Joel Sternfeld Colour Photographs 1977 – 1988 exhibition at Beetles and Huxley, London


Figure 1: Joel Sternfeld, Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, June 1979. 

In 1980, as Ronald Reagan was in the process of being elected president, Joel Sternfeld was embarking on one of the many road trips across America he had been making since being awarded a Guggenheim grant in 1978. “The reason I am showing this work now,” he says of his forthcoming exhibition, “is that I remember feeling similar fears back then as I do now. If anything, there is an even stronger sense of apocalypse in the air today.” (O’Hagan, 2017)

Joel Sternfeld was continuing the traditions of Walker Evans and Robert Franks in documenting American life but this time following William Eggleston and Stephen Shore in seeing the country in colour. What resulted from Sternfeld’s road trips was one of the most influential bodies of work American Prospects first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987.

Beetles and Huxley describe how Sternfeld was, “photographing scenes rich with implied narrative, which were also distinct in their colour and composition… delicately balanced by subtle irony and humour.


Figure 2: Joel Sternfeld, McLean, Virgina, December 1978.  

McLean, Virginia, December 1978 shows this perfectly, a fire fighter shopping for a pumpkin at a farm market whilst a house on fire blazes in the background. The scene that Sternfeld had captured was a controlled training exercise, and a fire chief who was able to leave his post when the house was allowed to burn to the ground.” (Beetles and Huxley, 2017).

Along with many others I greatly admire Joel Sternfeld’s work and his ability to capture the beauty of the ordinary and everyday whilst adding that layer of complexity and often an implied narrative, foreseeing what seemed to be happening, behind the facade to America and it’s people.


Figure 3: Wet ‘N’ Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980.

I just love the cinematic style and presence of his composition, the forensic detail throughout the scene, the saturated colour, the bright skies and the whole familiarity thing yet strange peculiarity of the scenes is just fantastic. Sternfeld called the underlying theme of his work as “The utopian vision of America contrasted with the dystopian one.”

I felt that these prints were works of art that completely encapsulates the twentieth century; through the ubiquity and ambiguity of photography, the distanced familiarity, obsession and spread of American culture, the strange authenticities and ordinariness of the everyday that always seem to hint at a deep lying disappointment over ambitious and failed aspirations.

I have a deep respect for the work of the American colour photographers, Joel Sternfeld and his influences, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and they offer so many classic lessons to students of photographic art.

Joel Sternfeld I feel took his work to another level by developing those complex ambiguous narratives of America and Americans within what seem to be vast compositions that now seem so familiar in TV, cinema and media. Really brilliant work.


O’Hagan, S. (2017) The drifter: Joel Sternfeld on his sly glimpse of wild America – Seen from the endless highway. In: The Guardian [online] At: (accessed 20 February 2017)

Images – All taken from The Guardian [online] At: (accessed 20 February 2017)

Figure 1: Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, June 1978.

Figure 2: McLean, Virgina, December 1978.

Figure 3: Wet ‘N’ Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980.

Exhibition visit: Wendy McMurdo at Photo50 Gravitas, London Art Fair 2017


Figure 1: From Wendy McMurdo’s Let’s Go to a Place series (2016)

Photo50 Gravitas was the contemporary photography exhibition curated by Christine Monarchi and part of the London Art Fair 2017.

“Gravitas constitutes one of the ancient Roman ‘personal virtues.’ It referred to a depth and seriousness of character, a pre-condition of the youth’s transition to adulthood.” (London Art Fair, 2017). This description was a formal introduction to the exhibition featuring 13 artists producing lens-based work exploring the development from childhood through adolescence and emerging adulthood, tracing the formation and representation of identity and the self, and the influences, pressures and complexities of modern culture.

There was also a great opportunity to listen to four of the participating artists speak about the exhibition and describe their own work during which they also discussed the relationships between the artist and the subject and the processes of interaction, participation and collaboration that form an integral part of their working practices.

I was attracted to the day as it featured my current OCA tutor Wendy McMurdo and as such this presented an interesting opportunity to see a different perspective of her skills, knowledge and experience and how this works and comes together to form an artistic expression and the resultant work.

Wendy McMurdo advised the audience that they should strive to “make work about your life and experience,” and also confirmed that the best work is produced when we consider what motivates us and what draws us to a subject and allows us to find out about ourselves so again it was an interesting dynamic to actually see this in practice.

Wendy’s work has over a number of years explored the influences and impact that the growing ubiquity of computers have had on the development, education and lives of children and within this she discussed an interesting notion of how a child’s life had previously been centred around the family and or school; but since the introduction of the computer, the identity of the child had moved beyond these physical boundaries.

