London is one of the most colourful places to live in. Even if you are in the centre of the city, surrounded by the grey buildings, the navy-blue suits, and the metallic frames that hold everything together, you will be able to spot a bright yellow frame sticking out, a red dress rushing down the tube escalators, or a purple hair framed face reading the Evening Standard in a crowded bus.
London is a colourful city not for the geography, but for the people in it. Londoners are intense marks on the city canvas; multicoloured dots, straight lines, and forceful brush strokes, every Londoner is a reflection of light, a shade of colour.
This is why I am now standing in the middle of the exhibition, eyes wide open with surprise, lips parted, as if I am about to say something; nothing comes out.
You see, I have just entered the Another London Exhibition in Tate Britain, where more than 40 photographers captured life in the Capital on film. The only thing is the film is black and white, a form I absolutely adore, but did not expect to see in this space. And it is not just one or two pictures; the whole exhibition is a monochrome sea of city life.
However, from the second shot, I realise why. The pictures have the common quality of a frozen moment in time, a single second taken from the everyday. They portray London as the dynamic metropolis it is, richly varied and full of contrast, seen through a different angle.
Each photographer seemed to have a very different relationship with London; from fleeting visits as a tourist, or a journalist, to the unique view of a refugee or a permanent resident, each lens documents a different story. The diversity of the people behind the camera results in a depiction as diverse as the city itself, a jigsaw that seems puzzling unless you are part of it.
I have to say that my favourite was the seventh room, where British subcultures started being documented. Neil Kenlock‘s looks at immigrant Britain, Karren Knorr and Oliver Richon‘s get immersed in Punk Culture, Leonard Freed looks at Jewish Communities, and Marketa Luscacova, Mario de Biasi and Al Vanderberg look at the styles of Londoners.
Marfine Franck‘s look at older people is very touching, as is Lutz Diller‘s social documentation. Indeed, there are moments where the class system is captured, like Robert Frank, Irving Penn, and Wolfgang Suchitzky, capturing the lives of the poor and the affluent on the same strip of film.
Then, you have the alternative images. Dorothy Bohm provides an eerie imagery with her pictures of London after the bombing in the war, that comes close to the mystical images of Sergio Larrain. Ernst Haas produces pictures that are deliberately out of focus, Hannes Killian tries to capture movement, and Herbert List develops his own photographic language (photographia metalifisica), looking at dream states with double exposures, portraying a surrealistic view of a familiar city.
The poster of the exhibition is a picture by Bruce Davidson, of a girl holding a kitten on the sidewalk of a busy street, both looking lost, both found by each other. It is interesting to see how Davidson says that he has made several attempts to track down the mystery girl, all unsuccessful.
And to me, this is the magic of London. The fleeting moment. The here today, gone tomorrow nature of the city. The meaning that a picture holds, as it is a shot of something that will not be the same tomorrow. The ephemera caught on a screen, light translated to digits, fingerprints of a visitor that came and left. When I go to exhibitions, I don’t want to take a picture of the work; I want to capture the visitor with the work. I want to observe that moment when the image on the wall becomes a part of the person standing in front of it. A memory to be kept or discarded. A moment.
Inge Morath said that
‘[when I came to London] the world around me seemed to be filled with things that wanted to be photographed. I had finally discovered my own way to express what interested or obsessed me in a way with which I could live.’
And to me, this is London, this is art, this is photography. This is the everyday.