Celebrating 400 Days of My Photo Project ‘The State of London’

19.6.18

A composite image of the latest photos from Andy Worthington's photo project 'The State of London'.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, photographer, commentator and activist. Check out all the photos to date here.

 

Back in March 2011, my life changed when I was hospitalised after a blood clot had turned two of my toes black. Doctors at St. Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament, saved my toes — a mercy for which I am eternally grateful to the NHS — but after I recovered, my life changed again when I began cycling across London on a daily basis — and taking photos everywhere I went — in May 2012.

When I got ill, I had managed to give up smoking, which would otherwise have killed me, but I then started piling on the pounds instead, on a steady diet of biscuits and cakes, and so getting back on my bike on a daily basis seemed like the perfect way to get fit.

I’d been a cyclist since I was about four years old, but like many useful habits, it had become sidelined as I smoked too much, and also as a result of my obsessive sedentary lifestyle as a writer, researcher and commentator and activist on Guantánamo, which had consumed my life since 2006.

Getting out onto London’s streets was transformative not only because it got me fit, but also because it gave me a huge new exciting project — getting to know the city I’ve lived in since 1985, but much of which was unknown to me beyond key haunts and places I’d lived in over the years. I soon came up with a name for my photo-journalism project — ‘The State of London’ — but although I posted some photos on Flickr in 2012-13, and got a skeletal website established, I couldn’t find the time to get it up and running. 

Instead, I built up a huge archive of photos that no one saw, as I visited every single one of London’s 120 postcodes (those with the prefixes SE, SW, W, NW, N, E EC and WC), as well as some of the outer boroughs, until, last May, on the fifth anniversary of when ‘The State of London’ started, I set up a Facebook page, and began posting a photo a day — plus accompanying text — drawn from the  archive, so that the photo I chose might be from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 or even that day. Some months later, I added a Twitter account, and posting a photo a day is now a key part of my work.

Last Thursday marked 400 days since I began posting photos on Facebook, but I couldn’t mark it at the time because I was too busy with two other projects —  marking, on Thursday and Saturday, the first anniversary of the terrible and entirely preventable Grenfell Tower fire, which has regularly featured in ‘The State of London’ over the last year, and, on Friday, marking the 6,000th day of Guantánamo’s existence. So here, five days late, is my commemoration of this latest milestone for my project — and an opportunity for me to try and reach out to people who might be interested in it. After over a year of posting photos, I’m reassured from the feedback I receive that people like it, and I’d now like to do more with it — to have some exhibition, for example, and, ideally, to publish a book. If you can help, please do get in touch!

I hope one day to get the website up and running (and would be interested in any help curating it), but I still can’t find the time to do so, because of all the other work I do — on Guantanamo, on social housing, and on my music with my band The Four Fathers — and because I still insist on going out every day on my bike and taking more photos!

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to do, because I’m a freelance writer, supported by my readers, and a few benefactors, and can work in the mornings and evenings, but I’ve also become a passionate advocate for the outdoors life. I go out on my bike every day, whatever the weather, which is a very visceral way of getting to appreciate the climate and the changing seasons, but it has also taught me that we aren’t meant to be indoors all the time, and that we should all be outside much more. 

Cycling every day has also sharpened my dismay at how the city is so dominated by traffic — cars and lorries — which are not only horrific polluters, but also contribute immensely to the selfish and atomised culture that is, so sadly, such a big part of contemporary life.

If you haven’t yet discovered ‘The State of London’, I hope you have time to check it out now — and to ‘like’ it and share it if you do. It is, of course, in large part a political project, in which I cast a consistent eye on, for example, the shameful building of high-rise tower blocks for foreign investors in almost every part of the city, and the cynical destruction of council estates to build more unaffordable housing for those profiting from a seemingly endless housing bubble maintained by politicians and the banks, but it also has aesthetic qualities of its own, as well as reflecting seasonal change, changes in the weather, and geographical elements of the city that consistently fascinate me — the River Thames, of curse, running through the city like a pulse, other rivers and canals, hills, trees, and whatever hidden corners of the city I manage to stumble upon on my often random and erratic journeys (I never have a map, or, generally, much of a plan). 

Cycling remains the best way of being both relentlessly inquisitive and quietly anarchic in the city. It’s much quicker than walking, and you can dip in and out of anywhere swiftly — and, I’m sure, regularly evade surveillance, especially, if, as I do, you travel without a mobile phone to tell the authorities where you are at all times.

Perhaps one day you might like to come and join me …

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.

