Exercise 1.9: Visual research & analysis–social contrasts

The purpose of this task is to find socially contrasting images of the same place, either different images by the same photographer or by different photographers.

It is not possible to show any of these images on an open blog such as this due to copyright restrictions. I have therefore inserted hyperlinks to take you to the appropriate images.

First of all I thought of Bill Brandt who was a great chronicler of his time. They are two images taken maybe 20 miles apart but in a different social world. The first is Sunday Evening, the Kissing Point, Hyde Park, London, 1936 whereas some 20 miles west of the location Brandt photographed Eton Sprawls

The Guardian has a series of photos taken by Jim Goldberg that highlight the social contrasts in America. These are mainly interior shots or portraits, but they certainly bring home the differences. Rich and Poor: America’s great social divide – in pictures

Robert Frank is famous for his publication The Americans. Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian (Robert Frank at 90: the photographer who revealed America won’t look back) describes the book as “perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century”. But prior to that, Frank had been taking photographs in London. I’ve selected two images that he took in the early 1950’s as examples that highlight the social differences of London. Near Victoria Station, London and City of London, 1951.

In London 1951-52 Frank succinctly captures the social contrast in a single image.

Moving west from London to Cardiff, I came across this image commissioned from Magenta Photography for the Central Square Development in Cardiff City Centre. I thought that this provided a great contrast with the images of   Maciej Dakowicz whose Cardiff After dark publication paints a very different social scene such as  Bus Stop Meals.

Dakowicz also produced a memorable photograph illustrating social contrasts in a single image The Night after Mardi Gras Festival.

Johnny Miller is a photographer who uses aerial images to highlight divisions within Cape Town within a single image. Some of the photographs and an article about them can be seen at Photographer Johnny Miller highlights divide between Cape Town’s rich and poor with aerial photos. The images really do contrast rich and poor, but I feel that the use of aerial photography puts such a distance (literally) between the viewer and the image that it is difficult to see what the actual effects are. All of the previous images had an emotional resonance which I didn’t feel with these.

Talking of emotional resonance, my final choice shows a scene at a South African railway station during the apartheid era. I was fortunate in that I saw this image at the Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s exhibition at The Barbican some years ago. This image stood out even from amongst other great photos of the time. Untitled by Ernest Cole encapsulates in a single image the horrors and injustices of apartheid.  Train and and station platforms were divided into separate sections for different racial groups. Cole’s image shows the ease with which white travellers could wait for a train and the huge difficulties black travellers would face in simply catching  a train. Quoted in Badger and Bush (2012 p62) a friend of Cole’s (Struan Robertson) describes it as “the finest visual expression of apartheid I have ever seen. This picture shows the reality of apartheid without the need for any words”.

BADGER, G., BUSH, K. and BARBICAN ART GALLERY, 2012. Everything was moving: photography from the 60s and 70s. London: Barbican Art Gallery.