Having finished a summer stint at London’s Barbican, the Martin Parr curated exhibition Strange and Familiar has arrived at Manchester Art Gallery, bringing with it a collection of over 250 photographs documenting the lives of every day Britons from the 1930s to the present day. What makes this depiction the British Isles so special is that it is captured through the eyes of exclusively international photographers.
As a graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University, it is notable that Parr includes no photographs depicting Mancunians, yet this makes the collection no less significant as its voyeuristic perspective mirrors how international fascination with the social, political, and cultural dynamic of the British people is still relevant today, especially in the wake of Brexit.
Much of the exhibition conveys quintessential British scenes: Londoners waiting for bright red buses, lollypop ladies, and young people of the 1960’s. However, many of of these photographs present a somewhat gloomy picture of life in the UK. For example, Axel Hütte’s photographs focus upon lonely and desolate council estates, devoid of human life and shot in black and white.
Some of the most striking photos in the exhibition come from the more contemporary photographers, such as Hans Eijkelboom. The gallery includes a room with a projection of his images, giving a taster of his collection People of the Twenty-First Century, which chronicles some 20 years-worth of ‘photo-notes’ and demonstrates the similarities in the way people dress — challenging the idea of individuality in the modern age.
Close to the end of the exhibition, Parr has also included three photos from New Yorker Bruce Gilden’s Face. Gilden attempts to capture his subjects as unflatteringly as possible, taking close-up facial shots illuminated with harsh light. These photos are the most caricatured of them all and presents grotesque, and arguably cruel, renderings of his subjects complete with scars, veins, pimples, warts and all.
Overall, I felt that the varying perspectives and styles shone through, giving an insightful, quaint, surreal, and often moving slice of British life. The exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in a Britain’s social history.
Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, Manchester Art Gallery
Friday 25 November 2016–Monday 29 May 2017
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