Magnum Live Lab: curating the look of London

As part of the City Now City Future season, we're partnered with Magnum, the world-renowned photography agency. I've already explained the first stage of the Magnum Live Lab, a two-week project to photograph Clerkenwell. Now I'll take you behind the scenes of the photographic exhibition we created, on display until 14 July 2017.

Anna Sparham

Curator of Photographs

30 May 2017

Planning the layout of photographs for display in the Magnum Live Lab.

Experimenting with photo layouts

Following a highly productive first week at the Magnum Live Lab the team moved swiftly into the second week, ready to face the fresh challenges ahead. The ultimate goal of a final exhibition was almost upon us. The week began with a substantial number of photographs from each of the three photographers, Olivia Arthur, Carl de Keyzer, and Mark Power - especially considering shooting only began 6 days earlier.

We started with an intermediate hang, showing off five or six working prints from each photographer to three tour groups from Photo London and Tate. New photographs continued to be made, with each photographer out over the next few days to cover more ground. By Wednesday, there was a real turning point in the project. We needed to be create a final edit of the images, so that our printers had time to produce the prints for the main exhibition.

Inside the photographic display of the Magnum Live Lab.

Inside the Magnum Live Lab

Displaying the look of London

The photographers and I agreed that a minimalist display would not suit the project. We wanted to show off the strong photographs made over the last 10 days. While the final exhibition design rested with me as curator, I always wanted the photographers to be happy with the result. I saw the project as a collaborative one throughout, and this included the final show. We decided that each photographer would have 20 images, that the hang would fully integrate each set of works, would include some large-scale images, and would be a busy, energetic wall. Carl de Keyzer allowed me to fully edit down from his 48 strongest to 20.

Magnum photograph.

Image of Clerkenwell by Carl de Keyzer

Copyright Carl de Keyzer/Magnum.

Mark and Olivia were also very generous in allowing me to suggest an edit, and for the large part we were thankfully in agreement with each other.

Photograph by Mark Power for Magnum photography.

Photograph of Clerkenwell by Mark Power

Copyright Mark Power/Magnum.

Photograph for the Magnum Live Lab project.

Portrait by Olivia Arthur

Copyright Olivia Arthur/Magnum.

I spent the next 24 hours confronting a scaled-down version of the exhibition; the task of course to create a hang that looked aesthetically appealing, coherent and that allowed certain photographs to speak to each other. The last aspect was by far the most enjoyable. Making connections between three very different sets of images, be it through shapes in the composition or through the narrative, was genuinely exciting, and it was gratifying to build these into the hang. It is however incredibly challenging to create an innovative and considered display that also gives deserved space to each of the photographs. Oh and did I mention this is all against the clock. Not much time for pondering.

Having grappled with my scaled down version for several hours, I eventually developed an overall concept to my hang as well as an order. This concept was to reflect the pattern of the photographer’s activity in the defined geographical zone. All three photographers had focused on Clerkenwell itself – Olivia specifically so – and then Mark and Carl had made images further out to the fringes. I therefore condensed the layout of the images towards the centre of the walls and gradually spaced them out along its length.

Putting up pictures for the final hang in the Magnum Live Lab.

Throughout the project, the short time frame has encouraged fast paced activity and thinking. I hope the final exhibition reflects how hard everybody worked both to create wonderful, memorable images, and to see this through to a final display. A long day was spent achieving the final hang, which could not have been done without each photographer and the production team contributing, with pencils, spirit level and drill in hand; a truly collaborative project to the end. The images look fantastic, and if you want to see them in the flesh head down to the Magnum Print Room, Wednesday – Friday, 11am-4.30pm, until 14 July.