The Old Sessions House, on the west side of Clerkenwell Green, was once the largest and busiest courthouse in England, in use from 1782 to 1920. Standing empty since 2014, the grade-II listed building is now half way through being refurbished as an upmarket club and restaurant. It’s also currently hosting the iconic fashion brand Burberry for its latest show and accompanying photography exhibition Here We Are.
The exhibition sits happily amongst various Burberry-clad dummies (plastic ones, not fashionistas) spread over three floors. The show is curated by Christopher Bailey (nothing to do with David, he’s Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer and CEO), and the range of photographers is even more eclectic than the range of clothes. From Jane Bown and Martin Parr to Ken Russell and Daniel Meadows. Photographers who have worked within advertising make an appearance too, with striking imagery from Tessa Traeger and Brian Griffin.
Most memorable from the ground floor was Karen Knorr’s Belgravia, showing inhabitants of that wealthy district from the Thatcher era (pre-Oligarch takeover) in their homes, at the opulent ‘play’ of upper-class life.
On the first floor, Picnics shows various photographers celebrating this slightly comedic but pleasurable pastime enjoyed by all classes of English society.
Free Photographic Omnibus shows the results of 14 months spent by English documentary photographer Daniel Meadows on a double-decker bus. He covered 10,000 miles and 22 towns and cities in 1973-74, photographing and interviewing people, and giving them their own portraits as a gift.
The Garden as a Self Portrait had some utterly beautiful and unashamed pretty shots by Tessa Traeger, capturing the famous Sissinghurst gardens of author Vita Sackville-West. Also in this section were Andy Sewell’s quirky shots of gardens as seen from the kitchen sink.
The second floor featured three sections. 9 to 5 is a display of work by Brian Griffin, showing British business life in the 1970s. Avenue/Belfast/Ceremony and Pomp again shows the diversity of British life, from a boxing club in Belfast, to the ‘correctness’ of preparing for fox hunts and military rituals.
Overall, the show reflected the values of Burberry rather well. A bit posh-but-not-too-posh, slightly set in the past but still rather engaging and trying hard to be relevant for today. But for me, the clear winner was The Old Sessions House itself. It was wonderful to see such a magnificent, historic building being brought back to life, and on its way to being made relevant for today.
Open 10am-9pm. Show ends 1st October. Old Sessions House, 22 Clerkenwell Green. EC1.