Summer Photography

Certainly the most satifying of the various photographic shows currently in London is the Summer Photography Exhibition at Bernard Quaritch Ltd on the edge of Golden Square in Soho. It gains from being a relatively small show, concentrating on photographers who have photographed within a particular community or urban area. The show continues until 29th June, 2007 and is open Mondays to Fridays, 9.30-5.30.

(C) 2005, Mike Seaborne.
Mike Seaborne, Bethnal Green, 2005

Quaritch is an antiquarian bookseller, established in 1847 by Bernard Quaritch, who on his death in 1899 was described, according to The Times, as “the greatest bookseller who ever lived.” Their premises in Golden Square, where they moved in 1970, have something of the air of a gentlemen’s club and the walls are lined with bookcases of old and rare volumes.

Before going into the downstairs gallery, we lingered around a glass case with some examples of the work of Thomas Annan, including a couple of fine large published volumes of his work, the superb carbon prints published in 1878/9 and the photogravures published in 1900 by his son, Robert Craig Annan, which included 12 of his prints along with 38 taken by his father. The photogravures are also splendid prints.

Downstairs in the gallery is a rare treat, 5 salt prints from the calotype images that Hill and Adamson made at the fishing village of Newhaven on the edge of Edinburgh, not a great walk from their Calton Hill studios. These prints are still powerful images 160 years later, and I was particularly struck by the image of the three fishermen. The different poses they have adopted to attempt to remain still for the lengthy exposure required express powerfully their varied characters. It remains a far more powerful portrait than anything I saw in Photo-London, and reminds me strongly of some of the best images of August Sander, taken some 80 or 90 years later. The five fishwives grouped around some of their baskets is also one of their more interesting images.

The five Thomas Annan prints in the show are glowing examples of his work on the closes of Glasgow in 1868-71 (printed in 1877.) Carbon prints are perhaps capable of a quality unequalled by any other photographing printing process, and these are good examples.

John Thomson’s Street Life in London, with text by Adolphe Smith is represented in the show by six Woodburytype prints. These are carbon prints produced in a printing press from a lead relief plate, created under high pressure from a gelatin relief image made in a similar manner to a carbon print, contact printing a dichromate sensitised gelatin coated sheet under the negative using a powerful UV source.

Street Life in London was one of the truly pioneering works of documentary, and the nicely produced Quaritch catalogue for the show (Catalogue 1351) lists copies both of this work and ‘Street Incidents’, published a few years later to get rid of unsold sheets of prints from ‘Street Life.’

Although Henry Dixon along with Alfred and John Bool produced many fine images recording London around the 1870s and 1880s, their work was perhaps the least striking in the show. Compared to the Annan images, the prints shown lacked depth, and both the viewpoints and the choice of times when the streets were largely deserted make their work of less interest.

By contrast, Roger Mayne’s images from North Kensington, Notting Hill and Paddington in the 1950s are entirely about incident. I was particularly taken with his view of children and teenagers on the doorsteps of St Stephen’s Gardens. Times have changed, not only in the dress and behaviour of children, but also in public attitudes to photographers and being photographed; it would be a brave photographer who tried to take similar pictures on the streets of London today.

Again by contrast, Mike Seaborne’s ‘Facades are deliberately empty of people. Taken from across the street with a square format Rolleiflex camera, they create a systematic visual catalogue of shopfronts surviving (in some cases only just) from an earlier age. Taken in 2004-6, these colour images (some of which are on the Urban Landscapes site I started with Mike) are powerfully evocative, the remains of an older world still with us, often in contrast with ugly 2000s street furniture.

Also included in the show is a single print of New York by Berenice Abbott, a beautiful riot of washing in the yard of New York’s first model tenements, built in 1882 and photographed by here in 1936.

Peter Marshall

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