“Another London” is an exhibition of 100 photographs taken by photographers from abroad. It coincided with the Olympics last held in London over 60 years ago.
I decided to buy the book of the exhibition since not only does it contain the images from the exhibition, it also contains an essay called “Overseas photographers view the city at mid-century” by Ben Gidley and Mick Gidley. It may help to deepen my insight into this group of photographers and the subject they have chosen, namely London. Photography has this power to inform even educate and it is surely a mistake to ignore that potential of the medium. There is a certain amount of political history in this exhibition as records of racial tension, for instance, in the 1960′s feature. Yet photography does not just document, it also has the power to be of universal significance and one sees this perhaps in a photograph by Bill Brandt of a woman placidly scrubbing her doorstep. As the Gidleys write, ” … the photographs in the collection represent a range of visual strategies and approaches, but taken together say something important about the time and place of their making.”
The photographs were all made in the middle of the twentieth century, from 1930 to 1980, and during this time London faced considerable growth with building projects actually devised during the war and executed afterwards. There is a lot of nostalgia about a London that no longer is which some of these photographs recall yet there is also detail that reveal that this past London was not idyllic. There is a vast array of subject matter within the exhibition; Bill Brandt is recorded as saying that what Henry James, the American novelist, called “multitudinous life,” was “something too complex to be caught” wondering “if anyone would ever succeed in photographing London.” Of course, there are certain symbols of London such as the red buses and Big Ben much of what constitutes London comes from outside, in the form of immigrants and the role of London as a hub of Empire although this was of course dwindling during this period. Street photographers are often looking to catch some kind of juxtaposition to make their photographs meaningful yet a lot of photographs in this exhibition rely on their ability to record different types of people such as hippies or char women among many others.
The exhibition features a variety of photographers. Some are well-known such as Henri-Cartier Bresson who has provided a source of inspiration for many others. A lesser known photographer is Sergio Larrain who was not afraid to make much looser compositions, more post-modern than the modernist conventions of the 1950′s. Some of the photographers featured were sent on commission to photograph London by different kinds of magazines who were looking for certain sorts of images while other photographers came independently. There were those, most notably Brandt, who became naturalised British subjects with Dorothy Bohm going on to found the Photographer’s Gallery.
These photographers from abroad brought their own vision and experiences, such as Leonard Freed who was fascinated by both Jewishness and the police, and hence the exhibition title, Another London, and yet the place they photographed is still recognisable as London.
The exhibition was made possible by The Eric and Louise Franck London Collection as Tate curator Simon Baker points out in a short, one page introduction. The photographs were collected over a period of 20 years and form a small part of a collection of other 1,000 images.
David Campany has written at length about this exhibition and his essay is available on the Tate Britain website.
My own visit came with a few days of the exhibition closing. I had been thinking about it for quite sometime, wondering why the college ignore these kind of exhibitions (presumably because they are not contemporary) and suggesting to others that they might like to accompany or meet me there. Finally, I found the time to make the visit, slightly daunted by the sheer size of the exhibition which encourage one to sweep past images that given more time, might have opened up their secrets. A little study beforehand perhaps can help avoid this but one does not want to go just to see Henri Cartier-Bresson, for instance; there is a lot of other work that deserves attention. I guess I shall glide past in the time allotted and soak up what I can without being too overwhelmed. Continue reading