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Why the Good Builder?

After completing my M.St I was looking for a subject which might make a good PhD - something that had not been written about specifically so meeting the uniqueness requirement but in an area where there was a lot of material and ideally something that would leverage my interest and past research in photography. A colleague at work came up with the perfect solution - looking at the John Laing Collection, an approx. 230,000 image archive held by Historic England for whom I work.
John Laing was a major construction company with a long history stretching back into the late nineteenth century (they are now mainly involved in infrastructure investment and asset management).  The company was the primary contractor for a number of "firsts" including the M1 Motorway and Berkeley Power Station (Britain's first commercial nuclear power station).
John W. Laing (1879–1978) was a devout Christian and carried out many philanthropic works during his life, hence The Good Builder has two meanings, and is the title of one of the main company biographies by Berry Ritchie.
Three viewpoints are considered:
  • An investigation of the novel building processes created and used by John Laing in the creation of buildings and how such a photographic archive can be used to expand our knowledge of architectural history and in particular how the building phase is documented.
  • An examination of how the various constructions were documented by John Laing in comparison to third party agencies efforts. This may lead to an understanding how the photographic image has supported differing stakeholder requirements and the impact of the proposed audience on the image itself and secondly how such audience requirements altered what images were captured. The company employed noted photographers and photographic companies such as Bedford Lemere and Aerofilms and Historic England holds substantial archives of both which can be used to provide an alternative view of how the company wished to portray itself to the wider public.
  • An exploration of how a photographic archive can be used to document a company's history and the lives of its employees to gain a better understanding of the wider social impact of a large national business.


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