Sunday, September 09, 2012

Another London

This week is the last chance to see 'Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980' at Tate Britain (it closes on 16 September). As other reviewers have noted,  I'm not sure that much of it really offers a view of  'another' city - if anything it suggests that great international photographers visiting London tended to reproduce a very familiar version of the city with guardsmen, buses, city gents in hats and cockney characters on market stalls. That was after all what the agencies and magazines they were working for expected to see - artfully executed tourist imagery. Of course there are still some great photographs which capture lost moments, like Edouard Boubat's picture of the 1950s working river by Tower Bridge, or Martine Franck's photo of a bored child in Greenwich at the time of the 1977 silver jubilee.

Another London gets better as you go around it though, and the last half of the exhibition lives up to its title with photographs documenting less commonly seen parts of London. I particularly liked Al Vandenberg's images of 1970s counter-cultural London and Neil Kenlock's pictures from the same period of Black Londoners. They may both have been migrants, from the US and Jamaica respectively, but both were settled in the city when they took their photos. Perhaps you really need to be embedded in a place for a while to step beyond the usual cliches. 

Neil Kinlock's photograph of the aftermath
 of a racist attack in Balham in 1972

One of Vandenberg's photos - featuring Lemmy (centre)
I also liked Leonard Freed's 1971 pictures of Hassidic Jews, though for a Londoner what is frustrating about these images and so many others in the exhibition is that they are simply labelled as London -whereas what you really want to know is whereabouts in London?

Are the contradictions of this exhibition simply about different perspectives of London, or are they representations of the real contradictions of London? In their essay accompanying the exhibition, Ben Gidley and Mike Gidley suggest the latter: 'London has always had an anachronistic relationship to England and Britain, and to Englishness and Britishness. In this representative photographic collection, we see images of pearly kings, milk bottles on the doorstep, guardsmen in bearskins, monarchist crowds and timber-lined pubs that point backwards to an imagined old England that tourists come here to see, while the modernity of its traffic and the relative exoticism of its hippies, Black Panthers and punks suggest a London jerked out of England by war and dislocating change' (in 'Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980', edited by Helen Delaney an Simon Baker, Tate, 2012)


Roger said...

I personally liked the Larrain section which I had never seen before and the Robert Frank 'little girl with hearse' , but was it staged? Just too perfect for me. It was also interesting/depressing to see how much the restrictions on photography have changed. Freeds work photographing the Jewish children would be very difficult now as would photographing in the British Museum for 'commercial' use. Overall though I enjoyed it and that doesn't happen that often for me with photographic exhibitions. I'd say it's worth catching if you can.

Otter said...

Wholly agree about the Frank - either staged or just about the most brilliant seizing of a chance I've seen. Puts the kidult capers of most present day street photography deep in the shade.

TM said...

Rats, missed it. But it sounds as if there was a "book of the exhibition". Anyone know if they are still available?

Transpontine said...

I believe that you can still get the book from the Tate bookshop