Cruel and tender: the real in the 20th-century photograph

Now on at the Tate Modern

Share

In the first major survey of the medium in London since its 150th anniversary exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1989, photography finally takes centre stage at Tate Modern (5 June-7 September). “Cruel and tender” brings together over 700 images from more than 200 series of works by 23 photographers. Occupying all of Tate Modern’s top-floor exhibition space, divided into separate, interconnected viewing areas, where groups of works by each photographer are displayed in reverse chronological order, allowing the viewer to move back and forth in time. As the show’s subtitle indicates, pure photography, as opposed to the self-consciously artistic elaborations of neo-conceptualist and post-modern practice, has long been attached to reality. In the 20th century, photographers as far back as August Sander (1876-1964) and Walker Evans (1903-1975) have focused entirely on what lies before the lens, seeking to capture essential facts of life, rather than some arcane cultural introspection. Later exponents of pure photography, from important post 1970s American figures, such as Robert Adams (b. 1937) and William Eggleston (b. 1939) whose “Guide” (1976) ushered in the all-important switch to colour, or contemporary British and European photographers, Martin Parr (b. 1952), Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) or Thomas Ruff (b. 1958), remain grounded in the real. The exhibition was devised by Tate Modern’s Senior Curator, Emma Dexter, in conjunction with Thomas Weski, until recently, Chief Curator, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, now, Chief Curator, Haus der Kunst, Munich (right, August Sander, “The fighter or revolutionary” 1912).

Share