Juliet Baillie (Birkbeck College University of London), Photography and Citizenship: 1930s Camera Club Education in London’s East End

PHRC seminar, Tuesday December 3rd 2013

Seminar review by Ela Farrell

This month’s PHRC research lecture was given by Juliet Baillie who recently submitted her AHRC-funded doctoral thesis, “Amateur Photographers, Camera Clubs and Pictorial Photography in 1930s London”, at the Department of History of Art, Birkbeck, university of London. Drawing on her research into the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Boys Club photographic section of the 1930s, Baillie presented a paper that revolved around the intersection of photographic technical and aesthetic education, and other ideas about productive civil behaviours in Britain of that time. Baillie explained how the camera clubs of the 1930s marked a significant shift away from the Victorian notion of leisure and individual reform, replacing these with ideas about collective improvement. According to her work, the Club offered the potential for an aesthetic education, lacking elsewhere, which led to a ‘particularised photography’. Using basic camera equipment and tutored by professionals, members of the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Camera Club produced images in a pictorial tradition, which were then displayed in exhibitions and competitions. According to Baille’s research, the Camera Club served as an indicator of the belief that photographic education could act as a catalyst to social improvement for active members, providing the boys with social skills and future job prospects that would lead to their positive engagement in society as ‘good citizens’. In my view, Juliet Baillie’s contribution to the understanding of amateur photography in the interwar years will go a long way to redressing a current imbalance in the literature about the many diverse photographic practices carried out within the social domain at large.

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