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Nick Hedges: Make Life Worth Living: Photographs for Shelter, 1969-72 
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When Nick Hedges documented appalling housing conditions in the UK for the charity Shelter in the late 1960s it was a grim situation. The Victorian slums had continued long past what was acceptable and post-Second World War poverty and industrial decline had created a crisis of damp, unsanitary houses smelling of mould. Nick Hedges was aware of the texts of James Agee and the photographs of Walker Evans[1] and influenced by them.[2] The selection of camera angles and taking multiple shots of an action asking people to move or carry out a specific task can hint at posing but post-event criticism can miss the point of what a photographic series represents. Meaningful documentary photographs are always a form of propaganda with multiple "meanings".
In the afterword to a 2014 book of his photographs Nick Hedges wrote of how he worked with the British charity Shelter:
We would discover, or be introduced to, families living in the most distressing circumstances. With the families’ agreement they would be photographed going about their daily life. These photographs and interviews were then used in publications and research documents. The charity’s education department was involved in a long study of different types of community across Britain. This meant I was able to visit rural villages, new towns and coal mining villages, in addition to urban communities. In working with disadvantaged families it was essential to develop a relationship of trust. Nothing was ever forced, nothing was ever staged. Your own presence had to be reduced to the minimum.[3]
Just as Robert Frank's book The Americans[4] highlighted social issues in 1950s America so the work of Nick Hedges drove home the message that all was far from well in Britain and charity was required to handle issues under-resourced by governments. 

  1. Λ For collaborations between Walker Evans and James Agee - James Agee & Walker Evans, 1941, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; Walker Evans & James Agee (introduction), 1966, Many Are Called, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin) 
  2. Λ Hedy van Erp, "Life Worth Seeing" in Nick Hedges, 2014, Make Life Worth Living, (National Media Museum / The Library of Birmingham), p. 9 
  3. Λ Nick Hedges, 2014, Make Life Worth Living, (National Media Museum / The Library of Birmingham), Afterword, p.110-111 
  4. Λ Frank, Robert, 1958, Les Américains, (Paris: Delpire); Robert Frank, 1959, The Americans, (New York: Grove Press)
    An American Journey: Revisiting Robert Frank's 'The Americans,' is a documentary written and directed by Philippe Séclier. 60 minutes. 
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