Upstairs downstairs: Photographs of Britain 1874-1990
Dates + times
3 Sept 2011 – 18 Dec 2011
Open 10.00 am – 5.00 pm every day
Recorded information +61 2 6240 6501
General information +61 2 6240 6411
For visitors with mobility difficulties +61 2 6240 6411
Image detail above:
Black couple and carousel at Hampstead fun fair c.1959
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Lewis Morley
Photography has long served the rich, the famous and the infamous. It has also had many practitioners who have championed the lives of those whose names history has never known. The social documentary tradition, focusing on the lives of ordinary people – usually those powerless to tell their story – has been a driving force in British photography. This is hardly a surprise in a society traditionally marked by class divisions and prejudices.
Many photographers, eager to tell their stories to as many people as possible, found wide audiences in the pages of newspapers and magazines or published them as books. During the Second World War and on through the fifties, the hugely popular picture magazines, in particular, served as fundamental tools in stabilising the nation. They also promoted a concept of what it was to be British: primarily the gift of getting on with things in the face of adversity.
The intentions behind the work vary greatly. Often there was a desire to bring awareness, to show how ‘the other half’ lives; some photographers coupled this with a passionate yearning to bring change. Others have sought to amuse and entertain, from Arthurian legends made ‘real’ to the delights of children at play.
Photographers included in Upstairs downstairs: photographs of Britain 1874–1990 are Julia Margaret Cameron, John Thomson, Cecil Beaton, Felix H. Man, Humphrey Spender, Edith Tudor Hart, Bill Brandt, Grace Robertson, Bert Hardy, David Moore, David Potts, Roger Mayne, Lewis Morley, Chris Killip, Martin Parr and Nick Waplington. There is also a selection of books and magazines from the National Gallery of Australia Research Library. It is on show at the National Gallery of Australia in the photospace until 18 December 2011.