This article was originally published in issue #7892 of British Journal of Photography. As a free gift to our community during the coronavirus lockdown, we are offering it as a free digital edition here. Male privilege permeates the private clubs depicted in Karen Knorr’s series, Gentlemen – hidden spaces where the act of exclusion protects the power of those invited in. Spread throughout St James’s, a historically wealthy area in central London, grand Georgian buildings housed, and continue to house, the playgrounds of the rich: extended living rooms for royalty, politicians, new and old money. In perpetuating racial, class and gender divisions, the clubs, which Knorr photographed from 1981 to 1983, safeguarded the ascendency of a privileged few. Now, Knorr’s series is being shown as part of the Barbican Art Gallery’s latest blockbuster show, Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown in London). Knorr was born in Germany to American parents, grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, studied in Paris, and moved to London in the summer of 1976. She wanted …
In the mid-1960s, a vast concrete housing estate began to rise out of a neglected marshland on the south bank of the River Thames. Headed by the Greater London Council (GLC), the scheme was seen as visionary; Thamesmead would provide a marina-esque lifestyle with plenty of greenery, and wide walkways that connected housing with schools and local amenities, all set within striking brutalist architecture. Thamesmead was to be the “town of tomorrow”.
Five years ago though, it was announced that the estate would be undergoing a huge redevelopment, and now a new book published by Here Press, titled The Town of Tomorrow: 50 years of Thamesmead, celebrates its part and present.
“I had access to what felt like this secret world,” says Dafydd Jones, who has worked as a social photographer since the 1980s for publications such as Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Times. “I was taking pictures of elites that nobody had seen before. It was Thatcher’s Britain, a period of celebration for those that had money. People described it as the ‘last hurrah’ of the upper classes.”
In 1981 he won a photography competition run by The Sunday Times magazine with a set of photographs of “Bright Young Things”, named after the earlier group of hard-partying aristocrats immortalised by novelist Evelyn Waugh and photographer Cecil Beaton. Tatler editor Tina Brown hired Jones off the back of it, commissioning him to photograph the Hunt Balls, society weddings, and debutante dances that were a mainstay of the upper-class publication. Now Jones has put together a collection of his work for Tatler from 1981-89, titled The Last Hurrah and currently on show at The Photographers’ Gallery and put out as a publication by Stanley Barker.
“Tish believed that photography was an important form of visual communication that could stimulate discussions about real life situations and captured accurate records of the world we live in. She was trying to force people to look at the truth and learn from it,” explains Ella Murtha, the daughter of the documentary photographer. In honour of her mother’s memory, Ella has put together a new photobook, Youth Unemployment, which gathers Tish Murtha’s work photographing poverty-ridden communities in Newcastle in the 70s and 80s. Raw, powerful and emotional, Murtha has captured youngsters trying to survive turbulent economic times, when they had limited prospects – something which has recently come full circle as a new generation has had to deal with the global financial crisis.
“I believe that the great strength photography has, and in particular documentary photography, is content. So much of what is published today, seems to me to be content less. I hope my photography illuminates and resonates with viewers and tells how British society was. And, of my more recent work, of how society is,” says Homer Sykes. he has been photographing British society for five decades, including major social and political events, such as The Battle of Lewisham. Now, some of his work is set to be featured in a Burberry show this month.
Hackney-based Colin O’Brien has carved out of a reputation as one of the most important photographers documenting life in the capital. The steady buzz around his work continues to grow with the release of his latest book, London Life, published by Spitalfields Life Books, and his new exhibition at the new Leica Store City gallery based at The Royal Exchange, London. Now in his mid 70s, he is a delight to interview – witty, pithy and passionate. Over a coffee, O’Brien reflects upon a career in photography that started when he was eight, taking pictures of his friends playing together on the bomb sites of postwar London. Over decades O’Brien has built up a vast archive of images, so it is perhaps unsurprising that anyone viewing his work becomes acutely conscious of the changing face of life in the city he records. These days Hackney itself seems to be a metaphor for constant urban renewal, something O’Brien is all too aware of. “When we first moved to Hackney [in the early 1980s], a …