An Ideal For Living: Photographing Class, Culture and Identity in Modern Britain

27th Jul 2016 - 17th Sep 2016

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27 July – 17 September 2016

An Ideal for Living is an exhibition about how photographers have perceived class, culture and identity in modern Britain. Drawing on the work of 29 diverse photographers, it considers how photographing Britain has contributed to the creation of a collective national identity. The exhibition shows the variety and creativity with which photographers have sought to document what they consider to be a particularly British way of life from the 1920s to now.

The exhibition opens with photographs of British life in the interwar period. Photographs by Emil Otto Hoppé, Bill Brandt and Henri Cartier-Bresson show the early preoccupation with documenting the British class system. Brandt’s landmark photobook, The English at Home (1936), cast a satirical look over social divides and notions of English propriety. The publication would go on to become a benchmark for photographers seeking to comment on the idiosyncrasies of the British class system as it has developed and subdivided through the course of the last century.

During the immediate post-war period, photographers including Bert Hardy and Thurston Hopkins took up the humanistic approach of Cartier-Bresson and early documentary photographers to focus on otherwise overlooked moments of daily life, as communities rebuilt in the wake of the Second World War. As the austerity of the 1950s gave way to the free-spirited libertarianism of the 60s, photographers like Frank Habicht sought to depict fashions, trends and political activism. Despite the egalitarian ethos embraced by the youth culture of the time, John Bulmer, Colin Jones and Bruce Davidson photographed the sharp delineations between classes with images of mining communities in the north of England and Wales. During the same period Charlie Phillips documented the integration of black communities into British towns and cities and Philip Jones Griffiths drew on his experience photographing the Vietnam War in his incisive reportage on the violence during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

During the 1970s and early 80s, social documentary photography became increasingly important and many photographers addressed the consequences of the racist rhetoric espoused by political groups like the National Front. Syd Shelton’s photographs of the Battle of Lewisham in 1977 as well as Neil Libbert’s reportage on the 1981 Brixton riots documented racially motivated protest and violence.

Photographers also continued to address the widening divide between classes as the heavy industries collapsed and working class communities were plunged into poverty during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Chris Killip documented a community in Lynemouth that survived by collecting coal from the sea and Jo Spence depicted life on a gypsy encampment in Stratford. Raymond Depardon’s vivid images of deprived areas of Glasgow echo the tradition of post-war humanism whilst the role youth culture played in the creation of social identity in the 1980s can be seen in Derek Ridgers’ photographs of skinheads.

The fascination with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of British customs shown in Tony Ray-Jones’ photographs from the late 1960s would play a major role in the development of photographers like Martin Parr in the 1980s and 90s. The effects of tourism, consumerism and globalisation on British culture emerged in Parr’s highly influential series, The Last Resort, which documented the run-down seaside town of New Brighton on the Wirral. The interest amongst photographers in capturing the British during their leisure time would be continued in the work of Jürgen Schadeberg and Peter Dench. In the early 1990s, Richard Billingham turned his camera on his own family, documenting the trials of his alcoholic father in his seminal series, Ray’s a Laugh. The unflinching candour of Billingham’s portrayal of his own familial life spoke to wider issues within British society concerning drinking culture and social exclusion.

The social documentary photography of the 1980s and 90s has had a strong influence on contemporary depictions of British life, with photographers choosing to look at the socio-political issues that divide the nation. Anna Fox pioneered a style dubbed ?subjective documentary’ in her photographs of the rituals of life in a rural English village, captured with an eye for the sinister and absurd. Elsewhere, the complex ties between national identity, religion and immigration have been portrayed in Mahtab Hussain’s work on Muslim communities in the UK. Environmentalism has also become a major concern in contemporary photography and photographers like Simon Roberts and James Morris have examined the role played by both the urban and rural landscape of Britain in the formation of national identity.

