At first glance you could be mistaken into thinking that this is a fun and frivolous exhibition about the fashion and lifestyle in the 1960s and 70s; at least that’s what the London Underground posters seem to reflect. It’s not until you research a little deeper that you realise this is a major photography exhibition covering some of the most important political and historical developments in the 20th Century. The exhibition boasts over 400 pieces from 12 truly inspirational photographers including David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Larry Burrows and William Eggleston.
The 1960s and 1970s were very important decades in modern history and this exhibition at the Barbican covers many of those key political and social changes, featuring photographs from the Cold War, Civil Rights in America, Apartheid and Vietnam. This exhibition aims to not only show us just how important photography was in capturing these political and social upheavals, but also how this was an era when photography came into its own as an art form.
The exhibition itself is absolutely huge, with room after room of photographs, almost like many different exhibitions brought together as one. As you navigate your way though the space, one minute in South Africa, then next South America, you will find that every photo is carefully chosen, each demanding time and attention. I myself ended up spending over 3 hours in there, so it’s best to go when you haven’t any dinner plans to rush off for.
I was particularly taken with the work of David Goldblatt. Goldblatt spent over six decades photographing his motherland South Africa and his seemingly rather detached approach to the subject really emphasises just how life had to go on as normally as possible for everyone during this very strange and horrific period of time. Likewise Ernest Cole’s work struck a similar chord for me. He grew up under apartheid similarly to Goldblatt, but he was able to reclassify himself as “coloured” not “black” and could therefore travel from the townships and into the white sectors freely.
William Eggleston’s photography of America’s deep south was also particularly fascinating. His use of colour and blank space was very unlike anything else of its time. He would take photographs of random everyday objects such as road signs and lights, altering the exposure so they almost appear surreal and then present these completely different photos as one united piece.
Spanning two floors, this is a very ‘full on’ exhibition covering a vast array of different subject matters. I dare say that perhaps it may have been better to hold several separate exhibitions given that it was at time overwhelming and sometimes the flow felt off as you went from South Africa to America then back to South Africa before ending up in Japan. However, this is a truly eye-opening experience that really shows the importance of photography in recording our modern history. Just be sure you’re not in a rush, as you’ll be there for hours, no exaggeration.
Running from 13 September 2012 – 13 January 2013
For more information go to barbican.org.uk