There are some wonderful photography exhibitions coming to town, including the Museum of London’s show celebrating the city after dark. Curator Anna Sparham tells Alexandra Sims the stories behind these shots
‘Through a Glass Darkly #34’, 2016 (above)
By Nick Turpin
From a ramp leading to Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, Nick Turpin used a long lens to peer into the top decks of evening buses rolling past. He wanted shots of post-work commuters, people transitioning, as he says, ‘in the odd period of anonymous no-man’s land between work and home’. Shot in winter, the commuters emerge dimly through foggy, rain-splattered windows.
‘He’s observing people in their own little worlds as they try to switch off,’ says ‘London Nights’ curator Anna Sparham. ‘He captures it beautifully, with the condensation: the lighting and colours becoming painterly.’
‘Karen with Punters at the Sunset Strip Club’ from the series ‘London by Night’, 1983
By Tish Murtha
An exhibition about London at night wouldn’t be complete without snaps of Soho. Photographer Tish Murtha captured the Soho sex trade in the 1980s through a series made with her friend Karen Leslie, a writer, dancer and stripper. Leslie is at the centre of this photograph, taken at the Sunset Strip Club on Dean Street.
‘The picture is a brilliant insight,’ says Sparham. ‘It’s a group of men watching a naked woman, but what comes across is the power she has, the incredible intensity in her eyes.’
‘Bourgeoisie’ from the series ‘Night Flowers’, 2014
By Damien Frost
Drag queen Bourgeoisie was walking down Old Compton Street wearing a crown of balloons and with glitter all over her face when she was stopped by Damien Frost for this portrait. Frost’s work ‘Night Flowers’ is full of these chance encounters with drag performers. For months he wandered London after dark taking impromptu portraits. The title was coined after one of his subjects noted that there weren’t ‘many night flowers out tonight’.
‘The portraits look like studio shots,’ says Sparham. ‘Yet Damien’s out there capturing on the hop. They remove the individuals from the street and focus on their incredible outfits, which shine in the night.’
From the series ‘Vandals and the City’, 2015-2016
By Marc Vallée
‘It’s like Batman looking down upon the city,’ says Sparham of the man’s silhouette at the centre of Marc Vallée’s grainy monochrome shot. ‘Batman’ is part of a London graffiti crew who Vallée documented for more than a year in his photo series ‘Vandals and the City’ as they scrawled legal and illegal art all over town. The images explore private and public space in the city – how the crew, whose art-making can lead to fines and prison sentences, rattle our idea of who owns urban spaces. Darkness helps them remain unidentifiable, fostering their
illicit artwork. Sparham adds, ‘It brings across a sense of adventure the night allows for.’
‘Somewhere in the Night’ from the series ‘Border’, 2005-2006
By Mitra Tabrizian
British-Iranian photographer Mitra Tabrizian documents Iranian immigrants living in London, capturing them in staged scenes that look like movie stills but are coloured by real-life experiences. She focuses on the ideas of displacement and home. In this photo we see Gholam, an Iranian migrant who works long night shifts as a taxi driver.
‘This picture reflects that everyone’s experience of London is very different,’ says Sparham. ‘Here, being in the city at night is an isolating experience.’
‘AJ Tracey, Ets, Saint and PK at Ace Hotel’, 2015
By Vicky Grout
‘Hate photos, love Vicky Grout’ is a caption on one of Skepta’s Instagram posts. It’s a testament to Grout’s intimacy with the grime scene, which she fell into photographing when she was going to gigs as a fan. She captures the scene while she’s in the crowd, like in the photo above of MCs AJ Tracey, Ets, Saint P and PK. As she took pictures of the artists, got to know them and shared her work on Instagram, it evolved into a profession.
‘Vicky has a personal approach to documenting the London grime scene,’ says Sparham. ‘She’s on first-name terms with a lot of these artists now. It’s this proximity that makes her work exciting.’
‘London Nights’ is at the Museum of London. Tube: Barbican. Fri May 11-Nov 11. £10-£12, £8-£9.60 concs.