Olli Thomson


My recent visit to London coincided with lots of photography exhibitions, many of which were of interest. I managed to fit in eight during the five days there. I started with Martin Parr at the Tate Modern. This is a small exhibition focusing on a number of his classic images but still well worth seeing.

At The Photographers Gallery there were three shows: Alex Prager, a photographer I had not previously heard of and whose work left me underwhelmed; Tish Murtagh, another new to me photographer whose politically charged images of British urban life in the 70s and 80s were superb; and Shirley Baker, who photographed the same urban British environment in the 60s and 70s but with a slightly less militant touch.

At the Barbican Gallery there were two major exhibitions featuring Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship. Lange is best known for one single image, Migrant Mother, but this exhibition traces her work from her early days running a portrait studio for wealthy clients, through her work during the Deptression era, to later works documenting the fate of Japanese Americans during WW2 and finally a series a somewhat romanticised and cliched series of images from Ireland in the 1950s.

I’ve admired Vanessa Winship’s work for a long time, partly because her explorations have paralleled my own – Albania and Georgia particularly – but mostly because she is a documentary photography who does more than document. I can’t put it any better than Sean O’Hagan does in his Guardian review: “Her series Black Sea is subtitled Between Chronicle and Fiction, which goes some way towards evoking the atmosphere of her work and her approach – a kind of imaginative social documentary that is both rooted in place, yet elusive.” As with Lange, this is a comprehensive exhibition tracing Winship’s career from the early 2000s to the present. Her more recent work has taken a different, more conceptual, direction and, for me, has lost something of its force as a result.

Finally, two smaller exhibitions. First, Jane Brown at Proud Central. Brown spent many decades working for the Observer and this exhibition offers an excellent sampling of her portraits and some of her documentary work. Second, John Bulmer at The Observatory. I’ve mentioned Bulmer and his documenting of northern England previously, but this exhibition also includes a number of images from his many years working around the world for the Sunday Times Magazine. Unfortunately while The Observatory advertises itself as a photography gallery with a coffee shop, it’s more like a coffee shop with a photography gallery. Quite a number of Bulmer’s images were impossible to view up close because of the chairs, tables (and customers) in the way.

There were, of course, many related photobooks on sale at most of these venues. Unfortunately my suitcases were already close to the limit so these will have to wait for another time.

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