London on display

The World in London (Park House, Oxford Street), 2012

The World in London, which I wrote about in the previous post, is unusually in that the exhibition is being shown at the same time in two venues in the same city (although the Oxford Street installation will stay on display after the Olympics close on 12 August). Although the design of the two installations is recognisably the same in terms of its graphic identity – which is kept very simple, and although my preference would generally be to see images on white the black background does work reasonably well here – the way the work is shown is rather different and offers two different readings of the collection of photographs.

On Oxford Street, the images are displayed as a grid, albeit an uneven one with some images larger than others, in part because of the range of formats used by the photographers but occasionally determined by the architectural grid of the building. Exhibiting photographs in a grid is a strategy used by Bernd and Hilla Becher who grouped their pictures of industrial buildings together by type and it’s hard not to read grids of photographs as typologies.

The arrangement of the images is in alphabetical order of country – read in grid form from top to bottom, left to right – using the standard three letter country codes used by the International Olympic Committee. Of the written information, it is this that is most immediately readable.

The World in London (Victoria Park, E3), 2012

In Hackney the display is linear. Once again the portraits are arranged in alphabetical order of country and once again the country code is the most prominent written information. The difference here is that of using a sequence rather than a grid. Effectively in viewing the work we are seeing the images sequentially rather than as a collection; in other words we are taking a journey, albeit on that – determined by that alphabetical arrangement – wouldn’t be the most convenient route around the world. In this presentation the portraits become a parade, perhaps to mimic the way the athletes arrive in the stadium (albeit without adopting the tradition of Greece first, host nation last).

In terms of looking at the work, in my view there’s a lot to be said for the line of pictures but in the context of the pictures as a body of work I find the grid conceptually stronger. The project is after all effectively a typology of Londoners. All different, all the same.

The World in London was commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery and can be seen at  Victoria Park, London E3 until 12 August 2012 and in the windows of Park House, 453-497 Oxford Street, W1C until 30 August 2012

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2 thoughts on “London on display

  1. Went to see the Victoria Park display yesterday – last day! Wonderful series and the form of display suited the long walk along the fence there!

    • Yes, I think the way it’s shown in both places is was probably decided by what was right for the location but it does make the viewing experience different in each place.

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