A fusion of two collections of photographs of American life, separated by 40 years of time, but showing a society that seems to have changed little.
Originally created in 1969, the America in Crisis project took place in an era of overseas wars and race riots, and a repeat project took place over the past few years in an era of overseas wars and race riots.
The Saatchi gallery has now brought both projects together and blended them into a single display that deliberately sets to confuse you at times as to the era you are looking at. Photos decades apart are set side by side in contrast and in doing so show how the USA has both not moved on and yet changed profoundly.
Here though, the biggest change is not the emotions, but the people, where it was people protesting for equality, its now people protesting to deny it.
Interspersed around the rooms are quotes from the original 1960s project and updated versions for the modern times we have lived through. The modern project runs up to last year’s attack on the US Congress, with often striking contrasts between B&W and colour photos. The B&W photos of protestors could almost come from any age, angry faces shouting at people, and mostly not showing that great trauma of recent times, the facemask. A colour photograph of Congress almost looks as if it’s on fire, so bright are reflected lights around the protesting masses.
What is missing from the modern photos that are prevalent in the older ones is the sense of optimism, that protesting will change things for the better. For all the problems of the time, there was still hope that life could get better. The photos today seem more filled with hate than hope, more determined to turn the clock back than to march forward.
What is striking though is how little American protests have changed over the past 50 years. Take a load of photos of the UK in the late 1960s and compare them to photos taken last year and you might as well be on different planets. But apart from the ethic switch-over, you almost can’t tell which photos are old and which are new in the USA.
In a strange way then, this makes the exhibition feel almost timeless or lost in time, there are too few obvious visual clues as to whether you’re looking at the past or the recent.
In that sense, the title of the exhibition, America in Crisis is sadly very appropriate.
It’s an exhibition that doesn’t leave you feeling optimistic and enthused, but the way it’s been laid out contrasting and blending past and present reminds us that there was once a time when massive street protests were hopeful and uplifting.