7th April, 1969
LUX Writer in Residence Ed Webb-Ingall continues to draw out the development of community video practices in London between 1968 and 1981.
An ongoing collaboration between Yoko Ono and John Lennon with Arts Lab co-founder Jack Henry Moore1 was one of the ways in which portable video technology was introduced to community activists and is indicative of the interdisciplinary relationship between what became participatory and video art and community video in the 1970s.
Moore had an interest in the application of new technological forms and was involved in the exhibition and recording of Ono and Lennon’s first performances; this lead to Ono and Lennon giving the latest portable Sony video camera to Moore2 in 1969. In February 1969 Moore visited a cultural festival in Italy co-organised by John Hopkins, who Moore knew from his involvement with the International Times and the UFO Club. Hopkins describes this encounter as follows:
Jack said to me ‘video’. He only had to say a couple of sentences to me and I knew what it was. I went back to England, and I went to see Sony, who were the producers, and I borrowed from them a ‘Portapak’ and the necessary equipment to playback (you couldn’t playback a tape without a mains deck) for 6 weeks, experimented with it and then I wrote them a report. ‘Artists themselves have shown a keen interest and an awareness that video as a medium offers a new range of expression.’ That was my take on it. My view of what video was that it was a new communications medium. This was my meta programme, my overview.3
By April 1969 Hopkins shot his first video of a housing demonstration and some street theatre4 and in December 1969 he wrote a letter to the newly formed ‘New Activities Committee’ at the Arts Council requesting financial support for the videoing of local, regional festivals, in which he states that he had been borrowing a camera from John Lennon in order to make a visual record of local events5. Following this period of experimentation Hopkins began to see video as a ‘generalised tool which could be used by various people for various means’6. He describes these as ‘use categories’, which included the arts, pop music, TV companies, news reportage, film-makers and local TV.7 The use of a taxonomic system to delineate the various applications of video by different groups reflects Hopkins’ growing interest in systems theory and cybernetics, which would become particularly influential on the conceptualisation of video.
John Hopkins, also more commonly known as Hoppy, graduated from Cambridge University at the age of 20 with a degree in physics and mathematics and took up a research post at Harwell with the Atomic Energy Authority. A graduation gift of a stills camera changed the course of his career8; he became a photojournalist, his focus being London’s burgeoning psychedelic and alternative scene. During the mid-1960s he helped establish a publishing company, organised two Notting Hill carnivals, promoted Pink Floyd, co-founded the underground newspaper The International Times, set up the London Free School and co-ran psychedelic club UFO with Haynes and Moore.9
By November 1968, the Drury Lane Arts Lab had closed, its co-founders John Haynes and Jack Henry Moore left for Amsterdam and the groups who had been previously using it began looking for a new premises. October 1969 saw the opening of umbrella organisation IRAT – the Institute for Research in Art and Technology, also known as the New Arts Lab – in Roberts Street, Camden.
