Over the last couple of years I’ve gradually got more and more interested in photography. Not just as a practical hobby, but also learning more about its history and the great photographers and visiting more and more exhibitions. One of the genres I have grown to love is ‘street photography’ and so when I discovered there was a festival dedicated to it I had to go, and I did last Friday.
The London Street Photography Festival is in its first year and is at various venues stretching from Swiss Cottage to St. Pancras, with a few other venues around the capital such as Brixton, Clerkenwell and Bloomsbury. This meant that I did a lot of walking by starting at Swiss Cottage Central Library at about midday and then gradually working my way to Clerkenwell via various venues on the way. Sadly, by starting at midday it meant that I didn’t get to some of the other venues outside of this core area. Maybe next year!
The exhibition at the Swiss Cottage Gallery in Swiss Cottage Central Library was called Polish Perspectives and featured three different photographers all originally from Poland but resident in London. All had a very different feel. Witold Krassowski started his photography during Thatcher’s time as prime minister and it shows. The black and photographs have a slightly old fashioned grimy feel, even when shot recently and truly gives that sense of photography from a difficult time. In complete contrast Zbigniew Osiowy feels a lot more contemporary. Not just because his photography is in colour but also because the images are a lot more familiar. They are of current everyday life, albeit from the point of view of a passer-by looking in, as opposted to Krassowski’s photographs that make you feel a part of the action. The third photographer was Damian Chrobak whose photographs are more minimal, clean and simple and whilst still observing real life have a certain arty almost staged feel about them. All three provided a great start to the day and got me thinking about my own photography as I headed to the next venue.
The next venue was actually venues and involved photographs by George Georgiou displayed on bus shelters from Chalk Farm tube station, down Camden High Street to Mornington Crescent tube station. Sadly, my interest in what else was going on meant that I missed some and of course many bus shelters were full of people waiting for buses (not surprising really) so you couldn’t see the pictures very clearly. But when I got to the bottom of Camden High Street, the Collective Gallery (which took me a bit of hunting to find), had the Seen/Unseen exhibition of both George Georgiou’s photographs and photographs from Mimi Mollica. Both of these photographers had essentially bus journeys as their theme, showing either passengers waiting for their bus or the view from the bus. This was a study not just in people’s ordinary lives, but also the ethics of public surveillance, both of which are conflicts for street photographers. What was also interesting was the contrast in the photographs taken from the bus when you went through thriving busy urban locations to outer suburbia.
From there I headed to St. Pancras, via St. Pancras Old Church which I have seen for years from the train but never been inside before. The next exhibition was one I was really looking forward to – Adventures in the Valley at Minnie Weisz Studio which is a study of the River Lea from Hertfordshire down to the Thames. The reason I was looking forward to it stems from having discovered Polly Braden at the current exhibition of street photography at the Museum of London, where she also appears in the film talking about her experience as a street photographer. Adventures in the Valley was a joint project with David Campany and gives a real sense of place to the hugely contrasting locations along the river. What struck me most was how appropriate it was that I had just started reading the book Edgelands as that is what a lot of these locations were. It is not just the life of the streets of the towns themselves that were captured, but also the overlooked spaces between them that were fascinating. Perhaps similarly to Mimi Mollica’s photographs taken from a bus journey, these photographs taken along the same river show how much life can change just along on linear route, including the urban/rural contrast, beauty, ethnicity, social standing and so on.
Next was the centrepiece of the festival – Vivian Maier: A life uncovered at the German Gymnasium sandwiched between St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations. What I discovered there was amazing. Vivian Maier was a Chicago nanny who just enjoyed taking photographs, but no one knew the brilliance of her photography until she had died when her negatives were found. Her photographs show a fascinating range of life on the streets of Chicago with ordinary people going about their lives and it really gives a sense of the city over the years. The Vivian Maier exhibition moved on to Photofusion in London after the festival and so I recommend going to see it. The German Gymnasium also showed the frontrunners for the London Street Photography International Awards all of which were amazing and you can see the photographs here. It must have been difficult to judge as I personally found it hard to decide a favourite, but if I had to pick one I’d have gone with Julien Coquentin from Canada.
My original intention had been to head to the British Library for the Street Markets of London in the 1940s – Walter Joseph exhibition at this point, but I realised I’d been over-ambitious to visit the whole festival in one day. So I abandoned this as the exhibition was running for sometime and headed to the London Street Photography Festival Student Awards at the Orange Dot Gallery on Tavistock Place. When I said the International Awards must have been hard to judge, then this was even tougher and in this one I had a vote. The one that immediately stood out to me (and the eventual winner was Tom Archer. Not only was he a Sheffield Hallam University student but when I looked at his photographs I knew where he’d taken one of them and some others looked very familiar and I am sure I know most of these roads as they are in the western suburbs of Sheffield where I grew up but I can’t quite place them with any accuracy. His photographs are quirky with a sense of humour but very subtle too. They were pretty impressive. I also liked the warmth and friendliness of Ibolya Feher who had picked one particular area and got to be accepted by the community, and this shows in the photographs that were taken as they showed real people going about their daily lives. The other person I’d draw attention to is Chakib Hantabli who has a very different approach and creates photos that make you think, or rather you wonder what the people who are photographed are thinking. Very thoughtful photographs and very well taken.
My final visit was the Street Photography Now exhibition at 18 Exmouth Market. This felt a little bit like visiting the mecca of current street photography, with the images on display including some of the biggest names in street photographs, all coming from the book of the same name. I bought this book about a month or two before and so the photographs were familiar, but the exhibition includes some photographs taken from a project at The Photographer’s Gallery. Amazing photography that is difficult to summarise, but it was a very good way to end as it really reinforced my enthusiasm to go out and do my own photographs and to take part in the Street Photography Now Project which I wish I’d discovered earlier.
Quite a few of the exhibitions ended last weekend, but some are still on display until the end of this month although the majority finish this weekend, and so if you love photography then do go. Actually, if you are just curious about the world around you from the obscure to the mundane, then also go.
Photo credit: The first photograph is my own and although it isn’t quite what I was trying to capture I like it anyway and it was taken in Camden Town on the day that I was at this festival. The second photograph is copyright Polly Braden & David Campany. Apologies to both if they would rather I didn’t use it (I will remove it if necessary), but I loved this photograph and I hope that showing it will encourage more people to take an interest in their photography.