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Restart Radio: Photographing repair culture

photographing repair

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Mark Phillips tells us about his work photographing the practice, people and communities involved in repair culture – from Cuba to our very own Restart Parties.

First, we discuss some tech news. Two “yay-boo” stories from Apple: recycled aluminium in computers and its pilot programme for repair of some ‘vintage’ devices. Both seem like good news at the outset, but are undermined by Apple’s attempts to restrict third party and DIY repairs, which can help so many more people and save so many more resources. Lastly, we discuss the latest updates on the case of Korean Samsung workers: the company has finally released a mediation plan to compensate workers who were exposed to carcinogenic substances. We reflect on the human stories hidden behind complex supply chains.

Mark is at home with complexity, with a background in engineering, but he has been photographing since he was a child. His interest in repair culture started in Cuba when he travelled there for an academic conference. He came across an old car with an adjustable wrench in the door, took a photo, and then he immersed himself in a long-term project capturing ‘the never-ending life of Cuban things’.

We talk about how devices have been getting more complex to repair. Mark is, however, fascinated by people across the world that manage to repair what might seem impossible today. In Cuba, people will find a way around a faulty product, they will creatively find the hacks and materials to bring things back to life. As Mark said, ‘Some might look weird, but they are still functional!’

Street-side cigarette lighter repairs in Cuba

Nobody would wish to live under the difficult conditions that drive repair culture in certain parts of the world. However, these photographs and these stories can provoke us to rethink the system we live in – to expand the limits of creativity and the possibilities of the materials and resources around us.

In fact, Mark has found these examples in Cuba and recently in Ghana, but also here in the UK when photographing the repair culture that emerges at community events such as our Restart Parties. Mark also talks about the practical difficulties of photographing at a repair event, given the busy environment and the not always best lighting. And of course, we also comment on cameras themselves, an item that tends to be hard to fix, including at our community repair events.

Finally, we share our views on the future of repair culture. Mark tells us about some sustainable design projects that have inspired him and given him hope, such as Isla Bikes (bicycles for children on a leasing model) and Fairphone (easily repairable modular smartphone). We talk about the importance of people who find solutions to problems, from the repair activity at community repair groups, to the creativity of designers that come up with more repairable and long-lasting products.


[featured image by Mark Phillip at a Restart Party]

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