Her current work ‘Let’s Go to a Place’ (2016) is a series of individual portraits of the children that were part of her youngest daughter’s class which was preparing to leave primary school last summer. The project was inspired by the growth of GPS location based Pokemon gaming where a participant reimagines the space around them.

The results are a series of contemporary photographic images in which the faces of the children are sliced into separate pieces and then reformed, replacing the original conventional image of the face.

I remembered a quote from the artist Paul Seawright where he stated that “good art reveals itself slowly,” and this came back to me when I reflected on Wendy’s work; the longer the audience view the images, the more aesthetically pleasing and normal they become whilst communicating an arresting theme of a dual existence that is not obvious but is at the same time beautiful in it’s simplicity.

The images seemed to reference the traditional annual school photo whilst offering a quite beautiful, contemporary and more artistic version; this reference to a traditional cultural convention seems to reflect the change in times and the different influences that impact today’s generation of children.

The discussion which came from the panel about the relationships that develop with their subjects was most interesting and it offered some important and interesting points to consider; in collaborating with subjects, developing and gaining trust and confidence, the importance of genuine interest and empathy in the subject, showing respect and being responsible, being committed and in essence recognising that the camera is not an inanimate tool and as photographers we must be ethical and take responsibility for our actions and consider and recognise the consequences.


Figure 2: Abbie Traylor-Smith Chelsea from The Big O series (2014)

Wandering around the exhibition there were other artists that caught my eye and in particular I also liked Abbie Traylor-Smith’s series The Big O about childhood obesity, a figure that has reached 1 in 3 for children and adolescents in Britain today. The work explores this startling statistic and modern phenomenon through an intimate study and representation of some of the young individuals who live through the complex psychological implications of this condition.

The portraits of the subjects were placed alongside extracts of personal diaries, exercise and diet plans, post it notes; creating a stark and often poignant representation of the difficulties and complexities that exist in their minds, offering them their own personal identity and voice which was done in a very empathetic and supportive manner and well away from the social stigmas and narratives that have been created by mainstream media and conventional cultural norms.

A very enjoyable day where I left with much to think about in terms of what it actually means to take somebody’s photograph and how deeply we must consider this act.


Monarchi, C. (2017) Photo50 Gravitas exhibition. London:Business Design Centre.

More information can be seen online at: (accessed 2/2/17)


Figure 1: image taken by Allan O’Neill of a photograph from Wendy McMurdo’s Let’s Go to a Place series (2016)

Figure 2: Abbie Traylor-Smith Chelsea from The Big O series

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


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)


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:

(Accessed 7 January 2016)

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

(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:

(Accessed 8 January 2017)


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

(Accessed 8 January 2017)

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


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:


“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)


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.


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 (12/7/16) online AT:

Wikipedia: Frank Soo can be accessed AT:


Figure 1 Frank Soo image accessed online AT: (accessed 16/1/17)

Figure 2 Frank Soo image accessed online AT:

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


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.


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)


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)


Trish Morrissey artist’s own website can be accessed online at:

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)

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

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

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

Assignment 5: Research 2: Photographers challenging cultural subjugation and the marginalisation of social groups through visual art


Figure 1: Yuet Wah O’Neill by Allan O’Neill

As I have progressed through Context and Narrative I have become increasingly interested in how culture shapes our identities and the roles that we perform in our daily lives.

This process of research and reflection has been inspirational to my conviction to explore why the Asian part of my own identity and heritage has been secondary to the English part and absolutely integral to the conceptual development of my visual response.

What is also very apparent is that Western popular culture has established itself as superior to other cultures and maintains this position through far-reaching structure that contains very few contradictions and which involves all aspects of social and cultural reality. This in-balance of power has created historical structures, divisions and inequalities across racial, gender and socio-economic groups and this realisation has certainly strengthened my personal convictions to begin this very personal exploration.

The following artists and exhibitions have all in some shape or form served as the inspirations for my research whether this be in conceptual or visual terms and consolidate my thinking I will now attempt to distil the relevant issues.

Black Blossoms Exhibition (UAL)


Figure 2: Images taken of finished works by Nicole Muskett

The exhibition highlighted the voices of black women and explored how this group is marginalised and stereotyped by mainstream society.

One of the exhibits did not resonate with myself initially but has increasingly been significant in my subsequent reflections. Illustrator Nicole Muskett decorated a series of skateboards with images of famous black female role models such as Rosa Parks whose courageous dignified defiance in Montgomery, Alabama, USA in 1955 became the catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. Other role models adorning these skateboards were Michelle Obama, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, Yoyoi Kusama and Dianne Abbott.

