KEY READING: Sarah Maitland’s ‘What is Cultural Translation’ (2017)

In these posts, I’ll set how I understand some of the key texts that explore cultural translation, and why I think they are important for understanding the concept. 

Maitland, Sarah. What is cultural translation? Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Sarah Maitland’s (Goldsmiths) 2017 book What is Cultural Translation is one of the only monographs that sets out to define cultural translation in precise terms that I have been able to find. Maitland’s background is in translation studies, and as such she attends not only to the state of cultural translation’s usage in wider academia but also to its place within what might be considered ‘traditional’ (inter-textual or interpretative) translation. Her book provides a valuable guide to a complex term that, in her own words, is often theorised in contradictory ways.

In this series of blog posts I want to draw out what I find interesting and useful about Maitland’s work. She conducts a particularly fascinating genealogy of the term ‘cultural translation’ itself, helpful in delineating the key ideas involved in the term. Finally, by locating the topic firmly within translation, I want to use Maitland’s work as a springboard to discuss and develop my own work.

Maitland’s approach

Maitland works within what could very broadly be called a poststructuralist approach to communication, and sets her arguments off with reference to Richard Rorty. In particular, she explores his idea of a ‘liberal ironist’. The liberal ironist is essentially an ethical agent or actor who takes an ironic approach to the complexities of modern life, specifically, someone who both affirms a view that the prevention of cruelty is the highest human endeavour, and, at the same time, understands that all ideas and ethics are shaped by their cultural context. Rorty is a good frame for her arguments, I think, as viewing the cultural translator in terms of a liberal ironist helps the reader get at one of her central points: cultural transition is shaped by attendance to both 1) a transcendent political or ethical concern for the wellbeing of the other, and 2) to the awareness of contingency and context.

This gives cultural translation an ethical/political zest right off the bat. Cultural translation is not simply a description of some nebulous process whereby culture ‘moves’ in some way from one context to another. Rather, it is linked to how a person or a subject interacts with other people, and specifically the ‘other’ person, on a fundamental level. Her approach goes on to raise familiar questions of representation. In processes of (cultural) translation, we  confront the fact that we, as subjects, have no direct access to the other’s mind, their experiences, histories, and so on. How do we speak to and about the other without this access? Mapping the unfamiliar other out in terms we already recognise risks simply reproducing what we know while ignoring their specificities – which, as the On Translations conference was keen to stress, often constitutes an act of (colonial) violence.

But Maitland is also a practicing interpreter and translator and has in my view a practical approach to these question. She uses Paul Ricoeur’s thinking on translation, as well as his ideas on the hermeneutic process, as a philosophical ground for her definition of cultural translation, and sets out the following points:

  1. Meaning is always produced in the communicative act, rather than transferred from one person to another. This means it is also always dependent on or determined in relation to context (the immediate social environment, the broader historical and political situation, the identity positions of the speakers, and so on).
  2. As part of that production, the speakers involved create themselves as subjects. This follows for both parties in any communication (in other words the self is created at the same time as, with, and through, the other).
  3. The subject actively engages in working out how best to communicate with the other. For Maitland, this involves working out what the other knows as best he or she can and then tailoring the information they present to what they think the other will understand or respond to.
  4. At the same time, any knowledge the subject obtains from the other will always be filtered through the subject’s specific perspective, determined by it’s judgements, values, and so on.
  5. This process is dynamic rather than a one-time only activity – it goes on, constantly, as we talk to and about other people. It is bound up with the ‘hermeneutic process’, that is, the daily activity of interpretation that we engage with all the time.

Maitland writes:

If, at base, hermeneutics is what we do in life, cultural translation is the purposeful orientation of the hermeneutic dimension of life towards meaningful action and the transformation of the purposeful self.” Maitland, p.10

Essentially, Maitland locates a translation-type process at the heart of all interpersonal communication. This radical approach means that the underlying mechanics of translation shouldn’t simply be considered as relevant to professional translators but, in fact, are rather familiar and mundane, traceable as she suggests within a very broad range of interpersonal activity, and bound up with the constant process of interpretation and investigation we engage in when we encounter other people.

One ethical consequence is that it forces us to attend to both what does not translate (and is ‘erased’ in the process of translation) but also to affirm that things do translate too, in an every-day sort of sense. This would seem to develop and critique the somewhat pessimistic view that sees cultural translation as founded on the misapprehension of the other.

