Andreia Alves de Oliveira

Andreia Alves de Oliveira is a photo artist, researcher and lecturer based in London. She holds a PhD (2014) and an MA (2009) in photographic studies from the University of Westminster and is visiting lecturer in Photography at Birmingham City University. Previously, she studied law and worked as a lawyer. Andreia’s practice and research are concerned with the notion of artistic research, as well as the theory of photography and theories of representation, in relation to concepts of space and the everyday. www.andreiaoliveira.net

I don’t think we are victims of technology, we are agents of technology.

We meet with David Bate, artist and theorist working in photography in a Portuguese cafe in London the day the United Kingdom is holding what will most probably be its last European Parliamentary elections. The country has been at the forefront of education in photography, offering a record number of university degrees which historically were pioneer in introducing critical theory as part of the curriculum. But today this situation might have changed. The conversation flows freely between Bate’s experience of growing up in a working class area in 1970s UK and the realities of today’s educational and social system, the correlation between theory and practice and the paradoxes of the digital image and our current relation to it, aiming to introduce (or update) our readers to one of the most thought provoking and rigorous critical practitioners (which is to say, thinkers) working in and with the medium today.

All of this is a way of saying that it is difficult to imagine a serious practice of documentary that doesn’t have a grasp of the social processes shaping our time.

Steve Edwards teaches history and theory of photography and is a fiery, self-described “radical from a working-class background”, “post-Trotskyist” and “socialist feminist”, who reads “Marx and more Marx”. We met in 2016 in Lisbon at an academic conference on Photography and the Left, where he was one of the keynote speakers. Edwards’ paper tracked the changes in relation to the Left and the documentary movement in Britain from the 1970s to the present day, his argument consisting in that documentary and social class are closely entwined. This interview, done at Birkbeck, University of London, which he joined as a Professor at the beginning of this academic year, revisits the main themes of what was, in many ways, an enlightening and inspiring talk. Using the two terms – Photography and the Left – to frame and anchor the discussion, our exchange covers Edwards’ political education, the 1970s emergence of a key period in visual theory and subsequent mutations in political visual practice, up to its present status in a neoliberal society and the forms and intellectual basis of contemporary resistance to it. Although the exchange is centred on the British context, it is done so, however, with total awareness of it being an instance among others of documentary photography’s many global manifestations. It is with these manifestations that this interview aims to enter into dialogue, through its publication in a magazine with a global audience such as Membrana’s.

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