The State of London: Marking 120 Days of My London Lockdown Photos with Some Previously Unpublished Images

16.7.20

Old Compton Street in Soho, London W1, March 22, 2020, the day before the coronavirus lockdown began (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Yesterday marked 120 days straight that I’ve been cycling around London, taking photos of the coronavirus lockdown — and, in recent weeks, its partial easing — and posting a photo a day on ‘The State of London’ Facebook and Twitter pages.

I first began cycling around London on a daily basis, taking photos for a photo-journalism project that I soon named ‘The State of London’, over eight years ago, in May 2012, and on the fifth anniversary I began posting a photo a day on Facebook. Until the coronavirus hit, the photos I posted were drawn from the various years since I began the project — on that particular day, but from any of the years since the project began in 2012.

When the coronavirus hit, however — and particularly after the lockdown officially began on March 23 — the archive suddenly seemed, if not irrelevant, then relating to another, lost time, as the streets of the capital emptied, and economic activity ground almost to a halt.

This was particularly true of the West End and the City, and over the last 120 days I’ve visited both on an almost daily basis, compiling an archive of photos that will, I hope, have value as an archive of this extraordinary time. At the height of the lockdown, I frequently encountered almost nobody else on my visits, leading to the frequent sensation that I was alone in some sort of post-apocalyptic scenario. I’m delighted that, at the time, a journalist from My London News came across my photos, and interviewed me for an article featuring some of my most striking images from this time.

Gradually, of course, the lockdown has eased — most noticeably, on June 15, when “non-essential” shops were allowed to re-open, but the bounce that the government fervently hoped for really hasn’t happened. There are now hundreds — or even thousands — of shoppers wandering around the West End every day, but Oxford Street used to attract 500,000 shoppers every day, and it remains to be seen how long it is viable for businesses to continue when just the tiniest fraction of that number of shoppers are supporting them. Behind the scenes, one of the great battles is between the retailers and their landlords, because if the latter don’t substantially cut their rents, a huge number of businesses are going to collapse, but it remains to be seen if those involved with one of modern capitalism’s great money-makers  — property — are prepared to take a massive hit, or if we will end up with a boarded-up West End.

In the City, the emptiness is even more pronounced, as there is still almost no one around, and no sign of those who work there wanting to return to their offices anytime soon. Many workers are happy not to be commuting, at great expense, and in hideously overcrowded conditions, and many are also enjoying their new life/work balance. In addition, numerous employers are also happy not to be spending a huge proportion of their income on rents, and, as with the West End (where, of course, there are also, usually, large numbers of office workers adding to the spending of tourists), it remains to be seen how the City, as a physical entity, can be revived, as the virus, though largely dormant right now, has not gone away, and is likely to return in autumn, as the weather cools, with dangerously renewed vigour.

To mark 120 days of my lockdown photos, I’m posting below some additional photos not previously seen. My 120 days started on March 18, the day after I last took a train, when my wife Dot and I visited Hastings for the day. That was two days before the last day that pubs were allowed to open (on March 20), and throughout this period I watched — and photographed — as, in the absence of anything resembling coherent political leadership, the British people themselves voluntarily started lockdown. Sadly, that lack of leadership led to tens of thousands of deaths that could have been avoided, but, in the weeks that followed, London’s almost total shutdown succeeded in keeping the virus at bay.

Tomorrow I’m going camping for three days near Brighton, hence the brief break in my photographic chronicle of this strangest of years, although I’ll be back on my bike on Monday, and probably trying to make journeys further afield to check on parts of the capital that I haven’t visited since before the lockdown began.

Enjoy these photos while I’m away, and on my return I also hope to try and make contact with people who might be interested in publishing a book of my photos, and in putting on an exhibition. If you know of anyone who can help out, please do get in touch.

A deserted Long Acre in Covent Garden, London WC2, March 23, 2020, the day the lockdown officially began (Photo: Andy Worthington).

A deserted Piccadilly Circus, London W1, March 24, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Walworth Road, London SE17, almost empty on March 29, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
James Street in Covent Garden, by the normally very busy Apple store, March 30, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
An almost deserted City of London on March 30, 2020, in a photo dominated by the bulk of 22 Bishopsgate (aka Twentytwo), a new office block, close to completion, that suddenly looks surplus to requirements (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Harrods, on an almost entirely deserted Knightsbridge, London SW1, April 7, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
An empty Regent Street, London W1, on April 17, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

* * * * *

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 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 eight 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.

14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, marking 120 unbroken days in which I’ve been taking photos on daily bike rides throughout the coronavirus lockdown in London, and posting them as part of my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

    This 120-day run began five days before lockdown was – belatedly – declared by the government, and this article features my reflections on this extraordinary time, as well as some previously unpublished photos. Enjoy!

  2. Gillian says...

    My dear friend in Florida lived in the City of London for over 40 years. I’d love her to see your wonderful photos but she doesn’t use Facebook. Is there any other way for her to see them? Thanks for doing this work.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Gillian, there’s only Facebook and Twitter at the moment. I am constantly intending to set up a website, but can’t quite get round to it. Any suggestions about pre-existing templates will be very welcome – or web designers able to work at a reduced rate!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    Thank you Andy and I’ve really enjoyed your daily photos and commentary.
    It’s a sad sight with everything being so quiet and businesses closing but I was thinking all cities in a way are enjoying having these places to themselves for a change. I went to an empty Westminster Abbey the other day instead of it being packed.
    Let’s hope life will be back to it’s bustling self soon.
    Have a wonderful time in Brighton.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. I haven’t visited Westminster Abbey yet. Is it open for private prayer? And are you also able to take photos?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    It is open for private prayer and I managed to take one photo before I was stopped. On Wednesday afternoon and Saturday all if it is open for visitors. Any other time some of the Abbey is closed. Still worth a visit though.
    I went to Westminster Cathedral after and it was full.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the advice, Anna. I’m definitely going to check out both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s in the near future. I haven’t visited either for such a long time because of the entrance fee. A bit tight of me, I know, but I feel that Londoners should have some sort of pass.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    If it’s a service I don’t think you have to pay but they are expensive. I do have a pass for Westminster Abbey luckily enough so sometimes the system works. I also love Southwark Cathedral. We are lucky.
    £17.00 for St Paul’s. That’s why I rarely go there and it, as you say, should be free for Londoners – or a concession.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    John Suffield wrote:

    Enjoy your break, well-deserved!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, John. Two nights on the South Downs near Brighton. I think I’ve forgotten what a non-urban landscape looks like!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    John Suffield wrote:

    I’ll miss you, my pictures are occasional weekends and nowhere near as researched. I don’t think people realise how much effort goes into your posts.
    Thank you.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for recognising the effort, John!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Wale wrote:

    I so enjoy your photos and page. Enjoy your break.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Carol, for the supportive words!

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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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