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Photography in London

Get in the picture with our guide to the city's best photography exhibitions and galleries

'Strange and Familiar' at the Barbican. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Addicted to Instagram or permanently attached to your SLR? Even if your camera roll is totally empty, you'll find a way to appreciate London photography; we have the widest variety of styles in some of the best exhibitions at the most beautiful galleries. Find them in a flash with our guide to photography in London.

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Edward Barber

A major chronicler of the anti-nuclear marches, demos and rallies of the 1980s

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This week's best photography shows

Don't miss any of the biggest and best exhibitions of photography this season

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Ten really boring but inexplicably beautiful London buildings

Swoon over our gallery of unexpectedly pulse-quickening architecture

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11 really rare photos of the Barbican being built

Love it or hate it, the Barbican isn't going anywhere – and not just because it’s made of whopping great tonnes of hefty, Grade II-listed concrete. Opened by the Queen in 1982, the Barbican complex took over a decade to build and was declared 'one of the modern wonders of the world' by her majesty. Recently, and unexpectedly, the Barbican came into possession of over 1,400 photographs of the final stages of its construction. Rarely seen images of the Brutalist beauty being bashed together are now part of the Barbican's 'Building the Brutal' series. Take a look at some of our favourites below, featuring trees being craned across the conservatory, construction workers dangling in the concert hall and those famously textured walls being painstakingly sculpted, almost unbelievably, by a man with a drill. When you’re done, check out our pick of the Barbican's greatest hits or find photography in London on at the moment. 

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Our favourite photos of London

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The 40 best photos of London ever taken

A collection of our favourite photographs taken of London from 1839 to 2016

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Things to do

London in pictures

Beautiful photography of London in all weathers and seasons

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Time Out photography competition 2016

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The Winners

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Runners-up: Wild

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Runners-up: Beautiful

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Runners-up: On the Move

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Runners-up: Weird and Wonderful

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Runners-up: Real Londoners

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Runners-up: Delicious

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The 40 best photos of London ever

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Latest photography reviews

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Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph

Early photography can be hard to fathom, and not just because of all those people in top hats and capes trying and failing to keep still during ten-minute exposure times. The infancy of the medium in the 1830s is a confusing whirl of near-contemporaries, all messing about with lenses and chemicals in a bid to capture the fleeting world. A matter of national pride, who did what, and when, is debated even today. France had Nicéphore Niépce who, as early as 1826 made a photographic image of his country estate using a camera obscura (a small wooden box fitted with a lens); Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, who gave his name to a new process of printing using light-sensitive, silver-plated copper; and Hippolyte Bayard who developed his own process and held the world’s first photo show in 1839. On this side of the channel, we had gentleman scientist William Henry Fox Talbot, whose innovations with a negative-positive process were instrumental in creating images that were relatively light-fast and permanent. ‘Relatively’ is the operative word here; many of the images in this show are modern digital copies, the originals being too fragile to display. Great storytelling in the early stages of this exhibition, which focuses on Talbot but includes examples by his European counterparts, gives a pacy account of these overlapping achievements. It’s science heavy (this is the Science Museum, after all) but also suprisingly poetic,with wall texts setting scenes such as the one in 1833 when Ta

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

There’s a theme to this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, and that is that photography isn’t really able to deal with the contemporary world. A lot of what is in this show of the four shortlisted artists speaks about the unseen or the implied, what is beyond pictorial representation. Sometimes literally, as in the case of Trevor Paglen’s images of the post-Snowden US intelligence landscape: drones, satellite paths and secret installations; sometimes obliquely, as with Tobias Zielony, who took his photos of African refugees in Europe back to the countries from which they had fled to publish them (‘The Citizen’, 2015, pictured). Both Zielony and Paglen also offer physical realisations of their ideas: respectively a free newspaper and a wi-fi hotspot linked to a security network. The other two artists do the same; Laura El-Tantawy offers a sound installation to accompany her images of the Egyptian revolution while the prize for most-unphotographic photography work must go to Erik Kessels, who brings a whole car into the gallery, a restoration project his father was working on when he was felled by a stroke. The ideas are fascinating, but they are without exception, foregrounded. Okay, so part of the point is that in the twenty-first century we often don’t know what we’re looking at, or even that we are looking at something. But for a show concerned with hidden worlds, there is very little mystery here. 

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century

Goodness: It’s a quality you probably appreciate in your mum. But in an artist? We’re taught from an early age to admire art’s bad boys and girls, from Caravaggio via Picasso to Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. They have the coolest lives and make the best copy. But the photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976) was, unerringly, a good man. And his images, of New York City streets, remote rural communities, even crocuses in his back yard, are inseparable from his humanity. This extra moral dimension gives you something unusual to grapple with at the V&A’s staggeringly beautiful retrospective. Strand is responsible for some of the defining shots of America at the beginning of the twentieth century, and for helping to elevate photography to an art form.  Homing in on the shadows on his porch, or fruit in a bowl, he made what are regarded as some of the first abstract photos of all time. Yet, especially in these fledgling works, you sense a tussle between Strand’s creative aspiration and his social conscience. It’s there in his iconic shot of Wall Street commuters, taken in 1915 (pictured above). Strand was trying to understand cubism and how to create a modern image for a modern world. However, with its anonymous proles dragging their long shadows in front the stark edifice of the JP Morgan building, the modern world he describes is one of subservience and alienation. He was no sentimentalist, though. A year later, in upstate Port Kent, he photographed a traditional white picket fence

