Category: Research

Strange and Familiar, The Barbican

Curated by Martin Parr, Strange and Familiar brought together international photographers who have captured and interpreted the identity of Britain. I’m interested in street photography, have spent years trying to get a handle on it, and knew the exhibition would be useful research for the first two assignments as part of the People and Place module. It’s a hugely relevant exhibition for the topics in People and Place, with portraiture by Rineke Dijkstra, Bruce Gilden, and street photography by Gary Winogrand and Bruce Davidson. There is also a great section in the exhibition with lesser known (at least to me) photographers and their takes on London in the 1950s and 60s London (Sergio Larrain, then Frank Habicht and Gian Butturini). Parr is a well known collector and expert on photobooks and these are also exhibited.

I’m just including my notes here from three of the photographers whose work seems to be really relevant to topics covered in the ‘People Aware’ section of the course. I’ll go back to them for write-ups of later sections of the module, for the sake of a clearer line of sight between research and the exercises and assignments.

The three photographs included from Rineke Dijkstra’s represent the The Buzz Club series (1995). Dijkstra’s images are of teenage clubbers, who posed for her. Dijkstra was interested in the ‘uniform’ of the girls (blonde hair, black clothes) but how they were still completely individual. They’re large scale portraits taken with a 4 x 5 field camera and shot against a white background. This set up and her style means that the viewers focus is on the subjects’ pose, gesture and clothing. The exhibition catalogue (1) refers to the technical camera that Dijkstra uses which captures detail, but slowness is required to use it. ‘This slowness creates an awareness in the sitter of their being photographed’. The work was continued, through video of the teenagers dancing and drinking (again, against a white background) which was paired with footage taken in a Netherlands nightclub, and presented as The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL (1996-1997). Dijkstra returned to Liverpool in 2008 – 2009 to take portraits of young clubbers at the Krazyhouse club.

Bruce Gilden’s portraits are of ‘underdogs’ of the Black Country, and a continuation of his Face series. They are lit starkly with flash and extremely close, framed so only the head is visible. And the choice of subject, people who look raw and/or have gone through some pretty hard times, means that the viewer focuses on the detail of subjects faces, which is often extreme (heavy lines, thick make up, severe thread veins). They’re unsettling, which is probably the point, although they have been labelled cruel and demeaning in the press. Quoted from the exhibition guide ‘What makes Gilden’s work so compelling is that he renders visible the disenfranchised, photographing the faces we are inclined to look away from’. The work followed a series of UK portraits published as A Complete Examination of Middlesex (a project commissioned by the Archive for Modern Conflict). See sources section below for an article in Vice Magazine (Gilden is a long standing contributor) on this series (2), and an interview with Gilden about the Black Country portraits (3).


The last of the photographers, where the work presented involved subjects being truly aware, was Tina Barney. Barney’s portraits, from her wider The Europeans series, are of the wealthy, staged, and take place in formal settings. While Barney was well networked in America, and her subjects were typically friends or family, for the images presented she relied on introductions. The relationship with her subjects for the Europeans was more of a professional artist, with identity (largely I think with tradition and wealth) communicated through props and settings.

1. Pardo and Parr, 2016, Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, Munich, Prestel.
2. Vice Magazine, May 18 2015.
3., May 12 2016.

For William Eggleston, People Are Like Parking Lots – The New York Times

The portraiture of William Eggleston, whose color photography helped shepherd the medium into the art world, is the exclusive feature of a new exhibit and book.

Source: For William Eggleston, People Are Like Parking Lots – The New York Times

Some notes from the ‘William Eggleston Portraits’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Eggleston is known as a pioneer in the development of colour art photography because of his images of everyday urban American life, his use of the dye transfer process (in his search for the ‘ultimate quality colour print’ – at the time the process was used for high-end commercial work), and due to his solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1976. This show is widely considered to be a key moment in the recognition of colour photography as a contemporary art form.

The exhibition groups together around a hundred of Eggleston’s portraits, many untitled and never exhibited before, from his early black and white work to better known colour photographs.

Source: New York Times

For many of the portraits, including diners, shoppers, people waiting for a bus, the subjects are unaware. For others, including the Nightclub Portraits (1973) subjects seem to be, or clearly were, aware of the camera and were presumably asked to pose.

From the Nightclub Portraits (1973). Source:

The Nightclub Portraits were taken in bars and clubs around Memphis using a large format (5×7) camera and a portable lighting set up. I had come across a smaller selection of these portraits before in the Everything was Moving exhibition a couple of years ago at the Barbican.

A portrait is also featured of Eggleston’s friend, ‘an eccentric dentist’ T.C. Boring. Boring stands naked in a blood red bedroom with graffiti covered walls (‘God’, ‘Mona’, ‘Walker’), bed unmade, cigarette left on the sideboard (close to burning it) and remote control and lamp at the edge of the [tight] frame. The exhibition guide notes suggest this was the same bedroom as the location for Eggleston’s most famous ‘Red Ceiling’ photograph taken in 1973.

The introductory notes to the exhibition refer to Eggleston embracing the snapshot style – but notes that the photographs are not straightforward documentary or sentimental, and as a result the viewer is asked ‘to find something more valuable and elusive in the images’. Much of the commentary on the exhibition also rates to Eggleston’s ‘democratic’ style and ambiguous images (see 1 and 2 in Sources section for reviews).

The exhibition runs until 23 October 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery (see 3 below).

1. The New York Times – Lens Blog.
2. Review in the Guardian
3. National Portriat Gallery