Archive for the ‘Barbican’ Category

Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, Barbican Sept 2012 – January 2013

September 14, 2012

Everything was Moving
The 60s and 70s saw immense change in our view of the world. From landing on the moon to the destabilizing nature of neo-colonialism, the visual catalogue of this period was recorded by many courageous and gifted photographers. A dozen of them are represented in this exhibition.
The exhibition is split over two levels, and it is the bottom level that is the most visceral.
David Goldblatt’s photographs of South African miners have a powerful resonance today, as we recently learned of the brutal killing of miners in the platinum mines of Marikana. Images of mineworkers and their accommodation are given context by Goldbatt’s description of exploring and playing in the mine dumps as a young child. One image of a meeting between a worker and his manager demonstrates the assumed master servant role underpinned by apartheid. The corpulent white boss gestures expansively, his papers and the ashtray on the table staking out his territory. Adjacent to him sits the black worker, arms pulled close to his side, compressing him into the chair. In front of him on the table sits a small packet of cigarettes.
Bruce Davidson’s images of black oppression and segregation in the Deep South are particularly confronting. These images are a permanent visual reminder of the crimes against fellow man perpetrated in our lifetime. The images, never exhibited before in the UK, pitch you right in the middle of this appalling period of American history, riding with the Freedom Riders on their dangerous journey from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi.
On the other side of the Atlantic, and light years away from freedom, Ernest Cole’s photographed life as a black man under the apartheid regime. A devastating portfolio of images of deprivation, inhumanity, subjugation and exploitation. In a moving interview he says he took photographs ‘…just to show what life is really like in South Africa’. He overcame extreme prejudice and humiliation to produce these remarkable photographs. He lived in exile in New York, dying in poverty in 1990.
William Eggleston’s extraordinary photographs of landscapes leave one desperately curious, trying to understand what is unknown. An image of a the rear end of a Lincoln, with the rear wheel chained to a lamppost, another of a wall jukebox in a café that only has the selection buttons, the song titles and artists’ names are illegible. The iconic final image, of the blood red ceiling behind the bare light bulb, bears the caption ‘Greenwood, Mississippi’. His portraits are no less enigmatic. The gaze of the subjects is unknown, just off camera line, or out of frame, here and not here. Once again one tries to piece the missing evidence together.
Upstairs the exhibition continues with Larry Burrows’s large vivid colour images from Vietnam, depicting burned-out lives and decimated landscapes. I remember the image of the marine gunner reaching towards his dead commanding officer, stretched out in a cruciform, when it was published in Life magazine. The awkward theatricality of the image makes this a very painful image and the horrific sounds of the battle seemed to be stilled for a split second. The bland title, South of the DMZ’ tells us nothing of the horror contained in the frame.
Li Zhensheng’s images from the Mao’s Cultural Revolution are an amazing visual document from this time. Working within the communist regime, his images were used for propaganda, but other images were taken without approval and depict some of the harsher realities and absurdities of life under Mao.
‘Everything was Moving’ is an apt title, as the viewer sees a rushing kaleidoscope of images, events moving quickly that it can be hard to secure oneself on the floor. Everything is still moving, and as events move quickly, so does the means by which these events are recorded.

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