Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay.

Scott, Grant ORCID: 0000-0003-2882-1380 (2019) Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay. United Nations of Photography.

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Abstract

The aim of this research is to document and explore the ways in which Bill Jay personally instigated a sea change in the interest and engagement with the photographic medium in the United Kingdom whilst developing a dialogue with an international community as he advocated for photography to be accepted within the pantheon of fine art and to be recognised as an art form in its own right. Jay fought for the photographic medium to be seen as a creative and professional practice within higher education, museums, arts funding institutions and gallery environments through his editorship of Camera Owner, Creative Camera Owner, Creative Camera and Album magazines, his lectures within polytechnics and his tenure at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. As Val Williams has commented “It was the restless and exclusive dialectic of Camera Owner/Creative Camera which set the aesthetic agenda of a decade.”1 I intend to focus on Jay’s writing particularly his editorial letters in Camera Owner, Creative Camera Owner, Creative Camera and Album magazines and his subsequent written and recorded reflections on the period to evidence the themes and issues he felt most important to address in implementing the sea change in 1 Val Williams, “Crowned with Thorns: Creative Camera 1965-1978”, in Illuminations: Women Writing on Photography From the 1850s to the Present, ed. Liz Heron and Val Williams (Duke University Press, 1996). understanding and practice of the medium that he felt was essential to ensure the future for photography in Britain. I will also comment upon the existing research and writing documenting this period and provide new evidence gained from original research that will provide new interpretations of Jay’s influence and role within the publications that he is most recognised as being involved with, and an understanding of how his personal life impacted on his relationship with the medium of photography. In this respect the research will address contentious comments such as this from Sir George Pollock, President of the Royal Photographic Society (1978- 1980), “The driving force at Camera Owner was Colin Osman, at the time Bill Jay was essentially his assistant.”2 In this respect this research should be seen as a companion piece to the film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay. I also aim to identify Jay’s involvement with the British photographic community – with particular refence to the opening of the first photographic gallery in Britain, the Do Not Bend Gallery by Jay, and his involvement with the seminal photographic Modfot One exhibition, 1967 – and the role he played in establishing thought processes and inspiring individuals who responded to his ideas, knowledge and passion with the resultant development of an independent series of platforms for photographic dissemination throughout the 1970s. This will include original research outlining his impact on photographic education in Britain with specific research on his 1970 Manchester Polytechnic lecture delivered to students including Martin Parr, Brian Griffin and Daniel Meadows. I will also evidence his involvement in networking and publishing those engaged with photography with those involved with education 2 Interview with Sir George Pollock, More on Modfot One. Roy Hammans. 2015. in both the US and UK to help create a dialogue between these two areas of engagement with the medium. OUTLINE RESEARCH OBJECTIVES The central research objective of this project is to place Bill Jay as a central figure of influence in the sea change in British photography that took place between 1968 to 1972 through his activity as an editor, writer, curator and lecturer. Research will evidence this position for Jay and consider him as the successor to previous protagonists for British photography and change in how the medium was viewed, taught and exhibited; Beaumont Newhall and Helmut Gernshein. Research will also provide evidence of Jay’s personal life experiences and work experiences outside of his magazine editorship to evidence how they informed his evangelical approach to the medium of photography. It will also respond to existing research and provide further context to the existing history of the magazines Jay edited. An additional research objective is to examine the impact that Jay’s lecture tour of British polytechnics in 1970 had on the students he met and how these students progressed to contributing to the photographic aesthetic of the following decades. OUTLINE PROPOSED RESEARCH METHODS To answer the question set, I intend to cross reference and cross examine the research undertaken to ensure a body of analytical writing that acts as a compliment to the film’s more hagiographic approach. I will adopt primary/empirical research methods to develop a research framework that responds to existing text and research documenting British photography and Jay’s role within the community and his relationship with both the publishing and education environment of the time. The methodology will include specific research techniques such as semi-structured interviewing, participant observation, consultation research of specific archives, personal archives and primary source publications. The rationale for adopting this approach is based upon the availability of primary research opportunities with living colleagues and students of Bill Jay, and available audio and video material revealed through interviews that exists within private collections. The primary aim of the research has been to create a full-length documentary film, a photographic portrait- based publication and an exhibition focused on Bill Jay’s documentation of the greats of British and International photography of the Twentieth Century. These have been constructed from fifty-seven semi-structured interviews with those who knew Bill Jay throughout his career, and semi-structured interviews with four academics who have previously researched this period of British photography, Jay’s involvement with it, education and publishing as PHD level research. These interviews adopted a broad range of practice in their completion and included recorded telephone conversations, Skype calls, personal meetings and filmed interviews for inclusion in the completed documentary. These interviews have been used as a qualitive methodology and protocols were established to limit the justifiability of the charge of bias being levelled against them. These protocols included the adoption of a conversational rather than questioning approach to discussion and for all of the interviews to be recorded. Rigour was exercised in the design and various dimensions of the overall process as a multi- mode inquiry. This ranged from the craft techniques implemented in the creation of the film, book design and exhibition curation and the selecting and editing of material for inclusion in all of these artefacts. Similar rigour will be demonstrated in the programme of intellectual exploration undertaken in writing the thesis, by which the conceptual framework will be established and by which key resonances will be identified in the overall praxis between know-how, know-what and know-that. The written thesis will challenge previously researched understandings of Jay’s involvement in the establishment and creation of editorial content of Creative Camera magazine and evidence the chaotic nature of his private life, his poor business acumen and inability to work with and within the existing photographic institutions to create change. It will also evidence the reasons for Jay’s ceaseless impatience when provoking the establishment to adopt his ideas and beliefs. The creation of the artefacts associated with the project including the film, book and associated curated exhibitions act as conduits for the central thesis inquiry. The written thesis will suggest further areas for research to progress the understanding of the development of photography in the latter half of the twentieth century through the editorship of photographic publications in Britain both prior and preceding Jay’s involvement with Creative Camera. These include the editorship of Photography magazine by Norman Hall (1952-1962) and the involvement of Peter Turner with Creative Camera between 1970-1980. There is also research, to be undertaken to complement existing ongoing research in the growth of the independent photography gallery network in Britain throughout the 1970s until the reduction of arts funding by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and the associated independent photographic publications such as CameraWork and Ag magazines. Bill Jay could be seen as a catalyst for these developments and therefore a starting point and a bridge for related research.

Item Type: Other
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Art and Design > Photography
Research Priority Areas: Creative Practice as Research
Depositing User: Grant Scott
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2019 14:37
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2019 14:37
URI: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/6601

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