Celebrating One Year of My Photo Project ‘The State of London’; Now For An Exhibition and a Book!

11.5.18

Images from the last 16 days of the first year of my photo project 'The State of London.'Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, photographer, commentator and activist.

 

Exactly one year ago, I began posting a photo a day on a Facebook page I had just established — ‘The State of London’ —  from my archive of tens of thousands of photos taken of London, in all 120 of the capital’s postcodes, as well as some of the outlying boroughs, that I had built up over the previous five years.

I haven’t advertised ‘The State of London’ via Facebook, which some people suggest is a good way of getting supporters, but I’ve steadily built up a following over the last year of people who like my photo-journalistic take on the capital — photos, often accompanied by short essays, of the good, the bad and the ugly of London in the second decade of this tumultuous century. Someone more objective than me can probably analyse my taste, but I know that I’m bewitched by the light and the changing seasons, that I love catching photos on those outings when I get caught in storms or showers or torrential rain, that I love the river and its tributaries, and London’s canals, that I love the capital’s hills, its park, its trees, and that I also see almost everything with a political eye.

On my endless, restless journeys, I see everything that is happening with the built environment, but when I started in 2012, in the year of the Olympic hype, in which big money was savagely reshaping the Lea valley, I was appalled by the jingoism and empty patriotism, but I didn’t fully comprehend how, in the years that followed, the broken capitalist model that had almost killed itself through 2008’s self-inflicted global economic crash would end up working out that the only way left to guarantee huge and unjustifiable profits for the lazy rich was for the UK establishment, and those who aspire to it, to cannibalistically feed off its own people, through housing.

Everywhere I go, I see phallic new developments — designed to attract foreign investors, and entirely unaffordable for most Londoners — which appal and enrage me, but alongside these new developments I also actively mourn and resist the cynical destruction of council estates to make way for these new private developments, alongside the misappropriation of former industrial land and the sweeping away of existing light industrial sites where huge numbers on Londoners actually work. I have documented many of these destroyed or threatened estates over the years, and will continue to do so — in many way they are, to me, the dark human heart of the project, the revealed face of the oppressor, a counterpoint to the beauty of nature in the capital that runs through all our lives rather than seeking evict, exploit and destroy as our human masters do.

So, in my work, viewers will find the destruction of the Heygate Estate, the Aylesbury Estate (see here and here) and the Elmington Estate (see here and here) in Southwark, the destroyed Myatts Field North, and the threatened Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estates in Lambeth, the destruction of the Haggerston Estate and the Kingsland Estate and the demolition of the giant Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, the West Hendon fiasco, the Excalibur Estate of prefabs in Lewisham, and the Brutalist Lethbridge Estate on the border with Greenwich, the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, neglected, worn-down estates in Woolwich, the early stages of the destruction of Thamesmead, the levelling of Canning Town, the averted threat (I hope) to Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, and, perhaps most pertinently right now, the destruction of the Brutalist masterpiece Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar (see here, here and here), being destroyed to make way of something far more bland and fundamentally soulless — although that, in a nutshell, is what so much of the cynical destruction of people’s homes involves.

I also direct my gaze at some of the over-priced new developments going up on land that doesn’t involve people’s homes being razed to the ground, and above it all, since June 14 last year, the spectre of Grenfell has hovered, reminding me on a daily basis how those who live in social housing — myself included — are regarded as second-class citizens, whose very lives can be recklessly endangered, or brought to an end in the most gruesome manner possible, in the search for greater profits. See two photos here and here from the monthly Silent Walks for Grenfell, held on the 14th of every month. Details of the next one, on Monday, are here, and I intend to be there.

I launched ‘The State of London’ on Facebook on the fifth anniversary of when I started cycling around London taking photos on a daily basis. I thought I had chosen that date — May 11, 2012 — randomly, but it may be that I was subconsciously balancing two other dates that had dominated my life for the previous six years — September 11, 2001, and January 11, 2002, when the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened. Researching and writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison shut, had dominated my life since the spring of 2006, and had, I suspect, contributed, along with a misplaced enthusiasm for alcohol and tobacco, to my developing a rare blood disease in 2011, which manifested itself through a blood clot that led to me almost losing a number of toes, and experiencing, first-hand, what sleep deprivation really is.

When the admirable doctors of the NHS saved my toes, I resolved to get fit. I had already given up alcohol, in 2008, and had given up smoking on the day that I was hospitalised — March 18, 2011 — but it took a year of eating biscuits pretty relentlessly before I realised that getting fit would take some kind of revolutionary change in my life. The bike was the answer. I’ve actually been a cyclist along as I can remember. I think I started when I was four, so I have — ulp! — literally been cycling for over 50 years!

However, my appetite for cycling had dwindled in those years when I was devoted to obsessive human rights work (and my appetite for self-destruction), but when I needed to get fit it was the obvious solution. In the years since, it has become absolutely central to my life. I go out in all types of weather, and I know, very fundamentally, that we should all be out for more of the time that we generally are. We aren’t meant to be cooped up in offices. I also love the freedom of being beyond surveillance (I carry no phone), and of getting lost or, very occasionally, finding places where the machinery of city life doesn’t intrude. It is a liberation, and a crucial counterpoint to the struggles for human rights and social justice that otherwise consume me.

It also made me realise how little of London I actually knew. I knew places I had lived and worked in well — Brixton and parts of south west London, much of south east London, the West End, obviously, and a selection of other places east, north and west — but as the years passed I had ventured to unknown areas less and less, and I was astonished to discover what a Pandora’s Box of delights the city is when you explore the 123 square miles of inner London — and some of the 607 square miles of Greater London — by bike!

Last year I also set up a Twitter account for ‘The State of London’, and there is also a skeletal website for the project, which I set up years ago, but which I haven’t found the time to work on. My ambition for the coming year is to have an exhibition of photos somewhere, and also to publish some sort of book. Obviously, my inclination, as you can easily glean form the above, is for an overview of my work on threatened or destroyed council estates, but I’m really open to any and all suggestions. The positive feedback I’ve had over the last year tells me I’m onto something with my photo-journalism, and I’d like to keep building on it.

For now, though, I’m off out on my bike. See you later!

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.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Exactly one year ago, on May 11, 2017, I set up a Facebook page for a photo project that I had begun five years before, on May 11, 2012, but hadn’t, until that point, made public. ‘The State of London’ is my personal odyssey around London’s 120 postcodes (and some of the outer boroughs) by bike, chronicling, on a daily basis, and with a political and a poetic eye, whatever interests me – the changing seasons, the play of the weather, the mighty River Thames and its tributaries, the canals, the parks, the hills, and the built environment, with a particular focus on how, at this particular time, phallic towers of unaffordable new housing are rising up everywhere, some on land that was previously occupied by council estates, which are being cynically destroyed for profit, their residents scattered to the winds in our leaders’ futile and insulting search for a more gentrified capital from which poorer people are excluded.
    I hope you’ll follow ‘the State of London’ if you’re not already doing so – and if you have any ideas for putting on an exhibition and getting a book published, then please do get in touch!

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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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