Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980, Tate Britain | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980, Tate Britain
Black and white photographs colourfully portray the tribes of London
Unadulterated happiness: swinging on the wheel, high above the ground, at the fair on Hampstead Heath in 1949, in Wolf Suschitzky’s photograph that effortlessly conveys that sense of moving at ease through the sky. Fourteen years earlier the same photographer, just arrived from Vienna, immortalised a gravely courting couple smoking their cigarettes over a tea in Lyons Corner House, the behatted lady apparently entertaining a genteel proposition; and inbetween Suschitzky shows us the view of total devastation in 1942, flattened streets strangely punctuated by arbitrary heaps of rubble, taken from the vantage point of St Paul’s Cathedral, that miraculous survivor of wartime bombing.
Suschitzky – he was a film cameraman and director as well – is but one of two score photographers whose work is on view in Another London. Among the group are the stars of the profession - Henri Cartier-Bresson and Irving Penn, Bruce Davidson and Elliott Erwitt for starters – as well as the lesser known. All are from elsewhere, and they came as tourists, visitors, immigrants and refugees.
What absorbed visiting Impressionists in the 1870s occupied visiting photographers a century on
An enthralling and unexpected selection, the anthology resonates beyond this showing. It’s taken from the Eric and Louise Franck collection which has been donated to the Tate, and it’s part of the process by which the gallery has very belatedly but with almost overwhelming enthusiasm entered into collecting and showing photography as a medium in in its own right, with a very active patrons group supporting acquisitions. One of the benefits of Tate joining the fray is evident in the installation of this show, roughly chronological and rhythmically paced throughout its seven sections, with images shown in clusters, and individual photographers in depth. Vitrines show a number of books with images from settlers by such as the American Alvin Langdon Coburn, the German E O Hoppé, and passers by (usually on the way to America) such as the Hungarian Moholy-Nagy.
There are claims that this is another London, and on the grounds that nothing is so remote as the recent past, there is an element of truth in this. In Bill Brandt’s 1930s Early morning on the doorstep, four glass milk bottles form a gracefully statuesque group next to two folded newspapers, the Telegraph and the long defunct News Chronicle. The Telegraph’s front page is a dense maze of small ads, whilst the Chronicle is graced with a smiling picture of the hugely celebrated 1930s New Zealand aviatrix, Jean Batten, the dignified tableau hinting at the breakfast soon to take place behind the as yet closed door. (Pictured above right: James Barnor, Mike Eghan at Picadilly Circus, London, 1967; ).
Everything is naturally in all shades of black and white, and the predominant silvery greys ensure that colour, often so profoundly unnatural, is not missed one bit. Among the many things we are reminded of is the ubiquity of London fog and smog, which make for a fascinating and mysterious atmosphere: what absorbed visiting Impressionists in the 1870s occupied visiting photographers a century on.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
Forgotten for over 1,000 years, eerily evocative treasures take centre stage at the British Museum
More whimper than bang as insightful series on modern masculinity ends in the City
Our very own lensman gives the verdict on the UK's biggest photography fair
How early photography revolutionised the way that painters saw the world
Our pick of the best exhibitions to see now
The pain of life in exile provides powerful subject matter
A one-of-a-kind artist gains context and depth surrounded by his contemporaries
Intimately connected to his paintings, the artist's textiles remain mysterious
For centuries, invading armies, migrants and merchants have shaped the art of Italy's southern outpost: can an exhibition do it justice?
A fame-obsessed manipulator or a self-effacing observer of the New York gay scene?
Master of rendering states and moods revealed in gem of a show
A lacklustre evocation of an exciting, radical period