Housing had become a key policy area under the new Labour government led by Harold Wilson from 1964–1970. Mass demolition made way for the building of 1.3 million new homes between 1965 and 197010. In the interim of rehousing tenants and residents, the London borough of Camden allowed a number of arts organisations to have short-term tenancies in large unoccupied buildings. IRAT set up just north of Euston Road in a four-storey factory rented by Camden Council.11 It consisted of a group of about twenty five people who were part of the following organisations: the London Film Makers Co-op including film processing facilities run by Malcolm Le Grice; a photography darkroom run by Ian Roberston and Graham Peet; a screen printing workshop run by Ian Robertson and Judith Clute; a litho press run by John Collins; a cinema space with screenings six days a week; an art gallery, a theatre space run by Martin Russell and Diane Lifton, musical facilities run by Hugh Davis, a macrobiotic café and a video workshop called TVX originally run by Hopkins, Jo Pattiniott and Olivier Rickmers. TVX were later joined by Joe Bear, a friend of Hopkins’ from New York, Cliff Evans who originally worked as a technical operator on studio camera and sound crews at the BBC, Steve Herman who wrote and edited a number of reports on the use of video12; and Australian John Kirk who went on to found community video and cable TV group Bush Video in New South Wales; along with a number of others ‘who plugged in from time to time, contributing ideas, energy and money’.13
In an article from the International Times in 1969 Bradley Martin14 described IRAT as follows: ‘Run by scientists, computer builders, film makers and artists IRAT will pursue independent research in a factory made available by Camden Council. One of the directions of research is video.’15 The video workshop organised its activities under two names: TVX and the Centre for Advanced TV Studies. TVX was ‘the reckless experimental group’ while The Centre for Advanced TV studies ‘tried to make an interface with the formal world – organisations like the Institute of mass communications research, colleges, universities, the importing and selling of publications.’16 One such virtue bore fruit in 1972 when John Hopkins, along with Cliff Evans, Steve Herman and John Kirk were commissioned by the University of Southampton to publish a 146 page pamphlet titled: Video in Community Development. Initially written in February 1972 as part of a research report for the Home Office Community Development Project, with a print run of 75 copies, it was revised and republished by the Centre for Advanced TV Studies in 1973 as issue 1 of their Journal with a print run of 1000 copies made available for public purchase. It included chapters describing how the Portapak camera works, how to edit footage as well as the ways to employ it for live feedback and as a video recorder. It was the first document to attempt to define the shared objectives of community video in the UK as well as Australia and North America. The pamphlet included case studies on projects run in New York by activist group Raindance and others in Canada as part of the hugely influential Challenge for Change Programme17 and excerpted articles from the Radical Software Journal18. It combined practical and technical advice and guidance on portable video technology and became a resource through which practitioners in the UK could begin to conceptualise their work in a broader international context.
Housing policy continued to have an impact and IRAT’s original location on Roberts Street, was once again under threat of redevelopment. After only two years, in 1971 members of IRAT, including TVX/CATV and the London Filmmakers Co-op were moved on once again, this time to a vacant factory that used to be a dairy, on Prince of Wales Crescent. This area of London was known as Squat-city and by 1972 it was home to 280 squatters19. Sue Hall arrived in London in 1972 and moved into a squat on Prince of Wales Crescent opposite the newly founded offices of John Hopkins. She recalls that by 1973 there were about six or seven organizations in the area using portable video cameras, including TVX and Interaction.20 After spending her early adult life travelling, Hall returned to London and became immersed in the squatting culture. The precarity of her housing situation drew her to think about architecture and town planning. To halt the demolition of her and her neighbours’ homes and find ways to work with the existing architecture of the neighborhood with friends, a town planner and some students from the Architectural Association who were also squatting in the area and had already formed a group called Counter Plan21 she started an organization called Graft On!22.
We had a 2 year long battle with the council, we fought two public enquiries, we got a lot of support from other people in the area who had Tenants Associations, I started a Residents Association so that there would be something in existence that the council would recognise and negotiate with… I was working very hard to get local allies to support and also to get interest from the squatters, who weren’t exactly easy to convince that they should indulge in these strange bureaucratic practices… So while I was doing this Hoppy approached me and he said what about making a video … And as soon as I saw the video I was far more interested in that than in the community work. And it was quite clear that I was not suitable for community politics – I was much too impatient and bad tempered and opinionated. But I was a pretty good technician, and I could plan and make video programmes.23
In a document written by Hall and Hopkins in 1975 reflecting on the work of Graft On! they described it as ‘communications research, an action research agency applying communication theory to social change’.24 Their long-term strategy was based on the conviction that user control in all fields is a fundamental prerequisite for democracy. Located in the same building as IRAT and often collaborating with TVX, their aim was to serve the local community through action and research. Hall defines the use of video technology for democratic aims as Participant Observation:
We were squatters ourselves, we were not from the outside. And at first people were very hesitant about the video, and we took it out and let other people handle it a lot, we showed them, this is what you do, this is how you zoom, this is how you focus. And then we’d erase it, we’d re-use tapes, which were very expensive in those days. But after people had had a go themselves, they felt reassured. They didn’t see it as dangerous, or outside, or any of those things. And that was quite crucial. And we videoed occupations, parties, evictions, street actions, lectures, seminars and marches.25
They began by servicing the needs of their own short life housing and squatting community, a sector of society that they believed other community video groups were either unable or unwilling to serve. They identified this sector as one suffering from a loss of democratic rights and social rejection.26 Forming a Residents Association was the first community video work to be made by TVX, in that it was made for, by, about and with the community that were its subject. Edited at Sussex University, the 16 minute half-inch video documents the steps taken forming the association and their first meeting27, intended as an instructional tool and it was hired by similar groups nationally.
