Documentary’s Futures Past: Jorge Ribalta in conversation with Stephanie Schwarz
Since his 2005 exhibition Jo Spence: Beyond the Perfect Image, independent curator and historian of photography Jorge Ribalta has organised a series of exhibitions exploring the role and place of documentary photography in modern culture. A Hard, Merciless Light: The Worker Photography Movement, 1926-1939, promoted the following conversation, which explores some of the inadequacies and gaps in our current histories of documentary photography.
The Scene of Photography and the Future of its Illusion
When Tate Modern presented the huge survey show Street & Studio back in 2008, one striking conclusion seemed to emerge from its teeming presentation of hundreds of photos by dozens of photographers. Distinctions between the street and studio are becoming less clear; or rather, they were never as clear for photography as the show’s mischievous title implied.
Paul Reas: Elephant and Castle
When colour began to alter the course and character of what had become known as ‘independent photography’ in Britain during the 1980s, it was widely seen as a move away from the forms of political engagement and social concern enshrined in the British documentary tradition towards a less committed aestheticism.
Collisions of Experience
In 1988, Susan Lipper began to document the community of Grapevine Hollow in West Virginia, USA. This small settlement, significantly distanced by geography and culture from Manhattan, where Lipper has lived for all of her adult life, has now become an iconic series within contemporary photographic practice.
The Real Thing
Like Coca-Cola, nostalgia is sweet but oh so corrosive. It turns cold-eyed realists into sentimental fools. It offers stale and illusory comforts from the past in place of the bracing air of the present. It puts private memories ahead of public history, resulting in anecdotes of the most inconsequential, most banal, most parochial nature.
Ideas Series: Agency and Objectification in Francis Galton’s Family Composites
Francis Galton’s composite photographs combined portraits of individuals drawn from particular groups in an effort to reveal physical similarities they shared. The project was premised on the belief that ‘moral and intellectual faculties’ could be read from a close study of facial features. Ben Burbridge returns to Galton’s composite photographs of families, to consider how the social relations involved in their production and distribution provide a window onto issues around class and identity in Victorian culture.
Ideas Series: Mishka Henner – Dutch Landscapes
‘…the ground began to flatten out beneath us. It looked cut into brown squares, yellow squares, green squares, and big fat blotches of green where there was a forest. I began to understand cubist painting.’
Ernest Hemingway, on his first flight in a plane, from The Toronto Daily Star, 1921.