Celebrating Eight Years of My Photo-Journalism Project, ‘The State of London’

11.5.20

Andy Worthington’s most recent photos of London under lockdown, as part of his photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

Please feel free to support ‘The State of London’ with a donation. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Check out all the photos here!

Exactly eight years ago, on May 11, 2012, I set out on my bike, from my home in Brockley, in the London Borough of Lewisham, in south east London, to begin a project of photographing the whole of London — the 120 postcodes that make up what is known as the London postal district or the London postal area (those beginning WC, EC, E, SE, SW, W, NW and W). These postcodes cover 241 square miles, although I’ve also made some forays into the outlying areas that make up Greater London’s larger total of 607 square miles.

I’ve been a cyclist since about the age of four, and I’d started taking photographs when I was teenager, but my cycling had become sporadic, and I hadn’t had a camera for several years until my wife bought me a little Canon — an Ixus 115 HS — for Christmas 2011. That had renewed my interest in photography, and tying that in with cycling seemed like a good idea because I’d been hospitalised in March 2011 after I developed a rare blood disease that manifested itself in two of my toes turning black, and after I’d had my toes saved by wonderful NHS doctors, I’d started piling on the pounds sitting at a computer all day long, continuing the relentless Guantánamo work I’d been undertaking for the previous five years, which, perhaps, had contributed to me getting ill in the first place.

As I started the project, I had no idea really what I was letting myself in for — how massive London is, for example, so that even visiting all 120 of its postcodes would take me over two years, or how completely I would become enthralled by the capital that has been my home since 1985, but that was unknown to me beyond familiar haunts (the West End, obviously, parts of the City, and areas like Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, which I’ve always been drawn to), and places I’d lived (primarily, Brixton, Hammersmith, briefly, Forest Hill, Peckham and, for the last 20 years, Brockley).

That first day involved just a short circuit, down through Deptford to the River Thames at Greenwich, but as the weeks passed, I began making longer journeys — to central London through Bermondsey, much of which was unknown to me, along the River Thames from Deptford through Rotherhithe to Tower Bridge and beyond, and through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which led to the Thames Path along the northern shore of the Thames, as well as east London’s two major canals — the Regent’s Canal, which loops up through Hackney, Islington and Camden, eventually joining the Grand Union Canal at Little Venice, near Paddington, and the Limehouse Cut, which heads out through Bow, joining the River Lea, and passing through Stratford on its way north via Clapton and Tottenham — all routes that have become staples of my cycling, as well as the south eastern river route, through Greenwich, on to Charlton and Woolwich, and, on occasion, to Thamesmead and beyond. I have also, of course, become very familiar with the entire network of main roads — although I do tend to cycle on back streets as much as possible.

In the first few months, I had to cycle everywhere, rather than hopping on a train with my bike and getting a head start, as I have often done over the years, because it was the run-up to the Olympics, when bikes were banned on trains at all times, and not just, as usual, at rush hour. That led to me getting to know my immediate neighbourhood extremely well, including a variety of routes into central London, but it took until August 2012 before I was able to start ranging across the capital more widely.

As the project developed, I got to know the capital almost as an extension of myself. I revelled in the now-ness of being out in it, in all types of weather, on a bike, enjoying the light, the shadows, the storm clouds, the rain, the changing seasons, and I got to know it in detail, becoming particularly drawn to its council estates, and finding myself wounded by the many forms of desecration visited on the capital — most cynically, in the post-Olympic boom, with Boris Johnson as Mayor, in which ‘luxury’ housing developments, often featuring inappropriate tall towers, were approved everywhere, and through the cynical destruction of council estates for replacement developments that priced out locals, and provided massive profits for private developers.

On the fifth anniversary of that first conscious decision I took, to start chronicling the capital with a camera on a bike, I began publishing a photo a day on a Facebook page, called, unsurprisingly, ‘The State of London’, following up soon after with a Twitter page.

In terms of technology, I have also adapted over the years. 15 months after starting the project, I upgraded to a Canon Powershot SX270 HS, and went through a few of those before finally making a crucial upgrade last February, and buying a Canon Powershot G7 X Mk II, which has changed my life. I now get stunningly sharp images, and a zoom that enables me to take excellent long shots of buildings and streets without any distortion of the parallels — the equivalent of an SLR that I can keep in my pocket!

And while the first 13 months with my G7 X were an adventure in increased self-confidence, as I finally began to feel that I was doing justice to the scope of my project, the last seven weeks have taken it to a new level, as I have been chronicling London under the coronavirus lockdown, which has been an extraordinary experience, revisiting the city I have got to know so well over the last eight years, but finding it — and the West End and the City, in particular — almost entirely deserted, as though some sort of apocalypse has taken place that has rid the capital of all its inhabitants, but has left all the buildings standing.

I’m delighted to note that all of this work was noticed by ‘My London’, a website representing a number of London regional newspapers, which published eight of my photos last week, and I hope very much — although I know I keep saying this — that some sort of book and exhibition will be forthcoming, as well as a website. If you can help with any of this in any way, 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), 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 the 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, marking the eighth anniversary of when I first set out on my bike, with my camera, to take photos in all of London’s 120 postcodes, a project that became ‘The State of London.’ Five years later, I began posting a photo day here on Facebook taken from these thousands of daily trips across the 241 square miles of the capital.

    As regular readers will know, I still haven’t stopped cycling around the capital taking photos, and, in the last seven weeks, I’ve been seeing it through new eyes during the unprecedented coronavirus lockdown.

    Thanks to everyone taking an interest in this project, and if you’d like to make a donation, as I have no financial backing for this labour of love, then please feel free to do so here: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/03/09/please-support-my-quarterly-fundraiser-seeking-2500-2000-for-my-guantanamo-work-and-london-photography/

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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