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Smoke signals

The NS photography editor on this summer's Olympic-themed exhibitions.

London has launched an array of Olympic-themed photography exhibitions. While Tate Britain is staging “Another London”, its nostalgic, vintage homage to the metropolis, the Photographers’ Gallery has unveiled its ambitious, long-term project “The World in London”. Staged as a large, outdoor portrait exhibition that is best encountered on a bike (and while wearing waterproof clothing), it showcases portraits by 204 photographers of 204 Londoners, each of whom originate from one of the Olympic Games’ competing nations.

The exhibition is held at two locations: the BT London Live site in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets and at Park House on Oxford Street. Despite the difficulties of presenting such a project – the simplistic, large-scale posters overlap slightly, with little consideration to pacing – the depth and breadth of this exhibition is a huge achievement, especially considering the pitfalls that a large, part-publicly funded project can face. It’s as much a survey of London’s diverse cultural heritage and identity as a celebration of portraiture.

In refreshing contrast – and far from the saccharine buzz of the Olympic celebrations – “Residual Traces” at the Photofusion Gallery in Brixton is a group show of six photographic projects concerned with the consequences of the Games and the marginalisation of a community in a little known and contentious area of London, the Lea Valley.

This polemical exhibition explores the hastily executed transformation of one of London’s best-loved hinterlands, a formerly overlooked and underdeveloped enclave of urban neglect – from pylons and graffiti, tower blocks and abandoned sheds, to compulsory land-purchase orders
and regeneration. The images on show document aspects of this transformation and include work by Sophia Evans, Stephen Gill, Zed Nelson, Jason Orton, Jan Stradtmann and Gesche Würfel. As Olympic fever spreads, some cold, hard reality is a welcome relief. 

  • “Another London” runs until 16 September; “The World in London” runs until 30 August; and “Residual Traces” runs until 7 September
Rebecca McClelland is photography editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The New Patriotism