Janine Wiedel was born in New York City and took up photography in the social unrest of late 1960s California. Turning her lens upon the Black Power Movement and the now legendary counter culture of 1967 Berkeley, she produced a body of work that prefigured much of what was to come – a document of the struggles of her time rendered with a compassionate and interested eye.
Moving to Britain in 1971 she spent five years traveling back and forth from Ireland and completed an extensive project on the Irish Tinkers, shown at the Photographer’s Gallery, London, in 1976 and published as a book that same year. This marked a new way of working for Wiedel inaugurating a passion for long-term projects. Working in this manner Wiedel has often discussed her camera as a passport – a means of gaining access to and penetrating the reality of her subjects – moving beyond preconceptions, towards an informed and representative account.
With this in mind in 1976 Wiedel headed to a remote Arctic settlement where the only English speaker was the local priest. Staying for several months with an Inuit family she set about documenting their way of life. Later that year she took up a commission to produce a study of Iran for an educational publisher. By 1977, however, Wiedel was back in England, having won a major Arts Bursary to document the industrial heartland of Britain. The project lasted two years and was presented at the Photographers Gallery and in book format in 1979. It captures the last flicker of Britain’s coal mines, steel mills and chain making workshops and the communities around them.
Through the 1980s and ‘90s Wiedel continued her focus on England, winning two bursaries. For the Cross Chanel Photographic Mission she documented the changes to the town of Dover during the construction of the Channel Tunnel. For the Gainsborough Museum she worked with a writer to produce a portrait of the people of Sudbury. Both projects became exhibitions and books.
More recently Wiedel has completed an in depth look at the Eco Warriors occupation of Crystal Palace and a three year project on St Agnes Place – a renowned squatted street in London, which she photographed up to its eviction in 2005. Ongoing projects include studies on street protest and multicultural Britain – including in depth looks at groups such as the Rastafarian community.
Since 1978 Wiedel has been building her stock photographic library into one of the foremost archives of social issues and contemporary culture.