Picturing the Pandemic in Mass Observation's Covid Collections

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


An invited talk as part of a monthly seminar series entitled Using Mass Observation's Covid-19 Collections, organised by Nicholas Clarke, University of Southampton and Clive Barnett, University of Exeter.

In 1938, Charles Madge and Tom Harrisson argued that Mass Observers 'are the cameras with which we are trying to photograph contemporary life'. Although photography was a part of the wider strategies of Mass Observation (MO) in its first phase, it remained marginal in relation to textual research methods. This continued with the post-1981 revival of the Mass Observation Project (MOP) with its emphasis on life writing, although the Mass Observation Archive now houses several major photographic archives among its Related Collections.
With wider shifts in technology and accessibility, however, photographs now accompany many MOP correspondents' submissions. Photography has also been the subject of focused directives in recent years. In MO's Covid-19 collections, the visual appears in a range of forms, from correspondent-generated photographs, creative photomontages and screengrabs of memes to textual discussion of the power of the photograph in pandemic news media. As part of wider analysis of the role of popular photography in picturing the pandemic, including parallel mass-participation photography projects that explicitly reference MO as their inspiration, this talk examines what might be distinctive about visual observation and photographic communication in MO's Covid-19 Collections.
Period15 Sept 2021
Held atMass Observation Archive, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational