The Barbican’s Strange & Familiar exhibition is a whirlwind tour through some of the best images of Britain by foreign photographers. Curated by Martin Parr, it presents a nuanced look at the nation from the 1930s, capturing changing social, political and economic periods.

Martin Parr Collection. UAE. Dubai. Autoportrait.2009.

The exhibition’s depth and scope is impressive – all 22 international photographers are well represented, turning their lenses on different aspects of Britain; from Robert Frank’s contrasting shots of Welsh coal miners and London bankers to Frank Habicht’s look at 1960s’ youth culture (pictured), via Paul Strand’s portraits of Scottish islanders and the harsh close-ups of Bruce Gilden. They give us a thrilling insight into their outlooks, shining a new light on the past.

Frank Habicht No Loss Of Face

The title is particularly apt in this sense, as audiences are given new perspectives on what is usually familiar – things that are normal become as strange to us as to the artists who record them. Martin Parr is also the ideal curator for this, as his own work is about taking a second, closer look at what so many of us take for granted; producing moving, insightful, and often funny social commentary. A perfect example of this can be seen with the work of Shinro Ohtake, who recorded everything he encountered, creating a stream of consciousness.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 15:  Visitors attend the press view of Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, curated by Martin Parr, 16 march - 19 June 2016 at Barbican Centre on March 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for the Barbican Art Gallery)

While living in London in the 1970s, he faced the isolation of a language-barrier – so used a near-obsessive dedication to assembling materials and images as a way of engaging with this strange new world. His photographs and scrapbooks are reflections of this experience, as he records everything from matchboxes to garage doors.

Shinro Ohtake 2

A similar kind of record is presented by Jim Dow, a Boston photographer who documented British corner shops between 1980-1994. His work records a traditional way of life as if it were becoming extinct, with an anthropological clarity. The photos are reminiscent of Andreas Gursky’s later works, 99 Cent I and II.

Jim Dow

Sergio Larraín’s photographs are particularly captivating. Spending four months in London in 1958, the Chilean’s works are a spontaneous response to a city undergoing dramatic post-war change.

GREAT-BRITAIN. England. London. 1959. GREAT-BRITAIN. England. London. 1959. Contact email: New York : Paris : London : Tokyo : Contact phones: New York : +1 212 929 6000 Paris: + 33 1 53 42 50 00 London: + 44 20 7490 1771 Tokyo: + 81 3 3219 0771 Image URL:

His work is dominated by unusual vantage points and blurred images, reflecting the dynamism of the city. It is very much taken in the moment, with sharp focus sacrificed for spontaneity. The result is a soft, ethereal window into his experience.

Sergio Larrain 2

French photographer Raymond Depardon is another standout, documenting Glasgow in 1980 as part of a Sunday Times commission which examined European cities with dwindled reputations. A raw, bleak exploration of the decay that took place between the 1950s post-war era and the rejuvenation of the 1990s, his work was deemed too unrelenting for publication.

Raymond Depardon 1

Here, the cold northern light punctuates his shots, which capture a cinematic quality within everyday life. He finds beauty in this harsh setting; the humanity of his subjects, from a girl pushing a pram (above) to an elderly couple posing against their car (below).

Raymond Depardon 2

While previously left largely obscure, Depardon’s shots are now being viewed in a new light and given proper discussion thanks to the exhibition. This wonderful Parr effect has shone new light on all the photographers, with the public and press engaging with the themes and works as presented by one of the nation’s favourite commentators on society.

It’s a very compelling experience and a great opportunity to see Britain in a new way. Our only warning? Give yourself ample time to enjoy the exhibition – it is so extensive you’ll need it.