Roger Mayne: Youthful Nuances

From 3 March to 11 June, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, hosts the first major exhibition (since 1999) of photographer Roger Mayne (1929-2014). Celebrating a whole life’s work, the event commemorates the notorious 1950s and 1960s snapshots of London’s streets right through to the lesser known early documentation of Leeds, which were executed in a unique, and often overlooked pictorialist style.

Mayne demonstrates an unrelenting curiosity for people and their surrounding urban environments. Combining this social interest with a natural artistic flair, the resulting documentary work brims with everyday humanism and subtle glimmers of character. The infamous images are, however, not the only medium included in the show; critical essays written by the photographer discuss and argue the importance and subsequent appreciation of the form as a whole.

For the Cambridge-born artist, inspiration can be tracked back to youth, where memories of the working-class street and a yearning for more meaningful childhood (after being sent to Rugby boarding school at a very young age) were fundamental. The children which often became subjects in the rogue post-war London therefore represent a boisterous and telling innocence.

Another focus might be found within the juxtaposition between the derelict and often impoverished landscape that was so far from the photographer’s upbringing. This also encompassed the inhabiting populations, who paraded charm, resilience and vivacious rebellion in front of the camera. Mayne correspondingly became famous for depicting the working class in a fair and truthful manner; dancing, laughing, smoking and crying children evoke a vitality for life and the sense of community.

Although best known for the Southam Street images, this wide collection gives audiences a chance to see other styles and influences, shedding light on a developing career and its correlating acclaim. In collaboration with Mayne’s daughter Katkin Tremayne, the display is co-curated by Anna Douglas and Karen McQuaid.

Roger Mayne, 3 March – 11 June, Photographers’ Gallery, London. For more information:

1. Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 1961 © Roger Mayne / Mary Evans Picture Library
2. Girls dressed up for a ‘teenage night’ at a Sheffield Club, 1961 © Roger Mayne
3. Men and boys in Southam Street, London, 1959 © Roger Mayne / Mary Evans