Jubilee Arts was a unique community arts organisation based in Sandwell in the Black Country. This web site documents the period 1974-94, two decades of tremendous change. Locked away in the basement of West Bromwich Town Hall since the last century, we’ve dusted off the archive boxes, bringing them back to the light of day to share our findings here.
The last two shows with archive material at West Bromwich and Smethwick have now been derigged but you can find documentation on the Facebook page and we will be adding more material to this site. There’s plenty to explore here!
Image of Week
From the archives we have selected a particular photograph to share with you, along with some thoughts from local individuals, our curators and participants. Perhaps never seen before, these images offer an insight into the Black Country and our changing lives.
Imperfect photographs hold magic, according to Heather Greenwood Davis.
They do not require technical perfection and composition. Instead, they capture a mood, an emotion, an ephemeral moment. The photographer Jay Maisel believes that ‘gesture is the most important element’ of a photograph. With the easy availability of software such as Photoshop and Lightroom – and Instagram filters – images have become super modified and flawless, a reflection of unreality.
Instead, we might call this the imperfect moment, for this particular photograph surely hides more than it reveals. What it does depict is a child (whether a boy or girl we can’t determine), running across a patch of grass, who is seemingly about to collide with whomever is holding the camera (possibly a child of a similar age and height). His or her face is obscured by an oversize hat. It evokes memories of my own childhood, the sheer joy of being outdoors on a warm day, the sun on your skin.
We do know, thanks to documentation, that it was taken one summer morning in 1981 and that the place is Hateley Heath, a large council estate on the edge of West Bromwich town centre, in Sandwell. It captures a moment of a dressing up relay race, where children run back and forth changing into different old clothes. This game was an activity as part of ‘The Bus Project’, a mobile resource for creative play with children and young people.
The identity of the photographer is not known. Community artists then worked (mostly) outside the institutions of official culture, and were open to the appreciation of all kinds of activity. These might include Human Chess, Contest to find the Most Destructive Vandal and Pigeon Racing. The participants in the activities often took the images, the camera handed around, the Bus later used as a gallery to share back the pictures once they had been printed.
Sandwell was a borough which at that time fell into all categories of ‘deprivation’ – where, well into the 90’s, less than 50% owned a car, and fewer people owned a camera. Out of some random 64 local people invited to photograph ‘Sandwell in Black & White’ in 1990, it turned out only seven of them possessed a camera. Contrast that with today.
Writing about Rikyū’s theory and practice of tea and the design of tea rooms, Rumiko Handa noted that by applying ‘the strategy of the intentional imperfect to both the physical and ephemeral surroundings he succeeded in enticing participants to aesthetic and ethical engagements.’ This might also be used to describe this kind of vernacular photography and the work of community artists.
Of course, many contemporary artists use the found image and the snapshot as a source of inspiration, many mining and recycling the past, in a process of self-reflection. And there is a greater regard of the value of these images within museum and archives, partly perhaps due to the decline of analogue photograph itself and the ubiquitous disposal nature of the manipulated digital apparition. Is it real or a fable? As an unfiltered shot of life, they simply remind us that we don’t need to curate the perfect virtual self.
In the spirit of the original arts group we returned to the original locations in the borough and worked with groups to explore and interpret the material. This has informed our choice of images to share. We’ve also made a selection of key projects to provide more background. Click on these below to find out more.
In the archive we came across some film material. Here’s some footage from 1977, which offers a good introduction to the work of Jubilee at that particular time.
“Whether you’re a researcher, a history buff, a genealogist, someone interested in photography and the arts, you’ll find something fascinating in these archives. This archive includes the single largest collection of photography and film of Sandwell people and communities over the past 40 years, including people, communities and activities not normally reflected in the official archives of this period. It has given us the opportunity to re-engage with the communities today to celebrate their past heritage and think about how we may shape the future.”
Maureen Waldron, Archives Outreach Officer, Sandwell M.B.C