Saturday, 28 May 2011

Ian Berry This is Whitechapel Whitechapel Gallery May 2011

So much catching up to do and only a week has past! Totally non-photographic but my car got written off, accident on the 9th, had to wait two weeks for the decision from the insurers :o/ So the past week has been based around talking cars, thinking cars, looking at cars....still need to do all of those but at least I know now how much they are going to give me in return for some very bent metal :o( and I can attempt to put thinking head back on....

Whilst at the Paul Graham exhibition we also had the opportunity to view some of the work of  Ian Berry, his body of titled This is Whitechapel. I have to be honest and admit that I had never heard of Ian Berry prior to signing up for this event, so it is another photographer I can add to the ever growing list of new works to explore and artists to discover.

An award winning photographer,born in Lancashire, Berry made a name for himself in South Africa whilst working for the Daily Mail and later Drum magazine. His images are a cross between photojournalism and social documentary, his photographs of the Sharpville massacre in 1960 were tremendously important, not only to show the world was was occurring but they were later used as evidence to support innocent victims during their subsequent trials. Invited to join Magnum in 1962 Berry continues to cover social and political change across the world.

So lots to look at for future reference ;o) but for now I'm just going to comment on the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery which runs until 4 September 2011.

This is Whitechapel

The display of Berry's work is in a small room which also contains a short video and other archive documentation from the period of this commission, all of which help make the exhibition feel even more familiar and intimate, bringing to life what the area must have felt like back in 1972.

Or maybe that is as with the earlier Paul Graham work I could recognise/empathise with quite so much of the imagery? Having shopped in Petticoat Lane and with family born and bred if not exactly in the East End but not far away, it was like looking through a family album in places.This set of images also seemed to cross genres of social documentary/street. So many blurred lines ;o) In the 1970's London's East End was undergoing rapid social and economic change. For some reason this part of London does alter tremendously, the poorer East End British population replaced by the Jewish community, the then established Jewish community subsequently moving away to be replaced by the south Asian population. The Whitechapel Gallery commissioned Berry to document this transition.

Some people looking at these images now criticise them for containing stereotypes, what they fail to realise that these people were what was to be found in the area at that time and history/the media has made them into stereotypes. What I loved about this exhibition was that in just a few shots Berry really captured the feel and the characters of the area, although only a small section of the whole body of work is actually on display. Shooting in black and white and with what I presume is a slightly wide angle lens the whole gamut of society, age, race, social standing, characters and emotions are brilliantly summed up. Although like with Graham, he was photographing what could be termed the mundane and everyday, I found these images more compelling as they seemed to say more to me about the character of the people and place than did A Shimmer of Possibility.

Even though these photographs were taken nearly forty years ago I found it amusing to spot some similarities with the world today, from drunks passed out in a park to people with pets tucked under their arms ;o) Surprisingly Berry took just two weeks to complete this commission; to weeks in which he manages to accurately reflect life in its many aspects.

With my "referencing" head on I spotted similarites with the painted clown in one of his shots to the work of Bruce Davidson's "The Dwarf" and on researching Berry a little more on discovering "The English" wonder how much of his work influenced Simon Roberts for his series "We English" which I am a little more familiar with....

Interestingly I found an interview online reported in the Observer, in which he talks about shooting in the streets at that time. Berry unbelievably recollects,

"It was a different time and people were still not used to the notion of street photography. I just walked into schools with my camera, which you could certainly not do now. At the local hospital, they gave me a white coat, told me not to get in the way of the doctors, and just left me to get on with it. You had a freedom then that photographers no longer have."

He also comments on one of this images, one where two West Indian women are crossing the street,

"It's not my favourite photograph and it did not make it into the original show......the ladies make a great shape but it just misses being great because of that white car. Had I printed it myself, which I didn't have time to, I would have darkened that bloody car."

I love reading interviews where photographers share thoughts like this, makes more sense to know what they liked or didn't like, how they would alter their images, wish they had had more control over the final production, more insightful than "marketing" spiel..... This is a great exhibition (well I thought so anyway) and does not need to join the "Olympics 2012" hype to attract an audience.

If you have the time I would recommend you visit the Whitechapel Gallery and take in the work of two very interesting photographers. Researching the back stories can be just as rewarding and possibly even more helpful. I have learnt so much from both exhibitions, you can alter your genres or at least make them cross over, you can continually re-invent yourself to keep fresh, it is important to revisit your work to see what can be improved upon, and that control of production can be just as important as pressing the button. Once you have captured the frame that is just the beginning not the end of creating a photograph.

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