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Camerawork magazine’s Radical Vision on show at Four Corners

Camerawork issue 19, 1980, featuring a photomontage © Peter Kennard

"The whole thing was about democratising photography," says Peter Kennard of Camerawork, the magazine that helped create a new way of seeing for British image-makers of the 1970s and 80s

“They had this amazing enthusiasm; a very creative enthusiasm,” says Peter Kennard, the well-known photomontage specialist and early member of the radical collective Half Moon Photography Workshop. “Camerawork contained all the different debates that were going on in photography at the time, but it was practical as well. The whole thing was about democratising photography.”

Radical Visions, a new exhibition at Four Corners in East London, reveals the lesser-known history of Camerawork magazine and its creators, the Half Moon Photography Workshop. The exhibition coincides with the launch of the Four Corners Archive, which has made all 32 issues of the magazine freely available to view online.

Born in 1972 as Half Moon Gallery, and running a gallery space of the same name, the collective pioneered debates on the politics of photographic representation in Britain. Becoming the Half Moon Photography Workshop in October 1975, it founded Camerawork in 1976 and moved to a new gallery on Roman Road in 1977 – the space now used by Four Corners. The collective took the name of its respected magazine in 1981.

Whether it was running as Half Moon or Camerawork, the collective’s aim was the same – to demystify the process of photography, and to use it as a tool for social change and political activism. The first issue of Camerawork was themed The Politics of Photography, and used stark black-and-white litho print on a broadsheet format (sheets of A2 paper folded to A3, then to A4). It was pulled together over an all-night session fuelled by bagels and coffee at Half Moon’s first studio in Chalk Farm, and sold for 20p per copy.

Each issue of the magazine was themed, and used photography as a gateway to discussing important political events. This included an issue on the Battle of Lewisham in 1977, in which anti-fascist protesters fought the far-right National Front, and another on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which proved to be highly contentious during a time of severe press censorship, sparking the attention of the Home Office.

All the theoretical ideas led to methods of making photographs that were primarily concerned with communicating the subject in the strongest and most accessible way,” says Kennard. “Theory and practice were intertwined, one fed the other.”

Camerawork issue 9, 1978, featuring a shot of Off duty soldiers in ‘Silver City’ outpost, Andersonstown, Belfast © Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum Photos/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Camerawork issue 14, 1979, featuring cover shot © Brian Aris/Camera Press/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Among the collective’s early practitioners were Paul Trevor, Mike Goldwater, Janet Goldberger and Tony Bock, who were later joined by key figures like Ed Barber, Shirley Read, and Jenny Matthews, who introduced Kennard to the group in 1976.

Trained as a painter, Kennard made the move to photography in 1968 following the anti-Vietnam War protests, in the search of a new form of expression that could bring art and politics together. In 1976, he held his first exhibition, Document on Chile, at Half Moon Photography Workshop, which was  then based in Alie Street, East London.

Kennard’s work was accompanied by the writing of Ric Sissons, and focused on the history of Chile and the 1973 Pinochet coup. With help from Amnesty International, Kennard was able to obtain photographs of prisoners who had mysteriously disappeared, which he used in a photomontage showing a soldier painting over their faces. The image was then used by Amnesty in a fundraising poster, and also published in Camerawork.

The exhibition was Kennard’s first “laminated show”, an idea which Ed Barber came up with as a solution to protect the photographs from a leaking roof in the Alie Street gallery. They ended up touring these laminated photographs across the country, packing the A1 sheets into travelling boxes that would be pinned up in town halls, youth clubs, and at one point a launderette.

A folding session for Camerawork issue 6, 1977, held at Mike Goldwater’s studio at Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, with (l-r) Jo Spence, Shirley Read, and Ed Barber. Photo © Mike Goldwater

Exterior of the Half Moon Gallery, taken in 1978 while Nick Hedges’ Factory Photographs were on show © Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop

Richard Harris and friend create a sign outside the Half Moon Photography Workshop on Roman Road, Bethnal Green on 18 October 1980. Despite not having a frontage, preparations were underway to open an exhibition in the as-yet unfinished centre. Photograph © David Gordon

It was an effective way to get the work of young socially-conscious photographers in front of a general audience, nationwide, and at a very low cost, says Kennard. “It devalued the photographs as objects, but it meant they could be sent and pinned up anywhere. They never seemed to get stolen or vandalised, even when they were put in places that weren’t invigilated.”

