Helen Clarke

‘Streetwalker: The Flȃneuse and the electronic Flȃneur’ 

Surveillance camera, Quarry Hill, Leeds, 2014. Mtaylor848 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Surveillance camera, Quarry Hill, Leeds, 2014.

Mtaylor848 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Helens’ research is an exploration of the relationship between theory and practice in photography. She is using both Cultural and Feminist theory to examine the practice of street photography by women and where women are its subjects. Traditionally, street photography has been defined as images made in/of the street which capture its fluidity, containing narrative structures where often the subjects are unaware of the photographers’/cameras presence. In the 20th century the practice is typified in the 1930’s by the Mass Observation project in the UK, the work of Walker Evans in the US and of Brassai in his work Paris by Night (1933). Helen’s research examines the practice of/possibilities for the street as location for an embodied practice. The street is a site of surveillance; where the mobile phone camera is ever present and the 21st century subject is increasingly aware of the uses and ownership of their own image.

The flȃneur of the title is a nineteenth century literary figure who is a stroller, an idler, a connoisseur of the street. The poet and critic Charles Baudelaire places this figure on the streets of Paris, where he looks at and listens to the life of the city. In the twentieth century Walter Benjamin extends Baudelaire’s figure critically, placing him in the Paris Arcades where he must negotiate the shock of sensory stimuli of the urban space. The city for Benjamin is a place to provoke memory.

it is the material culture of the city, rather than the psyche, that provides the shared collective spaces where consciousness and the unconscious, past and present, meet (Buck-Morss: 1986). Susan Buck-Morss (1986) and Janet Wolff (1985) provide a feminist reading of the figure of modernity- the flȃneuse, which Helen uses as a starting point for her visual and theoretical investigation of the city. In doing so she produces a critique of contemporary photographic works which incorporate the use of Google Street View (the electronic flȃneurs of the title).

Helen’s research incorporates a photographic practice using wearable technology to explore the embodied experience of the street. The piece will be a response to the locations described in Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1934). The book provides the starting point for reflections on autobiography, the city, memory, place and the politics of the body.

The research will result in the production of both text and photographic works which problematize the relationship between those two. The narrative potential in both modes of praxis is explored through the experience of Berlin as a tourist city, a theoretical locus and in a contemporary feminist dialogue with a historical, autobiographical past.

The process can be viewed as heritage-making, a cultural geography is produced through the mapping of Benjamin’s memoir which foreshadows his exile from the city and his country during the Second World War. Contemporary feminist narrative in the process creates a dialogue with the city as repository for memory and sense of place.

Helen has been working through her research themes by looking at the photographic work of Vivian Maier. Her interest in the discovery of the work extends to Maier’s archive (both the personal and photographic material found) and the potential of that as a case study for her questions around women’s practice, autobiography, the city, and photography.

Biography

With a BA in Photography, and her Masters in Cultural Studies, Helen has worked as an Associate Lecturer at Leeds College of Art between 2008 and 2015. Her role on BA Photography over the last three years has been as Module Leader of Context of Practice at levels 4,5 and 6, where she led the integration of theory and practice in the programme. The module combines History and Theory of Photography with photographic Practice.

She has undertaken dissertation supervision in Photography, Fine Art, Advertising and Fashion.

Helen has also been invited as a guest lecturer in collaborations with The National Media Museum, The Royal Photographic Society, Hyde Park Picture House, Village books and Leeds Ladyfest.

Helens’ research interests reflect her academic background in the Politics of Representation, and a cultural studies approach in placing photography within the wider fields of fashion, advertising, film and social media. Previous teaching roles have included work on BA Advertising, ND Fashion, and Access to HE.

Helen has previously taught photography and art and design in schools and community arts settings in Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Helen began her research with the Heritage Consortium in October 2015. Her project is jointly supervised by Casey Orr at Leeds Beckett University and Sharon Kivland at Sheffield Hallam.

Publications

‘Echoes from a Berlin Childhood’, Gordian Projects (2016)

‘Articles Lost’, The Dreamers (MA Bibliothèque, 2017)

 

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