By effectively decorating skateboards with the achievements of black women the artist challenges one of the skate culture stereotypes so often associated with young black people and instead presents a group of positive role models which show black women in a different light.

This exhibit highlighted the need for positive role-models in order to achieve a positive acceptance of one’s own self-identity and this will be a core a part of my assignment submission.

I have previously blogged about this exhibition and to see the full post please see here or access online AT:

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusgosa

David Olusgosa, historian, presented TV BBC documentary series Black and British A forgotten history that delved into the experiences and contributions that black people have made in Britain’s history over the past four hundred years.

The programmes chronicled the history of the relationship between black people and Britain including the Black Georgians, Slave Trade, the abolition movement and race relations.

The format of the programmes was to identify and celebrate the strength of character, contributions and achievements of black Britons. In the following short clip photographer Neil Kenlock describes how he photographed black people’s lives in London during the 1960s and 1970s.

In the clip Kenlock says, “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.” (Neil Kenlock, photographer.)

This passage became especially significant in my subsequent thinking when formulating my final visual work.

Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo at the Autograph Gallery, London


Figure 3: Image taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

The Decolonial Desire exhibition explored Portugal’s colonial past in Africa and used archived photographs to demonstrate how social realities and histories can be visually constructed and whose purposes are served.
Exhibition curator, Mark Sealy describes the artist, “Arajo is part of a generation of contemporary artists who question and critically investigate colonial histories. His work throws an uncomfortable light on the unrelenting violence, that was an inherent part of Europe’s colonial order.” (Sealy, M. 2016)


Figure 4: Image of Capita taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

The artist subverts colonial racial stereotypes through a series of re-enacted satirical masquerades.

I specifically took forward two key points from the exhibition; firstly that I felt a strong conviction to explore the marginalised or silenced aspects of my own Asian heritage and secondly I began to consider that some sort of role re-animation or masquerade could form an appropriate visual response to my intentions.

I have previously written a post that summarises my experiences at the exhibition that can be read in full at

The Fae Richards Photo Archive


Figure 5: Taken from The Faye Richards Photo Archive

Artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye collaborated to create these 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.

This work inspired my thinking in terms of challenging the conventional belief that historical archives and documents form an objective, universal and unequivocal record of social and cultural history. It also formed in part the catalyst to consider some sort of constructed and additional version of history as part of my visual response.

Feminist Avant Garde exhibition at TPG


Figure 6: An image of Mary Beth Edelson’s The Last Supper

On visiting the Feminist Avant Garde exhibition at TPG (see here) I saw Mary Beth Edelson’s Some living American Women Artists / Last Supper (1972) which made a clear statement challenging the white male dominated history of art by superimposing the faces of female artists over the male participants in Leonardo De Vinci’s original depiction of the Last Supper.

The idea of the picture was to provide appropriate recognition for a group of significant and important female feminist artists as well as making a vociferous call against how women had been treated by not only the male dominated art historian but also the religious order.

Whilst this particular exhibition provided the catalyst and major inspiration to confront how white male led conventional cultural norms marginalise and silences other social groups it was this particular exhibit which acted as the catalyst to recognise the general lack of recognition and role models from marginalised social groups.

This process of research and reflection has been inspirational to my conviction to explore these ideas and integral to the conceptual development of my visual response.


Black Blossoms Exhibition UAL can be accessed online AT:

What if I don’t move to the end of the bus? The story of Rosa Parks summarised on the Henry Ford organisation website and can be accessed AT:

 Nicole Muskett’s own website can be accessed at: 

Black and British: A Forgotten History David Olusgosa documentary

Neil Kenlock speaks,

Vasco Araujo Decolonial Desire exhibition (2016) curated by Mark Sealy, held at Autograph ABP Gallery, London.

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


Figure 1: Yuet Wah O’Neill by Allan O’Neill
Figure 2: Nicole Muskett Rosa Parks skateboard image taken artists own website and can be accessed AT: (accessed 13/1/17)

Figure 3: Image taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Figure 4: Image of Capita taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Figure 5: Taken from The Faye Richards Photo Archive

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

Figure 6: Image of Mary Beth Edelson’s The Last Supper

Image taken from

Assignment 5: Research 1: Mistaken Identities: Culture by Kwame Anthony Appiah as part of the Reith Lectures series for 2016, New York City University.


Figure 1: An image of the Human Zoos which travelled Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries.

As I have completed the Context and Narrative course I have progressed perhaps inevitably towards an interest in identity, culture and the roles that we perform as we play out our parts in society. I now embark upon assignment 5 and will present the wider research that has been carried out as I develop my visual objectives for this final submission.