Kennard’s photomontages were often seen as posters on the street, on placards in protests, or in support of groups like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. For Issue 19 of Camerawork, he put together a four page spread based on E.P. Thompson’s essay, The State of the Nation. It included his well-known appropriation of John Constable’s 1821 painting, The Hay Wain, with cruise missiles pasted into the landscape as a protest against the deployment of the missiles in Britain.

In 1977 Half Moon Photography Workshop moved to Roman Road, Bethnal Green, East London, and in 1981 the organisation took the name Camerawork – the same as its renowned magazine. But the intentions behind it began to change later in the 1980s, along with the concerns of many artists and photographers, moving away from social struggle and towards more academic debates about representation and popular culture.

“There was a lot of debate about how theoretical the magazine should be. There were people who were interested in the documentary stuff, and other people who were into the semiotics and theoretical side rather than communicating to a general audience,” says Kennard. Eventually, with a lack of funding and loss of organisational direction, the magazine folded after issue 32 in 1985.

Over the near-decade it ran, Camerawork made a profound impact on the debates in photography in the UK, and brought a breadth of political photojournalism to audiences across the nation. Even so, its influence remains under-appreciated – something that Four Corners hopes to change through its new digital archive and corresponding exhibition.

Radical Visions: The Early History of Four Corners and Camerawork 1972-1987 is open till 22 September at Four Corners in Bethnal Green, East London. http://fourcornersfilm.co.uk/

The full digital archive can be accessed at  www.fourcornersarchive.org

Disappeared in Chile, photomontage © Peter Kennard

Haywain with Cruise Missiles, 1981, photomontage © Peter Kennard

Camerawork issue 8, 1977, cover shot captioned The National Front march, Lewisham, August 12, 1977 © Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Camerawork issue 8, 1977 showing a shot captioned New Cross Road. Anti-racists block route of National Front, taken in Lewisham © Paul Trevor/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Images of the Battle of Lewisham © Peter Marlow/ Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork, featured in Camerawork issue 8, 1977

Camerawork issue 13, 1979, featuring images from Brick Lane © Paul Trevor/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Camerawork issue 14, 1979, featuring images of Catholic West Belfast © Chris Steele-Perkins/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Camerawork issue 14, 1979, featuring images of Catholic West Belfast © Chris Steele-Perkins/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Poster for the exhibition WOMEN held at Half Moon Gallery 09 May – 02 June, 1974 © Claire Schwob/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Poster for the exhibition Men Photographed By Women, held at Half Moon Gallery 21 April – 21 May, 1974 © Toni Tye Walker/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Poster for Martin Parr’s 1981 exhibition The Nonconformists, held at Half Moon Photography Workshop 10 March -10 April, 1981 © Martin Parr/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

Poster for the exhibition A Peace Of The Action: Greenham Common 1982/3, held at Camerawork, Roman Road, 08 March – 19 March, 1983 © Loraine Leeson/Four Corners/Camerawork

Survival Programmes: In Britain’s Inner Cities, exhibition of work by the EXIT Photography Group (Nicholas Battye/Chris Steele-Perkins/Paul Trevor) held at Camerawork, Roman Road 06 July – 06 August, 1983 © Nicholas Battye, Chris Steele-Perkins, Paul Trevor

Photograph of an anti-Facist protest on Brick Lane, East London, held in response to racist attacks by the National Front on the local Bangladeshi community. The killing of machinist Altab Ali led to second generation Bangladeshis mobilising. The photographs were featured in Paul Trevor’s exhibition Brick Lane: A Community Under Attack shown at the Half Moon Photography Workshop in 1978 then going on tour, and featured in Camerawork issue 13. Image © Paul Trevor/Four Corners/Half Moon Photography Workshop/Camerawork

From the series Broadwater Farm – Photographed Inside Out © Nigel Norie/Four Corners/Camerawork, shown at the Camerawork Gallery, Roman Road in 1986

From the series Broadwater Farm – Photographed Inside Out © Nigel Norie/Four Corners, shown at the Camera Work Gallery, Roman Road in 1986