In May 2017, three Magnum photographers – Olivia Arthur, Carl de Keyzer and Mark Power - undertook a two-week residency at the Magnum Print Room in the heart of Clerkenwell, London.
The photographers worked alongside each other, and Anna Sparham, Curator of Photographs from the Museum of London, to respond to the local area. The resulting images are the subject of exhibitions at the Magnum Print Room and the Western Transit Shed at King’s Cross as part of Magnum's 70th anniversary programme.
Clerkenwell, meeting the fringes of the City of London, Old Street, Camden and Islington, is not well documented through photography, although connections with image-making are long-standing in the area. The press industry, from the Industrial Revolution engravings through to photojournalism in newspapers and picture agencies, thrived in the area.
Kodak had a camera factory and store in Clerkenwell Road and Magnum itself moved into its current home in Gee Street in 1992; the building previously occupied by British Petroleum and used as their printing works. This geographical patch of London, through its fabric of eclectic architecture, is central to contemporary London life, yet uniquely and inherently fused with its past.
Olivia Arthur, a Londoner, was already familiar with the streets of Clerkenwell. To take her work beyond the familiar, she explored the contemporary immigrant communities, focusing in particular on the Italian community. Known for her intimate portraiture of people in their own environments, she lingered in places such as the Italian Social Centre to tell the stories of those who had migrated to Clerkenwell and made it their home. Using large format analogue cameras, Arthur developed her film negatives as part of the residency and her monochrome portraits offer a warm, personable impression of contemporary life in the vicinity.
To prepare for the residency, Mark Power, had researched literature based in the area including Peter Ackroyd’s Clerkenwell Tales and George Gissing’s The Nether World. When his mind’s eye view of Clerkenwell clashed with the visual reality, he recorded this using his large-format camera. His works capture the architecture of the urban spaces and the layers of history co-existing with the contemporary. Power’s resulting photographs are both compelling in their sharp detail and contemplative in tone.
Belgian photographer, Carl de Keyzer, approached with the eye of an outsider. A visitor to the city, he explored on foot, searching for the inherently British and surreal in his images. On the look-out for events in the vicinity that might offer spontaneous subject matter, De Keyzer found a film set, a gathering of football supporters and an armed forces celebration day. De Keyzer’s photographs demonstrate his sophisticated eye for capturing chance encounters on the street and articulate the many contrasts and surprising elements to be found in the locality.
Magnum Live Lab runs at the Magnum Print Room, 63 Gee Street, London until 14 July 2017 and at Western Transit Shed, King's Cross until 30 July 2017.
Main image: Barbican, London, May 2017 © Mark Power / Magnum Photos