Shooting stars

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
THe YOUNG METEORS. The National Museum in Exile, The Art Mill, Little Germany, Bradford. To November 1. Admission free.

When in 1967 Jonathan Aitken published The Young Meteors, he can have had little idea of the future irony of the title; Aitken, of course, recently bumped to earth after a failed libel action against The Guardian and Granada Television. As for the book, it ignored the issue of hubris for a celebration of Sixties youthful enterprise.

Taking its cue from Aitken's title, "Young Meteors: British Photojournalism 1957-1965", an exhibition at the National Museum in Exile, Bradford, features the work of some of the most enterprising figures of the day - the young shooting stars of photography.

Seeking to show changes not only in these two worlds but in society also, this exhibition looks at developments in the media and popular culture through both still and moving images. While a loop video of advertisements reflects the movement from generally stilted to often more oddball forms (workmanlike Fifties Black and Decker to wacky Sixties Dulux), a compilation of pop clips contrasts a boyish Cliff Richard, all quiff and mohair suit, with The Beatles in early mop-top mode.

Less pleasing are assorted opening credits from Fifties and Sixties television series such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, meant to show the more realistic atmosphere of the later dramas. A mistake, surely, not to include parts of the programmes themselves, how-ever informative the nearby wall captions. Far better is a documentary on the influence of the Independent Group, a body dedicated to advancing the cause of Pop Art against stuffy establishment preferences.

The photographs make the enthusiasm of the Independent Group for things bright and brash - which then meant things American almost by definition - far more understandable.

Armed with the latest SLR cameras, fast film, wide-angle and zoom lenses, the new breed of photographers were technic-ally able and temperamentally only too keen to record lives with an honesty that twee pre-war magazines (Picture Post an honourable exception) would have baulked at. In this they were encouraged by the progressive editors of such publications as About Town, Vogue and, later, The Sunday Times Colour Magazine.

Hence images like, from 1958, Don McCullin's "The Guv'nors, Finsbury Park", in which seven young toughs, balefully regard the lens from a ruined tenement. Or, from the same year, Roger Mayne's picture of small boys from the Glasgow slums, their excitement at being photographed in marked contrast with their grim surroundings. A year later Philip Jones Griffiths caught five heavies keeping vigil outside Pentonville Prison while their friend Ronald Marwood was being hanged for murder. In terms of mood and matter, it's a picture altogether of its time.

Nor are the Sixties pictures an essay in hopefulness. From the middle of the decade, John Bulmer shows northern, working-class women with faces as worn as the steps they are scrubbing. The same man's 1961 black-and-white picture of an old woman, dressed in rags and bent double as she cleans a fence post, is heartbreaking. True, there's Ringo in 1963, knotting his tie in a mirror, but Robert Freeman's study is unusual in its cheeriness.

Strange, really, considering that the Sixties is generally regarded as an age of shining optimism.

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