Documenting London’s first generation of teenagers

Roger Mayne’s street photography studied youth culture in post-war Britain and inspired a new style of photojournalism

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01_PressImage l Roger Mayne, Boy playing conkers,
Boy playing conkers, Addison Place (N. Kensington),1957© The Roger Mayne Archive Courtesy of Bernard Quaritch Ltd.

Roger Mayne's photographs take a close look at life in an urban landscape. One of London's first street photographers, Mayne snaps the youths of the 1950s at play in the city – smoking against lampposts, hanging out on doorsteps or enjoying a game of cricket on an empty road.

The photojournalist, born in 1929, is best known for his series on North Kensington – now part of the V&A collection"Portrait of Southam Street", taken between 1956 and 1961, captures the “first generation” of British teenagers – a term first used in the 50s. The portraits taken in Southam Street, which would later be demolished as part of a slum clearance programme, offer a snapshot of post-war Britain at a time when rationing and hardship were still prevalent.

Mayne documented Southam Street obsessively and said, "The reason for photographing poor streets is that I love them. Empty, the streets have their own kind of beauty, a kind of decaying splendor and always great atmosphere.”

In an exhibition of a lifetime of work, the Photographer’s Gallery shows the photographer's projects from Sheffield and Nottingham. Mayne, who found influence from Cartier Bresson, Paul Strand, W. Eugene Smith and mentor Hugo van Wadenoyen, was a working photojournalist from 1954 for publications including the Observer, Sunday Times and Vogue.

His images of Park Hill estate taken while on commissioned work in Sheffield between 1961 and 65 are another human insight into social interactions and children at play. His subject develops as he begins to capture the forms of the estate buildings. In Nottingham in 1964 he would use the urban surroundings of the Raleigh Cycles factory to create dynamic portraits of the workers.

Mayne was interested in all aspects of the photographic process. The exhibition will show his experimentations with large prints, mounting methods and his installation The British at Leisure – 310 images projected on five screens to a jazz score by Johnny Scott – that played part in the shift British photography from commercial practice to an art form.

"Roger Mayne" will show at the Photographer’s Gallery from 3 March to 11 June. The exhibition is co-curated by Anna Douglas and Karen McQuaid and in collaboration with Katkin Tremayne, Roger Mayne’s daughter

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