I had made plans to take the last photograph on this day, the 31st January 2020, the day when UK leaves the European Union and the last day when I would be taking photographs for the London Archive. I will be at work until 4.45pm, a few minutes before the sunset and it would still be light enough to take that one last shot, or more, if I chose the location well and stayed within 10 minutes walking distance from the coffee shop.
The last photograph would be of The Last Photograph because I would give it that importance by taking it and announcing it. It could therefore be of anything. However, this day signifying what it does, it would be ludicrous to think that I would have the mental strength to wander about with my camera in my usual manner.
In search for a view to turn my camera to, I gravitated, for obvious reasons, towards the river. The Thames is perhaps why London came to being at all, it is the original route to and from the city and it separates -and in doing so also connects- South and North London. However, to take the last photograph in this way felt false and contrived. I thought of other options, for example photographing whatever view I could get of 10 Downing Street, but despite the justified reasons for any of them to qualify for the meaningful Last Photograph, none of these options were meaningful enough.
So I came to think of an evening almost four years ago when I took the first photograph. This project started then, without me knowing, when I stopped at the traffic lights and looked around me. I saw nothing particularly memorable in itself but the view was still ingrained in me, perhaps because of what I had lost that night. Although it was not taken with my Rolleiflex but with camera obscura of my mind and although this project hadn’t even crossed my mind yet, I still consider this mental image, this memory, to be the first photograph I took for the London Archive.
I was content for a few days thinking that this view, whatever it looked like now, in whatever weather conditions, would be the Last Photograph. Then I simply decided otherwise. Like the first photograph, which has been engraved only in my mind, so would the last one be. I won’t take a photograph of that junction or of anything else on this day, the 31st January 2020. I will only walk through that junction and let my memory do its tricks.
I now look back, like photographs used to make people do. I can’t remember much about how the world appeared before everything changed, before that rude political awakening in June 2016, like I can seldom remember buildings along my commute which have been demolished and replaced by something new, after being hidden behind the blotches of scaffolding for several weeks. I don’t wish to dwell on politics however, not here, not now. Everything has been, and will continue to be, said about these circumstances. Instead, I remember and I seem to keep remembering the obscure, the casual and the peripheral; the words and gestures which occurred and twirled in the flux of life but which nevertheless mattered.
Inevitably there is a last photograph. I went to look for photographs in an area that I frequented at one time. I walked on the once so familiar street and recognised random marks and signposts, for example the door which I often mistook for the one I needed to go through. When I finally got to the spot and cautiously looked inside, I saw new occupants and their slogans. I didn’t stay but walked on and turned to a side street where I saw a construction site with its door open. That rare afternoon sunlight that was shining, how can I describe it? It is always Light that I photograph, that I attempt –and that is all I can do – to catch, to capture, to hold onto, all those worn out words which nevertheless are true. That photograph was the last frame of the roll so I put in a new one and continued, guided by a hazy sense of where I should go. I wanted to take a photograph of one particular corner but when I found it, it didn’t appear as it had done on another spring night a few years ago. Perhaps I had had one too many then. I certainly remember giving a hug or two that were tighter and longer than my sober ones.
That night was one among many nights and days when we all played our roles, said our lines but thought our thoughts to ourselves and lived our lives not knowing what we meant to each other.
I made a few attempts to compose a photograph of that corner but eventually gave up and wandered off. I found no other photographs on that day. The photograph of the construction site ended up being the last image I took for the London Archive. It seems apt because London is continuously under construction, under erasure and always changing and also because we walk from one era to another, from a beginning to a closure, unannounced and without a warning.
© Carita Silander