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‘Fragile Democracy’ new international photography

Exhibition dates: 2 May - 21 June 2008
Preview: Thursday 1 May 6:00 - 8:00pm

"The rules of classic democracy do not in fact confer political
equality on all... equal political rights in effect confer a major
advantage on those who command the greatest resources to
mobilise in defence of their interests."            
Frank Parkin, 'Class Inequality and Political Order', 1971

'Fragile Democracy' brings together a selection of photographers and artists from around the world who use the camera to document communities, micro-societies and subcultures in a state of economic and political transition, or who use the camera in an ethnographic idiom. All of the contemporary works have either been made especially for 'Fragile Democracy' or are shown here for the first time in the UK.


August Sander's seminal series of photographs introduce the exhibition. Sander's work is all too frequently celebrated as being quasi-scientific typological social studies. Instead, a panoramic selection of fifteen of his images which span the years 1928 to 1938 are seen to document democracy and dictatorship in interwar Europe.
August Sander: 'Peasant Children, Westerwald', c.1926-31. Held in the Side Photographic Collection.
German-born, London-based Immo Klink has documented a dozen communities and communes across Europe from Scotland to Spain, looking at their architecture and ways of life. Although all the communities reject the norms of mainstream society, some do so to create environmentally sustainable ways of life; others to pursue a less consumerist ethos.

Immo Klink: from 'Eurotopia', 2004-8. Commissioned for 'Fragile Democracy'. Supported by Arts Council England.

George Osodi's body of work 'Oil Rich Niger Delta' documents Nigeria's transformation into Africa's biggest oil exporter - oil accounts for roughly 95% of the country's export trade. Osodi's digital images both celebrate West Africa's extraordinary landscapes alongside its everyday life, as well as exposing some harsh economic realities.

George Osodi: from 'Oil Rich Niger Delta', 2007, digital projection. George Osodi is represented by Z Photographic, London.

South African photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko has documented a subculture of urban 'dandies' in Johannesburg and Cape Town, for whom extravagant costume provide a means of self expression. NontsikeLelo Veleko was commissioned as part of the 'Changing Faces' project, which is an EC Culture 2000 project, hosted by the iprn at the University of Sunderland.

Nontsikelelo Veleko from 'Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder', dye sublimation print, 2008. Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg. In 2007 Veleko was commissioned as part of the 'Changing Faces' project, an EC Culture 2000 project hosted by the IPRN at the University of Sunderland.

New Yorker Salome Oggenfuss documents America's Deep South, capturing heroic, utopian schemes for new housing built by communes, alongside other communities outside the American mainstream at "demolition derby races, trailer parks, re-enactments, and county fairs".
Salome Oggenfuss: 'Alabama', 2008, C-type print. Commissioned for 'Fragile Democracy'.
Parisian artist Cyprien Gaillard presents the video 'Desniansky Raion' which spans eastern and western Europe, encompassing three sections: the suburbs of Kiev, from which the work takes it name; those of Saint Petersburg where the artist documents a battle between gangs; and Parisian high-rise flats, the unexpected site of extravagant son et lumière: fireworks fly and projections animate the buildings' facades until they are demolished.
Cyprien Gaillard: from 'Desniansky Raion', 2007, video, 29 minutes. Courtesy Cosmic Galerie, Paris, and Laura Bartlett Gallery, London