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  • Global-Colours - Slider image
  • Global-Colours - Slider image
  • Global-Colours - Slider image

Red, Blue, White: Global Colours

21st March - 26th May

Few symbols stir the soul of a British patriot like a waving banner of red, white and blue. Of course, the same could be said of French, American and North Korean patriots. Around the world, 38 countries have rendered their national emblems in different configurations of these three colors, trying to create unique expressions of national identity from a familiar semiotic vocabulary.

And yet, the world’s patchwork quilt of political colors highlights the mutable and contradictory nature of color symbolism. Red, for instance, evokes left-wing ideologies such as communism, except in the United States, where for two decades it has represented the staunchly free-market and conservative Republican party. In South Korea, the centre-left Democratic Party started sporting blue in 2014, despite its longtime association with Conservatism.

The apparent arbitrariness of these political symbols stands in stark contrast to their evident potency. People have taken to the streets, sometimes with violent consequences, in so-called Green, Orange, and Rose Revolutions. Thailand has seen bloody clashes between its “Reds” and “Yellows.” And in Macedonia’s “Colorful Revolution” of 2016, protesters pelted government buildings with paintballs of every colour, an act whose meaning seemed clear even if its precise symbolism did not.

To further highlight the malleability of political colours, this exhibition assembles photographs featuring dominant elements of red, blue and/or white transposed onto scenes from across the globe. Some, such as a British punk rocker on the beach at Blackpool, present the recognizable forms of national emblems while others, such as a glacial ice sheet in Greenland, are devoid of political meaning. In a third, and perhaps the most poignant, category, the colors seem to appear incidentally but invite political interpretation nonetheless.

Red, Blue, White features the work of 37 photographers from 24 countries, most of whom were born under flags invoked by our theme. One wonders, even in the most apolitical context, how these colours’ symbolic connotations insinuated themselves into the photographers’ work. And one wonders to what extent viewers in these countries – from the UK to Cuba to Liberia to Laos – view these images through a lens similarly coloured.

This exhibition is the premier instalment of Getty Image Gallery’s Reportage Collection, an archive of contemporary documentary photography from Getty Images staff and contributors. The images are topically, geographically and stylistically diverse, but all exemplify the in-depth storytelling for which Reportage is known.

Red, Blue, White: Global Colours was curated by Shawn Waldron and Jay Davies. Signed and numbered limited-edition prints are available exclusively through the Getty Images Gallery.