A Window to the World

What happens when we engage with art outside gallery walls? The Half Moon Gallery was established in 1972 with the vision of using documentary photography as a tool for activism and social change. One way of achieving this was to exhibit topical photography in a variety of venues so that it was accessible to a range of people. Their shows toured the UK between 1976 and 1984, popping up at community centres, student unions, churches as well as a prison. One standout example was the The Orkney Islands (1980) exhibition, which opened at the East London Mile End laundrette. Four Corners’ latest show, titled Photography on the Move, uncovers this little-known piece of British history that still resonates today.

Venues were carefully chosen to resonate with the pieces on display. For instance, George Plemper (b. 1950) created the series Lost in School (1979) whilst teaching as Head of Chemistry at Riverside School, Thamesmead. The title refers to his dissatisfaction working in the education system. Nevertheless, he set out to picture pupils in a “positive, affirmative way.” One snapshot, Ida, Sam and Eugene (1978), shows the three boys sat on the benches in a chemistry lab. The caption tells us “each would go on to achieve wonderful things.” Fitting its subject matter, the series was displayed at the Institute of Education, London.

By 1984, over fifty shows had reached people across the UK, playing a pivotal role in how documentary photography was seen and used. Key shows included: Gaining Momentum (1981), a group show of women photographers exploring everything from motherhood to the Hindu festival Navaratri; The Nonconformists (1981), which showed Martin Parr’s shots of older residents living in Hebden Bridge and Family Self-Portrait (1977), where Richard Greenhill documented his family at home to shift the camera away from its fixation on “other places, other societies, other classes.” These tours enabled audiences from all walks of life to engage with various topical conversations affecting 1970s society and politics. Photography in everyday spaces brought (and continues to bring) people closer to pressing issues and unseen perspectives.

Four Corners, Photography on the Move: The Half Moon Touring Shows 1976 – 1984 | Until 27 January


Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:

  1. Nick Hedges, 1977.
  2. Lost at School, George Plemper, (1979). Poster image © George Plemper.
  3. People Portraits, Edward Barber, (1976). Poster image © Edward Barber
  4. Gaining Momentum, 8 women photograph women. Group exhibition: Vicky White, Sarah Wyld, Chia Moan, Nicky Blakeney, Jessie Ann Matthew, Gina Glover, Sue Arrowsmith, Rachel Finkelstein. Poster image © Chia Moan.