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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, February 13, 2009
    He cared wisely

    Once you get up close to this picture of Harold MacMillan taking a fag break at a party conference, you notice that the cigarette in his hand is burnt one-third down. And that the long wobble of ash at the end of the cig looks about to drop, any moment. Onto the head of a senior citizen seated directly below. Maybe that's why the other lady has a newspaper protecting her head. Discerning woman. What are the odds it's a copy of The Birmingham Post.

    Pondered all this and very much more at the Philip Jones Griffiths retrospective at the Conservation Centre today. It must be one of the best collections of documentary photography I've seen anywhere. When Griffiths died a year ago John Pilger paid tribute to his friend, the great photo-journalist whose passion for truth-telling he shares, writing, 'I never met a foreigner who cared as wisely for the Vietnamese, or about ordinary people everywhere under the heel of great power, as Philip Jones Griffiths. He was the greatest photographer and one of the finest journalists of my lifetime, and a humanitarian to match.'

    Besides his campaigning work in Vietnam Griffiths had a particular interest in the city and people of Liverpool, and caught some seminal images of a key era for the city - ones you'd expect like the Cavern club shot from behind the band on stage, and Beatles portraits, but also rare shots of Liverpool's first "Happening", 1963. And then many works of real integrity and gritty beauty which prove Pilger's words about how Griffiths so evidently 'cared wisely' for ordinary people.

    This one of Paddy's Market, 1966 gripped me. As Christian Petersen's contemporary pictures show (see blog, January 23) Paddy's Market hasn't changed all that much in 40 years. But you'd hope that, in a rainstorm, the clothes might at least be under cover or off the ground today. David, who was once at school with George Harrison, reflecting on this picture alongside me in the gallery today, pointed out that in 1966 Liverpool was on a high... yet clearly from Griffiths' record, then, as now, sharp inequalities prevailed.

    Electioneering, Halifax, from BBC Liverpool website.
    Paddy's Market, 1966, from Magnum website, where all of Philip Jones Griffiths' Recollections photographs are viewable.
    [That's my last blog for a few days... so opportunity for you, reader, to take in the work of Griffiths instead]