Hive Mind: Researchers of Early Twentieth Century Women Photographers and Filmmakers in Scotland

In 2019, I was invited by National Trust for Scotland archivist Fiona J Mackenzie to be involved in the #CannaTweet Conference ‘The Female (or Those Identifying as Female) Photographer in Scotland & Her Archives- Contribution and Connection’ [1], which gave me the opportunity to consider the field of researchers currently working on early twentieth century filmmakers and photographers in Scotland.

Shona Main is exploring the work of Shetland film-maker Jenny Gilbertson  (1902-1990), whose archive is held by Shetland Museum and Archive. Shona is a Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) supported practice-led candidate at University of Stirling and the Glasgow School of Art.

Maya Darrell Hewins is a PhD student at Shetland College UHI, investigating community-led archiving initiatives, with Shetland Film Archive as her primary case study. This volunteer-run community led group collect, manage and make accessible moving image material about Shetland, including amateur film footage.

Caroline Douglas is a PhD candidate at Royal College of Art. Her project ‘Women in Early Scottish Photography’ has researched the women involved in the wider process of making early photography, focusing on those who were assistants and subjects as well as makers.

Isabel Segui (University of St Andrews) has researched filmmaker sisters Ruby Grierson (1904-1940) and Marion Grierson (1907-1998), examining how they are documented in the Grierson Collection University of Stirling Archives. This was funded by SGSAH. Her new website is https://thegriersonwomen.wordpress.com/

Rachel Pronger and Camilla Baier are ‘archive activists’. Their ‘Invisible Women’ project seeks to re-insert forgotten women filmmakers of the 1930s and 1940s back into the story of film. This includes Kay Mander (1915-2013) and Evelyn Spice Cherry (1904-1990).

Sarah Neely (University of Glasgow), as well as her scholarship on Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918-1999), has also written on Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) who travelled to Greenland and the Arctic to make botanical films. Royal Scottish Geographic Society holds Hutchison’s archive.

Fiona J Mackenzie is Canna House National Trust for Scotland archivist. She has been re-interpreting Margaret Fay Shaw’s (1903-2004) images, films and words, telling the story of Shaw’s life and work. She builds on the lifework of retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu.

I spoke about Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1886-1985) and M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958). Banks travelled across the Hebrides in the 1920s. Her archive is at Historic Environment Scotland. M.E.M. Donaldson made many walks across the Highlands and Islands, using her photographs for her travel guides. The landscapes part of her archive is held by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Read more about these two photographers here. [2]

Rachel Boyd, currently studying MLitt History of Photography at University St Andrews, was the second speaker at #CannaTweet Conference, exploring how Margaret Fay Shaw’s 1930s’ photographs of South Uist linked both to the land and the community, arguing that ‘Shaw’s portraits were faithfully attributed with Gaelic patronymics, situating them in their ancestral heritage, attributed not just by the character of the local landscape enveloping them or their farming implements – but in relation to each other.’

Follow on Twitter: @GaelicSinger, @shonamain @SarahRNeely @RachelPronger @camillabaier @rachelwboyd @isabelgui @caddydouglas @Maya_D_H @BrownriggJenny

Footnotes

[1] #CannaTweet Conference took place 14.5.19. A Tweet conference is a method to present a paper entirely on Twitter, across an agreed number of tweets per speaker.

[2]  Hugh Cheape has written on M.E.M. Donaldson in the excellent article ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006). Jennifer Morag Henderson is currently writing Donaldson’s biography.

 

Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles

‘Kvaerner, Govan’, (1988) Franki Raffles, from the exhibition ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, (2017), Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art. Photo: Alan Dimmick

In 2017, I had the privilege to curate an exhibition of Franki Raffles’ (1955-94) work. This project is in partnership with Dr Alistair Scott (Franki Raffles Archive Project, Edinburgh Napier University) and is supported by St Andrews Special Collections.

Franki Raffles was a feminist social documentary photographer. A new publication accompanies the exhibition ‘Observing Women at Work’ in the Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (4 March – 27 April 2017). The exhibition presents a selection of black and white photographs and material by Franki Raffles namely ‘Women Workers in the USSR’ (1989)’, ‘To Let You Understand…’ (1988) and material from the first ‘Zero Tolerance’ campaign (1992), entitled  ‘Prevalence’Zero Tolerance was developed as a ground-breaking campaign to raise awareness of the issue of men’s violence against women and children. See documentation of the exhibition here.

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women At Work: Franki Raffles‘, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick.

My essay is on P33-40 of the new publication ‘OBSERVING WOMEN AT WORK: Franki Raffles’. The book is published by The Glasgow School of Art with support from Franki Raffles Archive Project, Edinburgh Napier University and contains an introduction by Sarah Munro (Director, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art) essays by Jenny Brownrigg (GSA Exhibitions Director, curator of this exhibition) and Dr Alistair Scott (Edinburgh Napier University, The Franki Raffles Archive). The photographs are held by University of St Andrews Library Special Collections Division.

From l to r: ‘Burntons Biscuits, Edinburgh’ / Cleaner EDC, Edinburgh/ ‘Cleaner EDC, Edinburgh’, from ‘To Let You Understand…’, Franki Raffles (1988), ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017) Photo: Alan Dimmick

[ESSAY EXTRACT: ‘A local authority canteen worker is quoted in Raffles’ 1988 publication, To Let You Understand…, as follows: “Well privatisation won’t affect me. I’m due to retire soon, but it’s the younger ones I feel sorry for.”

Looking back over the quotations gathered for this City of Edinburgh District Council Women’s Committee commission, they concentrate on high unemployment statistics for school leavers; impending privatisation (at the time the publication was written, this related to British Steel, water and electricity following the sell-off of utilities such as British Telecom and British Gas); low pay; childcare issues, particularly free nursery places; income support; inadequate NHS funding; equal opportunities; and employee protection rights. Fast-forward 29 years to 2017, following Thatcher, New Labour and into the economic uncertainty of BREXIT, Raffles’ work continues to be relevant to present-day working conditions and debates. The destination of many school leavers and graduates continues to be the Job Centre; sections of the NHS are being quietly privatised; the high cost of childcare still impacts greatly on income; and zero hour contracts create often precarious working conditions. Viewing Raffles’ work in black-and-white from our current decade is not in any way a nostalgic activity.

On entering the gallery to see Observing Women at Work, visitors encounter a similar view as the narrators do in Charlotte Gilman’s novel Herland (1915) – a society entirely comprising women. Through the repetition of gender, each of Raffles’ photographs reinforces her feminist agenda. The women are centre-stage. It is only on closer inspection that one can see men in the further recesses of the photographs – having a cigarette out of a lorry window or lingering at the end of a corridor with a co-worker. Even in a sole photograph of doctor and patient (Inside Back Cover, Women Workers, Russia), where the male has equal presence to the female, it is the woman who is wearing the white coat of the doctor, and the man who is the patient. Intriguingly, Raffles resists the device of the close-up, preferring the mid- or long-shot. She predominantly uses the establishing shot, which clearly shows the environment within which the worker operates, whether it is the regulated space of the open plan office, the natural dirt of the state farm or the systematic space of manufacture… EXTRACT ENDS]

Read full essay here.

The book can be purchased from GSA Shop for £7.

ISBN: 9780956764669 Dimensions: 21 x 14.8 cm Materials: paperback Designed by Maeve Redmond, 52 pages, edition 300.

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Franki Raffles, ‘Plasterers, Women Workers, Russia’ (1989), from the exhibition ‘Observing Women At Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick