Representations of Butetown through the Lens: Approaches, Photographs, (Re) imaginings


Representations of Butetown: The Lens

Date: 26 June 2015

Venue: Corys Building, Bute Street

The Lens brought  together photographers/artists from Butetown and further afield, who have made this community a focus in their work. The aim is to bring together those living and/or working in Butetown, as well as those in the history, heritage and arts sectors, to re-ignite conversation on the many ways in which Butetown has, and is being represented.

“Representation is always already inadequate to the real that it seeks to inscribe…” (Rosalind Morris, 2010)

Representation is a tricky thing. Spivak uses the represent (vertreten) verses re-present (darstellen) to engage with notions of theory and the intellectual and how they engage with those who act and struggle (subaltern). Spivak states that an attempt “to confront them is not to represent them, but to learn to re-present ourselves.”

I would argue that re-presentation is the property of all, but as researchers or artists we may not always have the specific means, be they specifically cultural, social or otherwise, to interpret the different prospective ways in which people re-present themselves. According to Spivak representation is seen as “speaking for (as in politics) and re-presentation as in art or philosophy”.  In short, for research, representation is (as Morris says) already inadequate to the real and according to Spivak re-presentation potentially allows us to show something of ourselves (often through our silence, the gaps and what we do not/cannot say).

We hosted an event called ‘Representing Butetown: The Lens’. Five interviews were conducted with different photographers in Cardiff (various locations) and Newport. The interviews were edited into a short video piece and the photographers were invited to exhibit and talk about some of their work with members of the Butetown community.

I’d like to talk a little about how I developed the video. The point of doing the interviews in the first place was to get an idea (as an outsider) about ways of engaging. The work of capturing the interviews became an artistic opportunity in itself when I made the decision to work with a handheld camera to explore visual aesthetics, ways of seeing and by extension, ways of viewing, by deliberately playing with extreme close-ups, for example. As a result, two things were crucial to the video: 1) what they were saying and 2) how they were seen.

Why was the visual aesthetic and deliberate manipulation important or even relevant to the aim of the project event?

One of the key themes about representation that seemed to be cropping up in our brief analysis of the footage was the notion of wanting to create ‘honest’ portraits, spontaneous, not posed. There seemed to be a desire to capture the glimpse of a reality – how we are, how we were? Stuart Hall says in his concession to realism that the images in Picture Post were documentary not art. As with the Picture Post and their Wartime Britain images, the images sought to capture the facts of this-is-what-happened and also to evoke the experience of having been there.

In many ways, I was interested in playing with the ‘art of documentary’ or rather, pushing the boundaries of the documentary video to make apparent (through an art process), the facts of the experience. To expose, not just the orations but the reality that these individuals were talking and responding to me and that I in turn, was observing and listening to them. The visual play was also an attempt to encourage the viewer to have that sense of the intimate that I experienced.

At this point I will add that this justification for the product that emerged does not dismiss the possibility that the visual choices for some, may have had the opposite effect than those intended (that is, distraction and unease) or that had I only depended on my 2nd camera placed uncompromisingly on a tripod, that the interviewer presence would have been obliterated. Again, I place emphasis on the word ‘play’ in art and experimentation and ways of pushing conceptual ideas into practice.

See video snippet HERE



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