Britain in 1984

Thu 17 May 1984 - Fri 15 Jun 1984

Britain in 1984. Poster courtesy The Photographers' Gallery Archive

Britain in 1984

Thu 17 May 1984 - Fri 15 Jun 1984

This event is part of our Past Programme

18 May - 16 Jun 1984


Featuring Ian Berry, John Davies, Paul Graham, Karen Knorr, Don McCullin Raghubhir Singh.

This exhibition was conceived as an opportunity to look at various aspects of life in Britain today, through the eyes of the number of photographers. The date 1984 is of course a rather arbitrary one and was chosen by all well simply because it reverse the last two numbers of the year in which he wrote his famous book! It has, however, given us an opportunity to commission six photographers to choose particular areas in which to work, each of which typify many other parts of the country at this particular moment.

The brief given to the photographers was to work, quite quickly, from the start of the year to the end of March and to produce a small body of work in their chosen area to be shown at The Photographers’ Gallery in London in May and that The Bradford Museum of Film, Photography and Television in the autumn. In selecting the photographers we asked people who we knew to be interested in the project and his area of personal interest would produce a good contrast and cover many different aspects of life in Britain today. There are, of necessity, omissions. No study of a rural community will be found here, and our original intention of including three further photographers from the North-East had to be abandoned because they felt that the time allowed was too short.

However, we have covered the rich, the poor, the middle classes and the Asian community in Bradford. The photographic styles are equally contrasting. Don McCullin and Ian Berry are well-established English photographers, used to working under pressure and pleased to photograph in their own country as so much of their assigned work is abroad. Raghubir Singh isn’t equally famous Indian photographer whose books on Kashmir, Rajasthan at the Ganges I shown his complete mastery and love of colour. It should be fascinating to see how he approaches the cold light of Bradford and a very mixed community, most of whom have lived all their lives here.

The younger generation photographers, Karen KnorrPaul Graham and John Davies have all worked mainly in England. Since leaving their colleges they have pursued their own projects for books and exhibitions with the help of bursaries and by working in various ways. They are all aware of the political possibilities within photography and have taken this opportunity to express their own points of view in relation to their chosen area of work.

Don McCullin was born in London in 1935 and his first published pictures of his friends ‘The Guv’nors’, a gang that lived around Finsbury Park was published in the Observer in 1959. This led to some freelance assignments for other newspapers but when he lost his job at the Larkins Animation Studio he used his last few pounds to go and photograph the Berlin Wall as it was being constructed. From then on he worked chiefly abroad, covering wars and insurrections from Cyprus to Lebanon. The pictures you’ve taken for this exhibition “East of Aldgate”  are his first opportunity forever 20 years to return to the East End of London and while he has found many changes, the bleak and rather despairing Life you found there is very much a continuation of the work you did for his book Homecoming published in 1978.

Ian Berry is tracing the route taken by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier.  Basing himself in Bradford, he has been travelling in the area, living in his converted van and the photographs Will cover a cross-section of life in North West England.

Born in Preston in 1934, Ian went to South Africa after leaving college where he worked first with a studio photographer and later for DRUM magazine when it was edited by Tom Hopkinson. He gained an international reputation with his coverage of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and left Africa for Paris where he worked first for the VISA  Agency and after a year joined Magnum. Delivering Paris the three years and has since been based in England, though traveling widely for all the major magazines.

Ian first exhibited at the Gallery in 1973 and in 1974 won the first Arts Council bursary from which came his book the English and a traveling exhibition.  In the past 10 years he has had little opportunity to photograph in this country and welcome to the idea of going back to the area in which he was born.

Raghubir Singh was born in Jaipur,  India in 1942 and began taking photographs seriously in 1965. He has exhibited widely in the United States and his is in several collections there, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Asian community in Bradford is a well established one and came into being largely since the Second World War when there was a great deal of work in the cotton and wool mills although these industries are declining the community is growing and Raghubar Singh  is photographing the way in which they live, retaining their culture for the generations born here, and finding work in the new factories and businesses that are taking the place of the mills.

John Davies was born in Co. Durham in 1949 and graduated from Trent Polytechnic in 1974. He has received several Arts Council Awards and worked on commissioned exhibitions for the Side Gallery and the Rochdale Art Gallery among others. His earlier work was with landscape but for the past few years he has been  drawn more to the urban environment and for this exhibition he has concentrated on an exploration of the changing open spaces in Manchester which like Bradford is undergoing the metamorphosis from the skyline dominated by mills to one in which new flats and office buildings are becoming predominant. He has begun to work with colour for the first time in the exhibition will include both black and white and colour photographs.

Paul Graham was born in Stafford  in 1956 and won a major Arts Council Award in 1979.  He exhibited his colour photographs of the A1 at this gallery last year and is currently based in Bristol. For this exhibition he has covered a great deal of ground, looking at shopping malls,  dole offices, new towns, motorways and housing estates as far apart as Belfast and Londonderry, Brent Cross and Bristol. He is working entirely in colour and looking for people and places, as diverse as the new Saatchi& Saatchi offices and the dole queues in Liverpool which he feels are particularly relevant to Britain today.

Karen Knorr was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1954.  She studied photography at the Polytechnic of Central London receiving her BA Hons  in 1980. Since then she has exhibited in group shows in London, Geneva, Chicago and Paris as well as several in different parts of Britain. She has also had three one-person exhibitions in Paris. She works with photographs and text and is unique among the photographers in this exhibition in that she is dealing exclusively with the upper classes who still pursue their traditional activities.

Her series entitled ‘Country Life’ presents a number of clues in the manner of a detective presenting propositions which together leads to an exposé of one small section of society, which while small in number is still undoubtedly both powerful and influential in the Britain of 1984.

Subsidised by the Arts Council of Great Britain

GLC assisted

For further details on our past programme, 
visit our Archive and Study Room.