Celebrating 800 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

19.7.19

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

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Over seven years ago, in a world that seemed brighter than today — even though the Tories were in power, and London was in the throes of a corporate and jingoistic makeover as the host of the 2012 Olympic Games — I began an absurdly ambitious project that I soon dubbed ‘The State of London’, which involved me cycling around the London postal area (the 120 postcodes beginning WC, EC, SE, SW, W, NW, N and E), with some additional forays into the 13 Greater London postcodes beginning with two letters (e.g. CR for Croydon) that surround it.

For some reason, I wasn’t deterred by the fact that the London postal area covers 241 square miles, and although my ambition has in some ways paid off, in that, by September 2014, I had visited each of the 120 postcodes at least once, I would be lying if I didn’t concede that my knowledge of much of London — particularly in the west, the north west and the north — remains shadowy to say the least.

That said, my knowledge of a larger part of London — radiating from my home in south east London — has become satisfyingly thorough. There is barely a street in the whole of south east London that I have not visited, and, in addition, east London and south west London, the City, the West End, and parts of north, north west and west London have all become extremely familiar to me.

Moreover, in all these years spent as what a friend, Simon Elmer, has called “a cycling flâneur”, flatteringly comparing me to Eugene Atget (1857-1927), who spent the last 35 years of his life “document[ing] all of the architecture and street scenes of Paris before their disappearance to modernization”, I feel that I have also absorbed the city and internalised it as a kind of living map, and as a sort of moral barometer of its bloated change-makers and profiteers, and its many, many victims.

As with Atget — and hence the comparison — I was determined from the beginning to chronicle what was being lost, as the city embarked on an orgy of development, partly driven by the Olympics, partly by the lazy corruption of Boris Johnson, during his dreadful eight years as London’s Mayor, and partly because, after the banker-led global economic crash of 2008, those same international criminals — their ponzi schemes and lawless profiteering from “credit default swaps” and sub-prime mortgages in ruins — seized on land and the development of eye-wateringly expensive developments as the last bastion available to them for the kinds of profits to which they think they are entitled, and which we the people — through our impotence, ignorance, apathy or work-induced fatigue — have been unable to prevent.

In the last seven years, after the Tories conveniently forgot about austerity when it came to funding the Olympics, destroying much of the River Lea for the soulless Olympic Park and re-imagining Stratford itself in an even more soulless manner as some sort sort of hideous “new city”, the orgy of development has been largely unchecked. International investment companies have been buying up huge swathes of the capital, and have been allowed to build priapic towers of unaffordable housing almost everywhere, and cash-strapped councils — and Labour councils in particular — have gleefully embarked on a massive programme of social cleansing, facilitating the demolition of council estates to feed the greed of private developers, and also of housing associations.

In a surprisingly short amount of time, these former providers of genuinely affordable social housing, have, instead, come to resemble private developers (albeit as opaque public-private hybrids), building new developments that mix properties for market sale with rental properties that are more expensive to rent than those that have been knocked down. Along the way, social rents are done away with completely, and no one involved in any aspect of this housing racket has been encouraged to even consider the notion that it would make better economic — and environmental — sense to refurbish estates wherever possible.

The results — along with the damage caused by a housing bubble that has been artificially maintained over the last 20 years —  are painfully clear to see. London today is an even more divided city than it was seven years ago, when the chasm between the rich and the poor was already far too pronounced.

As house prices have escalated, owner-occupiers have become absurdly, immorally wealthy through doing nothing, while private rents are out of control. And with the pool of housing at social rents shrinking all the time, and Tory benefit cuts hacking away at all manner of financial support for ordinary workers pushed to breaking point by all this unfettered greed, homelessness has reached epidemic proportions, vast numbers of hard-working families are having to resort to food banks just to survive, and young people — those particularly bearing the brunt of the disgusting greed of private landlords — are either leaving the capital completely, or building up a so far largely restrained but potentially volcanic resentment at the manner in which they have, to be blunt, been completely screwed by selfish Baby Boomers and the dead-eyed sharks of the bloated private rental market.

When people are paying two-thirds of their income on rent, as many people are, it’s clear that something has gone monstrously wrong, but for the exploiters, morality has become a quaint notion, as they tell themselves that they are entitled to make as much money as possible from their “investments.” For a recent analysis of this, see the recent Guardian article, ‘Poor tenants pay for landlords to live like kings. It doesn’t have to be this way’ by George Monbiot, which provoked a lively debate when I posted it on Facebook.

And so to the celebration of 800 days, which marks the period since I first began posting a photo a day from my archives, which I began on May 11, 2017, on the fifth anniversary of when the project started — first on Facebook, and then, some months later, on Twitter. In the early days of the project, during a lull in activity relating to the main topic of my work for the last 13 years, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I had posted several dozen London photo sets on Flickr, but when the prisoners seized back the narrative in February 2013, embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike that brought Guantánamo back into the headlines, I didn’t post anything publicly (except a series of protest photos, also on Flickr), until May 2017, when the notion of posting a photo a day occurred to me as a way to get my work out to a hopefully appreciative audience.

If you’re new to ‘The State of London’, please check out the 800 days of photos on Facebook here, where, as you’ll see, I’m fascinated by many, many facets of this extraordinary city, and not just some of its darker manifestations. If you’re along for the ride, I’m delighted to have you with me, and I will — I promise — eventually start looking at trying to get an exhibition arranged, and a book published, as I have been promising for some time. If you can help out at all, please do get in touch.

* * * * *

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 seven 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.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, celebrating 800 days of daily photos of London in my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, which I began posting in May 2017, on the fifth anniversary of when I first started cycling around London ‘s 120 postcodes on a daily basis, taking photos of the changing fabric of the city. If you haven’t yet seen it, I hope you’ll check it out, and if you’re already following, I’m delighted to have you on board.

    This article explains my feelings about the key changes I’ve been chronicling over the last seven years, particularly to do with housing, and with little positive to report, as rapacious international investors buy up swathes of land in the capital and are largely allowed to raise whatever priapic monstrosities they want, and craven, lazy councils demolish council estates instead of refurbishing them.

    However, my project is not just about greed, corruption and the growing gulf between the rich and the poor, as I also celebrate nature, the seasons, the weather, parks, graveyards, the River Thames and its tributaries, the capital’s canals, its wonderful trees, and some of its extraordinary buildings, from east to west and from north to south.

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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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