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The Street Markets of London

  • Kind of Object:
    Photobook
  • Name:
    The Street Markets of London

    Word Count: 5

  • Creator (Person):
    László Moholy-NagyMary Benedetta
  • Year Start:
    1936
  • Year End:
    1936
  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    John Miles Ltd, Amen Corner, St. Paul’s, London EC4.

  • Language:
    English
  • City:
    London (GB)
  • Introduction:

    In 1936, émigré photographer László Moholy-Nagy realised The Street Markets of London together with the journalist Mary Benedetta, setting the book within the overarching theme of urban photography.

    Word Count: 28

  • Content:

    In 1936, László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) realised The Street Markets of London together with the journalist Mary Benedetta. The Bauhaus artist, photographer and photo theorist László Moholy-Nagy had emigrated to London in 1935 and financed himself through various commissions for artistic window display decoration, advertising and film work. The London publisher John Miles Ltd commissioned Moholy-Nagy to take photographs for three books: The Street Markets of London (1936), Eton Portrait (1937) and An Oxford University Chest (1938).

    The Street Markets of London measures 21.8 x 14.5 centimetres and has 201 pages. Photographs are reproduced on 64 pages, most of them full-page. The book was published in a second modified edition by Benjamin Blom Publishers in New York in 1972; here, Moholy-Nagy’s photographs  are no longer spread throughout the book, but instead precede Benedetta’s text. The illustrations in this entry are taken from the reissue, while the description below follows the first edition, which can be consulted in the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Collection at the Pinakothek der Moderne.

    László Moholy-Nagy set the book project on the street markets of London within the overarching theme of urban photography, writing: “The Photographer can scarcely find a more fascinating task than that of providing a pictorial record of modern city life. London’s street markets present him with an opportunity of this kind.” (Moholy-Nagy 1936, vii) The book opens photographically with the frontispiece showing the Petticoat Lane market. The camera’s view falls from above onto the street lined with market stalls and a throng of potential customers. On the upper left edge of the picture, a dark window arch can be seen through which the camera's view falls. The shot formulates the perspective of an observed bystander and sums up the theme of the book: the stalls, the hustle and bustle, the vendors and customers and the temporary transformation of an ordinary street into a centre of commercial activity. The first photo after the frontispiece shows, in close-up, the traders (“The Spectacle Man”, p. 1) in Petticoat Lane hunched over their counters. No one is looking at the photographer. Another photograph, again from an elevated perspective, shows two customers in “Arab” clothing with turbans (p. 3), examining clothes on the ground. This is followed by a photograph of various goods: umbrellas (p. 4), dead poultry. In Leather Lane, we encounter an engraver (p. 9) focused entirely on his work, and a trader hawking handbags (“Alf, the purse king”, p. 10). Then comes some jewellery on a counter, seen in close-up as object photography (p. 14). When buyers or sellers catch sight of László Moholy-Nagy, which rarely happens (p. 17), they sometimes pose, joking with the camera. But mostly the photographer records the unobserved moment.

    Experimental perspectives are evident when a crowded stall is captured from above (p. 89), revealing, for example, a particular vendor who attracts the crowds with his performance: “A man who sells a mysterious preparation for making brass fenders look like chromium.” Moholy-Nagys’s camera also shows scenes away from the action: for example, capturing some women traders taking a rest and reading a newspaper (p. 98), or some children engrossed in play (p. 106). The Street Markets of London is a visual reminiscence of the diversity of goods, sellers and buyers. Moholy-Nagy writes: “To many people’s minds the street markets still suggests romantic notions of showmen, unorganised (sic!) trade, bargains and the sale of stolen goods. The photographic report can either encourage or correct ideas. I consider the latter to be the more important task, since in my opinion these markets are primarily to be regarded as a social necessity, the shopping-centre, in fact, for a large part of the working-class.” (Moholy-Nagy 1936, vii)  The book ends with a double portrait (p. 194) showing two men in bust portrait. The distanced observer’s perspective on the market at the beginning of the book turns into an intimate examination of the people in Billingsgate Market at the end.

    All the photographs in the book express the spontaneous and the momentary; they arise from the situation and mostly present the photographer as an unobserved observer. This was only possible through a specific use of technology. Thus Moholy-Nagy writes in his preface: “For those interested in the technical aspects of photography I should add that as a rule I prefer to work with a large camera in order to obtain the minutely graded black-white-grey photo-values of the contact print, impossible to achieve in enlargements. But unfortunately the large camera is much too clumsy for taking rapid shots without being observed. The whole street immediately crowds around the photographer, the natural life of the scene is paralysed and the characteristic features of the traders, their happy-go-lucky behavior, their elementary actor’s skill, their impetuosity, are lost. Thus after several attempts with a large camera I always returned to the Leica, with which one can work rapidly, unobserved and – even in the London atmosphere, or in interiors – with a reliable degree of precision.” (Moholy-Nagy 1936, viii)

