If you don’t get the reference, it’s a curious title for a photobook – Fables of Faubus, the 30-year retrospective by British documentary photographer Paul Reas. But if you’re a jazz fan you’ll know it’s taken from a song by Charles Mingus, written after Arkansas governor Orval Faubus decided to bar the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
To Mingus, and many others, Faubus stood for a dark force holding back progressive social change. For Reas, the title suggests the metanarrative that runs behind the many stories he’s shot in the UK on heavy industry, consumer culture, the heritage industry, and more – namely, the disenfranchisement of the British working class, “the years of decline of industry and the fall out from that, communities being de-centred and levelled”.
The V&A’s new photography centre will open on 12 October, with newly-acquired photographs by Linda McCartney, a newly-commissioned series by Thomas Ruff, and an inaugural display tracing the history of photography through the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection. The new facility will more than double the V&A’s current photography exhibition space, and follows the transfer of over 270,000 photographs, 26,000 publications and 6000 pieces of equipment from the RPS collection formerly held in the National Media Museum in Bradford – a controversial transfer, described at the time as “an appalling act of cultural vandalism” by Simon Cooke, the leader of the Conservative opposition on Bradford council. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said that the transfer had “provided the catalyst for this dramatic reimagining of photography at the V&A” however, and that the new centre will “seamlessly span the entire history of photography….from daguerreotype to digital”. He added that the V&A is particularly well-placed to tell this story given its long engagement with photography – it was one of the first museums to put together a photographic exhibition, partly because its founder, Henry Cole, was a keen amateur photographer.