A Century of Spin
by Factotum - 17 October to 28 November 2008
‘In the 20th century with the growth of mass media and public relations an entirely new repertoire of tricks was invented to harness photography for publicity and self-promotion. These included the publicity stunt, the press conference and the photo-opportunity with their now familiar cast of glamour models with lions, politicians with new slogans and businessmen with giant cheques.’
A Century of Spin is an exhibition, developed and produced by Factotum, which explores the genre of publicity photography, its function and tradition. Although rarely exhibited in a gallery context, this form of photography is pervasive and plays a significant role in the way that we understand our contemporary world from politics and news media to advertising and tourism. The exhibition includes photographs and printed ephemera from different periods in the 20th century and draws material from a range of image collections in Northern Ireland, the UK and US.
The exhibition is based on research into the growth of the mass media and public relations industries through the 20th century. It considers early promotional uses of photography for advocacy in support of social causes in Northern Ireland. Also included is publicity material produced by the Antarctic explorer and self-publicist Ernest Shackleton on his Nimrod Expedition between 1907 and 1909. Publicity stunts coordinated by Hollywood agents such as Edward Bernays and James Moran in the US in the 1930s and 1940s are also featured. Bernays was the first person to call himself a ‘Public Relations Counsel’ and ‘Jim’ Moran was an imaginative publicist who was active as a press agent for various clients (film studios, manufacturers, retailers) in a career that spanned five decades, from the 1930s to the 1980s.
The exhibition will also feature public relations activity in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998. Publicity material representing a number of perspectives, including those of the Northern Ireland Office, the British Army and various press and political organisations will be presented. Contemporary PR photographs from the press and commercial sectors will also be displayed. Finally, Factotum have staged and produced for the exhibition an archetypal publicity photo, playfully critiquing the conventions of the genre.
Factotum was formed in 2001 by Stephen Hackett and Richard West. It publishes The Vacuum newspaper, runs a choir and has organised a number of exhibitions including the 'English' show in Belfast Exposed in 2005. Also in 2005 Factotum received a Paul Hamlyn Award and was selected to participate in Northern Ireland's first showing at the Venice Biennale. In 2007, having been selected for the Curated Visual Arts Award by the artist Mike Nelson, Factotum made a film. This will be shown in 2009.
A Century of Spin is supported by Arts Council Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
J.Moran, c. 1940 / Corbis
Publicist Jim Moran uses a specially designed sun costume to 'scientifically' determine which of US states, Florida and California got better sunshine. The stunt was produced for Moran’s client, radio show host Fred Waring and was keenly observed by the Tourism officials from both states.
Shackleton, 9th January 1909 / Royal Geographic Society
At 88 degrees 23' S, Shackleton, Adams and Wild stand beside the Union Jack.
This photograph was taken during the Nimrod Expedition and represents the furthest point south reached by anyone at the time. Shackleton was a great self-publicist. He had an exclusive contract with the Daily Mail.
Michelin Man, March 1979/ Belfast Telegraph
Workers at the Michelin factory in Mallusk, Northern Ireland, celebrate the introduction of an advanced new tyre type.