The Oldham Road Rephotography Project

Meecham, Charles (2015) The Oldham Road Rephotography Project. Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

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Abstract

This PhD by prior publication comprises a major rephotography project
undertaken in two phases (First View,1986-89 and Second View, 2009-12),
together with a written commentary. The project is based on an area along the
A62 which connects Manchester to Oldham, a corridor route, which I
considered invisible and between places, a seeming ‘non place’.1 The research
questions how can topographic images made by adopting strategies of
rephotography help to depict aspects of place that remain hidden in generic
representations and how, in turn, this photographic record can be put to use.
The accompanying critical commentary investigates how this project came to be
realised, the photographic research methodologies employed, and relevant
contextual frameworks together with the different contexts through which the
work has been disseminated and shared. It considers what the practice of
rephotography contributes as a visual research method when analysing the
shifting topography of a specific urban corridor. Further to this, it suggests ways
in which such rephotography can engage different audiences and communities
in debate about lived experience of social and economic change.
The First View photographic research project was initially conducted by making
a series of visits to the area each year recording transformation through
redevelopment projects and subtler changes such as incidental events on the
street and the variations of seasons. The project took an ethnographic
approach to human involvement with place and space (Massey, D. 1994) as
well as drawing upon anthropological methods that employ photography as a
research tool (Prosser, J. 1998). Outputs from this project demonstrate
processes adopted and examples of the photography made. A selection of
photographs from First View became a touring exhibition shown in Oldham and
Manchester (1986-87) and then in London. A book was also published by the
Architectural Association (1987) with a commentary written by Ian Jeffrey.
The second view (2009-12) revisits the first survey and considers what
happened after. I wanted to consider twenty five years on how the continued
process of change may have increasingly eroded/altered the sense of place
1 This term derives from Marc Augé’s book, Lieux et Non-Lieux (2001).
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within the community. Since the First View a number of external factors
influenced how the research would continue. The political scene had changed
with introduction of private initiatives and housing associations taking
responsibility to manage and refurbish aging housing stock in the public sector
closer to the Manchester and in areas towards Oldham. Further cleared areas
remained undeveloped due to a major financial downturn. Also the adoption of
digital technologies had changed how photography was made, viewed, and
used. This led me to consider how the Second View could be more
collaborative (Kester, G. 2011) and so modify my method and find new ways to
interact with members of the community to help inform the work.
Outputs included exhibitions at Gallery Oldham and The People’s History
Museum, Manchester and an accompanying commentary written by Stephen
Hanson. I also include reviews and examples of additional collaborative
photography made and shown alongside the core exhibitions. Examples of the
printed work are now housed in Oldham library (including the complete set of
Second View exhibition prints, contact sheets and this written report). It is
permanently accessible for public and academic use under a commons license.
Although it can be argued that all photographic practice contains elements of
rephotography, this project contributes to original knowledge through analysis of
processes used to make the first long-term comparative and detailed
photographic study of the Oldham Road as an area exemplifying shift from
industrialisation to service provision. ‘Hermeneutic perspectives emphasise
photographs as texts, demanding semantic and semiotic interpretation to
determine meaning’ (Margolis and Rowe, 2012).
The corridor is now undergoing further changes as new projects by housing
associations and globalised business begin to fill the spaces left by previous
clearances. My published work shows connections, continuities and breakages
and new questions emerge about what values are worth preserving for a future
community. I suggest that a continuing photographic element can contribute to
an understanding of incidental detail that can influence a more sensitive
management of infrastructure and potentially help residents adjust to change
and thus maintain their sense of place.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Photography > Documentary Photography
Divisions: Collections > Theses
Depositing User: Barry Hall
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2017 14:50
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2017 14:50
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/7076

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