We regret to announce the death in January of past President Terry Dennett. His funeral was held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday 7 February at Islington Crematorium. Among the mourners were four members of the association.
Terry Dennett, long-term member of AHFAP, past president and sometime journal editor was born in Chigwell, Essex, in 1938 and died in Islington just a few days short of his 80th birthday. He showed a precocious interest in photography and explored nearby Epping Forest. An early influence on his later sociological preoccupations was a relative, Sir John Dennett, a social historian.
He met Jo Spence when visiting the Children’s Rights Workshop in 1973. They soon began working collaboratively. He worked with her on many community projects as part of the Photography Workshop, ‘Remodelling Photo History’, an investigation into the way photography interacts with society, and ‘The Final Project’ which dealt with her mortality in Spence’s last few years of life.
They founded the Half Moon Photography workshop in Whitechapel in 1974 and published the magazine Camerawork. They were motivated by a response to the deprivation around them and a determination to educate. They ran workshops, in which they demystified and democratised photography, especially to children in projects such as ‘Kids and Photography’. They built pinhole cameras from cardboard boxes and used milkbottles for lenses. They converted an old ambulance into a mobile darkroom, which they drove around to record the life of various travelling communities.
Terry was as much a historian as a photographer, researching, as he put it, ‘the marginalised or hidden histories of the traditions of social radicalism’. Influenced by the agit-prop photography of the 1930s, he produced many books and broadsheets published in Camerawork. He recorded the plight of the homeless in ‘Sleeping rough’ in the 1990s. He was also interested in the technical and experimental side of photography and he has left much material from his idiosyncratic researches.
He worked as staff photographer for the Royal Zoological Society at London Zoo. This was what he called his nine-to-five job while his ‘five-to-nine job’ was the care and preservation of the photographic archive of Jo Spence, with whom he lived for many years. He tirelessly, generously and selflessly promoted her work and reputation after her death in 1992 for the rest of his own life. When he couldn’t find any national UK institutions interested in her work he organised a significant exhibition in 2005 in Barcelona.
He had no family but Jo Spence’s niece has happy memories of their holiday visits to Devon, Terry always with camera in hand, of ‘silliness and laughter’ and clotted cream bought especially for the Londoners.
Terry was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago and bravely endured partial blindness.
He became a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1994.
Paul Gardner: Terry was an inspiration to all photographers. He would often turn up to committee meetings with a new photographic gadget or camera, enthusing to everyone to try it out. He was one of very few people who inspired you to pick up a camera and go out and take photographs. Sadly his health was not good in his later years and losing your eyesight is the worst illness a photographer could suffer, but Terry leaves photography a better science and art. He will be sadly missed.
Vid Ingelevics: Notes on Terry Dennett’s donation of the Jo Spence Archive to Ryerson University.
From June 2 to June 8, 2010 David Harris and myself, both professors at Ryerson University in Toronto, visited with Terry to work with him on what, for him, was almost certainly a life-changing event – the donation and shipping of a substantial amount of the content of the Jo Spence Memorial Archive to Ryerson. Other elements were dispersed, both before and after our visit, to major museums, galleries and collections in England, Europe and the United States.
Terry had been the custodian of Jo’s work since her death in 1992 (I met Terry for the first time in Denmark soon after at an exhibition of her and Terry’s collaborative work). That meant Terry had been taking care of the material for 18 years by 2010 when we arrived. The reason the Archive was going to Canada was that, about a year earlier through Terry’s friend Julia Winckler, we heard that he could not find a place for the more process-oriented Archive material in England. Institutions apparently were happy to take Spence and/or Dennett artworks but not necessarily the contextual background documents. We offered and he accepted.
The Archive was essentially the front room of Terry’s flat upstairs at 152 Upper St. in Islington, London. Binders, notebooks, boxes and a wild array of ephemera, some of which was produced by Jo such as the “death shrine” composed of Mexican Day of the Dead souvenirs, lined the walls of the room. Terry’s “office” was set in the centre – a dense mass of computers old and new, scanners, printers, cables and monitors. From here the Jo Spence Memorial Archive reached out into the world. Terry hosted international researchers and curators here who were interested in Jo’s work. After making an appointment they would visit Terry at Upper Street and he would bring out various documents, depending upon their interests. Some of the resulting PhD dissertations and exhibition catalogues were also part of the material found on the shelves in the room.
I am not sure why Terry started to feel the need to take leave of his custodial role at that time. I suspect that he had some health concerns already by then (which he didn’t share) and that was coupled with his awareness that the environment in which the Archive was stored was deteriorating. The two floors above Terry’s flat hadn’t been occupied for at least a decade and the landlord, who desperately wanted to see Terry go so he could take advantage of the gentrification of Islington, had simply let those floors go to ruin. Water leaks had become a real danger.
Terry’s decision to donate the Archive – or at least significant parts of it – to Ryerson University was extremely important. To do so at that moment saved it from possible serious harm. At the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, its new home, all of the material is being catalogued and properly housed in an environmentally controlled environment. It is being made available for research and, as the cataloguing proceeds, will become increasingly accessible to scholars, artists, curators and those interested in Jo Spence’s wide-ranging and ground-breaking practice that always understood art’s political potential for personal and social change and nowhere more so than in her final projects around her own struggle with cancer and her experience with the medical establishment.
I last saw Terry in 2013 when I visited him at Upper Street. He was slowly losing his sight by then. We went out for lunch and when we returned to the flat I asked if he would sit for one more short interview with me and a series of portraits. As always he generously agreed. I think we both knew that his time in the flat was drawing to an end although he wouldn’t let on. To interview Terry was wonderful and futile-seeming at the same time. Apart from his deep dedication to Jo Spence’s work he also had a deep knowledge of labour history and its relationship to photography as well as a strong interest in the technical aspects of the medium. I remember him often having eclectic lens/camera combinations that he had somehow engineered himself and notebooks filled with notations on optics and photo chemistry. One never, in some way, knew quite what questions to ask to get at the full breadth of the wealth in Terry’s head. He was a one-of-a-kind human being in the most positive sense and, I’m sure, touched anyone who had the pleasure to know him.
Toronto, Canada, Jan. 28, 201
Powerpoint presentation delivered by Colin Maitland, on behalf of Terry Dennett, in 2012: terrydennett_2012