Performative Acts of Race
: Authenticity, Blackness and Identity through Photography, Memory and Movement

  • Ekua Mcmorris

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines how three generations of women from one family have used photography to inform and maintain their beliefs about identity, race and belonging. It explores how, through photography, they performed ways of being Black. Through a close examination of family narratives and photographs, I ask how race can be understood as a performative act played out in front of the lens. In doing so, the study contributes to a broader discussion about race and the performance of race in Britain
    from the late 1950s to the present.

    Combining autoethnography and photographic practice, I critically explore the different ways my grandmother, mother and I have used photography. My grandmother, by way of her British colonial passport, used photography to confirm her British identity. My mother utilised the photographic image to inform and educate the next generation, embracing a new Black identity that was political and resistant to negative stereotypical images. Finally, I turn the camera on myself and examine what it means to be been born Black, female and British in London during the racial and political upheaval of the 1970s and 1980s. Centred on Harlesden in North West London the study moves out across the British landscape to explore how race is performed in different locations.

    Informed by Stuart Hall’s analysis of how colonialism shaped African Caribbean culture and history in Britain, and drawing on key theoretical ideas established by Black radical thought including Frantz Fanon and W.E.B. DuBois, this thesis explores
    the implications of photographic practices. Combining image making with primary research and with reference to my grandmother’s and my mother’s use of photography, the thesis contributes to debates on Black photographic histories in
    Britain. Specifically, it provides a close examination of key arguments surrounding the racialised construction of Black British identity, how racial classifications have been upheld through photography, and how they are also subject to modification and
    contestation through practices of making and using photographs. The study explores and contributes to the contemporary shift in cultural and visual representations of the Black body. This is done by arguing that photography, when used differently, can produce new ways of seeing which in turn give rise to new cultural ways of being.
    Date of AwardApr 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorDarren Newbury (Supervisor) & Anita Rupprecht (Supervisor)

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