(Left) Paul Bleazard, Martin Parr and Chris Salewicz, Voewood Festival 2014.
© Pippa Jane PR
“The exhibition will reveal a very different take on British life than that produced by British photographers. It is both familiar and strange at the same time”, says Martin Parr.
Curated by Martin Parr (President of Magnum), 14 years after his retrospective at the Barbican in 2002, the exhibition considers how twenty-three international photographers in 500 images, and over 100 photobooks from the 1930s to present day have captured the social, cultural, political and topographical identity of the UK. The earliest print is by Edith Tudor-Hart (Self-Portrait with Unknown Man, Caledonian Market, London c. 1931-35), and the most recent is by Hans Eijkelboom (The Street & Modern Life 2014).
The exhibition is the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind to be held in the UK. Presenting social documentary, and street photography, to portraiture, and architectural it chronicles life in London’s East End from mid-1930s and slum housing of Tyneside, child poverty, unemployment and homelessness that marked the interwar years as the nation emerged from the Second World War and key moments in the country’s history from London to the Hebrides.
For many of the foreign photographers, such as the Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank, an outsider’s view provided an ideal platform to produce a body of new seminal work that enabled socio-documentary exploration of social clichés and cultural stereotypes , not just black and white but in colour, offering insight of how Britain was divided along class lines, the city and working class polarised by wealth and poverty in a style, and gravitas, previously unencountered by a British audience.
The exhibition includes 20th century photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson (France), cited as “l’œil du siècle”, who founded the Magnum photographic agency with Robert Capa and David Seymour (known as Chim) in 1947. Also, Candida Höfer (Germany) and Axel Hütte (Germany), Sergio Larrain (Chile) and Hans van der Meer (The Netherlands), and Paul Strand (America), who moved to Europe in the 1950s, and believed that photography could be a force of change, all of whose collective works unseen portrait of Britain revealing originality of vision, and an unmistakably powerful, erudite, gritty and dramatically unapologetic slice of life.
Reflective of Parr’s curiosity and fascination of people, British culture, and knowledge of international photography, the works reference to the different characteristics of regional life around Britain and frequently reference to the development of Parr’s own contextual development, engaging the viewer, on several levels and oeuvres from the mid-thirties to 2014.
Tina Barney (b.1945) is an American photographer best known for her large-scale, densely layered tableau color portraits of her family and close friends, many of whom are well-to-do citizens of New York and New England featured in her book “Theatre of Manners” (1997), and a member of the Lehman family.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) visited Britain on numerous occasions. He captured the celebratory spirit at the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 and documented St Anne’s wedding in 1973 and the street parties of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
The new postwar aspirational consumerism and hardship is represented in the work of Cas Oorthuys (1908-1975), a Netherlandish photographer who started his career as a communist labourer photographer and began working as a press photographer for the social democratic weekly Wij (“We”) in 1936.
Oorthuys, trained as an architect and formerly worked for the Dutch Social Democratic Workers’ Press. He was also known for his clandestine photographs taken during the German occupation. He was also involved in Camera (the hidden Camera), a group of 30 photographers whose aim was to photograph the liberation of the Netherlands but because of increasing German terror, hunger and starvation, and resistance of the Amsterdam people, he (the group) photographed dead bodies laid out next to the Zuiderkerk. His photographs of suffering and death were smuggled to England to convince the Allies to drop food supplies into the country. His later approach to photography was seen as commerical, representative the principles associated with the “New Objectivity”, cited in David Chandler’s catalogue as: “that photography was to be a documentary product, not a form of artistic self-expression, and that a picture only gained value once reproduced”. Stylistically, his work was associated with stylistic imaging making in the style of Albert Renger-Patzsch and László Moholy-Nagy.
Sergio Larrain’s (1931-2012), who visited London in 1958 with the courtesy of a British Council grant, depicts London in the late 1950s as a city that was undergoing dramatic change in the post-war era. His images were taken through unusual vantage points and blurring of image that capture the vibrant dynamism of the city. Larrain who worked for Magnum during the 60s is considered one of the most important photographers in Chilean history. His work being described in the exhibition catalogue as “elegant poems rather than descriptive journalism: full of chiaroscuro”.
For many of the international photographers, Britain was a foreign country in which they were perceived as foreigners, which prompted a new approach to image making and their positioning as European and international cosmopolitan outsiders effectively enabled them an ideal platform to view the country in an original, perceptive and vibrant way, in a radical and original way previously not seen before.
Other photographic departures in the UK included Bruce Davidson (b.1933), the Magnum photographer to shoot not in black and white but in colour, as ‘colour could articulate the grim reality in a way that black and white might not.’ – all new and revelatory to the relatively limited UK photographic scene.
Exploration of 60s Britain can be seen in work by Garry Winogrand, the street photographer from the Bronx, New York (1928-1984), who came to the UK in 1967 after his breakthrough show at MoMA. Winograd is known for his portrayal of American life, and travels throughout Britain.
Candida Höfer (b.1944) is a Cologne, Germany-based photographer who in 1968 during the ‘Swinging Sixties’ went in search of the poets, musicians, clubs and pubs of Liverpool’s cultural Scene.
Examples of new editorial agenda’s included “The Sunday Times” (1980) commissioned the French Magnum photographer, photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon (b.1942), (known for his reportage of Asia and Africa) to shoot photographs of Glasgow considered too shocking to publish. As Depardon commented, ’ Glasgow felt totally at odds with my photography’.
