The photographs in London Street Photography at The London Musuem are presented in a single large room, in a single continuous line. I like that. It took me twenty minutes to recognise the presentation, however, as I was so engrossed by the images that I didn’t look more than a single image ahead of me in all that time. I like my exhibition photographs to be presented in an unambiguous order, akin to turning pages in a book. I don’t want to choose my own adventure. I don’t like having to pick whether to continue around a corner or back up on myself and see the room I skipped over last time I had to make a choice between a hard left and a straight on. London Street Photography ticked that box with gusto, with a big red pen. To those people who chose to read this sequence of photos from right to left, cutting across my view – did you not realise you were disturbing the space-time continuum? Did that not seem unnatural? Did you not find yourself bumping more shoulders that normal in a civilised gallery setting?
The exhibition contains over 200 photographs from 59 photographers, spanning 150 years. The transition and progression in style and content is intoxicating, while the shift in focus from ‘wonder at the historical’ to ‘intrigue at the present’ occurs forcefully but imperceptibly. Notable is the show’s willingness to conform to the very strictest definition of the genre. Some would say a photograph on the tube could be deemed a street photograph. Others would say any candid, casual, and socially revealing photograph in an urban setting would count. But here, every photo (bar maybe one) is taken on the street, and of the street. I counted a single image without a clear human figure. Only a handful are night shots. Over 90% are in black and white. Captions very often describe a location down to postcode, local area, or even road name.
With nearly 60 photographers on show, it is hard to pick out names for highlight. There are a few big names on show, as you would imagine, but the group feels more local than I anticipated, and the show isn’t crammed with the usual Magnum or swinging sixties crowd pleasers. I was thrilled to see the inclusion of Keith Cardwell (the only photographer in the show I have met personally), Nick Turpin (who has done, and continues to do, so much for contemporary British street photography), and Matt Stuart (whose vision and wit I’ve come to adore in the last 12 months). In honesty, most of the names were new to me, and the ones I jotted down for further research were:
- Roger Mayne – I felt I recognised, just, a couple of his well composed street scenes.
- Lutz Dille – Photographs full of individuals so characterful you’d swear they were actors.
- Sally Fear – Inspirationally, she was working as a secretary whilst working on her project ‘London at the Weekend’, and wound up as a freelance photographer.
- Paul Trevor – The photos I know, the name I did not. The photographs on show spanned eight years, but they could have spanned 38. Great range, great scenes well seen, and bags of geometry.
- Peter Marshall – His ‘My London Diary’ blog has apparently been running since 1999, which promises to make it an essential visit (TBC).
- Chris Dorley-Brown – The only photographer listed here on the basis of one photograph, but his composite image ‘Rosemary Works’ excites me regarding the potential in street photography.
The show is a history lesson, a photography lesson, a photographic history lesson, an historical photography lesson, and a complete blast. Unusually for me, I even sat through the entirety of the accompanying short film film in which a handful of the photographers in the show spoke of their career, their methods, and their attitudes – well worthwhile.
The exemplary (and, might I add, free) London Street Photography is on at the excellent Museum of London until 4 September 2011.