Photography as a Medium of Artistic Importance & Social Relevance

Impact on cultural life through new insights, by challenging assumptions, and raising awareness of the role of photographic practice in the public realm

Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC)

PARC study photography as a medium of artistic importance and social relevance, recognising photography’s many roles in the art world, including reportage, autobiographical practice and social and political education.

The Centre’s underpinning research is represented by work undertaken at UAL by Professors Val Williams (PARC Director) and Tom Hunter, Brigitte Lardinois (PARC Deputy Director), Jananne Al-Ani (Research Fellow), and Paul Lowe (Course Director, MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography).

The significance and reach of impact on cultural life is evidenced by audience and publication figures, widespread media coverage, awards, commissions, third party funding, prestigious partnerships and collaborations, and acquisition of created work and archives by major institutions. The ability of the work to raise awareness of socio-economic and political issues is demonstrated by collaborations with the independent Post-Conflict Research Center, Sarajevo, and Age UK, Hackney. Work has also significantly influenced policy and practice at Save the Children, UK.


Impact is also on the field of photography and collecting more generally.

  • In January 2013 Williams’ archive became part of the photographic holdings at the new Birmingham Library.
  • Hunter’s Living in Hell and Other Stories (2005) resulted in acquisition of Hunter’s work by the National Gallery, where it is now on permanent display. Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present (2012), the National Gallery’s first ever group photography and painting show, included Hunter’s The Death of Coltelli which was acquired for The Wilson Centre for Photography. Hunter’s Punch Professors was acquired by the V&A adding a contemporary component to their existing archive of Punch photography.
  • Al-Ani’s The Guide and Flock are in the Darat al Funun collection in Jordan; Shadow Site I is part of the Arts Council England Collection and the collection of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; and Shadow Site II is part of the Abraaj Capital Collection, Dubai; the collection of the Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la Création, Paris; and four stills from the film are in the V&A collection.

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Val Williams

Daniel Meadows: Early Photographic Works, 1972-1987 (Williams 2011was produced in partnership with, and funded by the National Media Museum (NMM), Bradford; Ffotogallery, Cardiff; Birmingham Central Libraries; and Photoworks UK.

In keeping with Williams’ previous research, taking work of photographers out into a wider critical and public sphere, this was Meadows’ first solo show, including a broad span of projects, many of which were unknown to the photographic community, the museum establishment or the wider public.

‘Together Val Williams and Daniel Meadows have brought to light the photographer’s incredible archive of prints and negatives, along with ephemera and audio recordings. They have unearthed unpublished and sometimes forgotten treasures which add to a remarkable document - a dramatic, moving and empathetic evocation of a recognisable, yet increasingly alien era.’


(NMM Press Release)

The exhibition was seen by an audience of nearly 40,000 at the National Media Museum, including two sell-out events at which Meadows spoke. The exhibition and the accompanying publication Daniel Meadows: Edited Photographs from the 70’s and 80’s received considerable press attention, including a feature in the FT Magazine

Daniel Meadows’ images of working-class communities in 1970s Britain bear witness to the reinvention of the craft and purpose of photography’.

The publication was one of The Guardian’s Photography Books of the Year 2011. 

Tom Hunter

Hunter’s film A Palace for Us (2010) was commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery (as part of their Skills Exchange project) in collaboration with Age UK Hackney and Goldsmiths, to highlight issues in relation to social housing and break down stereotypes in relation to the residents of the estate.

Media coverage included the following:

Hunter's film is not a rant, but a moving homage to lives and memories that today are obliterated by harsh and violent caricatures of the white working class.’ (Jonathan Jones, The Guardian).

The film was shown over a six-week period at the Serpentine Gallery, London (attracting an audience of 15,000).

Further commissions and projects undertaken by Hunter, often representing communities, traditions and identities in a new light include:

  • Flashback (2009) for the Museum of London
  • Unheralded Stories (2010) funded by the Purdy Hicks Gallery
  • Punch Professors for the V&A (2012), which attracted more than 165,000 visitors at the Museum of Childhood and featured on the BBC’s Culture Show and BBC News
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company (2012)

Findings (2013) was the first photographic commission by GRAIN the new hub and network for photography at the new Library of Birmingham, for which Hunter was felt to be the ‘ideal choice’ due to his abilty to produce critical engaging work whilst retaining historical reference. The project resulted in 50 images that explored places and space in two neighbouring areas of Birmingham. Exhibited in Birmingham City Centre, Findings was seen by an estimated 1.4 million people (Source: GRAIN), and media coverage including The Sunday Times, the Birmingham Post and RPS Journal.

Paul Lowe

Lowe’s expertise in the area of ethics of photojournalism were utilised as part of a 2008 Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Save the Children.

The project resulted in the development of research-informed guidelines for the commissioning and use of photographic images, which aimed to make Save the Children’s future commissioning and use of visual imagery as ethical as possible.

These guidelines now inform the ethical commissioning, collection, and utilisation of images by Save the Children UK.

In 2010 Lowe was commissioned by the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC) in Sarajevo to undertake work for Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage (2009), investigating individuals who had rescued people facing genocide via photography and narrative. The rescuers came from different countries and times including Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (Lowe’s contribution).

The aim was to heightened awareness and understanding of the presence of rescuer behaviour during genocide or mass violence, and encourage social healing and reconciliation through positive narratives. The work was exhibited within Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of a program to promote peace, reconciliation and genocide prevention by the PCRC, and has been exhibited in Europe, Australia and the US. 

Jananne Al-Ani

In 2011 Al-Ani was one of five artists to be awarded the Abraaj Capital Art Prize worth $120,000 for the production of Shadow Site II

Her film and video work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including:

  • 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012)
  • Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012)
  • Victoria and Albert Museum(2012)
  • Sharjah Biennial 11, UAE(2013)
  • 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013)
  • and featured in The Future of Promise (2011)the Venice Biennale’s first pan-Arab exhibition of contemporary art.

Major solo exhibitions of her work have been held at Darat al Funun, Jordan (2010), the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (2012) and the Beirut Art Center (2013).

Work has also been funded by the Arts Council England and the Young Arab Theatre Fund.

A documentary by Pia Getty Films, Axis of Light: Contemporary Art from the Arab World and Iran (2011), includes an in depth interview with Al-Ani and extracts from her work including Shadow Site I and II.  It was awarded Best Feature Documentary at the Madrid Film Festival (2012), and was Remi Winner at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival (2012).