Alex Prager Silverlake Drive: The Photographers’ Gallery

The view out of the fifth floor window at The Photographers’ Gallery is one of my favourite in London… a floor-to-ceiling clear aspect down Great Portland Street, hovering above Oxford Street and the hurried residents, shoppers, tourists, and general throng below. It also mirrors several of the large scale crowd images currently on display within Alex Prager’s mid-career retrospective. The American photographers’ “Crowd Series” features highly stylised shots of streets, beaches, airports and cinemas from an aerial perspective, allowing you to observe the scene from an unusual vantage point (echoed by the fifth floor window). In the middle of the still shots, a temporary cinema space projects Prager’s most ambitious work – a film installation. I must confess I am not typically a fan of film installations, however I was utterly absorbed by the narrative which jumps between close ups of individuals within the crowd before moving back into the swarm of people, and is projected across different and often multiple walls, before finally being projected on all three simultaneously! In addition to the crowd scenes, close up portraits of a Hitchcock inspired female surrounded by flapping birds, a brunette woman lying on a lurid green bedspread smoking a cigarette, a ballerina caught mid pose, and a female in a vivid yellow dress suspended from a red car bonnet hanging in the sky all compliment the film installation where Prager’s protagonist (within each crowd) is always a woman. Group shots and landscapes are also present; a trio of suited males taken from below looking up, a bikini-clad foursome chatting against a bright blue sky, a burning house against a deserted backdrop, and a congregation facing away from the camera to watch a rocket taking off, all enjoyably hark back to kitsch Americana! I’d certainly suggest a visit and immersing yourself in Silverlake Drive before it closes in October.

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The House of St. Barnabas: Soho

After a demanding work week in central London, the last thing I wanted to do on Saturday morning was head back into Soho… however a truly engaging tour of The House of St. Barnabas was just the antidote I needed to pull me out of my quite frankly foul mood! Situated on the corner of Soho Square (originally Fryths Square in the 17th century) and Greek Street, it is an imposing yet understated building from the exterior. As I pulled the oversized doorbell to gain entry, I was greeted by Dr. Adam Scott who led an enigmatic tour of this fascinating house. Architecturally it has been altered and extended numerous times over the centuries and today incorporates Georgian, Victorian and Rococo features as well as a neo-Gothic chapel on a Basilica floor plan. In terms of tenancy, it has been a private home to aristocrats and Members of Parliament, offices for the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers and Metropolitan Board of Works in the early 1800’s, was purchased in 1862 by Dr. Henry Monro and Roundel Palmer as a House of Charity to help those in need, and remained a hostel until 2006. Today it is a social enterprise integrating a members club which funds an employment academy serving the original purpose of helping the homeless get back on their feet. Unusually for Soho it also has a garden which is not only home to the plane tree immortalised in Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ but also contains an aluminium and LED light installation by Keef Winter – just one of many artworks dotted throughout the house. Feathered creations by Kate MccGuire, sculptures by Cathy Lewis, and works by Banksy, Hirst and The Chapman Brothers all sympathetically decorate the building. The house will no doubt continue to evolve, remain resilient in the face of developers and maintain structural stability as Crossrail tunnelling continues directly below it.

For more information visit their website