Street View – Photographs of Urban Life

I visited this exhibition on Saturday 11 March 2017, the last day of the event, at Graves Gallery in Sheffield. The promotion described it as a bringing together of work by various artists to explore how photographers have captured street life on camera.

I first heard about the exhibition in October and had made a mental note to visit but then forgot about it. It is lucky that I remembered on the last day. I am also pleased that I had forgotten the details of what I had read about the collection since I was subsequently surprised and delighted that the exhibition included images from several of the artists that we have studies on the course.

I was initially attracted by the thought of images of Sheffield, since I have worked in Sheffield for many years and know it very well. In fact, the images of Park Hill flats by Roger Mayne, were particularly interesting to me, and nostalgic, since I have spent much of my work life with the people who lived there.

Image 1

Mayne, Roger (1961) Deck, Parkhill, Sheffield

Park Hill flats were built to replace the city’s tower blocks and to provide a sense of community that was lacking in the cramped high-rise flats. This image, above, perfectly illustrates my experiences of these flats many years later. At the time that they were built, they were considered very modern and a viewer of this image, in 1961, may well have a different interpretation to mine which comes over 50 years later.

I believe there was a sense of community among the people who lived in Park Hill flats and I think Mayne’s image, above,  captures this feeling very well in the positions of the women, as neighbours, interacting with each other, and the open front doors. However, I think this photograph also shows the institutional feel and lack of green spaces, perfectly captured by Mayne, in the ‘endless’ row of doors, disappearing into the distance, the lack of windows, and the identical fronts. The girl on the left appears to be looking out, as if over a view that she has no access to. Knowing the flats as I do, I know that this image is probably of a ‘street’ two or three storeys above ground, and any green space is a significant walk and a few flights of stairs away. The photographer captures this sense of confinement through the clinging of the girl to the barrier. Perhaps in 1961, this posture may have been interpreted as playful rather than confining and more positive than my present-day interpretation, but this itself illustrates the significance of a viewer’s experiences, and of the context in which it is viewed, in the interpreting of an image.

I also liked Glenn Herbert’s image Sheffield Refuse Collection. Herbert took images of ‘bin-men’ at work in Stocksbridge, when he himself worked as a refuse collector while he was a student at Sheffield College of Art. We were not allowed to take images in the gallery, and I have been unable to find a copy of the photograph to use here. However, the image shows a refuse collector standing, in shadow, behind a flash-illuminated metal ‘dust-bin’, ready to lift it onto his shoulder as he goes about his work. The shapes of houses in the background are in silhouette against a darkening sky. The photo-summary alongside the image says that Herbert wanted to ‘create dramatic and theatrical images of everyday subject matter’. This image reminded me of my thoughts about taking images of ordinary things for assignment 4 and of the beauty of artificial light.

Among the other photographs in the exhibition were images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Eugene Atget, Faye Godwin and Garry Winogrand, all of whom we have studied on this course. This was a particularly welcome surprise, and I very much appreciated seeing these images as physical rather than digital pictures.

Cartier-Bresson’s   Palermo, Italy 1972 was a particular favourite. I could have looked at the image for a very long time. I have seen this image before, on my computer, but, in print, this picture is fascinating and enthralling.

Image 2

Cartier Bresson (1972) Palermo, Italy

I found that the concept of the decisive moment was very clear to me in this image. The young boys, full of life and movement, are juxtaposed with the stillness and certainty of death.  The image celebrates the joy of children while also showing us that it has to end.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition. I valued being able to see the work of artists I have been introduced to through this course, and of others that I had not been aware of.

List of Illustrations

1       Mayne, Roger (1961) Deck, Parkhill, Sheffield (Photograph) At: 13.3.17)

2       Cartier-Bresson, Henri (1972) Palermo, Italy (Photograph) At: 13.3.17)


Exhibition: Street View – Photographs of Urban Life. At: Sheffield: Graves Gallery: ( Oct 2016- 11 March 2017)


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