From February 28th to May 27th, the Barbican Art Gallery in London is hosting the show Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins reuniting photographic works about sub-cultures and alternative communities. Archives, magazine cuttings, rare films, vintage and contemporary photos… More than 300 works dating from the 1950s to now invite reflexion on the themes of gender, sexuality and minorities. From these portraits of burgeoning sub-cultures, over time, was born a metamorphosis of social attitudes towards those living in the margins of society.
“I am interested in those who haven’t had any luck and I tell their story.”
In 1983, New York photographer Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) presented Streetwise, a visual story of her encounter with Erin Blackwell, a young prostitute whose childhood was swept away at a very young age on the streets of Seattle. For thirty years the artist followed the girl known as ‘Tiny’, whose gaze never reflected her age. “I am interested in reality, I’m interested in survival,” explained Mary Ellen Mark, “I am interested in those who haven’t had any luck and I tell their story.”
Thousands of kilometres away Paz Errázuriz was busy immortalising a community of transgender prostitutes who resided in a hotel in Chili. It’s the 1980s and her series Adam’s Apple (1982-1987) was a raised middle finger to the authorities and a great risk taken by the photographer. At that time General Augusto Pinochet reigned supreme over the nation leaning against the Andes. Persecuted and brutalised by the police force, communities of those with an alternative sexuality were tortured without ever becoming martyrs.
A few decades earlier, British photographer Chris Steele-Perkins caught the life, loves and style of the Teddy Boys in his series The Teds. Epicentre of this sub-culture in the 1950s, the city of London was the main witness to the violent acts committed by these gangs of young men with their sartorial codes demanding Edwardian elegance. In long coats with velvet collars, slim-cut trousers, greased quiffs and brothel creepers, astride their English motorbikes, galvanised by the wave of rock music, the Teddy Boys constantly stoked bad press. Meanwhile Swiss photographer Walter Pfeiffer, a big name in documentary photography of the 1970s invited his young transsexual friend Carlo Joh to pose before his lens. This underground artist’s work was dominated by eroticism and gay iconography. In Zurich, his muse was a man.
Through different viewpoints, Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins looks back at the history of men and women forbidden to speak out. A handful of individuals capturing the civil rights movement triggered by the Afro-American community that brought together Native Americans, the Hispanics and Asians. Youth movements, pacifist groups, poor people, women, prison inmates and others all left by the wayside, gays, lesbians, ecologists, old folk and people regarded as physically different…
Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins, Barbican Art Gallery, from February 28th to May 27th.