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London through a Lens

The photographs in this exhibition have two things in common: they were all taken in London over the past century or so, and they all come from the vast archives of Getty Images. But that’s where the similarities end.

This isn’t a showcase of tourist hotspots or a roll-call of famous Londoners or even a chronological survey of photography in the capital. Some well-known names crop up, both in front of and behind the camera: the Beatles, the Kray brothers, Thurston Hopkins, Terry Fincher and Terry O’Neill. And some famous events: the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, the poll tax riots in 1990. Some iconic structures and places appear too: the Daily Express building, Trellick Tower, Eros, Petticoat Lane Market.

But the great and the good, and the landmarks of history and architecture are matched by anonymous Londoners doing everyday things. Routemasters and riots, funfairs and football crowds, buskers and bombs, pop stars and policemen, traffic and towers, squatters and stilt walkers: all take a bow. And quite a few animals get a look in too: sheep, hounds, deer, monkeys and even an elephant.

Some pictures depict a recognisably modern city; some seem to come from another lifetime. Some people are posing for the photographer, but many are oblivious to the camera’s eye. The sources of the images are equally varied too – Fleet Street newspapers, commercial photography agencies, private collections, photojournalism magazines (notably the ground-breaking Picture Post) – and are a tribute to the richness and diversity of Getty Images’ holdings.

The result is a portrait of London, but an idiosyncratic and inevitably incomplete one, where celebration and protest, the individual and the crowd, the momentous and the mundane all have their place. We hope this exhibition is entertaining and surprising, and reveals how much the capital has changed, and how much it hasn’t. Most of all, we hope that it captures something of the endless variety and interest of life in London.

Cath Phillips, Time Out