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Works

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Two Gentlemen on Throgmorton Street, London, 1937 by Emil Otto Hoppé

Two Gentlemen on Throgmorton Street, London, 1937

Emil Otto Hoppé

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School Boy with Luggage, Paddington Station, London, 1933 by Emil Otto Hoppé

School Boy with Luggage, Paddington Station, London, 1933

Emil Otto Hoppé

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Parlourmaid and Under-Parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, 1936 by Bill Brandt

Parlourmaid and Under-Parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, 1936

Bill Brandt

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On the Front Steps, Elephant and Castle, London, 1948 by Bert Hardy

On the Front Steps, Elephant and Castle, London, 1948

Bert Hardy

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Martin Parr, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea, East Sussex, 1978

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea, East Sussex, 1978

Martin Parr

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Martin Parr, Jubilee Street Party, Elland, Yorkshire, 1977

Jubilee Street Party, Elland, Yorkshire, 1977

Martin Parr

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Martin Parr, Mayor of Todmorden’s Inaugural Banquet, Calderdale, 1976

Mayor of Todmorden’s Inaugural Banquet, Calderdale, 1976

Martin Parr

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Lonely Pub in Yorkshire, 1964 by John Bulmer

Lonely Pub, Yorkshire, 1964

John Bulmer

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West Hartlepool, England, 1963 by Colin Jones

West Hartlepool, England, 1963

Colin Jones

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Sunderland, County Durham, 1963 by Colin Jones

Sunderland, County Durham, 1963

Colin Jones

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Untitled, Undated by Colin Jones

Untitled, Undated

Colin Jones

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Identical Twins, 1968 by Colin Jones

Identical Twins, 1968

Colin Jones

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Martin Parr, New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85

New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85

Martin Parr

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Martin Parr, New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85

New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85

Martin Parr

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Charlie Phillips, Notting Hill Couple, 1967

Notting Hill Couple, 1967

Charlie Phillips

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And the Crowd went Crazy: Stones Concert, Hyde Park, 1969 by Frank Habicht

And the Crowd went Crazy: Stones Concert, Hyde Park, 1969

Frank Habicht

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Charlie Phillips, Outside the ‘Piss House Pub’, Portobello Road, 1968

Outside the ‘Piss House Pub’, Portobello Road, 1968

Charlie Phillips

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Soldier Seen Through Shield, Northern Ireland, 1973 by Philip Jones Griffiths

Soldier Seen Through Shield, Northern Ireland, 1973

Philip Jones Griffiths

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Time Gentlemen Please: London Stock Exchange, c. 1960 by Robert Habicht

Time Gentlemen Please: London Stock Exchange, c. 1960

Frank Habicht

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Charlie Phillips, George and his Son, Marlin, Acklam Road, c. 1972

George and his Son, Marlin, Acklam Road, c. 1972

Charlie Phillips

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Chris Steele Perkins, Brothers Red Deer, Croydon, London, 1976

Brothers, Red Deer, Croydon, London, 1976

Chris Steele-Perkins

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Chris Steele Perkins, Girls Dancing in Wolverhampton Club, 1978

Girls Dancing in Wolverhampton Club, 1978

Chris Steele-Perkins

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Glasgow, 1980 by Raymond Depardon

Glasgow, 1980

Raymond Depardon

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(Men laughing on street corner) Glasgow, 1980 by Raymond Depardon

Glasgow, 1980

Raymond Depardon

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Neil Libbert, First Arrests outside Front Line Off Licence, Railton Road, Brixton, April 1981

First Arrests outside Front Line Off Licence, Railton Road, Brixton, April 1981

Neil Libbert

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Neil Libbert, Brixton Riots, April 1981

Brixton Riots, April 1981

Neil Libbert

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Neil Libbert, Young Locals Relieving the Burned Out Local Pub ‘The Window Castle’ of its Contents on the First Night of the Riots, Brixton, April 1981

Young Locals Relieving the Burned Out Local Pub ‘The Window Castle’ of its Contents on the First Night of the Riots, Brixton, April 1981

Neil Libbert

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Chris Killip, Helen and her Hoola-Hoop, Seacoal Camp, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1986

Helen and her Hoola-Hoop, Seacoal Camp, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1986

Chris Killip

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Derek Ridgers, Tuinol Barry, Chelsea, London, 1981

Tuinol Barry, Chelsea, London, 1981

Derek Ridgers

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Derek Ridgers, Babs, Soho, London, 1987

Babs, Soho, London, 1987

Derek Ridgers

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Derek Ridgers, Tuinol Barry, Kings Road, London, 1983

Tuinol Barry, Kings Road, London, 1983

Derek Ridgers

An Ideal For Living