Lydia Heeley

5 x 7
By Lena Fritsch

This year, Photo Oxford focusses on women. Wondering what photography means to others, I have interviewed 5 women working with photography in different parts of the world. I asked them 7 questions each, curious to hear their individual photography stories. This is the final interview of the series: it features Lydia Heeley, a recent History of Photography graduate in Scotland, who researched feminist photographer Franki Raffles’ work in the University of St Andrews’ Photographic archive.

Lydia Heeley (b.1991, Buckinghamshire) is an MPhil History of Photography graduate from the University of St Andrews, who currently works at the Museums of the University of St Andrews. Her research covers Scottish documentary photography and Scottish women photographers, including Franki Raffles.

Lydia Heeley

Lena Fritsch: You recently graduated in the History of Photography at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. How did you first become interested in photography?

Lydia Heeley: I started taking photographs when I was a teenager and took a course on photography. I became obsessed with analogue cameras and darkrooms, using my dad’s old Pentax ME Super. I wanted to study photography more, so I studied Art History with a focus on photographic history, then moved onto the History of Photography MPhil at St Andrews. St Andrews has such a rich photographic history, with some of the very first photographs in Scotland being made here, so it’s the perfect place to study. I love researching and writing about photographs and still try to get to a darkroom whenever I can!

Your Masters thesis was about Scottish Documentary Photography, examining the St Andrews University archives. Could you tell me more about your research?

My MPhil dissertation looked at Scottish Documentary Photography within the University of St Andrews’ Photographic Collection. I volunteered with the archive whilst studying and discovered some amazing collections within it, some without much research having been done on them. I focused on three case studies: George Cowie, Franki Raffles and Document Scotland, and how they each contributed to the legacy of Scottish Documentary Photography and the significance of the St Andrews archive holding them. Scotland has an incredible relationship with photography that is still thriving today. This was a rich research subject and I hope to continue to study this area and contribute to the surrounding literature.

Franki Raffles, Untitled, 1984-85. © Franki Raffles Estate. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2014-4-1699-6a

The Franki Raffles (1955–94) photography collection is managed by the University of St Andrews and Edinburgh Napier University. You mentioned that Franki Raffles was one of your case studies. Raffles was a feminist social documentary photographer based in Scotland, while travelling internationally. Could you tell us more about her?

Franki Raffles was born in Salford and came to the University of St Andrews to study moral philosophy in 1973, during which time she was an active part of the Women’s Liberation Movement. After this she moved to the Isle of Lewis for a year and then to Edinburgh where she lived for the rest of her life. She created many photographic projects in Edinburgh focusing on women’s lives, but also travelled extensively to China, Russia, and Israel to make photographic work. Her commitment to women and her strong feminist values come through in all of her projects. Her photographs cross different social and political contexts and find points of solidarity between women and celebrate their lives. Raffles tragically and unexpectedly died in 1994 after giving birth to twins, so her archive being held by St Andrews and Edinburgh Napier has allowed an important body of feminist photography to be preserved and accessible for use and research.

Could you tell me about the highlights and challenges during your research in the Franki Raffles archive?

The Franki Raffles archive is distinct in that it is essentially a working collection. Due to Raffles’ sudden death, her work was left as she had been using it. When it came to the St Andrews archive from Dr Alistair Scott at Edinburgh Napier, it was still in the same condition. This is a unique aspect of the collection, as it preserves Raffles’ own organisation of her work as well as her own handwriting and marks on it, as well as containing much of her own research material. This aspect was definitely a highlight for me – looking at contact sheets where she had marked her favourite images, flicking through her diaries, seeing rings of coffee stains on research articles and finding little bits of tobacco in the cracks of notebooks. The archive gives a sense of Raffles as a person. Her voice comes through in the materiality of her work as well as through the images.

I would say the greatest challenge for my own research into Raffles’ work is that I felt like I was missing some great images as vast amounts of the photographic material were original negatives which hadn’t been previously printed or scanned. The challenges of it being a working collection means that the archive went to great lengths to retain Raffles’ order, but in a way that also uses the archive’s working practice. The large amount of paper material such as newspaper cuttings, articles and notebooks also presented a challenge as it was mixed in with photographic material. It was a large task, but now the collection is more organised, which has allowed greater scope for digitising Raffles’ images for the collection website so more people can access them. The challenges I faced will change for future researchers due to the photo team’s hard work. I hope more and more hidden gems will be uncovered in Raffles’ photography.

Franki Raffles, Untitled [Zero Tolerance poster], 1986-89 © Franki Raffles Estate. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2014-4-749-12a

Raffles is best-known for the ‘Zero Tolerance’ feminism campaign, which was launched in 1992. The campaign drew attention to men’s violence against women and children. Could you tell us more about the campaign and how this came about?

The charity Zero Tolerance was established in 1992 by Raffles and Evelyn Gillian along with a group of women that worked together on Edinburgh District Council Women’s Committee projects. The campaign used Raffles’ photographs alongside stark facts about domestic violence and abuse against women and children in the form of posters distributed around Edinburgh. The campaign used positive and relatable images of women to stress that much violence against women is unseen, often in everyday settings. The scope of the campaign in Edinburgh was vast and gained national attention. The Franki Raffles collection contains a large amount of research material Raffles used for the project, as well as her own extensive notes, which show her dedication to the charity and campaign. Zero Tolerance still exists as a charity today, continuing to tackle violence against women, building on the foundations that Raffles helped to create.

Franki Raffles, Marshall’s, 1986-89. © Franki Raffles Estate. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2014-4-755-11
Fanki Raffles, Joan and Twins, 1991-92. © Franki Raffles Estate. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2014-4-ZT031

Which other projects by Raffles would you like people to know about?

One of my favourite projects by Raffles is To Let You Understand… which documented women’s lives in Edinburgh in the 1980s. She photographed women working in hotels, hairdressers and factories, as well as playgroups and young mothers’ daily routines. The amount of material she created for this project is staggering; I remember flicking through sheets and sheets of negatives. It shows her dedication to the lives and conditions of women through the number of images she took, I think. You can feel her concern for her subjects through the images and see her interactions with them through the number of shots of the women on each contact sheet. The photographs were used in a touring exhibition and published in a booklet which contained statistics of women’s working rights, childcare issues and living conditions at this time, so it’s a great piece of feminist documentary photography encompassing many aspects of women’s lives in Edinburgh in the ‘80s.

Women Workers in the USSR is another project that can draw a lot of comparisons to TLYU… Raffles shot the project over three months travelling in Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine in 1989. Again, it shows women and their working lives, covering a huge variety of jobs, ranging from women working on railroads to performing surgery in hospitals. Both of these projects show how Raffles focuses on the women themselves – she doesn’t make any discernments on the type of jobs the women are doing. A fruit seller is portrayed alongside a doctor, and in the same way, childcare and domestic tasks are given just as much significance in her images. Seeing these projects side by side display the solidarity between women even in different countries with different political situations. Raffles’ focus really was on representing the lives of women, in all walks of life.

Franki Raffles, Plasterers, Soviet Union, 1989 © Franki Raffles Estate. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2014-4-004-34a

If you had to pick just one: which photograph by Raffles do you think is particularly important and why?

That’s a tricky one … there are so many great ones to choose from! I think I would go for her photograph of two plasterers from her USSR project. It really encompasses the spirit of her work. Capturing these two women, joking around doing such a physical and messy job, finding joy working with other women. To me it represents how Raffles captured all of her subjects – celebrating women and their lives, their achievements, their strength and resilience.

Thank you, Lydia!