In 1970, Charles Harbutt said of the original project: “Many of us felt that the 1968 election would be somehow special; that deeper issues for America rested on the simple election of a president I felt the fundamental problem was that the traditional American self-image learned in public schools, Hollywood movies, commercials and 4th of July speeches – the American Dream itself – was being challenged. .”
The group project took a critical look at the United States at a time of great social, political and cultural change and examined the key events of 1968 leading up to Nixon’s inauguration. The 2022 exhibition at Saatchi hopes to create a dialogue between the original historical photographs of the 1969 Magnum Project and new works produced five decades later during another tumultuous time in America.
The show comes at a pivotal moment in history as the rise of “fake news” in recent years makes photography’s role as a means of “bearing witness” more relevant than ever. America in Crisis explores the similarities and differences between two eras of recent American history through the photographs produced during each pivotal period. Here, you’ll see the spotlight shine on deep-rooted national debates about gun control and racial inequality, as well as topics of global impact like the digital revolution and the climate crisis.
Revisiting and updating this exhibition also creates a unique dialogue between the main photographers of 1968, such as Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt and Mary Ellen Mark, and the works of contemporaries of 2020, such as Kris Graves, Balazs Gardi, Zora J Murff , Sheila Pree Bright and Stacy Kranitz. The exhibition highlights the themes present in both eras, confronting the myth of American exceptionalism with the reality of current events.
Like Harbutt’s original concept, the 2022 exhibit follows the same chapter structure in the 1969 publication. Section titles such as The Streak of Violence, The Deep Roots of Poverty and The Battle for Equality have contemporary resonance. Of course, the meeting of these two eras of documentary photography also offers the opportunity to consider the evolutions of documentary photography over six decades.
Of the artwork on display, photographer Zora J Murff says, “How I felt about the perpetration of American violence against black people in 2020 was no different than how I felt before, and my opinions remain unchanged.The recorded deaths of black people at the hands of white people that we have seen in the past two years are nothing new in this country.
“Such recordings continue to serve as consumer spectacles in the court of public opinion while the conditions under which black people suffer remain unchanged. I understand photography as an inherently social act, which means that the objects created at From the action always have existential implications. I use photography to undermine systemic racism by encouraging a deeper reading of the images and contexts around them.”
Leah Millis, another star photographer, adds: “I think a crisis for me involves a singular event or a slice of time, and I feel like 2020 was a continuation. foundation of our country. The crisis does not give enough scope at the moment. It almost feels like we’re riding through the storm. I’ve been in the middle of this for the past few years, which probably colors my perspective, but I feel like it goes much deeper.
“Journalism is what really matters to me, and photography is the medium I use to tell stories, to show people what’s going on. Diversity is key in this context. Who is the person behind the purpose? We are all individuals, and we all work to be fair journalists, but we all bring our perspectives and experiences. That’s really important.
America in Crisis is currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London until April 3, 2022. Curated by Sophie Wright, Gregory Harris of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and Los Angeles-based photographer and academic Tara Pixley.