the annual summer holiday in Blackpool, the Derby and a Conker festival, Meadows was anchoring a definition of Englishness, which in turn reveals his desire for stability, continuity and tradition at a time when national identity was brought into sharp question.
I’ll close with a final quote from Guy Lane. A statement that has been prickling my brain and giving me some food for thought.
“Tradition … is in reality made, in an unceasing activity of selection, revision, and outright invention, whose function is to defend identity against the threat of heterogeneity, discontinuity, and contradiction” (Lane, 2011:172).
Daniel Meadows: Early Photographic Works. (2011) Directed by National Science and Media Museum At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL0A41FCC3DBFE9641&v=-KCuapO2xAc (Accessed on 6 July 2019)
Lane, G. (2011) ‘“The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England’ In: Photographies 4 (2) pp.157–173.
Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Victoria and Albert Museum (s.d.) Sir Benjamin Stone & the National Photographic Record Association. At: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/sir-benjamin-stone-and-the-NPRA/ (Accessed on 30 July 2019)