Shops, Ships and Union Jacks: Photos of a Surreal Tour Around Canary Wharf


The glass-domed roof of Cabot PlaceTiffany & Co.Patriotic lingerieSuits and flagsRow of flagsCanary Wharf escalators
The Olympic shopJubilee PlaceFlags and bagsThe glass ceilingShards of colourThe heart of Canary Wharf
Black and white swirlsThe cruise shipCanary Wharf from South Quay FootbridgeSouth Quay Footbridge and Canary WharfThey dwarf usMirrors and reflections
The Dutch clipperThe playground of the super-richThe MS DeutschlandBeautiful hullKids playing in the ThamesThe Isle of Dogs beach

Shops, Ships and Union Jacks: A Surreal Tour Around Canary Wharf, a set on Flickr.

This photo set — the 60th in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike — is the last in a series of five sets recording a journey I made one sunny day in July, from my home in south London, through New Cross and Bermondsey by bike, across Tower Bridge, and up through Shadwell to Commercial Road, which I followed — with many fruitful deviationsalong its whole length, to the junction where West India Road bears off towards Canary Wharf, and Commercial Road becomes East India Road.

As my camera battery had run out, but I couldn’t bear not having a working camera, I decided to find one in Canary Wharf, which was more difficult than I expected, as the shop I needed was some distance from where I parked my bike, through a series of shopping malls whose scale surprised me, as they now constitute another city entirely.

When I did finally locate a new battery, I retraced my steps, taking the photos in this set, of shops and shopping and advertising and patriotism, and then of the ships and boats gathering in the former docks for the Olympic Games, and finally of some locals, from Cubitt Town — which was here long before the towers of Canary Wharf were dreamed up — paddling in the River Thames or hanging out on the only stretch of shoreline in the Isle of Dogs that can be considered a beach.

This was my second specific visit to Canary Wharf since I began my project to photograph the whole of London by bike in May (see then first set here). I have returned several times since, for specific photo shoots that will eventually be published, and I have passed it even more often, on my route to east London or even central London, via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. In addition, I have photographed its priapic towers even more often, as they are visible almost everywhere in London.

Visually, Canary Wharf’s towers appeal to me — or, at least, some of them, including the iconic, pyramid-topped One Canada Square — but close up I have always found Canary Wharf to be a cold and soulless place, like Wall Street redesigned by robots. Moreover, the amounts of money needed to build these kinds of buildings, and to rent them, is, frankly, obscene,  and especially so after the global financial crash of 2008 for which bankers — and their politician lackeys — were solely responsible.

What is even more discomforting is the realisation that, in many ways, the story of Canary Wharf is the story of modern Britain, mirroring our decline as a global power in trade and manufacturing, and the replacement of that world with the naked greed and creative accounting of the banking sector, first under Margaret Thatcher and the “enterprise zone” she established throughout London’s former docklands — a physical echo of the financial deregulation she initiated in the City, unwisely allowing banks off the leash, to come up with ever more elaborate schemes to make money in what ought to have been an unacceptable manner, and to find ever more ingenious ways to hide it away, which ought to be illegal.

Around a million people work in the financial sector in the UK, and around a third of these jobs are in London — in Canary Wharf and the City of London. Obviously, the majority of those working in London’s financial sector are not directly responsible for the global economic crash of 2008, but the sector as a whole remains toxic, exercising a baleful influence on the rest of society.

Since 2008, nothing really makes sense anymore, and Canary Wharf is the perfect manifestation of the incomprehensible here and now. With the exception of a handful of sacrificial victims, the banks that lied and cheated and crashed the global economy got bailed out, and are still working their vampire voodoo in Canary Wharf, while the ordinary people got hit with politically motivated austerity programmes. Unpunished, the dark side of the banking world has continued its criminal exploitation of everyone and everything for maximum profit, so that the rich have continued to get richer, while the poor are getting crushed.

I will return to this theme again, and echoes of it, I hope, run through much of my photographic work in London, where the unacceptable chasm between the rich and the poor continues to grow and to become more evident, actively promoted by malevolent and malignant Tory politicians whose desire is the complete destruction of the state, and the state provision of all services — health, education, you name it — so that everything can again be privately owned, as Canary Wharf itself is, and as the world was before serious social reform began in the late 19th century.

The state provision of services, paid for by the taxpayer, is not a trifle to be brushed aside so easily, and an ideological battle is already taking place, even if far too many people have not yet woken up to it. As a result, it will continue to permeate my work, but for now, please enjoy this surreal trip to one of those disturbing places in London where everything is new, and designed, and even the parks are not real, and where only money speaks, stifling all the other things that actually make life worthwhile.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. damo says...

    i allways found cannary wart so creepy and dead silent after 6 pm the drones had left soulless and featureless a fake place like something out of the film weastworld lol and populated by robots ,lol,lol

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Damo. The best location for a post-apocalyptic film in which everyone has died – or been turned into zombies!

  3. Damo says...

    They filmed 28weeks later there,lol your right Andy it is kinda post appocaliptic it’s like….oz….all smoke and mirrors and a little man behind the curtain

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the Wizard of Oz is a great analogy, Damo. Behind the scenes, grabbing as much money as possible …

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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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