photography

   The postwar euphoria of victory combined with an ongoing austerity of rationing in Britain gave way to a new optismism for the children of what was to become known as the baby-boomer years (see baby boom). In its attempts to both rebuild and present itself as a modern nation, British culture was to undergo a revolution of American origins, which found its expression not only in the more traditional arts of painting and sculpture but within design, architecture, photography and publishing and the new media industry of television. At the beginning of the 1960s the new global communications were just beginning; but by 1969, NASA had landed men on the moon, who photographically recorded the event and sent video images back to earth via a satellite link. Photographers of the 1960s may be linked, but not exclusively, with four main consumer growth areas of the 1960s: fashion (for example, David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy); pop and rock music (Robert Freeman’s pictures of the Beatles); photo journalism (Tony Ray-Jones, Don McCullin, Larry Burrows, Tim Page); and portraiture (Jane Bown, Bill Brandt, Lord Snowdon). A central theme of photojournalism and portraiture in the 1960s included social life from both the successful, wealthier end of society and the less fortunate, poorer members of British society. For example, the growing royal family and the Queen’s visits to the British colonies was a popular theme amongst most daily newspapers and journals. The Queen’s brother-in-law, Lord Snowdon (previously Anthony Armstrong-Jones), became a court photographer as well as maintaining a career of more general portraiture and magazine work. Other photographers like Don McCullin specialized in photojournalism which was confrontational and often included images of destitution and dereliction. This included photographs of one of the poorest parts of London in McCullin’s 1961 series East of Aldgate, used by director Michaelangelo Antonioni in his film Blow Up, although paradoxically, the character of the photographer in the film, Thomas, was based on the personality of David Bailey. Bailey was interviewed in 1964 by Francis Wyndham, and Antonioni used the text as the base for the part of Thomas.
   Photography was about to undergo an important status shift coinciding with the birth of the Sunday Times Magazine in 1962 and the overhaul of Queen magazine. Previously, as Cecil Beaton remarked, the photographer had been regarded as ‘a sort of inferior tradesman’. The publishing houses and magazines were owned by Oxbridge graduates, but the new photographers were bridging traditional class boundaries; many of them, like David Bailey, were from working-class east London backgrounds. Also, artists such as Richard Hamilton began using photomontage techniques as part of their work, thus challenging the traditions of both painting and photography and often as a critique of fashion magazines and advertising. The exception to the encroaching use of colour in photography was within landscape and documentary photography, where black and white was used as a specific formal composition (for example, by Bill Brandt), or was to be connoted with realism within the documentary tradition. The fighting that had begun in Northern Ireland between Loyalist Protestants and Repub-licans in 1969 at first went largely unreported. However, when the first British soldier was killed on 31 October 1970, this made headline news in Britain. The public, through newspaper reports and photographs, had suddenly been made aware that the situation in Northern Ireland was in fact war. Similarly, when the Vietnam war ended in 1975, the Daily Mail’s headline on Wednesday 30 April 1975 was ‘THE END’, with a photograph captioned: ‘Americans and refugees clamber to an airlift helicopter’. Tim Page, one of many British photographers to record the war in Vietnam, left home at fifteen and did not return until twenty years later. He was later to publish his experiences in detail in Tim Page’s Nam and Page After Page. Changing attitudes to photography were also expressed by advertising agencies. In the late 1970s, cigarette manufacturers like Gallaher began to consider the image itself—without a caption—as a means to selling Benson and Hedges Gold and Silk Cut cigarettes. The adverts used a rhetorical language of metaphor, rebus and metonomy, incorporating a strong use of colour, such as cut purple silk or gold dust. The first of these new adverts appeared in 1978, using the photographs of Adrian Flowers.
   By 1973, the young photographer Martin Parr was beginning to have his work seen and published. This was classified as ‘new documentary’ photography. ‘New’ referred to the use of colour and a sense of humour. His photographs examined the eccentricities of the class system and British obsessions with leisure time, hobbies and DIY. In contrast, old monochrome documentary (for example, that of Chris Killip and Graham Smith) reaffirmed themes of formal concerns together with a mythology of the British northerner. A topical concern for the environment in the 1970s was reflected in landscape photography. The exhibition The Land was presented at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1975, and the 1970s also saw the publication of the work of John Davies, Paul Hill and Fay Godwin. John Davies’s work sought to revive the tradition of landscape photography, both rural and urban. The work of both Paul Hill and Fay Godwin attempted to describe and preserve a specific place, and also draw attention to the encroaching legal and illegal restrictions of access by landowners. These included farmers, the Defence Department, new water schemes and government road-building operations.
   Photography education was also starting to change. In the mid-1970s, the conceptual artist Victor Burgin was appointed to the photography degree course at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL, now the University of Westminster). His enthusiasm for reading as well as photographing established a new way of teaching photography based on the writings, amongst others, of the semiologist Roland Barthes, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and feminist writing. Students on the course were encouraged to analyse photographs within a structure of context and meaning. Graduates from this course in the 1980s included Jo Spence (one of the founder members of Camerawork), Olivier Richon, Mitra Tabrizian and Karen Knorr. In 1980, Victor Burgin edited Thinking Photography, which included essays by himself, John Tagg, Umberto Eco and others.
