Review: An Ideal for Living @ Beetles + Huxley


An Ideal for Living revers the social landscape, which has characterised contemporary British history. From the 1920s to present day the exhibition presents compelling moments; including the post-war periods and 1981 Brixton Riots.

The national and regional identity of the British Isles is interpreted by 29 photographers. The diversification of Britain is an intrinsic element of the exhibition, as photographers capture the youth culture and minority groups of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Opening with photographs from the interwar period; photos from Bill Brandt and Emil Otto Hoppe perspicuously present the class system. However, industrial traces of the early 20th century are also exposed in images such as Brandt’s ‘Coal Miners’ Houses Without Windows to the Street’ — a particularly tenebrous and smutty interpretation.

Moving into the 1960s period, Bruce Davidson’s analysis of social outsiders is pertinent, with photographs such as ‘Girl with Kitten’ taken in London. Davidson also documented the mining communities of Wales and northern England, consequently identifying the north-south imparity.

bruce davidson

Social commentary and reportage photography during the 1970s and 80s also allowed photographers to espy the effects of racism galvanised by political parties. Syd Shelton’s documentary of civil liberties activists in Lewisham, and the black minority communities of east and south London is absorbing.

Chris Steele-Perkins photograph of ‘Girls Dancing in Wolverhampton Club’ is a great emblem of the times; though the 1970s was rife with racial and social division spurred by Thatcherism, seeing the integration of minority communities into British culture is edifying. Neil Libbert’s documentary of the Brixton Riots is also a powerful contribution to the display.

wolverhampton youth club discoSyd-Shelton-Darkus-Howe-1154x800

Richard Billingham’s portraits of his family is a particularly intimate and candid narrative of his alcoholic father. As a result he alludes to the effects of the drink culture in Britain through his series, Ray’s a Laugh. Derek Ridgers, on the other hand, documents the rebellious youth of the early 1980s with his portraits of Tuinol Barry.

The exhibition briefly touches on modern-day culture with Mahtab Hussain’s photograph of a woman in a red hijab and dress. Among the black and white photographs and apathetic colour photography Hussain’s image is vibrant, and in many ways symbolic of the cultural shift that has pronounced the change in Britain and what it means to be British.

An Ideal for Living is like a mini Strange and Familiar; however it is a concise and nurtured curation of images that effectively documents British life since the 1920s.

We gave it 3 / 5 mangos.

An Ideal for Living is showing at Beetles+Huxley until September 17, 2016.

For more details about the gallery see below:
3-5 Swallow Street
Telephone: 020 7434 4319

Gallery Opening Times: Monday-Saturday, 10am – 5.30pm

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