I have been trying to write about photographing London for a good few weeks now and every time I have started I have gotten into a dead lock. I feel as if I had begun to write about life, loosely, without much of a point.
I remember how I felt when I moved to London. That is not however what I have had the chance to think about. Most stories in London start with other kinds of words and that is the only story people want to hear. That moved here the day before I turned twenty, with a suitcase and a guitar. That I knew only one person in London and didn’t have a job. I have told all that countless of times at pubs to people whose faces I don’t remember anymore. They have concluded my story on my behalf. For some time I detested those questions which were really just chatter, which aimed at nothing true or valuable being told but only the repetition, affirmation of a kind of similar beginnings with the same ambitions. Any deviation, a mistake of admitting otherwise was a disruption. I learned that the hard way. After a while though, after some events occurred in my life I realised that those phrases were a good way to cover the site of destruction that my life had become. But I suppose that we become the stories we tell ourselves. Those phrases are not untrue but irrelevant. By having to repeat them I had forgotten my first impressions of the city. I had muffled up what I saw in the corner of my eye and thought to myself without pronouncing the words.
It was September, the air was softer, cooler and strangely fragrant. The one person I knew in London had found me a room to rent in Kensal Rise. I hope that I have since expressed to her just how grateful I was. I lacked certain social manners back then. I had some savings with me and counted on getting a job within a few weeks of landing here. I wasn’t nervous although I should have been. I wasn’t excited as it was expected that I would be. I was on my own for the first time in my life and I was oddly numb. I had escaped from somewhere, that is what I knew and that was enough.
Those months and years of my life were supposed to be, according the popular story about how lives ought to be lived, my best. I however don’t like to look back. I have left it blank in my autobiography. It all happened in the west. I omit the place names because those names otherwise begin to tell their own story. Or the story of the guide books.
I went back there to photograph a couple of weeks ago. I got up early and travelled for a good hour to the west. It was a Sunday. It was sunny and it was freezing. Two girls wearing impossibly high heels and tight outfits stumbled out of the same train. Otherwise the station was empty.
I went to photograph for the London Archive. I didn’t think of it as ‘going back there’.
I turned right from the entrance and thus began my day in the ennui of suburbia. It was dull. Nothing caught my eye. I suppose I should say that so much had changed. Because I could tell that it had. There were new buildings everywhere. I just couldn’t remember what had been there before. I looked through the viewfinder in front of several views and decided not to press the shutter. In the end I took a photo of a wall of graffiti. It had something, maybe because it was colourful. I walked towards the Grenfell Memorial site. However I was going to present them I knew that those images of Grenfell Tower had to be in the archive. There were other council estate buildings on the way which I photographed. Not because of socio-political reasons but because they caught my eye. One of them had lots of greenery around it and the building itself shone white in the morning light. Another one had a staircase that I wanted to frame. I went to Portobello Road and lasted there for about 10minutes. I knew there were photographs in Notting Hill but I was too irritable, too distracted to see any. I did take one or two photographs of the terrace houses in the name of documentation and walked on. By the time I had reached White City it was midday. I took a bus and got lost somewhere in Barnes. I emerged, as planned, on the other side of the river at the Chiswick House and Gardens where I met a friend for a stroll and a drink. All along I found some photographs but none of them stirred me. I felt I merely did my job as a photographer documenting London with my style.
I only went ‘back there’ when I began to write. Some scenes are engraved in my mind but they are all vague, mere impressions that I wouldn’t be able to draw the outlines of. I wasn’t aware of London at that time. I didn’t even know that I went over a canal on the 52 bus every day. I looked inwards then and held onto fragments of things, odd things that gave me hope. I fought battles which were too nasty to be commemorated.
I have, most of the time, photographed to ease some pain. The London Archive started that way too. None of my photographic series and writings have ever dispelled their causes though but I have nevertheless felt compelled to complete them. Something will emerge from these photographs of London. And something will emerge from all this writing and rewriting.
Preamble to the London Archive Essays
I asked a few friends and members of family to choose a photograph from the London Archive they would like to know more about. As this premise is my own devising, I have taken the artistic liberties necessary in answering this question. Bar a few exceptions, the result is a series of short essays combining a brief outline of historical information, consideration of photography as a medium as well as an account on how I ended up taking each particular photograph.