‘Images and Dust’ – The Royal Photographic Society / SHU Photography Research Day 2019
Images and Dust – The SHU/RPS Research Day 2019
Saturday 16 November 2019 saw the third joint Sheffield Hallam University and Royal Photographic Society Research Day with more than 30 delegates treated to a series of papers exploring different aspects of photographic history and practice in the Cantor Building in Sheffield. The event is a collaboration between the SHU BA Photography course and the RPS Special Interest Historical Group and is organised by Geoff Blackwell (RPS) and Andrew Robinson (SHU) and supported by the Department of Media Arts and Communication (MAC).
This year – in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the death of James Watt – the morning focused on Watt’s interest in mechanical copiers, imaging and lenses, and the tantalising possibility that Watt may have been working on camera and imaging technology.
The day began with a fascinating exploration of Watt’s workshop and it’s transfer in 1924 to the Science museum by Ben Russell (curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum). Ben explained Watt’s work on mechanical reproduction and his copying of sculptures for the V&A museum. He also revealed that technicians supervising the transfer enquired whether the curator wished for the accumulated dust from the workshop to be preserved however, to the disappointment of the current curator, this offer was declined.
An article by Russell on Remembering Watt can be found here.
Dr Roger Farnham then shared the results of his investigation of Watt’s letter copy process and presented a series of prints made using a hybrid version of the process by experienced fine art printmakers exhibited earlier in the year in Glasgow.
Further info on the James Watt Print Show can be found here.
Continuing the focus on Watt, Rose Teanby ARPS revealed the contents of a box recovered from his workshop containing lenses, mirrors and other glasses and demonstrated how these could be used to create a functioning camera obscura and speculated, given his early knowledge of Thomas Wedwood’s process of capturing images using silver nitrate, if Watt may have made his own photographic experiments.
The afternoon session saw a range of talks from different speakers with Dr Ron Callendar and Janine Freeston giving insight into early colour processes and Dr Michael Pritchard (Director of Education and Public Affairs at the RPS) exploring the influence of Antoine Claudet and his early London based daguerreotype studio.
Dr David Clarke and Andrew Robinson presented papers related to their work with the Centre for Contemporary Legend at SHU. Andrew explored the performative and ritualistic aspects of the photography of English calendar customs illustrated with recent examples from the Antrobus Soul Cakers in Cheshire and the firing of the Fenny Poppers in Buckinghamshire while David provided context and commentary on the famous photographs of fairies produced by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright at Cottingley, West Yorkshire a hundred years ago.
A part of the day two current BA photography students, David Ketley and Jake Rigby, exhibited work which deconstructs the photographic process and the indexicality of the image complementing the main themes of the day. The work was reviewed by conference attendees during the afternoon break and David provided an explanation of his experimental cameraless imagery.
The joint SHU/RPS Research Day provides a valuable opportunity for SHU academics and students to present ongoing photographic research and artwork to members of the Royal Photographic Society and visiting specialists in an atmosphere of shared interest and learning. The papers presented covered a wide range of interesting subjects which, whilst having a historical focus, also have relevance for contemporary practice.
Andrew Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Photography
I would like to thank both the Department of Media Arts and Communication and the Historical Group of the Royal Photographic Society for their continued support of this event.