   An enlightenment within photography characterized the 1980s, reflecting the new teaching at PCL and other colleges. Slowly decreasing were galleries that only showed white, male documentary photographers; instead, these were being replaced by more radical venues that attempted to encourage a wider representation of photographers previously neglected by traditional photo galleries (for example women, gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities and the disabled). A new audience was also sought and from a broader section of the population.
   Family album photography began to be taken seriously partly resulting from the work of Jo Spence (1934–92) and her autobiographical analysis of childhood and adolescence using family album photographs. She also pioneered what became known as ‘photo therapy’ with Rosy Martin, photographing staged memories from their family histories as a way of confronting labelled identities. In 1982, Jo Spence was diagnosed with breast cancer and was concerned about the existing attitudes and treatments. After consultation with alternative therapists, she decided to take responsibility for the treatment of her illness, including the use of photo therapy. Her book Putting Myself in the Picture was published in 1986 (her later work Family Snaps was published in 1991). Other photographers, writers and artists also began exploring issues relating to bodily representation including sexual identity and its stereotyping, pornography, erotic photography, the ageing or sick body, sexual fantasy and desire, and voyeurism and fetishism. Helen Chadwick’s (1953–96) work from the 1980s asked questions of identity, sensuality, endurance and perhaps most poignantly, transience: she was to die suddenly, aged 43. Her work incorporated large, photocopied images of herself and photographic references to meat, intestines and laboratory samples of her own bodily tissue. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1987 after her exhibition Of Mutability at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1986. Her book Enfleshings was published in 1989. In 1988, Aperture published British Photography: Towards a Bigger Picture. This contained work by photographers already mentioned plus Keith Arnatt, Hannah Collins, Anna Fox, Paul Graham, Tim Head, Susan Trangmar and others.
   Gradually women, gay and ethnic minority artists were also finding publishers for their work. The Arts Council realized the dearth of published material from these photographers and attempted to correct the under-representation. Black photographers like David A.Bailey, Sunil Gupta, Ingrid Pollard, Maud Sulter and others saw the desperate need for better and broader representation of black arts in Britain and began curating their own shows. The Essential Black Art exhibition in 1988 included the work of photographer Zarina Bhimji. The Other Story was first shown at a major public arts venue, the Hayward Gallery, London in 1989; it contained the work of painters, sculptors, video makers and photographers.
   The war in Northern Ireland, or the ‘Troubles’, as it became known, continued into the 1980s and 1990s. The photographer and artist Willie Doherty’s work explores issues of cultural difference in Northern Ireland. His photographs often refer to surveillance, borders, invasion and the dialogue of misinformation from both sides. Some photographs incorporate text printed onto the surface. His exhibition Unknown Depths began at the Ffotogallery, Cardiff in 1990 and then toured to Glasgow, Deny and London. Another work, Same Old Story, was exhibited at Matt’s Gallery, London in 1997. The interest in the family and the photographing of children (including issues of child pornography), was to continue into the 1990s including the exhibition Whose Looking at the Family, curated by Val Williams at the Barbican Gallery, London in 1993. The photographers Nick Waplington and Richard Billingham were both to produce work which recorded life in three very different families. Nick Waplington began photographing two families on a council estate near Nottingham in 1987. In 1991, some of the photographs were published and exhibited as Living Room. He said in 1994:
   When I began the project, I’d seen pictures of housing estates, black and white pictures of the old school. The people in them looked like victims, and I wanted to show that they’re not. They’re not being beaten. These people are fighting back.
   His intention was to portray a more positive and caring attitude to family life, the results being often gently humorous, but within an overwhelming subtext of poverty.
   Richard Billingham’s work Ray’s a Laugh was also published in 1996 as a book. The explicit snap shots of his immediate family, including his father Ray, are taken inside his alcoholic parents’ flat. They also include pictures of the family dog and cat and his brother. They were originally intended as references for paintings when he was at art college and still living at the family home. Since then, he says he continues to photograph ‘as an attempt to comprehend myself and them more fully’.
   In 1993, Hannah Collins was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. By the mid-1990s noticeable numbers of women art and photography graduates were both showing and selling their work in photography venues and public or commercial art galleries. In London this was typified by Goldsmith’s College graduates. Artists such as Jane and Louise Wilson, Bridget Smith, Gillian Wearing, Catherine Yass, Tacita Dean, Sarah Jones and Virginia Nimarkoh were already meeting dealers and getting attention from curators and critics before leaving college. This defied the usual system of graduating students (especially women) having to wait passively for curators and dealers to become interested in them. Their work, especially Gillian Wearing’s, possessed a raw vibrancy coupled with an attitude which insisted the work be noticed. In 1997 the shortlist for the Turner Prize was all women, including that year’s winner, Gillian Wearing.
   Further reading
    Design Council (1987) Best of British: Design and Photography, Geneva: Rotovision.
   ALEXANDRA McGLYNN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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