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?

  • Comment number 108.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    88. Dove
    "The problem with modern digital cameras is that it has levelled the playing field."

    Don't worry: just because anyone can buy a grand piano*, it won't make them a concert pianist. Skills aren't automatically installed along with software.

    *Substitute Photoshop/artist, Word/author, or any other combination of your choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.


    My grandfather was a prisoner of the Japs during the war, and helped build the Burma Railway, they were very stingy with the rice, noodles and sushi to their prisoners.

    Not the best days for the orientals, dark times and some seriously nasty acts against their fellow man. There are black and white photos to prove it, in this instance I don't think color would have added anything!

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    10 Hours ago
    Your comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


    It's amazing. The BBC choses to show a photograph, apparently in apartheid era South Africa, showing only white women in a beauty contest and nothing happens

    I make a genuine humorous comment, which works on several levels - including irony, and the mods remove it

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Very strange why BBC does not open comments on Hillsborough

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    The far east is where some of the best cameras come from so not surprised your friend got one or two good holiday snaps there, not sure if it was a good place to be during the war!
    The great thing about the ipad or iphone is the apps you can get to make your pics look old, really good effect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    @ 101 Swing Lowe
    We now are all armed with ipads, iphones etc capturing anything we want

    Good point,many people,use digital cameras and platforms today,but do they have the sturdy quality to physically stop an AK47 bullet,like Don McCullen's Nikon F,which he used during the Cambodian war in 1970.Dont think he intentionally meant to capture that one though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I would give number 15. 1!

    But serously these are the days when the world was changing and my grandfather armed with his color film and a liberal mind man, used to record beautiful pictures and say things like "I liked them even before it was compulsory"

    We now are all armed with ipads, iphones etc capturing anything we want whenever we want and I believe the pics of the future will be domestic

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    @89 AshleyB9 : I'm afraid I don't find the notion that early '70s fashions were imported completely intact from Africa very credible. No doubt at all that the photo was taken sometime from the late '60s on, and probably the '70s. But it's a minor error, probably a typo, and a good photograph.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    re. #80.Del:
    "photography has changed in this digital era and there is a lot to be said for the simpler times "

    There's a lot to be said for the digital era too. The ubiquitous spread of camera phones and the ease with which images can be shared makes it easier to document and publicize events that officials might be tempted to cover up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    With modern cameras raising the technical quality to a high standard there are countless photos that a technically good. But with millions of photos taken everyday it is harder to take a standout image. You need a photographers eye to do that - whatever camera is involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Are you certain that photo of the ladies in swimsuits from 1979 is real? I can't see any spiders legs which I understand were prevalent at the time...

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    @95 Howard

    Exceptional photos are usually the subject matter rather than the quality of the actual photograph. The ones you see now that you would call exceptional are good quality photos put through photoshop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Given that it is now easier to take a 'good' photograph, surely it is much more difficult to take an exceptional one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    What a lovely nostalgic trip, verifying what I always suspected, but could never confirm, that women of my youth did actually have, er, nether regions or southern extremities. It is to be hoped that modern digitals are preserved as well as these older ones on offer.


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