London Street Photography

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Wolf Suschitzky with the red jumper

Last night’s opening at the Museum of London of the show London Street Photography 1860-2010 was a great occasion for London’s photographers, with many of the photographers featured present, although of course those from the earlier sections are long dead. But of more than 70 photographers featured, I was told that 47 are still alive, and quite a high proportion of them were among the guests last night.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Mike Seaborne, Jack Lomond and  Wolf Suschitzky in a weird purple glow

Certainly the oldest among us was Wolf Suschitzky, born in 1912 and still looking well who formally opened the exhibition after a speech by the Museum’s director Professor Jack Lohman in which Mike Seaborne, Senior Curator of Photographs, who together with Curator of Images Anna Sparham put the show together, appeared as Exhibit A. The majority of images in it are from the Museum’s own collection, which Mike has built up tremendously in his years there.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Suschitzky declares the show open

Although Suschitzky was the sole living among the pre-war photographers featured,  most of those in the next period, 1946-79 are still living and still working, and among those at the opening was Roger Mayne, born in 1929 and best known for his pictures of North Kensington in 2004. During our conversation he mentioned the much wider range of his work that many are unaware of, and you can see some of that on his own web site.

1946-79 covers a long period, and some fairly diverse approaches and style, from photographers such as Henry Grant (1907-2004) to Paul Trevor (b1947) and including among others, Tony Ray-Jones, John Benton-Harris and Charlie Phillips.  Grant’s work stylistically would certainly fit him better in an earlier section – and perhaps seems most similar to that of photographers from the early years of the century, while that of some of the others in this section still seems strikingly contemporary. Perhaps the only thing that the work in this era of the show has in common is that the pictures were all black and white, and around the end of the 70s is perhaps the latest date it seemed possible to ignore work in colour.

One section of this is a group of anonymous images from a project carried out by the Richmond and Twickenham Photographic Society around 1962. It is perhaps surprising that none of the authors are known, and the pictures too are rather surprising for a camera club, even (or perhaps especially) one as prestigious as the R&TPS, which has produced at least five presidents of the RPS. Early in my photographic oddysey – around the latter half of the 1970s – I belonged to it myself (and almost got thrown out on sartorial grounds), but with some notable exceptions, the work that appeared regularly in the club was considerably less interesting than this.

The earliest colour image in the show is by Bob Tapper, from 1986, followed by one of mine from 1991, and the most recent black and white in the book (and I think the show) is from 1999, by John Chase, with all of the images from this century in colour, in part a reflection of the switch to digital, but also of the changing nature of the marketplace for photography.

I’ll write more about the show and my thoughts on street photography later – openings, especially ones like this with so many people to talk to (and I didn’t manage to get to talk to everyone I would have liked) are not the greatest times to actually look at the pictures, and the size of this show made it quite impossible for me to properly see it all. But I saw enough to say that this is a show well worth seeing, even if some of the pictures are not street photography (and unfortunately perhaps much current street photography isn’t really street photography any more.)

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Charlie Phillips talking with Cathy Ross from the Museum of London

The show is open to the public from 18 February to 4 September 2011 and entry is free. The book, London Street Photography, published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, ISBN 978-1-907893-09-4, costs £14.99 ($25.00) and contains many of the best images from the show and is due for general publication in March.

The largest selection of pictures from the show I’ve found on line is at The Independent, and includes some of the best (and a few rather less interesting) images.  The Telegraph has a longer piece on the show with 4 images, but manages to say very little, and unfortunately the Museum’s own web site gives it depressingly limited coverage; perhaps the budget ran out?

It was late when I finally left the bar next to the museum to make my way home through the streets of London, but I thought I would take a picture or two on my way to the station.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

3 Responses to “London Street Photography”

  1. rashbre says:

    Thanks for this. Really good review and some excellent links.

  2. Thanks. I hope shortly to have a review of the show by a guest contributor.

    It has been a great public success – apparently attendance figures at the museum were up by 650% compared to the equivalent week last year, and some people had to queue for over an hour to see it.

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