Glamorize or demonize – not the only way to frame working-class life | Kenan Malik

aAn old man walks between rows of terraced houses. Behind it, the huge bow of a ship under construction obscured the sky. A teenager picking up coal on the beach. A man steering a horse and cart around an abandoned car at sea. A girl playing hula hoops in a desolate, trashy landscape.

Chris Killip and Graham Smith’s photographs are of the North East of England in the 1970s and 1980s, a time of post-industrialization, a time of broken communities, broken lives, and otherworldly images. looks like Last week, two exhibitions of his photographs opened in London. Kilip retrospectiveother recreation Joint Exhibition Another Country, first appearing in 1985. They question both the nature of photography and our perception of working-class life.

Smith hails from Southbank, a working-class neighborhood in Middlesbrough, where his father was a third-generation steelworker. Most of his photographs are of the local streets and pubs, the last days of steel mills and shipyards, and their subsequent abandonment. Smith writes that the pubs he has photographed so often are “used by people in search of the next great drink of the future.”

Killip, who died of cancer two years ago, was originally from the Isle of Man but settled in the northeast, photographing working-class communities across the country. Their photographs are lyrical and humanistic, born from a deep empathy for the people they photograph.

Helen and her hula hoops, Rheinmouth, Northumberland, 1984 Photo: © Chris Killip. All rights reserved.

But for all its warmth and humanity, these are images shot through with hopeless darkness. Even the most promising photos have the edge of devastation, such as a man fixing up a hoodie, punks preoccupied on a night out. It’s perhaps best represented in a pair of photographs of the Killip twins.The first, taken in 1975, shows the Rundown Terrace. In his second photo, taken from the same spot two years later, the house has been demolished and debris is scattered across the street. What remains intact is the graffiti on the half-shattered wall. “Don’t vote. Get ready for the revolution.”

It was as if the outside world was mocking the community. to the rubble. ”

of poverty safari, in his blistering account of what it’s like to grow up in a poor, working-class community, Darren McGarvey said, “In poorer communities, the belief that things will never change is prevalent.” “This may seem like a self-defeating view,” he adds, but people in such communities believe that the real problem is not poverty per se, but the problem of changing something. learn to be you try to do anything about it. Rather than meeting the needs of the working class, the system is a facilitator that “helps working-class people water down whatever they want so that the aspirations of the community are aligned with those of the local area.” ‘ and ‘mentors’ are designed to be ‘engaged’. a position of power or influence.”

Writer Lindsay Hanley similarly said in her Killip retrospective essay, “You can’t help but wonder, why aren’t we rebelling here?” Why do working-class people seem to have no limits in what they can endure at the hands of the rich and powerful?” I’m here. That’s the discouragement that’s almost palpable in her photos.

Aunt Elsie and Sandy, Early Doors in Commercial, South Bank, Middlesbrough, 1983.
Aunt Elsie and Sandy, Early Doors in Commercial, South Bank, Middlesbrough, 1983. Photo: Graham Smith

Of course, there was another world there. A world of resistance expressed through miners’ strikes, inner-city riots, right-to-work movements and squatter groups. But these were so brutally crushed that Smith and Killip seem to say that agency and resistance were expressed as much in ensuring survival as in fostering change.

The exhibition also raises the question of how working-class life is portrayed. “There’s something predatory about the act of taking pictures.” Essayist and Critic Observed by Susan Sontag“By seeing them in ways they never see themselves, by having knowledge they could never have,” Sontag added, adding that photography “turns people into objects that they can symbolically possess.” change”.

There is an element of truth in this. When Killip himself first attempted to photograph men and children washing cars for hours on the beach, which is often knee-deep in water due to the loot dumped into the sea by the coal mines, a local driven away and beaten by the people. He is put in a sack and taken to a carriage. Authorities were also prosecuting men who worked in this shadow economy and photographing them to deny them benefits. It took him three years to build enough trust for Kirip to be allowed to photograph on the beach. But out of that trust came some of the most remarkable photographs, revealing the seams where, as Cylip himself put it, “the Middle Ages and his twentieth century are intertwined.”

The question Sontag raises is not only how a photograph is taken, but also how we perceive it. When we look at an image, we don’t see it through the eyes of the photographer, we don’t see it through the mind of the photographic subject, but we see it through a social framework through which we understand the problem. will be It is a framework that, when it comes to working-class people, belittles them as victims, demonizes them when they challenge authority, and sometimes romanticizes them as heroes. It is seen through the sensibility of an outsider, through the lens of ‘personality’. Listen to today’s “marginalized” or “white working class” debate.

Killip and Smith didn’t take otherworldly pictures. They documented our world, showing what was done to working-class communities and what such communities had to do to survive. Yet there is more to such communities than passive survival, both then and now.There is also active challenge and resistance, and today from the summer strike come onIt too needs to be nurtured and celebrated. and shoot.

Kenan Malik is a columnist for The Observer

Glamorize or demonize – not the only way to frame working-class life | Kenan Malik

Source link Glamorize or demonize – not the only way to frame working-class life | Kenan Malik

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