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Another London, Tate Britain

  • There is something troubling about enjoying photography. Photography seems too easy – capturing rather than recreating, not worthy.  So, to re-establish our cultural pride, we split photography into journalism (intriguing for capturing a place or time) or art photography (beautiful but not about anything).


    Which is completely stupid. As the photos of London in this exhibition show, it is possible to record beautifully. The photos were taken by newly arrived immigrants, refugees and visitors from 1930 to 1980, capturing the taste and style of London – from high-society to the homeless. They capture, and in some cases define, each age so that progressing through the 7 rooms is a walk through the city’s emergence from poverty and division to, well, a different type of division and updated poverty. Beauty is created by the interplay of the photographer’s feel for geometry and the studied style of the subjects – at times grasped secretly as when Wolfgang Suschintzky turned his Rolleiflex on a woman giving her partner a hard time in a Lyons Corner House in 1934, at times in a staged compact as between posing punks in the Roxy in the 1970s.



    Wolfgang Suschitzky 
    Lyons Corner House, Tottenham Court Road, London 1934 
    © W. Suschitzky

    Style shines through. Immigrants, especially Central European ones, bought a rather un-British approach to Photography: applying avant garde design styles, presenting crude extremes, being sentimental, revelling in mystery, focusing on what could be ignored rather than celebrated.



    Wolfgang Suschitzky 
    Hampstead Heath Fair 1948 
    © W. Suschitzky

    The split is particularly stupid as the interaction of time, place and style has a name: it is cool. Photographers are cool. Cool people make good subjects. Henri Cartier-Bresson takes photos of George VI’s coronation – and how cool is he? The exhibition provides more than social history – although it does open your eyes to the greatness, the sadness and the vibrancy of the City. Walking through this well-paced exhibition some of the cool rubs off on you and sets you up to attack the city with your cool renewed.



    Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon 
    Roxy 2 from the Punk series 1976 
    © Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon



    James Barnor 
    Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London 1967 
    © James Barnor / Autograph ABP

    Another London, International Photographers Capture City Life 1930 - 1980 runs at Tate Britain until 16 September 2012

    Review by Gus Poston