London’s 8 must-see photography exhibitions to book now

From radical Soho to the Bengali community of Brick Lane, discover the photography exhibitions capturing the capital this autumn

London has long acted as a hub for many of the world’s top photographers, who are drawn to the capital for its creative vibrancy – this is, after all, the city that spawned some of the UK’s most celebrated image makers, from David Bailey and Rankin to Tim Walker and Nick Knight. So it’s no surprise that it’s also one of the finest places in the country to come for first-rate photography exhibitions. Here we’ve rounded up the ones that are not to be missed this autumn. 

Known & Strange: Photographs from the collection, V&A

Until 6 November

Photography Exhibitions London 2022: The Best Shows To BookPin
Tereza Zelenkova, The Unseen, 2015

When most people think of the V&A, they probably think of smooth-limbed sculpture, or sharply tailored clothes. They might not immediately think of bold, cutting-edge photography. However, this new free display might change all that. From an eerie gelatin print of a group of girls veiled by starchy white cloths, to a delicate and fantastical close-up of dew drops on a spider’s web, Known & Strange showcases over 50 recent contemporary photography acquisitions for the V&A’s permanent collection.

With photos created by internationally well-known names and emerging talents, including Paul Graham, Susan Meiselas, Maurizio Anzeri, Tom Lovelace, Pierre Cordier, Klea McKenna, Donna Ruff and James Welling, the exhibition expertly demonstrates the medium’s malleability, it’s capacity for strangeness, and uncanny beauty.

Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL

Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point, Four Corners

Until 15 September

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Paul Trevor, Brick Lane 'Outside Bethnal Green police station', 1978

For at least a decade Brick Lane has been synonymous with gentrification – with 21st-century retail, cereal cafes and the much decried ‘hipster’. But turn the clock back to the late Seventies and the scene was decidedly different. Racial abuse was a constant factor of everyday life for Brick Lane’s local Bengali community, and institutional police violence was rife. Brick Lane was at boiling point.

This powerful exhibition uncovers the dramatic events that were sparked by the racist murder of Altab Ali, a 24-year-old Bengali leather garments worker, and pays tribute to the activists who mobilised around the rallying cry of justice that followed. It brings together 75 photographs by local East End photographer Paul Trevor for the first time, alongside oral history recordings by original activists, and marks the culmination of a major heritage project led by Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust –  a London-based Bengali community group that works to promote Bengali history and heritage among young people.

121 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 0QN

Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime, V&A

Until 6 November

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Maurice Broomfield, British Nylon Spinners, 1964

A shower of sparks illuminating the outline of a man like a firework. North Sea waves glistening in the light from a rig. A woman in dainty heels gathering yarn from a spinning machine twice her height. ‘Industrial sublime’ is right: Maurice Broomfield made some of the most spectacular photographs of industry ever seen.

Capturing factories and their workers in an uneasy era of rapid change and transition, Bloomfield’s photos are nostalgic and often surreal – like missives from another world; a lost world. Now, as we find ourselves in another era of technological revolution, and of automation, his work feels more significant than ever.

Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL

The Partisan Coffee House, The Photographers’ Gallery

Until 25 September

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Roger Mayne, Partisan Coffee House, 1958-1963

In 1958, a new coffee house was founded in Soho, only a stone’s throw from where The Photographers’ Gallery now stands. But, this was no ordinary coffee establishment. Promoting itself as an ‘anti-espresso bar’, the Partisan coffee house was a meeting place and hub for radical thinkers and ideas. Founded by  historian Raphael Samuel and cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the Partisan was the home of discussions and debates, film screenings and exhibitions, drawing in artists and intellectuals from Doris Lessing to John Berger and profoundly influencing the politics and counter cultures of the Sixties and Seventies.

Bringing together a series of photographs by renowned documentary photographer Roger Mayne, with the work of letterpress printer Desmond Jeffery, graphic artist Germano Facetti, and the archive of Raphael Samuel, the exhibition celebrates this fascinating yet little-known moment in post-war British political and cultural history, and the spiritual home of the British New Left.

16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho, London W1F 7LW

How to Win at Photography: Image Making as Play, The Photographers' Gallery

Until 25 September

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Aneta Grzeszykowska, Selfie #10, 2014

If you’re more familiar with gelatin prints than Grand Theft Auto, you might not have given much thought to the artistic potential of video games. This show at The Photographers’ Gallery might shatter all preconceptions though, as it explores the relationships between photography, image-making and play, and revels in the connection between the history of photography and the contemporary culture of the screen.

The exhibition is expansive, and boasts an eclectic and diverse mix of photographers, theorists, and conceptual artists, including Ai Weiwei, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Cory Arcangel, Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha, John Yuyi, and Sherry Levine. It also asks bold, challenging, and fascinating questions. Are we playing with the camera or is the camera playing us? What can a playful photographer realistically achieve? And, ultimately, who can ‘win’ this game?

16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho, London W1F 7LW

Magical Realism, Magnum Gallery

Until 30 September

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'Magical Realism' work by Yael Martinez, Cristina de Middel and Bruno Morais

How can a photographer illustrate the idea that humanity is able to “transform black energy into a positive energy”? For Mexican artist Yael Martínez, it is the work of a thousand cuts, as he alters his photographs with pin pricks, allowing beams of light to bleed through the darkness.

Despite its beauty, Martinez’ ‘Firefly’ project is certainly not conceptually light. His work addresses fractured communities in his native Mexico, and masterfully evokes the absence and pain suffered by those affected by organised crime in the region.

Also on display in this shimmering, seductive and supernatural exhibition is Cristina de Middel and Bruno Morais’ project, ‘Boa Noite Povo’. Shot in Brazil, it is a mix of archival imagery, animal action, night photography and plastic interventions, and superbly invigorates the classic Nature vs. Culture debate – one that is, of course, more pressing than ever in the contemporary world.

63 Gee Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 3RS

Monica de Miranda: The Island, Autograph

Until 22 October

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Mónica de Miranda, Tide, from The Island, 2021

“I yearn for the black milk of galaxies,” reads the cursive script above a doorway at Autograph’s exhibition of Angolan Portuguese artist Monica de Miranda. It is an exhibition that dreams of escape, and of black freedom, exploration and liberation. 

Fusing fact and fiction, The Island contemplates the complex experiences of Afrodiasporic lives and Europe’s colonial past, and traces the long history of black lives in Portugal. In Miranda’s hands, ‘the island’ is imagined as a utopia: a place of escape and also of refuge. From soil to the stars, her photography urges the viewer to see connections between landscapes and bodies, and to yearn for conscious and regenerative futures.

Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3BA

Richard Learoyd & Irving Penn: Flowers, Hamilton Gallery

Until 10 September

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Irving Penn, Cottage Tulip ‘Sorbet’, New York, 1967 © Condé Nast, Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery

Is there a more quintessential subject for the artist than the flower? The nude, perhaps, but in this exhibition flowers take on all the dynamism and charge of a naked living body. For the first time, the legendary talents of photographer Irving Penn are being displayed alongside a particularly renowned contemporary artist — the British photographer Richard Learoyd. Together, these two leading lights invigorate the still-life with the freshness of a daisy, but also masterfully capture both the timelessness and fragility of beauty.

13 Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2EU

Main image: Maurice Broomfield, Assembling a Former for a Stator. English Electric, 1960




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