Working in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s during a period of significant political change, and clashes between labour unions and the government, photographer Terry Dennett (1938–2018) was committed to bringing to light the history of British and international worker’s film and photography. For Dennett, as for many documentarians, the camera was not only a tool of representation but also one of political articulation.
In the early 1980s he published two issues of The Worker Photographer, a cheaply produced newspaper that sought to put his research into public distribution. At the same time, he wanted to arm those involved in labour activism with a history and tools through which they could represent and share their struggles.
The workshop’s starting point was the question whether those stories and approaches are still perceived as active political means in the present. Following the dramatic re-distribution of wealth during the Covid-19 pandemic, changes in labour practices, the energy crisis, and rocketing inflation, Johanna Klinger and Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe invited to join a discussion about documentary technology’s role in organising worker-led struggle. Drawing on Dennett's approaches, they asked, against the backdrop of current discourses about identity categories and modes of representation, if “the worker” remains a helpful political descriptor. What do our contemporary methods of self-representation tell us about work today, or how could they be used differently?
Johanna Klingler (*1988, lives and works in Munich) is an artist and researcher with a focus on historical materialism, ideology, and reproduction theory. Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe (*1989, lives and works in London) is a curator and writer. Her research currently revolves around documentary, performance, and methods of reproduction.
Photos: Constanza Melendéz