A new photographic book shows just how beautiful the modern can be.
Post 'then and now' photos of the view from Greenwich hill, and you'll immediately get comments like "Yuck, I preferred it before all the skyscrapers". The O2 dome is still much derided, despite reinventing itself as one of the world's most successful venues. You can't mention the Walkie Talkie without protestations of disgust. I've even heard people wish the London Eye away.
If you count yourself among the "Modern London looks rubbish" crowd, then take a look through this stunning new book from Matthew Browne (no relation!). London: A Modern City in Photographs shows how 21st century London really can be beautiful, if only you have eyes to see.
Its 126 colour images chiefly focus on modern architecture — whether skyscrapers, stairwells or sunset skylines. But the book's remit goes a little wider, documenting new uses for old buildings, as well as the human-scale aspects of London life. Hence, you'll find the Leake Street graffiti tunnel and Trafalgar Square's LGBTQ+ pedestrian crossings rubbing shoulders with the former City Hall and The Shard.
Even bland buildings can look special when shown in the right light. A bank of boxy office blocks can only entice when lit up at night. You can't bad-mouth the Walkie Talkie when its eclipsing the moon. And James Stirling's inexplicably unpopular Number 1 Poultry is a geometric joy.
Here and there we find a reminder of just how fast things can change, with "modern" photographs that have already slipped into the past. The Science Museum's "Materials House", for example, hasn't been on display for a few years now (I don't know why; it's marvellous). That previously mentioned view from Greenwich hill is also included in the book — a gorgeous late-afternoon winter capture that even the skyline-moaners will adore — but it's already outdated thanks to a dozen new towers. This city never rests, even in a time of pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.
This is a book of alluring photography, which should open the eyes of even the most jaded Londoner. They'll still hate the Walkie Talkie, though.
London: A Modern City in Photographs by Matthew Browne is published by Amberley.