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr

It’s a swell time to be a Martin Parr fan. A major show curated by the London-born photographer is about to open at Barbican (see page 96). You can also see his work as part of Tate’s ‘Performing for the Camera’, or even hike up to West Yorkshire, where the ‘king of the crowd’ has a retrospective at the Hepworth Wakefield. Just down the road from the Barbican, it’s possible to take in the fruits of his labour as the City of London’s photographer-in-residence, a post he’s held since 2013. ‘Unseen City’ is the Guildhall Art Gallery’s first major photo exhibition, and features over a hundred scenes of the Square Mile by Parr, who was invited along for a whole host of official events, from the Lord Mayor’s Show to the annual Swan Upping census along the Thames. There are plenty of weird and wonderful moments: a procession in red livery with rifles marching by as people gaze out from Pret; a child who looks likes she’s about to get swallowed up by her own tiger hat. There’s even a special appearance by Joan Collins in full pastel-blue regalia. Fairy-tale elements abound: grown men in livery carrying little hand pillows with roses on them (no glass slipper?) or clutching little bouquets of flowers wrapped in lace filigree; guards wearing what look like colanders on their heads. Parr’s signature askewness is visible in most of the large-scale images, though it seems to be lacking in others. Rather than bringing you closer to his unassuming subjects, as his work normally does, some

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 2 out of 5 stars
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Read more Time Out art reviews

Top 10 photo shows

Art

Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century

Goodness: It’s a quality you probably appreciate in your mum. But in an artist? We’re taught from an early age to admire art’s bad boys and girls, from Caravaggio via Picasso to Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. They have the coolest lives and make the best copy. But the photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976) was, unerringly, a good man. And his images, of New York City streets, remote rural communities, even crocuses in his back yard, are inseparable from his humanity. 

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Read more
Art

Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph

Early photography can be hard to fathom, and not just because of all those people in top hats and capes trying and failing to keep still during ten-minute exposure times. The infancy of the medium in the 1830s is a confusing whirl of near-contemporaries, all messing about with lenses and chemicals in a bid to capture the fleeting world. A matter of national pride, who did what, and when, is debated even today. 

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Read more
Art

Edward Barber

Edward Barber was a major chronicler of the anti-nuclear marches, demos and rallies of the 1980s. Over 30 years later, these pictures offer a glimpse into a turbulent decade of political protest. This display places a focus on the folk art that came out of the movement and the vital role of women in places like RAF Greenham Common.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Art

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

There’s a theme to this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, and that is that photography isn’t really able to deal with the contemporary world. A lot of what is in this show of the four shortlisted artists speaks about the unseen or the implied, what is beyond pictorial representation. 

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Read more
This week's best photography shows

Coming soon…

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William Eggleston Portraits

William Eggleston, the man widely considered the godfather of colour photography, is a geniune art world legend and as cool as many of the people he's shot over the years. Joe Strummer and Dennis Hopper are among the names that feature in this retrospective of Eggleston's portraits of musicians and actors. But rarely seen images of this Memphis-born artist's home life are likely to be as big a draw.

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The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection

Elton John has one of the best private collections of twentieth-century photography in the world, which may come as a surprise if you thought he just spent his money on CDs and flowers. He's lending around 150 key images for this major Tate Modern show, which focuses on the decades 1920 to 1950, when photographers and artists started to use the medium in earnest to create truly modern visions of the world. Everything from documentary photography to abstraction will be on display. Among the major names on show are André Kertész, Tina Modotti, Dorothea Lange and Man Ray.

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Head to our exhibitions calendar

London photography galleries

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Photographers' Gallery

The Photographers' Gallery's six-storey premises on Ramillies Street has reopened after a full facelift. Original plans for the new site were for a striking, angular structure with giant floor-to-ceiling lightwells grasping for the sky. After a fiscal wake-up call (the budget was cut nearly in half to £9 million), the Irish architects O'Donnell+Tuomey returned with a handsome refit and recladding of an old brick building, plus what amounts to an extravagant loft conversion, adding two whole storeys and just one thin sliver of those firmament-reaching windows. What hasn't been lost is any of the interior space. The upper floors boast two airy new galleries, while a bookshop, print sales room and café have been dug from the ground floor and basement levels. In fact, the climb-down from landmark building to tasteful conversion is no great loss, given the building's move to an unprepossessing corner plot in a back alley south of Oxford Street. The Photographers' Gallery has kept faith in its location, however tricky and inhospitable their new plot on the vaguely insalubrious Ramilies Street might seem. Indeed, the new site maintains the gallery's roots in Soho (just) and will hopefully come to be as embedded here as it was in its former location on Great Newport Street, which, despite its inelegant, warren-like unsuitability for showing great photography, will also live long in the memory.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Michael Hoppen Gallery

Michael Hoppen Gallery, set up in 1993, exhibits exclusively fine art photography. The second floor is dedicated to high quality contemporary work from well known photographers such as Daido Moriyama, through rising stars such as Desiree Dolron to edgier, newly discovered talents. Superbly produced artists' books, some published in house, are available to buy from the gallery.  

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Atlas Gallery

Atlas came of age in nineties Hoxton, when the area was still a scruffy, well-kept hipster secret but is now based in the swankier environs of Marylebone. The gallery specialises primarily in classic and modern twentieth-century vintage photography, photojournalism and fashion, in addition to representing contemporary photographers.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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V&A Photographs Gallery

An early pioneer in collecting and exhibiting photography, the V&A now boasts a permanent gallery dedicated to the medium. The inaugural exhibition charts the history of the photography with a display of beautiful and remarkable images taken between 1839 and the 1960s. Two further spaces are devoted to exploring the work of key photographic figures such as Julia-Margaret Cameron and Henri-Cartier Bresson. Temporary displays, primarily showcasing contemporary photography, will be shown in the V&A’s existing photographs gallery.

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