In October 1999, as part of the In-Site series of projects, PhotoWorks invited myself and Marysia Lewandowska to undertake a year-long residency in the Design Council Archive at the University of Brighton.
Documents was the culmination of that residency, which included an exhibition [with a filmTearing], a publication, a web-browser [sadly no longer available] and conference.
This is from the publication:
Design: Stuart Smith
Publisher: Photoworks: Brighton
December 2000 (currently £5)
Imagine drawing-up an inventory of every object you use in a day, or every thing you own, or every artefact you value. Any list that emerged would feel at best provisional, at worst it would seem like a futile task. And now if you would, pretend that the exercise was to be conducted on a national scale, and that the resulting document would be used to educate and influence popular public taste in the manufacturing and consumption of the indexed items. This is precisely what the Council for Industrial Design initiated in 1949, in an attempt to drag Britain out of the devastation caused by the second world war.
The Stock List, compiled by various government departments determined selection for the seminal Festival of Britain exhibition and became a template for promoting British products the world over.
Between these covers rests the original Stock List an extraordinary poem to materiality, composed by post Britain's post war ruling class; accompanied by one hundred images of contemporary products, each determined by their arbitrary retail price of one pound.
The Council for Industrial Design (1944-1971) and latterly the Design Council (1972 to the present day) were formed with a government mandate to encourage 'good' taste in the manufacturing and consumption of material things.
The Council for Industrial Design perfected the use of exhibition as a medium to disseminate the governments intentions; through spectacular trade shows, and smaller touring exhibitions in department stores, galleries, civic halls, and schools; both nationally and internationally.
These themed product displays were complemented by wide range of powerful promotional devices; featuring national design competitions, publications (including Design magazine), education programs, poster campaigns, print ephemera, films, and features on broadcast television.
Threading all these various activities together, was an enormous photographic collection.
This collection was initially formed to help selection for the seminal Britain Can Make It exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1946. By 1948/9 the Council had built the largest photographic library of consumer goods in the world, some 24,918 black and white prints - acquisition continued, resulting in over 100,000 prints, and 25,000 color slides.
As the library expanded, it necessitated a labeling system to help users navigate the images; this resulted in the Stock List, an index that evolved from a sequence of general classificatory headings, to become a detailed inventory of all the photographs, and the objects they represented.
The Council's Stock -and its unclear whether the term stock refers to the photographs or the goods depicted- was first displayed as the 1951 Design Review at the Festival of Britain.
The photographs and accompanying inventory worked as a reference index for trade buyers, manufacturers, the popular media, and general public alike; a resource that was simultaneously inert documentation, and potential promotional material.
Entry into the Stock List - via strict adherence to the preferred 'objective' photographic styles of the Council- made the approved product available for exhibition, and more importantly subject to the full force of government endorsement. The constantly revised Stock List, became the template for officially supported exhibitions of products, plant and machinery, and the principal means through which the Council's ideology was reproduced.
Between these covers (actually as a .pdf at the foot of this page) rests an extraordinary poem to materiality composed by Britain's postwar ruling class, a copy of the original draft of the 1951 Stock List.
Should you browse the items a struggle ensues, as taxonomy grapples with the material of culture;
40 SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS.
Physical Science Instruments
- Telescopes (excluding Astronomical but including Binoculars and Opera Glasses)
And, as with all inventories its full of startling omissions;
Books the only entry is Scottish Anthologies etc.
The missing are sometimes obscured by strange contagions;
Hurdling leaches into Holiday Camps or as Sea Scouts drift into Shinty
As the Stock List classifies, forgets and fixates, an uncanny portrait emerges of the people (principally men) and forces that shaped it, full -as it is- of their obsessions and anxieties of finding order or value among things.
The publication seems to be still available from Photoworks, you can read more about the project Documents
Documents was inspired by Collected, contributed to The Value of Things, the evolution of the Enthusiasts archive and #FromTheCollection
Design Council Archive