Revolutions 1968will comprise works/other documents dealing with selected ideas/phenomena prominent at the end of the sixties such as: the birth of counter-culture, along with a rapid development of pop-culture, emancipation movements (fighting for the rights of minorities and women), fight for civic rights, ecological awareness, leftist trend fascination, utopian visions of architects (from the situationists' urban utopia to the model of the city understood as public space and democratic agora), the new theatre movement, the birth of new technologies (video activism, computers), institution contestations and university changes are just a few aspects touched within the framework of this exhibition. Art associated with these changes, its commitment and motives, and 1968 themes can be found in later works. Art forms such as pictures, video films and photographs will be presented along with archive visual materials and installations prepared specifically for this occasion. The 1968 – Revolutions Exhibition does not present art of those times. It is rather an attempt to portray this period through art (not only) from different perspectives: historical and documentary, or through interpretation and re-interpretation of social problems and cultural phenomena characteristic of this stormy breakthrough season.
The show will be accompanied by a reader. The publication will comprise a selection of papers dealing with the upheavals which took place in 1968 in the U.S.A., Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Although, the major characteristics of and the reasons for the social and political tensions of this time were different in various regions, there is one common feature connecting all this turmoil: that is a struggle for a change in the established systems of power. The papers gathered in this book will deal with the revolutions of 1968 from multiple perspectives: historical treatises and documents will be accompanied by new interpretations of the socio-political and cultural phenomena that marked this period. The first part of the book will comprise essays dealing with selected phenomena that marked the end of the sixties. The second part of the book will be devoted to seven countries: U.S.A., Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The historical essays on the upheavals that took place in each of the countries will be accompanied by significant documents from the period and interviews with participants and witnesses of the events.
The term ‘Documentary’ was not coined until the 1920s, and then used by the British film-maker, John Grierson, to refer to moving pictures. It has a long and continuous history in British photography, reaching back to the invention of the medium. Many critics claimed that the documentary impulse, which can perhaps be best defined as the systematic recording of visual reality for the purpose of providing information and encouraging understanding of the world, is inherent in the medium itself. It was this view which came to be known as the realist paradigm - the belief that a photograph represents a ‘slice of reality’ easily understood by the viewer. This belief governed understanding of photography from the moment of its invention in the era of positivism in the 19th Century, until it was itself subject to interrogation in the 1980s.
Early British practitioners included John Thomson whose visual essay Street Life in London (1876) documented the life of the London poor, and Hill and Adamson who portrayed, in the mid 1840s, the customs and way of life of the fisher folk of Newhaven near Edinburgh. In the early 20th century, following the emergence of documentary film-making and Mass Observation (a study undertaken in the North of England by the anthropologist Tom Harrisson), this new aesthetic found its most persuasive outlet in the mass circulation weekly magazines, such as Picture Post and Life. In time, however, pressure from advertisers combined with the restrictions of group journalism and curtailed the independence of creative photographers, with only exceptional individuals such as Bill Brandt able to survive as both a photojournalist and an independent photographer. His images of Britain’s class-ridden society along with his more experimental nudes, portraits and landscapes had a profound influence on a younger generation and established Brant as a major creative force in the development of modernism in Britain.
Mass Observation was designed to emulate the radical achievements of the worker-photography movement which had arisen in Germany during the 1920s. It proved influential on the evolution of British documentary, especially on those photographers associated with the Side Gallery in Newcastle. The gallery fostered a regional, community-oriented form of documentary practice. Its philosophy was rooted firmly in the notion that an authentic document can only be generated by those familiar with the local community. Photographers associated with Side Gallery included Sirkka Konttinen, Isabella Jedrecyck, Graham Smith, Peter Fryer, Chris Killip and Julian Germain.
It was, however, across the Atlantic that the more enduring legacy concerning the ethics and status of documentary was to be found in the work of the photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration to document the plight of the American rural poor during the Depression. One of its outstanding photographers was Walker Evans whose use of signs and symbols (such as billboards and advertising hoardings) as images of desire created a text or narrative to accompany the careful sequencing of images. The direct inheritors of the photograph as social sign were the American photographers of the ‘social landscape’, namely Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus whose unsympathetic vision of the American landscape reflected the anxieties of urban life during the booming consumer decade - store fronts, billboards, graffiti and advertising. They chose to portray people, situations and artefacts in a casual and objective way that allowed the viewer to interpret the work freely; a strategy that became known as the ‘snapshot aesthetic’. One of those who experienced many of these developments first hand was the British photographer Tony Ray-Jones. His work was widely reproduced in the 1960s and his book A Day Off (1974) proved a particular inspiration for the generation of documentary photographers who developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The work of early documentary photographs can be found in the collections of the Royal Photographic Society www.rps.org)
The Mass Observation archive is held by the University of Sussex www.sussex.ac.uk/library/massobs/
The work of the Side Gallery can be seen at www.amber-online.com/gallery/
The archive for the Farm Security Administration is now in the Print and Reading Room Collections of the Library of Congress in Washington www.loc.gov/rr/print
Images recorded on videotape or on optical disc to be viewed on television screens, or projected onto screens. The medium through which these images are recorded and displayed.