It is easy to forget that photography, at its core, is a shared experience. Swaps, an exhibition that cultivates photographs from David Hurn’s private collection, is a reminder of the process by which twentieth-century photography developed: through sharing photographs. This exhibition, now being held at the National Museum in Cardiff, has been curated through years of David Hurn playing swapsies with a variety of photographers. The result is a collage of photographs that are simultaneously intimate and universal. The work spans roughly 60 years, ranging from politically-motivated pieces to more surrealist, modern photographs. Generally, the exhibition feels professional in its rigour and variety, but also so warmly familiar when the context of the exhibition is appreciated.
The exhibition has a feeling of familiarity to it, like someone showing you a dusty old photo album, but this familiarity is offset by the sheer quality of photographic skill on show. The collection comprises of photographs by leading 20th and 21st century photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, Sergio Larrain, Bill Brandt, Martine Franck, Bruce Davidson and Martin Parr, but there are also some more unique, less famous photographers, such as ieke Depoorter, Clementine Schneidermann, and Newsha Tavakolian.. This certainly isn’t a safe exhibition, yet that means it doesn’t suffer from contrivance – it flows naturally from photo to photo, from generation to generation, with Hurn’s passion and interest for each photo being apparent thoroughout. It’s kind of like having somebody else’s time capsule you can dip into for a little bit, except that other person happens to be a gifted photographer with really cool mates.
A particular highlight from the exhibition includes a photograph of Henri Matisse by Hurn’s close friend Henri Cartier-Bresson, as seen on the bottom here:
It is a reminder that Hurn, despite his modesty, is up there with the pantheons of the art world, yet you would never think it reading over his genuine and friendly descriptions of his photographs. The exhibition details the context and story behind each photograph from Hurn himself and, sometimes, these descriptions are as entertaining and thought-provoking as the photographs themselves. There’s a video installation, too, where you can hear Hurn speak about some photographs in his own voice. Overall, the exhibition is organised to give off a very homely and understated feel, yet maintain the impact of some of the photographs. There is no pretension here, just an immensely talented photographer talking about and showing images from a craft he has been embedded in for years.
The exhibition is in place until March 11th, so pop down before it finishes! There’s an event where you can see David Hurn speak with his friend and fellow photographer, Martin Parr, about the photographs and life as a photographer in general on 7 February, too. Tickets are £10 and links to the event and the Welsh museum page can be found below.