Back to Black with Brandt...


I recently received a catalogue from Sotheby’s for their upcoming Made In Britain auction on March 16th. The front cover features a Bill Brandt photograph, Bermondsey Policeman c1930–39, but this is not the image as I know it... or is it? This Sotheby’s image is 1000% “Bill Brandt Black”.

Over the last few years I’ve collected every Lilliput magazine that features Bill Brandt’s work and I’ve catalogued it all. In the May 1946 issue, Brandt produced an eight-image photo-essay: Below Tower Bridge – a collection of photographs taken in and around Limehouse, Wapping, Bermondsey and Shadwell. And there it is: the policeman standing in Horselydown New Stairs, Bermondsey; but this photograph appears to be taken in daylight, shows a fair amount of detail and mid-tone grey, and is a reverse of the Sotheby’s catalogue version, which was printed in the early 1980s.

And now I know why...

When Brandt and other photographers worked for Lilliput (and also Picture Post), they were told to under expose their shots. This was because both Lilliput and Picture Post were printed using photogravure methods, and the presses simply couldn’t handle deep solid blacks. I read that this really jarred with Brandt, and he had to grin and bear it until the early 1970s – when he started to become a better-known photographer, have his own exhibitions and his work published in his own books. And those books were printed using photolitho which allowed the use of deep, solid blacks.  At last, he was able to control how his printed and exhibited work appeared – mega-contrast, burnt-out whites and 1000% Bill Brandt Black...

Bermondsey Policeman . Bill Brandt, c1930–39

Bermondsey Policeman. Bill Brandt, c1930–39


Another Pic of Peckham or Two...


It's early December and we're making a return visit to the Blenheim Court in Peckham Rye, the Arches Studios triangle we first visited in July.

Just out of the station, along Blenheim Grove, we find a seasonal pop-up arch selling Christmas trees and seasonal decorations. Well worth a few shots...

Today is perfect time to revisit Blenheim Court, whose many artists and artisans have transformed their arches from working studios into showrooms for their open house weekend. It was great to see the area busy with people appreciating the work on display. Carolyn Tripp and Jane Muir (Ginger) had both opened up their arches, and I caught some nice scenes here in both locations. At the Blenheim Forge, James had displayed rows of his hand-made knives laid out in rows. Low lighting but high-quality images captured here.

Venturing onto the other side of the tracks, we find the Little Bird Gin bar, which has only been open for a few weeks. A lovely step-back-in-time arch featuring a wonderful eclectic mix of furniture. Grazeg and Josh work away whilst I capture the scene. Low, low lighting here, so I’m shooting at 1/15th on a tripod.

Just be-gin-ing... The Little Bird gin bar at Blenheim Court.

Just be-gin-ing... The Little Bird gin bar at Blenheim Court.


Dog Day Afternoon...


I'm visiting north-west South Bermondsey! It’s the run-up to Christmas and so I’m expecting to have to make a few revisits when the arch occupants are less busy. The Olive Oil Company and The Urban Flower Firm in Raymouth Road SE16 are such cases.

At the old Spa Road Station building, I meet Pauline at Dynamic Vines who shows me around their vast arches – the walls are stacked with wine bottles – a great backdrop for my photographs. I’ll return on a Saturday during their wine tasting sessions. Next Partizan Brewing and The London Honey Company – both future revisits.

Once the railway ticket office, now Dynamic Vines.

Once the railway ticket office, now Dynamic Vines.

I’m nearly back to previous shooting territory at Enid Street and Rope Walk in Bermondsey. At LASSCO I meet Jasper, who featured in my candid LASSCO flooring photograph. Nice chap!

On Druid Street I find the arch at Rima & McRae open. They produce bespoke finishes for smart interiors. This is a perfect scene for capturing my images.

Lastly, walking along Crucifix Lane, I remember that Dallas and Angel at the DnA Factory in Herne Hill have some of their sculptures showing in a gallery here. I pop into Underdog Art and meet Sammy and Lee, and Sammy's dog, Henk. All three of them are very willing for me to shoot in their superb cavernous gallery space. Using both my Nikon FE and Pentax67, I roll off many frames… a great ending to a long day.

Underdog Art – art with a real dog!

Underdog Art – art with a real dog!


You Visualise It. We Can Create It...


Probably my last shoot of the year as we head south-east from London Bridge to Deptford – my intention to walk back ‘up’ the line to Bermondsey.

At Resolution Way, next to Deptford Station, another first: this time an Art Suppliers, ArchDeptford. Paul, the owner, is very obliging and chats as I snap away.

Almost next door, a stainless-steel sculptor.  ‘Don’t touch a thing in here,’ Simon tells us quickly. ‘Everything is covered in metal dust!’ His studio is a scattering of both finished and unfinished works interspersed with odd bits of metal off-cuts. Some lovely reflections captured here on the Pentax 67.

Deptford – arch, after arch, after arch...

Deptford – arch, after arch, after arch...

