Ideas Series: Cruel and Tender

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Frances Morris, Senior Curator at Tate Modern; Charlotte Cotton, Curator of Photographs at the V&A; David Chandler and Art Historian David Mellor discuss the Tate Modern’s first major photography exhibition and it’s wider effect on the perception of photography in British museum culture.

DM David Mellor, DC David Chandler, FM Frances Morris, CC Charlotte Cotton

FM It’s worth beginning from an institutional background – although Cruel and Tender is a stand-alone show, an any-time any-place exhibition, it also emerged from a particular context of a new national museum of contemporary art without a history of showing historical photography.  I think the background to the show is the whole issue of photography in relation to Tate, which was sort of on the back burner during the build up to Tate Modern.  The older Tate had such a small amount of space available to it that any wider issues, any ideas that looked beyond what was in the collection were secondary to the urgency of getting more out and being able to re-examine and think about what is in the collection. So, of course, the happening of Tate Modern presented the first opportunity for a while to think about things that had not been seen, had not been collected. And it was the first opportunity in a long time to see a broad swathe of the twentieth century national collection and one of the things that that collection embraced was a representation of photography in a way that had never been done before. In collaboration with the V&A, a group of works from the 20s and 30s were shown in relation to the still life suite – Objectivity – and elsewhere throughout the displays there were interjections of photography from various time-frames both contemporary work and earlier work.

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Published in Photoworks, Issue 1, 2003
Commissioned by Photoworks

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