More on oppositional photography

Many of you will be familiar with the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes I’m sure but if not, you can look here.  The writer Bill Watterson would often lampoon high-brow intellect, most notably in the art world, but in one cartoon Calvin sits down to write his own history book, commenting that he is qualified to do so because ‘all history is revisionist biography’ anyway.  This idea, that history is written if not by the victor, then at least by the dominant group in society, is one that haunts the cultural sector as galleries, museums and heritage sites across the land find it difficult to make their collections more accessible to an ehtnically diverse British audience, while at the same time they find that their visitor base is largely international, in London at least.  The problem is that if British tourism is dominated by notions of Britishness and heritage that are based on stereotypes, there will always be groups that exist outside that stereotype whose experience is not represented in current interpretation of British history.

The reasons for this are complex and cannot be addressed here, but this topic has been picked up by repeatedly by oppositional photographers who seek to comment on the way British tourism has excluded certain groups from the history the industry presents.  One such photographer is Ingrid Pollard whose Pastoral Interludes (1987) contrasted historic assumptions about the English landscape with the largely inner-city landscape experienced by most Black Britons.  Rather than the English landscape being the inspiration for poets and artists or the location for ramblers the nation over, Pollard’s reading of the landscape was both disenchanting and threatening.


…it’s as if the Black experience is only lived within an urban environment. I thought I liked the Lake District where I wandered lonely as a Black face in a sea of white. A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease, dread….”


…Searching for sea shells, waves lap my Wellington boots, carrying lost souls of brothers & sisters released over the ship side…

John Kippin also challenged this traditional view of the British landscape, framing activity reflecting contemporary culture within the traditional landscape associated with Britain.  His image Prayer Meeting, Windermere captures Muslims at prayer in the Lake District and is perhaps his most well-known image.

Prayer meeting, Windermere

Prayer meeting, Windermere by John Kippin

Shakespeare Country, by John Kippin

Shakespeare Country, by John Kippin

Quite whether Chris’s work can be considered oppositional is open to question as it’s certainly never been his intention to debunk the history that is presented at the Tower, his work is more concerned with a relationship with the landscape itself rather than a commentary on the socio-political and economic that framework in which the Tower of London is presented as a visitor experience.  The likes of Jem Southam, Robert Adams and Alec Soth (who I will cover in my next post) are a much greater influence than Parr, Pollard or Kippin.


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