London: Portrait of a City

This huge coffee table book is an oblique glimpse – or rather wide-angle view – into the photo archives of a city which has been so intensely photographed from every angle and elevation in the last 100 or so years.

The muted, seaside postcard colours of analogue film are rendered beautifully on the page with a typically Taschen attention to production.

The misty horizons of the capital and softly out of focus mews of the ’60s are candidly captured with a warmth of tone which is intimate and nostalgic.

These photographs aren’t the hackneyed and prim tourist shots of the Tower of London or Trafalgar Square.

Rather they are focused on the people and changing fashions and subtle landscapes which so often go overlooked.

At the same time as being visually nourishing, this collection saddens.

It’s a reminder of the barely extant, hidden nuances of the analogue medium which has been shunted over to accommodate relentless and artless Instagramming and a sea of low-resolution and frankly rubbish popular photography.

But Taschen have managed to draw as much dynamic range from their source material as is tastefully possible. Much of this book looks almost platinum-like in this respect.

Like watching the seasons gradually change through the same window for years, London’s evolution is slow and almost imperceptible.

Radical changes are very quickly rewoven into the fabric of the city so they become rapidly normalised, such is the speed and brutal turnover of the place and the transience of its population.

It’s only upon looking through such a stately visual history that one realises what a huge and strange area of the world London is.

The 1960s brutalist blocks labyrinthing off St Paul’s, the bomb-shattered tenements of the east, the horse-drawn omnibuses along the Embankment and the wood floorboards of Paddington station’s platforms are all gone.

But the listed landmarks which they embrace remain as monoliths to the character of the metropolis.

The social troubles such as the 1980s Brixton riots or the dustmens’ strike of 1979 are, unfortunately, almost footnotes in this anthology.

Yet on reflection – given the enormous physical size of London and the dizzy depth of its character – it’s easy to see why.

There’s just so much to cover and only a mere 550 pages to do it in.

Even so this is a welcome curio for any Londonphile.

London: Portrait Of A City by Reuel Golden, Eve Arnold, David Bailey and Cecil Beaton is published by Taschen, price £44.99.