Exposing crisis


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Crisis has always and will always play an important role within the photographic genre. Photography will and must reflect upon the present state of the world. Photographers’ will always seek to tell the story and expose the crises that often lie on the fringes of society. Robert Frank’s subversive photographs in his seminal work The Americans was published originally by the French, yet has now become a classic of the genre, proving the importance of the photograph as a cultural barometer. Today the issues of wealth and poverty still prevail as the present global economic situation fills the pages of every newspaper. The powerful imagery of the great depression in America in the 1930’s now echos in the current climate. The times may have changed but the faces have not. Dorothea Lange’s iconic image Migrant Mother, whose caption reads: Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children, February 1936, depicts Florence Owens Thompson and two of her children having just sold her car tires to buy food. Today the sub-prime mortgage disaster sees families who were allowed to borrow well beyond their means now selling their houses for a fraction of there worth only twelve months ago. This may seem a world away from our own European experience yet it was only a few decades ago in the 1980’s when Chris Killip photographed the devastated communities of the north of England, culminating in the classic work In Flagrante published in 1988. Due to the policies of Margaret Thatcher and the conservative government the resulting poverty of deindustrialised

England from the mid-1970’s recorded by Killip still resonate today as the economy crumbles through the failures of a new breed of capitalist fat cats. Protest and disruption always follow a crisis. Credit crunch protests across Europe in January saw the population of Paris hold a one-day nationwide strike putting pressure on the Sarkozy government. In the same month Iceland’s prime minister, Geir Haarde announced the immediate resignation of his government after huge protests over its treatment of the country's calamitous economic situation. Ints Kalnins photograph of the riots in Vilnius, Lithuania looks more like a war zone than a peace-time protest as stones are thrown outside parliament, whilst riot police stand firm behind their shields.

The structure of global economics and the changing demands from the western world has affected every element of peoples’ lives across the globe. Food prices have soared and the high cost of fuel has plummeted the third world into crisis, coupled with drought which has stretched agriculture to breaking point, sparking protests in Haiti and the Ivory Coast to mention but two. Photographs of queues for much needed food are again a stark reminder of images of the 1930’s such as Walker Evans’ image Flood Refugees, Forest City, Arkansas, USA, 1937 where the hands of men clutch empty tin plates as they wait for a meal. The technology of photography may have changed, but the issues of crisis are still recorded with the same humanist intent of generations past.

 


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