Documentary photography on show

© 2012 Succession Raghubir Singh Raghubir Singh, Pilgrim and Ambassador, Prayag, Uttar Pradesh, 1977

It could be argued the photography came of age in the swinging 60s. The men and women behind the cameras became household names and amateur photographers enjoyed access to affordable high quality cameras and film.

This photographic prosperity progressed into the next decade as photographers pushed the boundaries and began to explore new methods of working, and news photographers were able to document a world re-shaping itself at the height of the Cold War.

A new exhibition at the Barbican in London, Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s explores the shifting political and social landscape of that time through the work of a number of photographers.

The exhibition is a must see for anyone remotely interested in documentary photography with large bodies of work from photographers like Bruce Davidson, David Goldblatt, Li Zhensheng, Ernest Cole and Raghubir Singh.

Semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs competition David Goldblatt, Saturday morning at the Hypermarket: Semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs competition, 1979-1980 (Courtesy of the photographer and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg)

Many of these photographer worked alone, some in secrecy, on projects exploring society through complex imagery. "It's a show about photography's unique relationship to the world, to real events and real experience," says Kate Bush, Head of Art Galleries at the Barbican.

The work on show spans the globe and some will be familiar to anyone who has an interest in the medium, but there are also those which are in the UK for the first time and some which have only recently been discovered.

This is documentary photography in the raw, and you just can't beat it. Strong stories from moments of upheaval, taken by photographers with a view and a voice and the skill to ensure that aesthetics remained core. Every frame resonates with a desire for change. Sure, photography may not alter the world but it can kick-start a new way of seeing.

As Bruce Davidson notes: "I'm not trying to tell a story as such, but to work around a subject intuitively, exploring different vantage points, looking for its emotional truth. If I am looking for a story at all, it's in my relationship to a subject."

Beyond the politics on show there is the sheer beauty of the prints to behold, especially those of William Eggleston and Larry Burrows whose prints from Vietnam are what Kodachrome was made for.

Physics may tell us that photography should simply be a record of what can be seen, yet these artists show that it can be so much more when in the right hands, often revealing that which cannot be seen. Of course sometime it can also simply be art, though the lines may blur with time.

Yesterday's Sandwich/Superimpositions by Boris Mikhailov Boris Mikhailov, Yesterday's Sandwich/Superimpositions, Late 1960s - 70s (Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin © Boris Mikhailov, DACS 2012)
New York diner Bruce Davidson, Black Americans, New York City. From the series New York (Life), 1961-65. (© Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos)
Sonora Desert Graciela Iturbide, Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, 1979
A Ye-ye posing Malick Sidibe, A Ye-ye posing,1963 (© Malick Sidibé. Courtesy Fifty One Fine Art Photography, Antwerp)
Coca-cola by Shomei Tomatsu Shomei Tomatsu, Coca-cola, Tokyo, 1969 (Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery and Nagoya City Art Museum)
Pensive tribesmen, newly recruited to mine labour, awaiting processing and assignment by Ernest Cole Ernest Cole, Pensive tribesmen, newly recruited to mine labour, awaiting processing and assignment. From House of Bondage, 1960-1966. (© The Ernest Cole Family Trust, Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Khe Sanh by Larry Burrows Larry Burrows, Khe Sanh, April 1968 (© 2002 Larry Burrows Collection)
Red guards in Red Guard Square Li Zhensheng, Several hundred thousand Red Guards attend a "Learning and Applying Mao Zedong Thought" rally in Red Guard Square (formerly People's Stadium), Harbin, Heilongjiang province, 13 September 1966 (© Li Zhensheng. Courtesy Contact Press Images)

Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s can be seen at the Barbican until 13 January 2013.

Phil Coomes Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    The photos didn't do it for me! My uncle & dads photos were better using a flash black & white film. Didn't like the photo of the women in swimming costumes. They were not flattering and I wouldn't stand there in one particular swimming costume one of the ladies had on.
    Nice young men but the holes in trousers could have been darned as I'm sure they haad needle & cotton in those days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    This just proves I really am that stupid and ignorant when it comes to art and photography - these pictures just look dreary random pictures that you see in old magazines from that era - and to be honest I've seen better in ancient old copies of the Readers Digest & National Geographic Mags

    Sorry but they just look like old photos from the '70s

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Not exactly sure what's so great about these pictures. At least not in a stand out way.

    They all look like the kind of snaps you'd find during an average house clearance ... interesting but not exceptional.

    ... and Coca cola 1969 is pathetic arty tripe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    @107 Graphis,
    Skills aren't automatically installed with a grand piano,but with today's platforms,you dont have to focus,some cameras,are taking pictures before you fully depress the shutter button,colour balance is automatic,shooting in low light is automatic,and the flash usually fires the first time.Many of the great 70's photos,were usually caught in a 1000th of a second with just a good eye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    No 16 for the best pins comp. Am I too late to vote?


Comments 5 of 113



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