Craig Easton : Is Anybody Listening? Commissioning and Collecting Socially Engaged Photography

Back in February the Art Collection team returned to the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum to host a final event for the Craig Easton Is Anybody Listening? and Our Time, Our Place touring programme. The symposium ‘Commissioning and Collecting Socially Engaged Photography’ brought together partners and stakeholders along with artists and participating communities to ask again: Is Anybody Listening? It was a full day of talks from artists and facilitators, as well as audience feedback sessions based around the concept of ‘socially engaged practices’ and their place in the art world.

In the morning, we heard directly from Craig Easton, along with artists/facilitators Liz Wewiora, Poppy Cain, and Gwen Riley Jones; celebrating the work of the young people and emerging photographers that they supported, as well as discovering what impact each project had.

Gwen Riley Jones, Lindsay Taylor, and Rob Fulton enjoying their time on the discussion panel.
Photo credit : Roger Sinek

Stemming from questions that have arisen during the project, the afternoon focused more closely on the ethics surrounding socially engaged photographic practice – from commissioning and collecting through to what is valued, by who – and why? Speakers including Sarah Fisher (Executive Director of Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool), Lindsay Taylor (Curator, University of Salford), Laura Jamieson (Creative Producer, LeftCoast), Craig Easton (exhibiting artist/documentarian), Gwen Riley Jones (socially engaged photographer and Creative Director of Stockroom), and Rob Fulton (Youth Work Manager, Salford Youth Service) each presented a response to the question:
From the spectrum of socially engaged photographic practice, what should we be collecting?

The panel went on to answer questions about what evidence there was that our audience are interested in socially engaged photographic practice, whether we are omitting an important part of art history by failing to collect socially engaged practice, and how we might begin to think about recompense for those co-authoring the work; this led to a very engaged and thought-provoking debate amongst the delegates.

The event then finished with a touching reading from poet Abdul Aziz Hafiz; collaborator on Craig Easton’s Bank Top project.

Abdul Aziz Hafiz reading his poem to the room.
Photo credit : Sam Parker

At the Art Collection, we know that our recent socially-engaged work with young people has already made a huge impact on the way we work – including the way we think about commissioning, collecting, and reaching audiences and participants. In particular, our projects with Salford Youth Service have proved particularly inspiring, and we hope to find ways to develop this work further in future.

Sam Parker, Art Collection Team Assistant, April 2024