1974 also saw portable video technology used twice to dramatic effect in the service of the same squatting community. Ben’s Arrest lasts only two minutes; the video comprises a single take, which follows the forceful eviction and arrest of an Afro-Caribbean teenager from a squat in Kentish Town, North London, by bailiffs and police. It was the first time video material was used as evidence in a court of law in the UK and aided the arrested youth’s acquittal28. In the words of Hopkins it ‘showed in grim close-up the arrest of a black guy who just happened to be picked on by the police as we were on the street with a camera.’29 Sue Hall, was organising the painting of houses on Prince of Wales Crescent on the day the video was shot. She later recalled arriving on the corner of the street and seeing a police van parked outside the row of squatted houses; ‘I went home to get the Portapak, thread the tape and put the battery in… I went back as fast as possible just in time to see the police coming out with what they claimed were stolen goods and violently arresting a young black man before apparently beating him up in the back of the Transit van whilst I was still shooting video.’30
An article published in The Guardian in 1974 covered the outcome of the making of the second video:
Film Tape Allowed in Court: A Video Tape recording of squatters being evicted from a London home will be admissible as defense evidence in a case of alleged assault – provided that Scotland Yard forensic scientists are satisfied that the tape is authentic… Mr Peter Darcy and Dr John Pollard, who are accused of assaulting a police constable during their eviction from a house in Prince of Wales Crescent, Chalk Farm, North London, by bailiffs and police earlier this year, believe the film is crucial defense evidence… the application has been adjourned while Scotland Yard makes a duplicate and tests it thoroughly for defects and tampering… Birnberg [the counsel for the defense] argued that there was no difference in principle between the recording of a human voice and a video tape. 31
The language used in this article points to video’s relationship to liveness and authenticity, whilst the police still viewed the new medium with trepidation. The defence was successful as Hopkins later recounts in an interview:
All the people who had been arrested or charged were able to brief themselves from the videotape, which was played again and again and again until everyone knew exactly what happened in what order. And when the police came to give their evidence it was so transparently, obviously faked, that everybody got off. So as a piece of social action, getting 15 or 20 people off of police charges…was a beneficial act, which couldn’t have been done without video.32
On the same day the footage was shot the BBC used an excerpt of the video material as part of nightly magazine programme Nationwide, alongside a live interview with Sue Hall and councillor John Mills33. An article in Time Out with the title “People’s Tube” covered the broadcast of this footage, describing it as “one of the most memorable pieces of television this year.” The article also draws attention to the specific aesthetics of the footage, with its look and feel of intimacy and liveness which, at the time, would have felt particularly unfamiliar and raw: ‘The swaying and confusion of the hand held camera mirrored the chaos and anxiety at the scene. When a cop threatened the cameraman, he seemed to be threatening the viewer as well.’34 This was the second time such material, shot by Graft On!, was used in this context. In 1970, a drugs raid at the New Arts Lab, was captured on video. In one interview Hopkins suggests that this footage35 was then broadcast on a BBC2 programme called Late Night Line Up. In another interview he suggests that the original video was underexposed due to low light levels and so instead they
