A closer look at Evolution Explored

EVOLUTION EXPLORED is a unique exhibition featuring stunning images made by some of the world’s most famous photographers.   Photographers who have captured moments, events and developments the world over, from small, quiet incidents to world changing and defining events.   

In planning the exhibition in Shrewsbury the project partners wanted to have a local and relevant theme at the core of the exhibition, one that celebrates the town and resonates with its residents and visitors.   ‘Evolution’ was chosen as the focus, stemming from the town’s famous Charles Darwin links.  The theme is explored in the widest and broadest sense, not literally, but as a way of looking at the world we live in.

Photography is the most accessible artform.  Most people are familiar with image making from camera phones through to Facebook albums.  We live in an increasingly visual world, of TV, films and news pictures and so the photographic image is familiar to us all in a way that other artforms are not.    Showing photography in public spaces, outdoors, where people can view the works freely and without entering a museum, galley or archive is democratic and accessible, enhancing the environment of Shrewsbury’s beautiful and historic squares in a contemporary and yet befitting way.

Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, 2010. © Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, 2010. © Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

In creating a cohesive and visually stunning exhibition it was decided to work with internationally renowned Magnum Photos whose photographers and archive are amongst the best in the world.  Drawing from the Magnum Archive to select images for Shrewsbury was about taking the audiences through different emotions, through enjoyment, fun, joy, wonder, exploration, compassion, discovery and intellectual challenges. Just as ‘evolution’ is a wide and complex concept, we wanted the exhibition to reflect the journey of the world as we know it today and include both universal and local references.   The images depict the rural and natural environment, as well as demonstrate man’s progression through technology, changes in society, the build environment, historical events, conflict, progress and humanity.   These are images that tell the story of the world we live in today and the immediate past.

It was important to work with Magnum Photos, not only because of the importance of their photographers, but also to mark Magnum’s 70th anniversary.  The images reflect the versatility of the subject ‘Evolution’ and also incorporate the evolution of the photographic artform itself; the exhibition includes black and white photographs by the earliest Magnum photographers, through to those working today and utilising digital technologies.   

We live in extraordinary times, today more than ever, the impact of politics, economics, globalisation and technological change can be felt.    The Magnum photographers capture these times throughout our history and today for future generations.  

Charles Darwin himself was a photography enthusiast. This is evident not only in his use of photography for the study of Expression and Emotions in Man and Animal, but can be witnessed in his many photographic portraits and in the extensive portrait correspondence that Darwin undertook throughout his lifetime. His close friend and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker would come to call Darwin’s epistolary exchange of photographic images as his “carte correspondence”. Hooker was jokingly lamenting his role as an intermediary for Darwin and his correspondents from around the globe in their exchange of carte-de-visites, or small photographic prints made in large numbers and printed on hard card for ease of exchange.

While collecting photographic portraits of friends and relatives was not a pursuit unique to Darwin (the exchange of photographic images was a popular activity for many Victorians), when placed in the context of Darwin’s correspondence more broadly, we can see an interesting trend. When Darwin sent his photograph to a close ally, such as the Harvard botanist Asa Gray, or when he was given a photograph as a token of esteem by a colleague, such as Daniel Oliver at Kew, the image became more than just a physical reminder of likeness. It performed the same function that his correspondence as a whole did for him; it created and reinforced his experimental and scientific network.

Evolution is a cornerstone of modern science, accepted as one of the most reliably established of all facts and theories of science, based on evidence not just from the biological sciences but also from anthropology, psychology, astrophysics, chemistry, geology, physics, mathematics, and other scientific disciplines, as well as behavioural and social sciences. Understanding of evolution has made significant contributions to humanity, including the prevention and treatment of human disease, new agricultural products, industrial innovations and rapid advances in life sciences.   Photographers, since the invention of the camera, have been there to document this.

Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire, England, 1994. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire, England, 1994. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

As for the pictures themselves, over the duration of the exhibition we will talk about a few here.  The exhibiton features the work of Magnum founder member Robert Capa, “the world’s greatest photographer,” (1938 Picture Post).  Robert Capa, who had covered both the flood of refugees from the Spanish Civil War and the Japanese invasion of China. This was nine years before he helped create Magnum.  The exhibiton also features work from the 1950s to the present day including the Masters Elliott ErwittBruce Davidson, David Hurn (who will be speaking in Shrewsbury on the 6th April) through to perhaps the most well-known and renown contemporary photographer Martin Parr. 

Join us in celebrating the exhibition in Shrewsbury, Darwin’s anniversary and Magnum’s 70th anniversary throughout the next 10 weeks.

Shrewsbury BID