St Andrews Photography Festival: The Weighing Machine (Franki Raffles, 1989)

Thursday 7 July 2016

This is the third post in a weekly series highlighting images featuring at the upcoming St Andrews Photography Festival, 1 August – 11 September 2016 []

Soviet Russia, 1989: a woman, perhaps on a trip out for some shopping, stops to be weighed by a street vendor. They are both engrossed in the moment: she waiting patiently for the reading; he adjusting the machine accordingly. It is a scene typical of Franki’s work, where the commonplace is captured and made enduring.  We are drawn into an intimate setting which invites reflection on our own lives and experiences.  Although we are observing a private interchange the subjects are not objectivised, or exploited, and the purity of the moment in its workaday splendour is allowed to shine through.

Franki Raffles (1955-1994), an alumna of St Andrews University, was a feminist social documentary photographer whose images were used for the powerful Zero Tolerance campaign which championed awareness of abuse against women. The Franki Raffles Social Documentary Collection has been entrusted to St Andrews University in collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University, and this partnership aims to promote her work and to allow her material to reach a wider audience. Two recent blog articles from February and March have explored the life and work of Franki Raffles, including her contribution to highlighting women’s rights and further information is also available by accessing the Franki Raffles Archive website.

The photo is one from a selection of images depicting the lives of Soviet women in the former USSR during the communist regime, which are available to view online as part of our Special Collections photographic digital archive. Such public weighing machines with a dedicated vendor must have provided a useful service in Soviet Russia before sets of inexpensive domestic scales were commonly available.

In the background of the photograph the theatrical posters on the kiosk lend a subtle air of comical pathos to the scene: the relaxed disdain of the man with the moustache and the chorus line of glamorous performers contrasts with the mundane activity in the foreground. We are reminded of human vanity and we can both sympathise and identify with the need for escapism and aspiration. To the left hand side of the image the hustle and bustle of the street behind is visible, adding a further layer of context and depth and enhancing the feel of a moment caught in full flight.

A selection of images by Franki Raffles, curated by Alastair Scott (Edinburgh Napier University), can be viewed at the Old Union Building, St Andrews, as part of the upcoming Photography Festival, from 1st August to 11th September 2016.

Figure legend: Soviet woman using some scales, by Franki Raffles, 1989 [link to image]. ©Franki Raffles Estate
Soviet woman using some scales, by Franki Raffles, 1989. ©Franki Raffles Estate


Lindsey Gray
Golf Collections Digitisation Officer

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1 thoughts on "St Andrews Photography Festival: The Weighing Machine (Franki Raffles, 1989)"

  • St Andrews Photo Festival:  Programme | Echoes from the Vault
    Thursday 28 July 2016, 1.25pm

    […] The Weighing Machine by Frank Raffles, 1989: […]


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