The camera, a machine in itself, has long been associated with the history of industrial development, from the Victorians, who used it to record their greatest feats of engineering, to later social documentations of conditions in the workplace.
The photographers in Cruel and Tender turn the camera upon the inexorable modernisation of the West, from Albert Renger-Patzsch’s dark chimneystacks of 1920s and 30s Germany, to Andreas Gursky’s digitally-manipulated panoramas of today’s temples to consumerism - the supermarket, the stock exchange and their inevitable counterpart, the rubbish dump.
Robert Adams’s bleak images of Denver suburbs commemorate America’s new landscape: the relentless march of trailer homes, out-of-town shopping malls and identikit housing blocks; while Lewis Baltz’s images of purpose-built industrial units are recorded and assembled into grids, suggesting both the systematic patterns of Minimalist art and the monotonous street-plans of the suburbs.
For Lee Friedlander, the external landscape, presented in the Factory Valleys series, progresses inwards to the factory floor. Registering the social changes in American industry in the 1980s, his images of workers man-handling heavy machinery give way to operators staring at their computer screens.
Paul Graham’s depiction of the grim realities of unemployment offices across the UK amount to a swingeing attack of the mores of Thatcherite Britain. At the other end of the social spectrum, and bordering on the satirical, Garry Winogrand’s photographs from the 1960s and 70s of parties and society openings remove the gloss from the usual media representations of such events.