The Tim Hetherington collection and conflict imagery network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Media & Communication


In November 2017 the Imperial War Museum acquired the complete archive of award-winning conflict photographer Tim Hetherington. This extensive archive comprises his seminal photography and video work from his assignments in Liberia (2003-2006), Afghanistan (2007-2008) and Libya (2011), reflecting his work as a conflict journalist but also as a humanitarian and innovator in his field. Offering a unique insight into his working practices, the archive also includes never-seen-before handwritten journals and correspondence, cameras, tear sheets, and publications featuring his photography.

The IWM's acquisition of the Tim Hetherington archive offers a timely opportunity to examine the legacy of a prize-winning photographer and ensure that Hetherington's insightful work can be made available to future generations of researchers, practitioners and publics. The network is timed to feed into the planned exhibition in 2021 at the IWM North, contributing both expert analysis from research events but also insights from public engagement workshops held in tandem. Working in partnership with IWM, the network activities are designed to generate enriched understandings of the archive from people who worked with Hetherington as photographers, reporters and film-makers, in addition to scholars and interested members of the public. This is achieved by bringing together this mix of international participants at a series of one-day events inspired by and responding to Hetherington's body of work.

The aims of the research are therefore to develop an international and interdisciplinary research network committed to enhancing knowledge about the practice and ethics of image-making and conflict prompted by the unique Hetherington archive at the Imperial War Museum. Through a series of events the network will examine his legacy and promote greater understanding of both Hetherington's work and wider compelling issues of conflict imagery in the digital era. Within this primary objective we have identified three interconnected themes through which to examine Hetherington's legacy in the broader context of contemporary conflict photography: his own notion of the 'feedback loop' which focuses on how soldiers see themselves in ways informed by popular culture images of other soldiers in war; the idea of a humanitarian photography and the moral relationship between photographic subject, photographer and spectator; and the key factors that shape image-making practices for photographers and filmmakers in the 'post-photographic' digital era.

Each of the three themes above provide the basis for discussion at research events in London (IWM), Salford (IWM North) and New York (International Center of Photography (ICP)). The research events are organised in tandem with public engagement workshops which complement the themes and are designed to exchange knowledge with identified groups: The first workshop will engage with the military community (veterans and families); the second with refugees recruited through a support group in Greater Manchester; and the third with students from the ICP and the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) in New York which Hetherington helped to set up to encourage social change through photography and film.
Finally, to share the findings of the research network and as a public 'launch' of the online resource, a 'Research in Focus' day will be organised at IWM London in 2021, for the public dissemination of the network's findings.

The network activities will produce public-facing outputs which summarise perspectives from the network discussions in the form of recordings from the events, digitised material from the archive, and blogs for the IWM webpages, consequently enhancing wider knowledge and understanding about conflict photography in the digital era. Academic outputs include a co-authored article by the project team, in a co-edited special issue of a journal, and a co-authored IWM book to accompany the exhibition in 2021.

Planned Impact

The network has both academic and wider public cultural impact at its core, with all activities combining a research-focused and public engagement element.
The primary beneficiaries are:

1. Museums and third sector organisations
Co-designed with the IWM, the network is imbued with the purpose of the museum: helping public audiences to understand and contextualise current, recent and future conflicts. Alongside academic research generated through the network events, the perspectives from interested members of the public will directly enhance web resources and will inform the 2021 exhibition. The network would benefit the museum and its visitors by organising an opportunity for the public to have early access to this unique archive in a workshop setting and contribute to developing the thematic strands identified in Hetherington's work. Project partners, the International Center of Photography (ICP) and the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) bring their distinctive New York connections with Hetherington to the network, and benefit through participating in creative and stimulating dialogue about visual culture as a catalyst for social change.

2. Public audiences
Using the PI's 'Ignite' project funding, we have already held two 90-minute public engagement workshops at the museum (March 2019) with both military community and non-military groups. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, especially in relation to the importance of Hetherington's work and enjoying the opportunity to share views and hear from others. The network funding will enable us to carry out further public engagement workshops, benefiting from a greater amount of the archive being catalogued by this time. We have identified three targeted publics for the workshops: members of the military community; refugees in the Greater Manchester area; and student photographers and filmmakers in New York. Each group has been identified due to their specific (yet individually varied) experiences relating to conflict or image making, and the thematic threads of the research network. The network is inclusive in its approach and will gather these various voices and experiences to co-produce knowledge and enhance the website and exhibition. The student participants in New York (from the ICP and BDC) would also be invited to respond creatively to the collection and would attend an additional workshop in advance of the network event to provide prompts for their quick-response photography or film projects. Working with the ICP and BDC allows the network team to examine how photography is used for positive social change for local participants in this context; an initiative that Hetherington helped to shape before his death.
Secondly, the network activities will feed into the development of an online resource for the collection (including recordings from events, blogs and images), and a 'Research in Focus' day will be organised at IWM London, for the wider public dissemination of the network's findings. We will work together with the museum's Public Engagement and Learning team to pursue how the research network could develop learning activities beyond the immediate outputs of the network.

3. Practitioner communities in filmmaking and photojournalism
In this field of research there is a substantial overlap between practitioner communities and scholars, and we are confident that the network activities will attract those working across journalism and documentary; and artists, photographers, and film makers. Activities will be promoted via the Frontline Club and the British Press Photographers Association as the network will stimulate debate relevant to their industries. We are excited to promote never-seen-before aspects of Hetherington's work, alongside novel analysis from our network members, in accessible formats on the IWM website. The project team will publicise the network with support from the University's and IWM's press offices and via the website and social media.


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