Everything Was Moving explores photography at crucial moments in history 0f 1960s and 70s. These two decades saw the world change dramatically from the Cultural Revolution through the Cold War, the war in Vietnam to the civil rights movement. The exhibition showcases the work of 12 photographers including Bruce Davidson, William Eggleston, David Goldblatt, Graciela Iturbide, Boris Mikhailov, Sigmar Polke, Malick Sidibé, Shomei Tomatsu, Li Zhensheng , Ernest Cole, Raghubir Singh and Larry Burrows. It is a touching insight into their worlds.
Two figures stood out for me in the whole of the exhibition: Bruce Davidson and Ernest Cole. Davidson documented the emotions and the lives of individuals involved in the civil rights movement including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and John Lewis. His photos filled me with relief that we no longer live in the world so dramatically divided on the basis of race and sadness that so much pain and terror had to be endured in order to get where we are today.
But it is Ernest Cole’s work that broke my heart. I cannot imagine the drive and determination to change the world in your own way that made Ernest Cole the man he was. A black man in 1960s South Africa torn by apartheid manages to persuade the authorities that he is not ‘black’ but ‘coloured’ by changing his name (or so it seemed) and as a result be granted a journalist permit. He photographed the life of native South Africans usually shooting from the hip with his camera in a brown paper bag capturing scenes that on streets could not have lasted longer than seconds while risking his life. And yet he composed them so beautifully they stay with you long after you left the gallery.
The exhibition includes a video of him talking about how he had hoped that by smuggling his work out of the country and going into exile, he was hoping to make the world notice and take action. He realised later how naive he was. ‘South Africa was just one of many points on UN’s agenda’, he says. Could you believe that he died of cancer just 7 days after the world saw Mandela leave his prison cell?! I wonder if he died knowing that South Africa was changing and his dream was coming true as he was slowly disappearing from this world.
The exhibition at Barbican is open until 13th January so check it out if you get the chance.
Passes are being checked as the white policeman watches by Ernest Cole.