BTS: London 2039


Last Sunday’s text was called London 2039 – a weird text that was half a short story about london’s dystopian gentrifed future, half a legitimate portrait of a row of houses East of London Fields that were squatted back in the 90s and 00s.

in keeping with all the other portraits i have written in the past, i toed this weird line of ‘this is true! but i won’t tell you who it is!!!’ to try and keep the actual subject of the interview anonymous. i don’t quite know how this blanket rule of anonymous portraits came about – i think it was part of the terms for the first one, and it just stuck. tbh it’s been a nice way to make sure people feel safe and candid, sometimes people say stuff i think they’d feel a bit sheepish about saying non-anonymously. i also send people a final draft of the text before it goes live so they can control alt z any things they wish they could un-say. i think being interviewed is a difficult and vulnerable way of telling your story. you just hand it all over to some random person (ME? – and who the fuck am i?) and have to trust that they’ll do your story the service of caring about it, doing it justice, telling it in a way you’d be happy with. it’s a lot of power to just give away like that. it’s so hard, and it’s also unfair. so, just in defence of sending people a draft. a few times the draft has come back with further thoughts for me to put into the text, to make it more interesting and thoughtful. so it is also a way of circling back outside the heat of the immediate conversation.

but idk if anon is a good idea as a blanket rule anymore? for the sake of my other portrait subjects, dw your secret identities are safe with me. but with London 2039, i think this anon-rule was misplaced. I wrote it in 3 days, which was barely enough time to get a clean draft done in time. i think i turned off my thinking-brain and just entered a fugue flow state where the writing was happening and my body was held hostage by it? honestly. it just poured out of me. it kind of doesn’t belong to me.

i also wrote about photos that really actually exist! taken by a real photographer who kindly took the time out of his day to chat to me at the last minute, to show me around Elingfort Road, and who was so generous with his time and expertise that i also feel like i want to share it with you – his story and his work is so interesting, i kinda don’t want you to have to get to it through me? bc, again, who the fuck am i?

so I’ll chat about his work and then also – there was some other stuff in the text that came from elsewhere. might be fun to do a text BTS post-mortem and puncture the idea of a text as a final perfect thing. it’s not final and it’s not perfect! but here u go:

In 1993 and 1994, Tom Hunter produced a series of photographs: ‘The Ghetto’.

this is from his website: ‘This series of photographs was taken in Hackney in 1993/94 when the artist lived in a squatted community of London Fields East. All the photographs feature friends and neighbours of the artist. The title for the series comes from an article in the local paper, The Hackney Gazette, which described the neighbourhood as β€œa crime-ridden, derelict ghetto, a cancer – a blot on the landscape.” The photographs were part of a campaign to save the community from developers and Hackney council. Fourteen years later the same community is still there and at the heart of a thriving Hackney neighbourhood. Tom Hunter also still lives there.'

You can take a look at the series on Tom’s website, linked here. but here are 3 images from the series that i just had open while i was writing. not necessarily as reference, but just as reminder?

also linked/mentioned on that website page, Tom made a model of Ellingfort Road and London Lane in collaboration with a model-maker called James McKinnon. – the model is actually in the Museum of London’s collection, and they’ve been closed for a year or so (?) i’m not sure when they’re due to re-open but i tried emailing them to see if they’d be able to let me into the warehouse to take a look at the model (cheeky, i know but don’t ask u don’t get!) and tbf to them they replied saying they were using the refurb closure as a chance to reorganise their archive and categorisaiton system, so they actually couldn’t let me in to come see it. i didn’t think i could get a good enough look at it on the website, but if i had been able to, i think it would’ve been an amazing interesting artefact to include in the text! hence why i’m taking the opportunity n mentioning it here.

From the Museum of London website: ‘Hunter lived in Ellingfort Road and saw the piece as a way of documenting the community in the face of its impending break up. He also wanted to show that the residents were not, as the council claimed, social undesirables. The model and portrait photographs of the residents formed part of his degree show at the London College of Printing.'

Museum of London actually also have a couple more of Tom Hunter’s photos from that Ghetto Series, including this one that’s not on his website: this one, here for some reason the MoL website has stopped working for me, can’t get it open to search for other items in their collection from Tom Hunter, but if it’s working for you, worth a search and a snoop.

the photos are so warm, so cosy, so close and human. i really love them – and i’ve not ever really been much fo One For Photography. But i think i get it now. these are really important, or i feel they are.

i should also say, Tom took the time to walk me round a show he’d curated at Hackney Museum – just by the library, back from Mare Street, next to the Town Hall – i didn’t realise that was there??? North london girly, what can i say. even East is a myth to me. and that was really interesting. i just love history!

the show’s called At Home in Hackney: A community photographed 1970-today and it’s been extended to June 2024. if you’re in the area, i’d deffo recommend popping in – much better way to spend a gloomy Saturday than strutting up n down broadway market with all the blokettes, i m h o. it’s also great because they’ve got another model made by Tom Hunter and James McKinnon; this one is a model of a tower block (i thought i got a photo of the wall text and i didn’t!!!) one of four where three were eventually demolished. i believe, the one the model in the show is based on was one of the blocks demolished. i think that’s a beautiful and sad monument – the papier mache model is still standing but the concrete building isn’t – a kind of ghost, hauntological kinda.

there are loads of other photos in the show and put together like that, they illustrate a really interesting history. like i say, i love history! n this show is a kind of historical document of the way hackney has changed through the decades – 50 years, from the 70s till today. amazing, honestly.

