Maxwell and Davidson used the opportunity of a developmental commission offered through the Wear Experimenting project to investigate the historical and contemporary social narratives of a city, bringing together sociology, anthropology and natural sciences. Drawing upon ‘Visual Anthropology – Photography as a Research Method’ by Collier & Collier they developed a methodology which uses the camera as a research tool to map social interactions and historical changes of selected sites.
Selecting three areas of historical interest within Sunderland, their field studies began with walks around the selected areas to explore their contemporary uses. Through this and historical research, supported by The Antiquarians Society, they developed an interest in a lesser-explored area of Hendon. This area consisted of an approx. 28 acre site that saw its origins in ‘common land’ used for its natural springs. The site became pastoral with two farms situated on the peripheral borders. The expansion of Sunderland’s Industry saw this land re purposed into a Spelterworks, Glassworks and Brick kilns. Further development saw the Gasworks become the dominant feature until the demands of war brought about a Petroleum factory. In the Victorian period, there were developments in residential housing and recreational grounds along with the Seaham Railway Line and new platforms introduced.
This area of Sunderland has been left untouched by developers and is now wasteland used by various members of the local community. Another strand which emerged was how the re-emergence of nature and bio-diversity can support the narrative of an area.
Developing a bespoke scanner camera, Maxwell and Davidson made images on site, further developed with fellow associate Ben Freeth, who enabled the device to host its own power supply and GPS capabilities.
Reflections on the process and participation
‘We aim to present the findings of our research using collated visual outputs of photography and cartography along with qualitative and where possible quantitive data to draw conclusions from the methodologies used.’
‘The longer you remain in the field, the less vivid become your responses’
‘We used the opportunity to introduce participant engagement in the form of a ‘photowalk’ to our wider exploration of the area and methodology. Working with participants was an aspect of the project that was a useful device in refocusing our fieldwork. They provided new observations of the area along with specialist knowledge contributing to the final development of the project. We were also able to open up the participants to the richness of the area and provide an informal setting for meeting others with similar interests. These outcomes also confirmed our hypothesis that experiences can be as impactful as physical products and can be a valid outcome of a project.
The commission has given us a platform to further explore these and realise new ways of working within the field.’
Supported by NEPN in partnership with The Cultural Spring, using public funding through Arts Council England.