Thursday, 13 September 2012

Outsiders' London

Tate Britain's 'Another London' comes to an end this weekend. Subtitled 'International photographers capture city life 1930-1980', the show is a roll call of refugees fleeing the Nazis pre-World War II: Ellen Auerbach, Dorothy Bohm, Hans Casparius, Herbert List, Felix H Man...

Prime among them is Bill Brandt, born in Munich, and moved to London in 1933. The handful of his works chosen here, from the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection, are symptomatic of the exhibition as a whole: they're all exterior shots.

As if to underline the outsider status of these emigrés and visitors, the vast majority of the photos show familiar landmarks and everyday characters but rarely scratch beneath the city's surface. James Barnor's 'Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London' (c1967) is typical, and full of incidental information (posters in the background advertise Doctor Zhivago, Michael Caine in Funeral in Berlin and Lionel Bart's Oliver!, 'London's longest running musical'), although there is no explanation of who Mike Eghan is, unless I missed it.

Ghanaian Barnor (Eghan is a compatriot broadcaster) has one of the few indoor shots on show - 'Flamingo cover girl Sarah with friend, London' (c1965) - and how atmospheric it is: we all know these stairwells of shared accommodation. Eve Arnold goes one step further and invades the bathroom for 'One of four girls who share a flat in Knightsbridge' (1961). Along with Willy Ronis' 1955 interior of a barely changed French House, these are the exhibition's best images.

I've always been troubled by Bill Brandt's latent sadism, but how I longed for one of his nudes - 'The Policeman's Daughter, Hampstead' (1945), say, or 'Eaton Place Nude' (1951). The Eaton Place images are unforgettable to anyone who has ever visited any of the central London townhouses, while the former hints at the perversions perpetrated behind our close doors.

And if not these, why not his 'Late night coffee stall' (1939), 'Alice at the Crooked Billet' (1939), 'Young woman at Charlie Brown's' (1946) or Brandt's 1941 portrait of Dylan Thomas in the Salisbury pub. In his work, perhaps more than in any of the images on show, the German was someone who never lost his outsider's eye, but was part of British life, exactly as he wanted.

No comments:

Post a Comment