Photo: Gaby Schreiber Industrial/Interior Designer (1916-1991), Photographer: Bee & Watson, 1948, Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.
What does it mean to be seen and represented as a ‘creative professional’? This was the question we set out to address on Friday 27th March at a symposium hosted by the V&A Research Department and supported by the London College of Fashion and University of Brighton.
The idea for the symposium emerged from conversations between myself and Dr Felice McDowell, through the course of our PhD research. While we were each studying different historical contexts and different disciplines, we regularly exchanged ideas about issues of image and representation in what is often loosely termed the ‘creative industries’-including fashion models and fashion media, designers, curators, journalists, architects and artists. Through this work, we developed an understanding of these professions and their professionals as both products of, and productive in, meanings and values that inform our understanding and knowledge of culture, in both the past and present.
So, how have photography and media worked to define and represent creative labour in particular ways? How have individuals represented and defined themselves as professionals in different fields of culture? How do different aspects of cultural identity, such as gender, class and ethnicity, inform these representations? How do different methodologies and disciplinary approaches enrich the study of cultural and creative professions? How can histories and theories of fashion and design contribute to a wider reading and understanding of the professions?
The symposium unpacked these questions through a rich program of papers which addressed the themes of ‘artists and artistic personas’, ‘professions of design and space’, ‘advertising, media and intermediaries’ and ‘fashion histories and biographies’. Dr Agnès Rocamora, from the London College of Fashion delivered the keynote paper on fashion bloggers and took us straight to the core of current and evolving debates about the shifting conception of work and the grey, blurry boundary between work and leisure. This might have characterised the creative industries for many years, but it appears to have amplified and gained complexity as it has entered the digital space.
Many of the papers focused on moments of transition when ‘anonymous’ or invisible professions- from advertising, architects, artists, stylists, fashion forecasters, trend-spotters, actors and mannequin designers- became visible through platforms such as public lectures, photography and media discourse. At the end of the day, we reflected on some key emergent themes which we hope to develop further. This included the performative nature of professional identity, which takes place in both social and work environments (or ‘on and off stage’, as one presenter put it) and the function of dress and gender as enabling tools in this performance. This underlined the very clear and distinctive contribution fashion and design historians can make in responding to the question of what it means to be seen and represented as a creative professional.
Dr. Leah Armstrong, University of Brighton / Victoria and Albert Museum
Thank you to the V&A Research Department, University of Brighton, University of Brighton Design Archives and London College of Fashion for supporting this symposium.