20th Century London Street Photography Shines In New Book
Robert Hallman's new book takes us back to the 60s, 70s and 80s, with 200 photographs from the streets of London. The shots often focus on the little things: bits of graffiti, shop-window mannequins, now-vanished murals. It's just the kind of stuff people habitually snap today, but which was often ignored at a time when you had to be careful not to run out of film. Such shots have a very modern feel — as though they were taken only yesterday using a grainy Instagram filter. By contrast, the landscape photos look their age. The Thames is seemingly from a different city, with derelict warehousing and wilting cranes where today we see luxury apartments and the Mayor's glass testicle.
Hallman was not a professional photographer, and many of his earlier shots are of unsteady focus or composition. This makes them much more evocative than more polished studies from the era. His words are just as revealing. The book is peppered with little anecdotes about his own life in London. We often get the story behind a photograph: how he used street furniture for night shots in lieu of a tripod; arguments with a policeman about the right to take photographs in Westminster; how he got a lady to offer flowers to a mounted policeman, only for the horse to eat the bouquet before he could get the shot he wanted.
In these days of ubiquitous cameras, it's impossible to go out for the evening without appearing on someone's Instagram feed. Street photography is now a universal avocation, not the niche activity of Hallman's day. This book reminds us of a time when every photo was precious. It captures something of the spirit of London through three decades, from the Queen riding side-saddle to the multicoloured laundry at the back of an apartment block. It also captures the story of a boy from Westphalia who could barely speak English, but grew up to love London and love his camera.
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Last Updated 28 August 2015