I was slightly nervous when my husband offered to accompany me to the Tate Britain to see Another London. He says, to be totally politically incorrect, that I should have been Japanese because I always have my camera with me and will photograph anything… not true. I knew that I would take longer than he would view the exhibition and thought he would be bored and I would feel rushed but not so, he loved it.
Having read The Ongoing Moment by Geoffrey Dyer whilst studying The Art of Photography, I had already been introduced to some of the great names in photography; Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Bill Brandt to name but a few but I had never seen any of their photographs close up, nor so many of them in one place. This was a super exhibition, well worth the £10 entry fee. Over 100 photographs by some of the greats of photography, taken between the early part of the 20th century right up until the 1980s. All the photographs were taken by foreign photographers depicting their view of London and its inhabitants and all are in black and white, even the one by Ernst Haas, Hyde Park 1953, who was perhaps better known for his early work with colour. Most of the pictures include people, many going about their daily lives, waiting at a bus stop, walking up a street or having tea in Lyons Corner House. One of the things that stands out most for me are the facial expressions. There is one particular photograph of a bus conductor by Bruce Davidson; Bus conductor woman with ticket machine, 1960, in which she looks as though she has just spotted him taking the picture at the last-minute and another by Martine Franck taken in 1977 of a little girl waiting for the Queen’s silver jubilee procession; Greenwich, London, 1977, how much longer is she going to have to wait?? My favourite of all of those though was taken by Maketa Luskacova; Woman and man with bread, Spitalfields, London, 1976. I found myself wondering what was going on between this pair, maybe its best not to know!
Thinking back to Catherine Bank’s blog which was featured in the OCA newsletter a few weeks ago, there weren’t any photographs in this exhibition that I took an instant dislike to but I did wonder how some of these photographs, or indeed photographers would be received if they were taking pictures today. Have our values in terms of what makes a good photograph changed? Bearing in mind that all the images are in black and white, some seemed to be very ‘contrasty’ with little variation in tone or shade in between very black and very white. Others seemed not to be straight; Elliot Erwitt, Eric Amber, London 1952, or the composition isn’t quite right; Martine Franck, Princess Anne’s Wedding, Parliament Square, 1973, has a woman’s head at the bottom of the picture. Or is it that I just don’t fully understand street photography? I do appreciate though that is some cases, the story told by the picture is more important than the technical execution and clearly those who made the selection from the 1400 possible images felt they warranted a place.
I also found myself wondering what some of these images would have been like in colour; back to Martine Franck’s little girl waiting for the jubilee procession wearing her Union Jack hat and what looks like a very colourful jacket, Bruce Davidson’s Queen’s guard marching, 1960 and Iriz Bidermanas’s Wooden horses, bomb site, Mile End Road, E1, 1951. Maybe some of the atmosphere would have been lost and the object defeated, we’ll never know although I do think that whatever the medium, these images stand the test of time.
The images shown in this exhibition were selected from over 1400 photographs collected over a period of about 20 years and which are being donated to the Tate by Eric and Louise Franck (Eric Franck is Martine Franck’s brother). Hopefully it won’t be too long before the Tate is able to exhibit more of these amazing images.
Another London Exhibition, Tate Britain, London 27 July to 16 September 2012
Delaney, Helen and Baker, Simon (eds) Another London, Tate Publishing (2012)
http://britishphotohistory.ning.com/profiles/blogs/eric-franck-donates-1-million-collection-to-tate [accessed September 2012]