Strange and familiar: Britain as revealed by international photographers at the Barbican

An interesting exhibition that took me from my parents’ childhood to mine. (I baled out before the end from lack of time.)  Things I noted:

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos of the crowds for the 1977 Silver Jubilee – people were dressed in woollens and padded jackets in June.
  • Ditto Blackpool in July in the early 1960s.
  • Paul Strand’s photographs from the Outer Hebrides in 1954 had the quality of fine etchings. He had communist sympathies, and his portraits of ordinary people on South Uist gave them dignity and beauty. (It still looked a bit grim, though.)
  • There was a copy of a 1937 book entitled “Eton Portraits” by Bernard Fergusson with photos by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – whom I last spotted in the Weimar Bauhaus. I guess émigré artists were happy to turn their hand to anything!
  • International photographers had a fixation on (gross generalisation alert) the royal family’s place in British life, fog, busses, City gents, poverty amongst Welsh coal miners, the British relaxing in parks and by the seaside – usually with suits, coats, deckchairs and thermoses. But let there be no pots or kettles: I do recall the absolute necessity of taking a photo in Germany of one of the cigarette-vending machines that they have in the oddest places, like suburban streets and village greens – so I can’t comment.
  • Evelyn Hofer’s meticulous photographs brought back memories of London prefabs.
  • Akihiko Okamura took photographs in Northern Ireland that are almost nothing out of the ordinary – except for the barbed wire, rubble in the streets or roofless houses.
  • I must look up the Düsseldorf School of Photography.
  • Axel Hütte’s photographs of deserted buildings were like Pieter de Hooch crossed with Saenredam.
  • Jim Dow made a knitting shop window look as exotic as a Tangiers souk.
  • Raymond Depardon was commissioned in 1980 to produce a series of photos of Glasgow, but they were adjudged too depressing to be published. However there was one of a wet, dreary, lifeless street with two little girls of three or so crossing it together. Clean white socks, bunches, with a toy pushchair, leaning towards each other trustingly . . . it was both heartbreaking and uplifting.
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