A selection of the ninety six photographs that I exhibited at The Underdog Gallery in June 2017,
as I recorded the parallel universe within the railway arches of London – Under Tracks
Under Tracks in perpetuity
As I’ve said in previous blogs on this project, Under Tracks has not been just about taking photographs of the occupants of the railway arches – I have in fact been recording social history.
At least a dozen of my subjects are not occupying their arches anymore…. and sadly, mostly for economic reasons. The arches are a’ changin’ and as gentrification spreads out from the centre of London, in even 5 years time many more of my arch subjects will have gone.
I’m glad to say that my photographs will not simply be stored in boxes in my studio – or even on the walls of the homes of the visitors who purchased them at the exhibition. Digital files – all captioned – of the complete Under Tracks project (over 250 photographs) have been accepted for inclusion in The History of London Archive held at The Bishopsgate Institute Library in the City of London. In perpetuity.
So long after we’ve all left this earth, the public and researchers will be able to see what life was like in London’s Railway Arches between 2014 and 2017.
After the show is over…
I finally showed 96 framed photographs of Under Tracks at The Underdog Gallery. The exhibition was extended to run over a week following the superb publicity I received….. a 25 minute prime-time interview on The Jo Good Show on BBC Radio London… top online listings in both The Londonist and The List. Oh, and in The Brixton Buzz.
The publicity generated exceptional footfall through Underdog – a wonderful mixture of…. lovers of photography….. railway arch buffs ….. tourists just passing ….. the Chairman of Network Rail … Even a couple of ex-Fleet Street darkroom printers who had come to see “real photographs”! I’m glad to say they were very complimentary about my work.
I was delighted that several of my photographic subjects came to the show to see ‘their’ photographs. It gave me great pleasure seeing their reactions to the final printed image.
The Under Tracks Exhibition at The Underdog Gallery, London Bridge.
BBC Radio London, Friday 23rd June 2017 at 13.00hrs
The Final Shot for Under Tracks
With just less than a month before the Under Tracks exhibition at Underdog, I finally get to one of the truly unique arch locations in London, Flying Fantastic in Southwark.
I first went there shortly after they opened last Autumn, and decided that I needed as much natural light as possible – hence waiting until this Spring.
Flying Fantastic? It’s an aerial gym (think trapeze artists etc.). Edel, the owner, had organized four of her finest aerial exponents for this shoot and brilliant, just brilliant, they were. Lisa, Vicky, Ali and Danyelle performed with lithe dexterity many metres in the air, whilst I shot from the safety of the floor.
A great photographic session to end this project.
South-east to Nunhead
Another visual omission from Under Tracks is a garden centre. My internet research of London SE15 reveals one such business near Nunhead Station, so that is where we start today.
Peter at The Nunhead Gardener stands in his leafy surroundings as I click the shutter. He tells me his little arches were once part of the original Nunhead Station, which is now located across the road.
At Peckham Queens Road, we meet Simon carefully polishing a Lotus car. No, it’s not another auto business… Heist Vintage and Antique renovate and restore model cars for small children – the type that a child would pedal along on the pavement. They are beautiful examples which I’m only too happy to photograph.
Walthamstow to Wanstead
This is going to be a long days trek. We pick up the railway arches to the west of Hoe Street, as we walk south towards Leyton Midland Road. It’s not too long before we meet Nick, a props builder, at Rule One Productions. He makes props for stage productions and gladly poses with a fine example of his work.
Beyond Leytonstone High Road we find one of the most interesting arches I’ve come across on this project. The couple in the arch are making three dimensional works of art for sale in a gallery in Paris. The art we see being produced is a 3D revolver that is maybe 6 feet across. The form of the gun is made of variously coloured pentels, of differing lengths, glued on their ends to stand vertically. Amazing! Unfortunately I cannot say who the artist is, as he has a ‘no-publicity’ contract with the French gallery. I did capture the scene, but I’m not sure that I will be able to use the photograph because of his contractual obligations.
