Observers: Photographers of the British Scene from the 1930s to Now

Galeria de Arte do Sesi, Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo:  24 September-25 November 2012

This is the first exhibition ever staged in Brazil to chart a course through British photography in modern times. It spans almost a century –  from the new photographic directions of the 20s and 30s that developed alongside the emergence of mass media, to the diverse practice of today’s image-laden world – and features the work of many of Britain’s most significant, celebrated and influential photographers.

The exhibition takes Britain itself as subject –  its society and culture, places and people – presenting the work of those photographers who, rather than looking at the world beyond or at inner worlds, focused their attention on their own country  – on the customs, character and conditions of those around them.As such, it explores a fertile and dominant strand of subject matter, changing over the century – a swathe of British social and cultural history – and a broad tradition of documentary practice which has always been at the core of British photography.

It explores the ways in which humanist and social documentary modes emerged as a dominant force, the motivations and conditions that sustained these modes – professional, artistic and political –  and the ways in which they have been challenged, changed and superseded. The photographs on display draw on, or work against, a variety of visual codes, clichés and conventions.  They cross genres from the urban street scene to landscape and the portrait, and touch on an extraordinary range of subjects, from celebrity and high society to gritty realism and subversive street culture. Photographers adopt varied positions from detached voyeur to committed participant; the photographs portray attitudes of nostalgia or rebellion, moods of elation and despair.  Throughout, the exhibition questions its own premises, asking what, if anything, can be portrayed in images of the essential character of a people over time; and it asks questions of the nature of the photographic medium itself, and the uses to which it has been put.

Around 30 photographers will be included, each represented by a number of photographs drawn from significant projects or series; including Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Humphrey Spender, George Rodger, Paul Nash, Madame Yevonde, Nigel Henderson, Roger Mayne, Ida Kar, Norman Parkinson, Terence Donovan, Ian Berry, Shirley Baker, Tony Ray-Jones, Raymond Moore, Paul Trevor, Tish Murtha, Daniel Meadows, Chris Killip, Martin Parr, Paul Graham, Keith Arnatt, Anna Fox, Derek Ridgers, Peter Fraser, Jem Southam, Karen Knorr, Richard Billingham, Paul Seawright, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jason Evans, Simon Roberts, Nigel Shafran,  Rut Blees Luxemburg, Sarah Jones, John Duncan, Gareth McConnell.

Significant publications – photo books and illustrated magazines, will be included in a documentary section alongside, and there is potential for an accompanying programme of documentary film which would extend the scope of the exhibition and point to significant moments of intersection between documentary photography and film, particularly in the 30s, 60s and 80s, and now.

Curated by Joao Kulcsar in Sao Paulo and Martin Caiger-Smith in London