…or at least some of it: the full show consists of 30-odd of Si Barber’s photographs which will be at Edge Hill University’s Arts Centre until Fri 13th December. There’s more info about the exhibition here.
See also: more new work by Si.
A year is a long time in politics, two a lifetime in documentary photography. Since Si Barber’s The Big Society exhibited at Bank Street Arts in 2011, the coalition government’s grandiloquent and much-trumpeted vision of the same name (‘a froth concealing the reality beneath‘) seems to have quietly faded from prominence. Instead of signalling the winding down of Si’s work, it’s provided him with further motivation to push on into the fringes of David Cameron’s Britain, pointing his camera towards the chasm between political rhetoric and everyday experience. Bureaucratic nitwittery, sentimental attitudes towards the military, weird and malevolent patriotism, and the draining ubiquity of consumer culture, are among the themes in a body of work that’s consistent with the traditions of British documentary photography, but also has something of the ragged urgency and immediacy of war photography. Provocative, angry, yet warm and affectionate, The Big Society takes its cues as much from Tony Ray-Jones‘ sweetly bemused view of Englishness as Paul Graham‘s burning indignation at unsympathetic and ineffectual governance:
The Big Society hops across The Pennines in November for an exhibition at the Arts Centre in Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, Lancashire. It’ll feature 35 photographs from the entire project so far. On Thurs 12th Dec from 11-1 Si will be at Edge Hill’s Creative Edge Lecture Theatre to talk about the project. The session is open to all. If you’d like to know more, contact me at andrewdconroy[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk.
Following the opening of his Bank Street Arts exhibition of The Big Society- ‘A document of the credit crunch. A visual riposte to Cameron’s imagined nation and a critique of the voodoo economics which took Britain to the edge of moral and financial calamity’- Si Barber was in Sheffield for a week of activities in support of the show. These included lectures and Q&A sessions at Rotherham College, Sheffield Hallam University, Norton College, as well as a discussion group with PhD students from Sheffield University. In this short clip, from Si’s session at Norton College, he talks about caravans, flags, holidays, Sarah Ferguson, the English psychological state, and Britain’s imperial past:
The Open College of the Arts recorded this excellent audio interview, and Si has included a BBC Radio Sheffield interview about the exhibition on his blog. The Leeds-based Culture Vulture ran this article, which notes that the show’s ‘honest, raw imagery highlights the differences between how we live, and how we think we live.’ Not all feedback was so positive, and one of the more critical comments that sticks out from the college lectures was that the project was ‘cynical and exploitative’. Come and find out for yourself. Bank Street Arts is open until 17th December when it closes for the holidays and reopens in early Jan, when the show continues until 13th January.
Copies of Si’s The Big Society book and exclusive prints are available from Bank Street Arts’ shop and also via Si’s site.
In the introduction to his book The Big Society: Snapshots of 21st Century Britain, photographer Si Barber notes that ‘The notion that humanity is subservient to the market is so huge and all-encompassing it appears to be part of the natural order.’ The fallout of this notion is made all too apparent in the photographs that follow, which manage to examine the everyday effects of the recession with equal parts outrage, compassion, warmth, and wry humour.
If you’re in Sheffield between November and January you’ll be able to see for yourself- Si has very kindly agreed to exhibit photographs from the book at Bank Street Arts. Below are just a few of the 40-odd images that we’re putting together for the show, which I’m very pleased to note will also include a number of new, previously unseen photographs:
Si will be coming to Sheffield to do a Q&A session about The Big Society and there’ll be a series of related events to tie in with the show. Details are tbc, and the best way to find out about where and when and everything will be happening is to follow me on Twitter.
As well as being a timely piece of work given the recent unrest in England’s cities, The Big Society is also testament to one photographer’s determination to bring his vision to the wider world: not only has The Big Society been an enormously labour-intensive project for Si, he also produced and self-published the book that the exhibition is based on through his own Eye Ludicrous imprint. Click here to buy a copy for the outrageously decent price of 12 quid.