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Sarah Allen

Assistant Curator, Tate Modern

For the very lucky among us the pandemic has forcibly shoved us off life’s merry-go-round and offered a moment to pause and reflect. For some this has involved looking back, which feels like a strange luxury in a future-focused culture that privileges productivity. With that in mind it was a pleasure to take a deep dive into the archive of Source magazine and concertina decades worth of photographic production in Ireland and beyond.


Maurice Hobson Portfolio
Source Issue 96 Winter 2018

Growing up in a rural family in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, Maurice Hobson was described by his brother as being ‘distinctly himself from an early age’. That his life would take such a tragic turn is a reminder of the many ordinary lives randomly derailed by The Troubles. In 1975 on the way to school Hobson was caught up in an IRA bomb blast. The event left him disfigured and suffering post traumatic epilepsy - a condition which would cause his death a decade later aged 29. The self-portraits he created in the following years through experimental techniques and binding his face are both beautiful and disturbing, speaking profoundly to a sense of entrapment, loss and anguish. Declan Long writes beautifully on Hobson’s work, drawing a parallel with Francis Bacon’s portraiture which enacts a similar violence upon the face and body. In Source Issue 28, I found a portrait of Francesca Woodman in which she had wrapped reels of Sellotape around her legs, creating fleshy distortions reminiscent of Hobson’s portraits. Two artists from completely different worlds but at a similar moment in time both using their bodies as a means to exorcise demons. Both taken far too early. Hobson’s brave and moving vision has stayed with me long after I closed this issue.

Day of Action, Bangor - Victor Sloan

Victor Sloan Portfolio
Source Issue 26 Spring 2001

Whereas the predominant image of Northern Ireland that has crystallised in the minds of many is one of street conflict typified by black and white documentary images – Victor Sloan’s work takes a uniquely different approach. His process of mark-marking, drawing and scoring over photographs is unambiguous in its refusal of the photograph as window to the world. The importance of this cannot be overstated during a time when the image of Northern Ireland was routinely warped by the media. But more than that, the gesture seems to remind us of the place of the individual and their refusal to be absorbed into a dominant narrative. Multi-layered and visceral, Sloan’s work is singular in its contribution to photography in Northern Ireland.

Can Photographs Tell the Story of Black History and the Black Present – Tina Campt interviewed by Caroline Molloy

Tina Campt Interview by Caroline Molloy
Source Issue 101 Summer 2020

Campt’s work focuses on excavating hidden histories. Whether surfacing testimony of African Germans under the Nazi regime or studio portraits of Afro Caribbean migrants to the UK in the period after the Windrush, Campt shows how different communities resolutely claimed their nationality in countries which attempted to refuse it. I also loved Campt’s proposal to ‘listen to photographs’ where she makes an argument to move beyond seeing to feeling a photograph. There were some wonderful parallels to an article [by Elizabeth Edwards] in Source Issue 42 entitled Embodied Meanings the Sound and Feel of Photographs which takes a more literal investigation into the sonic and haptic qualities of photographs.

Paul Quinn - From Maguire's Barbers, Belfast, 1996

Alternatives to Propaganda - Essay by Fiona Kearney
Source Issue 17 Winter 1998

How did Northern Irish photographers begin to carve out a space to vision their own reality and communicate the nuanced complexity of the Troubles in response to dominant media narratives? The response had two main approaches. One took the person out of the frame and looked to the landscape as a means to explore trauma. The other was a mode of image production that imbedded a critique of reductive or binary readings; for example, Catholic/Protestant, Loyalist/Republican. A concise and important introduction into the motivations behind an incredibly fertile moment in the history of photography in Northern Ireland.


Louis Quail Portfolio
Source Issue 90 Summer 2017

Louis Quail’s Big Brother is a touching document of the artist’s brother Justin who has been an avid birdwatcher since the age of nine. Justin also suffers from schizophrenia. In one sense, this series can be placed within a trajectory of photographer’s documenting their own families in raw and intimate ways - Richard Billingham’s Ray's a Laugh comes to mind. But where Billingham may slip too easily into voyeurism or sensationalism - even if it seems impossible to be a voyeur of your own family - pure tenderness lies at the heart of Quail’s photographs. The viewer is left in no doubt of the deep relationship between the brothers. A project which is an invitation to rethink mental illness, but it makes its point so gently - a whisper which we lean in to hear.

Fig. 8097GAS (TM) - An apparatus for testing the absorption ability of a nappy - 1969 / 2015, Mänttä, Finland - Ten People in a Suitcase by Trish Morrissey

Trish Morrissey Portfolio
Source Issue 87 Autumn 2016

Trish Morrisey has been working for decades in the mode of performative self-portraiture. This series is a response to an archive of images depicting a cast of characters in a small town in Finland made while the artist was on a residency. Morrisey adopts different personas crossing class, age and gender. Morrisey’s work is yet to receive the attention it deserves yet it seems ever more important in our Instagram age where performing the self is the order of the day. Read from the contemporary viewpoint, Morrisey’s comic posing cut through with a deadpan stare feels like a sardonic rebuff to the artifice behind our everyday performing for the camera.

