This exhibition pays homage to the self-taught photographer best known for documenting the convivial atmosphere of London’s post-war slums
Roger Mayne never set out to be photographer. It was only while studying chemistry at Oxford University that he became fascinated by photographic processing and, after moving to London in the 1950s, he decided to invest in a lightweight Zeiss Super Ikonta camera.
Mayne was interested in capturing life in the city’s poorest areas. Before it was declared uninhabitable in 1963, his favourite shooting location was on North Kensington’s Southam Street. He took over 60 photographs on the first day he spent there, and it was these shots of children playing, older boys smoking and teenage girls gossiping with their hair in rollers that are now among his most iconic works.
The artist's Southam Street scenes were popularised further still when they were used for Morrissey’s album artwork and as backdrops at his concert. Perhaps the most recognisable image of the series, Jiving Girl, was also the poster image for Tate Britain's major exhibition in 2007, How We Are: Photographing Britain.
Inspired by his connections with the St Ives community – most notably his friendships with Patrick Heron and Terry Frost – Mayne was keen that his reportage-style photographs should also have a level of artistic quality. He said: ‘Although my approach is documentary […] ‘if the image is good enough, if everything comes together, then the picture can rise to art.’
This exhibition considers the influence of the St Ives school on the photographer, as well as aiming to highlight his documentary work outside of London. The latter includes his series on Sheffield’s Parkill housing estate and his snapshots of the Raleigh bicycle factory in Nottingham.