Review: "A Lost London" At Rathbone Gallery

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 187 months ago

Last Updated 03 October 2008

Review: "A Lost London" At Rathbone Gallery
Rag & Bone ManRag & Bone Man, by Chris Clunn

For those interested in London's photographic history, there's much of interest showing right now. In addition to London Through A Lens at Getty, Shutting Up Shop at Museum of London, the Soho Archives at Photographer's Gallery, a new exhibition at Rathbone Gallery reveals a city on the cusp of tradition and modernity.

A Lost London features the work of Chris Clunn, who in the late Eighties began hulking his camera all over London capturing the city and its denizens. What we get is a portrait of London stuck in time, "a place of pea-soupers, Dixon of Dock Green and Woodbines" as the gallery blurb puts it, a timepiece against which the prosperity of the past two decades can be measured. A rag and bone man would today perturb the yummy mummies of Primrose Hill, but it's one of several photographs depicting now fashionable areas - Clerkenwell, Islington, Shoreditch - whose less salubrious past is recent.

Some of the bigger prints are reserved for a study (also reproduced as a book) of the bummarees at Smithfield's old General Market, in apparently artless yet subtly self-aware fashion (the photographer reveals that they'd greet him each morning as "Bavid Dailey"). They ably capture the essence of a working life, if not yet quite lost, then certainly diminished since its heyday; yet today troops of photographers still wander around a market whose death, like Mark Twain's, has been greatly exaggerated. London's past presses on into the future.

What's lacking is a political dimension. Rocket Attack On Holiday Resort screams the headline on an Evening Standard billboard, yet beyond that there's little mention of events that have shaped the city. That may be the point: Clunn's inspiration is Eugene Atget's photographs of Paris, depicting a time now forgotten, unmoored from contemporary concerns.

Perhaps a stricter focus of theme or date would be more rewarding, but regardless, this show ably demonstrates how London's past and present remain strange bedfellows.

A Lost London, at Rathbone Gallery, W1T 2JZ (map). The exhibition runs from today until 8th November, and is free.