It also makes Maitland’s approach, in my mind, both theoretically sophisticated and practical. It runs on the premise that although we cannot ever fully understand another person in our own terms, in conversation (and so in ‘cultural translation’) we nevertheless shuttle back and forth between what we understand of our own experience and what we learn of the other’s experiences. So, although we can’t every translate the total meaning of text, or know the full extent of an cultural object before it is exposed to a process of translation, we nonetheless do constantly work and rework at translating ourselves and others into terms of mutual, if always partial, understanding. As such Maitland’s work gives us a theoretical insight into the manifold ways in which cultural translation occurs, and, more importantly, provides a way forward for applying the term to cultural and media research.


SEMINAR SERIES History, Heritage & Archives | Cultural Translation, History and Loss

Dima Saber’s research paper ‘Resistance-by-recording: the visuality and visibility of contentious political action in the Arab region’

by Simon Crisp

In the first of three History, Heritage & Archives BCMCR seminars, Dr Dima Saber and Dr David Gange tackled the topic of cultural translation, history and loss by talking about some of their respective recent and on-going projects.

Dima started the event talking about the ‘Resistance-by-recording: the visuality and visibility of contentious political action in the Arab region’ project, which explores how variously situated activists use camera-related practices in their struggles for rights, along with the issues of distribution and archive and a re-centring of the agency of human beings over technologies. David then presented his project ‘Sea-Sites in Island History: Exploring the Lost Communities of Atlantic Britain and Ireland’ which had seen him kayak the Atlantic coasts of the British Isles exploring and documenting the culture, history and archives of those coastlines and the communities which have resided there.

Both talks were fascinating in their own right and spoke of issues of history, archive, and loss. David’s accounts of the alternative histories of modernity on the coast were particularly striking for me in the way in which they question the cultural perspectives and dominant visions of British and Irish history, along with the unique access and outlook afforded by approaching these locations from the sea. However, I will focus here on how Dima’s talk prompted me to think about, and question, the idea of Cultural Translation.

Having briefly heard about Resistance-by-recording at a Journalism Activism, Community research seminar last year, I was expecting my thoughts about how the project relates to ideas of cultural translation to be based on the way in which it works across borders, how activists in different situations use varying digital media practices, and how they collaborate with each other. But, as Dima talked about issues raised during an ethnographic research trip to Berlin, and a recent Stockholm roundtable, I found my focus shifting to questioning cultural translation and the digital.

Dima said YouTube’s increasing use of algorithms to identify and limit what was considered to be Jihadi supporting propaganda had become a major issue for the project and the digital activists involved. YouTube’s identification and removal of videos, and channels can now be done with no human interaction and has caused digital activists to change their focus from documenting human rights violations to archiving and preserving historically and culturally significant footage which may get removed or deleted.

Suggestions to insert a human-led stage into the process whereby somebody who understands Arabic and knows the context would be able to distinguish between a terrorist propaganda video and evidence of a human rights violation, raise further questions about the translation of culture into the digital. While algorithms can be used to analyse and recognise, they still cannot understand and translate what they are identifying into other contexts and histories. They are not culturally aware but have been given the power to wipe from voices and memories from history. Thinking about this has left me with more questions about how the idea of cultural translation can be used not just when exploring movements across borders or between languages, but also into the digital.

Finally, another point I found particularly interesting was the questioning of the role of research and academics, and Dima’s suggestion of acting as a facilitator – or put another way a translator – between the activists and the tech companies on whose platforms they rely. It was said that this could be done by using the power of an academic network to get people around the same table or writing papers which will be helpful to tech companies, but that also address the issues impacting the activists.

Simon Crisp is a MA student at Birmingham City University. 

THIS WEEK: Work in Progress from Scholars in the History, Heritages and Archives Cluster

1600-1730 Wednesday 28 March
P424, Parkside,
Birmingham City University

Free registration at this link

Angela English (BCU) – Sequestered Collections: Access and Cultural Value in Moving Image Archives.

This presentation will focus on the early findings of Angela’s recent pilot study into practices around archive film involving interviews with archivists and practitioners. Angela will explore access and cultural value, two areas of concern for participants in the study. The aim of the pilot study and her continuing research is to provide a systematic critique of current use of archive film for public history engagement, what models are being employed and what role is played by film archivists and to relate these insights to the wider context of use of archive film.

