We Need More Documentary, and We Need More than Documentary

Interview with Art Historian Steve Edwards

Doi: https://doi.org/10.47659/m3.032.int

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.

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.

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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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.
Reading Time: 32 minutes
Reading Time: 32 minutes
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