Interview with Geof Rayner
Chair of Photofusion
What motivated you to set up the Photo Co-Op?
Photo co-op was not central for me because the purpose of photography for me was mostly illustrative, in my case we needed photographs for Pavement, a community newspaper I had been involved with since around 1971. I taught myself darkroom skills, including lith photography, for this reason. As a sociologist, I trained at Goldsmiths in the 1970s, I was naturally interested in rival versions of the world. Photo Co-op offered a rival account of how we might look at things.
What was the first major project you worked on?
Pavement was it, but Pavement was to the side of Photo Coop. I wrote the text for the Photo Co-op bus calendar. Not a very exciting thing but a great learning experience for all of the people involved in it. I then produced the text for a mobile exhibition on health and hospital care, financed by the GLC. This was quite ambitious and it was, for us, quite expensive. So it is a bit debatable what was the first or ‘major’. For myself I knew that I would not be serious about taking photographs, that would always be other people’s great interest.
What was the most important project you worked on and why?
The health and hospital exhibition was very close to my interest. I later did a PhD on healthcare arrangements and pretty well devoted my research time to health issues. Of course hospitals (or medicine) and health are not the same thing.
What was so special and different about the Photo Co-op for you?
It was part of our lives, part of the activist world we thought about. This world is easier for youngish people who have more on their minds than making money (or just survival) because it was cause-based. It was a learning, cooperative thing, but then not much different from other things happening. That might be the same of eco-activism today.
What are you up to now?
I am the chair of Photofusion and I have had unbroken membership of Photo Co-op since it became a formally constituted group and then morphed into Photofusion. That is well over four decades of involvement. Today everything is more businesslike. As before I do not see myself as an image producer but as someone who wants to see behind the image, recognising too that the photographic image can itself be an authentic symbolic form engaging the human artistic sensibility. We really don’t need more photography professionals; what we need is many more people who use their eyes critically. Photo Co-op and then Photofusion have been contributors towards that goal, albeit in a small way – particularly given the mainstream use of photography to sell us stuff or implicate us in a world of illusion.
'Photo Co-op offered a rival account of how we might look at things.'