Vanessa Jackson (BCU) – The Benefits and Challenges of Video as an Oral History Method

Traditional oral historians, such as Thompson (1978) and Portelli (1979), have favoured audio life history interviews, over video, but video has tremendous potential benefits, as well as challenges. Video provides richer and more complex data for researchers, for instance, the ability to read the mise-en-scene, body language, and facial expressions, but also to take oral history beyond the static long-form interview into the realm of location recording, with the use of visual props such as photographs, and even reconstructions. Video may also result in more engaging materials for a wider audience, which can increase the impact of projects. Additionally there are considerations over aspects such as interviewee performance, which are heightened with video, as well as challenges over participant anxiety, technical proficiency, logistics and editing.

Vanessa has recorded a number of video oral histories with former BBC production staff as part of a community online history project she established: The aim of the project is to document and celebrate the programme making which went on at BBC Pebble Mill in the last quarter of the 20th Century. The illustrative videos in the presentation will be drawn from this project.

Paul Long (BCU) – The Political Economy of The Archive

Questions under this theme emerge from my work as a board member with Media Archive Central England and Vivid Projects. These cultural organisations are faced with a perennial issue regarding funding and sustainability which raise questions for me about value and our contemporary culture of commemoration. To shift the focus to the materiality of archives also involves some appreciation of the labour of the archivist, their motivations and orientation to their work and its purpose. While The Archivist, like The Archive, is often posed in terms of representative enlightenment ideas, of objective professionalism, archival practice is inflected by personal commitments and affective dispositions that bear some scrutiny in relation to the overall sustenance of their endeavour and those institutions devoted to preserving evidence of the past. In exploring the political economy of the archive, and the labour of the archivist, how might these perspectives add to our understanding of the business history, heritage and contemporary memory?

Chris Hill (BCU) – Policing and Protest as Colonial and Anti-Colonial Practice in Post-War Britain: Re-Framing Law and Order at the End of Empire

Policing and protest in post-war Britain were defined by experiences, solidarities and tactics that extended beyond the local and national settings in which engagements between them took place. Just as policing in this period was shaped by the role of officers in the Second World War and colonial counter-insurgencies, protest was shaped by the role of activists in anti-colonial politics and struggles for liberation. Through post-war immigration into Britain, these global dimensions to policing and protest became even more pronounced, with ‘race’ in particular emerging as a key construct in popular engagements over law and order.

This paper focuses on relations between the Committee of 100, an anti-nuclear organisation inspired by Gandhian methods of protest, and West End Police Station in London, where Harold Challenor, a decorated war hero, served as detective-sergeant. In this case, it argues that protestors and police invoked rival versions of the global in order to contest the law as an instrument of identity and values in post-war Britain. In doing so, it demonstrates how engagements between them reflected a crisis of ‘Britishness’, culminating not only in members of C100 breaking the law, but also Challenor and his constables. All of this unfolded at a pivotal time for policing in Britain and the British world, between the Devlin Report on colonial policing in Nyasaland in 1959 and the Royal Commission on Police in 1962.

About the speakers:

Angela English is a 2nd year M3C/AHRC funded PhD candidate at BCU. Her research focuses on how archive film might play a role in public history practice and audience engagement. She has previously worked in film education at the British Film Institute and from 2006-2015, was Research and Development Officer for the London Screen Study Collection at Birkbeck College, University of London and this archive film collection forms a core resource for her research.

Vanessa Jackson is Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Media and Communication at Birmingham City University, and teaches practical television modules to undergraduates. She has recently successfully defended her PhD, which was supervised by Professor John Ellis, at Royal Holloway, University of London. Before joining BCU in 2008 Vanessa was a series producer at BBC Birmingham, making factual and documentary programmes.

Paul Long is Professor of Media and Cultural History at Birmingham City University. His research encompasses issues of cultural justice and informs his published work on the politics of representation and the past as they pertain to public history, popular music and the archive. He recently co-curated a major exhibition on Birmingham’s music history. His current research builds on these themes in two areas: (i) the political economy and affect of contemporary archival cultures; (ii) the history of student unions and their role in British popular music cultures.

Chris Hill is a research fellow in history, heritage and archives. He has research interests in modern British and late imperial history, with a focus on the history of broadcasting and the press, decolonisation, nuclear weapons and social movements.  His first book, Peace and Power in Cold War Britain, explores the relationship between radical traditions of liberty and media technologies, particularly as it emerged through post-war peace movements and the rise of television.

SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Melinda Maxwell on ‘Crossing Lines and Sharing Spaces’

Crossing Lines and Sharing Spaces

by Melinda Maxwell

The lines to cross and the spaces to share are affiliated to music that lives in the moment, exists in the spaces between the notes, and is driven by instinct. As a classically trained musician my in-roads into jazz improvisation have re-awakened this inner space. I have always enjoyed improvising but now I am thinking about melodic and harmonic structures that can enrich my improvising activity as a composer and player. The inner space led by the ear has become embedded in my performing, teaching and practicing.

Today in the classical world there is a bridge over this inner space that connects composers and players. That bridge is notation. It was exceedingly common until about the early 19th century for composers to play and vice versa. A cultural change began when composers wanted their own specific notes to be played and not those of an improviser. The notation of musical language became more complex in its instructions, so much so that in the 20th and 21st centuries the sheer look of a score could resemble a Jackson Pollock abstract expressionist painting with its complex layers of texture. The style in music that has similarities to this expression has been labeled New Complexity. Composers such as Brian Ferneyhough, James Dillon and Richard Barrett compose music whose notation is on information overload.

There is a wealth of instructions to distil and internalize before a note is sounded. Sometimes there is not enough time to garner all that is needed for performance and the eye is forced to wing what it sees and choose the right path in which to steer the music. This has its own energy and drive but it puts the player in a curiously restricted space. The instinct is more aligned to the eye than the ear. If one were to transcribe a free improvisation by Evan Parker the notation would most probably look identical, but the two methods of music making are worlds apart, and even if you were to learn and play the Evan Parker transcription it wouldn’t quite live up to the energy of the original because the notation “bridge” restricts and adversely changes the immediacy in communication of an improvisation.

My improvisation on the opening oboe solo of Octandre (1923) by Edgar Varèse is an attempt to link these two worlds of composer and player. It is a gesture of reverence for the music, a way of getting under its skin. Making sister versions by ear deepens the understanding of the original. I have performed it many times and often felt the tempo marking too fast. But, classical musicians are trained to stick to what the notation dictates. Tempo is an elusive thing and trying to fix it can cause problems for the music’s character. I know from my own work with living composers that they are aware tempi can be affected by many things, not least different acoustics, but there is a need to be as precise as possible, because once it’s written down, it’s “fixed”.

For me the opening solo of Octandre feels like a blues with its soulful falling minor ninths, minor sevenths and whole-tones. My instinct says it needs space to breathe and express itself and this seems to open up the inner space and crosses the line into where the music begins to live of its own accord and carry its own momentum. Certainly, I would like to think that Varèse  (who attended jazz concerts in New York in the late 1950s and invited jazz musicians to his home to improvise using his graphic notation) would grant my wish to explore the instinctual aural space between his notes.

Melinda’s paper was delivered on 28 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series

THIS WEEK: Nick Hall and Andrew Flinn on ‘Public History and Historical Reconstruction’

BCMCR Research Seminar | History, Heritage and Archives
Archives, Public History and Historical Reconstruction
1600-1730 Wednesday 21 March
P424, Parkside, Birmingham City University
Free registration at this link

Dr. Nick Hall (Royal Holloway) – ADAPT: Using hands-on technological simulation to communicate television’s clockwork past to future digital users

The tools required to make and share moving images are ubiquitous in the developed world. Smartphones and high-speed wireless internet connections enable users to shoot video and share the results globally. The ease and speed of the digital age has multiplied the potential producers and audiences of video. Similar technological changes have changed the television industry beyond recognition: digital tapeless acquisition and desktop editing are now dominant technologies across genres.

Television production has always been somewhat opaque to audiences, but the recent growth in portable consumer video recording technology further obscures the mechanical and manual foundations of television production practice. As recently as the 1960s, a great deal of television footage was shot and recorded using clockwork film cameras, magnetic audio recorders, and analogue video tape. Shows were edited by hand with the aid of a wide range of mechanical editing aids. Assistant editors performed complex jobs now simplified by non-linear editing software suites such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere.

In the age of digital cameras and desktop video editing, the manual work of television production is at risk of being forgotten. Analogue technologies and workflows are increasingly incomprehensible to new generations raised on the smartphone and tablet. To remedy this, ADAPT – a five year research project funded by the European Research Council and led by Prof. John Ellis at Royal Holloway, University of London – is carrying out extensive research designed to capture and animate the hidden histories of historic television production.

