Archives from the New British Photography of the 70’s

An exhibition examining key works of 1970's photography in Great Britain.

This exhibition ran between 6th October – 27th November 2005

This joint project, developed by the Photography and the Archive Research Centre, University of the Arts, London, Photoworks and the University of Sussex, examines two seminal pieces of photographic work from the period – the original dummy of the 1971 publication How We Are and Peter Mitchell’s series of photographs titled New Refutation of the Viking IV Space Mission.

For those who took part in the photographic revolution of the 1970s, it would have been difficult to contemplate the work that emerged at the time being presented, some three decades later, as ‘archives’. But archives they undoubtedly are – testimonies to the social documentary photography which emerged at the time from highly individual photographic practices.

Euan Duff was a photojournalist, Peter Mitchell a diarist; Duff worked in black and white, Mitchell in colour. Despite the differences in their practice, both produced a remarkable picture of Britain in the 1970s; crumbling, poetic, archaic, in social transition.

The families who Euan Duff photographed seem part of another world now, living as they do in the severe, stratified society of the English working class. Peter Mitchell’s journeys around Leeds show a conglomeration of small dwellings, local shops and the demolition of modernist utopias. Both photographers enter into lives of those they picture, wondering, as they work, at the strangeness of a nation emerging, somewhat bleary-eyed, into a new and bewildering set of circumstances.

The exhibition was accompanied by a conference that investigated the various contexts – design, media and academic – which informed the new photography of the 1970s. It highlighted, for example, the importance of a new arts journalism, as exemplified in the arts pages of The Guardian during the period, and the impact of ‘new’ academic disciplines such as sociology on the critical debate about photography. This, together with the vital role of graphic design and its key designers and a radicalised art history, which explored previously overlooked areas of visual and popular culture, helped to give photography in the 1970s a new status both as social commentary and as art.

Speakers included: photographers Martin Parr, Euan Duff and Peter Mitchell; researchers Helen James, Bob Pullen and Anne Braybon; curators David Chandler, David Alan Mellor and Val Williams amongst others.