Flashback, Museum of London Commission 2009
Hunter wants to bring exactly that experience of the city to life in his photographs, thus he has Michael Hoffman, a private equity investor and chairman on the museum trust, togged up in a 1750s silk frock coat and extravagant periwig, leaning on the bonnet of a Model Y Ford 8 car from 1932.
The incongruities make sense and once you have got the joke, it is amusing to try to date the elements of the photographs without the crib sheet of the captions. Thus, Jane Bennett, a project manager at the museum, finds herself in the mob cap and black dress of a “nippy” Lyons Corner House waitress in the gloom of a reconstructed 18th-century prison cell; both the outfit and the location say “London” (and suggest a grinding sentence of hard labour), before you get the oddness.
Meanwhile, the museum’s director, Jack Lohmann, wears a natty contemporary Ozwald Boateng suit, posing beside the gilded lord mayor’s carriage, and Sue Sanders, an oral historian, leans against the bar of a Victorian pub with her suffragette sash and her “votes for women” leaflets.
The pub, with its hand pumps and polished brasses, is a reminder that you don’t have to be in the Museum of London to be in London’s museum. You only have to push through the saloon door of your local to find yourself, like these museum employees, in incongruous dress in an archaic space.
Looking at his pictures, I was reminded of a recent visit to the Olympic site in east London where in one part of the cavernous excavation a perfectly preserved 18th-century street, with its gutterings and cobbles and pavement, had been revealed, 30ft below the current ground level (after the Blitz, apparently, the rubble of bombed houses was dumped above it, layer on layer).
Looking down on it, while battalions of JCBs worked all around to raise the modern stadiums, provided a curious Ozymandias moment: how long before the aquatic centre and the media village would likewise be flattened and buried? The Museum of London is already rich with such salutary moments; Tom Hunter’s take on the forthcoming galleries adds to them at least a couple of new strata.