Essay
Tue 29 May 2018 - 11.00

A Young Person Recommends... Another Kind of Life

I went to the Barbican Centre to immerse myself in the exhibition Another Kind of Life which I went to see with Peckham Platform’s Youth Platform group, of which I am a member. 

The exhibition was about 20 photographers with 20 stories, capturing moments of people who feel like they are on the outside of conventional society – either by choice, feeling oppressed, or disadvantaged. Homeless people, sex-workers, bikers, gangs, circus performers, misfits and outlaws. 

I enjoyed wandering around and looking at all the marvellous photography, which made me think about the different and varied lives people may live, or have lived – it was interesting as these lives were completely different to mine.

However, behind the eye-catching, surreal and intense imagery which shows heartrending struggle and sacrifice were the unsettling stories of the margins… 

Seattle in 1893 was considered America's most liveable city, despite there being a large number of homeless children living on the streets. The photographer Mary Ellen Mark had come across a group of street kids surrounding Pike Street Market, and met 13 year-old Erin Charles. Their friendship lasted more than 3 decades until Mary Ellen Mark’s death in 2015. Her images show the children donating blood, carrying guns, dumpster diving for food and selling sex for money. 

This made me feel empathetic, but also a bit overwhelmed, at how unfair and cruel the situation had become. The images are bold, sharp and disturbing, but I think the photographer does a good job at neither glamorizing nor disguising their disquiet at the tragedies of everyday life. 

Between 1960 and 1990, street photographer Luis Alvardo documented the nightlife of Ciudad Juarez, just south of New Mexico. These archival images have been re-presented as part of a body of work by artist Teresa Margolles, who scanned archived and catalogued Alvardo’s negatives. Ciudad Juarez had a reputation like no other with lawlessness, drug trafficking and violence, but the city was determined to become successful again. Sex workers depended on the nightclubs to make a living but had been forcefully displaced, leaving them to stand strong and make their presence known in the middle of the violence and destruction. 

The images capture emotions of devastation, hopelessness and disgust: expressions of feeling from being excluded from society. Whereas I didn't quite understand the stories, I was able to creativity make one up by thinking of what the image represents.

I would definitely recommend this exhibition to anyone because it allows you to have a new perspective of our society.

– Noor Shahzad