I am British artist, working with and against the photographic medium. Over the past two decades I have worked with found imagery, kinetic machinery, web programmes, fairground attractions and most recently, large scale paintings. I often reject the subject-based qualities and the immediate demand of information, so often associated with the photographic image and instead, and without apology, adopt and welcome a subtle, slow burn approach.
I have widely exhibited in venues such as The Museum Folkwang; The Center Pompidou; Tate Britain; Salzburg Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum. My work is held in the collections of MOMA; SFMoma; The V&A; The Center Pompidou; The British Council; McEvoy Collection; The Arts Council; The NY Public Library; The Uni Credit Bank; The Mead Museum and Cornell University.
I have produced 3 publications, Clare Strand Monograph published by Steidl (2009), Skirts published by GOST (2014) and Girl Plays with Snake published by MACK (2017). I am represented by Parrotta Contemporary Art, Cologne/Bonn.
I’m also one half of the collaborative partnership MacDonaldStrand and Head of the Intangiable for The Institute of Unnecessary Research.
I am a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Birmingham. My philosophical interests are generally connected to interpersonal relations, particularly the ways that people matter to one another. At the moment I am pursuing a project about the aesthetic dimension of interpersonal life. You can read a summary of that project here, or listen to a podcast on which I recently discussed some of the project here.
A workshop organised as part of the project will be held in Birmingham in June 2022. All the information about the workshop, including the Call for Abstracts, can be found here.
I completed my PhD at the University of Sheffield 2015-2019. My dissertation was supervised by Robert Stern and Paul Faulkner, and is called ‘The practical significance of the second-person relation‘.
With this theme of interpersonal relations at the centre, there are a range of areas of philosophy that I am interested in. They include metaethics (especially theories of practical reasoning, and moral epistemology), philosophy of love and friendship, the connections between ethics and aesthetics, and several historical figures, most prominently: Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Emmanuel Levinas and J.G. Fichte.
At the beginning of the first lockdown, I was trawling the internet and came across a designed face mask made of a reproduction of a 19th-century Charles Booth poverty map. Considering the daily reporting on how the COVID-19 pandemic was disproportionately affecting those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, wearing this facemask, costing £42, seemed like another middle finger to those who were suffering the most.
This facemask also took me back to the time when I had researched the Charles Booth Poverty Maps and Booth’s unflinching cartographic study of poverty in London. Between 1886 and 1903 booth surveyed the life and labour of the people in London, moving street to street interviewing the residence. The Booth study resulted in, amongst other things, colour-coded maps of London ranging from yellow to black, with blues, pinks and reds in-between. These colours represented the income and social positioning of the city’s inhabitants, from the lowest class, controversially categorised as the ‘Vicious, semi-criminal poor’ to the less harshly judged ‘Upper-middle and upper classes. Wealthy.’ The images shown here were all made in London, they tread a line between document and fiction. A heel stuck in a crack of the pavement, a man gripping a plastic butterfly bag and a toddler being reigned in by an adults hand. Each image has been toned a particular hue referencing the areas associated with the Boothian colour key . It is no news that London is a tale of two or more cities - a huge melting pot of the haves and the have-nots. However, over the past year or more these huge economic disparities have become even more apparent. London, like most cities, is a hard place to be poor and, conversely, a great place to be rich, with varying amounts of (dis)comfort in-between. Coming across this obscure use of the Booth poverty map was an unsettling reminder of the lack of real change in societal issues since these maps were originally drawn. As a Croydon girl, these are my thoughts on London.
Commissioned for FT Weekend as part of PhotoLondon special edition.
The seven monochrome portraits in Clare Strand’s series for the Financial Times last year are toned according to the colour scheme used in Charles Booth’s London poverty maps of 1889. Each image is accompanied by one of Booth’s summary characterisations of the class composition of a neighbourhood. The pictures are taken out on the streets, presumably London – on the pavements in fact – and at a personal distance from their subjects. Though there are no faces, and the pictures do not display their subjects’ homes or their workplaces – the series is nonetheless replete with class signifiers, which are put in dialogue with the colour-scheme and with Booth’s nineteenth century phraseology.
Some of those class signifiers are in the clothing of the subjects; some in their jewellery; some in their relations to objects around them; to other people around them; to the space itself. More than anything, though, social class is presented in the portraits as something to be read through the bodily comportment of the subjects.
In a landmark essay of feminist philosophy, ‘Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Bodily Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality’, Iris Marion Young sets out to describe and account for what she calls ‘modalities of feminine bodily existence for women situated in contemporary advanced industrial, urban, and commercial society’ (Young,  2005, p. 31). Young provides an analysis of how certain ways of moving – ways of being in one’s body – are conditioned in women by patriarchal ideology and forms of life.
Clare Strand’s photos include a focus on such ‘gendered modalities of bodily existence’, but they ask a further, natural question: are there not also classed modalities of bodily existence? Consider, for instance, the contrast between two left hands. In ‘PINK. Fairly Comfortable. Good ordinary earnings’, a woman holds the leaf of a stinging nettle between her thumb and forefinger, her other fingers curling out, her pinkie extended. Her hand echoes the delicacy and grace of the straight stems and symmetrical leaves of the nettles themselves. Things are different in ‘DARK BLUE. Very poor. Casual. Chronic want’, where an older man holds a plastic shopping bag. It looks cold – he’s in a wintery leather jacket – and the handholes of the carrier bag are wrapped over the back of his hand, leaving his fingers to clench the bag directly. This slightly unorthodox manner of holding the bag suggests that he has been holding it for a while, as though he’d been waiting in a queue, shifting the bag from one position to another to displace the discomfort, and using the handles to insulate even some small part of his skin from the cold. This is speculative. But the broader point remains: can you imagine a man from a PINK or YELLOW neighbourhood holding a carrier bag in quite the same way?
Above, I listed some of the dimensions of a person’s visible appearance through which their class identity is expressed. Lists like this can almost suggest that there are distinct mechanisms in each dimension: one story to explain why working-class people wear jewellery like this, and a separate story to explain their embodied relation to public space. Perhaps this is the right way to think about it. But Strand’s series, in foregrounding the confluence of this range of class-determined characteristics, raises the question of whether there is a more unified story to be told about the expression of class identity.
One such unified story could be built around the notion of an individual’s self-conception. Let’s suppose that everyone has, when all is going well, a vision of themselves in which their choices appear worthwhile and their life worth living. (The philosopher Christine Korsgaard calls this a person’s ‘practical identity’.) The everyday impositions of one’s class predicament must show up in that self-image, on pain of it being more fiction than reality. So, the imprint that work has left on one’s bodily comportment, and the constraints foisted on one’s lifestyle by economic circumstances, must be included as features of the way one sees oneself.
That self-image must also include, centrally, a sense of oneself as embodying and pursuing aesthetic value. To see one’s own choices as making sense and one’s own life as worth living just is to see oneself as being in pursuit of values worth pursuing. It follows from this way of thinking about self-conceptions that – even if we are typically not consciously aware of it – we all live our lives through an image of ourselves that reconciles our class identity, our economic predicament, with our style, our sense of beauty and virtue and what is worth doing. These aesthetic self-conceptions can explain the coherent, unified presentation of class identity as it can be seen in Strand’s series. Class is not just in the subjects’ clothes, nor just their bodily comportment, nor any other single factor, but in the way these factors are synthesised by the subjects into ways for an individual to be – in London at least.