As we near Wanstead Flats, the railway arches run nearby rows of terraced houses. The Wanstead Tap is their local watering-hole. Probably very busy in the evenings and at the weekends. It is dark in here…. lo-lo lighting, so I use the tripod and Pentax67 hoping for the best. Just down the road (or tracks) we smell food, and meet Despina and Fani in their kitchen at Pan’s Greek Food. The girls are preparing traditional Greek dishes for a function the next day.
The arches continue towards Wanstead station, but it’s now late, so we head off home – the end of a good days work.
Made in Chelsea
Halfway down the King’s Road in Chelsea is the Michael Hoppen Gallery at Jubilee Place. A “must visit” here as there is a Jacques-Henri Lartigue exhibition on. JHL (1894–1986) started taking photographs as an eight-year-old. In 2004 the Haywood Gallery in London had a huge Lartigue show that showed both his “albums” and his masterful prints. This photographic journey through his life recorded his transformation from a “snapper” to a fine-art photographer. I’ve been hooked on Lartigue ever since…
A short hop down to the other end of the King’s Road to the TfL arches around Putney Bridge. On the corner of the New King’s Road and Hurlingham Road, the Harrington Porterarch catches my eye. The interior is stylishly designed and sympathetic lighting emphasises their intersecting arches. Marie-Sophie arranges some flowers as I capture the scene using the Nikon FE hand-held. Literally underneath Putney Bridge Station we meet David rubbing down a wooden table outside his Fabweld arch. A complete contrast from my previous shot but the railway arches in Putney are nothing but diverse!
Crossing the Thames on the footbridge we arrive at the King’s Arches near Putney Bridge Road. The arch is full of wood dust but the visually pleasing joinery workshop of Todi and Boys looks good. Csaba is making a bespoke window frame. Next door, a business that my research for this trip had flagged up. Zinc White “frame pictures, prints and objects” and their lovely arch is easily the lightest one that I’ve had the pleasure to shoot in. I can shoot at 1/250th here. Bliss! Natural light abounds with sunshine streaming in both front and back. I had pre-visualised my photograph here… so I asked Ian if he would oblige. They found the largest dark coloured frame in the place and held it aloft, with their heads within the picture frame. The framers framed! Thanks Sofie, Ian and Michael.
Food, Glorious Food!
Last November, I visited the arches to the north of South Bermondsey and became aware of an expanding stretch of “foodie” arches that traded on Saturdays… Time for a revisit?
Dynamic Vines in the old Spa Station arches was the first stop. I had pre-visualised the shot here, and Laura and one of her customers, Guillaume, were happy to sample a wine or two with me clicking the shutter. A great shot that I’m particularly pleased with. Next, to the Ice Cream Union. Again a positive response and a fine image captured as Sara offered us a free cornet (yummy!) for being involved. Thanks Sara.
At the Dockley Road arches, the customers and tourists were plentiful on this sunny Saturday morning. I’m constantly aware that I have to vary my photographs, and Jonah and Chun were willing to chat away with their heads appearing behind a graphic display of Kernel Brewery bottles. Just next door, a big queue –“Wait here to be served” – at The Ham and Cheese Company. I lurked until the composition looked just right… Click! Another candid shot taken adjacent at Crown & Queue who sell cured and prepared meats. Then to The London Honey Company where Charlie was not happy at me recording his display of honey jars until he had re-arranged it all! We learnt a lot here about how their different honeys are sourced. A great stretch of arches and some superb scenes captured.
Next to familiar territory as we walk along Enid Street… and find another new micro-brewery. The punters were outside enjoying a beer in the sunshine at BB№ (Brew By Numbers). Again, candid shots here worked best.
Then a surprise revisit to Scooterworks. Their café has only been open a few weeks, in the adjacent arch to where all the scooters are sold and repaired. I knew immediately that this café was going to make a great photo location, and the two young lads serving, Kyle and Vicente, beavered away whilst I reeled off a few frames using the Pentax 67 on the tripod.
