Photobook reviews

London, 1959 by Sergio Larrain

5 December 2022

For four months in late 1958 and early 1959, the Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain took his Leica camera to London. He was there on a British Council grant to work on a photography project about London. Apart from what we can gather from the photographs he published in his book London, 1959, little is known about his time in the city.

But perhaps that’s okay. Larrain’s images — and his life — are appealing because they are shrouded in mystery. London is dark, foggy, and damp. His images are grainy, contrasty, and blurry. Figures emerge from the shadows. His compositions are layered, complicated, and unconventional.

Image from Sergio Larrain’s “London, 1959”Image from Sergio Larrain’s “London, 1959")Image from Sergio Larrain’s “London, 1959”

To be sure, living an unconventional life was important to Larrain. When in 1982 his nephew asked him how he could become a photographer, Larrain advised him to “let go of the sails.” Photography is “a solitary walk through the universe,” Larrain added. “The conventional world covers your eyes, it’s a matter of uncovering them when you take pictures.”

And in an age of visual sameness (think about how repetitive all the images are on Instagram, for example), it is helpful to find our own photographic voices and work on what we find interesting. Larrain’s body of work, his book London, 1959, and his letter to his nephew (linked above) inspire us to do just that.

Image from Sergio Larrain’s “London, 1959”Image from Sergio Larrain’s “London, 1959”Image from Sergio Larrain’s “London, 1959”

About Sergio Larrain’s London, 1959