Another London sees the capital through the lenses of foreign photographers, many just passing through, but also those who decided to make the great city their home. Some may see the theme as a cash-in on the Olympics, with visitors from around the globe descending and devouring everything ‘London’. Tate’s Photography Curator, Simon Baker, assures us this is simply a benefit. In fact, the show has more to do with a substantial collection of photographs that will enter the permanent collection over the next two years.
Under Baker’s leadership, the Tate is keen to show that any donation will be appreciated and displayed, rather than bubble-wrapped and stacked in the basement. The pictures in Another London are taken from the vast Franck collection, which consists of over 14, 000 prints. This single collection is set to double the Tate’s holding of photography, something Tate are clearly ecstatic about. The London theme enables a topical yet coherent exhibition to be drawn from the Franck collection, which is sure to feature heavily in Tate’s future photographic displays.
The theme also complements the current Migrations show at Tate Britain. Migration ‘reveals how British art has been fundamentally shaped by successive waves of migration’. Like Another London, it recognizes the UK not only as an artistic hub, but also as inspiration for people from around the globe.
Not a single colour image is displayed, though there are several in the collection. Instead, Another London pays tribute to the history of documentary photography, the timescale of 1930-1980 being the heyday of black and white, before many photographers switched to colour. Rarely does the show stray from the street, the exception being two stunning Irving Penn studio portraits, and the situational yet staged images of Soho punks by Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon.
For me, the black and white contrasts with the garishness of the Olympics and its corporate, color-coded sponsors: green and Coco -Cola red. Black-and-white is often associated with the past, and, consequently, death. This really is ‘Another’ London: one that no longer exists, one we can see but not touch.
The show’s variety is demonstrated by the sheer number of photographers present (41 in total). Whilst some are represented by a single image, most have a series, giving a good sense of each practitioner’s interest and style.
Not surprisingly, the great names like Henri-Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank and Elliot Erwitt, show exactly why they are so revered. However, work by lesser-known photographers, particularly Wolgang Suschitzky, also shines. It is encouraging that institutions like Tate continue to reevaluate photography’s past in order to create a richer history of the medium.
Once a Tate show would feature a text for each room, practically instructing you what to think. Here, the pictures are allowed to speak for themselves, with an emphasis on explaining each photographer’s background. The delivery is simple: rooms flow chronologically from 1930 to 1980. This chronology really charts the style of the images produced in line with the technology available. In the earlier plate camera images there is a stillness, and some images feel unsure of themselves. With the advent of 35mm the images blossom, a real confidence emerges; this is the ‘decisive moment’ in full swing. Lutz Dille’s image of children playing cowboys perfectly demonstrates the lighting reactions of photographers in this discipline.
As the rooms progress, so does the way in which the photographers worked, moving from single images to magazine stories. The latter includes Cartier Bresson’s first published work, a story on the coronation of George VI. Assignments like this perhaps show the expected, public face of London, whereas the last room concentrates on embedded projects, like Neil Kenlock’s documentation of the UK black panther movement.
The content really gets to the heart of London: a city of eccentricity and leisure but also one of the world’s most important political and business centres. Comic images, like Eliot Erwitt’s diver emerging from the Thames, contrast with stunning images of historic events, such as the illumination of London by spotlights, signalling the end of the blackout and the strife of the Second World War.
The Tate has not shied away from the gritty side of London. The extremes of class division are shown throughout, starting in the first room with a poor artist on the street, and culminating in pictures of the homeless by Marketa Luskacova.
This last room is particularly poignant. It shows London as a vibrant multicultural city, with great achievements in music and more, but also suggests what London needs to tackle: residual racism, heavy handed policing, and the poverty still present in one of world’s richest cities.
This exhibition may be a celebration of a London through the ages, a surefire success during the Olympic summer, but it is in no way a Danny Boyle opening ceremony. A darkness lurks throughout, one that will keep these images in your mind longer than you might expect.
Another London runs until the 16th of September, entrance costs £10.00 ( £8.50 concessions) open daily.