Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Capturing the Smoke (2012)

Beat Girl with Kitten 1960
Exhibition Review from the October 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another London – International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980 – Tate Britain

The 180 photographs in the Another London exhibition are selected from the collection of 1,400 photographs of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection. The 41 photographers in the exhibition were all from abroad, visiting London as tourists, or as part of their employment, or were refugees from Nazism and eventually settled permanently in Britain. The photographs are evidence of a rich tapestry of life in ‘The Smoke’ during the twentieth century.

‘Class’ is a significant factor portrayed in these photographs from Brandt’s Housewife – Bethnal Green 1937 and Suschitzky’s East End Street 1934 to the series of photographs of the working class in Brick Lane, Spitalfields 1976-78 by LuskacovaPeople in the Knave of Clubs Pub, Club Row 1976 is revealing in its depiction of East Enders sense of camaraderie although at first glance the photograph could be from the 1930s. The various changes in capitalism in Britain in the intervening 40 years had done little to change the economic status of working class in the East End.

Photographers also captured the ruling class at work and play in Hoppe’s 1937 London Stock Exchange – Typical Young Businessman to the military in The Queen’s Guards 1960 by Erwitt. The photograph of the 1959 Queen Charlotte’s Ball by Cartier-Bresson is of the Débutante’s Ball where daughters of the Aristocracy ‘came out’ at the end of the ‘Season’. ‘Debs’ were presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace right up to 1958 when it was deemed an archaic social practice. The ‘Debs Ball’ ended in 1997 but since 2009 has been re-established for the daughters of wealthy capitalists as well as the Aristocracy.

Brandt’s Housewife – Bethnal Green 1937
Erwitt’s photographs of British Railways Logo on Train and Male Passengers in 1st Class Compartment (1950’s) highlight the fact that although the railway was nationalised in 1948 BR still operated a ‘class system’ of compartments for first, second and third class passengers. Third Class was abolished in 1956, and second class was only re-designated as Standard Class in 1985.

There is an evocative photograph by Willy Ronis of Gaston Berlemont’s Pub, The French House, Soho 1955 which reeks of tobacco smoke, booze and bohemianism (well-known poets/artists and drinkers Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Francis Bacon, and Malcolm Lowry frequented the hostelry). The iconic photograph of the Beat Girl with Kitten 1960 by Bruce Davidson conjures up the mysteries and delights of youth on the cusp of adventure at the beginning of the ‘swinging sixties’.

Neil Kenlock’s photographs of the Afro-Caribbean community illuminate a radical political side to the black British experience: Demo Brixton Library 1972 shows placards stating ‘All Police are Pigs’ and ‘Off the Pigs’ while the 1970 Black Panther School Bags portrays just that.

Davidson’s Conductress 1960 epitomises the period covered in the exhibition. This world of the sounds of ‘slam door’ trains, Solari departure boards at rail stations, Routemaster buses, and Gibson ticket machines is gone forever.
Steve Clayton

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