    The Street Markets of London is dedicated to the city’s ‘arteries’, the streets that become temporary sales zones and attract a diverse gathering of people. The dynamics of walking across the market and through the body of the city are thus directly transferred to the wandering gaze of the reader. For Moholy-Nagy, the photobook on London’s street markets offered, among other things, the opportunity to engage photographically with his new place of residence. The photographer continued this site-specific engagement with his two subsequent books for John Miles, dedicated to an elite school and its students (Eton Portrait, text by Bernard Fergusson) and to the city and architecture of Oxford – it was also John Betjeman, author of An Oxford University Chest and editor at Architectural Review magazine, who had mediated the collaboration between John Miles Ltd and László Moholy-Nagy (Carullo 2019, 42).

    The John Miles publishing house published travel books such as Around the World in 11 Years (1938) by Richard Patience and John Abbe and Freiburg and the Black Forest (1936) by Martin S. Briggs, as well as testimonials such as A Girl in Print (1937) by Mary Benedetta, about her work as a journalist. Mary Benedetta was rediscovered, incidentally, as co-author of Marriage Bureau (1942, with Mary Oliver), which describes the work of a dating agency.
    In 1938, when László Moholy-Nagy's third book, An Oxford University Chest, was published by John Miles Ltd, the photographer was already in Chicago as the founder of the new bauhaus.

    Word Count: 1058

  • Signature Image:
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1936, cover (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
  • Media:
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1936, title page (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, title page (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, p. vii: Foreword by László Moholy-Nagy (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, p. viii: Foreword by László Moholy-Nagy (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: general view” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: The Spectacle Man” and “Petticoat Lane: In a side street. Some Arabian visitors at a second-hand clothes stall” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: Alf, the Purse King” and “Petticoat Lane: The wealth of a trinket stall” (© The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: The Glass Man’s burly auctioneer” and “Petticoat Land: An old customer” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: ‘Pick me out two soft roes,’ she says” and “Berwick Street: A family business – Flower sellers” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. Reissued 1972. Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Caledonian Market: North Road entrance” and “Caledonian Market: ‘They have no stalls, but spread them out on the ground’”(Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. Reissued 1972. Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Billingsgate: Where you find every age and every type” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Anonymous. “London Street Markets.” The Observer, 20 September 1936, p. 9 (Photo: Private Archive).
    J. B. “London’s Street Markets.” The Manchester Guardian, 23 October 1936, p. 6 (Photo: Private Archive).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Anonymous. “London Street Markets.” The Observer, 20 September 1936, p. 9.

    Benedetta, Mary. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1936.

    Benedetta, Mary. The Street Markets of London (reissued 1972). Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. Benjamin Blom, 1972.

    Betjeman, John. An Oxford University Chest. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1938.

    Carullo, Valeria. Moholy-Nagy in Britain 1935–1937. Lund Humphries, 2019.

    Fergusson, Bernard. Eton Portrait. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1937.

    J. B. “London’s Street Markets.” The Manchester Guardian, 23 October 1936, p. 6.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. “Foreword.” Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1936, pp. vii–viii.

    Senter, Terence. “Moholy-Nagy’s English Photography.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 123, no. 944, November 1981, pp. 659–671. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/880538. Accessed 9 March 2021.

    Senter, Terence. “László Moholy-Nagy: The Transitional Years.” Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume, exh. cat. Tate Modern, London, 2006, pp. 85–91.

    Word Count: 148

  • Archives and Sources:

    Word Count: 5

  • Acknowledgements:

    My deepest thanks go to Natalia Hug from The Moholy-Nagy Foundation for giving me permission to reproduce the works of László Moholy-Nagy.

    Word Count: 23

  • Author:
    Burcu Dogramaci
  • Metropolis:
    London
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "The Street Markets of London." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5140-11260487, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    László Moholy-Nagy, Cover of sales leaflet for Marcel Breuer’s Isokon Long Chair, 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
    László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937, front page (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: The Spectacle Man” and “Petticoat Lane: In a side street. Some Arabian visitors at a second-hand clothes stall” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, their triplets and Hattula Moholy-Nagy at 7 Farm Walk, the London home of László and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, June 1936 (provided by The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    London
    A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939
    Book

    Six years after her arrival in London, the photographer Lucia Moholy published her book A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939, on the occasion of the centenary of photography.

    Word Count: 27

    Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, cover (METROMOD Archive).
    Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, bastard title with Daumier’s quote “Je suis de mon temps” (METROMOD Archive).Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, title page (METROMOD Archive).Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, page with daguerreotypes (METROMOD Archive).Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, page with a multiple flash photograph of the golfer Bobby Jones with a driver (METROMOD Archive).
    London