Cannon Street Station was full of people, a sure sign of a delayed and stressful journey home. It was the beginning of rush hour and Bank station would be infernal. I decided to walk back to Blackfriars to take the train from there to Greenwich but instead of walking the route back which I knew, along the Cannon Street, past St Paul’s and then left, I decided to go closer to the river. I don’t know the roads of London like a black cab driver but have a rough idea where some roads are and where they lead to. So I walked, crossed one or two roads and turned right.
The cycle super high way. Or whatever it is called. I am nowadays more scared – and in awe – of the cyclists than cars when I walk in London. They rock and they rule this city. I never forget seeing them, dozens of them, maybe a good hundred, blocking Boris Johnson’s (that lying clown) car from leaving his house in North London and booing after the EU referendum result. I was proud of Londoners on that day. After about ten years in this city I wondered if I could like to be called one too. Around about that time I also worked with people who cycled to work. My God I admired them. Wind, rain, dark streets, cars, quick turns here and there, traffic lights, punctures. All that before a cup of coffee. They were my heroes.
Like most Londoners I am always in a rush. Red light, green light, it doesn’t matter, I will cross the street. But when I come up the Cycle Super High Way, or any other street that the Cyclists have taken to favour I wait for the pedestrian lights to turn green. So I did now and watched dozens of them whizz past. The green man appeared and I crossed the street with shy reverence.
On the other side of the road London appeared strange. Big trucks driving past, cars going at a high speed, construction site in between old and new buildings. It seemed like the city had two levels, like in a futuristic film. And there was not a single Pret A Manger in sight. That was remarkable.
I turned to a side street which I hoped would lead me to the river bank. It did! Blackfriars couldn’t be far away now. I picked up the pace to my London speed which always gives me away as a foreigner when I am abroad. I walked and walked, walked back to take a photo of a menu of a restaurant which barstools looked nice and kept walking. The scale of London surprised me again. London had surprised me again. I got to the station and waited for my train, standing over river Thames and made a note to go there, wherever that was, two roads down from Cannon Street and then right, with my camera one day.
I sometimes have this absurd confidence in myself, especially when it comes to finding the way to places, without a map and on foreign soil. I get lost countless of times and end up wandering, annoyed at myself, hungry but not being able to decide what to eat and a sinister existential crisis creeping behind me in the shadows. And I never learn but on the next trip I say to myself again ‘I am sure it is this way’ without looking at the map.
Looking at the map when I am out and about slows me down. It is distracting. I like to look and marvel if there is an opportunity to do so. Consulting the map in order to get to know a city is like going to an art museum and reading the small text before looking at, seeing the art work. You miss the point. Understanding, getting from A to B, is at times necessary but essentially secondary.
However like most people I live my life getting from A to B. Ending up outside the alphabet is a major inconvenience, especially as it is often a surprise. If only my short term memory and sense of direction were better. Or any good. I forget everything after the first turn and confuse left and right. I have been saved by that blue dot on the Google maps numerous times. For someone who used to be a scout that is embarrassing.
I love maps though. I love looking at them. Especially old maps, seeing what was there before and how people saw the world. Maps are worldviews in a way. In some ways old maps are like photographs, revealing something of what had been there before. Ghosts of yesteryears. London is full of traces of bygone eras, layers and layers of history on its streets.
Maybe it is that disparaged romantic nature of mine that prevents me from making a full use of maps. I just don’t like things to be taken too literally. However tomorrow I am going on an expedition with my camera and I will have to make more of an effort. I am going to walk from Liverpool Street to Wanstead. Through Hipsterland, through Stratford, through whatever comes next. If all goes well I am meeting Claire (a London Cyclist) for a stroll in Wanstead Park and then we are going to the pub.
These Fuji Instax photos kind of paved the way to the London Archive. I bought that camera second hand because I wanted to walk around, see and just have fun, remember why I began to photograph in the first place.
I found an old A to Z London in the chest of drawers in our living room this morning. What a blast from the past! Before Googlemaps I relied on it, or at least I attempted to.
Preamble to the London Archive Articles
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.