Human Rights Human Wrongs, Photographers' Gallery

"Article Six of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere, as a person before the law."

Robert Lebeck, Leopoldville, 1960

 

Together with Autograph ABP London, as well as the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, the Photographers' Gallery have brought the Human Rights Human Wrongs photo exhibition to the UK for the first time. Using the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a catalyst for the exhibition, curator Mark Sealy focused on “an enquiry into photojournalistic practice and its impact on humanitarian objectives.”

I wanted audiences to really think about what this human right to recognition actually means, and how such recognition is generated and controlled, especially in terms of image production and circulation.
— Mark Sealy

With full access to the twentieth century photo reportage Black Star Collection, the exhibition encompasses more than 300 original press prints. The time frame of the pictures generally covers the time just after WWII in 1945, up until the early 1990s, focusing on political upheavals, wars, and struggles against racism and colonization.

Bob Fitch, Martin L. King, 1968

 

Hilmar Pabel, Czechoslovakia Invasion, 1968

 

With full access to the twentieth century photo reportage Black Star Collection, the exhibition encompasses more than 300 original press prints. The time frame of the pictures generally covers the time just after WWII in 1945, up until the early 1990s, focusing on political upheavals, wars, and struggles against racism and colonization.

The exhibition is set over two floors, both of which have the declaration of human rights printed on the right side of the entrance for a reminder, or enlightenment if you haven't encountered it before. 

The photos are broadly in a chronological order, with the first image you encounter being that of eight black Africans shackled together from 1896. The next few images take in three different continents pushing the argument that these photos of oppression have in common and form the documentation of the movement for recognition of peoples humans rights.  

The exhibition works against events and movements being represented by one single photo – there’s a strong emphasis on the exposing of “definite conditioning towards a western media perspective”, which hugely impacts our overall understanding of world events.

As a whole, it serves as a reminder that conflict in the world is a constant; that the issues faced more than a century ago still are being fought against just with different masks and slogans. If one sets aside the divisions of nationality, ethnicity and geography you can see these separate incidents and conflicts as indicative of a general reaction to power, to injustice and oppression. 

 
 
There’s also a huge bias towards a received and dominant visual tradition. If you look at the image on view here, a very definite pattern starts to emerge. Typically, Western soldiers are photographed in Christian poses, framed like dying Christs on crosses; whilst the African soldier is presented as a savage who needs to be tamed; a renegade who fights his war outside of the rules of conflict, outside the Geneva Convention. These references create very specific meaning and values, yet conditioned as we are, we’re largely conscious of their effect.

So much of the world, in terms of how we understand it, is generated from a very particular tradition of Eurocentric concerns and the ongoing relevance of Article Six must be that we consider other people’s points of view. At a time when vast swathes of people – the refugee, the asylum seeker, the economic migrant – have no rights at all, are in fact ‘no-ones’, it seems a matter of extreme urgency to consider political humanitarian development in today’s context.
— Mark Sealy

Osvaldo Salas, Che Guevara, c.1962

Carlo Bavagnoli, Biafra, c.1968

 

To include the Civil Rights Movement as part of the anti-colonialist movements of the 50's and 60's in the exhibition is an example of how global movements are connected through common inspiration and thought. That such a pairing should feel unusual is indicative of the effectiveness of the institutional powers of state and media to portray events to for their own ends. 

While this exhibition covers periods more than a century old, the issues that faces are ever so current and immediate. The portrayal of 'them' in images is still modified to suit a narrative that makes our policies of state suitable to our palate and the aims of the state. Replace the barbaric African bullet chain covered soldier with a bearded Arab pick up truck driving soldier; the undertone is always one of dehumanisation, the most dangerous of attributions, that makes all actions possible. 

 

 

 

 

HUMAN RIGHTS HUMAN WRONGS Photographers' Gallery,                        16 - 18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW. Exhibition ends on April 6, entrance is free.