REVIEW - Larry Herman: Clydeside 1974-76

At Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow

Born in New York, Larry Herman is a photographer who came to the UK during the Vietnam War.  He took a photography hiatus in the early 1980s where he worked as a guard/train driver on the London Underground and a welder in Sheffield before returning to photography in 1993.

Herman’s documentary style allows a fascinating look at the lives of working class people living in Clydeside at this time and he displays a genuine affection for the people he documents.  Sure there are a number of images of the middle class at the time but the most effective images on show here are of the manual workers and their families.

There are images of poverty and despair but the people he photographs are never depicted as victims or hopeless, with the possible exception of Herman’s image of the Interval House for Domestic Abuse.  However, Herman has managed to convey a level of aloofness by these women that is both puzzling and provokes thought.  Why do the women appear so calm?  Is this nothing new for them?  Are they posing for the photographer?  What on earth are they thinking?

What is remarkable about this exhibition is that images on show highlight a ‘lost Clydeside’ where the ship workers and welders are (mostly) gone, the Singer and Chrysler factories are gone; the mass union rallies, strike threats, three day working week, and slums are all distant relics of Glasgow’s industrial past.

In contrast, the characters on display seem curiously similar.  The intimidating older ladies in their head scarves, the old guys chatting in the pub, the teenagers sneaking a sly cigarette, and the men chatting during their tea break.  None of whom, clothing aside, would look out of place in the modern Clydeside.

Herman’s images offer us a nuts and bolts look at life in Clydeside.  His documentary style gives the people and environments and sense of place and time.  Herman displays respect for the people he photographs and manages to document both the pain and the pride on the faces of a working class on the brink.

Larry Herman, Clydeside 1974-76 runs until 27 November 2016

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