As part of the Copenhagen Photo Festival, there is a pop-up exhibition in a shop in Købmagergade. It must be between tenants but this is an appropriate location for the show as there are several photographs of this main city-centre shopping street in the exhibition.
The idea is simple but interesting: a series of street views, taken in Copenhagen by Jens Nielsen in 1968, are shown alongside photographs of exactly the same views taken by Isabel and Peter Aagaard fifty years later.
All the photographs - both those taken in 1968 and the recent photographs - are in black and white and shows that colour in photographs can be a distraction. Of course, through the 20th century, black-and-white photography was the stock choice for photo journalism and was used by photographers wanting to examine aspects of society … frequently recording aspects of day-to-day life that reflected wealth or lack of wealth in a society.
Most of the photographs shown were taken within the central historic core of the city and it is actually heartening to see just how little has changed over fifty years. A few of the buildings have had inappropriate frontages added for new shop windows or for corporate logos and signage but many many more have been improved because cheap and crude shop fronts dating from the mid 20th century have been removed and more appropriate shop fronts and signs put up. It shows a broad and growing respect for the quality of the architectural details of the old buildings although some would argue that this is creeping gentrification or conservation pandering to the middle classes and the tourists who want pretty pretty rather than anything that is rationally commercial.
Of course that period around 1968 was one of significant political protests and contention across Europe but that is not reflected in the earlier views here.
It is the small and odd details recorded in the photos that is interesting.
Some streets were already being pedestrianised but most had narrow pavements with people restricted to walking along hard against the shop fronts and there was relatively heavy traffic that was dealing with narrow streets and cars parked on either side. There are even photographs that show tram tracks surviving in some of the streets.
Just how close did the city get to planners sweeping all this away for bright new shopping malls and multi-storey car parks?
In fact only one pair of photographs - taken looking along Landenmærket and looking towards the Round Tower - show that a complete block of historic, timber-framed buildings here was demolished sometime after 1968.
This is an important exhibition that shows how much more prosperous Copenhagen is now, fifty years on, and how pleasant the main streets are without vehicles but also without the major city-centre redevelopment that afflicted so many historic towns and cities. Developers would argue that conservation stifles prosperity (by which they mean generally profit) and inhibits or restricts giving people the modern services and facilities they ‘want’ but looking at these photographs, that would be a difficult argument to win in Copenhagen.
the exhibition is at Købmagergade 7 and is open every day until 14th June