By Clive Jennings
Local gallery Diemar / Noble Photography had the enterprising idea to invite photographers to submit photographs taken within a one mile radius of their Wells Street premises for the first Fitzrovia Photography Prize. Over 600 people, from as far away as Europe and the USA, rose to the challenge and submitted up to three images, of which 53 were selected for the exhibition that ran through August. Some entrants chose to provide an explanatory caption, while others let the picture tell the story, but the location of each photograph was plotted on a detailed map of the area.
The result was a fascinating window on the West End, with an enormous diversity of styles and subjects from Fariha Karim’s rubber clad revelers in the Harp pub, Chandos Place to Fiona Green’s portrait of defiant looking homeless artist “Mary” posing outside the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre, her hat set a jaunty angle.
Curators, Laura Noble and Eleanor Kelly explain, “Romance, apathy, absurdity, political unrest, comedy, national celebration and quiet moments of observation all compliment each other to present a genuine portrait of London life … whereby everyday moments become breathtakingly, perceptible and extraordinary.”
Winner Julian Wakeling received £750 worth of photographic equipment from exhibition sponsor John Lewis, Oxford Street, who were keen to back a project related to the local community. His dramatic and fleeting image is of an elegant woman, apparently deep in thought, her face enigmatically distorted by a reflection. Many of the photographs are taken on the actual pavements of Fitzrovia and beyond, and the theme echoes the increasing interest in ‘street photography’, works characterised by an element of chance – a fortunate encounter, a momentary juxtaposition – and also celebrated in a major exhibition at The Museum of London until 4 September.
The universal availability and economy of digital photography, from camera phones to more sophisticated equipment, has made photographers of us all. The true meaning of amateur as an enthusiast and lover is evident in many of the photographs, with around half by photographers with no training. Second prize winner Kayne Li Lui Sang’s “Girl on Oxford Street” and Paula Smith’s “Ladies with Matching Hair on a Night Out in London’s West End” keep alive the spirit of Cartier Bresson and Doisneau, and are poignant social observations that reflect our times. This exhibition inspires us all to engage with the streets of Fitzrovia, and it is hoped by the organisers that it will become an annual event.
Diemar / Noble Photography, 66/67 Wells Street, London W1T 3PY