I was fortunate enough to find some down-time recently from a busy teaching schedule and by chance discovered that an amazing photographic exhibition was taking place right on my doorstep.
I was causally browsing the net for entertainment and stumbled across a concert by Billy Bragg taking place at Warwick Arts Centre. Great, I thought, I was and am a fan of his lyrical political songs and actually had the good fortune to be part of the Red Wedge movement of artists in the 80's/90's which Billy was a main performer in so have met him on many occasions.
So, naturally I was quick to book my ticket and was looking forward to some of Billy's rebel rousing songs and see how he has expanded his repertoire from guitar thrashing poetry to more american folk legend storytelling of the railroads.
I arrived 45mins early not quite knowing how parking would be or crowd fervor would prevent me from getting in a pint in my hand. Clearly I had forgotten that this was Warwick Arts Centre in 2016 and not the Brixton Academy in 1986! So having realised, and secretly relieved, that there were no mass crowds of badge wearing teenagers who wore a t-shirt to confirm their political credentials, I had time to kill.
It didn't take me long to spot that there was also a photography exhibition taking place at the same venue, so off I went not knowing what to expect.
The Human Document
The Photography of Persuasion from 1930s America to Present Day
MEAD GALLERY - Warwick Arts Centre
Ends Sat 10th Dec 2016 - Details here Free Entry.
From the exhibition synopsis
In 1962, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented The Bitter Years, curated by Edward Steichen. This exhibition included over 200 images taken between the years of 1935-1944 by a small group of photographers working for the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration Programme (the FSA). Many of the best known Depression-era photographers were fostered by the FSA including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein. Under the direction of Roy Stryker, these photographers were sent out to document the plight of rural workers, to introduce ‘America to Americans.’
The Human Document takes The Bitter Years as its starting point in exploring artists’ enduring fascination with the FSA Historical Section– both as photographs designed to awaken human emotions and as a collective body of images. It presents a selection of photographs from The Bitter Years, corresponding to Steichen’s original thematic groupings, alongside photography by contemporary artists including Richard Billingham, Paul Graham, Sunil Gupta, Chris Killip, Susan Lipper and Eileen Perrieras well as the film installation On Photography, People and Modern Times by Akram Zaatari.
Relevant, Moving and Thought Provoking
I didn't have time to really digest the photo's prior to the Billy Bragg concert so returned for a second visit as was keen to do it justice and really take in the work of those photographers who have documented the suffering and struggles of people. In particular the work of Dorothea Lange - (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange's photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
The images in the exhibition speak for themselves - words, especially by me, are not needed so I won't attempt to try and give some explanation, opinion or any other inferior justification for how these images really do speak a thousand words. I'll simply say that the the current era of refugees, deprivation and oppression are not just shadows of the past of these images - I recommend you visit the exhibition before it ends and soak up the pictorial narrative that these images speak.