A good portrait photographer can communicate a personality to the world through one image, in one second. It hones in on and celebrates the individual, their expression, personality and style – warts and all.
Then when a good portrait photographer portrays not the individual itself but the individual in relation to their context, in this case the community, it becomes a reflection of a collective attitude, rather than an individual’s sole ethos. So with this fascinating nugget of thought, we invite you to swap the Bailey for Bruce, as portrait photographer David Bruce launches his new exhibition at the Tabernacle, ‘Community: the people of Bayswater’ on from the 15 to 21 September.
Exploring 15 characters who live and work in the place he grew up, he reveals Bayswater’s identity through the locals that define its very cobbled streets. And that’s not just from the present day; figures who have defined and helped shape this pocket in the past are celebrated, from photographic pioneer Camille Silvy to founding father of British blues, Alexis Korner, and actor Spike Milligan, all having lived or worked here for a large portion of their life.
Just two of the names particularly pertinent to its bygone culture are Camille Silvy and Alexis Korner. Silvy was one of the first portrait photographers of his time, becoming a prominent member of the photographic society in 1859. He held a studio in Bayswater and attracted high-acclaim from his prestigious accomplishments, such as photographing the royal family. Today, a 12,000-strong series of portrait sittings are housed in the National Portrait Gallery, celebrating an icon who defined both art and culture from Britain’s most primitive roots.
Korner, referred to as the ‘father of British blues’, was a crucial cog in the mechanism that championed the genre in the 1960s. A virtuoso of mandolin, piano and guitar, his collaboration with blues harmonica player Cyril Davies created a buzz that resulted in the opening of the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club in 1955, and the arrival of American blues artists from across the pond who ventured to collaborate and share their music with the masses.
What would consequently follow was the formation of infamous band Blues Incorporated, which saw the likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart join in and perform. If that isn’t a sign of an emerging cultural icon, we’re not sure what is…
Exploring the characters, contributions and careers that defined the Bayswater community in the past, forms just one part of David Bruce’s fascinating dual portrait series, which shines a light on the area’s past and the present characters. Keep an eye out for our part-two exclusive next week, in which we interview Mr Bruce himself on his portrayal of the present Bayswater locals and look back on the reception he received from his 7 day exhibition.
David Bruce; Community: The People of Bayswater; 15th-21st Sep; The Tabernacle; 35 Powis Square, off Portobello Road, W11 2AY; tabernaclew11.com