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Whitechapel, 1972. Photo: Ian Berry, Magnum.

During this period, not only does the technology change, but so do the people—there are more contrasts, but also more photographers and works to choose from. Stephen McLaren (1961) is the coauthor of a book about street photography; Nick Turpin founded the organization In-Public in 2000, which unites professionals in the street photography genre and fosters the genre’s development and visibility. The exhibit is enhanced by interviews with photographers from various time periods, as well as a slideshow of works by contemporary street photographers.

Overall, the exhibit successfully reflects the development of the street photography genre in London and offers a good introduction into the history of the city. Yet I missed a certain sparkle in all of this, one that the photographers discussed in their interviews—when going out into the streets and looking through the viewfinder, the world changes; how through conversations with the people around you, something new is revealed; and how when searching for something different, everything becomes clear and understandable. 

The second exhibit, on view at the Whitechapel Gallery, is Magnum photographer Ian Berry’s (1934) homage to the Whitechapel district. The gallery itself commissioned this project in 1972. “I had just returned to London after a few years working as a Magnum photographer out of their office in Paris,” Berry recalls. “I had come back with a fresh eye and was just starting a new project when I got the call. It was too good an opportunity to turn down.” The photographer documented life in East London, which, similar to today, was experiencing great economic and social upheavals. In speaking about that time, Berry remembers “a certain palpable feeling of sadness that was in the air, the sense that one wave of immigrants were being supplanted by another. It was just becoming a multi-racial, but mainly Asian community, and the old Jewish community was in terminal decline.”

Over the course of two weeks, Berry walked the streets and visited shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as schools and hospitals. It’s unbelievable that the pictures were taken in short a short period of time, because the photographs reflect everything you can expect from street photography: life in its many aspects. The black-and-white photography enhances these feelings even more—both joy and sympathy, as well as wonder and mild nostalgia. 

These are documents of an era, which at the same time stimulate our imagination about the life stories of the documented individuals.