Arguably, the great attraction of London is not to be found in its appearance - with its varied mix of architecture and commercial waterfront it is hardly as visually seductive as the likes of Paris or Barcelona. Rather, the city's atmosphere and intrigue lies in the people that congregate there, in the streets, bars and venues that sprawl throughout the huge expanse of the capital. The names of notorious individuals throughout modern history, writers, artists, intellectuals, musicians, are all bound up with the city's streets and give a sense that here is the place where you will meet truly interesting people - where things are created and important events take place, all to be discovered behind doors, if you know where to go.
And Tate Britain's latest photography exhibition, Another London, of images taken by newcomers from the 1930s to 80s viewing the city for the first time, certainly seems to reflect the intrigue around the people and encounters to be made here. Spanning seven rooms, this is a very large selection of pictures by 41 different photographers, yet the majority clearly share a common interest in taking the residents of London as their subject. It is perhaps always interesting to observe how we are perceived by outsiders, and this exhibition sees the city portrayed as the classic exhilarating metropolis that it is often taken for, but also as a location for peculiar quiet moments and meetings.
Appropriately, all the photographs on display from the collection are in monochrome, which seems to suit the murky, dirty city, capturing the smoke and fumes. And Rene Groebli's shots open the exhibition by depicting a city that looms out of a foggy night, foreign and strange, setting the atmosphere for many of the war-period photographs on display. This dark introduction gives way to more curious and observant shots. Londoners are captured in the bathtub, bartering for fish, playing in the streets. The later, more intimate pictures by Czech photographer Markéta Luskačová take a very direct approach, getting up close and recording the precarious lives of Londoners living in Shoreditch and Brick Lane. One shot shows a group in conversation in the Knave of Clubs pub on Club Row in 1976, some glance up at the camera, their faces and expressions clearly visible, as if we were involved and could almost join them. Luskačová ensures that we get very close, entering the discussion.
This is a documentary approach that many of the photographers take, as if fascinated by the variety of the people to be observed. And there is a hugely varying range of approaches taken to recording their London subjects. American Al Vandenberg captures the street style of the 70s with a large series of shots, revealing some great examples of fine fashion choices and an old-fashioned sound systems being carried around by the London youth. Whilst French co-founder of Magnum Photos Henri Cartier-Bresson was commissioned to document the coronation of King George VI in the capital, he chose to turn his camera to the streets, taking photographs of the commoners who had arrived to glimpse the soon-to-be monarch. The pomp and ceremony of the King that form an integral part of Britain's classic tourist image are passed up for the more genuine flag-waving citizens standing on monuments and keeping their feet away from a passed-out drunk on the ground. It is this focus on the everyday, suggesting the life and atmosphere that could be felt on the streets, that makes many of these photographs so striking.
The photographs are extremely nostalgic for a London of the past, and it is interesting to think how today's streets level up to the atmosphere depicted here. By focusing in on the people themselves, rather than the famous landmarks of Buckingham Palace or a red phone box, these photographers sensed the interest at the heart of the city, and can at least allow a pleasant walk back onto London's post-war streets.