This summer as the eyes of the world are on London, Tate Britain is exploring the city through the lens of some of the leading names in international photography.
Untitled, Al Vandenberg, 1975, © 2012 Al Vandenberg Photo: Tate
They have put together an alluring and unexpected selection of images. Presenting us with Another London, an exhibition displaying photographs by forty-one well-respected international photographers during this Olympic season. The result is 180 images, selected from an exceptional collection of 1,400 photographs; The Eric and Louise Franck London Collection. Each photographer may have had different reasons for coming to London; as tourists, refugees, or on a journalistic assignment, however the goal was still to capture the essence of the capital city.
The work of Czech photographer Markéta Luskačová stood out for me. She started photographing London in 1974, providing visual documentation of disparate communities.
Woman and man with bread, Spitafields, London, Markéta Luskačová, 1976, © Markéta Luskačová
‘I am quite often photographing people with a way of life that I think might not last for much longer. I want them and their way of life to be recorded… I still photograph in Brick Lane when I am in London. I have not found in London any other better place to comment on the sheer impossibility of human existence.’
In Czech, the synonym for ‘to photograph’ means to immortalise, Luskačová’s photographs, do more than just immortalise, they provide morsels of knowledge that allow the viewer to step into a world that is in many cases ignored or possibly forgotten. Luskačovácaptures the mysterious quality of her subjects, by actively exploring multiple aspects of varying groups in London.
Sunday, Petticoat Lane Market, London, Dorothy Bohm, 1960, Dorothy Bohm Archive
London is a difficult urban landscape to photograph; the city doesn’t hold the obvious appeal of Paris or New York. It has evolved over time, expanding with its ever-growing population. The aesthetic of the city is not as immediate and it takes time to be drawn into the confusing sprawl. Falling in love with London is hard work. Photographers have been coming to London since the birth of photography, trying to encapsulate their on-going obsession with this metropolis. What we see in Another London isn’t impressive skyscrapers, or quaint, winding avenues; instead what is presented focuses on the people who inhabit the city. Many of the scenes are set in non-descript locations, forcing the viewer to engage with the individuals, who in typical London style are constantly shrouded in fog or smog. Each room in the exhibition moves slowly through time, allowing for a meandering progression not only through the streets and faces of London, but also through the mode of photography.
I was immediately awe struck by the work of Dorothy Bohm. Bohm has been called the undeniable doyenne of British photography, and with good reason. She has the ability to capture fleeting moments and fill them with an abstract beauty, depicting the everyday, in its vulnerable, unstable state; her photographs are unwavering in their beautiful, technical presentation. Photographs like Street Stall, Islington, London maintain a spatial ambiguity that is prevalent in many of her images. The viewer is caught in the gaze of the woman working at the stall, as an eerie assortment of mannequin heads hang above her. Without even thinking, I’m drawn to this woman, she is constant and understated; there is nothing unusual about her presence among these wigged mannequins; there is no reason to notice her at all. Yet Bohm turns her into something so far beyond the ordinary, I cannot help but gaze into her eyes and want more.
Girl Holding Kitten, Bruce Davidson, 1960, Photograph: Bruce Davidson/Magnum
Girl with a Kitten by the American photographer Bruce Davidson is without a doubt the most striking portrait in the entire exhibition, and a favourite of mine in this show. It contains everything we hope for in a beautiful portrait. The shallow depth of field gives an aura of transience to his subject, although fixed in time she carries with her a temporal glow. Davidson himself considers this to be one of the best photographs he has ever taken. Stating
‘There was a great deal of mystery to her. I didn’t know where she had come from, and I didn’t get her name, but there was something about that face – the hopefulness, positivity and openness to life – it was the new face of Britain.’
Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Martine Franck, Robert Frank, Marc Riboud, Al Vandenberg, Wolgang Suschitzky are some of the other names that you can expect to find in this exhibition. Another London provides an enticing view filled with fascinating images, and each room resonates with character and skill. Enigmatic, absorbing, sometimes unsettling, these beautifully shot photographs allow visitors to delve into London’s social history. Providing a view of the city that isn’t simply Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, or Tower Bridge. Instead each of these artists focuses on an area of human existence set on the streets of London.
Another London is running at Tate Britain from 27 July through 16 September 2012.