Franki Raffles: Observing Women at Work // Alistair Scott
Franki Raffles (1955-94) was a feminist social documentary photographer who made her home in Scotland. Tragically she died just when she was establishing her reputation and her work was beginning to make an impact. I first met her in the 1970s when we were both students at St Andrews University and we were friends for the rest of her life. Franki introduced me to many new ideas, writers such as Sheila Rowbotham’s ground-breaking book Hidden from History (1975). Around two decades after her death, teaching at Edinburgh Napier University and involved with the Photography department, I became aware that, despite her achievements, Franki’s photographic practice was in danger of being hidden like the women identified by Rowbotham. Her work had been ignored without any recognition in recent surveys of 20th century Scottish photography. Yet I knew that in a professional career of just over 12 years she had been involved in a number of important projects in Scotland and internationally.
Those who do remember Franki know of her innovative work for Edinburgh’s Zero Tolerance campaign 1992-94. Her large-scale black and white images of women and girls in staged interior tableaux were displayed on billboards and buses across Edinburgh. These positive images were juxtaposed with short captions in bold text, which summarised stark evidence-based research about the prevalence of male violence against women. The campaign was taken up by cities across Scotland, the UK and in other countries. But in addition to this poster campaign Franki’s photographic practice included a range of other work which had been forgotten.
With support from Franki’s partner, Sandy, and family we established the Franki Raffles Archive Research Project and gathered together her entire photographic practice. This included work from her time living in the Hebrides; street photography from travels in the Soviet Union, China, Tibet and India; educational work funded by a Kodak Bursary with children with special needs; a number of projects in which she documented the Women’s Unit of Edinburgh District Council; and international projects in the Soviet Union in 1989 and Israel in 1992-4. Altogether we estimated that there were around 90,000 negatives, together with notebooks and diaries. The Archive project arranged for the work to be deposited with the Photographic Archive, Special Collections at the University of St Andrews Library so that her photographs can now be fully examined.
For Franki her photographic practice was a way to put her feminism into practice. Throughout her career her focus was to document and record women at work. This new exhibition, curated by Jenny Brownrigg, Exhibitions Director at Glasgow School of Art includes photographs from three projects: To Let You Understand…(1987/88), Women Workers in the Soviet Union (1989) and Zero Tolerance (1992/93). The exhibition is important because it will give people today a chance to consider Franki’s contribution to documentary practice and start to assess her legacy as a feminist photographer.
ABOUT Alistair Scott
Alistair Scott is Associate Professor Film and Television at Napier University and Director of Screen Academy Scotland, the Creative Skillset Film Academy, which is a partnership between Edinburgh Napier University and Edinburgh College of Art. Alistair runs The Franki Raffles Archive, an Edinburgh Napier University research project.
Alistair has been teaching in higher education for over ten years following a career working in film and television. After graduating from the University of St Andrews, with MA (Hons) in Modern History, he worked in the field of community arts as a documentary film-maker. After full-time post-graduate training at the National Film & Television School, Beaconsfield, he spent over 20 years working as a director and producer for the BBC, Channel 4 and Scottish Television.