…decided to do a bit of theatre and simulate what had just happened, which was people up against the wall, and people patting you down. So then we recorded that and then one of us knew somebody at the BBC, and it was in the mid-evening and phoned up and said hey we’ve got some video of the police doing a raid. What? You’d better come over…because it was a non-standard format we had to take the playback deck and the Portapak and the power supply with us. And we got them into a small studio at the BBC, and pointed a broadcast camera at the portable screen, and that made a few seconds of broadcast on the same night.36
Whatever occurred, it is important to note that the first half-inch video footage to be used in a court of law and on national television was recorded by community video makers. However, the relationship between TV broadcasters and the work of self-organised community video practitioners continued to be fraught. The Association of Cinematic and Television Technicians (ACTT) Union opposed the broadcasting of footage not recorded by their members. Hopkins describes them as ‘gate-keepers to what material was allowed to be broadcast, and only in exceptional circumstances did they allow this to happen. The only stuff we were able to get broadcast during the 1970’s was news-type footage about squatting evictions as they happened.’37
Between 1969 and 1972 video was taken up by those who identified as being part of the underground and can be seen in the lineage of the creation of an alternative print press and community radio stations alongside the establishment independent arts, dance and education spaces. These practices and spaces existed outside of and in opposition to what was considered mainstream, misrepresentative and oppressive. The interventions of Hopkins and others into television are representative of wider counter-cultural shifts; as the 1970s wore on video would be taken up and taken on by the very establishments it sought to critique, creating a divide between those who wished to produce new systems and those who attempted to infiltrate existing systems in order to change the agenda from within. The next blog post will take up where this one ends, with the shift of community video from what was considered narrowcast to broadcast where Hopkins’ wish for greater access was granted, but at what cost?
1 Jack Henry Moore, who co-founded the Arts Lab, had previously recorded Yoko Ono’s 1966 performance at London’s Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre called Music of the Mind and in 1968 also recorded Ono and John Lennon’s ‘bagism’ contribution to the Alchemical Wedding fundraiser at the Royal Albert Hall.
2 Jack Henry Moore – Obituary. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 25 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 Nov. 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10788743/Jack-Henry-Moore-obituary.html
3 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins
4 There is some confusion over which camera he would have been using at this time. In an appendix of video material produced between 1969 and 1979 by Hopkins’ video production group TVX and its subsequent incarnation Fantasy Factory, there is a listing titled TVX Selection from the Archives 69-72 which is described as being edited together in 1974 and made up of ‘about ten, three-minute pieces recorded between 1969 and 1972 on a Sony CV-2100’. Had Hopkins been borrowing equipment from Sony in 1969, it is unlikely that he would have been loaned what was, by that point, an obsolete model
5 John Hopkins, ‘Memorandum Re: Visual Record Of Events’ (London, 1969), John Hopkins [JH] / Sue Hall [SH] (TVX / CATS / Fantasy Factory), British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection.
6 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins
8 Interview with John Hopkins by Heinz Nigg and Andy Porter, 2014
9 REWIND, Interview by Jackie Hatfield with Sue Hall and John Hopkins 17 Nov. 2004. Accessed on 06 Nov. 2014. http://www.rewind.ac.uk/database/searchrewind.php?table_name=REWINDArtistDetails&function=details&where_field=Artist_Name&where_value=Sue Hall/John Hopkins&Section=Details
10 Ponting, Clive. Breach of Promise: Labour in Power, 1964-1970. London: H. Hamilton, 1989
11 Martin, Bradley. Editorial. The International Times [London] 07 Apr. 1969: p. 21. Http://www.internationaltimes.it. Accessed on 06 Nov. 2014.
