Category Archives: Assignments

Reflections on assignment 5

I will start off with comments made whilst drafting out how my working processes for this assignment came together, “a huge learning curve but also a fantastic experience and the most enjoyable photography project that I have been involved in.

My skills, confidence and all-round competence have developed but so have my personal standards and expectations and I can now see how far I have to go to get to the levels of competence and performance that I would eventually like to achieve.”

I enjoyed researching and developing the concept for the assignment around identity, marginalisation, re-imagination and constructed narratives and I believe that this assignment has in many different ways has much potential for development. I also enjoyed the close personal connection that I had with this piece of work and this definitely helped fuel my ideas and created a greater motivation to produce a great result.

My tutor feedback was very positive on all levels and thankfully recognised my attempts to continually raise standards and build up my professional processes to facilitate this progression; I feel that I really left no stone unturned in preparing for this final stage but I am pleased that I went to such lengths – but also that my peers, tutor, family and friends were all pleased with the final work – this makes everything all worthwhile and is very satisfying.

I feel that my work has finally reached that elusive “next level” and I am in a much stronger position to critique my own work against contemporary professional standards and recognise that my journey of development has only just begun.

Assignment 5 Making it up: ‘The Constructed image’

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Figure 1 Frank Soo by Allan O’Neill February 2017

Description of photographic submission

This is a constructed photographic image that re-imagines the life of Frank Soo and contributes to a growing movement that intends to give him recognition as a major sporting role model to the British born Chinese community.

Background to subject

Frank Soo was a true pioneer of English football representing England 9 times between 1942-1945 and playing 326 club games between 1933-1950 of which 173 were for top-flight club Stoke City where he was made club captain in 1938. Frank also served in the Royal Air Force in the Second World War and captained the RAF football team during this period.

Born in Derbyshire in 1914 Frank had a English mother and Chinese father and is still the only British Chinese footballer ever to represent England.

Football writer Susan Gardiner recently wrote about this extraordinary man in the book The Story of Frank Soo (2016); Gardiner says, “Frank Soo is in many ways the forgotten man of 20th century football. In his time he was a household name, his life chronicled by national newspapers in Britain.” (Gardiner, S. 2016) 

“Whatever the reasons for Frank Soo’s disappearance from the narrative of football history, this book is an attempt to rekindle interest in a significant figure who was a hugely admired and skilful footballer, a charming and charismatic man, and a role model.” (Gardiner, S. 2016)

On a different level this assignment explores identity, representation and role models within the context of social culture and the experiences of the British Chinese community.

I was born and brought up in Lancashire with a Hong Kong Chinese mother and English father so this story is of significant personal interest as it offers an opportunity to consider some of the factors that would have impacted my own personal identity.

How we can also explore the limits and the role of the photographic image

On a further level we can also consider certain theoretical issues around the photographic medium such as how mainstream social and cultural history effectively obscures or airbrushes certain thingspeople, events – completely out of our social reality and allows entry only on the terms dictated by conventional norms and thinking.

 Through a process of re-imagination we can question previously stated facts and histories as we examine alternative viewpoints that may conflict with or contradict existing narratives.

We can explore whether photographs can ever be objective representations and we, in effect, question the nature of the medium’s authority.

We are encouraged to consider what isn’t included in the photographer’s frame and in turn what history may have chosen to exclude.

So by constructing this image we also explore the veracity of the photographic medium and it’s uneasy relationship with the real or reality.

Artistic inspirations and themes

This is a challenge to the conventional belief in an objective, universal and unequivocal picture of social and cultural reality and history. The following sources provided the specific inspiration for the assignment and relevant research articles have been posted on my learning log as indicated.

(1) S. Gardiner’s book The Wanderer: The story of Frank Soo. Author Susan Gardiner re-animates the scene where Frank Soo represents England for the first time. “Whether these were the proudest moments of Frank Soo’s career as a professional footballer it is impossible to say but they must surely have been among them.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:1) (SEE HERE)

(2) Artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye collaborated to create photographs which provide a narrative chronicling the life of the fictional character Fae Richards, an African-American actress born in the early 20th century through to her old age and involvement in the civil rights movement. Dunye attributes her photographic falsification of a life history to the lack of information recorded in real life.

“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.” (Cheryl Dunye)

Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that explores questions about what is actually left out of history and it’s records. (SEE HERE)

 (3) The idea of re-animation originally came to mind when I first saw Trish Morrissey’s Seven Years (2001-2004) and then later again in her Ten People In A Suitcase (2016) where she was responding to an archive of historical photographs recording the lives of people from an industrial town in Finland.

Morrissey says, “In order to create these new photographs, I had to imagine the events that led up to this moment in the character’s lives, and in doing so, felt closer to the town itself.  The photographs transcend mere re-enactments, they are embodiments of real individuals who are more than just their snap shot.” (Morrissey, T. 2016) (SEE HERE)

An artistic and visual theme of this submission is this idea that new photographs that can re-animate and inhabit lives and events from the past.