ADAPT’s central innovation is to carry out a series of simulations in order to show how arrays of technological devices were used by teams of skilled professionals to make, edit, and broadcast television in the United Kingdom between 1960 and 2010. The project reunites teams of veteran television personnel – including camera operators, sound recordists, and film editors – with obsolete equipment, and captures the results as the subjects re-encounter equipment they have not used for decades.

This presentation will include footage captured during recent simulation exercise, which demonstrate how 16mm television footage was shot and edited during the 1960s. The presentation will address the manifold opportunities and methodological challenges associated with this novel mode of “hands-on” oral history, and consider the ways in which memories of past television production may be translated and interpreted for contemporary audiences.

Dr. Andrew Flinn (UCL) – Digging Where We Stand: community-based archives & participatory approaches to archiving and knowledge production

Drawing upon the speaker’s extensive experience of working with community archives and study of participatory knowledge productive practices this talk will contend that the history and practice of community-based archives suggests that rather than centres for preservation of culture many of these participatory approaches represent an activist agenda of use and knowledge production. The talk will use the framework of Lindqvist’s Dig Where You Stand manifesto and examples of social movement approaches to archiving and the useful past to illustrate the motivations, objectives and activities of both mainly physical and digital archives. The talk will conclude by raising some questions about the challenges and future of these participatory archives.

About the speakers:

Dr. Andrew Flinn is a Reader in Archive Studies and Oral History at University College London and author, recently of ‘Working with the past: making history of struggle part of the struggle’ in Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements: History’s Schools, eds Choudry & Vally (2018).

 Dr. Nick Hall is a research officer in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway (University of London). He works on on the ADAPT project which examines the historical development of British television broadcast production technology. His research specialisms include early postwar American television history and cinematography and British postwar television history. A book based on his research into the history of the zoom lens in American film and television – The Zoom: Drama at the Touch of a Lever will be published by Rutgers University Press in 2018.

SEMINAR SERIES | Tony Dudley-Evans on ‘British Jazz’ – part 2

continued from part 1

Things began to change in the 1970s with the emergence of players such as John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, who is Canadian, but based in London for most of his career, Norma Winstone and John Taylor. These players began to look towards other parts of Europe for inspiration and to work regularly in continental Europe and in European bands; John Taylor taught in Germany and John Surman eventually settled in Norway.  Similarly, the British free improvisers, such as Evan Parker, Trevor Watts and Derek Bailey developed an approach to improvisation that became influential in other European scenes.

This coincided with the development of the ECM label in Germany run by Manfred Eicher.

In a recent interview in London Eicher talked of his admiration for this group of British players  (see here) who he felt were developing a distinctive style.   The first British recording on ECM was in 1970 by The Improvisation Company with Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Christine Jeffrey, Jamie Muir and Hugh Davies (Brian Morton, Jazz Journal, February 2018), and, also from the 1970s Surman initially and then Wheeler, Winstone and Taylor recorded on the ECM label.  John Surman was described by the renowned British jazz critic Charles Fox as the ‘first Common Market jazzman’ (Brian Morton, 2018).  Although I would suggest that there is something characteristically British about the playing of these musicians, they developed strong relationships with other European players and I would argue that it is misleading to claim that they developed a ‘British’ style.  They are part of the European scene.

In this regard it is interesting to note that in the current ECM schedule of January and February five British artists are featured.  Two of these, John Surman and Norma Winstone go back to the 1970s generation; two, Andy Sheppard and Tommy Smith (who appears in a group led by the Norwegian bass payer Arild Andersen) are from the later 1980s onwards, and one, Kit Downes, is from the generation of players who came to prominence in the 2000s.

There is, however, another interesting trend in jazz in  Britain today: the group of players associated with the Jazz Re-Freshed promotions in west London, players and bands such as Binker and Moses, Moses Boyd’s Exodus, Ezra Collective and Shabaka Hutchings (who is actually part of a broader scene and plays regularly in different European festivals)).  Jazz Re-Freshed has developed more links with the USA than with Europe, especially with the Afropunk Fest  in New York, and the South by South West Showcase event in Texas and probably sees itself as part of the Black Atlantic collaboration.