Then on to Druid Street, which was busy as it was lunchtime and the foodie and brewery outlets were thronging. At Ropewalk we lunched in the arches at the St. JOHN Restaurant. I’ve mentioned previously the need to vary my shots, and here was another opportunity. I asked the maître d’ if he and the two waitresses would pose under their chalkboard menu. Jose agreed, and Lucy and Rosie joined him. A lovely atmospheric shot that adds the visual breadth that this project requires.
Way Out West…
Most of the 4,400 arches in London are owned by Network Rail, but the ones below the Underground tracks (where the tracks are above ground!) are the property of Transport for London (TfL).
The arches on the District/Piccadilly Lines that stretch between Turnham Green and Hammersmith are TfL, so we start our day in the leafy, genteel surroundings of Stamford Brook.
Firstly, two revisits… The Arch Studios Rehearsal Rooms and next door Arch 197, a dance studio. On to the W6 Gym with a lovely south-facing glass frontage. Next, to one of my “must-have” arches – The Laura Sevenus Swimming Tuition Pool in Wilson Walk. Veronika, the receptionist, shows us around, but I will need permission to shoot here from the owner*. The actual pool is amazing. It is situated on the mezzanine floor!
Further towards Ravenscourt Park, I see another auto repair arch that catches my eye. The Citroën Dyane alongside a BMW on a ramp will look good in my shot. Xavier (Xavier Autoclinic) is very happy for me to shoot here… “Go for it, Ted!”
Almost at Hammersmith in Cambridge Grove, we find another Crossfit arch, Crossfit Hammersmith. This one is full of “youngsters” pumping iron on a weights circuit. A nice scene to shoot – I know I’ll get blur with all that movement, this is a gym after all.
A few arches along we find Nicholas, a sculptor/ceramicist, working. A magnificent “arty” arch – his latest ceramics are lined up on benches. If I’m lucky I might even catch an Underground train going past in a small window at the top of the arch on the back wall of his studio?
A long walk next along the disappointing Shepherds Bush Market arches, past the old BBC TV Centre, towards Latimer Road. Nothing unusual here in the market, and all the arches have interior ceilings. But the walk is well worth it, as near Latimer Road Station I find a backdrop in an arch to compliment a shot I’ve taken earlier in the project.
It is another auto repair arch – actually only the third one I’ve shot in – but this one, Jack’s Garage, features a front (and only the front) of a VW Camper bus high on the walls. This scene will work superbly with my earlier shot at Scooterworks in Bermondsey, which has the fronts of two scooters on the exterior of the arch. Vaidas explains that he is busy, so I return to the garage at 8 a.m. the following morning, when his workshop is clear of vehicles. I shoot many frames on my Nikon FE and Pentax 67, as Vaidas works on an engine.
*I do get permission to shoot at the Sevenus Pool, so I return a few weeks later with my three “models” to photograph them in the water at this truly unique and amazing railway arch.
From E8 to V8s…
Last October we visited Hackney Downs and came across a vodka distillery being built in a railway arch – hopefully it is finished now, so time for a revisit?
Even though we’ve cold-called, Jack and Matt at Our London Vodka invite us in to their brand-spanking new premises and show us around. The distilling arch is full of stainless-steel tanks with reflections etc., so a great backdrop for monochrome work using the Pentax 67 on a tripod.
As we are in the area we also revisit Dog Villas on Bohemia Place – why won’t those dogs sit still?! Phoebe poses gracefully along with (only) some of the dogs! Just along the arches, the lads at Pressure Drop Brewing are sitting outside their arch having lunch in the early spring sunshine. A perfect scene… not all my shots need to be of people actually working. This is life in the railway arches.
Next off on the bus to the Mile End/Bow Common area, and a long stretch of arches here. At Laura Kuy Flowers, Rebecca and Catherine are arranging hi-end flowers for hi-end hotels in London. Almost next door Steven and his team at SYFM Furnishings are busy making curtains and upholstery for more hi-end clients – Russian oligarchs!
