Emily Beswick

Emily Beswick

The Migrant Eye: Reactivating the Photographic Past through Archives and Exhibitions in Liverpool and North West England.

Supervisors: Professor Michelle Henning, Dr Jordana Blejmar (University of Liverpool), Alison Jones (Tate Liverpool) 

Contact: emily.beswick@liverpool.ac.uk

Research topic

Taking as its starting point Stuart Hall’s notion of a photographic archive of the history of migration and ‘migranthood’ (1984), this collaborative doctoral project will investigate underexplored photographs of migrant experiences in Liverpool from c.1930 to the present. The notion of the ‘migrant eye’ will be interrogated in relation to both the ‘eye’ of the migrant photographer and the ‘eye’ of the migrant spectator. Drawing on Tina Campt’s recent theorisation of a ‘Black gaze’ which stands in opposition to ‘dominant viewing practice’ (2021), I will ask whether there is a distinctive ‘migrant gaze’ which emerges out of the work of migrant photographers and response of migrant spectators. What does the ‘migrant gaze’ entail, and what work does it demand of its audiences? 

This research will use case studies from photography archives based in Liverpool and the North West, thereby expanding an understanding of the history of migration in the region. Images of the Chinese community in Liverpool by non-migrant photographers will be viewed anew through a feminist and post-colonial lens, alongside personal and family photographs taken within migrant communities. Other case studies may examine images of internment and carceral immigration regimes and images created by community photography groups.  

In partnership with Tate Liverpool, the project will also create public engagement activities involving people from migrant and marginalised backgrounds, aiming to explore the ‘migrant gaze’ through the responses of migrant spectators, identify archives of migranthood outside the institution, and potentially lead to the co-creation of a permanent archival resource.  

This project will resonate with broader conversations around decolonising archives and marginalised histories, and also contribute to developing heritage engagement practices with diverse and marginalised communities.  

Research areas 

Photography; historical and contemporary migration and diasporas; feminist and decolonising praxis; colonial histories; politics of the archive.