Another Kind Of Life: Photography on the Margins at the Barbican Centre.

Paz Errázuriz_From the series La Manzana de Adán (Adam_s Apple), 1983 (2)Paz Errázuriz Evelyn, La Palmera, Santiago from the series La Manzana de Adán (Adam’s Apple), 1983, © Paz Errázuriz / Courtesy of the artist

The Barbican Centre presents Another Kind Of Life: Photography on the Margins, a selection of photographs touching on themes of gender, sexuality, subcultures and counterculture.

As Jane Alison, Head of the Visual Art Department, pointed out ‘ As one of the flagship projects of the Barbican’s 2018 season The Art of Change, Another Kind of Life could not be more timely or relevant. A show that tells 20 stories by 20 photographers who all approach their subjects with a humanity and empathy that is both empowering and inclusive’.

The exhibition showcases the work of 20 photographers such as Diane Arbus, Casa Susanna, Philippe Chancel, Larry Clark, Bruce Davidson, Mary Ellen Mark, Paz Errázuriz, Jim Goldberg, Katy Grannan, Pieter Hugo, Seiji Kurata, Danny Lyon, Teresa Margolles, Boris Mikhailov, Daido Moriyama, Igor Palmin, Walter Pfeiffer, Dayanita Singh Alec Soth and Chris Steele-Perkins.

Paz Erràzuriz La Manzana

Paz Errázuriz Evelyn, Santiago from the series La Manzana de Adán (Adam’s Apple), 1983, © Paz Errázuriz / Courtesy of the artist

First of all, I would like to focus my attention on the work of Chilean photographer Paz Errázuriz. Her series La Manzana de Adán (Adam’s Apple) documents the reality of transgender sex-working community during the military dictatorship of  Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1982-1987).

The series narrates the story of two brothers Pilar and Evelyn and their mother Mercedes: the photographs both in colour and black and white depicts their daily lives with a touching sense of intimacy and strength.

‘Photography let me participate in my own way in the resistance waged by those of us who remained in Chile. It was our means of showing that we were there and fighting back.’, she recalled.

While she was working on the project, Paz faced a backlash from militar authorities. Despite this obstacle, she was able to finish because of the Salomon R. Guggenheim bursary,  which she was awarded.

In 1990 when the regime was subverted and democracy reestablished, Paz could publish her photographs with a text of Claudia Doniso for the book La Manzana de Adán.

In my opinion, these photos enable the audience to think about queer past: we should remember that in these years transgender people were considered outlaws and then subjected to curfews, persecutions and police brutality.

The immediacy of the project lies in the fact that Claudia and Paz have been insiders and not external spectators, having lived in a brothel with the family for a short amount of time (‘I guess my point of view has been an anthropological one. I do not comment on their lives, I wanted to be more of an accomplice than a foreigner or an outsider.’).

KURATA-146-B

Seiji Kurata Even though there’s no sign of any customers…. near Ikebukuro, Hikarimachi Ohashi, 1975, from the series Flash Up, 1975-1979 ©Seiji Kurata, Mark Peterson and Zen Photo Gallery, Japan / Courtesy of the artist

Next up, Japanese photographer Seiji Kurata’s series of black and white photographs entitled Flash Up depicts the dark and dangerous yakuza culture (gang culture) in Ikebukuro and Shinjuku districts of Tokyo.

He started his career by doing workshops with illustrious masters such as Daidō Moriyama and Araki Nobuyoshi. He embarks on the journey of capturing the illegal underworld of Tokyo, awash with transgender sex-workers, threatening Bosozoku street fighters, greedy and horny businessmen and car crash victims.

To me, the gritty and bold photography of Kurata retains a documentary and journalistic flair without  losing for that intimacy and clarity.

17. Seiji Kurata, from Flash Up 1975-79, Mark Pearson, Zen Foto Gallery_preview

Seiji Kurata Sister Akane, at home, laughing. Ikebukuro, Honcho, 1977, from the series
Flash Up, 1975-1979  ©Seiji Kurata, Mark Pearson and Zen Foto Gallery, Japan
To conclude, I would love to briefly talk about The Casa Susanna Collection , which has inspired in 2014 Broadway play Casa Valentina directed by playwright Harvey Fierstein.
Casa Susanna is a collection of ‘found’ photographs, discovered by gallery owner Robert Swope and his husband Michel Hurst.
The retreat, located in the Catskills, New York was used by crossdressers throughout the 1950s and the 1960s as a safe space and an escape during the weekend from their pressure to perform masculinity in a certain way (e.g. being the breadwinner, working for children and wife).
The photographs, displayed in a glass cabinet, represent a completely different facet of queer identity: unlike the drag queens depicted in the Cabaret series at The Photographers’ Gallery, these men chose not to dress with flamboyant costumes and glitter but rather to dress as typical housewives with ordinary attire.
They gather around a table playing cards and games such as Scrabble, knitting, drinking tea or eating, occasionally wearing fancy dresses.
Their way of performing gender is personal, intimate and private, not involving any specific targeted audience or stage: it is important to recall that at those times it was too dangerous to have the photographs developed professionally outside so the photographer of Casa Susanna Andrea Susan set up an home-based dark room for her clients.
1. Casa Susanna Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario_preview

 Casa Susanna Collection Attributed to Andrea Susan. [Susanna at Casa Susanna], 1964-1969 © Art Gallery of Ontario. Courtesy of Robert Swope and Michel Hurst.

2. Casa Susanna Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario_preview
 Casa Susanna Collection Attributed to Andrea Susan [Christmas card from Gloria in a black dress], 1965 © Art Gallery of Ontario Courtesy of Robert Swope and Michel Hurst
These set of photographs are on display until 27 May at the Barbican Centre as part of Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins – an exhibition which beautifully celebrates marginalised and forgotten communities.
The exhibition is supported by The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Media Partner:AnOther Magazine.
To have more info follow The Barbican Centre on Instagram at @barbicancentre or the hashtag #AnotherKindofLife.

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