Subjective Cameras and Ekphrastic Writing: The Present and Absent Photograph in Mass Observation

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


    An 8000-word invited chapter to an edited collection in Bloomsbury's Mass Observation book series.
    Led by the suggestion of looking implicit in the organisation’s title, users of Mass Observation (MO) are sometimes surprised to find that the archive is not more visual in form. While professional painters and photographers were utilised by MO’s founders among their original eclectic research methodologies in the 1930s, since 1981 the Mass Observation Project (MOP) has been framed as a writing project. In both phases visual material is present but marginal. Photographs, in particular, form an absent presence across the long history of MO, where they move in and out of view as material, subject matter and metaphor. Through a discussion of founding and enduring ideas about image-text relationships in MO and MOP, and a detailed appraisal of submissions to a 2012 MOP directive on the topic of photography, this chapter takes an expanded view of the visual in MO as a way of seeing as much as a material outcome. Even as the making and keeping of photographs as research methods and as collection holdings has been inconsistent, I argue that photographic thinking and especially ekphrastic writing cuts across MO’s past and present.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Historical Contexts and Contemporary Uses of Mass Observation
    Subtitle of host publication1930s to the Present
    EditorsLucy Curzon, Ben Jones
    PublisherBloomsbury Academic
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 May 2021


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