Archaeology of Finance

Martin Toft

2015 - Ongoing

Since 2015 I have been developing MASTERPLAN – a research project using photography, film and archives to explore the story of Jersey’s contemporary prosperity as an International Finance Centre. ARCHAEOLOGY OF FINANCE is the latest visual enquiry reflecting on the material culture of finance work inside corporate environments. In 2019 I was invited to exhibit work at CAPITAL, Ballarat International Foto Biennale (Australia) and TAXED TO THE MAX, Noorderlicht International Photography Festival (The Netherlands).

‘Masterplan is a long term project exploring the transformation of the British Channel Island of Jersey from a rural community centred upon agriculture, maritime trade and tourism into an international finance centre. In less than half a century the island’s traditional economic bases have been almost entirely supplanted by a finance industry offering low tax wealth management services to high net worth residents and investors. Jersey has a rich pre-historic landscape and archaeological record reflecting human occupation extending over 250,000 years. While extensive photographic archives of pre-historic archaeology, landscape, social history and pre-finance industries have been accumulated, little record of what takes place inside the walls of the island’s banks, legal offices and accountancy firms exists. Photographing finance work is difficult; firstly, because of the intangibility of financial capital. Further, in an industry that specialises in the implementation of legal tax avoidance mechanisms in a securitised environment, client confidentiality is king. Toft’s requests to access the workplaces of contemporary finance have invariably been rejected by corporations. A number of Jersey banks have recently moved from offices constructed during the early boom of the island’s finance sector in the 1970-80s into high tech twenty-first century premises. Like the island’s archaeologists, Toft has gained access to these abandoned sites to record the traces left by finance workers. Applying the methods used in photographic archives for recording archaeological finds of pre-historic material culture, he offers these images up to the historical record. When compared with the photographs of artefacts we are familiar with from museums of ancient culture they seem absurd and of questionable value. As such Toft’s photographs question the nature of finance work as a process of production and reflect upon the status of the intangible economies that have come to dominate contemporary life.’

Curator Dr Gareth Syvret, CAPITAL, Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2019

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