Photography: John Bulmer ‘Nothern Soul’
Leeds College of Art
Shown until 18th May
Whilst his landscapes symbolise the harshness of the north, some of the characters in this exhibition express nothing but happiness
We imagine the sixties as swinging: a time of mods and rockers, PVC mini dresses, the rise of the mod con. John Bulmer’s exhibition ‘Northern Soul’, however, gives a starkly different depiction of life in these times.
His hard-hitting, soulful photographs of life in the industrial cities of the north capture the grittier side of life in the sixties, but the subjects Bulmer captured on film exude just as much joy and happiness as we might recall of Twiggy and The Beatles.
Bulmer is recognised as one of the greatest photojournalists in Britain, and is praised particularly for how he so effortlessly took to shooting in colour as opposed to traditional black and white. His acute awareness of light and, and how the seasons affect his work is what sets him apart from other photographers. In some works, photographing his subjects in winter fog creates an almost ethereal sense, softening the harsh industrial landscapes and producing something quite poignant.
Bulmer’s portraits encapsulate all walks of life, the young and old, the kept wives and the hard-working labourers. His portraits of miners, faces black with soot, hang side by side with those of women preening themselves, or scrubbing their doorsteps, to perfection. The culture of the times is reflected very honestly in Bulmer’s work, as he documents how important good presentation of self and home was to some women, even in a run-down industrial town.
Other cultural aspects are also presented in Bulmer’s photography. An image of three young African men echoes the post-war immigration, whilst a tender photograph of a man seeking warmth in a public library reminds us that although the sixties might have been swinging for some, there were still high levels of unemployment.
Bulmer captures the essence of life brilliantly, maintaining the happiness and humour of his subjects. Whilst his landscapes symbolise the harshness of the north, some of the characters in this exhibition express nothing but happiness, and pride in both themselves and their hometowns.
Bulmer’s images are an honest portrayal of 1960s in the north. His attention to composition and colour validate his photographs as works of art, whilst his opportunistic skill confirms his status as one of our best photojournalists.
Images: John Bulmer from ‘Northern Soul’