In the 1960s and 1970s, documentary photography took on new power and meanings. In the aftermath of the Second World War, interactions between citizens and their governments, between colonizers and the newly independent, and other sociocultural relationships shifted. Documents, 1960s–1970s looks at how photographers around the world—from Bamako to Mumbai, Pretoria to Toronto—used their medium to witness, celebrate, and critique their worlds in new ways.
Emancipation suffuses the work of Malick Sidibé (Bamako, Mali), and Paul Kodjo (Abidjan, Ivory Coast), who documented the youth of their countries in photography studios and at parties—expressing a sense of freedom and celebration now indelibly linked with independence. The oppressive strictures of South Africa’s apartheid regime are precisely described in Ernest Cole’s photographs, published as House of Bondage in 1967, and David Goldblatt’s investigations of neighbourhoods around Johannesburg during the 1970s. In Harlem, Ming Smith and fellow artists of the Kamoinge Workshop forged new aesthetics, driven by their distinct sense of African American identity. Smith’s work is full of movement, congregation, and implied sound.
Turning an analytical eye to the ability, and limitations, of photographs to accurately convey information, Martha Rosler (New York) deftly critiques the relationship of image and text in The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974–75). Here, Rosler pairs photographs of storefronts on New York’s Bowery with loose, associative texts describing states of inebriation—subverting the idea of the photographer as moral authority. In Pan Am Scan (1970), Ian Wallace (Vancouver) considers how photographs relay space and movement through stacked images of a London streetscape.
For many artists here, cities were a key setting that provided limitless subjects, spaces, and surfaces, and the possibility of chance encounters. In his images, Charles Gagnon (Montreal) observes the strangeness in the everyday and the often accidental spatial and sculptural occurrences in the built environment. New York-based photographer and curator Bhupendra Karia travels back to Mumbai to witness the growth and transformation of his former home in the 1970s. Other artists include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lutz Dille, Stephen Shore, and Garry Winogrand. Documents, 1960s–1970s presents a broad and international field of documentary practice during a time of profound change.