A Different Lens- using the Raissa Page photographic collection at Swansea University for outreach and education

Raissa Page became a self-taught documentary photographer, after a successful career in social care. Her photography captures the lives of marginalised groups at times of social change during the late 20th century. She was also a founder member of the trailblazing all-female FORMAT Photographic Agency in the 1980s.

Catalogued in 2019, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Raissa Page Collection ranges from 1978 to 2010 and comprises photographs, transparencies, negatives, slides, notebooks, audio and printed material.

“Greenham: Dancing on the silos at dawn. New Year’s Day 1 Jan 1983” (Ref. DC3/14/1/67)
Photograph by Raissa Page. Protected by copyright. Not to be reproduced without permission, please contact Richard Burton Archives

While cataloguing, Project Archivist David Johnston-Smith, digitised a number of images for social media use, presentations, and articles. These have become a valuable resource during Covid-19 times, when staff have been working from home and been unable to access physical collections, enabling us to continue using the collection to support learning and teaching at Swansea University, as well as other outreach activities, remotely.

Being Human

In November 2020 we were excited to welcome 80 guests to our online event ‘Raissa Page: Life Through a Different Lens’ as part of the Being Human Festival events at Swansea University. We were joined by David Johnston-Smith, who gave an informative overview of Raissa’s life from childhood until her career in photography, and photographer and friend of Raissa, Anita Corbin, who gave a personal account of Raissa’s photographic career and impact.

 ‘Explore Raissa Page’s most thought-provoking images through the eyes of historians, photographers, archivists, and most importantly, your own.’ Event tagline

The event launched our online exhibition, which showcases images chosen by historians, academics, photographers, archivists and friends of Raissa Page, and records their responses to them. We also encouraged people to leave their own responses and comments on the exhibition pages.

Explore Your Archive

To maximise the reach of the exhibition and collection (and thinking ahead to post Covid-19 plans) we gained an Explore Your Archive Campaign Grant from the Archives Wales Audience Development fund. This enabled us to create a pull up banner, and physical and digital postcards. We’ve found that postcards are a really good way to capture people’s thoughts and reactions to archives. During Explore Your Archive week 2020, we also tweeted a photograph tying in with the daily themes of the campaign (via both @SwanUniArchives and @RaissaPage)

Postcard for the Raissa Page Collection

Communicating History

The collection is currently being used as the basis for ‘Communicating History’, an MA module at Swansea University, in which students explore an archival collection and communicate its potential to the public. They will produce a jointly created website aimed at a non-academic audience, individual oral presentations, and a co-authored reflective report on their experience.

This module has run since 2012 and supports students to:-

  • locate, use and interpret archival records and understand their value as primary source material,
  • be aware of issues of contemporary interpretation,
  • have an understanding of how historical knowledge can be deployed in ways that inspire and educate a wide range of public audiences

The module usually takes place in the Archives Reading Room, where students are able to access material, but this year they have had to rely entirely on the online catalogue, selected digital items, and Zoom sessions.

The group have definitely engaged with Raissa’s work- though it would be difficult not to. Her images are visually and technically impressive, and themes such as feminism, politics, anti-nuclear protest, institutional care, ageing, childhood, and the environment resonate with today’s students.

‘The students warmed to Raissa Page’s photography and the project immediately. They identified themes of personal interest and demonstrated their ability to analyse the available digital images from the Archives and to work with other online sources and each other. Their enthusiasm has dispelled any reservations I had about running the module remotely, and I am really looking forward to seeing their final work’ Dr Jonathan Dunnage, Associate Professor of Modern European History, Swansea University

What next?

David-Johnston Smith is currently working on a book about Raissa Page, which will act as a primer for her life, work and photographic collection. As part of this, many more images will be digitised and made accessible.

We are now looking forward to how else the collection could enhance existing research and teaching interests, and generate new ones. Within the University, there has already been inter-disciplinary interest (ageing, disability, social science, human geography), alongside the more obvious areas of photography and 20th century social and political history.

 ‘Her photographs gave voice to those at the margins of society’ – quote from Guardian obituary

Hearing people’s memories and emotions towards the photographs and the events that they document, has helped us understand and interpret them further. The photos are Raissa’s way of sharing the lives of so many individuals and communities with contemporary and future generations. Their potential to represent and challenge gives enormous scope for outreach as well as academic work and we look forward to sharing the collection as widely as we can.

Stacy O’Sullivan

Assistant Archivist | Archifydd Cynorthwyol

Richard Burton Archives | Archifau Richard Burton

Gallery Images

Image 1: ‘Here we go for the women of the working class’ Miners wives end 1st National Conference of Women Against Pit Closures, Sheffield, 17 Aug 1985 (Ref. DC3/6/1/29)

Image 2: Child watching army display” 1981-82 (Ref. DC3/33/1/19)

Image 3: “Going to church Christmas morning, St Lawrence’s Hopsital for the mentally handicapped, Caterham, Surrey.” c 1980 (Ref. DC3/30/1/160)

Image 4: ”Pensioners at Greenham Common” 20 May 1984 (Ref. DC3/14/1/20)

All Photographs by Raissa Page. Protected by copyright. Not to be reproduced without permission, please contact Richard Burton Archives

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