Features, Film

London Nights: The exhibition

Song and Dance from the series "London By Night." 1983. © Tish Murtha

Journey through the capital after dark in a new FullBleed film exploring the Museum of London’s major photography exhibition

With just over a month left to visit London Nights, a new FullBleed film, produced in association with British Journal of Photography and the Museum of London, explores the exhibition through the eyes of its curator and a selection of exhibiting photographers.

You can watch the first FullBleed film profiling Chloe Dewe Mathews, whose video work – London River Burning – is on show for the first time as part of the exhibition, here.

London is a city defined by contrasts; its nocturnal landscape is no exception. From the shimmering facades of concrete high-rises to the pumping interiors of darkened clubs, the Museum of London’s major photography exhibition encapsulates this mélange. Featuring over 250 photographs by more than 60 photographers, London Nights explores the many faces of London at night and the different approaches practitioners have taken to capturing them.

The Show, a new FullBleed film produced in association with British Journal of Photography and the Museum of London, sheds light on London Nights through an interview with its curator, Anna Sparham, as she too journeys through the capital in the back of a black cab. The short also includes interviews with exhibiting photographers Rut Blees Luxemburg, Damien Frost and David George – as they each discuss their work and relationship to London after dark.

These photographers represent but a small fragment of the eclectic mix of work on show. “We have portraiture, social documentary, street photography, all reflecting those different aspects of London nightlife that we may know, we think we may know, but also those elements of surprise,” says Sparham, as she is ferried past the dizzying lights of Piccadilly Circus. Work by well-respected names, including Bill Brandt and Tish Murtha, sit alongside that of contemporary practitioners, including young photographer Vicky Grout who has made a name for herself documenting grime’s second-coming.

“It was amazing to see the breadth of work and history in the exhibition. The show is a reminder of London’s past, but it is also very contemporary. It is a celebration of how photographers today are also telling stories around London’s nightlife,” says FullBleed’s commissioning editor Jude Edginton, who directed and produced the film. “This short gave us the scope to shoot our own footage of London at night and immerse ourselves in our own search for images after dark.”

London: A Modern Project. 1995. © Rut Blees Luxemburg

The Show also offers an insight into the curatorial process behind the exhibition. “One photographer I really like from our collection, and which I saw initially just on negatives, is Bob Collins,” muses Sparham. “I love how he immersed himself into the streets in Piccadilly in the early-60s, just picking out individual characters. In one photograph, in particular, we are drawn to this individual in a suit with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth; he’s just still, amongst all the buzz and activity of the nightlife.”

Split into three sections, London Nights takes visitors on a nocturnal voyage that reflects the many different facets of the capital after dark. London Illuminated explores the city’s unique night-time aesthetic. Dark Matters delves into the darker side of the capital, addressing the themes of isolation, threat and vulnerability through subject-matter ranging from night-walking to the blackout of the Blitz. And Switch On Switch Off explores the lives of city-dwellers after the sun goes down.

Piccadilly at Night. 1960. © Bob Collins

At a time when the capital’s night-life is under threat – with soaring business rates and tighter licensing laws leading to the closure of landmark establishments – the exhibition is particularly pertinent as a reminder of its importance, past and present. As Sparham observes: “Nocturnal London constantly evolves yet continues to connect with its rich past future photographers can continue to relish in its infinite possibilities.”

London Nights is now entering its final month and is open to the public between 10:00am and 6:00pm, Monday to Thursday, with late opening on Friday for the duration of the exhibition. There is also a diverse programme of events as well as the opportunity to purchase prints of the exhibited works. Tickets can be purchased here.

Words: Hannah Abel-Hirsch

This editorial was produced in partnership with Museum of London. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.