Samuel Johnson once said 'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of living'. This poignant quote is referenced within the opening of Portrait of a City
, and determines the journey of the publication.
Essentially a collective of striking photographs, the book is further illustrated by quotes of interest that give voice and conversation to the pages. Monumental change is mapped by captivating imagery, including some pictures that have never before been published - so the feeling you get from the book is of discovery. With some images credited as anonymous you feel like you're uncovering a moment that would otherwise have been lost.
On first reflection the book is a substantial archive of historical relevance but on closer inspection it is a celebratory hub of opinion, emotion and vibrancy.
Curated into three chapters that embody various decades from the early 1900's to present day the book flows and the clever use of white space allows the images to hold their strength. Bitesize descriptions offer enough information without overwhelming the viewer, with each passage of writing reiterated in French and German. This method of accommodating translation plays homage to the multicultural feel apparent throughout the city in present day.
The concept of 'a city of extremes' dictates how the book tracks extreme changes in behaviour, subcultures, class divides and social cohesion in times of adversity. Costume and fashion are referenced as are political impacts, covering the devastating blitz to the 70's boom time of colour and commerce. Snaps of local life provide light relief from intense images of destruction and urban renewal. Images which show architectural artefacts are synonymous with the construction of London, illustrating the story of the city's skyline. References towards the back of the book describe each photographer's style and intention.
In essence the book is an indulgent montage: a more concise finish may have made the read more digestible, yet the impact would perhaps be less epic. The ever-captivating visual narrative tracks the city's growth right up to modern day, consequently ending with the summarising statement: 'London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is infinite. It is London.'