(4) Neil Kenlock who photographed the lives of Black Britons who faced severe racial discrimination whilst living in Brixton during the 1960s and 1970s.

In her book Susan Gardiner says that, “In 1975 Frank told a reporter of the Stoke Sentinel that he believed that there was one reason why he had not been picked more often for England: because of my Chinese blood.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:2)

I reflected on this quotation with Neil Kenlock in mind when he said in an interview for the BBC, “I was trying to capture strength and proudness and that I decided that I would never click the camera unless I see strength in that person’s eyes and body. And if you look at my images you almost know it’s one of mine because the subject is always very sure of themselves.” (SEE HERE)

The construction of the image

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Figure 2: The kit

I purchased an old photograph of Frank Soo from Ebay (£3.65) and made a visual space for reflections and to develop a familiarity and personal bond bringing myself closer to Frank’s life.

From the internet, charity and sports shops I developed costume and props and I purchased a vintage style Stoke City shirt, an old style pair of brown leather boots and a brown leather football that were complimented by non-branded plain coloured red and black shorts and socks to complete the 1940s look.

I visited local pitches before settling on a football ground that had an old style white single bar fence surrounding the pitch but with no modern stadium or advertising. This would give the feel of an old-fashioned football training ground.

I persuaded my son to be the model although we had to wait two months for his hair to grow so that we could achieve the brylcreemed short, back and sides hairstyle of the 1940s.

Each aspect of the proposed image was tested through photo shoots assessing each component. I tested the costume and props in a dress rehearsal as a sense check; to make sure that the overall concept would work in the way that I imagined.

Stance, posture, gestures and gaze were all experimented with prior to the final shoot to avoid creative amnesia and to control as many components as was possible. I wanted to portray a character that possessed a self-respect, inner strength and determination but that also carried the sense of a modest and grounded character. With this in mind I wanted to avoid making the subject and image appear too self-indulgent or dramatic.

I also used Kate Peter’s Olympians as a sort of reference point but did n’t want the subject to appear too gladiatorial.

I experimented with different exposures, viewpoints, and depth of field by using different lens and settings before I finalised a selection of 50mm DX lens (effective focal length 75mm), 1/250, f3.2, 100 ISO suitable for portraiture whilst using off camera flash.

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Figure 3: Full body shot

The final crop was selected instead of a full body portrait, which I felt was too isolated and ordinary. I wanted to develop a more dynamic, intimate and nuanced portrait that had an intensity and focus around the facial expression, gaze and the red striped shirt.

Surrounding space was required to add to the context but I wanted to avoid isolation from the subject as again I felt that this would create too much emotional distance from the viewer. I decided to opt for an 8×10 aspect as again I just felt it was more successful having also experimented with 1×1, 4×6 aspects.


I practised extensively with off camera flash with an octobox so that I could light the image empathetically and gently lift the subject out from the background without making the scene appear too unnatural. I wanted to avoid over dramatic lighting that would dominate the image and it’s subject. My final consideration around lighting was that I would make the final shoot in overcast conditions to achieve the effects of diffusion.

For post processing I used Adobe Lightroom in manipulating the saturation of the reds and greens to create a sense of the past without resorting to a black and white conversion. By making a colour image I felt that a contemporary feel would be retained.

The challenge was to construct an image that re-imagined a moment from the past but was also a contemporary image. I wanted to recognise and re-imagine the life of the subject whilst leaving a creative, reflective space for the viewer without causing confusion; so that the viewer could ask their own questions and make their own interpretation.

As a final sense check that the project worked I presented the image with supporting notes to the OCA discussion forum and received some very positive feedback all round. The process of receiving critical feedback definitely assisted in forming a deeper understanding and relationship with the image.

There was a very useful debate around the goalposts in the background with opinions offered on both sides of the argument and the dilemma was simply that the image background was potentially cleaner without them. At the same time without them the scene then began to look more like a horse racing course instead of a football pitch and therefore lost relevant information and some of it’s context.

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Figure 4: No posts

This I felt would cause the image to lose part of it’s individuality or hint of nuance and therefore it’s intrinsic character would change. Ultimately I decided to include the section of goalposts in the image background as I decided that there was not that much of a critical disturbance to the visual balance and not to lose the information was much more important to the image.

Also one of my peers noticed an awkward hand holding the ball that she felt was an effective way of implying the construction of the image and whilst I completely agreed that this was a great point – I had not planned this.

Concluding remarks

Frank Soo’s legacy does not match his career achievements as the only ever English Chinese footballer to represent his Country and as such the British Chinese community have been denied what should be an established role model; but recognition for Frank’s life and career has begun to gain some momentum.

Within mainstream social culture many minority groups are denied a balanced representation and at times even the most basic recognition. This process denies the development of positive role models that are essential for the progression and voice of these marginalised groups and this silencing ultimately denies their place in social and cultural history.

 Lui Hai Luang wrote for New Statesman ‘Where exactly are my British Chinese role models?’ (2013). By recognising Frank Soo’s life and achievements we confront this process of marginalisation. (SEE HERE)

Through this process of re-imagination we have created an image that questions previously established histories and offers an alternative viewpoint that effectively conflicts and contrasts with existing and accepted narratives.

