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Street photography in London and Liverpool

1 March 2011 by Sam

photo of a man sitting in front of mannequins

Cheshire Street, E2, 1986 © Paul Trevor. All rights reserved.

There seems to have been an explosion of interest in street photography in recent years. The ease and convenience of digital photography has meant that anyone can snap candid shots and share them on social media. However the Museum of London’s rather excellent London Street Photography exhibition shows that it isn’t a recent phenomena. The exhibition includes photos dating back 150 years.

The Victorians it seems were just as interested in documenting life around them as we are now. I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised to have seen so many incredibly fresh shots by John Thomson – he was after all the photographer responsible for my favourite exhibition of last year, China through the lens 1868-1872 at the Maritime Museum. A pioneering photojournalist, his scenes such as the encounter between ‘Hookey Alf’ and a young girl are bursting with life and characters. There are also some remarkable shots by unknown amateur photographers on show, taken from albums in the museum’s collection.

The pictures show great changes over the years – men look identical in the early shots, with their smart suits, moustaches and hats, then slowly seem to develop their own identities. The equipment used to photograph them changed dramatically too and the exhibition has an interesting display of the ‘tools of the trade’ from early medium format cameras to an iPhone.

However it was interesting to see in the accompanying interviews that the In-Public photographer Matt Stuart prefers to use a film Leica camera for street photography, instead of the digital SLR he has for his commercial work. It seems that there is still a place for discreet small, quiet cameras out on the streets.

Another Leica user who is very well represented in the exhibition is Paul Trevor, who spent two decades documenting the area round Brick Lane where he lived. His obvious affection for and interest in the people around him shines through. This is possibly what helped him to make such strong connections with the people he met in Liverpool when he visited on a documentary project in 1975.

These connections were so strong that he felt compelled to return and track down the people he photographed 35 years later. It seemed a tall order but last summer he was reunited with many familiar faces when he visited Everton Community Centre. One of them commented “Paul, it’s like you’ve never been away” – a sentiment he liked so much that it became the title of his upcoming exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery.

I highly recommend a visit to the London Street Photography exhibition – and if you like Paul Trevor’s Brick Lane photos then do come and see his Liverpool exhibition at the Walker in May.

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