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Documentary, Photography, Empathy

Wednesday 6 March 2013, 5.15PM to 7.00pm

Speaker(s): Jay James May and Katie Markham

A CModS Postgraduate Forum event

  • Jay James May (English and Related Literature) ‘Sinking the Estate: the BBC and the Visual Politics of Public Housing
  • Katie Markham (English and Related Literature) ‘The Inter-generational Museum: Photographic Empathy at the District Six Museum’

Jay James May is a second-year PhD student here at York. His talk examines three TV documentaries produced by the BBC: I Love This Dirty Town (1969), The Great British Housing Disaster (1984), and The Great Estate (2011). The films all suggest that public housing and local authority town planning has had apocalyptic consequences, from the ‘lament for the death of the city’ in I Love This Dirty Town (1969), to the ‘disaster’ and ‘fall’ in the titles of the two later productions. Each production, moreover, comes shrink-wrapped in the dominant ‘liberal’ vocabularies of its respective historical moment. This talk will argue that, by way of perspective, commentary and argument—the logical devices of documentary filmmaking—each film explicitly sets out to blame some individual or group of individuals for the perceived consequences of local authority housing policy. Through brief analyses of each film’s formal techniques, it will argue that BBC programming of the last 50 years directly concerned with housing has created public consent for the politically-driven, local-authority funded gentrification witnessed in British cities today.

Katie Markham is in her second year of the MA in Modern and Contemporary Culture and Literature at York. Her paper will engage with the photographic archive of the District Six Museum in Cape Town. The Museum houses a noteworthy collection of photographs, from individual family snapshots to enlarged professional portraits, which for the uninitiated visitor can be an overwhelming, and emotional viewing experience. Laying out these photographs in an unassuming, egalitarian fashion, the Museum rejects the singular narrative of traditional museology, and encourages the individual to reflect upon, recognise, and occasionally empathise with the inhabitants of District Six, whose lives were so drastically changed by Apartheid policies. Whilst claiming that empathic engagements of photographs of human rights abuses are possible in a museum environment, it will explore recent changes in government and Cape Town’s tourist profile, as well as changes to the viewing experience and visitor demographic of the museum, and consider the theoretical and ethical issues that these changes pose to this claim.

Documentary, Photography, Empathy poster (PDF , 410kb)

Location: The Jane Moody Boardroom (BS/007), Berrick Saul Building

Admission: All welcome