In this particular case that generally accepted narrative would be that English born Chinese footballers have played no significant part in the National team or indeed in football’s history.

In a nostalgic comparison of football in modern and historical times T Glynne-Jones in the book Football yesterday and today includes only 3 images (in a book of over 200 images) of non-white people to illustrate the English game; the images of Asian or Black players are used primarily to depict football as a game played in Asian, African or South American countries.

Going forward I can see there is huge potential for development around the question of identity and representation and how photography plays a role in the creation of role models, stereotypes and social and cultural history in general and I am very keen to explore this further possibly in different ways.

This assignment focuses on a number of universal themes and it’s relationship with the game of football is almost co-incidental; but with the sport’s huge social and cultural influence and history perhaps there is more to explore within this global phenomenon also.

This has been a hugely important project that has benefitted myself on a personal level as well as in photographic and artistic terms and it has proved to be a fitting end to the excellent Context and Narrative course.

Bibliography

 Appiah, K,A.(2016) Reith Lectures/Mistaken Identities: Creed, Country, Color, Culture – lecture 4: Culture. Radio 4 website transcript can be accessed AT:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/radio4/transcripts/2016_reith4_Appiah_Mistaken_Identities_Culture.pdf (accessed 3/1/17)

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The key concepts. London: Bloomsbury Academic. (pp. 67-86).

 Baylis, G. (2016) ‘Hidden People’ In: Source The Photographic Review issue 87 pp. 30-39.

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson. (pp. 18-46).

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph As Contemporary Art (3rd ed.) London: Thames and Hudson. (pp. 49-79, 81-113)

 Gardiner, S (2016) The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo. Stowmarket, Suffolk: Electric Blue Publishing.

Frank Soo: The unknown Chinese footballer who represented England Feature by Susan Gardiner for http://www.Weareresonate.com (12/7/16) online AT:

http://www.weareresonate.com/2016/07/london-community-challenge-cup-sponsoring-frank-soo-project/

Glynne-Jones, T. (2010) Football yesterday and today. London: Carlton books.

Neil Kenlock (2016) interview for BBC documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusgosa [online] AT:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jrbl9/player (accessed 13 January 2017)

 Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) (accessed 5/12/16) At:

http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/

Luang, L.H. (2013) ‘Where exactly are my Chinese role models’ New Statesman [online] At:

http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/where-exactly-are-my-british-chinese-role-models
(Accessed 17 December 2016)

Trish Morrissey artist’s own website can be accessed online AT: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html

Kate Peters Olympians can be seen at the artist’s own website AT:

http://www.katepeters.co.uk/project/olympians/#25 (accessed 7 January 2017)

Tsang, M. (2012) ‘Interview with Lord Wei’ East Meets West: A project celebrating the heritage, identity and aspirations of the British Born Chinese. [online] AT:

http://betweeneastandwest.com/stories/lord-nat-wei/

(Accessed 8 January 2017)
 

 

Working process: research and development, creative process and practices including image making and post-editing and printing

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Figure 1: Example of pages from the working journal

I have informally summarised how the artistic and visual concept developed from initial inspirations through to final output to illustrate how my working practices are developing.

Initial inspirations

Earlier in this course my interests were broadly around my own place in modern culture and society with assignment 3 specifically drawing inspiration from the Frankfurt School and their critiques of the modern capitalist society.

This fundamental interest continued but began to develop on into photographic and visual mediums with early inspiration being drawn first from the visit to the UCA Graduates Black Blossoms exhibition and then the Feminist Avant Garde exhibition; both heightened my awareness of how mainstream culture and conventions views different social groups and the resultant inequalities that ensue. 

Development of artistic concept

Focusing on identity, roles and stereotypes I initially considered several ideas around self-portraits, masquerades, and the deconstruction of male stereotypes (office, masculinity, misogyny) but ultimately I did not establish the right connection with the concept.

One of the original ideas was around identity and was for a self-portrait where I would masquerade as a 1970s footballer in recognition of the influence that the traditional working class game had in developing my own personal identity.

Significantly, I felt that this idea would not work visually in the way that I was envisaging – I felt that I would look too Chinese and would not create the convincing representation of the stereotype that I was visualising and so instinctively I decided to explore feeling this further.

At this point I recognised how little influence my Chinese heritage had made on my personal identity and how this aspect had been diluted and in effect silenced so again I decided that I would explore this further.

I realised that once I entered mainstream culture and society I found no British Chinese role models, I had no contact with other Chinese or part Chinese people, and found little positive reinforcement, knowledge or references about Hong Kong, China or South East Asia and so by necessity in order to progress and get on I would need to be in essence English.

I started to search for wider sources around cultural and racial marginalisation (see research for assignment 5) and I began to feel that I was getting closer to a significant concept that would explore a more personal story that carried significant universal themes.

