17th Nov 2010 5:00pm-7:00pm

Grand Parade

‘Historians in Two Hundred Years’ Time Are Going To Die for That!’ Events and Non-events in the Mass Observation Archive’s “One Day for Life” Photography Collection

Dr Annebella Pollen (University of Brighton)

The 55,000 amateur photographs that make up the One Day for Life collection, housed since 1990 in the Mass Observation Archive, are the result of an ambitious charitable campaign. “Ordinary people everywhere” were invited to submit a photograph of everyday life in Britain on 14 August 1987, accompanied by a pound per print, to compete for a place in what would become a bestselling publication. As a manufactured event made of massed ‘non-events’, One Day for Life’s organisers self-consciously constructed the project as commemorative. Photographers pictured and performed topicality and tradition through their selected subjects and styles, and the latent historical potential of the results were recognised as they were archived at the close of the project. This paper situates One Day for Life in the context of popular historical consciousness in the 1980s and in relation to the complex temporality of photographs as anticipated memory, taken ‘then’ of a ‘now’ for an unspecified future. With the help of questionnaire and interview responses from 150 One Day for Life photographers and organisers, this paper reflects on the historical value of the archival material twenty years on.

Annebella Pollen is Lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, and former Research Fellow for the project Methodological Innovations: Using Mass Observation. For the past four years she has been an AHRC-funded PhD student at the Photography and the Archive Research Centre, London College of Communication.

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