Silk St EC2Y 8DS
Thursday 26 May 2016
Mary and I met a little before 10.00 and sat by one of the Barbican's water features. hoping that the weather was being kind to Linda on holiday.
Then we headed into the Art Gallery, where no photographs are allowed, sorry!
We had neither of us been to the gallery before, and were impressed by its size, though not particularly by its captioning, which was hard to read for people of mature years.
The exhibition is called Strange and Familiar and features the work of a considerable number of foreign photographers, and Britain as they saw it. It's displayed in more-or-less chronological order. We started with Edith Tudor Hart, an Austrian who moved to Britain for political as much as artistic or romantic reasons. Her husband was a doctor in South Wales in the 1930s, and she had communist sympathies, so her pictures are of pit workers, pit wash houses and poor children, as well as refugees from the Spanish Civil War.
Henri Cartier Bresson was employed by a number of magazines, and photographed British occasions from the coronation of George VI to the Silver Jubilee 40 years later. But the photographs are mostly street scenes, the crowds with their periscopes, the litter in the street after the processions, and tired people in the parks. There was a single picture of debutantes at Queen Charlotte's Ball, too. He also went up to Blackpool and photographed holiday makers who seem to suggest that obesity is not only a modern problem. A lovely picture of some young women in their curlers on the pier led one to suppose that they were planning a seriously exciting night out. There are some of his images here but not, I think, any that we saw at the Barbican.
Next came Robert Frank, a Swiss-American who was in Britain in the early 1950s. He photographed posh chaps in London, with bowlers or top hats before he too moved to South Wales to photograph miners and their families, You can see many of the photos here.
Meanwhile Paul Strand left the USA in 1949, since being a Communist sympathiser was a bit unhealthy. His choice of subject was the Outer Hebrides, notably South Uist and Benbecula.
The exhibition included a number of books of photographs, making us think that the 'coffee table' book has been somewhat superseded by You Tube and all that. Cas Oorthuys came from the Netherlands in the 1950s and 1960s to make the 'This is...' series of books: his 'London' showed bus queues, street market, people sitting in Hyde Park and CND marchers. 'Oxford' also has workers at the car plant, as well as students and High School girls. Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, by contrast, made a book called 'Eton Portrait'.
I won't go through every photographer's work, though I will say that Frank Habicht, photographing London in the late 60s showed us Biba, young people smoking spliffs and the crowd at a Rolling Stones Concert, and Candida Hofer depicted the deprivation that was Liverpool in the early 70s. Possibly the most moving set was that of Akihito Okamura, in Belfast in 1968. Although he had gone initially to trace the family of John F Kennedy, he captured the poignant business of every day life alongside the military: soldiers on patrol through shopping streets, blood and flowers at street corners, and children watching the Protestant marches in July.
So I should say that the Exhibition is well worth the entrance charge; and that photographers, like the rest of us, see what they expect to see: but they preserve their views for the future.