Finding the artistic spark

Intuitively googlingChinese footballers who played in England’ the search results yielded just one contender, Frank Soo a former Stoke City and England international. As I learned about his achievements I started to re-imagine his life and felt both inspiration and excitement at the thought that a British born Chinese had played top-flight professional football in England’s history.

This unexpected find progressed quickly into a full working project spurred on by my own detailed experience and understanding of the football vernacular.

My idea; I create a masquerade of Frank Soo and re-imagine a moment that was lost, hidden or forgotten where he might have considered his thoughts and feelings whilst reflecting upon his life and achievements.

Focusing on visual language

As I began to exhaust the research phase I made a conscious effort to switch the basis of my thinking from the written text (books and articles) to a purely visual language. Visiting recent exhibitions had impressed upon myself the importance of producing high quality visual work as the core objective and final output.

Technical development

I consider that one of my personality traits is to be inquisitive and so I tend to find that I have no shortage of ideas that I am more than happy to develop by further reading and through written text.

However as a relatively inexperienced photographer one of the core objectives that I set for for this second OCA course was to develop my technical skills to ensure that I could strive to articulate in a more sophisticated visual sense the ideas that I might have. Thinking back to my assignment 5 submission for Expressing Your Vision I felt that the concept and written brief were much more mature and sophisticated then my final visual representation.

How this was achieved

This section will come as no surprise to the reader when I say that I have spent less time reading and writing and more time – literally hours and hours and more hours – practising with my equipment: camera – every control and function button, lens – focal length, aperture and depth of field, shutter speeds, ISO. I bought a good studio flash head and developed a decent basic understanding of light and that has been the most fantastic experience! Lots of practise shoots in my pop up studio with my mannequin as companion. There was no other way to achieve this other than putting in the hard yards on the training ground. Maybe I should have taken the OCA (FiP) Foundation in Photography course first!

Focusing on the assignment

I tried to develop a physical journal which I believe has helped but switching from different books, websites, ideas became quite over whelming and I did not quite manage to create those fantastic story books that we see from the OCA student work videos. I managed some coherent pages but not quite enough.

I will persevere with this however as I feel that I am beginning to cross that line where I begin to process ideas in a visual sense at a much earlier stage. On this assignment 5 we were briefed to focus on the construction of an image and as a result I have started to understand what exactly an image is actually made up of and that has been a fantastic perspective and discipline to learn. As this development continues I am beginning to see how physical working journals can become very central and important to my way of working.

I cannot believe how much thinking I have devoted to the visual aspect of the assignment and I now reflect upon the in-balance of my approach to previous work but I take this all as part of the learning process.

Delivering the final image

 By the time of the final photo shoot I was able to run in automatic mode as I set up my arrangement in the pre-chosen location. I had my model suitably attired in the costume with props with the off camera lighting set up on stands at a pre-practised 45 degree angle. Then the wind began to pick up and blew the light stand over and the pressure was on.

I regained my poise, and finished the session despite the increasing cross-field winds and hopefully I finally got the shot that I wanted; but under the one component that I could not practice, that of performing under real-time pressure. I had mean’t to take some additional pictures with my camera phone of the lighting / model set-up but in the heat of the moment this thought was lost.

Post-edit

Again I have spent considerable time in developing my understanding and skills in colour management and post-editing in general.

There were a number of post edit considerations such as cropping and background information with the image which came as a result of the OCA forum feedback that I received which was a very important part of my reflection.

For the printing I used my usual photographic print lab.

Ultimately I have made my artistic and conceptual decisions and I will now look forward to receiving the feedback from my tutor.

Concluding remarks

This assignment has been a huge learning curve but also a fantastic experience and the most enjoyable photography project that I have been involved in.

My skills, confidence and all-round competence have developed but so have my personal standards and expectations and I can now see how far I have to go to get to the levels of competence and performance that I would eventually like to achieve.

Assignment 5: Performance against assessment criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I feel that I have finished the course well in a technical and visual sense producing a good quality image that reflects a strong commitment to improvement in this area throughout the course.

For this assignment I have begun to develop a relatively new skill to myself in using additional lighting and I have also significantly advanced my competence in the use and combinations of lens type / focal length / aperture, plus post editing and colour management.

Quality of outcome

I believe that this work is strong and I have tried to work on several levels whilst forming a coherent output. I believe that the core themes are to be found in the work and that sufficient due care and attention has been paid to produce a visually successful, thoughtful and reflective assignment.

Demonstration of creativity

I feel that I have been inventive and imaginative in order to create a project conceived through a process of evolving ideas. The concept is very personal on a number of levels and this reflects my desire to form my own personal voice.

Context

I have followed a number of inter-related themes and undertaken significant research both written and visually for a sustained period of time before arriving at the final stages and this process has lasted for what seems to be a major part of this course.

I have also engaged significantly with my OCA peer group and have carefully considered various critical suggestions and I believe that these processes together have contributed considerably to the strength and depth of the final work.

 

Assignment 5: Research 5: Ideas and concepts: Where exactly are my British Chinese role models?

