A man stands his ground after being attacked with water jets by firemen in Birmingham, Alabama 1963. Photographed by Charles Moore, this image is part of the Human Rights Human Wrongs exhibition at the Photographers Gallery until the 6th April. Featuring over 250 images taken between 1945 and the 1990's, it takes us on a visual, political journey, from Latin America, Europe through to Asia, with photojournalism and its complex relationship to human rights at its heart.
Curated by Mark Sealy, Human Rights, Human Wrongs features original press prints of twentieth century reportage imagery, drawn from the prestigious Black Star photographic agency, formed in 1937 in New York by two Jewish émigrés fleeing Nazi occupation. The Black Star founders brought with them to New York all the knowledge they had acquired of reproduction methods used widely at that time in Berlin and Munich. Arriving in New York at a time when Life magazine was also emerging as a visual newspaper.
The exhibition is centred around article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everybody has the right to representation before the law. This was formed at a time when the world was trying to piece itself back together after the devastation of World War Two.
Sealy interrogates what it means to have recognition in the world and questions how documentary photography in some way takes responsibly for our understanding of the world. He reminds us that these images were created with the press in mind while also pointing out that most of the these photojournalists were from North America or Europe which says something very specific about who is rendering the world and why.
All the failures of the political ideals, colonialism, revolutionary struggles, covert actions are on show here, with Sealy pointing us to how those things become visualised. The exhibition finishes on Rwanda with an image by Tom Stoddart, genocide bookending these massive disasters. Everything has been considered here, right down to the regal purple walls with the words from article 6 rendered in gold, suggesting something sacred existing above our heads. Unsettling and interrogating at every turn it's an exhibition that is not easy to look at, but impossible to forget.