Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers at the Barbican
The new exhibition at the Barbican Centre is curated by iconic British photographer Martin Parr, whose influence is palpable (although not intrusive) throughout. Strange and Familiar bears the stamp of someone who knows photography inside and out; Parr is an avid collector of photography books, and his love of his own craft is evident. The photographers and images on display are treated with a respectful and quiet reverence, which leaves the viewer space to establish their own relationship with the works on display.
The show hopes to give an insight into Britain as it has been seen by outsiders over the last 80 years. As Martin Parr explains: “the exhibition will reveal a very different take on British life than that produced by British photographers. It is both familiar and strange at the same time.” There’s a handful of household names included, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Paul Strand, as well as a range of artists who are less well-known outside the photography world.
Strange and Familiar documents both the grit and the glamour of the British Isles in the 20th century. Impressively, the show isn’t as London-centric as you might expect. In fact, some of the most compelling photographs included were taken in some of the nation’s less-documented places: the coal-mining towns of South Wales, the streets of Belfast during the Troubles, Liverpool’s dockyards in the 1960s.
Even shots of London rarely show the city as we know it today. For decades, street photographers have captured the faces and places of London’s grimier corners, from slum housing in Brixton in the 1930s to the traders of Smithfield Market in the 1960s and ordinary people on the streets on the day of the coronation of King George VI.
The show also includes works made right up to the present day. American photographer Bruce Gilden’s 2011 close-up portraits of working class individuals from Middlesex are stunning, fascinating and repulsive in equal measure. Far from flattering, these large-scale tightly cropped images take portraiture and street photography in a new direction.
The exhibition is huge, but is somehow made manageable by the curation. There’s also a space to sit down and look at a large selection of photobooks if you need a rest halfway through. Martin Parr has achieved a fascinating show that gives a real and timely insight into Britain, as seen from the outside.
Strange and Familiar is at the Barbican from 16th March until 19th June 2016, for further information visit here.