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Photographic response to Jason Tilley

Hillfields photographer Jason Tilley is exhibiting images from his Beautiful People project at the Herbert Museum. WATCH, in partnership with the Imagine Community project, will be organising a community response to the exhibition. To do this we have been thinking about Jason’s work as well as our own project aims.

Jason’s photography is an exploration of Indian identity and activity, seen through a lens created by his own interests in his family’s past as Anglo-Indians, but also through his grandfather’s past as a photographer for the Times of India.

Jason’s archive includes images of Highfield Road between 1999 and 2002 – he could hear the roars of the crowd from where he lived as a child and he has continued to photograph Coventry more recently.

What strikes me is that Jason is a portrait photographer but even his pictures of buildings reveal his concern with identity – such as the Coventry Innit series which captures issues that the Imagine project is concerned with – how the future of an area has been imagined through what people have done. In Jason’s images we can see hoardings against buildings ready for redevelopment (such as this image from Allesley)

Jason Tilley – Allesley Old Road


or the attempts of the local authority to make the Binley Road more attractive:

Jason Tilley – Binley Road flowers


The community response will tackle the issue of how community identity is generated but from the position of how the Hillfields community have attempted to make these changes. We have proposed that five residents who moved to live in Hillfields in the 1970s should team up with five new residents who have settled here recently. Bringing these groups together will be a process of exploring how they imagine Hillfields evolved/ evolving in the few years after they moved in.

To do this we will be using an action research photo voice method (Wang, 1999) which will aims to enable participants to find their voice in non-text formats such as images. This will be valuable as we expect the participants to speak different languages but they will also be able to control the process of exploring their environment and the portrayal of their lives. We hope that the images they produce will influence people and policy.

This project will begin in July 2014.


Hillz FM

Hillz FM is a community radio station in Hilfields in Coventry. It broadcasts on 98.6FM 24/7.

Volunteer broadcasters will be undertaking interviews with people who may have something to say for our project. These people are identified by volunteer broadcasters and local connections as well as through the literature on the area.

These people might include long-term residents, those who have worked in the voluntary sector in Hilfields, musicians and artists working in the area, as well as academics, policy workers and community qworkers active in the area. Included are representatives from communities, including the Afro-Caribbean community, those living on welfare, immigrants, those poorly housed and so on. We may explore the issues these people have experience of at a later date as themes and questions emerge.

The rationale for encouraging broadcasters to conduct interviews is that they know the area and its history. In particular the resident DJs have lived the community’s relationship with the political economy of the Hillfields, Coventry, the West Midlands and UK, posing questions in semi-strucutred and unstructured interviews from this intimate knowledge. The first interview is also discussed here.


The first interview

Neol Davis of The Selecter has been interviewed by Kate Hills. The forty minute interview gave me a chance to work with Kate on interviewing skills, although I can’t add too much. It also gives me a chance to talk about interviewing as a process for this project.

The team at the station and I have agreed to a two-step process in interviewing. The first interview is unstructured to give us a broad understanding of the field of knowledge the interviewee has. This interview is then analysed for themes relevant to the research to follow up in a second interview. In Neol’s case our initial interest is in his early music years in the early 1970’s, jamming with a variety of musicians in community centres in Coventry, and the role such centres played for incubating the music that Coventry became synonymous with in the late 1970s.

The next stage is to re-interview Neol about these organisations and their role in Hillfields music scene in those days. As Kate and I go through the interview we will spot other things of interest. Perhaps the way Kate used some local knowledge or the route of questions she used in the interview.

From conducting these interviews Kate will support others at the station using thew sanme process.

And of course there is the music. Neol broadcasts on Hillz FM every Monday.


Setting up a timeline

The aim of this project is to work with community partners and residents to bring together an extraordinary amount of information about Hillfields in Coventry to examine how it has been imagined over time by residents, businesses and various levels of government. From this, new imaginings may take place. There is also a secondary element in which the methodology of this research and the practices that stem from it have an impact in the community by changing practice and building capacity, and that these changes contribute to changes in academic understanding and practice.

Part of our work has been to create a timeline. The timeline can appear in several methods: as text in a technical-looking spreadsheet and as a visual, interactive map. The spreadsheet might be thought of as a base document. It contains all the themes against which paths my be viewed – local policies, national and regional politics, community action, physical development, voluntary organisations, myths, leisure, ethnic population  are a few mentioned so far – and puts them in a chronological order. The interactive online version will not only present these events but also present relevant data such as images, audio and documents, giving residents a chance to work at their own pace on information presented in the timeline.

In conversations with people at a community level involved in this project the timeline may allow them to locate their thinking in the activities of policy makers, community events and major occurrences. From this they will contribute their memories through interviews, photographs or documents. Residents also see the utility of the timeline as a dynamic project. At a recent conference, contributions as to how the timeline might develop ran to several pages, and the debate on myths could certainly have run on long after the event finished.

The timeline in this project will be a legacy website too with the skills to develop it and add to it located in the community, and within the community organisations in Hillfields. Whether there is someone to do this, and whether they, or another, feel the continued value of the timeline, will be a measure of the success of this project.