According to Martin Parr’s catalogue essay, “Robert Frank, the esteemed Swiss-American photographer, who in 1958 published the landmark photobook The Americans, travelled through Britain between 1951 and 1953. Starting in the City of London documenting the office workers and the city, “he took himself off to the valleys of South Wales, and created a poignant body of work around a miner called Ben James and his family who hailed from Caerau and worked in the local pit”.
Whilst British photographers, such as Terence Donovan, Norman Parkinson and Brian Duffy, “turned their lens on the fashion, celebrities and music of the period, they did not venture out into the street to document the cataclysmic changes that were taking place”.
Examples included the Dutch urban landscape photographer Hans van der Meer (b.1955) explored the rural locations of lower league football across the UK showing the landscape in a way that had not been previously documented and the Italian Gian Butturini and German Frank Habicht created powerful bodies of work around the Swinging Sixties.
Akihito Okamura (1929-1985) who travelled to Ireland following his expulsion from Japan, and made his first made his debut as a photo journalist with a nine page spread in “Life” magazine covering the Vietnam war. Hailed as “the successor to Capa”, the horrors of his images of Vietnam which were subsequently published in a book entitled This is War in Vietnam (1965). Okarmura moved to Dublin in 1968 with his family to cover Northern Ireland Troubles. His raw documentary images show the factional political and societal schisms against the backdrop of displacement and disembodiment of culture, society and formation of identity of children growing up in an isolated polarised urban world of violence, decline of religion and traditional community.
“Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr” runs parallel with “Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr” at the Guildhall Art Gallery, 4 Mar–31 Jul 2016 where Parr has been City of London photographer-in-residence since 2013. The Hepworth Wakefield also host an important major exhibition of over 400 photographs by Parr in “The Rhubarb Triangle and other Stories : Photographs by Martin Parr”, 4 February-12 June 2016.
Information: Barbican Art Gallery, London. 0845 120 7550 Opening hours: Saturday to Wednesday, 10am – 6pm, Thursday & Friday, 10am – 9pm, Bank Holidays: 1, 2noon – 6pm.
Tickets: Standard £12.00. Concessions: £10. Students 1-17: £8. Young Barbican: £5. Art Fund Members: £8. Membership: Unlimited free entry.
A series of talks, events, including an artist in conversation, and a Magnum masterclass with Brian Gilden will be run in conjunction with the exhibition. A catalogue of the exhibition with essay by Martin Parr is available at £35.
© Pippa Jane Wielgos
IMAGE/Henri Cartier-Bresson, Coronation of King George VI, Trafalgar Square, London, 12 May 1937 © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Above : photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson the French humanist photographer considered the master of candid photography, and an early user of 35 mm film, publisher of “The Decisive Moment”, “Images à la Suave”, republished after 62 years by Steidl in 2014
For more information and book tickets, visit the Barbican website here
Speaking to a packed audience at The Hepworth Wakefield at the ‘in conversation with Anne McNeill, Director of Impressions Gallery at his major exhibition of 400 works, “The Rhubarb Triangle and other Stories : Photographs by Martin Parr”, Parr, in jest remarked that being from Surrey partly explained his critique on taking photographs.
Parr also said that he felt guilty about the fact that he had done so well during the government of 80’s Britain for much of his work he is known but added that the intent of his social documentary photography was and is equally as “questionable” and polemical in intent and subject matter as that of photojournalists who photograph hard-hitting humanitarian subjects.
Parr’s critical acclaim and photographic credentials as a world-leading photographer and President of Magnum can be seen at three major venues. “Unseen City : Photos by Martin Parr” at the Guildhall Art Gallery (London), which is one of three major exhibitions of Parr’s work in the UK this year is a culmination of Parr’s two-year photographer-in-residence at the City of London Corporation (COLC), where he was commissioned to photograph a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of the City of London across three mayoralties.
Featuring 120 photographs, (20 of which have been acquired by the Guildhall Art Gallery for the contemporary permanent collection), it represents Parr’s atypical witty and questionable take on British institutional life. Showing a ‘behind the scenes’ view of livery companies, ritual, tradition and high-profile occasions and open democracy where guests have included Her Majesty the Queen, Lord Mayors and city dignitaries the works portray the character, traditions, and people who make up the City to which Parr delivers a contemporary perspective of British institutional life in idiosyncratic style, posing questions on institutional life, open democracy and the nature of British identity with wit, brilliance, humour and laconic surprise.
“Unseen City : Photos by Martin Parr”, Guildhall Art Gallery of London, (4 March – 31 July 2016) will run parallel with “Strange and Familiar : Britain as Revealed by International Photographers” curated by Martin Parr Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, (16 March-19 June 2016). “The Rhubarb Triangle and other Stories : Photographs by Martin Parr”, The Hepworth Wakefield, (4 February-12 June 2016).
An Artist’s Platform : A Q&A with Martin Parr will be held on 26 April 2016 between 6-8 pm and lunchtime curator’s talks will be held one Thursday per month at 1 pm on the 10 March, 7 April, 5 May, 2 June, 7 July 2016.
© Pippa Jane Wielgos
Opening Times: Monday–Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday, 12 noon – 4 pm. Admission: £5.00 (concessions available).
For more information and book tickets, visit the City of London website here
Lord Mayor’s Show, Guildhall, City of London, 2013. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos