Through the Lens

By Bella Pallett

The craft of photography has evolved as it has become more and more accessible. But now as we carry the tools to record a moment forever, do we ever look back at who paved the way for social change? However much we take images without a second thought, capturing the moment around us and recording the problems we see instantly, we owe a debt to those who shaped and formed our abilities. Read more here in Through the Lens.

These artists and early exponents have used photography as a social enterprise to deliver the opportunity to see things that have happened in a single moment, perhaps somewhere far away, by making them last forever. Through their different ways of exploring the craft, they formed an evolution of ideas such as location shooting and different colour mediums to showcase their magnificent photography whilst tackling essential issues.

When we think of street photography we think of it as something that is relatively new emerging in the late ’90s in fashion photography. yet it far predates that. Helen Levitt, one of the most remarkable street photographers of the 20th Century, spent years documenting local everyday city life in her hometown, New York. Working from the 1930s through to the 1990s her extensive body of work demonstrates how the craft of photography has drastically evolved over time from grainy black and white images to vibrantly coloured photos.

Through the lens

Helen Levitt, In The Street

Her craft became so successful that she later received a grant to shoot the streets of New York and recreate her previous works but in colour. Levitt became one of the first photographers to exhibit her colour work in 1974 after returning to the locations that she had captured at the very beginning of her career and recreating them in richly coloured dye-transfer print. Due to her innovative craft and captivating style, the everyday moments captured through the lens were transformed to become something spectacular.

Through the lens

Helen Levitt, In The Street

The Photographers’ Gallery is presenting a retrospective that brings together Levitt’s key works from across her lifetime. Through rendering everyday scenes into a theatrical spectacle and showcasing surreal juxtapositions of people, places and things, her work developed a new pictorial language that changed the craft of photography forever and is showcased in the exhibition In The Street.

Through the lens

Helen Levitt, In The Street

Much like Levitt, Ngadi Smart has shed light on how climate change has impacted her origin country, Sierra Leone, by capturing the daily life of developing nations on the African continent. Through the use of vibrant collage, Ngadi Smart has been able to capture the multi-layered identities of the people and places of her origin in her collection Wata Na Life.

1854 x Waterfall: The Climate Commission, Ngadi Smart 2021

Following three days of extreme rainfall on 14 October 2017, a mountainside slope in the Western Area of Sierra Leone on the outskirts of the countries capital, Freetown, collapsed causing devastation. Travelling 6km through the city, Freetown’s already-distressed water supply became dangerously contaminated carrying the risk of cholera.

This was but a single instance in the web of Sierra Leone’s complex battle with the impacts of global warming and commissioned by WaterAid in collaboration with 1854 and British Journal of Photography, Ngadi Smart crafted insight into daily life in Sierra Leone.

As well as shedding light on the reality of the water crisis, Smart has been able to capture the beauty of communities banding together and finding ways to adapt by using both traditional knowledge and innovative techniques. Through using colour photography and vibrant collage, Smart has successfully captured the multifaceted people and places of Sierra Leone whilst telling a powerful story about the impact that climate change is having through her craft.

1854 x Waterfall: The Climate Commission, Ngadi Smart 2021

Also exploring the idea of rich diversity whilst commenting on the environmental issues facing the planet, Sebastião Salgado is opening a new exhibition, Amazônia, at the Science Museum.

Through the Lens, Amazonia

Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition Amazônia – October 2021

The latest blockbuster exhibition contains over 200 images that have been captured during Salgado’s 7 years spent travelling around the region exploring the rich diversity of the Amazon. Letting you see one of the most unique environments on the planet through his eyes, the exhibition includes an immersive soundtrack that brings the sounds of the rainforest indoors as well as exclusive interviews with indigenous leaders fighting against climate change and protecting their homes.

By exploring the dialogue between nature and humanity, Salgado has been able to craft over 200 black and white images and dramatic panoramas that present his view of the incredible region and indigenous people by looking through the lens.

Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition Amazônia – October 2021.

Magnum, a renowned photography company, have a strong curiosity about what is going on in the world and how it can be represented and crafted visually. By representing some of the worlds most renowned photographers the range of styles and techniques is massive.

To demonstrate this curiosity, Magnum has invited over 110 photographers and artists to contribute images that explore and push the boundaries of photographic practice. By questioning what we know and see, as well as embracing the unknown, we can curate a sense of anticipation of what could next be discovered through the world of craft.

On The Horizon, Square Print Sale by Magnum Photos in collaboration with Aperture

By looking through the lens of our everyday lives and questioning what we think we can see, the possibilities are endless. As we look back at how artists have revolutionised photography, it is vital to acknowledge their skills and unique way of exploring the craft, from street photography to social change, each artist has changed how we view the world through the lens. We may well all have the ability now to take an image any time anywhere thanks to all our camera assisted phones, but let’s not forget to celebrate the pre-cursers to our options who without we would not be able to record our daily changing worlds; we just wouldn’t know to document were it not for them.

If you enjoyed reading Through the Lens, read Art for Change here.

Find out more about Helen Levitt: In The Street, which is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 13 February 2022.

Find out more about Magnum Photos here.

Main Image: 1854 x Wateraid: The Climate Commission, Ngadi Smart 2021

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