Roz Hall studied photography in London, and exhibited work included Sexioned and My Umbilical Cord is my Mum’s. Since her PhD, her research has led her to focus on the experiences of people with socially engaged art. Roz has welcomed the opportunity presented by 20/20 Visions to return to and reflect on her past work as a photographer and consider the changes that have taken place during the past twenty years.
Walter Benjamin recognised the democratising potential of photography back in 1963. He wrote about a new age of “mechanical reproduction” where the tools of visual representation were no longer the preserve of the rich few (namely those who could afford to commission a painting) but could now be held in the hands of the masses.
Since then, photography has become seemingly ever more accessible: everyone has a camera on their mobile phone and no one needs to buy film or pay for processing and printing. However, whether the democractising potential of photography in terms of visual self-representation has been realised remains debatable.
Just over 20 years ago I exhibited a series of portraits as part of the ‘New Contemporaries’ exhibition at Watershed. These portraits were collaboratively produced by myself and the ‘sitters’. Discussion about identity informed the construction of these portraits, in which people used their own outfits and props. All sitters were lesbian or gay and the work explored identity across the lesbian and gay community in Bristol at that time.
The work was entitled ‘Sexioned’, a reference to Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which banned local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality or what was referred to as “pretended family relationships”. The Act made it illegal for councils to spend money on educational materials perceived to promote a gay lifestyle. The title of the work indicated the extent to which I felt marginalised as a lesbian at the time.
20 plus years on, I thought it would be interesting to revisit a small number of the sitters and ask them ‘what change has come?’ Three women- Tammy, Julie and Rachel- answered that question by working with me to each produce a montage made up of images that they now use to represent themselves on social media.
I asked the sitters to state two or three of the most significant political, legal, cultural, social or personal changes there have been for them in the last 20 years.
The work explores two strands of change. First, the ways in which people’s self image and identity are affected through social media as an extension of the democratising potential of photography. Second, how legal, political, cultural and social change has effected individuals from a community that was arguably far more marginalised in the 1990s than it is today.
Series: Tammy. Julie. Rachel.