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Figure 1: Mike Tsang Lord Wei taken from the East meets West series (2012)

Journalist Lui Hai Luang wrote the article ‘Where exactly are my British Chinese role models?’ for New Statesman in 2013 and opened with, “My father swam from mainland China to Hong Kong in order to claim political asylum. His story remains one of the only ones with inspirational Chinese characters that I encountered while growing up in the UK.” (Luang, L.H 2013)

Luang describes her experiences growing up in England, “I was always proud of being Chinese. My mother separated from my father and moved to live in Hastings where I grew up. Like many other Chinese people who grew up in Britain, I was often the only Chinese in my street, in school, among my friends, at work – and the list goes on.” (Luang, L.H. 2016)

The Chinese have been in Britain since the start of the 1800s with the first wave of Chinese seamen settling in the Ports of London, Liverpool and Cardiff. Liverpool had the first so-called ‘Chinatown’ after WW1 and then as the 20th century progressed more migrants came from British Colonies such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

My own mother Yuet Wah (O’Neill) made the trip in 1955 from Hong Kong newly married to my father Frank who was returning to the UK after serving three years stationed in Hong Kong on behalf of the British Army.

The Chinese settled in Britain before anywhere else in Europe and the population in the UK is around 450,000 or 1% of the population. Not a major minority but still a sizeable number – considering the relative lack of visibility of the British Chinese in prominent life.

There are a number of reasons for this, firstly that political engagement is not a traditionally a strong element of Chinese society especially amongst Hong Kong Chinese who lived under British direct rule. A notable exception that proves the rule would be Nai Wei the youngest member of the House of Lords at 36 and the first British born Chinese to become a Lord at all.

The British Chinese suffer enormously from stereotyping and this becomes a particular burden for those who have grown up as the only Chinese in their community or network and this can lead to an embarrassment surrounding one’s own ethnicity; it becomes a hassle and it’s just easier to bury it and become totally English and this white-wash in effect silences the Chinese heritage.

“In the 18th century, the British view of China was generally admiring and benign. But as Frayling demonstrates, the change over the next hundred years was steady and dramatic.

The British imperialists conducted a series of wars to impose the opium trade on China and suppressed the Boxer rebellion that was the natural response to this brutal commerce. Paradoxically, the oppressive foreigners managed to cast the oppressed victims as a threatening, expansionist foe.

Meanwhile, starting with Coleridge and De Quincy, European writers created a cult around opium and the frighteningly exotic oriental dreams it unleashed, a movement that reached its literary peak in Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Droodand Wilde’s Dorian Gray.

By the end of the century, Chinatown and its notorious opium dens had become the locus of dangerous romance, alluring evil and spine-tingling threat in Europe and North America, with London’s Limehouse a top attraction for the intrepid tourist.” (French, P. 2014)

English actress Jessica Hardwick, who has a Singaporean Chinese mother, says, “In British TV, if there is an Asian character there usually has to be a reason for them to be Asian, whereas in America you have a lot more roles where the person just happens to be Asian,”(Henwick cited in Luang, L.H. 2013)

Whilst there is now a strong and clear representation for an identifiable British black identity and culture across the arts, sports and other areas of society and to a lesser extent the same can be said for British Asian and Muslim communities but the same isn’t true of the British Chinese.

Ben Chu, author of Chinese Whispers: Why Everything You’ve Heard About China Is Wrong, notes the diversity of Chinese society and perhaps the lack of a single uniform identity could be the cause of a lack of an over-arching identity among the British Chinese: “Geographically, China is very large with lots of communities, with differences in language and so on. So a lot of overseas Chinese may not feel very connected with other Chinese.” (Chu, B. cited in Luang, L.H. 2013)

Luang also quotes Malcolm Moore, Beijing correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, who says: “I never really saw myself as part of a specific community when I was growing up. I’m half-Singaporean Chinese, half British, and I never really knew anyone else of the same specific ethnicity. I imagine Malaysian Chinese British would identify themselves as such, and Hong Kong British, northern Chinese British and so on. I never felt close to people of any of these groups just because of ethnicity.” (Moore cited in Luang, L.H. 2013)

Because of the dearth of prominent British Chinese many are left to forge their own path and this is something that looking back I certainly felt on a personal level. “I do think it has an impact,” says Jessica Henwick on the lack of role models. “Like when I was reading books, I always imagined myself as the lead character, male or female, doesn’t matter. But if it doesn’t reflect you, doesn’t reflect the lifestyle you lead, you won’t pursue that career path.” (Henwick cited in Luang, L.H. 2013)

Daniel York, co-founder of the British East Asian Artists organization, argues that “only in the last 20 years” have there been enough British-born Chinese to make a substantial social mark. Mike Tsang, an oral historian and photographer, points out that the whole generation of British-born Chinese is really the first such generation and that the next 20 years will be crucial in the development of a comprehensive British Chinese identity.

I will finish with a quote from an interview with Nat Wei the first and only British born Chinese peer in the House of Lords and currently the youngest sitting Lord. The interview was part of the East Meets West (2012) photographic based project by photographer Mike Tsang celebrating the stories of British born Chinese people. I can certainly relate to a number of these points and can see the qualities and behaviors in my own mother – ‘of modesty, staying out of the limelight, not making a fuss.’

