Ford Street, Arthur and Walter

The project has grown through research conducted with the help of Sandwell Community and History Archives Service (CHAS), located close to Ford Street. Their assistance has deepened my knowledge of the area and both widened and narrowed the contexts for the project. Access to photographic archival images from 1930-1969 has enabled me to produce new writing that interweaves memories, fictions and facts from CHAS with my family archive.

Factory floor of Pneulec, Mafeking Road, Smethwick. Arthur Wilding is seated second from left. Photograph by G. F. Greenfield

These texts layer multiple, sometimes parallel or tangential perspectives. Histories of people and places unfold. One way to look at the texts might be to consider them as ‘vignettes’, a term used in the fields of literature, illustration and photography to refer to a short description or episode of a location or character, a small decorative, often symbolic design, and a framing device that lacks a definite border, where an image bleeds out into its background.

Charlie and Bill, instant photographic prints by Anneka French, 2020

As well as the texts, the new Polaroid-type photographs I have made might also be described as vignettes. Their small scale references my family archival images and in content, they point towards some of the male members of my own family tree via significant objects including furniture, items of clothing, toys and the engraving plate used to produce Walter’s portrait for his sheet music ‘Carolina Duet’. Examination of the decorative vignettes used on this sheet music has additionally resulted in a new series of experimental line drawings.

The project has allowed me to take forward a number of strands of new and existing research with very different but interconnected outputs. I hope to continue developing these within my practice.

Ford Street, Smethwick, 20th March 1955 Photographer: Thomas A James

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