The World in London at Park House, Oxford Street, London. Ends 30 August. By Freddie Reynolds
Solomon Islands Barry Lewis Leon Honeysett, Solomon Islands © Barry Lewis Courtesy of The Photographers Gallery, London
The World in London, which has been exhibited outdoors in two separate parts of the capital, is the result of three years of a unique and humbling photographic project, supported by the Photographers’ Gallery in London. A response to the influx of so many different nationalities during the Olympic Games, it’s an exhibition that reveals – showcases, even – the great multiplicity of London and the city’s greatest asset, its people.
Lebanon Elina Brotherus Rasha Kahil, Lebanon © Elina Brotherus Courtesy of The Photographers Gallery, London
On display on the outside of Park House on Oxford Street and in Victoria Park in the East End, portraits of Londoners from each of the 204 competing Olympic and Paralympic nations hang. Marked by the three letter codes of their corresponding country – AFG for Afghanistan, ALB for Albania and so on – they provide a vivid snapshot of the world’s many nationalities, uniquely connected by the simple fact that they all refer to themselves as Londoners.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Paul Trevor Igor Klikovac, Bosnia and Herzegovina © Paul Trevor Courtesy of The Photographers Gallery, London
At Oxford Street they stare at the rambling barricades of shoppers and tourists; these 202 (American Samoa and FS Micronesia are the only two nations not represented) faces are a quiet presence on a loud and rambunctious street. Few passers-by glance as they pass or stop to take it in. In keeping with this Olympic tie-in, numerous tourists dressed in flags and home-colours search along the lines for their country’s representative.
Canada Aidan O’Neill Rayna Cooke Ferner, Canada © Aidan O’Neill Courtesy of The Photographers Gallery, London
There’s a ballet dancer from Belarus and a musician from Guinea who kneels on his amateur-mixing desk. Igor Klikovac from Bosnia and Herzegovina looks impatient as he smokes a cigarette outside his back door, whilst Idil Ahmed Aden from Djibouti stands proudly in her neat living room. There are glimpses of London’s architecture; a quiet street corner, a garden, an apartment block. In one image, the familiar blurred red of a London bus strokes behind Catherine Teya from the Central African Republic.
And, in keeping with the project’s inclusive attitude, each portrait was taken by a different photographer. The styles are as varied as the subjects. Canada’s representative portrait comes straight from Magnum’s famous Marilyn Monroe sessions, whereas David Birkin’s picture of X, a North Korean defector, could not be more different in regard to institution environment and atmosphere. One is relaxed, light, alive, comforting. The other is black and hidden and painfully loaded in its composition.
North Korea David Birkin Anonymous, North Korea © David Birkin Courtesy of The Photographers Gallery, London
This is London: multicultural, stylistically mixed, surprising and impossibly diverse. Most make no commentary on politics, just place and identify. They are snapshots of individual lives within one city and, as a whole connected group, they are quietly affecting, impressive and in many ways incredibly humbling.
The World in London at Park House, Oxford Street, London. Ends 30 August.