Countercultures, subcultures and minorities are under the spotlight in the Barbican’s latest photography exhibition; Another Kind of Life. This moving and thought-provoking exhibition features the work of twenty photographers from the 1950s to the present day, with each artist following the lives of individuals and groups adrift from society. From the outside looking in, this notion of the “other” is explored through the complexities of societal taboo and what it means to be a rebel, reject, or outcast.
Transient people, on the peripheries of the societies they wriggled out of; like butterflies from their chrysalis, this exhibition is as far reaching as New York to London, Chile to Japan. Featuring the work from the likes of Diane Arbus, Casa Susanna, Paz Errázuris, Mary Ellen Mark and Pieter Hugo, the exhibition bears witness to how common attitudes have shifted and shaped the discourse surrounding what it means to be alternative and inhabit a space within society that is perhaps underrepresented or shunned. By recording and documenting those on the outside of what is considered the mainstream, we are presented with a body of work that remains both poetic and political in its oeuvre.
Exploring gender, sexuality, identity and displacement, the photographers were often able to build meaningful and long lasting relationships as a byproduct of infiltrating the lives of their subjects. As Philippe Chancel stated from his experience documenting Rebels Paris; “I immerse myself fully with them, accepted, rejected or caught in the crossfire”. Indeed, trust and collaboration were hard to come by, but what was produced as a result is a searingly honest and direct approach to providing an authentic representation of the disenfranchised communities they came to study.
Whilst moving and thought provoking, significantly so in our current social climate, it is not always easy viewing. Though the camera is unflinching, and the subject seemingly willing, it is hard not to forget that these are real people candidly surviving in the marginalized spaces they have created, or often been boxed into. Approached with humanity and empathy, as can be found in the candor of the subjects, the camera remains persistent in its approach to documenting and recording the harsh confines and heartbreaking realities they occupied.
An example of this can be found in Jim Goldberg’s seminal, decade long documentation of runaway teenagers on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Through photographs, texts, diary entries, home videos and drawings, Raised by Wolves invites us into this underground world of rough sleeping, crime and illegal highs to understand the complexity of human life. Profound in its intimate exploration of poverty and abuse, we are drawn into the life of Tweaky Dave, who’s embellished, and often fabricated life story, is only truly exposed after his premature death from kidney failure. Hiding in plain sight and often found sprawled out on top of the stars on Hollywood’s walk of fame, Dave’s short lived life calls into question our own prevailing attitudes to those surviving on the margins.
As the voyeur, this exhibition is nuanced in its ability to transfix us in looking closer. Proximity is the overarching theme throughout, as photographer Danny Lyon aptly puts it; “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it”. The exhibit runs until the end of May and is not one you want to miss.