Strange and Familiar – Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

 International Photographers View of Great Britain

GB. 2014. Factory in the Midlands.

Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965 - ©Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos Social Documentary Photographers
Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965 ©Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos


Let’s set the scene from the outset. This is a great exhibition of photography. Curated by one of Britain’s best known social documentary photographers Martin Parr (who studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic) and coming from a successful exhibition at The Barbican in London, it brings to Manchester Art Gallery more than 200 photographs from international photographers.

cas-oorthuys - Anti Polaris Feb 1961
Cas Oorthuys, Trafalgar Square, Anti-Polaris / Anti Nuclear Weapons Demonstration, London 18 February 1961 © Cas Oorthuys / Nederlands Fotomuseum

As someone who appreciates most art, and actually likes quiet a lot of it (a recent trip to Florence and Lucca left me Renaissance – arted out, at least for the time being).  I must admit to a soft spot for photography and having recently seen the Vogue 100 – A Century of Style exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery (see my blog Vogue 100 ) this exhibition could not have been more of a contrast. The obvious comparison, they are both photography after all, is that one was about consumerism, high fashion, beautiful models and famous photographers, whereas Strange and Familiar, covering a very similar timescale, provides a very different and alternative view of the world during the period, by equally famous photographers .

This who’s who of photography includes: Henri Cartier Bresson, Candida Höfer, Bruce Gilden, Axel Hütte, Akihiko Okamura, Tina Barney, Bruce Davidson, Paul Strand, and Robert Frank to name just a few.



Bruce Gilden. 2014. Factory in the Midlands.
Bruce Gilden, Factory in the Midlands, 2014 ©Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos

Their view of Great Britain from  Cartier Bresson’s  Coronation of George VI  1937, Hans Eijkelboom  work in and around Birmingham’s Bull Ring, Bruce Gilden’s 2014 faces in ultra close-ups, to Akihiko Okamura’s views of the troubles in Northern Ireland from 1969, show a Britain at times of great change. The coronation just before the second world war, sixties London, anti Polaris demonstrations, Wales in the 1980’s with the slow death of the coal mining industry to Axel Hütte’s haunting photographs of London housing estates and Raymond Depardon’s dark and threatening Glasgow.

There are so many thought provoking images in this exhibition that unless I make this blog so long that the reader will be in danger of nodding off, there is no way I can include everything I would like. This really is an exhibition expertly curated by Martin Parr, and containing so many images which require engagement by the viewer (this is not an exhibition for a quick look around at “pretty” images) that I can only ask that the reader make every effort to visit Manchester Art Gallery before 29th May 2017

And What of Manchester?

You may have noticed that one area not visited by our esteemed group of photographers is Manchester!

A series of specially commissioned photographs by Romanian photographer Alex Beldea will also be on display in the Strange and Familiar library from 25 November until 7 May 2017. The Strange and Familiar Library is part of the exhibition but will be located on the ground floor.

Working with a range of people who access the gallery’s learning programmes, Beldea captures contemporary Manchester as it is perceived by the gallery’s learners and volunteers. Each has chosen a place where they feel a strong connection. Together they present a vibrant portrait of life in Manchester today.

In addition Manchester Art Gallery will be challenging visitors to the exhibition to capture a portrait of Manchester in a single image and ‘help make Manchester present again’. Inspired by the Strange and Familiar exhibition and celebrating the city of Manchester, images could be of the city’s architecture, its icons or its hidden gems. Participants can share their photographs on social media with the hashtag #MAGstrangeandfamiliar. All images will be on display at Manchester Art Gallery for the duration of the exhibition. One photograph will be picked for a new postcard and available for sale exclusively at the gallery shop. All proceeds will support the work of Manchester Art Gallery

And finally…….

There is also a book to accompany the exhibition edited by the Barbican’s Alona Pardo and MartinParr with lots of background information and insight into the photographers and how they came to take these wonderful images of Great Britain

evelyn-hoffer-crossing guard1962
Evelyn Hofer, Crossing Guard, London, 1962 ©Estate of Evelyn Hofer Courtesy ROSEGALLERY, Santa Monica

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