Annie Leibovitz: Women

Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.

I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.

Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.

The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.

The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.

Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.

I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.

You can find more information about the exhibition here.

Dalston Street Feast

Although I don’t venture there often, Dalston seems to have a unique character. For a friend’s birthday at the weekend, I ventured to Dalston Street Feast, which is a collection of pop-up restaurants housed within a derelict set of what appears to be warehouses. So derelict in fact that there were a few buckets collecting drips at the Camden Town Brewery bar!

Vital Statistics

Where: 3 minutes walk from Dalston Junction Overground station.

When: All summer long, until the weekend of the 25th September. 5pm – midnight with a £3 charge after 7pm.

What to expect: Burgers and sliders seem to be the order of pop-up food these days, regardless of cuisine. My quest for mac and cheese left me desolate (a homemade version is probably a future blog post in the making). Expect to pay about £5 for a dish and wait a couple of minutes. There is more table space than you’d possibly expect from a collection of pop-ups, so this is a positive for groups.

Try: Breddos Tacos. Just zingy, meaty, spicy deliciousness.

Tips: We arrived just after 7 and I feel this was a good time. The crowds grew rapidly until we left at about 9 to go elsewhere, and associated disbenefits of this become known (bigger queues, less table space, longer waits). Treat yourself to a cocktail at The Gin Store next to Bleecker St Burger.

The Dalston Lane Mural, painted in 1985 by Ray Walker.

Our first stop was a “Bill” burger from Bill or Beak. This came highly recommended from one of our group, and although it was a little on the small side, it didn’t disappoint. The “Bill” is a brioche bun filled with shredded duck and pork, crispy tempura shallots, a Vietnamese potion full of aromatic flavours and various garnishes such as coriander and spring onion.

Next up, a “Proud Boy” from Hank’s Po’ Boys. This was a delicately flavoured blackened piece of white fish, served with a creole dressing and slaw in a brioche bun. I really enjoyed this and it was a bit bigger than most other dishes we saw being served for £5. The fish was meaty and had a real smokiness to it, and held its shape well in the bun, thankfully saving my dignity in front of friends.

 

Mama Wang’s is the trader of the week this week. They seemed to be popular for their hand-pulled noodles, but in the spirit of trying as much as possible, I went for two steamed buns filled with lamb and crispy sesame bottoms. Luckily they were freshly cooked as we rolled up. The buns were very soft and the sesame crispness added a pleasing texture and sweetness. Hoisin on the side is always welcome (with anything frankly). The filling was minced lamb, and for some reason I was expecting shredded lamb. The bun as a whole succeeded in being quite fragrant. Next time I would definitely like to go for some of those noodle boxes too.

After trying a few snack-sized offerings, it was time for more of a meal. Two of us shared this jerk platter from Mama Jerk’s, consisting of a quarter leg of jerk chicken, rice and peas and a salad-slaw combo. All topped off with hot sauce and tropical mayo. I am a big fan of spicy food, and I would have preferred a bit of extra heat from those scotch bonnets. However there’s no denying that the chicken was full of warm flavours.

I disappointingly didn’t manage to get a photo of my final course, which was two meaty tacos from Breddos Tacos. Specifically a pink steak taco and a crunchy nut chicken taco. The old adage saving the best for last is not lost at Street Feast because these were absolutely delicious. Both tacos were big enough for four big mouthfuls and the meat was so tender and juicy. I topped them off with some chilli salsa for an added kick. If there’s one pop-up you stop off at, make it Breddos.