British photographic history

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Exhibition: Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72

A hard-hitting collection of photographs taken by Nick Hedges for Shelter between 1968 and 1972 are to be shown together for the first time in a new exhibition in the Virgin Media Studio, Media Space, London, from 2 October 2014-18 January 2015. 

Commissioned by housing charity Shelter to photograph people living in poor housing conditions, documentary photographer Nick Hedges spent three years travelling areas of deprivation around the UK to create this significant body of work reflecting the often distressing reality of the critical social issue of housing.

Hedges donated 1,000 prints from his Shelter work to the National Media Museum in 1983. However, until now their use has been restricted to protect the privacy of his subjects.

Co-curated by Dutch independent curator Hedy van Erp and the National Media Museum’s Curator of Photographs Greg Hobson, this moving and inspiring set of black and white photographs of real-life situations exemplifies Hedges’ unique position in the practice of documentary photography at the time, which was largely focused on recording conflict and international events.

Hedges’ mission to harness the immediate power of photography to change the way we think about social issues led him to create this stirring collection, and his empathy for his subjects is evidenced through his detailed contemporary notes, extracts of which will appear in the exhibition.

Nick Hedges said: ‘Although these photographs have become historical documents, they serve to remind us that secure and adequate housing is the basis of a civilised urban society. The failure of successive governments to provide for it is a sad mark of society’s inaction. The photographs should allow us to celebrate progress, yet all they can do is haunt us with a sense of failure.’

Greg Hobson, Curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum, Bradford said: ‘Hedges’ work is a tremendously important addition to the history of documentary photography in Britain. By making visible the contemporary plight of people living in poverty, he is giving a voice to those that would otherwise remain unheard or be ignored.’

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: ‘Nick’s pictures were crucial to the early days of Shelter’s campaigning, capturing a stark reality that many people in Britain couldn’t even imagine, let alone believe was happening in their community. Many of the scenes that Nick captured are from places that have long since been regenerated, but conditions not a million miles from these exist in our communities even now, with poor housing, sky-high house prices, rogue landlords and a housing safety net that’s being cut to shreds leading three million people to turn to Shelter each year. It’s nearly fifty years since these pictures were taken and the Shelter journey began; I truly hope in another fifty years our journey will have long been completed and that bad housing and homelessness will be a thing of the past, rather than a challenge for our future.’

Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72 will run from 2 October 2014 to 18 January 2015 in the Virgin Media Studio, Media Space, Science Museum, London. Full details of the exhibition and its events programme can be found at www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/makelifeworthliving. Entrance free.

Image: 'Mrs T and her family of 5 lived in a decaying terraced house owned by a steelworks. She had no gas, no electricity, no hot water, no bathroom. Her cooking was done on the fire in the living room. Sheffield, May 1969'
© Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

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