17 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Today I’m celebrating 400 days of my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, in which I’ve been posting a photo a day here on Facebook (and on Twitter) from my archive of photos taken by bike on London over the last six years in all 120 postcodes (and also in some of the outer boroughs). As I explain in the article, I started cycling and taking photos in 2012, after a major illness in 2011, and it’s both a political and an aesthetic project, a love letter to the city I’ve lived in for over 30 years, and, I think, to life itself – to the people of the city, to the seasons, the ever-changing weather, and the geography of this sprawling metropolis. It’s also provided me with a crucial opportunity to witness first-hand the orgy of overpriced tower blocks rising up everywhere, largely bought by foreign investors, and, cynically, the ongoing destruction of council estates by councils (Labour as well as Tory) who are socially cleansing the city of its poorer inhabitants and providing even more opportunities for profiteering developers to make even more money.
    I hope you’ll check out ‘The State of London’ and will start following it (if you’re not already), and will tell the people about it if you like this particular aspect of my many forms of political and creative expression.
    The Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/thestateoflondon/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    I meant to ask you…
    Was your bicycle ever recovered, Andy? If not, what did you finally settle with? Sigh… Long Beach is becoming quite dangerous for cyclists.
    Someone was killed early this morning on the other side of town.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Sanchez, that’s horrible news from Long Beach. I checked out the London figures after reading that, and found there are less than 20 fatalities on average every year, and was slightly surprised that it wasn’t more. Some stats here: https://cycling-intelligence.com/fatal-cycling-accidents-in-london/
    As for my bike, no, I never saw it again, but I bought a reconditioned bike from a Polish guy in Shoreditch after about a week of being a pedestrian – so just before Christmas. My wife and I had taken our son to a recording studio on Cable Street as a birthday present, and we then walked along the Regent’s Canal, all the way to Shoreditch where this particular reconditioned Ridgeback bike beckoned to me. So I bought it there and then and rode it home!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    It’s flown by Andy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, to seems to have, Anna. I worry that time is accelerating, as I was always warned it did when you get older. I can’t believe it’s already June 20, for example. I fear that I will blink and it’ll be September.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Great job, Andy. I love seeing your photos and experiencing your bike travels along with you – even if only virtually.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tashi. I appreciate your support, as always. I would like to get an exhibition and a book sorted out now, though, but as I say in the article, I only have so much time because I’m so often out on my bike!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    That’s great, if it makes you happy – it’s worth your while. 🙂

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I realise that I’m very lucky that I can, Tashi. Our creaking, dinosaur-like capitalist system still likes to imprison people in offices five long days a week if it can, forgetting that we spent tens of thousands of years running free!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Very true and wholly unnatural. Our lives do seem very out of balance and are only getting more so. When will the insanity end? At what point will we realize that these systems enslaving us are not in our own interest? I’m glad you’re able to find your own ways around it. I know it’s not easy, Andy. We have to forgo many pleasures as a result. Yet, I’d rather make sacrifices than try to fit into something truly unhealthy and unnatural.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    More and more people are being pushed into having to think differently, Tashi, because of neo-liberalism’s extraordinary greed, and now the combination of A.I. and mechanisation taking away so many jobs. When we try not to let money and status and all that insecure, avaricious crap define us, we can have considerable room to manoeuvre, but many people just get caught in poverty, and too much of that is likely to lead not to emancipation but to people seeking out authoritarian leaders who promise them certainties (which, of course, won’t be fulfilled – see Trump right now, for example).

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Yes, Trump is an example of people living in fear and in hope. They fear that their way of life is at risk and they hope Trump and his business acumen can lead them out, only they forget he’s an apathetic, narcissistic, banker prostitute. Obviously, he cares more about his and his family’s interests than that of his country-people.
    One would think that poverty and suffering would drive people to change but actually, it often feeds fears. Fears that we won’t survive, fears that we won’t keep up with the Jones’, fears that we will be marginalized.
    All that is warranted. Yet, it’s no reason to believe that we don’t deserve better or that it’s our fault that it is our reality.
    If leaders wanted real change, they’d produce it. It doesn’t pay. The less than one percent who rule over us – know that. It is we that keep them in position and that’s why they’ll never change the status quo.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    All of which is why it’s time for really serious change, Tashi, but at present I fear the increase in racism and the targeting of any and all groups and individuals perceived to be the “other” by the largely white, largely old populations of the west. The truly radical lefties are the best people to hang out with, and we’re a sizeable minority at heart, but we’re still sadly a minority.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    All it takes is one butterfly 😉
    https://www.americanscientist.org/article/understanding-the-butterfly-effect

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Let’s hope so, Tashi!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    Excellent photos and interesting comments, thank you for your work, Andy!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, as always, Aleksey. Thank you so much for your interest in all my work.

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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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