Art

Intimate portraits of home and homelessness at the new Centre for British Photography

It is probably the most relatable art form, yet British photography hasn't had a dedicated home. Until now. We go inside the new Centre for British Photography

Untitled (NRAL 2 from Ray’s a Laugh), 1994. Part of the exhibition The English at Home at the Centre for British Photography. © Richard Billingham

Untitled (NRAL 2 from Ray’s a Laugh), 1994. Part of the exhibition The English at Home at the Centre for British Photography. © Richard Billingham

From selfies with friends to holiday snaps with the family, nothing captures the ephemeral moments of our lives like photography. It is, says James Hyman – founding director of the brand-new Centre for British Photography – an immediate, accessible, relatable medium “that reaches an audience painting often doesn’t”.

“If you think about painting, it’s a Western convention,” Hyman continues. “The idea that oil on canvas is the pre-eminent medium is not an idea shared by the majority of the world, whereas everybody is taking photographs, and understanding and reading photographs.”

Despite the central place photos play in all our lives, there has not been a dedicated institution to celebrate British photography in all its diversity – until now. “I think British photography is underappreciated,” says Hyman. “I think it’s some of the best in the world. We maybe don’t celebrate it as much as we could.”

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The Centre for British Photography opens this week in London and seeks to right that wrong. It features exhibitions, public events, an archive and a shop. Among the first shows is a collection of images taking an intimate look at where people live. From prim parlourmaids to the men packed into a Salvation Army hostel in the 1940s, The English at Home reveals much about life on this island.

“What we’ve tried to do is take the visitor on a little journey, so they go from the streets to the front porch, to the living room,” Hyman explains. “If you look at the work of Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr, for example, it’s a terraced street and the whole point is: from the outside, every house was the same. But inside, every one has been made personal and individual.”

Here, Hyman takes us on a tour of some of the most striking images of home.

The Centre for British Photography opens on January 26. The English at Home: Twentieth Century Photographs from the Hyman Collection runs until April 30. britishphotography.org

Highlights from The English at Home at The Centre for British Photography

The Shelter, Elephant and Castle © Bert Hardy from the Centre for British Photography
© Bert Hardy

The Shelter, 1948

Bert Hardy’s celebrated series of photographs taken around Elephant and Castle [in South London] for Picture Post magazine were published in 1949 and depicted the streets and home of those who lived in the area. Amongst the most moving images are those he took at the Salvation Army shelter which shows people in a large dormitory.

Family, Notting Hill © Charlie Phillips
© Charlie Phillips

Family, Notting Hill, 1973-1977

Charlie Phillips photographs of his community around Notting Hill and Westbourne Grove include street scenes, pubs and social venues but also a small number of beautifully lit interiors of people’s homes.

The Perfect Parlourmaid – English Parlourmaid (Evening), 1935
© Bill Brandt/ Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

The Perfect Parlourmaid – English Parlourmaid (Evening), 1935

The English at Home was the title of Bill Brandt’s first book in 1936 [after which this exhibition is named]. In it he juxtaposed images of north and south England, contrasting the life of the rich and poor. Among the most famous images he produced showed the life of a domestic servant.

Untitled (NRAL 2 from Ray’s a Laugh), 1994 © Richard Billingham
© Richard Billingham

Untitled (NRAL 2 from Ray’s a Laugh), 1994

Richard Billingham’s best-known series is Ray’s a Laugh. These moving pictures show his own council home and depicts the lives of his mother and father.

June Street, Salford, 1973 © Daniel Meadows / Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
© Daniel Meadows / Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

June Street, Salford, 1973

As final year students Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr jointly photographed each living room along a terraced street contrasting the uniform exteriors with the individuality of each interior.

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