At the Barbican Art Gallery.
During a recent trip to London, I was lucky enough to be able to meet up with Gill G and see the ‘Everything was Moving’ exhibition at the Barbican. The exhibition featured a number of very different photographers, who each captured a part of the 60s and 70s. Described in the booklet as the period that photography “came of age”, it must have been a fascinating time for documentary photography, as the world went through many changes. It was great to meet Gill and to be able to discuss thoughts and ideas with another student as we looked around. Having not really spent any time in our capital before I was surprised at just how large the gallery was. The Barbican was huge and the space was used to good effect. I’m only sorry that I was only able to see part of the exhibition and not the whole thing. Next time I’m in London, I’ll have to allow for more time to look around their galleries!
I find documentary photography particularly interesting to view, even though it’s not something I normally shoot. It may be that it’s currently still a more accessible form of photography for me, but I think the political statements that are often present also have a particular impact.
I was able to view the work of four of the photographers participating in the exhibition.
A white South African who started photographing Afrikaners in the 1960s, following them to the gold mines of Witwatersrand, where he started photographing the black people who went down into the mines themselves. The exhibit then moved to the 1970s, looking at Soweto, a black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and contrasted this with the predominantly white town of Boksburg. Overall, I felt it was very extensive look at life in South Africa and rather intensive for the viewer. Many subtle and not so subtle contrasts were carefully made between the blacks and whites living at that time. Gill pointed out how the pieces were carefully arranged to guide the viewer through political statements and views of the time period.
Walking around, I made a few comparisons with a very different exhibition I visited earlier this year, by Roger Ballen. The photographs here seemed alive in comparison; they captured something of the energy and life of every situation.
Eggleston’s large vibrant and colourful portraits provided a breath of fresh air after Goldblatt’s extensive and intensive journey. I remember remarking that I’d not before seen photographs quite like his portraits. The way the light was used and clarity of the images made them seem almost three-dimensional. They were an excellent way to clear the head after the previous exhibit.
In the neighbouring room was a series of prints by Eggleston primarily taken in the Mississippi Delta, Alabama and Tennessee. More abstract art than documentary and something that invited further study to be able to appreciate fully. I was reminded of the work of Lee Friedlander.
I’d actually heard of and seen examples of Davidson’s work before (mainly the 100th Street exhibit and the famous, girl with kitten), but I didn’t realise this at the time. The work displayed here was “The Time of Change”, documenting the Freedom Riders‘ journey from Alabama to Mississippi. Black and white documentary images, completely different to Eggleston’s photographs of the same era.
Davidson is quoted as saying, “I start off as an outsider, usually photographing other outsiders, then, at some point, I step over a line and become an insider. I don’t do detached observation”. This was certainly evident with his work on display here.
A fascinating series of images from Latin America, Iturbide photographed “the nomadic Seri people of the Sonora Desert and the matriarchal society of Juchitan”. We were faced with images that were very different again from what we’d previously seen. Quirky, intriguing and at times apparently light-hearted, it made me want to find out more about the societies featured and about Iturbide’s work.
Finally, I very briefly saw some of the work of Ernest Cole, who was a black South African and provided slightly a different view on life under apartheid compared to Goldblatt. The work that I saw was very much reportage photography. Particularly striking was a series of photographs that showed white men being pick-pocketted by black youths. I will have to look at his work in more detail sometime.
Overall, it was a fascinating journey through an era of great political and social change, which was very well captured in many different ways. I just wish I’d allowed more time to be able to view it all!