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Tim Smith interviewed by Lorraine Sitzia

Smith, Tim, 1959- (speaker, male; interviewee)
2008-02-11

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  • Title:
    Tim Smith interviewed by Lorraine Sitzia
  • Contributor: Smith, Tim, (speaker, male; Sitzia, Lorraine (speaker, female
  • Rights: BL
  • Place Name: Bradford Industrial Museum
  • Description:
    Track 1 [2:05:20] [Session one: 11 February 2008] How came to be at BHRU -Studied at photography college – left in 1983, living in Sheffield, thinks joined in 1985 [see Perks interview and BHRU documentation-1986 when photography section set up]. Had done documentary photography at Newport (Wales) and did project on his street – wanted to be a photojournalist – project was relevant as ‘opened my eyes to this thing of ordinary people doing ordinary things was actually quite interesting’. Talks about his photography interests (and exhibitions), in particular, was interested in communities in Britain from different parts of the world and photographing them. Mentions Bradford as having a reputation of being a cosmopolitan city so wrote to Bradford council asking them if anything happening and was put in touch with the BHRU. Took portfolio of pictures of Dolphin Street (his street project) and showed them to Rob and Olive ‘ who were impressed’ (laughs!) fitted neatly with what they were doing. One thing to say about the Heritage Unit at that time was that in the early 80s documenting the history of the so-called ethnic communities was, no-one was doing it really’. Sees it as a fortuitous moment for both him and the Unit. Outcome was Rob, Olive, Tim and Steve Kerry decided that as well as having an admin department and an oral history/education department that they should have a photography dept. Tim advised on what job description should be and job was advertised (not very widely!). Got funding from MSC – Unit had established itself – good reputation - it filled MSC criteria well – people went on from Unit to gaining employment and for arts / museums etc was doing a good job for them. ‘It was engaging with communities that Bradford Council hadn’t really engaged with before’. Museums people had realised good having all oral history re textile industry but without good visuals couldn't really put on an exhibition. [8:35] Employed full-time as photography supervisor to create a photography and design dept. Mentions salary low but as young and single didn’t matter. 3 / 4 photographers, graphic designer and technician – staff of 6 or 7 people. All had to be long-term unemployed – employed 3 days a week. Low wages but as interesting project people were willing to put the effort in as well as gaining skills. Each year had to bid for next year budget. Education/outreach (Olive), photography/design (Tim), Admin (Jan Godbold). Mentions that in Admin Jan was very good at training up staff (typing / transcribing etc) and nearly everyone went on to get a job. For Tim was different - would like to think that people got a lot out of his dept. Discuss tension of developing Unit and running as an MSC scheme where MSC only interested in people getting work experience and then getting a job, ‘just training people up to turn up for work’. Giving people skills. Thinks were successful in training people. Steve and Rob had good relations with job centre and were able to steer more to people who would benefit and contribute to scheme rather than being sent whoever turned up that day. Good system of communication with job centre. But still vast range of people ranging from people who had been unemployed for years due to mental health or drug problems, or weren’t interested in getting a job, through to people who had just become unemployed for whatever reason, who were committed, or signing on while finishing postgrad studies – well educated and committed – like a godsend. Did try and wheedle out those that didn’t think would do the work. Different ages, backgrounds, commitments etc. Rob had some challenging personnel problems to deal with. [16:04] Talks a lot about people getting things back from working at Unit re skills etc – giving a bit back as well as the Unit getting stuff. Damage limitation exercise sometimes. Juggling act between developing Unit and supporting those coming through the MSC scheme. Core team was good team to work with although had their differences. Unusual in photography side of things – for photographers starting out it was a good thing to do – can’t think of any other projects were people would move across the country to work on an MSC scheme. People would ring up wanting a job – some moved to Bradford and signed on in the hope of getting work at the Unit. [21:00] Discuss community history – was aware of photography projects that were community-orientated / influenced by co-operative / left ideas happening in the 80s but hadn’t had anything to do with museums / history etc. Had only been out of college a couple of years and was quite naive – interested in photographing people. His motivation was as way to get access to communities that found interesting – ‘almost travel the world on city circular bus in Bradford’. ‘Different people have their own motivations, mine wasn’t a political one’. Key people pretty constant throughout – Carole, Steve, Rob, Olive, Jan and Tim – lots of motivations were very personal. Talks about some of the discussions within the group. E.g ‘products / projects, ‘outcomes’ ‘we’re not here to produce a product, could have a half hour discussion, it’s about people’s lives. ‘Used to have real barneys’. Tim felt that the way to give people access to the stuff was to produce a product like an exhibition or a publication whereas Olive (in Tim’s opinion) was more give the people what they want mentality – part of the reason for her doing it was the actual act of doing it. Rob’s motivation was creating an archive as from history background but he could also see the value of the product. Thinks Olive saw it a bit as exploiting people’s memories (by creating a product). Debates about what you ‘actually used people’s memories and lives and pictures for was fraught with all sorts of questions, and for me it was if we’re collecting all this stuff we need to present it back to people otherwise whose going to come in and trawl through hours of tape, they’ve got to be committed researchers. For me it was putting this product out there which was us acting as editors (which again is a very contentious thing, who are you make these decisions ...) but at the end of the day I felt that decisions had to be made’.


    Track 1 [cont. from 26:05] Talk about Olive - -did want outcomes but different types of outcomes she was very interested in people going out and giving talks - very personal one to one thing. Lots of memories groups setting up and Olive and Carole were very keen on giving talks. But felt also that if you could put on an exhibition that thousands of people could see should divert some of their resources to that. Tensions - lively discussions how things should be done! Sees this as a strength of the Unit. ‘I thought what Olive did was fantastic and what she did was different to what I did but at the end of the day hopefully we complemented each other. We had real arguments about stuff but we never fell out in a long-term way’. Mentions people coming into meetings being shocked - but ‘you’d just have a really good debate about stuff and thrash out what it was that needed doing and then you’d go off and do it’. [29:58] Discuss anonymity in books. Tim says thinks it’s best to be identified in books as reader gets most out of that. Thinks a lot of the anonymity came for Olive and Carole - worry that people ... didn’t feel it was right to put people’s memories (talks about OH relationship) out there in public with name attached. Could be exploitative etc. But without name less satisfying as reader. But when Tim joined textile project winding up and moving to migrant communities and anonymity promised to them because felt they would get more out of the interview. For example where contentious histories for the first time ever people were asking them all these questions and it was, ‘what do you want to know all this for?’ ‘It’s a bit more mainstream now but then ... we’ve been here for 50 years why are you suddenly asking all these questions’.(East Europeans for example) ‘If you offered people anonymity it encouraged people to open up a bit more, and then once promised anonymity you’ve obviously got to keep your word, and particularly with issues of immigration I think people are quite, they will speak more openly if they know their name is not going to be attached to it, particularly say within the Asian community for example, it’s quite, well not everybody knows everybody else it’s ... they didn’t want to be seen as talking on behalf of the community [...] issues like racism they’re quite sensitive issues to talk about and people might be reluctant to talk about them for all sorts of reasons, sexual harassment in the textile mill [...], you will kind of talk about it if you know it’s anonymous. In the end it became a blanket policy which as you say is a weakness in terms of the consumers of the material but is a strength in terms of creating an honest and more open archive’. Talks about issue with war crimes commission in the 1980s in particular Ukrainians – Unit had visits from war commission, ‘you’re trying to protect war criminals by offering them anonymity’, they wanted to find out who the Ukrainians were etc, who they’d interviewed – told them it was all anonymous. Legal complications but didn’t tell – told them to go and listen to interviews (public access) but would not put names to interviews. Rob main one for dealing with this. Thinks they realised that they weren’t going to find out much listening to the interviews – unlikely people would own up on tape. ‘That’s something to say that a lot of the history that we did at that time was contentious, a lot of the Ukrainian men who came here at the end of the second world war were members of the SS division, Bradford was the place that they came. So when we did the exhibitions about the Ukrainian community [...] a lot of it was quite contentious history, which we put in, people were members of the SS. You can’t do an exhibition about the history of people coming to Bradford and how and why they came without talking about the fact they were in the WAF and SS. You don’t need to go into the details of what that particular unit did because it wasn’t part of the story but you had to be quite clear about what was relevant. And with the Asian community it was the Salman Rushdie thing which bought international notoriety to Bradford, but prior to there’d been things, Ray Hunniford affair [...] If we were going to do an exhibition about the Asian community coming to Bradford we didn’t want it to be what I dubbed that “sari and samosas” kind of our kind of thing. What I used to get sick of was lord mayors turning up to our exhibitions talking about the happy multicultural city we were all proud to live in, and you’d think, oh god here we go again. Yes there are things to celebrate but there’re also quite difficult things to confront’. [40:36] Exhibitions etc - not highlighting – including – giving an honest account. Wasn’t all sweetness and light for immigrants. Although lots of race training etc but at same time gives example of preparing for Here to Stay exhibition and telling head of museums planning to use stuff re Rushdie affair – said can’t do that. Tim argues can’t do history of Asian community without acknowledging this. ‘How can you do a history of Asians coming to work in textile mills without mentioning how awful the jobs were, or racism? Not that we wanted to highlight these things but they’re part of the story and it would be, I felt dishonest to have done it and Rob wouldn’t have stood for it [his historical principles].’ Feels that for years people been sweeping things under the carpet not acknowledging what was happening. Thinks that ‘at the end of the day if you are going to do community histories they have to be done with integrity’.


    Track 1 [cont. from 44:30] Talks about developing the photography side. Part of the job was to carry on what Unit had been doing, i.e. copying photos by better! But his argument was what you see in a family album is a small representation of what’s out there and often of celebrations etc, often very few pictures of actually working in mills - day to day life (usually most telling things). So would go into a textile mill and photograph them spinning, weaving etc. Interest from student days spent time photographing in Asian communities found it exciting. Team of photographers – came for 3 days a week – for 2 days had to do what the Supervisors told them to do – copying work but for most of them had to do that and then would also set them projects - i.e. St Luke’s Hospital. Or could do own project. Some had motivation to do this and others didn’t so needed guidance. Mentions Paul Robinson came from Nottingham to work at Unit did couple of projects on black churches – did exhibition, and also allotments. People like him were a godsend. Others didn’t have the technical skills also need a lot of self-motivation. Over 3 / 4 years huge volume of work generated. Had small space at BIM to put on mini exhibitions if felt the work was good enough and interviewer may work with them (Robinson did own interviews for the church project). Fluid process. Also worked on bigger projects – St Luke’s – got photographers to go and photo hospital and conducted interviews. [51:13] Up until time MSC funding ended interviewing and photography sides complemented each other well. Two strong teams – dual purpose of creating archive for the future and having an output for the end of the year. Some of the mini-exhibitions were just photos. Couldn’t do exhibition just with OH. Mix of products – some more photography led others OH (tape sets, talks etc). ‘Best things we did combined oral history and photography, and the two fed off each other and the process of producing the work’. Here to Stay project says has a ‘storyboard’ of what they wanted to do with it. Irna Imran was the interviewer – she didn’t want to focus on purdah and arranged marriage – cliché of Muslim women, but when she interviewed women it was such a big issue for the women that couldn’t not include it. It was a question of the interviewees informing the direction the interview took. So Tim went to weddings etc to get pictures. Organic process. Interviewers and the material generated informed the pictures that were taken and vice versa. Bone of contention – Olive believed that the interviewee should always guide the interviewee, but the thought of being asked to generate material on a certain subject was against what she believed in. MSC funding - ending – becomes ET. Rob left before this but knew that it was going to happen. What they all felt (Tim, Olive, Steve & Carol) was that didn’t want to take part in ET and hand over the archive that had built up. ET meant they had to take whoever the job centre sent you. Could see chaos ‘strength of an archive is how well it’s documented’. Decided not to apply for ET. Rob’s job was museum salaried by then – gave the museum a stake in the Unit at the expense of the library. But arts and museums came up with the money ‘so why shouldn’t they claim ownership of it’. Argument was that we still gave them copies and they didn’t have to pay for the salary. Tim got Rob’s job but wasn’t a happy time as Olive and Jan were losing their jobs (didn’t want to apply) His job to oversee the loss of £120 000 of funding. So the Unit shrank overnight (1988) – always had fluctuating numbers of staff but went from around 20 odd to Tim on his own with £500 a year plus his salary. Also lost their premises – moved into Industrial Museum. Took job full time. ** Supervisors always full-time** [1:01:37] Had never had volunteers – never needed them. Manningham Rd was council building but had to move out – building became derelict! Arts and museums didn’t have money in budget to pay printing unit. Crisis management in first six months post MSC. Mentions that the head of BIM at the time was old style curator – not interested in oral history – even now displays are not about people who worked in textiles but about the technology. Talks about museums especially in 1980s – community history not seen as real history then. Administratively Bradford Museums was in a mess. Head (of BIM or all?) was no good at managing – Steve Kerry was informal second in command. Lots of policy decisions made by Steve and Paul Lawson(Head of Arts and Museums) meeting up at pub near art gallery [cartwright Hall]. ‘It was a mess’. Steve was a friend of the Unit – it was ‘one of his babies’, but by then had got involved with Horses at Work (Tim says ‘ to sound a bit bitter about it’). Bought in lots of visitors but felt unnecessary expenditure. Personally felt Steve’s focus had shifted at the expense of other things.


    Track 1 [cont. from 1:07:31] First 6 months – depressing. After first year on his own went to Head and said didn’t want to become a bureaucrat museums person - interested in doing community history – oral history – done lots of interviews but wanted to go back to Tim being part –time running photography and doing a jobs share - other person focusing on oral history. Tim had opportunity to work for photographic news agency taking photos. Informal agreement that he would do 2 days, other 3 employ someone for oral history. Says ‘must have been naive went down to 2 days a week and they never filled the other half of my job’. Felt they could have quite easily found the money but all money went into horses at work. (Around 1989/1990 – Rushdie affair). Steering committee abandoned – ‘nothing to steer’. Decided what he should do was ‘exploit the archive that was already there, which again Olive would have been horrified at the thought [...] I just thought there’s all this stuff there and if I don’t use it who is?’ There’s no point creating more archive, haven’t got the resources’. Reasoned they wouldn’t give him money to get people to do more interviews etc but there was a wealth of material already in the archive so set about thinking of ways to use the material. Thought he better find people to work with himself. Decided to do project on the Asian communities with Irna - found each other as she was working as a radio journalist. She was born in Bradford of Pakistani origin. She did all the interviews with Asian women – Here to Stay exhibition and book. A lot of the photography was done in his own time. Well received. She was paid – can’t remember how. Arts and Museums had exhibition budget you could bid into. Money for the book came from library who at the time published books by local authors - Tim sat on the publishing panel! Put in a proposal. Felt that although could go into library and read or listen to interviews for days etc, ‘what people really wanted were the best bits, distillation, they didn’t want to have to sit there for weeks and weeks reading and listening to transcripts and tapes and go though all these photographs [...] What they wanted was a book they could take away, and get the story from beginning to end, so that’s what I said, if you give me the money to do a book I’ll save you all this time, librarian time, and it’ll be a great thing for you to have’. [1:16:01]Exhibition didn’t tour as locally based. For book libraries got money back but Unit got a bit of money back. Then decided that if they did exhibitions that had their roots in Bradford but also included other places then they tour the exhibitions – bring in money for the Unit. I. Polish / Ukraine exhibition opportunistic i.e. with Ukraine. Started with Rob getting Winston Churchill award to go to Ukraine (early 1990s) Tim went with him funding himself – took lots of pictures – suggested Bradford to exhibition of Ukrainians in Britain – toured and got money back, as admin in museum so bad money came back into Unit rather than to exhibition fund. Also money from books – not a lot but kept Unit going. Had his own budget - autonomous while museum in chaos. So was able to use it to pay freelancers. Sheffield Uni had some money and linked up with Unit – said if employ a researcher to do more east European interviews will you work with them. Partly through Rob’s network but also Unit having national reputation. Professors of history and geography at Sheffield had bought the books. Fitted their agenda to work with Unit – not only getting stuff out to academic audience but ESRC wanted ‘wider fan base’. Sheffield thought they could do academic stuff and Unit could do public side – good match for all concerned. Exhibition on weddings that travelled and earnt them lots of money. So instead of investing time in supervising volunteers which steered clear of, used the money to employ freelancers and would have very product orientated projects. That was where Tim could get the money. [1:20:54] It’s the products that bring the communities into their histories – not enough to just make an archive – not that accessible even if in a public place. ‘Presenting those histories back to the communities whose histories it is but it’s also presenting it to a wider public as well’. Talks about volunteers – Tim’s position was if they were good enough to work for Unit then deserved to be paid. But also had limited time to support volunteers. Especially if booked exhibition space and have to produce on time can’t afford to depend on volunteers. ‘Heritage Unit was always seen as a good thing and everyone always said it was a good thing within Bradford and the Council but when it came to actually giving it some money and support, ‘it’s like next April’, kind of thing’. Olive felt bitter – no support for keeping her job – she lost her job. Wasn’t just a job for her didn’t want to stay on as a volunteer. Worked together on a project on the housing estate she’d lived on - wouldn’t be paid took it on as a member of the community. Got money from Arts Council for community history – he put down T.Smith as it was for a women’s photography project! [1:27:05] Worked through 1990s with part time post bringing in people when needed (had funding). Says it’s easy to dwell on negative but his ‘gripe was and still is that they always said the heritage unit did fantastic stuff [...] if we produce these exhibitions which you think are great, why don’t you fill the other half of my job? After a while you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall [...] well you can only keep writing these applications for so long, then think if I’m raising money producing exhibitions and books why don’t I carry on doing it that way? That’s what I did for a long time, I just got on and did my own thing. Now and again someone said, oh we might not have a cut next year and I’d think it might be worth doing a bit of lobbying. But they still provided a building, rent and a phone but all they’d give me was £500’. Went to £400 on year. Paul Lawson left – up till this point arts and museums was in a mess, which worked for Unit as Tim could do his own thing (within reason). Went to Pakistan with Irna to do something on Mirpur - museum supported – exhibition officer was very supportive. Certain individuals he had identified within system who were supportive and so approached them. Had a lot of freedom. Mirpur exhibition toured about 20 museums – got back around £20000 – kept them going for a while – most successful exhibition. Ukraine around 5, Polish about 2.


    Track 1 [cont. from 1:31:20] Mark Suggitt took over as head – around 2002 wanted to sort out admin mess. Unit had about £16500 in kitty Starting budget afresh every year is a nightmare as projects often have long lead – in times. If only have £400 a year impossible to do anything as can’t plan ahead. Asked if he could keep money as had earmarked for various projects – said that was fine, but in March was told there was overspend in architects department and so took away the Unit’s money. ‘I was a bit upset’. Could see that if this was going happen each other would be the end of his system, and also couldn’t commit to projects and couldn’t see through projects already committed to. Managed to get a little back to fulfil some projects on basis that it would destroy professional integrity if didn’t come through. Got about £2000 back. Was made clear that at the beginning of the year got £400 and at the end of the year could no longer carry money forward. What had made Unit successful was throughout it’s history had always managed to have a surplus financially. At the end of the year the books always balanced. Thinks that people thought he was coming with the goods and the books always balanced and so they weren’t bothered. This shift in managing his budget precipitated his decision to finally leave. Following year or year after ‘powers that be decided that as the Heritage Unit was so good at generating its own income from exhibitions and books and what have you. They then gave me a negative budget’. Thought it was ridiculous when other people were having overspends. Finally decided leave. Left in Feb 2005. Thought might as well go off and do own projects, as always had to offer projects to Bradford first. Talks a bit about the Asians in Britain exhibition which was meant to be held in Cartwright Hall – didn’t get on with curator and she pulled it – had also been planned to go to Manchester - ended up working for Bradford but being paid by Manchester (money going back into Unit) – when everything disorganised could have got away with it but in new regime got a letter of disapproval. Had had a flexible way of working - felt better to leave and make contact as a freelancer no hassle with all the bureaucracy. So tries and combines work that pays the rent – brochures, magazines etc with thinking up ideas for projects – still involves oral history – Yemen project through Sheffield galleries and museums. Still photography and oral history – don’t have to deal with all the nonsense form the Council. [1:41:08] No one has been employed to replace Tim - thinks that new boss Suggitt did think Unit was good - relevant to Bradford, produced an archive (collection) as well as products at a reasonable costs and was well received. Basic fabric of museum not changed since 1970s - technology led. Lot of things that have been added about the people etc is all heritage unit material. Museums should be about the communities that are out there that they serve. Needs to be complimented by their experiences, images and words – Suggitt in support but nothing changed. Maggie Pedley BIM head lobbying around Unit. Regional hub (Bradford part of Yorkshire hub – government money available) have appointed lots of education officers but not replaced Tim. Doesn’t understand why. Part of problem – photography and oral history are resource-hungry (not cheap). Although in later years wouldn’t let interviewees do long life story interviews. Would be more focused (product-led). But still gave them an archive. With ‘new regime’ old boss left and - ‘this is where it comes down to personalities’. If stayed in cutorial social history would have been under guy running BIM at time – didn’t want that as he wasn’t ‘very imaginative!’ old-style approach – poles apart. Asked to move into education – learning and out-reach as got on with person who led that, but her thing was education, but best of bad job. When Maggie came to work just before he left he moved back into social history, as felt she would be better guardian of heritage unit, but his job still there on piece of paper in management structure – but no one ever been appointed. Was asked before left to be in charge of digitalisation of museum collection, Unit’s photographs seen as good pilot for this. Put lot of their photos on digital database which was available to public via the web. Then asked to organise other collections – said wasn’t his job but collections manager – they said didn’t have one and he had to do it. Final straw.


    Track 1 [cont. from 1:50:05] Lasting legacy – the archive - but without someone to actively promote it – people do make enquiries and dealt with on piecemeal way, but needs digitalising – tapes are degrading – needs resources – if going to make use of it need someone to do as an active job. Exhibitions come and go, but are books – keen to do those as satisfying but also was an archival thing in its own right. Never know whose looking at the books – only when people come back to you. Tim going to Ukraine to do exhibition on Ukrainian Diaspora connecting back to project done before. Gone back to Bradford Ukrainian community after 10 years. Exhibitions – some very successful – numbers of people that turned up and impact perceived to have on those visitors. Others not so successful. Mirpur show at Cartwright Hall Jan – Mar usually got 11 000 visitors during that period this time got 25000. Not all came to see show but majority did. Lots of families coming. Grand Trunk Road – numbers didn't go up but profile of visitors changed – lots of Asian families. Polish book – Keeping the Faith – won Raymond Williams Community Publishing prize – printed 1000 sold out in 6 months – had another 1000 printed. Ukrainian book sold out. Hard to measure if things have been a success. In 1980s community history was quite new, ‘not saying that Bradford showed everyone else how to do as there were all sorts of schemes happening around the country, but Bradford did become one of ones that was seen at the forefront of ...’ go onto discussion of whether there are any groups like Bradford left. Thinks that Robe was very clever in embedding the Unit in the existing infrastructure of the museum. Many MSC projects ended and what happened to all their stuff? ‘But to be really cynical that’s what’s happening to it now [...] at least it’s in a museum and one does hold out hope that they will use it and take care of it. Well they do use it like; we did that new edition of the textile voices book’. But that was done by Tim. Had acquired the Woods collection which had photographs of the working mills and Tim wanted them to be seen. So updated previous book with these photos and some new interviews. Combined old oral history with some of the Woods’s photos and new interviews with photographs Tim had taken of places that don’t exist anymore. But did this after left the unit – Unit material but did it, as a freelancer – got paid £1000 didn’t have to deal with council meetings etc. Sustainability – always talk about sustaining relationships with communities you work with – but how do you do this? You can convince them that the museum is a welcoming place for them but not like every year going to be able to put on an exhibition that caters to their interest. Hard thing to do. Things are driven by budgets – how justified in heritage days – if someone’s willing to pay for it – must be worth something. If people are willing to commit funds to things can use that as a measure of there worth. ‘All this work and effort of creating this archive and what is its future? Big unanswered question for me’. Talk about tension of setting up archives but what happens when no one to care for collection. Thinks is a problem with oral history as new person coming in responds to objects – can see and evaluate quite quickly as with photographs but tapes - takes quite a lot of effort to evaluate what it’s worth is.

  • Notes:
    Recording date: 2008-02-11
    Collection title: Oral history of oral history in the UK
    Recording Notes: audio files 1 WAV 48 kHz 16 bit 2-channel
    Duration: 2 hr.
    Access restrictions: none

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