Mistaken Identities: Culture, a lecture by Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYC University (2016)
Kwane Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, his 2016 Reith Lectures’ series investigates the subject of identity and explored four topics that are fundamental in our understanding of identity. This particular lecture focused on culture within the context of a wider debate on the history of the modern term western culture.

Whilst this lecture is not directly relevant to photography it does offer a different perspective and an additional layer of information when we seek to interpret and understand culture and identity and as such will offer a fresh source of inspiration to any forthcoming visualisation of assignment 5.

The lecture starts with the story of Sir Edward Burnett Tylor who in 1871 published a book entitled Primitive Culture the first work in modern Anthropology. Tylor’s Culture was “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, customs and any capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Appiah also describes how English poet and literary critic Matthew wrote ‘Culture and Anarchy’ offering a different notion of culture which was “the pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.” For Arnold, culture was, “a moral and aesthetic ideal, which found expression in art and literature and music and philosophy.” Appiah then details how current notions of the West came about to eventually arrive at the point where “Western here can look simply like a euphemism for white.”(Kwane Anthony Appiah, 2016)

Appiah describes how much of this notion of western culture is bound up in the popular thinking that the so-called western culture has inherited what he calls the Golden Nuggets when he argues that;

“from the late Middle Ages until now, people have thought of the best in the culture of Greece and Rome as a civilised inheritance, passed on like a precious golden nugget, dug out of the earth by the Greeks, transferred when the Roman Empire conquered them, to Rome. Partitioned between the Flemish and Florentine courts and the Venetian Republic in the Renaissance, it’s fragments passed through cities such as Avignon, Paris, Amsterdam, Wiemar, Edinburgh and London, and were finally reunited – pieced together like the broken shards of a Grecian urn, in the Academies of Europe and America.”

(Kwane Anthony Appiah, 2016)

This point links with a most interesting thought which challenges popular thinking of how the West often sees it’s own culture relative to other major ideologies;

“There are many ways of embellishing the story of the golden nugget. But they all face a historical difficulty; If, that is, you want to make the golden nugget the core of a civilisation opposed to Islam. Because the classical inheritance it identifies was shared with Muslim learning. In Baghdad of the ninth century Abbasid Caliphate, the palace library featured the works of Plato and Aristotle, Pythagoras and Euclid, translated into Arabic.”

(Kwane Anthony Appiah, 2016)

Appiah also contests that Chaucer’s England 600 years ago is dramatically different to the England we have today;

“Take whatever you think was distinctive of it, whatever combination of customs, ideas, and material things which made England characteristically English then. Whatever you choose to distinguish Englishness now it isn’t going to be that.”

(Kwane Anthony Appiah, 2016)

The lecture becomes even more significant when Appiah states that;

“that Western culture was at it’s core individualistic and democratic and liberty minded and tolerant and progressive and rational and scientific. Never mind that pre-modern Europe was none of these things……The idea that tolerance was constitutive of something called Western culture would be surprising to Edward Burnett Tylor, who, as a Quaker, had been barred from attending England’s great universities.”

Appiah arrives at his core argument, which is that in terms of culture;

“Values aren’t a birthright: you need to keep caring about them. Living in the West, however you define it, being Western, provides no guarantee that you will care about Western civilisation. The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European.

And by that very logic they don’t belong to a European who hasn’t taken the time and trouble to absorb them. The same is true naturally in the other direction. The story of the golden nugget suggests that we can’t help caring about the traditions of the West because they are ours. Infact the opposite is true. They are only ours if we care about them. A culture of liberty, tolerance and rational enquiry that would be a good idea, but these values represent choices to make, not tracks laid down by a Western destiny.”

(Kwane Anthony Appiah, 2016)

So from a philosophical perspective we now have a concept of culture that can contain shared or common components and that can coexist alongside other cultural ideologies. These cultures can develop, mutate, be passed on or indeed be forgotten. There are effectively no fixed status, rules or boundaries other than those imposed or initiated by the motives of people and in history these people have been mainly men.

Unfortunately history has shown how the developing countries of Europe would come to use their culture as a measurement of superiority and utilise the invention of the camera and photography extensively as a tool in the subjugation of countries and continents in pursuit of Colonialism to devastating effect.

In particular I will take forward the following quote from the lecture;

“The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European.”

(Kwane Anthony Appiah, 2016)  


Appiah, K,A.(2016) Reith Lectures/Mistaken Identities: Creed, Country, Color, Culture – lecture 4: Culture. Radio 4 website transcript can be accessed AT: (accessed 3/1/17)

Figure 1: An image of the Human Zoos which travelled Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, image seen online AT:

(accessed 9/1/17)