Blue skies, red panic – a photographic exhibition about the 1950s


blue skies red panic 1Much like scents, flavours and music, photographs are powerful triggers of memory. So what better medium to recall a past as recent and as visually recognizable as early postwar Europe…? For about a year, the consortium involved in the EU-funded project ‘Fifties in Europe Kaleidoscope’ has been diving into collections of libraries, archives and commercial agencies across Europe, to trace the tracks of the fifties in photography.

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As the expected imagery surfaced quite quickly, we soon started to question its veracity. With project partners from both sides of the Cold War divide, our perspective was ‘bifocal’ from the outset. The fifties were indeed the breeding ground for Europe as we know it today, but at the time political regimes, economic circumstances, societal developments, levels of prosperity and consumer trends were very different in the east and west, north and south.

This exhibition could have easily turned into a simple game of contrasts and opposites. Yet while the pictures we selected are very much black and white, the stories they convey boast an endless range of greys. Through these shades, the reflection of the 1950s gains nuance, color and depth. Instead of a lens or a looking glass, we ended up using a kaleidoscope: a compound eye on differences and similarities, parallels and resonances, making the most of the ‘beautiful forms’ of an iconic age.

“Blue skies, red panic” created in the framework of the EU project “Fifties in Europe Kaleidoscope” is:

  • a travelling photographic exhibition, which will be on view from 6th until 20th September 2019 in the Museo della Grafica, Palazzo Lanfranchi in Pisa, and will then travel to Spain, Belgium and Germany
  • an interactive exploration of images and stories, to premiere in Leuven on the National Day of Science on 24 November 2019
  • a virtual exhibition on, coming soon in Autumn 2019.



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