DSC03793Odd that our wanderings in Soho and constant search for MidCentury material in central London haven’t led us to the Photographers’ Gallery in Ramilies Street, between Oxford Street and Soho, before, but perhaps it’s just been because particular exhibitions haven’t flashed up on our radar. However, articles in successive editions of the Daily Telegraph Saturday edition (the only one we ever have time to buy and read) alerted us to a pair of exhibitions that have just opened featuring photographers working at much the same time but with a very different take on their respective cities.Foyles__Charing_Cross_Road__London__1937._56534e64b02e4

My eye was immediately drawn to Wolf Suschitzky’s black and white photographs of pre and post WWII London as it is to anything that depicts the grubby reality of life in the Capital in the 30s and 40s (the bit the ‘vintage’ scene usually prefers to gloss over). Like Bert Hardy’s photos for Picture Post, Suschitzky’s eye and lens capture the mundanities of the everyday, and so open a window on lives now long past but still wlyons-corner-hotel-large_trans++hkwkq0OHliukBlG1fwGQYnkKbRULdWZUzA8YbjncfX8ithin a generation’s reach. For the Londoner, they are of course also a chance to location spot, and one particular series recording sights on a journey up and down the Charing Cross road, is full of familiar backdrops, including the recently vacated original Foyles building – and the side entrance where Mrs M spent her first morning at work in 1981.

As an Austrian Jew who had escaped the Nazi persecuShoe Shine, Charing Cross Road, London, 1936tion ahead of the War, Suschitsky brought his photograph degree to bear in seeking out the unusual perspective. As the Gaby Wood’s Telegraph article put it The Charing Cross series remains Suschitzky’s best work as a photographer. With the social conscience of a documentarian and the eye of a German expressionist, he captured not just browsers but shoeblacks, knife-grinders and milkmen, as well as underworldcharacters at pinball machines, queues of people outside theatres, and a couple in intense conversation at a Lyons Corner House. Given that he would go on to become a film cameraman, it’s striking how many of them suggest a story.

saul-leiterBy contrast, American Saul Leiter – just 11 years younger than Suschitsky, used his earlier career as a painter to step beyond black and white photography to infuse his shots of New York life with colour. His use of cut-price out-of-date stock of early colour film creates slightly worn tones that perfectly capture the greyness of city life. Occasionally, we found ourselves wondering if he’d used the kind of filtering techniques now built into digital processing, until closer inspection revealed that the single spot of colour in a scene – a traffic light or an open umbrella – was genuinely the only relief in an urban landscape of greyness. A favourite shot captured a profusion of Coca-Cola ads which, if one came across it today, would be dismissed as a the work of an avid collector of signs. Leiter also did a lot of work for fashion magazines, indeed providing a photographic contrast to the graphic illustration of Mac Conner who’s contemporary work we saw at the House of Illustration last year.

Leiter_Postmen45444_563ccaba0c732The joy of the Photographers’ Gallery is that a single £3 ticket gives you access to all the current exhibitions, so we took the opportunity to take in a collection of photographs of the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916, and an exhibition of the work of Brazilian photographer Rosangela Renno, transferred onto 35mm slides and displayed through a collection of 50s and 60s projectors (no, Clive, do not start collecting old slide projectors, too!). The Suschitzky and Leiter exhibitions run to 6 March and 3 April respectively, and you can check what else is on at the Gallery’s excellent website.

While in the middle of Soho and with time to spare, we called into Reckless Records where I’d spotted a stash of Rockabilly compilations issued in the 1980s that I’d not been able to afford at the time but where I needed Mrs M’s keen eye to stop me buying duplicates of her collection. My luck was in and they were all still there – but a lot of them aren’t now! I also picked up a copy of the 1964 Shadows oddity, the Rhythm and Greens EP which has intrigued me ever since tracks from it appeared on a Music for Pleasure LP in the 70s. Of course, now it’s available on You Tube (click for the link), but it’s nice to have the EP itself in vinyl form. Reckless Records in Berwick Street is a real survivor – opened in 1984, it’s seen the demise of most of Soho’s secondhand record shops as the creeping homogenisation of the area pushes out independents to be replaced by High Street names (and don’t get me started on the appalling Creme Egg cafe that’s opened right next to Maison Bertaux – thanks for that one, Kraft). What’s more, it’s right opposite Sister Ray Records, so you can indulge yourself twice in one street.DSC03795

We saved ourselves, though, for the 50s and 60s record fair the following day at the International Student House in Great Portland Street, a magnet for our serious record collector friends and a great chance to catch up and chat as well as browse a stock that runs from bargains to big money. And, as the adjacent gig venue is where we met, what better way to round off a weekend…

Note: illustrated with images taken from open internet sources

A quick update. The Suschitzky exhibition turned out to be a timely celebration of his work, as he passed away on 7 October 2016 at the magnificent age of 104. As the Daily Telegraph obituary makes clear, this was a varied life crammed full, with the photography just one facet of an immensely talented indivdual. Although of course we didn’t meet him at the Gallery, it’s a nice feeling to think that his work was given that extra element of exposure while he could still appreciate the praise.