During the late 1800s there was a push to clear working people's housing, like the back-to-back's and other closely packed houses, named by the decision makers as 'Slum Housing'. Birmingham Town Council (as it was called then) commissioned photographers to enter the 'slums' and take photographs, which would be used as evidence for the need of mass clearance schemes. This was a new use for photography, the camera could be used to gather information about people and the way they lived, but in this instance, to provide evidence for the demolition of unpleasant buildings. What wasn't discussed was that a photographer can frame the subject to make it 'say' whatever they wish it to say. The photographers walking round Victorian Birmingham found the slums and photographed them in exactly the way they were told; to frame that these houses needed to be demolished (see below). They missed an incredible opportunity though, of recording the fascinating social histories happening in the streets and courts around these houses, and even behind the doors.
|Original full photograph of 'slum housing', |
back of 52 & 54 Midland Street, late 1800s.
You can see that there is no attention to detail.
The following images are close-ups of the Birmingham 'Slum Housing' photographs; I have zoomed, often deeply, into the original photographs to peek through people's windows. This series shows the plants and flowers that people surrounded themselves with, in places often shaded from light.
Click on the images for extra peek-power!