Regular readers will be aware that, for the last month, I have been posting photos to an account I set up on Flickr, and publicizing them here, adding a new outlet for my creativity, and my perceptions of the world, to the other methods — primarily the written word, but also TV and radio shows, personal appearances and film-making — which I have been using to chronicle the injustice of Guantánamo and the “war on terror” for the last six years, and the horrors of life in Britain under a Tory-led coalition government, which I have been chronicling for the last two years.
Taking photos is a great passion of mine, but one that I largely let slip from 2006, as I began researching and writing about Guantánamo on a full-time basis, until Christmas last year, when my wife gave me a digital camera. I then took photos of my Guantánamo-related visits to the US in January, and Kuwait in February, and began taking photos in London — and on various trips in the UK — on an occasional basis until, in May — on May 11, to be specific — when the sun started shining after roughly six weeks of almost unremitting rain, I decided to start making journeys by bike around London on a regular basis, taking photos of whatever interests me — buildings old and new, rivers, canals, parks and trees, and forgotten corners of this vast city, where the unusual, the unremarked and the abandoned exist beyond the illusions of endless wealth and perfect order conjured up by those in positions of power.
The intention of my photographic journeys by bike is eventually to chronicle the whole of London at this fascinating but troubling time in its history, with that huge wealth I alluded to above still nakedly on display, while the rest of the country — and much of the capital — is suffering a permanent recession, with the cruel and incompetent Tory-led coalition government further stifling an already depressed economy by introducing savage austerity cuts to everyone who can least afford to be further impoverished — the young, the working poor, students, the unemployed and the disabled.
This latest set of photos records one of the first journeys I undertook as part of this project, when, on May 22 — a gloriously hot and sunny day — I cycled from London Bridge to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs along the Thames Path that runs alongside the river for most of that distance. I was slightly astonished to discover that I had never undertaken most of this journey before — beside the river on the edge of the City, through the grounds of the Tower of London (which I hadn’t visited since I was a wide-eyed child, visiting London for the first time), through St. Katharine Docks (which I had only visited once before, around 20 years ago), and then through Wapping, with its tall, gentrified wharf buildings, which I had never visited before, although I have often seen them from the other side of the river. From there, I travelled through Limehouse and on past Canary Wharf, past ostentatious towers and other apartment blocks, to Island Gardens, at the south of the Isle of Dogs, where I took the Greenwich Foot Tunnel back to my home in south east London.
Unlike other journeys I took through Millwall and the Isle of Dogs, and other journeys I have taken through south east London, this journey was almost relentlessly one that involved ostentatious displays of wealth, of a kind that was unimaginable when I first moved to London in 1985.
In this series, and in some of my other writing, I have begun to explore, in more depth, how it is that such wealth has been created, why it clusters in London, and whether or not it is sustainable. It is, of course, a story that invokes the City of London and the unprincipled practices of the investment banks whose greed crashed the global economy in 2008, and it is a story that has not come to an end, as those responsible have not been held to account, and the gulf between the super-rich and almost everyone else remains an affront to decency.
Much of what is captured in these photos represents that world, unaffordable for all but the top few percent of earners, and the foreign investors wooed by those in power. My feeling is that, although it all looks solid, it is actually as transient as the docks that once thrived here, and the houses of those who toiled here, helping to create the wealth of an empire that is also, now, a long-vanished dream.
Time will tell if I’m right …
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Jo Ann Ryan wrote:
sharing and nice Andy
Kent Spriggs wrote:
Enjoyed the tour as a visual event but certainly share your feelings about gentrification.
Thanks, Jo Ann and Kent. Lovely to hear from you both. Glad you share my sentiments, Kent. I think the evil empire, of course, has had two major centres over the last few decades – New York and London. It’s the real nature of the “special relationship” – two bunches of mainly WASP crooks working out how to fleece the world – and erect steel and glass phalluses wherever there’s an old dock or a convenient shoreline. If they are not made to pay we will end up somewhere very bad indeed. The 18th century, the powdered wigs and the obscene wealth of the few – but with Twitter – is how I think of it.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sharing this, Andy. Hope the share counter is working.
Thanks, George. The share counter is gone, but I just got a like counter installed instead. What do you think? Should I bill Facebook for that? Fortunately sharing is still possible here on Facebook even if the scale of that traffic is no longer reflected on any external websites. I think that will make Facebook look less popular, to be honest, as all the share stats must have disappeared from untold thousands of websites.
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