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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning : The ‘Authentic’ Moment in British Photography

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Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, is one of most famous and influential British films ever made. Both the film and novel captured working class Nottingham life, at a time of post war social upheaval. This exhibition plays important role in documenting this period of time for the city, primarily through documentary photography.

The period from 1950’s to the 1960’s saw many changes across Britain. The country shifted from wartime austerity, to post war consumerism, pre-war terraced houses were demolished and brand new estates were created. People and communities changed rapidly and Nottingham was as much affected by the cultural changes, as swinging London, albeit in a slightly more parochial way.

Writers are often most passionate when they write about where they come from. Sillitoe came from Nottingham, near the Raleigh factory, and though he moved to Spain to write the book, Saturday Night captured the conflicts and confusion in a working class mind during this period.

The book was based on Sillitoe’s own experiences of working at the Raleigh factory on Triumph Road in Radford, during the prosperous post-war years. At the time, work was plentiful, life was for living, and the British manufacturing industry was at its peak. Today, in times of austerity, young people face a different challenge, yet many experiences for working class kids remain the same. It is a testament to the sharpness of the writing that this book, written over 50 years ago, still has a great and endearing influence on young minds today. The Arctic Monkeys titled their debut album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”, a direct quote from the book, and even Nottingham’s latest star writes..

“Something is changing, changing, changing..

..So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain

Light a cigarette and wish the world away

I got out, I got out, I’m alive and I’m here to stay

So I hold two fingers up to yesterday”

Jake Bugg’s song ‘Two Fingers’ continues to carry the rebellious working class mantel, young men trying to grasp the wider changes and its impact their community.  Incidentally, if you see the images of a newly built Clifton estate in the exhibition, you should go home and watch the video for ‘Two Fingers” to see how that particular dream developed, as well as the continuing influence of the film.

Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, worked at the Raleigh Bicycle Company factory. At the time, the company employed over 9,000 local people. Many scenes were filmed in the actual factory, and the streets around Ratford. The exhibition has many photographs taken during the making of the film, alongside these are images taken by local newspaper photographers, from local people’s archives and from other professional photographers.

One of the benefits of the expansion of the Djanogly Gallery is that there is now much more space to show a coherent piece of work, and this exhibition benefits from the extra space.  There are some 200 photographs in the exhibition with material from Nottingham, across the Midlands and Manchester. It roughly follows the timeline of the film, from Saturday to Sunday, and though sometimes the ‘authentic’ documentary image and images from the film merge, the whole exhibition gels together wonderfully.

One of the subtexts to the exhibition is an examination of changes affecting documentary photography during this period.  During the 1950’s and 1960’s print media, and especially local newspapers played an important role in capturing images and news. These were the times before local radio, and colour TV’s. In fact, there was no TV for much of the day, and people had to rely on local newspapers for information. Local papers were part of the local community and almost all births, marriages and deaths were announced in local papers, rather than Facebook. Local papers like the Nottingham Guardian and Nottingham Evening Post were widely read. At the time the Post had a circulation of over 190,000 daily copies, its current daily circulation of around 35,000 is small in comparison.

The photographers who worked for these local papers were important people documenting everyday local life. At the beginning of the 1950’s they mostly worked with large format plate cameras, then came medium format film camera, and by the 1960’s 35mm film camera. The changes in equipment enabled photographers to be more dynamic and creative. If you want to compare the changes look at the posed documentary photography of Dorothy Lange and compare them to the more fluid and dynamic images created by Robert Frank, William Klein or even Don McCullin’s images of post war London. Throughout the exhibition you can see the development of a younger generation of photographers capturing a changing and vibrant young culture.

It’s a good exhibition, and one especially suited to taking family members from different generations. I adopted an elderly couple that had contributed some of their own photographs to the exhibition, and left with a headful of local knowledge, perhaps something the gallery should do more often. The exhibition is an impressive local archive that should be treasured for years to come, and well worth seeing.

For more details about the exhibition, visit: lakesidearts.org.uk   There is a great 83 page downloadable gallery guide, where people can add their own captions HERE

Further events:

A whole series of further events are being held during the period of the exhibition.

Lectures include:

Wednesday 12 December 6.30-7.30pm

Post-war Prosperity: the Redesigning of Nottingham in the 50s and 60s

Elain Harwood is an historian with English Heritage and the author of the Pevsner City Guide to Nottingham.  She is currently writing a book on English post-war architecture.

Saturday 26 January 2 – 5.30pm
Alan Sillitoe: then and now
Ross Bradshaw (Five Leaves Publications) will lead this literary tribute of two halves which starts with a discussion of working class life and leisure in 60s Nottingham followed by readings by contemporary Nottinghamshire writers – Jon McGregor, Nicola Monaghan and Matthew Welton – who will respond to Sillitoe’s novel and discuss its influence on their own work.

Saturday 26 January 7 – 8.30pm
Performance: SN&SM: The Mix Frank Abbott
An evening of eating*, drinking, performance and DJ mixing in which artist and filmmaker, Frank Abbott, presents a radical recut of the Karel Reisz movie, celebrating the brilliance of the original writing and its relevance today.
*pie and chips will be served in the Gallery Café from 6pm.

 

Free gallery tours are being held from 1 – 1.45pm on Thursdays on 22 and 29 November and 6 and 13 December and on Sundays on 18 and 25 November and 2 and 9 December.

For all talks and events, advanced booking is required by calling the Lakeside Arts Centre box office on 0115 846 7777.

Credits for images used

Credit list (Kindly supplied by Lakeside Arts Centre)

Top images Credit: Image courtesy of Nottingham Post.

Featured Image:  Credit: Salford © Shirley Baker

Bottom Image: Credit:  St. Ann’s © Roger Mayne

 

 

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Jagdish Patel is a Nottingham based photographer and a Director at the Nottingham Photographers’ Hub a social enterprise helping vulnerable communities enter the creative sector.

www.saffronmoon.co.uk

www.nphub.org.uk