An Imaginary Place

Joanna Lowry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


In this essay Lowry considers the way in which contemporary staged photography in Britain has contributed to a long tradition of representations of Britain as a shabby hallucinatory place, hovering between the glittering alienation of the city and a squalid, nocturnal underworld of domestic disorder and itinerant street-life. She argues that these images can be seen as documentary in as much as they contribute to an understanding of the problem of modernity, of problems of class, the effects of urban industrialization, and of the changing dynamics of the nuclear family. Arguing that in many ways modernity has itself become a ‘theatre’, she suggests that we can now only properly understand it through the discourse of the uncanny, which emphasizes our sense of the phantasmatic nature of the social world , and our own alienation within it. The staged photography being considered uses a number of theatrical devices – the set, the costume, the prop, the actor, that contribute to this sense of the uncanny and to a re-evaluation of the way in which photography can represent our lived relationship to the real. Lowry discusses the work of Sarah Pickering, Sarah Dobai, Danny Treacy, Claire Strand, Annabel Elgar, Tom Hunter, Nigel Shafran and Mitra Tabrizian
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheatres of the Real
Place of PublicationBrighton UK/Antwerp
PublisherPhotoworks/Fotomuseum Provincie Antwerpen
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781903796269
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009

Bibliographical note

The book in which this essay appears was published on the occasion of the exhibition 'Theatres of the Real' held at the FotoMuseum Antwerp June-September 2009, curated by David Green and Joanna Lowry. The exhibition presented recent work by eight photographers working in the UK who can be seen as extending and redefining a tradition of British documentary photography. ```whilst the work of these artists clearly belongs to that tradition by engaging with a range of soical issues or by simply recording aspects of our contemporary world. it does not necessarily conform to the conventional methods and style of documentary photography. Many of the works in the exhibition involved situations that have been staged for the camera: sets have been constructed, actors have been dressed in costumes, and narrative scenarios invented. Other works, however, conform to the conventions of 'straight' photography: recording pre-existing scenes without any kind of direct intervention by the photographer. However, what united all of these photographs was a sense of theatricality. Ranging from melodramatic reconstructions to the small tales of everyday domestic life, the images in the exhibition - in their different ways - portrayed our contemporary world as a kind of stage set in which we as actors play out our individual and collective stories. The participating artists were: Sarah Dobai, Annabel Elgar, Tom Hunter, Sarah Pickering, Nigel Shafran, Claire Strand, Mitra Tabrizian and Danny Treacy.


  • photography
  • British documentary photography
  • staged photography
  • uncanny
  • theatricality
  • images of Britain
  • Sarah Pickering
  • Sarah Dobai
  • Danny Treacy
  • Claire Strand
  • Annabel Elgar
  • Tom Hunter
  • Nigel Shafran
  • Mitra Tabrizian


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