Everything Was Moving

Often termed the cultural decade, the mid 60s to mid 70s saw huge changes in terms of both political and cultural freedom. An amazing 32 African countries fought for freedom against European colonial countries during the 60s. At the same time the civil rights movement was taking hold in America.

Now Southbank has attempted to capture that era through its photography. With 400 works from 12 photographers of the 1960s and 70s, the exhibition aims to tell history and the emergence of photography as a respected modern art form through its series of chosen images.

For example, Bruce Davidson depicts the US civil rights movement, from the struggle in Harlem to haunting images of Ku Klux Klan burnings in the South. While South African photographer Ernest Cole captures apartheid law in South Africa. Cole passed himself off as an orphan in-order to get himself reclassified as “coloured” rather than “black”, changing his name from Kole to Cole, so he could practice as a photographer at a time when many black photographers were imprisoned. He later died in poverty, his negatives given away in lieu of an unpaid hotel bill. Amongst the many poignant images is his photograph (image below) showing black people arrested for being in a white area.

Davidson on the other hand joined a group of Freedom Riders journeying by bus from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. It was the starting point of a four-year project for him, in which he captures the mood of the civil rights struggle.

Other notable photographers include Malick Sidibé, a Mali photographer noted for his black- and-white images of culture in Bamako, capital of Mali. Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu (image above) captures the shift in Japanese culture post war against a backdrop of increasing American military presence. Li Zhensheng, a Chinese photojournalist also reflects the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2Y 8DS, 13 September 2012 – 13 January 2013

Images: Shomei Tomatsu – Untitled, Tokyo, from the series, “Protest”, 1969; Malick Sidibé – A Yé-yé posing,1963; Ernest Cole – House of Bondage Period: 1960-1966, The Ernest Cole Family Trust