The World In London

A document of diversity in the capital, catalysed by the multiculturalism of the Olympics

Mary McCartney: Lord Paul Swaraj, India, 2009 Cour
Mary McCartney: Lord Paul Swaraj, India, 2009 Courtesy The Photographers’ Gallery, London © Mary McCartney

The World in London is being shown at the Photographer's Gallery on Oxford Street. The exhibition highlights the large diversity of cultures in London, paying tribute to 2012's Olympic and Paralympic Games. Curator Stefanie Braun shares her thoughts with Dazed Digital.

Our aim was to highlight how multicultural and diverse London is, how many different cultures live together in this one city

Dazed Digital: Can you tell us about the concept behind the show?
Stefanie Braun:
The project set out to bring together 204 portraits of Londoners who were each born in one of the competing nations of the 2012 Olympics. Our aim was to highlight how multicultural and diverse London is, how many different cultures live together in this one city. There isn't really another place on this planet where you can find so many nations living side by side. At the same time, the project also shows the varied approaches there are to portraiture, a genre within photography that has been popular since its beginnings.

DD: How did you go about choosing the subjects?
Stefanie Braun:
The photographers, who often had very clear ideas about who they wanted to photograph, mainly chose the sitters. One photographer wanted to portray a scientist, another a family, someone else wanted to photograph a person at work and such. However, the gallery did also source people for the photographers once the larger countries were off the list and the communities in London became smaller and smaller. We attended commonwealth fairs, festivals and community centres, connected with people through Facebook and expatriate sites and spoke about the project to find people willing to take part. We didn't want this to be a project about famous people, we wanted it to be about Londoners who live and work in this city everyday.

DD: Which photographs are you drawn to most in this collection and what is it about them that you inspires you?
Stefanie Braun:
They are all wonderful in their own right, but, just to highlight a few, I think Anders Petersen's image of a Serbian father, his son and their dog is wonderful. I like the ambiguity in this picture and the warmth that it exudes. I also find the image of the three Kenyans really interesting – it's an obvious reference to August Sander's photograph of three farmers walking to church on a Sunday morning in the 1920s that Bert Teunissen has created here. I love the quirkiness of Melanie Stidolph's photograph where the cat in the picture is actually triggering the shutter release, and I also think that Trevor Appleson's photograph of the two friends from Equatorial Guinea is extremely beautiful – he photographed his subjects in his portable studio with his signature black backdrop. The way they look into the distance throws up so many emotions and thoughts. We decided to record the stories behind the photographs on the website because they are so interesting. Some responses are told, some are written and others are filmic which again reflects the diversity and variety there is in the project and how people felt comfortable to share their stories with us.

DD: Can the medium of photography actually communicate anything about the sitter? Or is it just another tool for us to base superficial judgments on?
Stefanie Braun:
I think it definitely can communicate a lot about the sitter but ultimately the great thing about a portrait is that it is open to our interpretation. This is why I love the image by Trevor Appleson for example – you wander what they are thinking about, what their dreams and hopes are. It draws you into the picture and also asks you to think about your own live too.

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