It’s 700 Days Since I Started Posting Daily Photos From My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

10.4.19

The most recent photos posted as part of my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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700 days ago, on May 11, 2017, I began posting a photo a day on a new Facebook page I’d set up, called ‘The State of London.’ It was five years to the day since I’d consciously embarked on a project that was very ambitious — or perhaps slightly unhinged would be a better description: to take photos of the whole of London by bike.

My plan was to visit all 120 postcodes — those beginning with EC, WC, E, SE, SW, W, NW and N — as well some of the outer boroughs, although when I started I had no concept of how big London is, and it took me until September 2014 to visit all 120 — and I still have only visited some of those furthest from my home in south east London on a few occasions.

Greater London covers 607 square miles; in other words, it is about 25 miles across from north to south and from east to west. It had a population of 8,174,000 at the 2011 census, divided amongst 32 boroughs, and, although it has only a small resident population, the City of London, which, rather shockingly, is in most ways actually an autonomous state.

I began my project in the run-up to the Olympic Games, that horrible excuse for nationalist frenzy that is always insanely expensive, and, moreover, also always brings with it social cleansing, increased authoritarianism, and a permanent hike in the values of land and property. 

Some of this was laid out for all to see — in the cleansing of the Lea valley, the transformation of Stratford into a new city, and the post-Olympics creation of a new postcode for the Olympic Park — but the permanent hike in land prices was harder to envisage. After all, it was less than four years since the global economic crash of 2008, which had hit the UK hard, and the Tories, who took power in 2010, had then hit the country with a cynical “age of austerity” that involved massive cuts to state expenditure. 

This is a policy that never works, as it stifles demand, but the Tories’ trick was to simultaneously strangle the country while creating massive opportunities for predatory foreign corporate investors, hedge funds and other thinly disguised criminal enterprises — shorn of the opportunities for profiteering that had collapsed in the 2008 crash — to turn back to land and property for profits, and to begin buying up as much of London as they could, and then to encourage other investors to buy into the high-rise speculative housing developments built on that land, which have been rising up everywhere since my project began.

In those pre-Olympic days when my project began, I got to know London better than I would have otherwise, because bikes were banned on all trains — and not, as was normal, only on rush hour trains. The Olympics coloured everything, and it wasn’t until afterwards that it started to become apparent that post-Olympics London, with the establishment basking in the country’s enviable haul of gold medals, was able to advertise itself as open for business in the most predatory way.

At the same time, the enthusiasm for land wasn’t confined to empty sites, or to former industrial sites. Council estates, marked for destruction since the early days of Tony Blair’s New Labour government, were also increasingly targeted, for developments generally involving a mix of private developers and so-called social housing providers, the housing associations that had generally started off as charities providing housing for the poor, but had now been co-opted by the government and were also working with the same hungry foreign corporate investors. 

In my nearly seven years of cycling around London taking photos — tens of thousands, of which the last 700 days have just scratched the surface — I have repeatedly chronicled the priapic towers rising up everywhere, as well as lamenting the cynical loss of council estates, and warning that no one on social housing is safe, as the Grenfell Tower fire, in June 2017, showed with such awful clarity, revealing that dispossession is just one aspect of being considered second class, or even sub-human, with entirely preventable deaths as part of the state’s arsenal of contempt. 

To me these are the most significant aspects of what it has meant to try to chronicle London in photos over the last seven years, but a glance through my photos shows that I can find interest almost anywhere in London’s 607 square miles. As well as chronicling the city’s fabric, I also try to present a cross-section of its wonderful geology and nature — the Thames and its other rivers, canals and former docks, its hills, its parks — as well as the changing seasons, which enthral me. Since I started this project, I have, as I have mentioned before, learned (remembered) that we are not meant to be indoors all the time, that we are animals who are supposed to spend significant amounts of time outdoors. Along with this I have also learned — very viscerally on occasion — that we are also waterproof and weatherproof, and that we should go out in all kinds of weather, not just on sunny days.

To everyone following me, thank you for recognising this, and for your interest not just in the most obvious landmarks, photographed in the best possible light. I love the sun, of course (I love nothing more than the hottest days we get in summer, just as I also adore the strong low light of bright winter days), but I also appreciate photographing the fabric of the city in all weather, just as I also enjoy finding things worth seeing and reflecting on where the guide books never send you.

Every time I write about ‘The State of London’, I promise to look into publishing a book, and putting on an exhibition, neither of which have happened yet, for which I apologise, but I continue to juggle my Guantánamo work, my housing activism, my band, and, of course, the daily bike rides that are still ongoing. If you can help with any of my dreams, do get in touch.

I’ll leave you, for now, with a promise to post, as soon as possible, photos from the three postcodes I’ve not yet posted photos from — W7, W14 and SW20. Logic dictates that I should, to date, have posted around six photos from each postcode, but, alas, it has not been possible to visit everywhere equally, and there is a noticeable bias towards the south east, where I live, parts of east and south west London (also within easy reach) and the centre of London (the City, the West End, and the surrounding postcodes of E1, SE1, SW1, W1, NW1 and N1). For anyone keeping count, the Top Ten postcodes I’ve posted photos from in the last 700 days are:

Postcode   Number of photos

E14             34
W1              28
SE8             27
E1               25
SE10           24
SW1            23
SE1             22
SE16           19
E16             17
N1               17

* * * * *

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 2017 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. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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:

    Today it’s 700 days since I began posting a photo a day here on Facebook, on a page I set up called ’The State of London’, drawing on the extensive archive of photos I’ve built up since I first began to cycle around London’s 120 postcodes taking photos on a daily basis five years earlier, on May 11, 2012. ’The State of London’, if you haven’t yet seen it, is here: https://www.facebook.com/thestateoflondon/

    It has been — and continues to be — a fascinating process for me to get to know the capital intimately by cycling around it endlessly, watching closely the horrific effects of gentrification over the last nearly seven years, as priapic towers rise up everywhere, council estates are cynically torn down, and the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever greater.

    This is the dominant narrative of the last seven years, but, of course, it’s not the whole story, as I have also revelled in the weather, in the capital’s nature (its rivers, parks, hills, and more), and all of its lesser-known areas in the 607 square miles that make up this extraordinary city of ours, and I hope that those of you who have been with me on this journey will continue to travel wth me through my photos and text, and also that some new viewers will come on board!

  2. Tom says...

    Nice work. I’m amazed that nobody’s sued you for copyright infrigement. I tried to do a smaller version of a similiar project when I was in HK. I talked to a copyright lawyer about protecting myself from suits and learned a lot.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    The only problems I encounter tend to be in places where buildings’ owners or managers claim that they have the right not to allow photographs to be taken, Tom. There’s a whole problem in the UK with formerly public land becoming private when it’s re-developed, with attendant rules and regulations regarding what is and isn’t allowed. Check out this Guardian article and supporting investigation here: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jul/24/revealed-pseudo-public-space-pops-london-investigation-map

  4. Tom says...

    Suggestion. If you can get press access, you should add shots of Assange as he goes thru his extradition hearing. Could be a interesting aspect.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the suggestion, Tom.

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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 (The State of London).
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