Using Archives as a Method of Research

Today Sharon delivered a lecture discussing the importance of archives as a source inspiration, information and narrative in her current practice, which she discussed through her newest project, ‘The Radical Decade” exhibition which is currently open to visitors at Leeds College of Art.

With this exhibition, it was explained how research stemmed organically from a material object and a box of ‘memories’ belonging to Gerald McCann, a Fashion Designer, which when curated by Caroline Riches translated into a narrative, tell a previously untold yet important story. I also found the story captivating in regards to the importance of collaboration and good will, and what can be achieved with passion and a dedicated team.

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As a class, we were asked to visit the exhibition and then discuss our thoughts afterwards. I found this very interesting as points were made either from the language, context, theories, connotations or visuals used, and various opinions and thoughts related to my practice.

Topics Discussed:

  • Post 1950s – Cultural and Social changes of Femininity and the role of Women.
  • Body Image change in relation to above and the move away from feminine physiques – this made me think about my previous use of Vogue archives in my practice and academic writing (see below).
  • The early commercialisation of Fashion – women may of lost a sense of identity through mass-produced clothing opposed to home-made patterns.

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I found the lecture and debate particularly interesting, and was surprised by how much I could take away as initial starting points for research on body image and self perception within this era itself. I was later able to reflect on this further thinking about how I have used archives in the past as a source of quantitative and visual information, and how I may again use them across this year to help investigate and answer my research question.

I haven’t used any archives as an initial starting point of research for a long time, as my professional practice is very commercial and heavily based upon current trends, however throughout my A Level studies and BA(Hons) studies, I used archives throughout projects as a source of information, inspiration and visual evidence to support theoretical contexts. The types of archives I delved into throughout my BA(Hons) studies were the large range of Vogue Magazine archives, which are stored in the LCA library, and my own archive of over 300 International Vogue magazines which I have been collecting for around 14 years. Using these archives as a visual form of research, allowed me to understand the different female ‘ideals’ which have influenced our self-perception and body image overtime, whilst understanding and contextualising bodily changes overtime due to societal, cultural, commercial and political changes, to name a few. This enabled me to create studio-based briefs based on this collated research, whilst furthering my knowledge for critical and academic writing.

Below shows two of projects from my BA(Hons) Graphic Design course, whereby the archive based research informed the project, content, design and execution, and therefore my practice. I hope to revisit the Vogue archives which I have n0ted again over the course of the year for visual and contextual research.

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“80s Fashion”
Designed in mind for fashion students and fashionista’s, it contains everything needed to know about the influential decade; history, social issues, cultural changes, trends and influential icons who shaped the fashion industry and ‘look’ at the time.
96 pages / Perfect Bound / Matte Cover / Gloss Inners

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“How has the commercialisation of women, affected the ‘ideal’ body shape?”
A physical companion to my University Dissertation. This book looks into the changes and evolution of the female body image over time, specifically how the ‘ideal’ has changed due to social, economic and cultural issues, including fashion, media and advertising.
These changes have been captured through illustrations, paintings, drawings and photography for centuries, forming a bank of commerical images of women.
This book looks at in particular 1900 – 2014, highlighting the ‘ideal’ of each year, elaborating with an analysis of the image, context, tone, background and physical change, producing a seamless timeline of how the female body has changed, showing the corruption of the media and image manipualtion.Furthermore, through the analysis, the analysis’ aim to prove a correlation between the media and the rise in eating disorders.
248 Pages, 116 Images.

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In addition, whilst undertaking my A Level studies in Fine Art, I became very interested in researching my family background, and began researching by looking through my Grandmother’s photo box. I have a very culturally diverse background, with all four of my grandparents immigrating to the UK post-war from Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland, however my Spanish Grandmother, Carmen, was the only one to keep all of her photographs as evidence of her past life. This past life in Spain intrigued me, and led me on to specifically research the era, the town, the fashions, the culture, but most importantly her as a woman. More recently however, along with my father I have digitised over 3000 new photographs which were found upon her death, re-archiving photographs in a new way, whilst exploring, questioning and recording new narratives.

In regards to this specific archive, something which Sharon noted yesterday in her lecture really made me think about how personal some archives can be, and how we choose to display, store or curate those archives can often paint a narrative to the viewer in a different way.

This itself made me think about my current practice and how personal it is. I think in the past my practice has been very personal in regards to final, realised, visual outcomes, allowing me to contextualise and directly portray an emotive narrative. However, I feel that currently my practice has become even more personal and is heavily interlinked with my proposal and research question also. I believe my current practice is heavily influenced by my personal experiences with Anorexia Nervosa, working with Fashion Designers, Brands, Cosmetics and Designers whilst analysing and recognising the rise of self-perception, societal and consumerist issues which are currently flooding the market I work within. I suppose in a way, my mind is an archive, and by revisiting those thoughts, emotions and feelings, I can re-engage with my past in a reflective and proactive manner, channelling this into my current practice and research methodologies.

I have noted a list of additional archives below which I plan on researching further to see if any could be of use for my current practice and research question:

  • Discovery Collections
  • National Media Museum
  • Teeside Visual
  • Manchester Art Gallery
  • V&A Archive
  • TATE Gallery Archive
  • Online Archives
  • Vogue Magazine Archives