Gerry Badger on redefining British documentary photography

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Page 216, ‘Youth on a Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside’, 1976 © Chris Killip. All Rights Set aside.

In his new book, author, critic and curator Gerry Badger, explores how documentary photographers have depicted Britain’s interpersonal and cultural history because the Second World War

“I’ve tried to create a new associated with documentary photography, ” clarifies curator, photographer and recipient of International Center for Photography’s Infinity Award, Gerry Badger. “One which is not regarding making black and white pictures on the street; more about attitudes, as opposed to being a kind of form. ”

This rejection of documentary’s traditional forms is reflected in the photographers and works chosen, by Badger, to appear in Another Country: Documentary Photography Since 1945 . The classically provided photobook journeys from the finish of the British empire, through the moving sixties, right into the 2010s, via the work of 170 photographers – some of whom would not traditionally be associated with the documentary style.

Page 288, ‘Southend, three or more. 30pm’, fromThames Log, 2013. © Chloe Dewe Mathews

Web page 197, ‘Tea Dance’, i b?rjan p? tv?tusentalet © Elaine Constantine.

Across 312 pages, Badger explores Jo Spence ’s self-referencial portraits and development of phototherapy, Karen Knorr ’s photo-text evaluations of the upper-classes in Thatcherite Britain and the scrapbook-style collages of Eduardo Paollozi – usually best known as a sculptor. “Jo Spence was very, very important, ” Badger says. “And under the old associated with documentary photography, she would certainly not belong in the book, so I’ve tried to change that. ”

Though he may be seeking change, Badger has not strayed entirely from more standard – and perhaps recognisable – examples of the documentary design. Olivia Arthur ’s portraits of ladies in Saudi Arabia, from her celebrated series Jeddah , are usually poignant as ever, whilst Martin Parr ’s image of a chip supper enjoyed with the sea continues to typify a vacation in 1980s Britain.  

Some of these images are in fact so ubiquitous, that over time they have come to influence how we keep in mind – or imagine – 20 th plus 21st century Britain. “The more time goes by, the more authoritative the job becomes in documenting that period, ” Badger states. “And that’s good, yet it’s also possibly harmful. ” 

Web page 296, from East London Up Close, 2021 © Mimi Mollica.

Page eighty-five, ‘Rene Upton and Child’, 1959 © Bryn Campbell.

This danger is situated not in the familiar pictures of post-war Britain them selves, but in the idea that such images represent the universal connection with the time. In an effort to address this, Another Country: Documentary Picture taking Since 1945 also explores the points of view of forgotten or earlier ignored photographers, focusing especially on the contribution that immigrants have made to British pictures.

“Going all the way back to the particular 30s, Jewish photographers fleeing Nazi Germany made up most of the roster at Picture Post , ” Badger explains, referring to the pioneering photojournalism magazine which, through 1938 to 1957, had been considered the UK’s answer to Life . “It’s these and other migrants talking about the society that they found themselves in – that’s the book’s other big theme. ”

However , the book’s key theme – and the thread which usually holds together the work of photographers from Nadav Kander to Nigel Henderson – is the closing of the area between ‘documentary’ and ‘art’ photography. The genres are usually, Badger says, one within the same – both are usually simultaneously the fiction as well as the truth of each photographer.

“The best quotation I’ve ever heard about photography, ” says Badger, “was Lewis Baltz, who said: ‘It is possibly useful to think of innovative photography as a narrow but deep area, lying between your cinema and the novel’”.

Another Country: Documentary Photography Since 1945, is definitely written by Gerry Badger, with contributions by Lydia Caston, Ekow Eshun, Clare Grafik, Hana Kaluznick, J. A. Mortram, Rianna Jade Parker, Simon Roberts, Lou Stoppard, Bindi Vora and Val Williams.

Published by Thames & Hudson In collaboration with all the Martin Parr Foundation on 19 May 2022

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