Thinking About the Photographs

I’d taken so many photos. Now I had boxes of them, pictures taken in and around Green Street, E.13, images of the shops and houses; and many also from the South Asian Textile Collection at the V&A, photos of the textile storage and display, and of the museum building itself.

What to do with all this material, this evidence of the churn of the city? In my research plan Iâ??d indicated that I would â??analyseâ?? the images â?? but the truth is, they formed a tumbling, out-of-control hoard. There were images of the grey and brick houses and shop fronts, the streets around Upton Park, the tube station for Green Street; the surging colour behind the plate glass of the shops, the myriad details of the textiles within. Then there was the functional, colourless, locked metal storage unit in the Textile Archive of the South Asian Collection in the V&A, which opened to reveal a profusion of fragile, glowing treasures inside.

A mass of fine connections joined these apparently disparate worlds; so fine, so tangled, I felt perplexed. But then something happened. I had the good fortune to be granted a residency within the The Centre for Drawing at Wimbledon College of Art, to which I owe so many thanks. Wimbledon College of Art is part of University of the Arts London.

The residency was to be divided over two (later extended to three) periods, a total of six weeks in all. I would be able to engage with my many images within the critical but supportive atmosphere of the Centre for Drawing. The allocated project space at the Centre is a long, white, rather narrow room. It became a â??think tankâ?? and the first thing I did was to cover the facing creamy walls with swarms of photos, the â??streetâ?? ones on one side, the â??museumâ?? ones on the other.

Helen Scalway, artist's residency, Project Space, The Centre for Drawing, Wimbledon College of Art, University of the Arts London

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this â??displayâ?? was that the photos were constantly near being uncontrollable; at the most literal level they fell down off their blu-tack all the time, but then they asked to be put up differently, they wanted to re-arrange themselves, they hustled themselves about. Massed, the crowds of photos had all the too-muchness and instability of the great city. Still, divided in space and time, the â??streetâ?? and â??the museumâ?? were nonetheless in dialogue, the glowing blocks and trails of colour on each side of the room resonating against each other; dissimilar, but in a conversation spanning centuries.

I started very simply by putting up all the images taken in each shop, together; then thought â?? why? There were so many possible ways of arranging, of categorising: this itself spoke of the complexity of encountering, and of moving between, the various worlds the images came from.

 items from South Asian textile shops in Green Street, Newham, London e.13     massed photos on the wall

Folders of photographs  in the Project Space, The Drawing Centre, Wimbledon College of Art

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *