My London: The Photograph That Defines the City for Me

Artsy Fairs
Oct 2, 2020 5:27PM

In work commissioned by Emma Bowkett, FT Weekend Magazine's director of photography, three contemporary photographers explore their feelings about the capital

Dafna Talmor

Dafna Talmor, Untitled (LO - TH - 181818181818-1), 2018 (C-type handprint made from 6 negatives). Courtesy Dafna Tamor/Sid Motion Gallery

Dafna Talmor, Untitled (LO - TH - 181818-1), 2018 (C-type handprint made from 3 negatives). Courtesy Dafna Tamor/Sid Motion Gallery

“To the river!” exclaimed a tourist to his friends at Tate Modern, as he pointed towards the Thames on the day I was shooting my FT commission. Traversing the river with my camera downstream from Somerset House to Southwark Bridge, offered an obvious choice of subject and an ideal way to impose the necessary constraints. The winding river, which Londoners often cite as the north- south divide that defines their urban identity, marks a border I find both deeply meaningful and yet take for granted on a regular basis.

All my work is driven by an aspiration for greater universality

Landscape, and its often clichéd pictorial conventions, is at the core of my series Constructed Landscapes. The Thames, serving as it does as an ideal backdrop for tourist shots, picture postcards and professional photographers alike, seemed a fitting way to respond to the idea of My London, and to extend this body of work. Produced by collaging and seaming multiple negatives taken in close succession at the same location, the source images are reconfigured and abstracted beyond recognition. Any obviously man-made structures and living beings are obliterated, while human presence is reasserted through manual intervention – gaps (voids), overlaps and marks – allowing the work to mimic and form new elements of landscape. By disrupting composition and distorting perspective, these landscapes point to the constructed nature of the photographic image and, beyond the frame, to a more complex version of reality.

All my work is driven by an aspiration for greater universality: in a sense, this could be any river, an imaginary place rooted in reality. Despite its obvious construction, I hope it remains believable on some level. Ultimately, I like the thought that what may initially be perceived as divisive is what can also bring us together.

Dafna Talmor — Constructed Landscapes by Fw:Books available for pre-order

Silvia Rosi

Silvia Rosi, Self-Portrait as a Togolaise Migrant

Silvia Rosi, Self-Portrait as a Togolaise Migrant

I moved to London seven years ago, and the first place I ever loved was Brixton. It is vibrant, energetic and unapologetically Afro-Caribbean. Even after moving away in 2013, I still go as often as I can. What attracts me most are the hair shops, where a multitude of wigs stares out at you from the window display, inviting you to walk in and try them on, turning you every time into a different character.

The first place I ever loved was Brixton

They are reminiscent of my childhood, when I tried on my mother’s wigs, and I often go into these shops, one in particular. I’m usually holding a picture from the family album and I ask the assistant to help me find the hairstyle that most resembles my mother’s in the picture. She looks at me puzzled, “Are you really buying this just for a picture?”

I explain that I work with photography and use self-portraits as a way of engaging with my family history. I mimic my mother’s gestures and, by looking at the pictures of her as a young migrant in Italy in the early 1990s, I understand myself as a migrant in the UK today. The assistant nods and we carry on talking about hair.

In this diptych, I collaborated with my mother. We are both wearing her clothes, which we found in the attic and which often appear in pictures in the family album. The wig is from my favourite hair shop in Brixton. In the picture I imitate her and she imitates herself. In photographs we almost become the same person.

Chrystel Lebas

Chrystel Lebas, Untitled #2, Sydenham Hill Wood, from Woodland Studies, 2017

Since migrating to London from France 23 years ago, my only escape in search of a glimpse of nature within the dense city was walking or cycling along the river or through Brockwell or Battersea Park. I rarely looked beyond these places, as my work always took me outside the urban borders into the “wilderness”.

It is easy to get lost in this rather small forest

I realised how unfamiliar I was with the city’s diverse natural landscapes and have only recently discovered some of its hidden gems: for example, the string of ancient woods that dot the cityscape and form the Green Chain Walk. One wood in particular caught my attention – Sydenham Hill Wood, a mix of new and ancient woodland with remnants of Victorian gardens near Forest Hill in south London. This became the London Wildlife Trust’s first nature reserve in 1982, protecting it from development threats, and it is now one of the largest remaining sections of the Great North Wood, which once covered more than 800 acres.

A dense jungle of entangled vines, large oaks, one cedar of Lebanon and a wide variety of shrubs and other flora populate the slopes. It is easy to get lost in this rather small forest and I often wouldn’t see anyone while roaming during the crepuscular hours until a figure emerged from behind the trees. Humans have replaced the wild beasts of these ancient woods.

Chrystel Lebas, Photograms from Weeds and Aliens Studies, Sisymbrium irio L., London rocket, 80 Yellow 130 Magenta 0 Cyan 25 s.

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