Review: ‘Strange & Familiar’ @ Barbican Art Gallery

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‘Strange and Familiar’ is an extensive interpretation of Britain, as seen through the lens of international photographers. Curated by British photojournalist and Magnum member, Martin Parr, the pictures form a diverse timeline and trace the social transformation of the UK through the decades.

There are over 250 photographs on show from 23 different photographers; consequently this is an exhibition you need some time to appreciate.

Beginning in the 1930s, photographs from Edith Tudor-Hart, an Austrian communist, explore working class Britain. A photograph of a famished child staring into a bakery window highlights Tudor-Hart’s desire for reforming the social agenda, public health, and children’s welfare.

Many of the photographs on show are a testament to the necessity for change; however while it brings cohesion to the exhibition it almost becomes repetitive.

Many of the iconic photographers – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Garry Winograd – are showcased. Robert Frank’s series London/Wales stands out as a poetic contrast of two different worlds; that of London’s bankers, clad in top hats and walking stick umbrellas and Caerau’s black-faced miners. While Frank’s photographs of London are detached and stony, his study of miners in Wales is intimate and communal, with many of the images featuring groups of miners rather than fleeting images of London’s gentry.

Raymond Depardon’s images of Glasgow in the 1980s strike a chord – the photographs are unembellished, powerful and unforgiving. The poverty and neglect Glasgow was experiencing at the time leaks into his shots with dustbin fires and despondent people drinking on the street. It reveals the consequences of Thatcherism and the North/South divide.

With the work of so many photographers on show it is hard to isolate them all, however Bruce Gilden’s up-close portraits are a brutal yet intriguing view into the lives of West Midlands and Essex inhabitants. The images are merciless in every single way; there is nowhere to hide the badly drawn eyeliner and no way of concealing the severely broken capillaries. Gilden’s portraits are a modern day interpretation of how under-the-microscope we are and how there is little escape from being scrutinised. Like many of the photographs displayed the people in the frames are an aide-memoire of the time; whether it’s Hans van de Meer’s amateur football matches that no one is watching or Akihito Okamura’s shots of Northern Ireland amid The Troubles.

For anyone who is a fan of Martin Parr’s work, this is an exhibition you will enjoy. It is very much reportage and people gazing and a large portion of it is in black and white. There are many great photographs on show and while it may take a while to work through the sub-chapters and at times it may feel wistful, the documentary style is nonetheless illuminating.

We give it 3/5 mangoes.

‘Strange and Familiar’ is showing at Barbican Art Gallery until 19 June 2016

For more information about the exhibition and Barbican Centre visit:

Barbican Centre
Silk Street
London EC2Y 8DS
Telephone: 020 7638 8891
tickets@barbican.org.uk

Opening Times: 9am–11pm Mon–Sat
12pm–11pm Sun, public holidays
Nearest Tube: Barbican

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