Photo: ©Cara Spencer. Courtesy Museum of London
This refreshing exhibition of London street photography shows images taken between 1860 and 2010, most of which come from the museum’s archives and have not been widely exhibited before.
It can be a weakness of large photography exhibitions that they invariably attempt to cover a sweeping history. But looking at images of London this way it is striking that there are common threads throughout the decades, though photography styles and technology have changed dramatically. We see people’s changing looks and lifestyles, and whole areas changed and rebuilt.
But we also see consistency in observations of class differences and some of the multicultural character of London. An image taken in 2003 of posh England rugby fans is reminiscent of earlier images of the wealthy out and about. Images of City workers at the Bank of England from 1900 to today may show that fashion shifts from top hats to sharp suits, but the same kind of people populate the area throughout. This is contrasted with pictures revealing crushing poverty in the East End over the century.
Moments of tension in the capital’s history are highlighted with images of skinheads and hippies crossing paths in the late 1960s, confrontations between Nazis and anti-Nazis in Brick Lane in the 1970s and an image of mourning after the Nazi nail-bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho. The museum’s selection of images reflects an interest in showing the social and multicultural mix of London from past to present. As viewers we can look at images from over 100 years ago and see a familiar city.
The exhibition provides an antidote to arguments that documentary street photography is dead. It shows that it is still relevant today.
Photography in public places can raise issues of voyeurism and the exploitation of those who are the subjects, which has been raised in other recent shows. But this exhibition shows how valuable street photography can be. It also recognises the rising levels of harassment that photographers face today and of the need to defend our right to photograph in public places.
For more details see the Museum of London website.