Feminist documentary photographer Franki Raffles (1955-94) changed social attitudes both through her work behind the lens and through her campaigning to raise awareness of violence against women and children. She was the co-founder of the charity Zero Tolerance in the early 1990s and created a memorable campaign of images to draw attention to the grim statistics on the prevalence of male violence, notably in the domestic sphere. The Glasgow School Of Art presents a retrospective, Observing Women At Work, drawing on three main bodies of work from the Edinburgh-based photographer, who died aged 39.
To Let You Understand is based on a year-long project initiated by Edinburgh District Council Women’s Committee in the late 1980s. The aim was to document working women’s lives in Edinburgh, informed by statistical information about pay and conditions. The women featured are home helps, cleaners, factory workers and hospital workers. The environments include Hewlett Packard, Miller’s Sweets, Burntons Biscuits, cleaners at the George Hotel and in the grand offices of Edinburgh District Council, and a laundry.
Raffles also travelled extensively, inlcuding to then-Soviet Russia. The Women Workers in the USSR section features both urban and rural workers. On a state farm one woman tells the photographer: “It’s a big farm. No-one knows how big it is. It takes up to three days to ride from one side to the other on horseback.” Photographs show women working in the fields, tending the cows; then in the city working in manufacturing. Under the Soviet system, women also took on jobs that would be considered as being for men, so Raffles photographs women plasterers, road builders and a railway worker.
Raffles’ photographs for the Zero Tolerance campaign represented a new approach. Rather than girls and women being represented as victims, they were portrayed in familiar, ordinary domestic settings. These images were juxtaposed with stark facts on domestic violence such as: “By the time they reach eighteen, one of them will have been subjected to sexual abuse.” Zero Tolerance is now in its 25th year and currently has an open call for a new artist to work with them on the next campaign (www.zerotolerance.org.uk).
The exhibition contextualises Raffles’ work among other key photographers including Margaret Fay Shaw, Helen Muspratt and “The Hackney Flashers”, a collective set up in 1974 by Jo Spence with Neil Martinson.
Franki Raffles: Observing Women At Work; Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art until 27 April. For more information: www.gsa.ac.uk
1. Soviet Women Making Hay, from the series Women Workers in the USSR. Franki Raffles, (1989), Courtesy The Franki Raffles Estate.