A Google image search for the word ‘Bradford’ throws up some predictable results. Predictable, that is, if you’re a Bradfordian.
The first few pages almost exclusively feature depictions of City Park, the vast new public space that laps up to the walls of Bradford’s awesome neo-gothic City Hall. This should come as no surprise to Bradfordians, because the space has become a huge symbol of civic pride, and a striking visual representation of all that’s great about the city. Even more revealing is the depiction of City Park on Instagram, where Bradford’s great meeting space is seen through the eyes of thousands of smartphone photographers. These photos are overwhelmingly positive, enormously diverse, and uniquely Bradford. This is the image that people from Bradford want to project, so why does it often feel like the national media wants to show the city in a very different light?
In recent months, the Guardian is one national media outlet that has been heavily criticised on social media for its repeated use of the same image when reporting on stories about Bradford. The image, of two women wearing traditional Islamic dress against a backdrop of inner city decay, has been criticised for reinforcing tired cliches about life in modern Bradford, and other media outlets have used similar images when reporting on a whole range of stories relating to towns and cities across the north of England.
As part of ‘Above the Noise’, I worked on a part of the exhibition called ‘Meet the Mediators’. The idea was to interview some high-profile figures who’d been at the heart of some of Bradford’s biggest stories, and who were often the first port of call whenever the national media came to town. The interviewees were from a diverse range of backgrounds (a political leader; a news editor; a retired police inspector; a religious leader; and a community activist) yet there were remarkable similarities in some of their anecdotes. There was a general assertion that many national media outlets have a predetermined agenda when it comes to covering Bradford stories, and that often the headline is already loosely written before the journalist or producer comes to town. Could the same be said of picture researchers, who are often the ones tasked with finding an image to appropriately fit the story? Are their portrayals of Bradford fair, or do they need to put more effort into sourcing photography of our city?
Over the next couple of months, I want to engage with journalists and other high-profile figures to discover more about the process that goes into choosing images of Bradford to accompany their stories. What, if any, are the practical barriers that prevent a more diverse range of photographs being used?
And working with the National Science and Media Museum, the University of Leeds, and Bradford Council, I’d like to explore how Bradfordians can help promote a more accurate portrayal of the city by offering up their own images and experiences of
Bradford to create a new ‘Bradford Commons’ database.
In the meantime, anyone who wants to submit an image on social media to be made available as part of any future Bradford Commons can do so by using the hashtag #BradfordMediaCommons