‘At Home in Hackney: A community photographed 1970-today. From 1970s activism to the current party scene, the exhibition displays five decades of Hackney life through a camera lens. Featuring work from established and emerging photographers connected with Hackney, including Tom Hunter, Hackney Flashers, Neil Martinson, Dennis Morris, Rachel Whiteread and contemporary youth voices, the pictures provide a fascinating insight into the celebrations, disruptions and everyday lives of the borough and its people’

other BTS bits:

i’ve been reading this book by Gary Budden, called London Incognita. It was kindly sent to me by Michael at Dead INk, the publishers – thank you Michael, but i really would’ve bought it myself if he hadn’t. i’ll do a proper mini-review once i’ve finished it, but i bring it up to mention the opening bit of the London 2039 text, where the immortal one eyed cat is chatting about all the stuff he’s seen – before it starts on the bit about the photographer. i think that bit was mainly unnecessary for the actual text, but i had so much fun with it. i cared about writing that bit so much – i didn’t have time to kill my darlings, so i think in another edit it would’ve been on the cutting room floor. but i really like the one-eyed cat! he really only came about because i have been so GRIPPED by Gary Budden’s book.

London Incognita is a term mentioned in the book’s monograph, a quote from Arthur Machen in the London Adventure. For if you think of it, there is a LOndon cognita and a London incognita. We all know about Picadilly and Oxford Street, London Bridge and the Strand. Olympia had made familiar with a little island in otherwise unknown Hammersmith; the boat race illuminates Putney, and the most inexperienced have ventured into High Street Kensington. But where will you be, if i ask you about Clapton, about the inner parts of Barnsbury, about the delights of Edmonton?

it’s great. it’s a distinction that has really gripped me. a really emotional and humane way of understanding the discrete experience of a city that is being very rapidly gentrified. Gary Budden mentions so many parts of London that like. i grew up in/near, have lived in, have family that live in, friends, go to regularly for specific shops. it’s nice, i felt very seen. and it’s mroe than j name-checking them, Gary Budden goes into like,,,, the London LORE. weird myths and stories and urban legends, half true half whispers that you hear about. he makes them so much spookier, so much truer. it’s just – i’ve not finished it yet, but this is one of the best things i’ve read in a while. i’m like, i’m properly A Fan of this book bc i properly love it. i want everyone to have a go at reading it so we can all chat about it. i want to be Gary Budden’s friend. i’ll do a specific mini-review in WISLW or a Big Review, but thank u Michael for putting this in my hands!

anyway – mentioning it in this BTS bit bc there’s a chapter at the beginning of the book about this lad from the 70s who goes exploring the darker reaches of the city, who imagines the city is sick, his brother goes missing and never shows up and he goes mad looking for him in this sick city. it’s fucking great and the way it’s written just leaked into my head and out my hands as i typed. i was Inspired(TM) but also, i think part of me wanted to do a Study? you know when you’re learning how to draw or paint, so you draw n paint works by other artists to get to grips with their way of configuring an image? i think those opening bits started off like that n i think they could’ve done with a couple more rounds of buffing the study-ness out of them. but – glad to have done the study bc London Incognita is so great. BUY IT!!!!

& then finally, i haven’t checked with this photographer, so i actually don’t know if i can name him/cite him formally n link all his websites like i have with Tom. but a couple of weekends ago, my boyfriend’s brother came down to London to visit and we went for a drink n had dinner and – this was very much an experience i had in like not-critic-mode basically. but he’s a photographer, he takes these crazy and beautiful photos and then cuts them up so they’re even more crazy and beautiful. we were chatting about his work and he said something that made not-critic-mode flip a switch, and it was like he hit that button in my brain that powered on the critic hahaha. i remember gasping. he said that bit about how good photos are about good access. and it is the kind of thing that i think has literally shifted my entire opinion and understanding of photography. i used to think photos were a bit banal, like, ok photo and framing and aperture. but it’s just a photo. it’s not!!!!! it’s about the steps that lead up to the image, all the work that goes into making it happen. including the social labour of gaining access, making people feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) – but j making them feel the way they feel in that photo. you’re doing a kind of social labour there, or interpersonal? not necessarily technical labour or actually maybe even aesthetic labour sometimes. it’s about ACCESS. i think that’s such a good interesting thought, it still sticks with me. and i really see the good access social labour/ability in my boyfriend’s brother, who has that magic ability to speak to people and put them at ease, be in the right place at the right time, never missing the action. it’s like i think his photos are great and now i understand part of the mechanics of HOW n WHY they’re great. isn’t that cool!!! so thank you to him :)

ok, that’s all for a text BTS deep-dive. there are a bunch of other things that never made the cut, that acted as stepping stone on my way to other things, but i gtg now and go to a thing, so i have to stop typing. but the text isn’t perfect or finite! it is just this weird surface, with a bunch of things you can’t see stuck to it. love that. ok bye!