From Thatcherite Britain to 21st century recession and industry decline, influential photographer Paul Reas (b.1955) has documented the experiences of the working class. This project comes together in the international premiere of his first major retrospective on display at the Impressions Gallery, Bradford, from 10 December to 8 March. One of the key artists to emerge from the new wave of British colour documentary in the mid-1980s, Reas combines acerbic wit and sharp observations to reveal and critique British class culture, critiquing the new corporate and commerical world.
In all its, perhaps troublesome, evocations of a heady nostalgia, Daydreaming about the good times? features everything from rarely-seen early black and white photographs made in Wales and Bradford to a series of never-before-exhibited works that highlight Reas’ position a a polemic figure in photography’s debate with politics.
I Can Help (1988) explores the consumer boom of the 1980s with a new middle-class shopping force wandering through American-style shopping malls, whilst Flogging a Dead Horse (1993) makes a nationwide survey of how the “heritage industry” emerged with sites such as Beamish Open Air Museum presenting idyllic, commercialised versions of the past in the wake of a collapsed manufacturing industry. The Valleys Project (1985), on the other hand, depicts the impact and decline of steel and coal industries in Wales alongside the emerging workforce of women in New Technology industries as they undertook deadening work assembling electro-components in factories. Finally, a contemporary work, From a Distance (2012/3) documents today’s property development boom and the changes facing the traditional working class neighbourhoods of South London.
Also peppered with artifacts from Reas’ personal archive including magazine spreads of editorial work, contact sheets and examples of his award-winning subversive advertising campaigns for Nissan, British Telecom and Volkswagen, Daydreaming offers a never-before permitted insight into the life and opinions of this icon of provoking, working-class focused photography.
Daydreaming About the Good Times?, 10 December – 8 March 2014, Impressions Gallery, Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1SD.
1. From ‘The Valley’s Project’, 1985.