Celebrating 300 Days of My Photo Project, ‘The State of London’

7.3.18

A composite photo showing the most recent photos in my photo project 'The State of London.' I began taking photos on daily bike rides around London in May 2012, and began posting a photo a day on Facebook in May 2017.Please feel free to support ‘The State of London’ and my photo-journalism with a donation, if you wish. I receive no institutional funding for it whatsoever.

 

300 days ago, on May 11, 2017, I began publishing a photo a day on Facebook as part of a photo project called ‘The State of London.’ I’d actually begun the project five years before, on May 11, 2012, when I’d first started cycling around London taking photos of whatever interested me, the intention being to create a photographic record of the capital at this particular time in its history — under Tory rule, with the Olympics about to begin as the project started, and with hideous towers rising up everywhere, as the latest phase of the primary focus of capitalism in London over the last 20 years — an endless, artificially-sustained housing bubble that is a disaster for almost everyone except the very rich, and, of course, the developers.

As I began cycling around London and taking photos, I decided that I would visit all 120 of inner London’s postcodes — the ones beginning WC, EC, SE, SW, W, NW, N and E — as well as trying to visit as much of outer London as possible. In the first rush of my enthusiasm, I hadn’t genuinely taken on board quite how big London is, and how long it takes to cycle across it, while being regularly distracted by photo opportunities. It took me until September 2014, if I recall correctly, to visit all 120 postcodes, and, to date, I’ve only visited a handful of the outer postcodes — in particular, those nearest to me, for example, designated BR (for Bromley) and CR (for Croydon).

As the project has developed, I suspect that some of my enthusiasms have become apparent. To some extent, I have come to regard myself as a barometer of the weather, because I cycle almost every day, whatever the conditions (which, along the way, has also helped to keep me healthy, and has made me realise that we are meant to be outdoors much more than we generally are), and the photos inevitably reflect that, with some photos capturing torrential rain, for example, which is generally quite rare, and others capturing the dullness of the typical overcast weather that defines so much of the British weather (and, by extension, the British psyche — once a heavy dose of Puritanism has also been added). Other photos capture the beauty and clarity of the many different types of sunlight — at different times of the day, and at different times of the year, and I freely admit that I’m always in search of the strong, low light and long shadows that can be found towards the end of the day, and that I particularly love.

Throughout the project, I have been fascinated by social housing — primarily council estates — but I have to point out that it’s unfortunately impossible to take an interest in social housing without being aware that some of the new developments rising up, which I’m also chronicling assiduously, and with emotions ranging from exasperation to anger, are doing so not on brownfield sites, but on the sites of former council estates, which are being knocked down as cash-strapped councils cut deals with private developers. The councils pretend that it is the only way they can offer housing to those who need it, when the reality is that it is an abject capitulation to the most rapacious forces of modern capital, and few in housing need end up being catered for, as existing tenants (and leaseholders) are largely driven out of the area, and no one on housing waiting lists gets offered a home.

As a result of my interest in social housing, it features prominently in the photos — and in my work in general. The Grenfell Tower fire in June last year was the most significant event in recent memory for me, the ultimate betrayal of trust by those responsible for the safety and security of those living in social housing, and I have included Grenfell in the project since then on several occasions. It is also the subject of a song, ‘Grenfell’, by my band The Four Fathers, and the housing crisis in general is also discussed in other songs by the band — check out, for example, ‘London’, whose cover features photos from ‘The State of London.’ I’m also the narrator of a new documentary film about the crisis, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, and I recently set up a campaign page, ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for the various resistance campaigns in the borough where I live.

I also regularly photograph shops across the capital, although I try to avoid any photos at all of any corporate chains, and I’ve also photographed numerous lost or disappearing pubs. I’m also drawn to any cemeteries or parks that cross my path, where nature makes its presence more felt than in general. I also regularly cycle along the river, where, both north and south of the water, the opportunities to cycle are, commendably, considerable, and I also regularly cycle along the Regent’s Canal, and the Limehouse Cut, leading to the River Lea, all of which I love as much as the River Thames, and all of which provide extraordinary routes across London that bypass the traffic-choked road network — the Regent’s Canal running through Hackney to Islington and then on through Camden, and along the edge of Regent’s Park to Little Venice, by Paddington, where the Grand Union Canal then heads west to Birmingham, and the Limehouse Cut running through east London to Bow, where it meets the River Lea, which heads up through Stratford to Clapton, Tottenham and Edmonton, and, eventually, on to Luton.

There is, I admit, an inevitable geographical bias to the photos. I now know almost the whole of south east London like the back of my hand, and I’m also very familiar with much of east London (which I generally visit via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and the canals mentioned above, or sometimes via the Overground train network), and parts of south west London, as well as the West End and the City. However, I freely concede that it’s much more difficult to get to parts of west London and north London, and I’ve only managed to visit some of the furthest postcodes on one of two occasions, although I look forward to the arrival of spring, and to making some more long-overdue long-distance trips.

Today, as I mark the first 300 days of photos on Facebook, I’ve posted photos from 80 of those postcodes, and from four of the outer postcodes. Of the 290 photos in total (because there are days when I wasn’t in London), 40% are from south east London and 20% from east London, and there is also a spread of dates, from 2012 to 2018, with 2013 and 2014 being the most popular years, containing 75 and 60 photos respectively. To date, just ten postcodes have ten or more photos — seven in south east London clustered around my home in SE4 (SE1, SE8, SE10, SE14, SE15 and SE16), two in east London (E1 and E14), and one in the West End/west London (W1, which contains Soho, Mayfair and Marylebone).

I’m very pleased to have attracted hundreds of followers for ‘The State of London’, both on Facebook and on Twitter, where I set up an account a few months after the Facebook page, and I hope to keep steadily attracting followers. In the long run, I hope eventually to get round to properly activating the website that I set up several years ago, but have not had the time to develop. I’d also like to make some prints and have an exhibition, and collate some of the photos and accompanying essays into a book, but I’ll need to attract much more support for that to happen. Please do get in touch if you can offer assistance in any way.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, celebrating my photo project, ‘The State of London’, reaching 300 days yesterday. I actually began the project in May 2012, when I started cycling around London on a daily basis, taking photos in every one of the city’s 120 postcodes, but I didn’t start making the photos available until last May, five years later, when I began posting a photo a day here on Facebook. In the article I explain my motivations, and reflect on the first 300 days of the project, and if you like what you see and read, please do follow ‘The State of London.’ I have great hopes for the project – an exhibition, a book, and to get the website up and running – but I need more support to enable these dreams to happen. If you can help at all, please do get in touch!

  2. Tom says...

    Well done. I’ve got some of my own projects going as well. Here’s good luck to both of us.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, good luck to you, Tom. Do feel free to let me know more about your projects if you wish.

  4. Tom says...

    One of mine has to do with phone security (mobile, Skype, etc.). Like lots of others, I get bombarded with scam calls and hackers. So instead of waiting to be hassled, I’m one step ahead. I look for active hacker area codes from several sources online. Then I work on building a block list. I know it’s a never ending numbers game. But thru necessity I’ve learned a lot about phone and online security. Your phone provider may tell you about Do Not Call lists, etc. But the reality is there are lots of ways to bypass that. My approach is think like a hacker. If they try this, how do I block it? I get calls from all over the world. How many are actually coming from the country on my caller ID? Who knows.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, Tom. Good luck with it.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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