Christopher Street 1976 - Sunil Gupta

Sunil Gupta Interview by Anthony Luvera
Source Issue 79 Summer 2014

This interview with Sunil Gupta offers a great insight into his career-long documentation of LGBTQIA+ lives. I particularly enjoyed learning that he was tutored by Lisette Model and gaining further insight into how he approached the collaborative photography of queer individuals in 1980s Delhi for his series Exiles. The interview also touches on the exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology curated by Gupta and Tessa Boffin in 1990. The show staked a claim for queer representation in a museum and cultural landscape which was largely hostile to such narratives and is worthy of closer critical analysis. The photographer Anthony Luvera interviews Gupta. Luvera’s photography is rooted in ethical questions surrounding the politics of representation so the pairing makes for an engaging dialogue.

It’s Your Decision – Issue 15

It’s Your Decision - Article by Richard West
Source Issue 15 Summer 1998

A nuclear family gaze out on a sunset. Below them appear the words ‘It’s your decision.’ The image advertises the referendum on the Good Friday agreement in 1998 and would have been ubiquitous during the time of the vote and is likely now embedded in the collective memory of many people in Northern Ireland. But something in the image isn’t quite right. Astute writer Richard West noticed that it would be impossible for the family to actually experience this sunset, as the sun sets in the west and there is no west coast in Northern Ireland. Tracking down the photographer he revealed that the image was taken in Cape Town in 1996. Slavka Sverakova, a research fellow follows West’s review with a visual critique of the image – she comments that the family appear trapped on the page, starved of air and standing on obscured, uncertain ground – not the message the government was going for! A fascinating insight into a photograph that played such a key role in imaging peace in Northern Ireland.

Advertising - Adler

Column by Judith Williamson
Source Issue 69 Winter 2011

A recurring feature in Source issues between 2008 and 2016 are Judith Williamson’s sharp dissections of advertisements. One in particular, for the jewellery company Adler is enthralling. In it a woman appears with her back to the viewer walking towards a horizon. She is read as ‘African’, and appears in a lazy, deeply problematic shorthand of Othering tropes – acacia-like tree, savanna-like landscape and a lion for good measure. The woman carries on her back a grotesquely large diamond and emerald entrusted bracelet. From that description alone it should be clear how much material there is to critique here.

Dawn Sirett (ed) My First Colours, Dorling Kindersley Ltd. 2002

Photobooks for Children – Essay by David Campany
Source Issue 54 Spring 2008

I’m always drawn to little-known histories of the photobook. I particularly enjoyed learning more on the psychology behind the genre and that Edward Steichen, with Mary Calderone, made a children’s photobooks entitled My First Picture Book in 1930. What seems to emerge is that the mechanical eye of the camera – equipped as it is to reproduce objects in stunning clarity – makes for an unusual medium for the children’s picture book, one which speaks to some fundamental questions about the medium of photography.

‘Policewomen practice Jiu Jitsu. Photo shows Mrs. Hamilton, who is in charge of the class, giving instructions in how to handle the women annoyers. After they get their muscles hardened a little more the policewomen think they will be able to make arrests without the aid of accompanying masculine detectives.’ - Bettmann, 22 March, 1924

Self Defence for Women - Getty Images Archive
Source Issue 97 Spring 2019

In the 1870s middle-class women carried dagger fans, in the 1970s we taught ourselves self-defence moves dubbed the ‘Nutcracker Suite’. This piece is both a fascinating retrospective view of female self-defence and an invitation to examine the performative images illustrating these instruction manuals. I write at a moment when male violence is in the media spotlight in London following the murder of a young woman Sarah Everard. As we learn from this piece women have been self-organising and using their own ingenuity in self-protection for centuries, yet we are only now waking up to the thought that it cannot be solely a woman’s issue to fix.

Gina Glover - A campaign demonstration photograph South London Womens' Hospital, Clapham, 1983

Community Photography - Article by Shirley Read
Source Issue 33 Winter 2002

‘Community photography was initially about class and the power of photography’ notes Shirley Read, author of one of this issue’s features on community photography. It is true that community photography is an important way of raising class consciousness and empowering communities to become the narrators of their own stories. Projects discussed include Gina Glover’s sustained documentation of hospital workers in London and the anti-racism workshop founded in Southampton in 1979 by academic Judy Harrison which was run by and within the Black and Asian community. Community photography in Birmingham and Belfast are explored in further articles. This is a micro insight into a truly sprawling topic of community photography.

COI caption: Salvation Army Captain L. Coleman technical instructor from Melbourne, Australia, showing a blind student how to make a basket

Photographs Explain Empire to Me - Article by Drew Thompson
Source Issue 98 Summer 2019

Rules exist to be broken so I am adding my number 13 - Drew Thompson’s piece entitled Photographs Explain Empire to Me (Issue 98) which is a review of the archive of the UK’s Central Office for Information which handled the public relations role of the British Empire after WWII. The archive, as the author comments, is one chapter in a larger story of ongoing disinformation, misrepresentation and imperial imagination.

Finally, although it hasn’t made it to my shortlist, I would like to mention the features which tend to live towards the front of each Source issue and often offer quantitative analysis of particular subjects. For example, the history of women in photography (Emma Campbell Issue 79) or an analysis on whether we still need photography galleries by Rebecca Hopkinson and Richard West (Issue 68). These pieces feel hugely valuable in laying bare success and failures - without someone crunching the facts and figures it’s difficult to measure progress.

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