New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 39 November 28 to December 4, 2012

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

The View from the Street

London Street Photography
John D. Roberts
London Trafalgar Square by Wolfgang Suschitzky . Source:
Wolfgang Suschitzky , "London Trafalgar Square"

In its finest moments, the latest offering from the Museum of the City of New York, London Street Photography, not only demonstrates photography’s technical advances, but forces the viewer to consider how the photographer changes in response to them.

Organized chronologically and starting as early as the 1860's, the images document the rise of a world metropolis reflected in working class life. While the images from the late 1800's seem to function largely as historical artifacts, eliciting little – if any – emotional response, they set the stage for the work that follows. The urban landscape provides the backdrop for the ghostlike flickers of unknown and mostly unrecognizable subjects that result from long exposure times.

With the move into the 20th century, these static compositions begin to flood with life. The work of Paul Martin provides our first glimpses of previously unseen residents populating the city's streets. His work is the first in the show that doesn't feel soulless; his images of street vendors and soot covered children only become more interesting when juxtaposed with Horace Nicholl's peek into high society, “Derby Day at Epsom Racecourse.”

In his “Charing Cross Road” series,Wolfgang Suschitzky cuts his frame apart with intense patches of white and black whereas a more traditional interpretation of documentary photography can be found in the work of Roger Mayne. Mayne's images are some of the most interesting the exhibition has to offer, engaging the viewer with his often whimsical human experience of the London streets. His energy must have been contagious, as his subjects are quite obviously excited to be on film: even the street gang Mayne admits having been initially hesitant appreciated the attention in the end.

A natural progression leads into images from Henry Grant, who makes the mundane magical in moments captured in “Trafalgar Square,” where a woman stands amid a whirlwind of pigeons, and “Street Playground,” where garbage becomes a jungle gym for local youths.

Anti-Racism Protest by Paul Trevor. Source:
Paul Trevor, "Anti-Racism Protest"

The show's focus shifts from the advancement of the camera itself to the advancement of its subjects and the city they inhabit. The work of Paul Trevor and Sally Fear explores the difficulties faced by Chinese and Bangladeshi immigrants on Brick Lane and feels more precise and relevant than many of the other street scenes in this show. Sadly, this feeling does not last, as the final body of work – photos from 1980 to 2010 – is largely uninteresting.

It should also be mentioned that this collection represents a very literal interpretation of street photography – nearly every photo was taken on the sidewalk. Lost are the workplaces, public transportation systems, and other communal spaces that could have fostered a fuller appreciation of the city and its residents.

In the end, these minor complaints do little to taint an experience that is well worth the trip uptown. Though the scale of the show – boasting over 70 photographers – can be dizzying at first, its presentation maintains just enough focus to keep attendees from getting lost in the mix.

London Street Photography

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave.
UES         Map

212 534 1672

Friday, July 27 to
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Hours: Tues - Sun 10 to 5