The stretch of railway arches running north-west from Deptford recedes into the distance with the Shard ever-present in the distance. Arch after arch, row after row… After a few hundred yards we come across a life-size model horse propped up against the railings, and some ‘scenery’ dumped outside some arches. Something interesting here?

Horses park free outside Arteffects, Deptford

Horses park free outside Arteffects, Deptford

A revisit to Arteffects will be required, but next door, Michael Whiteley welcomes us into his four arches where he produces stage props for the TV and entertainment industry. ‘You visualise it, we can create it’ his business card states boldly. Perfect! Whilst I shoot away, Michael and his team work furiously on 180 multicoloured polystyrene stage blocks to be delivered to Channel 4 the next day.

Our next find is Pedibus, who make and hire out pedal-powered vehicles for tours around London – eight seaters with twice as many pedals. Amazing!

Lastly, Tom at London Bronze Casting is working outside his arch glueing layer upon layer of latex sheets onto a model face and bust, ultimately to have bronze cast over it.

The light is fading and it is only 3.30pm. Off to the tube, and home…


Farewell to an Arthouse Archway...


I’ve got permission from Amy at Le Pain Quotidien head office to shoot at their South Bank restaurant, so that’s our first stop.  Using my Pentax 67 on a tripod, I photograph the original arch at the rear of the premises featuring wonderfully lit brickwork.  I even get a latte on the house!

Next, on to Druid Cycles in Roper Lane near Druid Street, Southwark. I’m hoping they are open, but alas not so.

Then north to Haggerston. At Turning Earth Ceramics in Whiston Street, the large studio is busy with potters working at individual benches. The arch is well-lit and features a rear half-moon window with daylight pouring in. I’m keen to get some close-up shots here, and Olivia is willing to be my subject. Sometimes you know immediately that images will really work in monochrome, and this is one of those occasions.

Walking south, my next call is Pretorius Bikes in Drysdale Street, Shoreditch. I start shooting, but quickly realise this arch would be crowded with ‘bikies’ at their ‘after-work’ bar later in the day. Another for the re-visit list…

Across the road we find Shem clearing up at the Hoxton Gallery, empty since its last exhibition and being readied for closure and a move to a much bigger space in Old Street – goodbye Shoreditch, hello EC1. The arch is very dark, but hand-held at 1/30, I click away on my Nikon FE on 400 ASA film hoping for the best. The results are moody, gritty and atmospheric to say the least!

Farewell to the arch... The old Hoxton Gallery before its move to Old Street.

Farewell to the arch... The old Hoxton Gallery before its move to Old Street.


A Pick of Peckham


Dallas at the DnA Factory in Herne Hill informed us that Peckham Rye had some interesting arches, and he was certainly right.

First stop was the Brick Brewery on Blenheim Grove. Ian was busy working away getting ready for the weekend ahead. The large cylindrical stainless steel brewing tanks made a great backdrop for my shots here. Nearby, Bar Story will have to be a revisit…

Then on to the Arches Studios in Blenheim Court. This is a triangle of arches where about 20 artists and makers work in a wide variety of disciplines, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, metalwork, and cabinet making. There are also large number of ceramicists –  unfortunately not many of them are here today (yet another revisit!) but we do catch Debbie, a potter, and James, a blacksmith, working at Blenheim Forge. A great place which illustrates the diversity of the arches.

Bleinheim Court Entrance, Peckham Rye

Bleinheim Court Entrance, Peckham Rye


Some Late Summer Sequels


My list of ‘return visits’ has been getting longer and longer, so time to tick a few off.

We start in south London at Herne Hill with Dallas and Angel at the DnA Factory. They are on good form preparing for their own exhibition of their sculptures in November. Using both my medium format Pentax67 and 35mm Nikon FE, I shoot about a dozen frames of them ‘at home’ in their comfy arch surrounded by their art.

North to Haggerston and Headway East – an art studio supporting people affected by brain injuries. Permissions were required not just to shoot here, but also from their clients to be photographed. I take several long-shots past the ‘artists' arm with the artwork-covered arch in the background.

On our way to our next appointment we walk past The WhitePepper in Acton Mews – a women's fashion store/showroom. Amazingly, in seven months of shooting Under Tracks, this is the first fashion outlet I've encountered. Ines is fine about shooting here – some nice images captured.

Then on to Charterhouse Aquatics in Stean Street. I happened upon this place whilst doing a pre-walk internet search. The boss, Paul (who himself is a photographer) was great about me shooting here. Their showroom features large aquariums and young Richard was only too willing to ‘service’ the tanks during the shoot. My biggest problems here were the reflections on the glass from the street outside the arch, but some judicious angled photography worked well. Every shot taken was from my tripod here – very, very low light levels...

Dallas, in the doorway of the DnA Factory, Herne Hill

Dallas, in the doorway of the DnA Factory, Herne Hill


South by South East


Before a visit to the NPG to see the Audrey Hepburn photographs, a quick visit in and around Waterloo East.

The arches in London are all about contrasts: from the one-man-band auto-repair arches in Hackney etc. to the gentrification in Waterloo East!

