I’ve never had any doubt that amongst my greatest teaching and learning resources are my own photographs of different types and conditions of housing – they always have immediate and lasting impact.
For this reason, over a period of years I have become more and more interested in how photographs – and other visual images – can make us feel, and what effect they can have on us. This has become an interesting area of research and exploration in itself.
Some of the most beautiful yet at the same time disturbing and haunting photographs I have ever seen are by photographer Nick Hedges, who Shelter commissioned in the 1960s to photograph poor housing conditions, and some of the residents of that poor housing. I saw many of these striking black and white photographs at an exhibition of Nick Hedges’ photographs in the Science Museum in London a couple of years back. I haven’t been able to find out much about him, but to see some of his incredible work click here and here.
A couple of weeks back, I saw an exhibition of far happier photographs of the ex-Warner estate at the Vestry Museum in Walthamstow. This is part of a wider project of social histories through housing and communities, and this exhibition is on until May 2017. I remember first visiting the Warner estate some twenty years ago to drop someone home, and distinctly recall the numerous green doors, which led me to believe at the time that it was municipal (council) housing. I have more recently found that the housing as in fact built by a wealthy landowner and property developer in days long before council housing, and those tenants lucky enough to live here enjoyed secure tenure and affordable rents, developing as a result a strong and vibrant community. The impact of secure tenure is surely amongst the most important features of housing. I will shortly be adding additional photographs to my Gallery.
Many tenants now do not enjoy secure tenure and a constant feature for so many is regularly moving and/or retaliatory eviction. I increasingly find this aspect of housing policy not just unacceptable, but at times cruel. It is therefore of great interest that this week Caroline Barratt and Gill Green published a fascinating paper based on their research about the meaning of home to those living in houses in multiple occupation, frequently some of the most vulnerable and excluded members of society. They asked tenants to take photographs to illustrate what their housing meant to them and also asked them how they felt about their housing. This fascinating article is available as open access, so click here to read a copy.