Rephotography: Coventry Then & Now – old photos and new fun

Rephotography: Coventry Then & Now – old photos and new fun

photographs by Maria Polodeanu courtesy of Coventry University.

In the framework of 50s in Europe Kaleidoscope project, Coventry University organised a workshop entitled ‘Rephotography: Coventry Then and Now’. The day-long event curated by Dr Elaine O’Sullivan (Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University) focused on  rephotography as a creative strategy for engaging users with digital cultural heritage. Working with heritage photographs depicting 1950s Coventry provided by project partner TopFoto, the workshop attracted participants from academia (researchers and PhD students), GLAM professionals (in particular, archivists interested in managing photographs in their collections), architects (working with historic buildings) and professional artists (who use photographs and archival documents in their practice). In total, 20 participants contributed to the event sharing their knowledge, feedback and stories.

The event kicked-off with an opening presentation by Prof Neil Forbes (Professor of International History, Coventry University). A member of the Kaleidoscope project team, Prof Forbes highlighted the significance of the 1950s as an era of change and innovation in Europe. Following this, Victoria Northridge (Archivist, Coventry Archives) gave a presentation showcasing the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum’s 1950s collections. The morning concluded with an interactive digital tool testing session presented by Frederik Temmermans (project partner, IMEC). This session was designed to get user feedback on the  Kaleidoscope ‘Visual Similarity Search Tool’. Online images sourced by participants were submitted to the tool to see if it would recognise visual similarities or patterns across diverse photographs. The interactive nature of this activity had energies high and minds engaged as participants offered suggestions for new image categories and tool functionalities.

After a shared lunch in the museum where conversations continued to flow, the afternoon opened with a presentation by Dr Elaine O’Sullivan on strategies of restaging, re-enactment and rephotography in contemporary art. This was followed by John Balean (project partner, TopFoto) who presented Topfoto’s 1950s photographic collection of Coventry. The talk took participants on a visual tour of the city highlighting the historical significance of the images. In addition, attention was drawn to elements in the historic photographs that could be useful reference points for the practical task – for example, architectural features of buildings and the camera angles used by the original photographers. Following this, the group gathered their smartphones and camera equipment to explore present-day Coventry. In particular, we visited two locations featured in the historical images: the ruins of Coventry Cathedral and the Broadgate Shopping Centre. Both locations are in close proximity to the museum which enabled participants to spend an hour taking new photographs to respond to the historical  images. It was an unusually bright and sunny day in Coventry, which provided excellent light conditions for the rephotography task.

On return to the museum, and after some hot teas and coffees, work interacting with the project tools continued. Participants explored the platform and contributed to the project’s crowdsourcing annotation campaign. After contributing to the current two campaigns on ‘Style & Design’ and ‘Transport & Travel’, participants offered their feedback via the project’s online survey. Both the crowdsourcing campaign and online survey are open to all so we encourage you to join in these activities! Finally, running throughout the day, there was a multi-media exhibition by Carol Breen (PhD Candidate, Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University), a display of 1950s artefacts from the Coventry Archives, and an interactive pop-up exhibition displaying the Kaleidoscope project exhibition ‘Blue Skies, Red Panic’: with this latter, participants interacted with the images using their mobile phones to navigate the screens and listen to an array of 50’s narratives and stories.

The project Fifties in Europe Kaleidoscope is co-financed by the European Union in the framework of CEF Connecting Europe Facility Programme under GA n. INEA/CEF/ICT/A2017/1568496.

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