Bold, Beautiful, Diverse, Rough In Places: London Nights Sums Up The City Perfectly

London Nights, Museum of London ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 6 months ago
Bold, Beautiful, Diverse, Rough In Places: London Nights Sums Up The City Perfectly London Nights, Museum of London 4
What could be happening behind each window? Copyright Rut Blees Luxemburg.

The hashtag #LondonAtNight brings up 77,000 posts on Instagram — a nocturnal photo of our city today is visual candy for us to admire for half a second. But there was a time when capturing London at night was nigh impossible with a lens. That's what makes Paul Martin's series all the more impressive when we see familiar spots such as Embankment and Leicester Square illuminated only by gaslights.

Martin was a pioneer of night photography and this major exhibition at Museum of London charts the evolution of nocturnal imagery of our fair city, told through over 200 photographs. It takes us from a zoomed out view of London as seen from the International Space Station by Tim Peake, to the microcosm of a conversation between two figures in a darkened alley.

This is what Piccadilly looked like in 1960. Photo: Bob Collin.

London is a multi-faceted city after dark and this show captures its full diversity from partying hard at Fabric to a man exiting a convenience store darkened against the glaring lights he's leaving behind.

There are some truly stunning images on show here, including a composite by Thierry Cohen that shows us what the city would look like if there was no light and air pollution — the Walkie Talkie and Cheesegrater set against a sky full of stars feels eerie, as if the world has ended and left these skyscrapers as a reminder of what society was once like.  

Asleep on a bus — we've all been there. Copyright Nick Turpin.

A similar post-apocalyptic vibe exists in William Eckersley's series Dark City of London depopulated at night. There's something haunting about trolleys left scattered around a car park with not a person in sight.

There are sleeping passengers glimpsed through bus windows, and a tower block lit up makes us wonder what's going in each of the flats where maybe only a television or lights are visible.

Partying hard at Fabric. We feel old just seeing this image. Photo: Sarah Ginn.

One of our favourites is of St. Paul's emerging from the smoke after bombing in the Blitz, the white dome against the dark clouds acting as a beacon of hope and defiance.

The exhibition skilfully mixes old and contemporary photography that shows how London has evolved, allowing us to see similarities through time. Yes, the Mods of the '60s may look very different to the drag kings and queens of today, but ultimately they are all Londoners dressed for a night out. Sophy Ricketts presents herself urinating on Vauxhall Bridge, raising the point how this is often seen as part of London's nightlife if a man does it, but disgusting if a woman follows suit.  

One of the most impressive outfits for a night out we've seen. Photo: Damien Frost.

Not all of the photographs captivated us, and some felt very similar to others, but there's so much strong imagery in this show that we can glide over these and move on to the next facet of London living.

This show is bold, beautiful, diverse, rough in places and filled with great stories ... it sums up London perfectly.

London Nights is on at Museum of London is from 11 May to 11 November 2018. Tickets are from £10 for adults.

Last Updated 09 May 2018