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Still City

Phil Coomes | 15:02 UK time, Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Photo by Ollie Harap

Many photographers often wish they had the time and financing to travel, to record the lives of those on the other side of the planet. Yet why go to such lengths when great pictures can be made on our doorsteps?

Four London-based photographers have followed this model and a new show of their work called Still City opens on Friday 6 August at the Room Gallery in the capital.

The four photographers are Polly Braden, Ollie Harrop, Billy Macrae and Colin O'Brien. Each takes a different approach to depicting life in London and much of the work in the show is part of ongoing projects to document our daily lives.

The show was conceived by Billy and Ollie who looked around for other photographers to include, seeking to create a show that had identity and cohesion despite the varying approaches of those involved. Billy said:

"The four projects in this show differ wildly in content, style and technique. However, what binds them so clearly together is an urgent desire within each photographer to express the reality of personal experience in our hometown of London."

Photo by Colin o'BrienColin O'Brien's work was shot over a 50-year period. The pictures depict the changing landscape as a backdrop to those who spend their lives living in the capital as well as those who just pass though.

As a resident of Hackney it's not surprising that many of the pictures on show were taken in and around that area. His urban landscapes capture people off-guard, often against the background of poverty, in areas that have since been renovated.

In contrast, Polly's work relates to the upcoming Olympics in 2012. Polly has been exploring the River Lea which runs from the Thames in east London near to the Olympic site, past industrial areas, sports centres, nature reserves and housing estates through to Hertfordshire where it passes another Olympic venue in Broxbourne. It was at one time a busy commercial waterway yet now its primary purpose is leisure.

Polly has been working with her husband David Campany, switching between observational documentary and experimental staged photographs. Their series is entitled Adventures in the Valley and is ongoing, but the mix of reality and construction challenges our understanding of documentary practice as well as engaging our interest in both the subject and the form of the picture. The depiction of the changing use of social space is one photographers have long considered and this work is set to expand the debate further.

Ollie Harrop's project, Working Progress, explores the work of the Bow Arts Live/Work scheme, a social enterprise project that offers affordable studios for visual artists in the East End of London.

The project takes place against a landscape that is constantly changing in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics.

Photo by Billy macraeBilly Macrae's series is entitled Big Smoke People and captures life on the busy streets. He said that he seeks out the "shadowy doorways, isolated pedestrians, and a murky materialist presence that flits in the background in the form of advertising and posters."

He attributes his style and subject to his initial reaction to the city when he arrived a few years ago. He said: "A combination of a new place, a personal tragedy, and a city gripped by the credit crunch, sparked a visual quest for meaningful new experience, spanning several years and many of London's boroughs."

All of the projects have much to offer both photographically and as social comments.

Still City opens on Friday 6 August at the Room Gallery

Photo by Polly Braden


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