‘America in crisis’ photo exhibition shows history of social unrest repeating itself

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Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN

“America in Crisis” first opened in 1969 at the Riverside Museum in Manhattan. Invented by Magnum Photos, this exhibition was a powerful exhibition aimed at recording the turbulent US presidential elections of the previous year and assessing the state of the country. Featuring the work of 18 photographers, it was published the same year and became immortal in a book showing a deeply collapsed society.

“Our crisis today is the clash between the American dream, the traditional vision of the United States, and the difficult and dissonant reality in which it lives,” the book editor writes. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy at the time were upset by severe racial tensions, serious economic inequality and growing opposition to the Vietnam War. Did. In the 1968 election, Republican Richard Nixon slightly overtook Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

Selma March, Alabama, 1965. “The direct gaze of this young man, his rebellion, and the ownership of the flag are very strong,” said curator Sophie Wright. credit: Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

Fifty years later, America faces an eerie-like social division, and a new exhibition of the same name brings together historical photographs of the 1969 original project and recent works from the last two years. The similarities of the times are emphasized.

“We set out to use the same conceptual framework that the original book was created for,” said curator Sophie Wright, who worked for Magnum Photos for 17 years before leaving in 2020. .. “Long roots of poverty” and “continuous violence” are also the headlines of contemporary exhibitions. “

A photo of Elliott Erwitt showing his support for Nixon at the Republican Convention in 1968 in Miami. "Erwitt has brought a lot of wisdom to many presidential inaugurations, and I think his wisdom helps in how we read his images," Wright said.

A photo of Elliott Erwitt showing his support for Nixon at the Republican Convention in 1968 in Miami. “Irwitt has taken a lot of wisdom to many presidential inaugurations, and I think his wisdom will help us in how we read his images,” Wright said. I did. credit: © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Organized by Saatchi Gallery in London, the exhibition is co-curated by Gregory Harris of the Atlanta Museum of Fine Arts and LA-based photographer and academic Tara Pixley. Contains 120 shots from 40 American photographers.

“There’s a very wide range. From gentleman Robert Cohen, who works as a photojournalist for local news (St. Louis), to Reuters senior photographer Leah Millis, and more. As Zora J. Murf is at the forefront of documentary practice in a more artistic sense, modern selections have different strategies and approaches to photography, “said Wright. Says.

Image of the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.

Image of the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021. credit: Barrage Girldy

By juxtaposing these two eras, how social issues have been documented differently through the lens of photography over time, and how those issues have evolved 50 years after the release of the book. You can also get insights into what. Some of the exhibits where these differences are particularly evident are based on a chapter entitled “The Lines of Violence” depicting the events following the political assassination of King and Kennedy in 1969.

“It’s a real sucker punch right after the’American Dream'(chapter), and that’s because the audience at the time would have been very alive to what just happened with those of those deaths,” Wright said. Told. “In modern iterations, it’s sadly a much broader issue-a issue of guns and gun culture in the United States. We’re also looking at the fierce police militarization that has occurred especially since 9/11. “

Bungalow Family with Last Ash Tree, Midway, Chicago, USA, 2018. "This really speaks to American Dream home ownership." Wright pointed out.

Bungalow Family with Last Ash Tree, Midway, Chicago, USA, 2018. “This speaks to the dream of owning an American home,” Wright said.
credit: Paul D’Amato

But another topic that looks and feels very familiar 50 years later is the fight for equality. The exhibition features images of the 1965 procession from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, part of a series of demonstrations that led to federal law guaranteeing African-American voting rights, and the 2020 killing of George Floyd. Includes a later Black Lives Matters protest. “There are very obvious images that speak over time, especially images of protests. The language of the body is the same and there is a very similar composition across the timeline,” Wright said.

Lee Square, Richmond, Virginia, 2020. "It has become one of the most important places for Black Lives Matter's protests and has become the cover of National Geographic.  It was a very strong protest in 2020."  Wright explained.

Lee Square, Richmond, Virginia, 2020. “This has become one of the most important places for Black Lives Matter’s protests and has become the cover of National Geographic. It was a very powerful place for protests in 2020,” Wright explained. .. credit: Courtesy of the Chris Graves / Sasha Wolf Project

The exhibition also includes an interactive installation. Place the foot pedal at the bottom of a series of monolith screens and press it to see images of the exhibit with keywords such as “flag,” “crowd,” and “police.” This is in contrast to a similar installation in the original exhibition, instead with randomly paired images.

“It tells us how we are supplying images now. The internet puts us in silos and presents what we like. It tells people what they see and what they do. Encourage them to think about how to read those photos. Photos are an incredibly slippery medium, “Wright explained.

“But despite the noise we all face, I think the power of the peculiar image is still absolutely there as an antidote to that noise.”

“”America at stake“Is in the Saatchi Gallery in London from January 21, 2022 to April 3, 2022.

Image above: January 6, 2021, US Capitol, Washington, DC.

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