Greenwich on the Last Day of the Year, a set on Flickr.
Some of my regular readers will have realised that, although I like cycling and photographing London in all weather, and that I am thoroughly enjoying experiencing the seasons first-hand, I am particularly fascinated by the city at night. I have always been a night owl, and at university, more years ago than I care to remember, I would, in winter, stay up all night, cycling around and taking photographs until dawn, and then returning to my room to sleep.
I don’t stay up all night anymore, but recalling those days reminds me of how, although some things in life change fundamentally, others don’t. My love of cycling, which began when I was a small child, has never left me, and nor, it seems, has my love of the night, and of taking photographs at night.
This set, the 70th in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, features photos taken mainly in Greenwich, near my home in Brockley in south east London, in the early morning hours of the last day of the year, December 31, 2012 — between 1.30am and 3am, to be accurate. Probably as a result of being in Scotland for Christmas without a bike, and with my wife’s family, I was itching to get out on the bike on my return to London, and so it came to pass that I found myself cycling to Greenwich late at night when, literally, there was almost no one else around.
The journey I took includes a few familiar locations — Greenwich Market and St. Alfege Church, for example — but many other places that I had either not photographed, had not photographed at night, or had not even visited before. A major attraction, it transpired, was the underground car park beneath Cutty Sark Gardens, very close to the River Thames, which I have travelled over on countless occasions, but haven’t actually visited for many, many years. It’s not a great example of architectural beauty, but I love its pillars, and I also enjoyed composing shots and photographing some of the tattier and more weathered parts of the whole edifice.
A strange enterprise at 2.30 in the morning, perhaps, but one that, I happily concede, gives me great pleasure, and as a result I’ll be making more nighttime photos available soon. I hope you enjoy this journey with me, and will stay around as 2013 unfolds.
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, Jackie Sherman wrote:
those are awesome pictures. London really has a whole different feel in the sleeping hrs..
Thank you, Jackie. Lovely to hear from you, and I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. London is indeed a different and fascinating place at night, especially away from the nightlife, when it’s almost amazingly quiet. At the time I took these photos it was especially quiet, I think, as people were preparing for New year’s Eve. I remember in particular the groaning of the cranes and the whistling of the wind when I took the photo of the building site for the new university buildings.
Nice shots. But also, late at night how do you stay warm? I’ve been lucky at times to find great angles as well in places everywhere from London to Tokyo. Then again, when it’s -15C with the wind chill, you have to draw the line and say, right, call it a night.
I don’t think it ever gets that cold in London, Tom, and at the moment it’s actually very mild, so it’s not a problem. Back in November, if I recall correctly, was the coldest weather we’ve had so far this winter, and I got seriously cold on a few occasions, but it’s far from freezing right now.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Isn’t it amazing how poorly built is that parking that generates the vast amount of money from customers. Some parts look like real health hazards. My favourite photo is Elverson Road Station.
Thanks, Dejanka. I’d imagine that it’s structurally sound, or it would be a potential disaster-in-waiting, as Cutty Sark Gardens, welcoming vast numbers of visitors, is just above. What’s perhaps more revealing is how dirty car parks are in general, because of the filth produced by cars, but how no one generally notices, because they love their cars almost more than life itself!
On Facebook, I posted the photo “Elverson Road station,” and wrote:
This is one of my favourite photos from my most recently published photo set, featuring a nocturnal trip to Greenwich as Dec. 30 turned into New Year’s Eve. This photo is of Elverson Road DLR station, on the border of Greenwich and Lewisham, which was brightly lit, despite there being no more trains that night.
Michelle Landy wrote:
Used to be my local station!
Cool! I remember crossing the bridge at the station for the first time on Bonfire Night, maybe in 2000, on the way from Brockley to Blackheath, Michelle. I thought it looked very modern, very hi-tech!
Dejanka Bryant wrote, in response to 6, above:
And they can murder their neighbours for the sake of parking, as it happens while we are talking about it. Your car is much more important than living in harmony with your next door friend these days.
Sadly, the car is an accurate metaphor for self-obsession and isolation, I think, Dejanka. I’ve not grown to regard cars with any more fondness since I began cycling around obsessively. Everything there is to enjoy about travelling by bike eludes those in cars – the sounds and the smells, the physical sensation of travelling. Car drivers are frighteningly cooped up and cut off the rest of the world in their travelling kingdoms.
Christopher John Webster wrote:
the insomniac photographer…. I love it….
Thanks, Chris. The insomniac photographer may be accurate. I am starting to feel that the normal state of being is to be on a bike, experiencing the weather, seeing everything, hearing the birds, the sounds of the wind, the creaks and groans of the built environment. All of which, of course, is most keenly felt at night.
Esteban Chavez wrote:
quite brilliant, these are really good in composition, sophistication, contemporary, fine art photography. i mean i would like to look at these over and over again. pretty cool. continue doing whatever u choose it is great.
Thanks, Esteban, for the very supportive words. You just made my day!
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