London through a foreign lens

 low-level shooting

As an exhibition depicting life in London from 1930-1980 opens at Tate Britain, Gemma Padley speaks to curator Helen Delaney about how Another London explores the changing nature of the city through international eyes

FOR CENTURIES, London has proved to be an irresistible draw for photographers both born and raised in the capital and those who have moved and lived here from all over the world. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Eve Arnold are just three famous practitioners to have passed through the metropolis capturing the diversity and magic of its landmarks, people and buildings. In AP 21 July, we turned the spotlight on David Bailey and his fascinating images of the East End from the 1950s. This week, it is Tate Britainturn to take centre stage with an equally compelling exhibition called Another London: International Photographers and City Life 1930-1980.

From 27 July-16 September, 150 black & white images by some of the 20th century s

most influential photographers, including Cartier-Bresson, Arnold, Frank, Bill Brandt, Bruce Davidson and Elliott Erwitt, will be on display. The photographs have been selected from the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection that was recently donated to the Tate-the largest gift of photography ever made to the museum. The collection features some 1,400 photographs taken by 120 photographers that has been collated over the past 20 years. The images, which are worth more than ?1 million, trace life on London s bustling streets from the 1880s up to the year 2000 and beyond.

With the Olympics bringing tens of thousands of visitors from near and far, the timing could not be more appropriate.  The exhibition and acquisition were thought about very much in tandem/ says Helen Delaney, who co-curated the exhibition with Simon Baker, the Tatecurator of photography.  The eyes of the world are on London, so we thought it would be interesting to look at the collection from the angle of photographers who have come here over the years from elsewhere. There is a mixture of work by well-known photographers and lesser-known ones who take London and its communities as their subject matter. What they all have in common is that they first encountered London as a foreign city.

Despite this commonality, each of the photographers had quite a different relationship with London.  Some of the photographers arrived as refugees and settled in London, some visited briefly while on assignment and others moved here for other reasons/ she adds.


With such a rich, diverse collection of photographs and photographers from which to choose, the selection process was at times difficult, explains Helen.  The collection has an amazing array of photographs from which we took our lead/ she says.  We were really spoilt for choice and it was painful excluding some images, but we couldn t include them all. We looked at what was in the collection and narrowed our focus to five decades from the 1930s-1980. The 1930s seemed a good starting point as this was around the time cameras were being made that were light enough for photographers to carry with them on their travels. We tried to choose photographs we felt were meaningful and that reflected the diversity

of practices used by the photographers.

In the final count, Helen and her team selected 41 photographers to feature in the exhibition. They chose 180 images that explore the constantly shifting character of London, and celebrate what the city and its people used to be like.  We tried to take a cross-section of photographers/ she explains.  Of the 120 photographers in the collection, quite a few were British so they werenincluded. Even if the photographer became naturalised, we wanted them to have had that initial experience of coming to London from elsewhere, which ties in with people coming from all over the world for the Olympic Games.’

The exhibition is loosely chronological and starts with the earliest images from the 1930s through to 1980 The featured photographers come from all over Europe and as far away as the former Soviet Union, Latin America and Africa. They are divided into groups, which is an approach that allowed Helen and her team to bring out the different biographies and circumstances surrounding each photographerarrival in London. In this way, the exhibition highlights both individual photographers’experiences of London as well as presenting a collective vision of London as a multifaceted place through multiple pairs of eyes.


Often, the photographers were working on a commission in London, but would contribute to and shape their projects in their own way.  Some photographers were working for themselves, while others were on an assignment for a publication/ says Helen.  For example, four of the six

images in the show by Cartier-Bresson are taken from his first published piece of photojournalism. He was commissioned by the French weekly news magazine Regards to document the coronation of King George VI on 12 May 1937 Cartier-Bresson focused his attentions almost entirely on the crowds, and took many really interesting and sometimes humorous images of people waiting for the monarch.

Other photographers came to London and worked independently. One such was Marketa Luskacova, who settled in London from the former Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and took pictures of homeless people and market life in Spitalfields in East London and the surrounding area.  Marketa told me about one particular photograph in which a group of homeless men are seen huddled around a small fire in the snow,’says Helen. spent quite a lot of time with them before she took their photograph. This is documentary photography, but it is a very different,

[more personal] approach.’


The range of subjects and places is extensive, although there are some recurring locations, such as Spitalfields and Billingsgate markets. From unobtrusive snapshots to consciously posed images, the images deftly capture the city s enigmatic charm and unique character. People feature in the majority of images and it is clear that the photographers who came to London from abroad were drawn to the diversity of people living and working in the capital.

 Not only has the way London looks been transformed over the decades, but the people themselves have also changed,’says Helen.  There are real emblems of Britishness in some of the images, such as red buses, bowler hats and the Queen s guard marching, alongside photographs that show the citygrowing cultural diversity. Consequently, the images reflect a mixture of tradition in the capital and also the sense of a city that is evolving.

of the photographers took pictures of things that struck them as different to what they were accustomed to;  she adds.  What struck me as I was looking through the images is that some of the photographers seem to be interested in showing the British class system and had a particular eye for social division. But most of all, through the conversations I ve had with the photographers, there seems to be a real love for London The exhibition is an opportunity to see London and indeed the way we used to be through the eyes of the photographers who came here from far and wide.

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