Tony’s paper was delivered on 28 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series

SEMINAR SERIES | Tony Dudley-Evans on ‘British Jazz’ – part 1

British Jazz: Cross Atlantic Partnership or European Integration?

by Tony Dudley-Evans

I begin with the assumption that it is legitimate to talk of European Jazz as being stylistically different from American jazz and that it is more relevant now to talk of European Jazz rather than jazz of particular countries, e.g. Norwegian jazz, Swiss jazz etc.  This is not to suggest that there are not specific characteristics of jazz in certain countries, but rather that there  are so many bands based in Europe with members from different countries and also, that since many musicians have moved to centres such as Berlin or Amsterdam, it is relevant to talk of European jazz and of European bands.

My argument is that British jazz players have tended to draw their influences from the USA and for various historical, linguistic and political reasons still lean towards the US model.  It is only since the 1970s that certain British players have begun to take on influences from other European bands and players and see themselves as part of the European scene.

There are clear echoes in all this in the division in British society about the European Union.

In the late 1940s and 1950s British modern jazz players took their inspiration from the bop scene in New York, and many players played on the cross-Atlantic liners in order to have a day in New York listening to the pioneers of modern jazz, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk et al.  The growth of modern jazz in Britain developed from these visits and its players were invariably judged by how close they came to matching the American stars of the day.  Saxophonist Tubby Hayes was probably the finest British exponent of the bop/hard bop style and he was always acclaimed as being ‘as good as the Americans’.  Fans of Hayes were delighted when he eventually went to play in New York for a series of dates and received excellent reviews and the acceptance of the jazz community in the city.  Similarly, alto saxophonist Peter King is regarded as a player who would be considered a leading figure in the bop style had he been based in New York.

It is sometimes argued that a distinctively British style emerged with Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite that featured saxophonist Bobby Wellins.   While the compositions do have a distinctive voice different from the American style, I would argue the solos from Tracey and Wellins do still follow an American model and the overall impression is that the album is highly original but still essentially following an American model.

Saxophonist Andy Hamilton was a key member of the Birmingham and latterly the British scene, but his playing was in the tradition of the saxophone tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.  In his later years he developed a strong musical and personal relationship with American saxophonist David Murray.  I have suggested this was partly due to a mutual feeling of a cross-Atlantic culture taking in Britain, USA and the Caribbean (Dudley-Evans, 2017).



SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Brian Homer on ‘Jazz and Photography’

The Iconography of Jazz and Photography

by Brian Homer

My proposal is that the styles and techniques of photography translated into the use of photography in jazz made a profound impact on the iconography of jazz and how we view jazz. To illustrate this I am going to take some selected examples of jazz photography and look at how they were possibly influenced by other photographic uses. First, I am going to take the iconic image of John Coltrane taken by Francis Wolff, and used on the cover of Blue Train, by the designer Reid Miles.

The Blue Train session took place in 1957. The image chosen shows a reflective Coltrane with his hand to his chin looking down and intent. His sax is slung across him. This image is not in the common language of the gig/playing image that is very prevalent in jazz. Rather, I would argue that this image is in a documentary photography style and has similarities to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Woman image (1936) taken California while working for the Reconstruction Administration (later the Farm Security Administration) of a destitute and starving family.

The mother has her hand to her chin and is looking reflectively to her right with two of her children either side of her but facing away from the camera. The effect is very similar in both images – allowing the viewer into the picture to speculate on what is going through the mind of the subject. Wolff was a migrant from Germany and being a keen photographer would, no doubt, have been exposed to the documentary styles becoming prevalent in Europe and the USA.

Turning to the cover of Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective, also on Blue Note from 1964, a different photographic influence is at play. By this time, corporate identity and conceptual graphic design were developing rapidly. In this shot, by the designer Reid Miles, the main element is not the musician but the eccentrically shaped headlight cover of a Jaguar E Type, situated in the bottom left of the image. The lines of the bonnet, wings and windscreen lead to Byrd.

This kind of wide angle shot is unusual for the time. I suggest this was influenced by Russian Constructivism. Photographers in that movement were looking for modern, futuristic ways of representation that would foreground progress and technology; to achieve this they used angles, shadows.

European emigré designers and artists came to the US during the 1930s; one of these was Russian Alexey Brodovitch. Brodovitch became the designer of Harper’s Bazaar and in his layout style and use of photography was very influential. He taught many photographers including Irving Penn and Richard Avedon and while there is no evidence of a direct link to Miles it would not be surprising if in the creative milieu of New York in the 50s and 60s such influence rubbed off on an up and coming designer.

