Red Saunders’ epic photographic tableaux vivants (‘living pictures’) recreate momentous but overlooked events from Britain’s struggle for democracy and equality, from the Peasants Revolt of 1381 to the Chartist movement of the mid nineteenth century.
First shown as part of Ways of Looking, a photography festival in Bradford, this major solo touring exhibition of Saunders’ work features three dramatic new works, specially commissioned by Impressions Gallery and The Culture Company.
Focussing on the contributions of ordinary men and women, rather than the monarchs and ‘Great Men’ that dominate official history, Saunders seeks to shed light on the parallel, ‘hidden history’ of revolutionaries and radicals. Meticulously detailed, atmospherically lit, and historically accurate, each scene is recreated and posed by models, providing photographic ‘evidence’ for events that occurred before the widespread adoption of camera technology.
The impressively large-scale works, some six metres long, feature amongst others William Cuffay, a black worker and son of a slave, signing the great ‘People’s Charter’ of 1842; Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women and precursor of modern feminism; and triumphant rebel leader Wat Tyler after his peasant army seized London in 1381.
The first newly commissioned work focuses on women’s activism during the English Civil War (1642 - 1651), recreating a dusk campsite scene where female radicals address a large crowd of soldiers, Levellers and dissenters. The second, inspired by the nationwide agricultural Swing Riots of 1830, is a dramatic night scene where hooded farmworkers emerge from rushes to act against repressive landlord farmers. The third pays homage to Hilda of Whitby, the 7th century abbess and champion of education for women.
Saunders, who made his name as a founder of seminal late 1970s campaign Rock Against Racism, said ‘my hope is that these images can give new life to these important episodes of working people’s history’.
An Impressions Gallery Touring Exhibition.