The stretch of arches on Wootton Street have been modernised with new façades fronting the original arches. But the arches are still there to be seen, and Chris at the Digital Consultancy was happy for me to poke my Nikon FE through his front door, and capture the modern, stylish interior of their office.

On to the arches adjacent to the Festival Hall, thronging with tourists. The well known watering holes of the Topolski Gallery-Café-Bar Venue and the Archduke Wine Bar are here, but somewhere else caught my eye.

The Interior Designers who created the restaurant Le Pain Quotidien have retained the arch at the rear superbly, using subtle lighting that emphasizes the brickwork. I need permission to shoot here…. and a tripod and my Pentax 67. Another revisit beckons...

New faces on old arches... Wootton Street, SE1

New faces on old arches... Wootton Street, SE1


The Hills are Alive...


Further south, in June, to Herne Hill. I had done some research for this trip and discovered the Bath Factory Estate lying behind the shops off Norwood Road: a long run of arches with two great locations at each extremity.

Firstly, and thirstily, to the Canopy Beer Company where Estelle, the ‘landlord’, welcomed us and happily posed behind her bar. Nice shots!

Then a long walk down to the other end of the arches, not knowing what we would find…. An arch with flowers flowing over the doorway and garden ornaments outside. It looked so interesting. We knocked on the door to reveal the DnA Factory – two guys Dallas and Angel who, to quote their website produce…

‘sculptural assemblage or tableaux, collage and photomontage which merge observational reality with myth and story telling to a most thought provoking effect’.


I knew I needed to shoot this location and get it right… We will return with a tripod and my medium format Pentax 67.

Nearby Herne Hill Station we found Off the Cuff, a live music venue, which amazingly also sells the furniture you sit on to watch the bands. Another revisit needed here, this time in the evening for the band and the crowd.

Tony at Off the Cuff, Railton Road, SE24

Tony at Off the Cuff, Railton Road, SE24


A Brixton Bus Stop...


The arches here are under threat today and their residents have mounted a massive campaign to save the area. There are many photo opportunities here – I mention just a few...

Premium Coaches allowed us into their yard – provided we wore their hi-viz jackets – to shoot their two magnificent Routemaster buses housed in an arch.

Catwalk, a beauty business for the Afro/Asian community had a 10-metre wall of wigged heads.

The brilliant hole-in-the-wall, One Love Café shot still eludes me...

Brixton Station Road, SW9

Brixton Station Road, SW9


Return to Maltby Street


The return visit to Maltby Street and Ropewalk; this time for the weekend market where this short section of arches is transformed into a ‘foodie’ street that is thronging with people.

Ropewalk Food Market, SE1

Ropewalk Food Market, SE1

My photographic aim was to capture this transformation – blokes in aprons serving food, where, during the week, floorboards are being sold.

On the ‘other’ side of the tracks, Druid Street plays host to a vast variety of arch activities. Peter at the Southwark Brewing Company was particularly helpful and enthusiastic about my project. I will return when his arch is busier…

Druid Street, SE1

Druid Street, SE1


Not Just a Photographic Project...


In March, our next foray was again south of the Thames, walking from Elephant and Castle north towards Southwark. This was another good day in an area likely to be regenerated. Everyone was really positive.

Then it dawned on me, this wasn’t just a photographic project – I was in fact recording social history. What were the arches used for 50 (or 100 years) ago? What will be in them in the year 2050?

We received a great reception from the trainer Mateo and the super-fit Leon at Crossfit Blackfriars.

However, I began to realise another problem to be faced… shooting hand-held on film in dark places. The list of places to revisit was getting longer – The Last Supper in Newington Causeway, The Union Theatre in Union Street and The Ring Boxing Club in Ewer Street.

Leon – Super Strong! Crossfit Blackfriars, SE1

Leon – Super Strong! Crossfit Blackfriars, SE1

Two’s Company


For my next trip ‘Under Tracks’, my wife Susan came with me – not for photographic reasons, but because we first went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition (now that’s art!).

We started off in Vauxhall and immediately received a much warmer welcome than in the East End. After explaining my project, we were invited inside the VauxWall Climbing Centre premises… ‘Shoot what you want!’ etc, etc from the manager. From Vauxhall to Bermondsey – Enid Street, Maltby Street and Ropewalk.

The guys at Scooterworks were friendly and helpful – just brilliant! The boss had used Nikon FEs whilst serving in the New Zealand Air Force. I realised here that Susan was my ‘foil’. A couple turning up gives a different first impression than a single bloke. Then after my introductory chat, she engages the subject(s) in conversation, whilst I snap away.

At Ropewalk, LASSCO (the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co.) have leased a section of arches to themselves. I shot a timeless image here, LASSCO Flooring, which I'm pretty pleased with. This section of arches host a weekend ‘foodie’ market. We would return.

Timeless... LASSCO Flooring, Ropewalk,SE1

Timeless... LASSCO Flooring, Ropewalk,SE1