I’ll finish with two questions:

  1. First: does jazz photography now have an impact on how we perceive jazz?
  2. Second: are jazz photographers like me missing a trick in concentrating mainly on performance pictures?

Both of these would bear further study.


Brian’s paper was delivered on 28 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series

THIS WEEK: David Gange and Dima Saber on ‘Cultural translation, history and loss’

BCMCR Research Seminar | History, Heritage and Archives
Cultural translation, history and loss

1600-1730 Wednesday 14 March
P424, Parkside, Birmingham City University
Free registration at this link

Dr. David Gange (University of Birmingham) – Sea Sites in Island History: Exploring the Lost Communities of Atlantic Britain and Ireland
There are many more once-inhabited islands in the British and Irish archipelago than there are cities. Many of these had been populated for centuries before a flurry of abandonment between 1850 and 1930. Such islands are lined with ruins: but-and-ben homes, field systems, water mills, abandoned boats, fish traps and shell middens from before the age of buildings. Nineteenth-century people here lived, consciously, in iron age and neolithic landscapes. The coasts are thickly layered in names – Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Norse, Scots, Welsh, occasionally even English – that preserve their history of usage. Regions where such islands predominate are richly served by historical archives so that it’s often possible to link an island ruin to families who used it and the processes that ended its productive life. Those who abandoned an island such as Havera, Shetland, in the 1920s can be heard discussing the joys and challenges of island life in the uniquely rich oral history collections of these regions. This paper explores the processes of researching such communities, but also asks what vision of British and Irish history might be developed by seeing the nineteenth century – the moment when Britain was turned inside out by the advent of roads and rail, and small islands became for the first time in their history ‘remote’ – from their perspective.

Dr. Dima Saber (BCU) Resistance-by-Recording: The disappearing archives of the Syrian war 
This paper will present the early findings of the ‘Resistance-by-recording: the visuality and visibility of contentious political action in the Arab region’ project after the first round of ethnographic work in Berlin in November 2017. Focussing primarily on the consequences of YouTube’s new algorithm to limit the proliferation of material considered graphic or supporting Jihadi propaganda, I will also explore the costs of the Syrian activists’ over-reliance on the current affordances of digital platforms and the challenges this precariousness poses for the preservation of a citizen-generated memory and history of the Syrian war.

About the speakers:
Dr. Dima Saber is a Senior Research Fellow at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research. Her research is focussed on media depictions of conflict in the Arab region, and she is responsible for leading and delivering projects in citizen journalism, particularly exploring the relation between digital media literacy and social impact in post-revolution and in conflict settings such as Egypt, Palestine and Syria.

Dr. David Gange is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Birmingham. His books include a history of Egyptology, Dialogues with the Dead (Oxford, 2013) and The Victorians: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld, 2016). He is currently working on a book that involved kayaking all the Atlantic coastlines of Britain and Ireland across 2016-17, The Frayed Atlantic Edge (Harper Collins, 2019).

SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Nicolas Pillai on ‘Duke Ellington in Coventry’

Duke Ellington in Coventry: discovering television and jazz in the cathedral archive

by Nicolas Pillai

In February 1966, as part of the British leg of their European tour, Duke Ellington and his orchestra travelled to the Midlands city of Coventry to perform their first Concert of Sacred Music at the new cathedral. This remarkable event was televised on the Midlands ABC channel and, in this paper, I considered the concert as both a live experience and recorded artefact. I argued that the Coventry performance is significant in the way that it occupies different, seemingly contradictory, spaces: both local and national, secular and divine.

It also proposes a startling environment for jazz music; the severe, modernist cathedral designed by Basil Spence as part of a larger spatial re-conception of Coventry occurring over the 1950s and 1960s. The sound of Ellington’s orchestra echoing within this cavernous place of worship suggests a shift in the British reception of jazz, expressed through the juxtaposition of music and innovative architecture.

I described my journey through archives both regional and national, attempting to create a composite of a programme thought lost, my eventual discovery of the badly degraded programme in the Studiocanal archive and my collaboration with the archive TV company Kaleidoscope and the University of Warwick Ghost Town project which aims to screen a restored version of the programme in the cathedral, along with a recreation of the concert by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Duke Ellington Orchestra. I concluded this paper by reflecting upon the survival and afterlife of archive television, demonstrating ways in the Ellington in Coventry research it builds upon and widens the scope of my current AHRC-funded project Jazz on BBC-TV 1960-1969.


Nicolas’s paper was delivered on 21 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series