The sobering photography of Nick Hedges

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Make Life Worth Living features 100 of British documentary photographer Nick Hedges’ images taken for the housing charity Shelter between 1968 and 1972. The exhibition, at the Science Museum’s Media Space in London, includes black-and-white vintage photographs printed in 1972, many of which transport the viewer into the domestic spaces of poverty-stricken families living in cities across the United Kingdom.


“It’s very hard to see past the myth of the ‘swinging sixties’”, Hedges tells BJP at the exhibition’s recent press launch. Sixties radicalism, however, had a significant influence on Hedges, and inspired him to pursue a career as a documentary photographer.

The exhibition, which is on show until 18 January 2015, was co-curated by Greg Hobson, curator of photographs at the National Media Museum, alongside independent curator Hedy van Erp. Although donated to the NMM in 1983, Hedges’ images were rarely exhibited. The current show offers an opportunity to see the collection together for the first time. Previously, Hedges imposed a restriction on the images to protect the anonymity of the subjects. “We decided that around 40 years was an appropriate amount of time to ensure that the children in the photographs had grown up,” comments Hedges.

The child’s perspective is a key theme in the exhibition, but images of landscapes, street-scapes and other portrait shots also feature, and are “arranged so as to frame and punctuate the more hard-hitting scenes of families in the domestic setting”, says Hobson. Van Erp adds that the inclusion of images of signage and shopfronts echoes seminal photobooks Let Us Now Praise Men by Walker Evans and Robert Frank’s The Americans, both of which profoundly influenced Hedges.

Hedges remains adamant that traditional documentary photography has a continuing relevance commenting, “documentary is very necessary. It’s still important to study things in detail: to listen, watch, record and replay.”

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