In the largest ever takeover of Somerset House, Photo London landed this week with over 70 galleries exhibiting work from all over the world. There is imagery crammed all over the walls in every corner of the venue which makes a refreshing change from the standard grids usually displaying work in galleries.
Street photography particularly stood out with lots of stunning black and white imagery from Diane Arbus, Chris Killip and from the brilliant Alexy Titarenko. But the absolute best thing for me was discovering the work of Graham Smith, a photographer who stopped shooting in 1990 and has pretty much shunned the spotlight ever since.
He started his career as a photographer studying at Middlesbrough College of Art and later at the Royal College of Art having firstly left home for four years. Smith spent most of his photographic career documenting the north east of England, particularly Middlesbrough, some of the images of which are thankfully showcased by The Eric Franck Gallery at Photo London.
Smith's images capture the community in which he grew up and lived. Friends and relatives are seen in the pubs and streets they frequented, in the south of the city. Smith is quoted on Eric Franck’s website as saying
I started photographing Middlesbrough and, with a life time support from my wife Joyce, was guided well away from what otherwise may have been a wasted future.
He was central to The Side Gallery which opened in 1977 with a philosophy to document working class culture, his culture. His work has been seen rarely over the years but a photo essay published in Granta entitled ‘The Pub’ gives us a glimmer into his ways of working when he revealed “The truth might be that the camera was just an extension of my drinking arm.”
In stark comparison to Martin Parr who was also documenting Britain at this time, Smith’s images do not focus on the prosperity of Thatcher’s 80’s focusing instead on his own community, a town that looks like it has seen better times. Having shunned the spotlight for many years it would seem he is finally starting to re-emerge and this historical and significant work can thankfully be seen again.