(Visual) Notes on Culture
London: Portrait of a City
Phaidon, 1999 (New Edition)

Photos by Matthew Weinreb
Commentary by Ben Weinreb

(This review refers to the softcover, smaller, newer version of Weinreb's London Architecture: Features and Facades)

London is a city of famous architecture. Each year, the city's tourist industries produce "new" calenders, posters, and postcards that endlessly re-use the same images of the same buildings. London: Portrait of a City has pictures from some of these sites, though with a difference. Matthew Weinreb has a genius for detail - he is able to take buildings that we have seen countless times in textbooks and transform them into works of alien beauty. By defamiliarizing and abstracting the small, neglected, and marginalized, Weinreb gives us a new lease on this ancient city. His level of detail and eye for the hidden makes this essential for those who appreciate architectural photography as an art and craft.

Ben Weinreb provides insightful, though limited, commentary on his son Matthew's photos. The book is arranged around architectural elements and motifs, though (at times) seems a little haphazard. Thankfully, the text is accompanied by a "further reading" list which really delves into the scholarship behind the buildings. London has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that it has a rich, storied past, though that history is better served elsewhere.

Phaidon uses fine quality page stocks and presents an attractive, affordable, and vibrant book, but the binding could use a little bit of work. My copy started separating after one read-through, making this a poor book for constant reference. Further, its small size does not exactly make for coffee-table elegance.

In place of this work, I'd recommend London Perceived by V.S. Pritchett with photographs by Evelyn Hofer - here, the reader is rewarded with poetic cultural commentary and slightly unsynchroized (though dialectically suggestive) pictures of the city.
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