Living Cities Exhibition at Tate Modern

I visited Tate Modern to see the Shape of Light exhibition and, quite by accident, discovered a separate one called Living Cities. It was a display which the gallery notes described as “a variety of responses to the modern city from artists around the world”.  A couple of exhibits were of real interest to my study of landscape photography.


Two Chinese artists work together under the name Birdhead. According to the gallery notes their photographs “capture and make sense of their experience of daily life in their home city of Shanghai”.

What I liked about their work was the sense of humour and irreverence displaye in some of their images. I really like the photograph of fish displayed at a stall

I thought that this gave a real sense of what daily life must be like for many of the residents of Shanghai. One can almost smell the street scene! The timing of the shot is also just right, with the car in the background approaching, but not quite reaching the fish. A split second later and the car would have been behind the fish and provided a distracting background: the image would not have been as successful. The car adds motion to the image and suggests modern life whereas the fish display and stall provide a timeless feel.

The following image gives an interesting study of geometric forms against a cloudy sky – the contrast of the harsh lines of the city against the organic forms of nature comment on the city as a way of life.

It was also interesting to see a display of Stephen Shore photos from American Surfaces 1972-73. These were explained in the gallery notes as photos taken by Shore of “everyday scenes he encountered on a dedicated road trip across America”. This took me back to an earlier exercise in this course on ‘The Road’ and the work of someone like Alec Soth. What was interesting about Stephen Shore’s work was the size and nature of the images and how they were displayed.

A considerable variety of images were used, some landscapes, some portraits, others were interior scenes. The prints themselves were quite small, perhaps giving a more intimate feel to them.

I did not find many of the individual images compelling in the way that some of Alec Soth’s images were.

But what was interesting about this display was the way a composite picture of the road trip was formed from individual images that had caught the artist’s eye at some stage. It gave me further cause to consider the meaning of the term ‘landscape’ and how this can be conveyed. It showed to me how landscape does not necessarily mean a single image or even a single point in time, but can be represented by a series of images taken over a period, but with a relevance to a landscape as a unifying factor.