MADE YOU LOOK / Dandyism and Black Masculinity
15 Jul – 25 Sep 2016 at The Photographers’ Gallery
From studio portraiture to street photography, this exhibition brings together a group of geographically and historically diverse photographers whose imagery explores black masculinity as performance, as play, as invention – in particular through the adoption of a dandy-esque persona.
In the early 21st century, black men are among the most influential trendsetters in fashion, music and global style culture. Yet high visibility for black men is matched by high vulnerability – as illustrated by disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration for black men in the UK and USA.
Made You Look explores dandyism as radical personal politics, a willed flamboyance that flies in the face of conventional constructions of the black masculine. It proposes that the black ‘dandy’, with his extravagant emphasis on dress foregrounds a hyper-visible identity which counters the heighted vulnerability, the result of a charged history of objectification. In the context of this exhibition, dandyism isn’t simply about sharp dressing but rather, consciously problematising ideas of male identity through dress or deportment that is arresting, provocative, louche, camp and gloriously assertive.
This exhibition is a rare chance to see the work of social documentary photographer Shirley Baker, and a portrait of the urban decline of late twentieth century Britain.
It focuses on Baker’s depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner-city Manchester and Salford during 1961 – 1981 and the work documents what Baker saw as the needless destruction of working class communities.
Despite being the only woman practicing street photography in Britain at the time, Shirley Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five year career.
She claimed never to have posed her pictures, an action inimical to her documentarist ideals, yet her multi-layered images and exacting compositions imply dwelling on a scene until each element falls into place. Her visual puns, often the result of juxtaposing ‘chance’ elements in her field of vision, result in a humour and everyday surrealism that would have eluded most passers-by.
Objects and scenes take on significance beyond their literal appearance. Half demolished walls and peeling wallpaper resound with lives once lived. Her meticulous focus on graffiti brings the plain brickwork to life and generates backdrops for scenarios in which her ordinary subjects, in their functional environments, become momentarily extraordinary.
This exhibition includes previously unseen colour photographs by Baker alongside black and white images and ephemera such as magazine spreads, contact sheets and various sketches.
17 Jul – 20 Sep 2015