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February 5, 2018| Professor Michelle Henning (University of West London)
Ilford Photographic Manufacturers: Industry, Innovation and Sensory Experience
This presentation outlines my new research project, which will investigate practices of technical innovation in the work of the Ilford Ltd. Photographic company and early colour photography enterprises during WWI and in the interwar period. Innovations include the introduction of daylight loading roll film and Ilford Special Rapid Panchromatic Plates (1915), the introduction of HP and infra-red films in the early 1930s, the introduction of colour film processes such as Dufaycolor and the early development of multigrade paper in 1939. Also circa 1928 a number of colour photography companies were floated on the stock market, as part of the boom in financial speculation. The Colour Snaps company collaborated with Ilford in 1928-30, although Boots the Chemists expressed concern about the quality and viability of its process, and the company soon folded.
My research asks how industry archives might provide a source for a materialist history which is concerned not only with empirical description and analysis but with more elusive questions of a changing aesthetic and sensory “economy” in Britain during this period. My first step is to track technical, especially chemical, innovations and gain a sense of their impact on photographic practice across diverse fields. How did these address specific problems or needs such as those arising from war, economic changes, or new business and retail practices? The next step is more difficult: I want to ask how did these feed into the ongoing process by which technical images were being integrated into larger everyday experiences? This involves understanding photography not simply as a prosthetic means for extending human vision, but as something which transforms experience, understanding, sensory engagement with the world, habit and behaviour. For this paper, I will discuss some aspects of the archive, aspects of existing studies of photographic companies (Kodak, Corbis, Polaroid and others) and outline some of the key theoretical approaches that might help us unpick the question of transformation of sensory experience.
Michelle Henning is a writer and artist, and is Professor of Photography and Cultural History at the University of West London. She writes on photography, modernism, new media, and museums. Her latest book is Photography: The Unfettered Image (forthcoming Routledge, 2018).