12 Herman, Steve. The Broadcasting of Low Gauge Video: A Research Report. Rep. 2nd ed. London: Centre for Advanced Television Studies, 1981
13 Hopkins, John. Arts Lab London Friends, London March (1970) accessed on Nov. 06 2014 http://bit.ly/1SY72AU SHJH010 pdf
14 According to Julia Knight Bradley Martin was Hopkins’ pseudonym when writing for the International Times, Knight, Julia. Diverse Practices: A Critical Reader on British Video Art. Luton: John Libbey Media, Faculty of Humanities, U of Luton, 1996, p. 27
15 Martin, Bradley. Editorial. The International Times [London] 07 Apr. 1969: p. 21. Http://www.internationaltimes.it. Accessed on 06 Nov. 2014.
16 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins
17 Founded in 1966 and sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada it was ‘A programme designed to improve communications, create greater understanding, promote new ideas and provoke social change.’
18 Launched in 1970 in New York, this was the first publication dedicated to the exploration of the application of low-gauge video technology.
19 Roberts, Andy. Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain. London: Marshall Cavendish, 2008. 158. Print.
20 REWIND, Interview by Jackie Hatfield with Sue Hall and John Hopkins 17 Nov. 2004. Accessed on 06 Nov. 2014. http://www.rewind.ac.uk/database/searchrewind.php?table_name=REWINDArtistDetails&function=details&where_field=Artist_Name&where_value=Sue Hall/John Hopkins&Section=Details
21 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins
22 Grafton was the name of the electoral ward where Sue Hall lived
23 Interview with Sue Hall by Heinz Nigg and Andy Porter, 2014
24 Hall, Sue, and John Hopkins. Socio-Cultural Applications of Television Technology in the UK. Rep. London: Council for Cultural Co-operation, p.18 1975. Print
25 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins
27 Before completing Forming a Residents Association for TVX in 1974, TVX made two other productions for and about the squatting community, but not yet with them. 1971 saw the completion of Livin’ Free, a documentary about the early days of the Prince of Wales squatting community. Shot on 16mm because low gauge editing for video was not yet available, however it was then transferred onto ½ inch black and white video to facilitate viewing. In 1972 TVX also produced Camden Housing Film for Camden Council, featuring the Council’s director of housing giving advice about housing law and rent rebates. This was shot on ½ inch video, transferred to film for editing and the transferred back to video for screening purposes. In the catalogue entry for this piece Hopkins notes how they were still trying to figure out how best to use and apply this new technology for community aims : ‘ At the time this was possibly pushing the technology beyond its limits, attempting to achieve quality suitable for public service use.’ An article published in Time Out explains that these productions enabled the deputy chairman of housing for Camden, who was too afraid to meet the local squatters for fear of ‘being verbally maligned’, to watch pre-recorded discussions of squatters talking about their difficulties with short term housing policy.
28 United Nations Wants Graft-On! Videotape. Camden Journal [London] 6 June 1975 Print.
29 Interview with John Hopkins by Heinz Nigg and Andy Porter London, 2013, unpublished
30 REWIND, Interview by Jackie Hatfield with Sue Hall and John Hopkins 17 Nov. 2004. Accessed on 06 Nov. 2014. http://www.rewind.ac.uk/database/searchrewind.php?table_name=REWINDArtistDetails&function=details&where_field=Artist_Name&where_value=Sue Hall/John Hopkins&Section=Details
31 Film Tape Allowed in Court, The Guardian [London] 23 Aug. 1974 Print.
32 Interview with John Hopkins by Heinz Nigg and Andy Porter 2014
33 Squat Now While Stocks Last or Dr. John’s Arrest, 1974, Graft On!/Fantasy Factory
34 People’s Tube, Time Out year and date TBC
35 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins
36 Interview with John Hopkins by Heinz Nigg and Andy Porter 2014
37 Transcript of Interview with Sue Hall & John Hopkins: London, Feb 7th, 2005. Interview by Chris Meigh Andrews. Http://www.meigh-andrews.com. Accessed 6th Nov. http://www.meigh-andrews.com/writings/interviews/sue-hall-john-hopkins