By Salina Christmas
SWXX, a hyperlocal visual blog on Fulham and its surrounding SW districts, is a personal project of our Creative Director, Zarina Holmes. She asked me what ethnography is and how it that could be done with photographs. I said if it’s ethnography, it’s documentary, and it’s not necessarily portraiture. Was she thinking of portraiture, or was she thinking of documenting?
In that aspect, Bob Gumpert is a good lead to follow. He did a good job with his series of prison photographs and audio recordings, “Take a picture, tell a story”, but he told us frankly that it was not ethnography. It was certainly not anthropology. He was simply appalled by the condition in the prison and felt compelled to do something about it with his photography.
Timmy's Pies (Ben, left, Timmy, right) at Union Market. Photo © Zarina Holmes / SWXX.
After seeing several photographs that Holmes did on the butchers and the pie makers in Fulham, I suggested that she provides visibility to the labour workforce in the area using her photographs, with the blog SWXX to mediate these images, and by proxy, their social presence.
Cheerful Randalls Butchers. Photo © Zarina Holmes / SWXX
Fulham: not posh, just provincial
It is generally assumed that Fulham is an upper middle-class area sandwiched between Chelsea and Putney full of bankers, lawyers and Sloans. It is also generally assumed that everyone living here is rich. Not quite. Londoners have a habit of construing the ‘provincial’ and the ‘conservative’ as ‘posh’. Leave London, go to Yr Wyddgrug, for example, and observe the way the village folks live, eat, play golf, rugby and cricket over the weekend, row boats, work on allotments, ride horses and wear that maroon wooly jumper, and you will realise that the habitus Londoners identify as ‘posh’ is actually simply ‘country’ or just a typical British way of living to many people outside London. The aggregate (1) of ‘country’ and ‘folksy’ change to ‘posh’ only in London where overpaid and overworked professionals aspire for a quiet life away from the city madness, and use lavish countryside escapades such as skiiing, horse-riding, rowing (2) and golfing as a status symbol.
Florists Ksenia and Gina at Jazz Flowers. Photo © Zarina Holmes / SWXX
There is a sizeable working- and middle-class people in Fulham, and definitely a significant number of traders. Historically, Sands End and South Fulham were the area where the Arts and Crafts movement thrived: De Morgan Road, where we used to live, close to the Thames, was named after the potter and tile designer whoused to work for William Morris two centuries ago. Morris, who lived up the road in Hammersmith, had some of his tiles made from the clay off the Sands End riverside bank. There are still furniture and interior design shops lining the streets of Fulham and Chelsea, close to Wandsworth Bridge.
It is this heritage that SWXX aims to preserve.
Unintentional muting and othering
The Vagabond team. From left to right: Stephen Finch, Peter Ingram and Colin Thorne. Photo © Zarina Holmes / SWXX.
The nature of anthropology that I do is of the culture of concealment. Often, due to lack of representation in the media, mainstream or otherwise, we inadvertently ‘mute’ a segment of society (Ardener, 1975). Chomsky raved about the muting of the ‘working class’ by the US mainstream media. I think the tradesmen of Fulham somehow got muted, too, not by some kind Othering (Heryanto & Mandal, 2005) built to create a favourable description of the dominant ‘Self’ – the Self implied here being the dominant class or ethnic group – but simply because we assume this area is purely residential and upper middle-class. In assuming that, we overlook the labourers.
Well done to Holmes for striving to make the SW tradesmen visible. Editors, if you want to scout for a hyperlocal visual journalist who gets what community reporting is, look no further than Ms Holmes. I am glad a sliver of insight gained from Digital Anthropology helps to contribute towards the development of this project.
1. Pauline Garvey spoke at a recent Material, Visual and Digital Culture seminar on “Democratic Design and the Ikea Flatpack” (21 November 2011) on how the aggregate of Ikea furniture as everyday, homogenising artefacts accessible by Swedish consumers become a status symbol of modernity when they’re shipped to places like the United Kingdom.
2. Coming from a country surrounded by water, I can assure you water transports and the associated sports are not necessarily considered ‘preppy’ or upper class. I don’t get what the deal is with class and rowing, other than it’s so expensive in London that only the bankers can afford to do it.