William Klein

Top 10 London in 10 iconic images

© William Klein

“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.”
Samuel Johnson

─── by Josh Bright, December 13, 2019
  • Updated Jan 2024

    Few cities conjure up such an array of evocative yet paradoxical imagery as London, a proud and eccentric city brimming with a myriad of cultures, and one, which over the years, has drawn some of photography’s greatest to its storied streets.

    Robert Frank - City of London, 1951
    © Robert Frank

    1. Robert Frank  – City of London, 1951

    “…London was black, white, and gray, the elegance, the style, all present in front of always changing fog… ” – Robert Frank

    Swiss-born photographer Frank visited London several times during the early 1950s, bringing with him his trusty Leica which he used to capture the contradictions of a city in which wealth and extreme poverty coexisted in restless juxtaposition. 

     His depiction of suited traders, walking hurriedly beneath the shadowed profiles of monolithic buildings in London’s financial district, permeates with an edgy, cinematic intensity, which, along with the granular aesthetic, typifies the intuitive style for which he would later become renowned, following his defining 1959 series ‘The Americans’, which dramatically altered the course of documentary photography thereafter.

    Iain MacMillian - Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969
    Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969 © Iain MacMillian

    2. Iain MacMillian –  Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969

    Undoubtedly one of the most iconic images in music history, Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan captured John, Paul, George, and Ringo from atop a stepladder, for the cover of their eleventh studio album; and, in the process, forever immortalized an unassuming street in North West London.

    Jane Bown - American Tourists, 1968
    © Jane Bown

    3. Jane Bown –  American Tourists, 1968

    Deemed ‘a kind of English Cartier Bresson’ by Lord Snowdon, Jane Bown is one of Britain’s greatest ever photographers. A master of portraiture, with a profound understanding of light, her insightful and unobtrusive approach mirrored her modest temperament and allowed her to capture subjects with a rare candor, exemplified in her 1968 portrayal of some of London’s ubiquitous American visitors.

    © Charlie Phillips

    4. Charlie Phillips  – Notting Hill Couple, 1967

    Charlie Phillips was given a Kodak brownie camera by a black American serviceman in his native Jamaica. After immigrating to London, England in 1956 he began to document life in his local community of Notting Hill, an area which had a large British Caribbean community following mass migration in the immediate post-war period.

    This image was taken in 1967, a decade after a period of intense racial hostility in North London. In 1958 Notting Hill and the surrounding areas had been plagued by the eruption of violent and divisive attacks instigated by racist white youths. The events which later became known as the Notting Hill race riots began when a group of white men assaulted a white woman based on her marriage to a black man. The disturbances, rioting and attacks continued every night for a week. Phillips’ beautiful image recalls the turbulence of the time but hints towards a promising future, one of unity and acceptance.

    Bob Collins: Rush Hour, Victoria Station, 1960
    © Estate of Bob Collins/Museum of London

    5. Bob Collins: Rush Hour, Victoria Station, 1960

    Although perhaps best known for his intimate portraits of acclaimed musicians and artists, Bob Collins was, at his core a street photographer, who spent much of his time wandering the streets of his home city capturing scenes of everyday life.

    His portrayal of commuters at Victoria Train Station is a remarkable one, permeated with an expressive dynamism that conveys the essence of the scene brilliantly, and one which, although captured some sixty years ago, continues to resonate with those who traverse London’s busy stations during rush hour.


    Black & white photography of skinheads in London by Japanese photographer Jōji Hashiguchi
    © Jōji Hashiguchi

    6. Jōji Hashiguchi – Untitled. From the series “We Have no Place to be” 1980-1982

    At the turn of the 1980s, inspired by his experience creating his debut project photographing disillusioned youths in Tokyo, Japanese photographer Joji Hashiguchi embarked on a similar endeavor in cities across the globe, including Berlin, New York, Liverpool and London.

    The resulting 1982 photobook, ‘We Have No Place to Be,’ stands as one of the most compelling photographic documentations of youth culture in the medium’s history, and left an indelible mark on successive generations of Japanese photographers. This depiction of a group of skinheads in London, beautifully captured at close quarters to convey the intensity of the scene, is perhaps the most iconic of the project. It has become a symbol of 1980s London, a time marked by economic depression, racial tension, and disillusionment, yet also by strong subcultural movements and creativity.

    Tim Peake - London from Space, 2016
    © Tim Peake/ESA/NASA

    7. Tim Peake  – London from Space, 2016

    British Astronaut Tim Peak’s image of London taken from the international space station on midnight of 31st Jan 2016, presents the city from a rare aerial perspective. Seen from 400KM above, the myriad streets appear as strands of shimmering light which crescendo dramatically as they reach the center; a wonderful embodiment of the interconnected essentiality of the city.

    Street photography in London, England by photographer Olesia Kim
    © Olesia Kim

    8. Olesia Kim – “Londoners” Notting Hill Carnival

    Since its inception in the mid-1960s as a celebration of the city’s substantial Caribbean diaspora and a means of promoting tolerance within the local community, the Notting Hill Carnival has grown into an annual two-day event drawing crowds from across the globe to the streets of West London.

    While still rooted in Caribbean culture, the carnival, now the largest in Europe, has evolved into a celebration of London’s diversity as a whole. It stands as an embodiment of the modern city, one of the most multicultural on the planet, beautifully captured by Olessia Kim in this image.


    William Klein - Shoe polisher, Rocky II, etc. London 1981
    © William Klein

    9. William Klein  – Shoe polisher, Rocky II, etc. London 1981

    Renowned for his subversive approach to the medium, William Klein’s depiction of London’s Piccadilly at the turn of the 1980s is typically instinctive and multi-layered.  The exclusively male clientele perhaps attests to the then seedy composite of the area, and, along with the collage of brazen advertisements, creates a palpable sense of brash masculine energy that, in many ways, epitomizes the period.

    Herbert Mason - London Blitz, St Pauls, 1940
    © Herbert Mason/Daily Mail

    10. Herbert Mason – London Blitz, St Pauls, 1940

    On the night of 29 December 1940, the German air force carried out the most violent of their 71 attacks on London (collectively known as the blitz), dropping 120 tons of explosives, and in the process, destroying hundreds of buildings, thus changing the face of the city forever. 

    Amidst the chaos, Daily Mail staff photographer Hebert Mason captured this image from the roof of the paper’s offices, as an ephemeral gust of wind parted the smoke revealing the looming shape of the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, its domed roof and solitary cross illuminated dramatically by the hellish inferno. Observers, including Mason himself, believed they were witnessing the demise of what was, at the time, London’s most prominent edifice but it survived, and Mason’s masterpiece was published two days later (the delay due to the prudence of the government censors) under the headline: “War’s Greatest Picture; St Paul’s Stands Unharmed in the Midst of the Burning City”. 

    A defining photograph from the war, for those living in Britain at the time it became a symbol of the country’s resilience and remains one of the most iconic representations of London, ever made.


    All images © their respective owners