How We Are: British social history through photographs

Photography that represents real life. An action, a look, a still life that records a moment in British social history. That's the goal of Tate Britain's exhibition of photography, "How We Are: Photographing Britain." The exhibition draws from mass media pieces (postcards, propaganda) as well as personal (family photographs, medical records).

The Tate Britain is encouraging public participation as well, using a Flickr Group to feed a slideshow page on the exhibition's website. During the closing weeks of the exhibition, 40 photographs from the Flickr group will be displayed alongside the other works.

Martin Parr, a contemporary photographer, discusses the work of the John Hinde studios, a commercial photographer whose works from the 40s, 50s and 60s are gaining critical appeal.

"...In twenty years' time we will be shocked by how certain works are perceived, and that's exciting. The parameters shift. One of the recent changes is the acceptance of vernacular photography. John Hinde's photography for The Small Canteen is a great example of that vernacular, because it wasn't done to be great art. It was done simply to illustrate a book about canteens." (Tate Etc.)








Photograph by John Hinde published in The Small Canteen: How to Plan and Operate Modern Meal Service 1947 (RPS/NMeM/Science & Society Picture Library)

While Hinde's work was largely commissioned for commercial use, it is finding new appreciation as a record of life in Britain in the middle of the twentieth century. For instance, consider his series of postcards about the Butlin's holiday camps.

"....Anticipating the later success of Disney and other recreational theme parks, Butlin's was in its heyday at the time these images were taken, its 'hi-de-hi' redcoat entertainment the epitome of family holiday fun (and camp, though the latter in retrospect).

The Butlin's represented by these photographs is intricately bound up with the history of mass tourism, mass consumerism and popular culture in the British Isles: 'cheap and cheerful' low-brow entertainment and affordable packages attracted over a million people for a week's holiday each year from the 1950s through the 1970s.

As cultural documents, these images portray the working classes/masses on holiday, and in all the images the markers of class and how it is inscribed on the body (clothes, hairstyles, postures) are evident.... (Sarah Browne, in Circa)

A large set of Hinde's Butlin's photos are available online (as are numerous other articfacts collected by Butlin's fans)

[tags] Tate Britain, How We Are, John Hinde, Butlin's, British [/tags]