What I first noticed when opening this book was the mention "Captions written by Barry Miles" on the title-page. I thought this extraordinary and most appropriate (for it is often the captions that define our looking at photographs) and felt already determined to like this work - and I did and do!
The pics in this tome are not only by luminaries such as Eve Arnold, David Bailey, Cecil Beaton, Erwin Bischof, and Bill Brandt but mostly by anonymous photographers whose shots convinced me as much as the ones of their well-known colleagues, and sometimes more.
Photographs by E.O. Hoppé
I learned, among lots of other things, that, in 1837, when Queen Victoria started her long reign, "London was the biggest city in the world by some distance, and the industrial city of the 19th century; it was described as a 'new system of living. Yet this was just the start ..."
London, Portrait of a City follows a chronological concept. The first chapter covers the time from 1837 to 1901 (The Monster City), the second 1902 to 1938 (Modern Times), the third 1939 to 1959 (The Consequences of War), the fourth 1960 to 1981 (The Party and the Morning After), and the fifth 1982 to the present, however not including the riots of August 2011.
In addition, you will find brief biographies of the photographers, a section called 'Recommended Viewing' that mentions movies from Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up to Richard Eyre's Notes of a Scandal, followed by 'Recommended Listening' (I'm happy to report that David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars made it on the list), and by 'Recommended Reading' that includes a tome by one of my favourite authors (J.G. Ballard) that I so far hadn't come across (The Drowned World).
London, Portrait of a City is not only a book with an amazing variety of photographs, it is also an intelligently composed book - just have a look at the double-page spread above (the sailors were photographed by Thurston Hopkins, the nude woman by Bill Brandt).
In sum: compelling photos abound that invite you to make fascinating discoveries, lots of them!
London, Portrait of a City
Taschen, Cologne 2012