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A place for people

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Jimo Toyin Salako: A Point of View At the Tomato Building, 29-35 Lexington Street, London W1 until 9 May

The absence of people in architectural photographs is a perennial complaint, most recently on the letters page of the Architectural Review; in his exhibition A Point of View, Jimo Toyin Salako shows us architecture inhabited.

The backdrop, then, rather than exclusive subject of his (often) large- scale photographs is Lubetkin and Tecton's Spa Green Estate in the London Borough of Islington (1943-50). As it happens, this was one of the first schemes in which - not to every critic's taste - Lubetkin consciously stressed the composition of his facades with a playful sculptural pattern- making, and as such they would lend themselves to the quasi-abstractions of a more formalist photographer than Salako.

What he concentrates on, however, are the residents, seen indoors and out: children playing in the ramped entrance loggia of Wells House, for instance, or portraits where any building is entirely incidental. To find a precedent for such work in architectural publications, one probably has to go back to the short-lived 'Manplan' issues of the Architectural Review in 1969-70 (for instance, Tony Ray-Jones' photographs on South London housing estates).

Seen in a longer perspective, Salako's work is in the black-and-white documentary tradition of the long-defunct Picture Post and its German precursors of the 1920s. What it says about the Spa Green Estate is equivocal. In his comprehensive book on Lubetkin (riba Publications, 1992), John Allan reports the tenants' verdict that 'the flats were among the best in the country when built and are still of better quality than most since'. One wouldn't infer that from these photographs: not that they are downbeat, but the generally relaxed appearance of the subjects seems more a tribute to Salako's ability to put them at their ease than to architectural determinism. In Picture Post there would have been captions to make the editorial agenda clear; in architect 6a's self-effacing installation at the Tomato Building, Salako's photographs are left to speak for themselves.

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