Running as part of the newly launched Bristol Photo Festival, Island Life is a group exhibition that reaches into the Martin Parr Foundation’s collection to paint a fascinating picture of the post-war period through to today. Parr himself is surprisingly absent from the list of exhibiting photographers, yet with images by over 60 photographers included in the show, it offers a patchwork of perspectives from around the UK and Ireland.
Featured in the exhibition is work by Tom Wood and Ken Grant, who together with Parr are considered key documentarians of north west England and have collectively helped to shape the practice of UK documentary photography more widely, along with the late Chris Killip, whose photography capturing the decline of industry is also included in the show.
The demise and legacy of industry provides something of an undercurrent. A sobering image from 1966 by David Hurn shows the direct aftermath of the Aberfan mining disaster in south Wales.
It’s an area Clémentine Schneidermann returned to some 50 years later with Charlotte James to work on their collaborative, celebratory project It’s Called Ffasiwn, which strikes a different tone yet remains tethered to this heritage.
Hurn’s image of the Aberfan disaster is joined by other works that distill historic moments in the UK and Ireland, including Pogus Caeser’s photographs during the 1985 Handsworth Riots in Birmingham, and Gilles Peress’ documentation of unrest in Northern Ireland.
While there is a serious tone to many of the photographs in the show, there is plenty of respite. The free abandon of youth comes through in Elaine Constantine’s riotous mosh pit scenes or Siân Davey’s intimate coming-of-age depiction of her daughter’s circle of friends, while humorous images by Ian Weldon and Dougie Wallace channel the light-hearted spirit of an absent Martin Parr.
Island Life runs at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery until 31 October; bristolphotofestival.org