‘Another London’ at Tate Britain

‘Another London’ International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980, is an exhibition of the works of 41 photographers capturing their impressions of the city.  Some were fleeting visitors, others were refugees from war and some came on journalist assignments, but each of the photographers represented had a particular experience and view of what they encountered.

All the photos are in black and white, and as a collection progressing through the years, it felt like a contemplation of the life of the city.  Among the expected, the things that probably still attract the lens of the visitor, the funny hats, the elaborate outfits and the state occasions, there were observations of the offbeat, the quirky corners and the ordinary, captured in a moment  to render them extraordinary.

And because they were all monochrome they had an aged look to them, from my point of view entirely appropriate for the shots before the 1970s, but oddly discomfiting for the photos from the 70s and 80s, my lifetime.  Seen here as part of a historical continuum, but still, I find it hard to believe that what to my mind’s eye is full colour and barely yesterday is there filled with dated clothes and dodgy hairstyles.

One of the most remarkable photographs was of the view east from the top of St Paul’s cathedral some time in the early 1940s.  It shows an area of bombed out land, allowing a clear view across the empty foot prints of destroyed buildings straight to Tower Bridge.  The debris had been tidies away leaving neat lines where walls used to be, and traffic was passing along the roads alongside groups of pedestrians. It speaks all too loudly of that keep calm and carry on culture of popular belief.

I also enjoyed photographs of people in cafés and bars, brief moments captured amidst crowds, air thick with cigarette smoke, glasses raised half way to their mouths, eyes wandering, or fixed on their companions; and the people relaxing beside the processional route for George VI’s coronation, a series which specifically includes no shots of the monarch himself.

The show is on until 16 September.

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