Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, Barbican, London

A collection of photos from across the globe offers a rare opportunity to reflect on two decades of revolution, war and social change

Everything was moving – but where was it going? At the Barbican, curator Kate Bush gives us a snapshot of an exploding world just as the thing begins to blow. You can almost hear the sound of ripping. A few years later it would be possible for Francis Fukuyama to announce the End of History. But the world of the 1960s and 1970s was a moment of yang, not yin, of irresistible centrifugal force, as the certainties of simpler times were torn apart.

This is clearest downstairs in the exhibition, where two great South African photographers bear witness to the apartheid state. David Goldblatt, safely on the white side, coolly records the chafing, riving contradictions of a system rooted in systematic injustice. We see the Afrikaners still in the saddle, the hatchet-faced National Party commandos escorting prime minister Verwoerd to the party's 50th anniversary celebrations, the farmers and their children innocently at play on their endless properties. And we see what underpins that tranquil state: the evening exodus from Johannesburg, whites in their cars headed one way, massed blacks on foot going another, the miners' windowless concrete bunks at a gold mine, the smoky Soweto hillside covered in identical hovels.

Then the black photographer Ernest Cole takes us right inside: the jam-packed trains, the same bunks now heaving with miners, police swooping on blacks to enforce the hated pass laws, a gang of blacks mugging whites on Johannesburg streets – black and white not separate at all, as state dogma insisted, but forced together like the components of a bomb.

In the same years on the other side of the Atlantic Bruce Davidson recorded the controlled explosion of the civil-rights movement: whites in Alabama grimace and taunt the passing Freedom Riders, a white woman in a New York drugstore scowls at having to share the counter with a black, Klansmen circle a flaming cross; but all the while the blacks are calmly implacable, whether hauled off to jail by their feet, listening to Malcolm X in New York or marching with Martin Luther King on Montgomery's State Capitol.

Of course, we cannot avoid looking at this work with the wisdom of hindsight: we know what happened next. This also conditions the way we regard the Vietnam war photographs of Larry Burrows, and there is some curatorial sleight of hand in presenting the work of "rather a hawk" (as Burrows described himself) as if they were stills from Apocalypse Now. At the time, Life magazine was happy to run them in heroic mode, these images of suffering GIs holding back the commie horde.

What the United States was doing to Vietnam it had done 20 years before to Japan, and Shomei Tomatsu, the "godfather" of modern Japanese photography, cannot tear himself away from the feelings of estrangement and humiliation that were the occupiers' gifts, along with their chewing gum and chocolate. But abuse and domination is not the end of the story, because in Tomatsu's work along with those ugly emotions there is the exhilarating, vertiginous sense of breaking out into a strange new world. Authenticity is the photographer's holy grail. For centuries, Japanese artists had refined a particular stylised vision which excluded the rest of the world as rigorously as the shoguns barred access to their ports. Now at last, in these ranks of riot police and in the protester flying through the air, here was something real, however dark or feverish or painful.

Authenticity was harder to pin down in the US, the heart of the new imperium, where the persuasive arts had been taken to new heights. Back then, photographers proved their sincerity by putting on the sackcloth of black and white: to shoot colour was to go over to the other side. It took the cussedness of William Eggleston to challenge the advertisers at their own game, recording in lush, full-spectrum Kodachrome the cadmium green of a diner's banquette, the cobalt blue and two-tone tyres of a new car, the slick, super-abundant stuff of the first fully homogenised industrial economy. If the world was exploding, here was the detonator. But these images are cool and still and affectless: Eggleston records the effort to charm and to sell, but remains completely unimpressed, and gives the rust and discarded cans and festering rubbish just as much of his icy attention as the material of the Dream. The sun-drenched woman at the wheel of her sedan catches the photographer's eye, but it doesn't mean anything. And, up above, the American sky is huge and indifferent.

To 13 Jan (020-7638 8891)

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick