Amelia’s Magazine | Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography

On a hot and sticky day I ventured forth to West London to view Richard Heep‘s ‘Present-Past’ exhibition. Uniting his Americana series of work with English pieces reflecting the sombre melancholy of the British Isles, advice pharmacy this seemed like one not to miss.

Rathbone Gallery is a little bigger than a corner shop, but this works well with the intimate photos that hang from walls. The exhibition was meant to document the present existing as ‘an extension of the past; a past relived and re-invented, one around us as we live through the fading ripples of a previous age’.

Americana photos included the iconic American cafes in the middle of nowhere, letterboxes, crumbling remains of towns after boom years. The mood of nostalgia and transitory states in the america series that echoed the 1950s, worked well in conjunction to the other English photos. With nostalgia you often think of regret at what is past, but the warm colours, inner glow and sense of movement in many pieces imbued each with a sense of subtle optimism.




In many of the photos taken in Britain there was an inner peace, as Heaps captures moments of reflection at the past, at mundane moments like putting the washing on the line. The dancing light, the lone objects, the tired highways; all of this imparts a worn down quality.



I’m fascinated by the concept of nostalgia. Even a week after graduating uni I was looking back at ‘past days’ and recalling memories with a well known warmth. The rich colours, the lone objects, the quiet recognition in all of the images, makes the past feel familiar, isolated and sad. Like Heaps’ image of the iconic American sun dried landscape an isolated car must travel through now and again; perhaps going back to the past is a little like a journey that is inevitably familiar, isolated and ever so slightly sad.


After making my way through the crowds of tourists at the Tate Modern, mind I was able to escape to a timeless collection of photographs in the Street & Studio, An Urban History of Photography exhibition. With images dating back to 1885 portraits through modern day contemporary fashion, the work from internationally known artists including, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Cindy Sherman were on display.


The exhibition played between fiction and real life, the studio and the street, and how the human reaction is captured and identified in these contrasting settings. While cameras were evolving into more portable contraptions in the past century, the limitations of the studio diminished and photographers were able to expand onto the streets to provide their subjects a most natural backdrop.


With the collection spanning across eleven rooms, displaying a different style of photography in each, it is sure to find something to interest everyone. The work of photojournalist, David Goldblatt documented the reality of the people of Johannesburg. Goldblatt, originally from South Africa himself, has been creating powerful photographs of his homeland for over 50 years.


While some may enjoy viewing these documentations of our world’s history, others like myself enjoy the art of fashion photography. Juergen Teller has become an iconic name in the fashion industry, and the man behind the famous Marc Jacobs advertisements. A collection of images from his book, “Go-Sees” shot in 1998, were one of my favorites on display. He photographed young girls that came to his studio in hopes of becoming a model. Teller captured these girls in the doorway, between the street and the studio, portraying potential models in their most natural poses.


This exhibition is currently on display at the Tate and will run through the 31st of August.

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