“I’d also say one thing that characterises many in the Chinese community, and probably an area where we may need to just work a bit harder and adapt, is we can be quite modest; stay out of the limelight, not really make a fuss. Which is on one level great because it means Chinese in Britain are often great citizens and generally very responsible, but on other level it means you can be quite invisible and you perhaps don’t have as much prominence, certainly compared to some of the other ethnic groups that are here. I think certainly for BBC’s and second or third generation Chinese, there’s an opportunity there to be a bit more – not raucous, not sort of shouting all the time, protesting or anything – but just being a bit more assertive and a bit more visible in society. And I think that’s important: people have to know who you are, what you stand for, and it may be a bit tricky as it’s not something we’re really used to, but if we don’t do it we’ll lose out.”

(Lord Nat Wei)

Bibliography

French, P. (2014) ‘The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu and the rise of Chinaphobia review – the factors that shaped our fear of China’ The Guardian [online] At:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/20/yellow-peril-fu-manchu-rise-chinaphobia-review-factors-fear-china

(Accessed 7 January 2016)

Luang, L.H. (2013) ‘Where exactly are my Chinese role models’ New Statesman [online] At:

http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/where-exactly-are-my-british-chinese-role-models

(Accessed 17 December 2016)

Tsang, M. (2012) ‘Interview with Lord Wei’ East Meets West: A project celebrating the heritage, identity and aspirations of the British Born Chinese. [online] At:

http://betweeneastandwest.com/stories/lord-nat-wei/

(Accessed 8 January 2017)

Images 

Figure 1: Mike Tsang Lord Wei taken from the East Meets West project [online] At:

http://betweeneastandwest.com/stories/lord-nat-wei/

(Accessed 8 January 2017)

Assignment 5 Research 4: ideas and concepts: Frank Soo; The only British born Chinese Footballer ever to play for England

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Figure 1: Frank Soo, Stoke City and England (1944)

Frank Soo was born in Derbyshire in 1914 to an English Mother and Chinese father and brought up in Liverpool. Frank would go onto be a genuine pioneer in modern British sport by achieving a successful career in professional footballer representing England nine times during the 1940s and playing over 300 games for English clubs including top flight teams Leicester City and Stoke City where he was made club captain whilst playing alongside English international and world-renowned footballer Sir Stanley Matthews.

Frank Soo should have been the first sporting role model to other British born Chinese people but his achievements never reached that status. Despite his notable footballing achievements as England’s only player ever to have had a Chinese or Asian background Frank Soo has until very recently been virtually anonymous beyond the historical football records recording factual statistics over-layered with the archived newspaper match reports which form the clear outline of his footballing career.

I came across Frank Soo almost by accident as I cogitated ideas and concepts for assignment 5. One of my original ideas around identity had been a self-portrait where I would masquerade as a 1970s footballer in recognition of the influence that this classic stereotypical working class game and pastime had played in the development of my own cultural identity.

Instinctively I felt that this idea would just not work visually in the way that I was envisaging – I felt that I would look too Chinese and therefore I would not be able to convincingly create the stereotypical look that I had grown up with – so I found myself keying into the search engine Chinese footballers who played in England.

The search engine results yielded just one genuine contender, Frank Soo a former Stoke City and nine times England international who had played his football between the years 1933 and 1948. Frank had also served his country during the Second World War and even captained the RAF football team during this period.

As I read the Wikipedia entry that told his great story I started to re-imagine the life and achievements of this footballer Frank Soo and felt an inner elation and excitement at the thought of a British born Chinese boy who had played top-flight professional football previously in England’s history.

I then found out that Football writer Susan Gardiner had just written a book The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo (2016) in order to retell his extraordinary story. I gained a sense of Gardiner’s challenge to put Frank’s story forward as I came across a crowd-funding appeal to support the book’s low-budget publication. Gardiner says, “Frank Soo is in many ways the forgotten man of 20th football. In his time he was a household name, his life chronicled by national newspapers in Britain.” (Gardiner, S. 2016)

Gardiner’s account of Frank Soo’s story details club and league information, match reports and newspaper stories that combine to build a clear and tangible picture of a young man’s successful footballing career. “A Dundee newspaper, the Evening Telegraph, regarded his debut for Stoke City in 1933 as headline news:

CHINESE PLAYER TO TURN OUT IN ENGLAND

“Frank Soo, a 19-year old Chinese footballer who is to play for Stoke City against Middlesbrough on Saturday will be the first Chinese to play in English League Footballer. He is an inside-left, and when he steps on to the field at Middlesbrough will realise the ambition of his life, for since a small boy he has been a keen player.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:3)

The silencing of Frank’s story and it’s link to his ethnicity was a clear factor that made this story all the more compelling for the author, “When I began writing about Frank Soo I believed that it was important that his place in football history as a player of Chinese ethnic origin should be recognised.”

