We use a lot of photography in our work at 2112. So, when major shows from two of the greatest photographers open up nearby, we really have to go and see. It’s always great to gain a different source of inspiration and a fresh perspective on how we use images for visual communication. We may not have the freedom that these two photographers had but it can always help to improve our work.
At the Hayward Gallery ‘Diane Arbus: In the Beginning’ explores the first seven years of Arbus’ career from 1956 to 1962. It captures her work as she first began to roam her native New York armed with a 35mm film camera. As you look at the photos it’s hard not to imagine Arbus travelling around on the Subway, walking around the blocks of the city and through the arcades of Coney Island looking for subjects.
Arbus does more than pique our curiosity, she ignites our imaginations. She makes us stop and look, just as she did. But then we begin to invent backstories to the people in her images.
The curious boy whose head turns to the camera as he steps off the curb, the defiant-looking woman sat at the back of a bus wrapped in a big fur coat, the old couple on the park bench shooting Arbus a stern look. These are very every day scenes but seem extraordinary at the same time. Part of Arbus’ amazing talent is that she makes everyone exceptional, even if she only met them for the few seconds it took to take their photograph. Some of us have been to shows of Arbus’ work before, but we still exit the gallery with the enthusiasm of people seeing their first.
The next show was Don McCullin at Tate Britain. A big show. Six rooms of his work separated by different locations and spanning 60 years of photography.
There are so many great and terrible images on show here. In contrast to Arbus who stuck with her beloved New York, McCullin has travelled to all corners of the world, from his own neighbourhood of Finsbury Park to the Vietnam War, the famine in East Africa, the Cambodian Civil War and the poverty-stricken areas of the North of England.
Many of McCullin’s photographs demand a long, strong look. Others we feel like swerving away from almost at the moment of recognition, only needing to see them once.
At the start of his career, it’s the kid in the Finsbury park youth club, the gawping blokes with their beers in the stripper pub, the big northern woman queuing with a shiny new shovel in her hand, like it was the last thing in the shop.
But these feel like small consolations and momentary pleasures as we move onto the images from McCullin’s time as a war photographer.
After gazing at the Fishermen kicking a football about on a Scarborough beach, or the metal mirror of a Somerset dew pond, round as a plate, we are soon confronted with collapsed staircases spilling from a bombed apartment block in Homs, Syria, and with a man dying of Aids in Zimbabwe.
All of these photographs are made more visceral by McCullin’s insistence to always shoot in black and white. The blacks and greys giving the images an intense focus.
It comes as no surprise that later in his career McCullin began shooting the British landscape in an attempt to wipe some of the horrors he had seen from his mind.
It would be hard to find a photographer with so many powerful images taken across so many decades and time-zones as Don McCullin. What an incredible life of seeing.
Diane Arbus and Don McCullin in one afternoon. We expect great things when we get back to the office.
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