Tate Modern Level 4
5 June – 7 September 2003
Photographs of the Twentieth Century considers the realist vein of photography that runs throughout the twentieth century, which has created some of the century’s most iconic images as well as changing the way we view the world around us.
This will be the first exhibition at Tate to be dedicated to photography and will bring together groups of works by over twenty of the most important photographers working in the documentary style during the twentieth century including: Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Boris Mikhailov, Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander and Michael Schmidt.
Described by some as ‘pure’ photography, this work is characterised by a sense of disengagement; it is analytical and descriptive in its approach to society and the landscape. At the same time, this kind of photography also demonstrates a concern for the subject matter. Lincoln Kirstein identified this paradox of seeming opposites when he described Walker Evans’s work as ‘tender cruelty’. This oscillation between engagement and estrangement features in each work on display, from Walker Evans’s studies of starving US sharecroppers during the Depression to Boris Mikhailov’s contemporary images of the suffering homeless and dispossessed in the former USSR.
Photographs of the Twentieth Century includes many iconic images from the twentieth century. For example, in August Sander’s Young Farmers 1914, three men dressed in their Sunday best pause in their promenade, to pose for the camera - hats, walking sticks, stiff collars and cigarettes combine to create an image redolent of youthful pride and friendship. Robert Frank’s bus passengers innocently look at the photographer as they pass: white passengers at the front, black at the back. This edgy dissection of the 1950s memorably encapsulates segregationist America. These famous images will be displayed within the context of their original bodies of work, enabling a greater understanding of the working practices of individual photographers.
Photographs of the Twentieth Century reflects how attitudes towards the environment and the world of work have shifted during the twentieth century. Albert Renger-Patzsch’s studies of the industrial heartland of Germany in the 1920s are coolly recorded and dispassionate, while by contrast, Robert Adams’s photographs from the 1970s have a much greater critical edge, reflecting a US that has become one vast claustrophobic shopping mall.
This major exhibition is a collaboration between Tate Modern and Museum Ludwig, Cologne. The exhibition is curated by Emma Dexter, Senior Curator, for Tate Modern and Thomas Weski, Chief Curator, for Museum Ludwig. In 2000 Thomas Weski curated How You Look At It, an important photographic contribution to Hannover Expo 2000.