In an interview, where she promotes the book, with online organisation We Are Resonate (organisation devoted to the promotion of East Asian arts and cultural awareness), in that interview the author of The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo Susan Gardiner notes that,

“In 1975 Frank told a reporter that he believed that there was one reason why he had not been picked more often for England: “because of my Chinese blood.” (Gardiner, S. July 2016) However Gardiner does not include this in the book as she writes, “It does not explain his disappearance completely however and the reader must decide what the reasons for this were.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:4)

In many respects the author presents what appears to be a continual search for the reasons why Frank’s career did n’t progress further and the following passage is reflective of this approach, “The Daily Express, among others, pressed his claims, to little apparent effect: “And what price Frank Soo?” Asked the Express’ sports correspondent. “I put his name forward with great reserve because I fear there is little chance of the selectors picking him, despite the fact that he is an English-born player. I have said for three years that Soo of Stoke City is one of the finest players in the game and it would be no less that he was worth if they put him in.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:39)

frank-soo2

Figure 2: Frank Soo, Stoke City (1933-1945)

The author states that, “it does n’t appear that Frank had very much connection – if any – with other Chinese people in the Potteries, despite the constant references to his ethnicity in the press. Frank’s life in Stoke-On-Trent seems to have been much the same as that of other young professional footballer. He trained, played football, made appearances at charity events, and found time for his other passion, golf.” Gardiner, S. 2016:24)

But we don’t actually know what Frank’s true thoughts about any of these statements might have been as there are no surviving interviews or letters that shed any real light on Frank’s personality or life away from football. We don’t know how he felt about how he was portrayed as the Chinese English footballer, we don’t know how he might have felt about his own ethnic heritage, we can only assume as Susan Gardiner does, “It is not difficult to imagine the emotions that thirty-year old Frank Soo must have felt as he stood on the Wembley turf, finally and rightly recognised as the equal of England’s brightest footballing talents, playing at the highest level, and representing his country when it was still at war. It must have been a remarkable feeling for someone who had grown up living above his parent’s laundry business in Liverpool.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:1)
The author is a football historian not a sociologist and this is first and foremost a book about a footballer. On this basis the book does n’t necessarily dig into the perceived marginalisation or silencing of the Frank Soo story by the Footballing hierarchies and structures that govern tradition and history on grounds of racial bias or prejudice however Gardiner does say, “The absence of people from Chinese or other Asian backgrounds from football is a blight on the game……and that…..It is only possible to speculate how much of a difference knowing about Frank Soo might have made to young footballers from Chinese backgrounds.” Gardiner, S. 2016:145)

This is a very important story to the British born Chinese as Gardiner has uncovered the very first English sporting role-model for this extraordinarily silent social group, “A pioneer in many ways, Frank Soo was the first person from a Chinese or Asian background to play for England and remains the only player to this day. Whatever the reasons for Frank Soo’s disappearance from the narrative of football history, this book is an attempt to rekindle interest in a significant figure who was a hugely admired and skilful footballer, a charming and charismatic man, and a role model for any aspiring young player, now as much as during his lifetime.” (Gardiner, S. 2016)

I increasingly recognise how I myself, and my 3 siblings, were brought up without any of the positive influences of British Chinese role models, without any contact or relationships with other Chinese people or communities whatsoever and we received precious little knowledge of our Chinese ethnic heritage.

We only ever really saw ourselves as English although we periodically would have to explain that my mums from Hong Kong as we were brought up completely on my father’s terms in 1970s Burnley and the only culture that we knew was the English working class patriarchy and an upbringing that was built on the religion that was Burnley Football Club. I grew up thinking that Football matches on Boxing Day were as much a part of Christmas as presents and the Christmas tree itself.

But stories like this one start to fill the gap whilst being part of a foundation for a different, wider and a more balanced interpretation of my own history.

Frank Soo’s footballing career certainly never received the level of recognition that might have been expected for such pioneering achievements but it’s an important story to myself and it has been an inspiration just to be able to pass it onto my son who, coincidently, is just at the start of his career in professional football.

It’s also great for the British born and the Chinese community in general which is in great need of notable role models that can help bring this silent community out from the shadows as has happened with the black community.

Bibliography

Gardiner, S (2016) The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo. Stowmarket, Suffolk: Electric Blue Publishing.

Frank Soo: The unknown Chinese footballer who represented England Feature by Susan Gardiner for http://www.Weareresonate.com (12/7/16) online AT:

http://www.weareresonate.com/2016/07/london-community-challenge-cup-sponsoring-frank-soo-project/

Wikipedia: Frank Soo can be accessed AT:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Soo#Playing_careerwhich

Images

Figure 1 Frank Soo image accessed online AT:
http://www.weareresonate.com/2016/07/london-community-challenge-cup-sponsoring-frank-soo-project/ (accessed 16/1/17)

Figure 2 Frank Soo image accessed online AT:http://www.thedaisycutter.co.uk/2013/02/on-this-weekend-in-football-frank-soo-plays-for-england/

Assignment 5: Research 3: Visual inspiration; Photography Artist Trish Morrissey and the constructed image

lab-girl

Figure 1: Trish Morrissey. (2016) Fig. 8097GAS (TM) An apparatus for testing the absorption ability of a nappy. 1969 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland taken from Ten People In A Suitcase. 

