Thursday, April 07, 2011

Social Mobility

I was recently chatting to someone at work and we got onto the subject of her degree course at Sussex University, which she really enjoyed. However, she did experience one spooky moment during a lecture on postwar urban poverty.

It began innocuously enough with an introductory talk, followed by a slide show of grim, black and white scenes of urban deprivation. My colleague was relaxing in her chair, absorbed by the images being beamed by the projector.

Suddenly, to her horror, a picture appeared on the wall of her mother dragging a mattress down a street. The lecturer calmly deconstructed the image, explaining its context and meaning, unaware that the woman's daughter was sitting a few feet away from him.

What a shining example of social mobility.

Apparently, the lecturer was unaware of the photo's true origins. It was taken by my colleague's aunt, who threatened to thump her younger sister unless she posed for the picture with a mattress. The aunt, who grew up on a grim council estate, started to make a name for herself as a photographer, but inexplicably gave it up after a year.

Sadly I don't have a copy of the image with the mattress, but here is another striking photo, featuring my colleague's uncle on the right:


Martin said...

Did your colleague ever tell her lecturer? I'm surprised she didn't fall out of her seat, when that image appeared.

George H. said...

Context is truth. It doesn't mean it is always interesting. That's why a photo illustrating a point is an illustration. The photo still makes a good point, but it isn't the truth.

Grey Area said...

I was at a photo exhibition private view at The Pelirocco in Brighton a few years ago - a girl who wandered the streets taking pictures of events that she considered 'cinematic' and printed at huge scale - about 5' square. I noticed that one image had a picture of a bloke wearing exactly the same jacket as me.. I then realised it was me - staring at the camera, life size - at the exact moment that I had turned away from my then partner because I'd realised they were talking to someone on the phone that they were sleeping with behind my back - it was a 'difficult' moment.... both in the photo... and for me in the room ( The photographer gave me a copy after I called her - she was delighted, I wasn't... )

Gabriela Von Bohlen said...

I believe plenty of documentary photographs were staged, sometimes even with actors. But the imagine of the two boys is engaging!

tristan said...

clearly the state has failed by not taking your disadvantaged colleague and her deviant siblings and relatives in to protective custody

Anonymous said...

Amazing story (and Tristan thank you for the laugh). How differently we would behave when we talk about "society" if we knew that the people we were talking about were right there in front of us!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

What annoys me is those very same hand-ringing liberals who had grammar schools swept away (that golden gateway for the bright working classes to better themselves and through which my own father benefitted) are now up in arms about the dearth of gateways for today's working class and underprivileged youngsters to better themselves!

As for this ridiculous anti-competition ethos, kids need to learn that it's a competitive world they live in. It's certainly to their disadvantage if they don't and consequently find themselves flailing around in the adult world (like I did) when they reach it.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I learned long ago not to trust as photograph as "truth." It's very easy to lie with a camera, and just as easy to get things wrong unintentionally.

Bev said...

That is so brilliant! Love it. And I could have so been in one of the rural poor photos so know what I'm talking about.

Steerforth said...

Martin - she did tell her lecturer, but he didn't seem as shocked as she was.

George - I quite agree. We all impose our own narratives on the photos we see and take, which makes the whole noion of photography being objective absurd.

Richard - Bloody hell! I'd love to see the photo, but I expect that you'd rather never look at it again.

Gabriela - I saw quite a few photos taken by my colleague's aunt and they were really good. It's frustrating that she just gave up and didn't fulfill her potential.

Tristan - quite right! I expect she'll write a misery memoir about it one day, including the episode where she was almost forced to study at Oxford.

Christine - I'm always putting my foot in it, ranting about various types of people (e.g. Daily Mail readers, reiki healers, parents who give their children silly names etc) without remembering that either they or their loved ones fall into that category. It's very embarrassing.

Laura - I agree. I drifted through my teens and early 20s without any sense of focus. I also thought that being career-orientated was a bit Thatcherite.

As for the liberals, I didn't realise that they had musical hands ;)

C.B - Who was the idiot who said that the camera never lies?

Tattyhouse - The phrase 'rural poor' conjures up the ominous sound of banjos ;)

Bev said...

Well, probably should say semi rural, as there was a bus to Big Town every half an hour in the day time.
And weirdly don't ever remember hearing anyone else's music as a child. Not like London, where the noise of Other People's Music is a constant.