In Pictures: Culture, class and identity through the decades

In Pictures: Culture, class and identity through the decades
A chronology of class — Pooling together the works of 20 iconic photographers, ‘An Ideal For Living’ shines a light on class, culture and identity from post-World War I Britain to now, featuring images from the likes of Charlie Phillips and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

From the mistreatment of steel workers leading to the 1926 general strike, to the eviction of council families and unresting gentrification of today’s London, the British class struggle has always been a prevalent issue. Capturing the true extent of this is difficult, but a pool of photographers, brought together for Beetles + Huxley’s new exhibition, ‘An Ideal for Living’, have tried.

Photo by Mahtab Hussain

Red Hijab, Red Dress and Bling, from the series ‘Honest with you’, 2013 © Mahtab Hussain

Photo by Martin Parr

New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85 copyright Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Exhibiting the work of a talented collection of photographers, the exhibition shows the variety and creativity with which photographers have sought to document what they consider to be a particularly British way of life. The exhibition includes Cartier-Bresson’s candid black and white images of inter-war central London, and Simon Roberts’ and James Morris’ examination of rural landscapes in modern Britain.

The project examines the ever-changing face of identity struggle across Britain. While Frank Habicht sought to depict fashions and trends during the 1960s, Charlie Phillips was documenting black communities in the city, returning time and time again to Notting Hill Carnival.

Photo by Charlie Phillips

Notting Hill couple, 1967 © Charlie Phillips

Photo by Jurgen Schadberg

May Ball, Cambridge, 1983 © Jurgen Schadeberg

Phillips claims his inspiration for this came from “ the era of cold war and American GI’s who visited the area, at the time the average family was living in one room.”

“Then I saw an illustration by Norman Rockwell, of American Life, in the Saturday Evening Post”, Phillips continues, “and I thought why not apply it to my neighbours and document our Caribbean life.  It was my intention to put them into an album to take with us when I returned to live in Jamaica, which I never did.”

Photo by John Bulmer

Mill Girls, Elland, Yorkshire, 1965 © John Bulmer

Photo by Emil Otto Hoppe

School boy with luggage, Paddington Station, London, 1933, © Emil Otto Hoppe

Charlie agreed to be part of this exhibition as he felt his photographs show a side to London’s civil history that is rarely celebrated in pictures. “Emil Otto Hoppés School Boy with Luggage, Paddington Station, London, 1933,  It reminded me of my own childhood. I was twelve when we came to Britain and the memory of arriving at Paddington Station on the boat train.”

[Photo by James Morris]

Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd Wales, 2008 © James Morris

Photo by Frank Habicht

No loss of face, Earl’s Court, London c 1960 © Frank Habicht

The issue of race is further explored by Syd Shelton, whose photographs of the Battle of Lewisham in 1977 exhibit how punk influenced a generation to abolish racism and instead focus on a more inclusive future for London’s music scene.

Photo by Syd Shelton

Bagga (Bevin Fagan) Hackney, East London, 1979 © Syd Shelton

Showcasing other less visible cultures from around the UK, photographs from Chris Killip show the idiosyncratic appeal of rural life in England. He documents a community in Lynemouth that survived by collecting coal from the sea.

Photo by Derek Ridgers

Tuinol Barry, Kings Road, London, 1983 © Derek Ridgers

Photo by Bill Brandt

Parloumaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner, 1936 © Bill Brandt

Exploring Britain’s social identity is a subject widely studied but rarely pulled off in a way as convincing as in these photographs. From the windowless houses of miners from the 1930s to the densely populated parks of London’s chaotic summer, this collection offers a chronological look at how the dynamic of Britain’s class culture has responded to a government constantly trying to hold onto their power.

All images courtesy of Beetles + Huxley.

‘An Ideal for Living’, is open from 27 July – 17 September 2016.

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