In order to develop a visual interpretation of my assignment 5 brief I have sought inspiration from an artist that I have taken more from each time that I have considered her work, Trish Morrissey.

I had seen Morrissey’s constructed self-portraiture work previously during this C & N course whilst researching the topic of Masquerades but at that point I had not quite appreciated the significance of the photograph as an image and a constructed reality. However six plus months on and my thinking and appreciation have developed to the point that this concept has been the core foundation of the learning and development gained throughout this year and so it is appropriate that I try to take some of this inspiration into my final assignment.

trish-morrisey-boxer

Figure 2: Trish Morrissey (2016). Fig. 01832KEL (TM) Tapani Kansa sang at Kirstinharju dance pavilion. Departure. 1970 / 2015. Mänttä, Taken from Ten People In A Suitcase.

Trish Morrissey’s latest work Ten People In A Suitcase (2016) is a series of self-portraits made as part of a residency undertaken by the artist where she was called upon to make a response to an archive of 30,000 historical photographs from the 1920s to the 1980s recording the life of a small industrial town of 6,000 people, Mantta in Finland. “These photographs are not re-enactments but rather new photographs that aim to inhabit and re-animate the lives of the original subjects”. (Baylis, G. 2016:31)

This concept of new photographs that can inhabit and re-animate lives which have since passed is central to my thinking for assignment 5 as I attempt to revisit the life of the British born Asian footballer Frank Soo. Morrissey herself says that, “In order to create these new photographs, I had to imagine the events that led up to this moment in the character’s lives, and in doing so, felt closer to the town itself.  The photographs transcend mere re-enactments, they are embodiments of real individuals who are more than just their snap shot.” (Morrissey, T. 2016)

What is most interesting is how the artist recreates a sense of history that seems to take place in the here and now which I think must be and will be very difficult to achieve but if successful creates a very powerful effect.

In her work Morrissey is successful in creating fresh stories and realities and avoids the reduction that so often follows the archiving process, which is described as, “a loss, an abstraction from the original complexity and richness of use, a loss of context.” (Sekula, A.1991)

trish-morrisey-july-22nd-1972

Figure 3: Trish Morrissey, (2001-2004) July 22nd 1972, taken from Seven Years.

Another series of real interest and relevance is Morrissey’s Seven Years (2001-2004) and the title that refers specifically to the seven years age difference between the artist and her elder sister. In order to re-imagine these images from the 1970s and 1980s the artist uses suitable clothing, props and locations to instill the historical time period in question. Morrissey deconstructs and mimics the family photo album and by doing so allows us to re-appraise our history and the impact that this might have had on our lives.
What is really effective in the execution is how the artist seems to draw out the specific personal and psychological tensions that exist in all family relationships. The resultant images create a series of isolated yet exaggerated moments of facade and with them the un-covering or creation of new perspectives.

What I like about Trish Morrissey’s work within these two photographic series is that by exploring and considering how the historical archive and family photo album both work we are allowed and encouraged to revisit, reimagine and reinterpret our sense of social reality and the subsequent sense of history that follows and reflect upon how and why these concepts were constructed in a particular way in the first place. Again these concepts are central to my own aspirations for assignment 5.

By doing so we can reflect upon the impact on these key constructs in the development of our roles and identities and the subsequent direction of our lives. We can often find new evidence, new ideas and develop fresh perspectives enabling us to transcend the dimensions that organise our social existence.

Alison Green (2006) speaks of Trish Morrissey’s photography work as ”her way into the heart of such issues as family experiences and national identities, pastimes and fashion, Irish middle class values, feminine and masculine roles, and relationships between strangers. Her work does not so much define these subjects but uses photography to probe their boundaries, often left intact in every day life.” (Green, A. 2006)

Bibliography

Trish Morrissey artist’s own website can be accessed online at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html

Baylis, G. (2016) ‘Hidden People’ In: Source The Photographic Review issue 87 pp. 30-39.

Alison Green, (2006). Survey of International Contemporary Photography, London: Phaidon Press

Sekula, A. ESSAY: Reading An Archive Photography between labour and capital (1991) – Taken from The Photography Reader Wells, L (2002) London: Routledge

All Images by Trish Morrissey and accessed from the artists own website 19/12/2016) 

Figure 1: Fig. 8097GAS (TM) An apparatus for testing the absorption ability of a nappy. 1969 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland Taken from Ten People In A Suitcase (2016)

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/Work-ten/workpg-06.html

Figure 2: Fig. 01832KEL (TM) Tapani Kansa sang at Kirstinharju dance pavilion.

Departure. 1970 / 2015. Mänttä, Taken from Ten People In A Suitcase (2016)

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/Work-ten/workpg-09.html

Figure 3: July 22nd 1972 Taken from Seven Years (2001-2004)

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/workpg-01.html