Gardener Nic Guerra in St. Dunstan in the East, which is owned and managed by the City Corporation.© Emile Holba

The Hidden City reveals the creative world of the City of London

A new photography commission goes behind-the-scenes at institutions across the City of London to reveal its untold stories, hidden gems, and undiscovered creative champions.

Culture Mile, the City of London’s cultural district stretching from Farringdon to Moorgate, commissioned photographer, Emile Holba, to explore what creativity means, not only within cultural organisations, but across the wide range of sectors that make up the Square Mile.

Delving into hidden corners, secret gardens, and subterranean spaces, Holba has created a series of triptychs from 18 organisations across Culture Mile. From global law firms and ancient livery companies to its cultural institutions, big and small, the project attempts to capture each company’s unique character and reveal something that may surprise people.

At the Barbican, world-renowned composer Max Richter’s ‘Barbican Box’: a  learning resource for young people is pictured alongside its Squish Space – a creative play area for babies under five, while Simon Levine, Global Co CEO of global law firm DLA Piper is pictured in one of the company’s custom-built media suites, where he takes piano lessons with Music in Offices’ founder Tessa Marchington.

To represent the governing body of the Square Mile, the City of London Corporation, and its wide range of open spaces, St. Dunstan in the East, is captured at night as a mysterious verdant hideaway. ‘Smithfield Woman’, a skeleton of a young Roman Londoner, buried in the area more than 1700 years ago and now cared for by the Museum of London’s centre for human bioarchaeology, pictured alongside the cavernous underground of  the West Smithfield General Market, soon to become part of a new Museum of London due to open in 2024.

At St Bartholomew’s Hospital, three centuries of great art sit alongside essential medical equipment, with the original Hogarth Stair – a grand staircase, with walls decorated by William Hogarth, flanked by two site-specific artworks commissioned by Vital Arts for the hospital by Richard Wentworth and Amalia Pica.

Holba was also given exclusive access to the Charterhouse’s Great Chamber, the day before renovation began. Elizabeth I held her first Privy Council at the former monastery, still in operation today as an almshouse, before being crowned Queen of England. A group of Brothers – as the residents are known – are pictured in the room for the final time before it was closed to the public, including its female members, who were first admitted in 2018, when the decision was made to overturn the men-only rule that had been in place since 1611.

Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee, said: “Our ambition is to redefine the Square Mile – already established as a leading global finance centre – as a world-class destination for creativity, innovation and learning. In these enormously challenging times, as we face this unprecedented pandemic, The Hidden City serves as a wonderful celebration of the extraordinary everyday creativity that permeates the unique cluster of organisations in the City, which continues, even though many of our doors are temporarily closed. This series of photographs underscore the City’s firm belief that creativity is essential in bringing vitality to an area, attracting people, businesses and generating jobs, which is why the City of London Corporation invests so heavily in it.”

Photographer Emile Holba said: “The City of London: evocatively world-famous and intrinsically woven into the fabric of Great Britain’s social consciousness, yet still somehow an unknown entity – a realm of intrigue. Accepting Culture Mile’s commission allowed me a rare opportunity to peer behind closed doors and photograph the amazing creative forces at play – capturing the spaces, objects and people that flourish abound in The Hidden City.”

The organisations photographed are: Associated Board of the Royal School of Music, ARTIQ, Barbican Centre, Bart’s Heritage, The Charterhouse, City of London Corporation, City Music Foundation, Create London, DLA Piper, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, Helical plc, Innovation Warehouse, Linklaters LLP, London Symphony Orchestra, Maggie’s Centre, Museum of London, Music in Offices, Barts Pathology Museum, Queen Mary University, The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, The Worshipful Company of Salters, and Vital Arts.

Emile Holba is a documentary and portraiture photographer and a 2019 winner of the British Journal of Photography Portrait of Britain Awards.

Culture Mile is the City of London’s cultural district, stretching from Farringdon to Moorgate, led by the City of London Corporation, with the Barbican, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London. Together, the five partners are creating a vibrant, creative area in the north-west corner of the Square Mile.

Visit to see the full series.