We’ve seen many auto servicing arches on our travels, but this is one that ticks my box. Paul at Prestige Autocare smiles as he leans into the back of a Porsche he is servicing. Great shot!
At the very end of this stretch, nearly at Bow Triangle, we come across a really interesting artisans arch. Mark is making his bespoke furniture and Darcy, inventor/designer, is at his workbench – his many tools lined up on the wall above him. These two guys, for me, typify the diversity of the arches today: a complete contrast from the gentrified offices in Wootton Street at Waterloo East, say, but this is what my Under Tracks project is all about. Over a cup of tea we chat away, and photograph Mark and Darcy at work in their homely surroundings.
A great ending to a great days work.
It is the first bright Friday of the year as we set off again into uncharted territory from Camden Road station.
Near the station on Randolph Street, we find a guy painting what look like garden screens. It turns out these are high-end props for events, and this is the workshop arch for By Appointment Only Design – a flower shop in Chiltern Street W1 who provide a flower service for wedding and event planning.
A few streets away in Prowse Place the arches are 21st-century plate glass. Here is the smart furniture showroom of Warren Evans. I recognise the logo from their ads in the Sunday colour supplements.
As we turn north across Hawley Street we start to smell cooking. It turns out to be the aroma of chocolate. In a series of arches belonging to Yotam Ottolenghi (one of our favourite chefs) are Javed, Agnieszka, Maite and Colleen busy preparing Chocolate Crunch for Yotam’s restaurants. I take many shots here, including some of Yotam tasting one of his creations.
Just above Kentish Town West station we detect another aroma, but this time it is the smell of hops. These are the many arches of the Camden Town Brewery, and I’m able to record Kayleigh and Paul working, preparing a trial beer.
The daylight hours are still quite short in February, but in Wilkin Street Mews, Lunar Cycles have a workshop arch. Using the Pentax 67, I capture Derlon servicing a bike – the perfect ‘model’ for my last shot of a long day.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
Up the Downs and Down the Fields…
I’m told there are over 4,000 railway arches in (Greater?) London and I’m sure a high proportion of them are used by the motor industry. In eight months, I must have peered into a few hundred such ‘motor arches’, but at C&D motors in Andre Street, Hackney Downs I found an ideal and visually interesting location for monochrome photography. Panel sprayers require good lighting, so the banks of horizontal fluorescent tubes here provided a very graphic backdrop for my shots.
Under the arches near the station, we find Champions Boxing Club where Mark was enthusiastic for me to capture their surroundings for Under Tracks.
On to Bohemia Place at Hackney Central, where we discover Dog Villas… a ‘pooch-sitting’ service for dog owners. Jessica handles the 10 or 12 dogs milling around the arch with ease, but as many a photographer knows, children and animals spell challenging!
Lunch at the Bohemia Café. Nice shots here!
Gentrification has hit (literally) the arches at Hackney Central in an area to be renamed Hackney Fashion Hub. I’m at least a year too late at these arches in Morning Lane, as long stretches have either been fitted with plate glass fascias (for the smart shops), or boarded up to house the contractors supplies and equipment. I shoot nonetheless. These are the railway arches as they today in 2015 – wheelbarrows and cement mixers. Maybe I’ll return towards the end of this project, by which time the new designer shops in the arches might be open?
Walking south, I retrace the steps of my first Under Tracks day out to Mentmore Terrace at London Fields. I had shot outside the e5 Bakehouse, but this time I was welcomed inside to photograph the interior.
The day ends in Paradise Row in Bethnal Green. The Row contains just five bars and restaurants in large, wide arches. Mother Kelly’s (‘On Mother Kelly’s doorstep, down Paradise Row…’ goes the lyric), Paradise Garage and Mission provide good photographic opportunities here for me.
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!
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.
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…
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…
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.
Up the Junction!
This triangle of overhead track at Loughborough Junction, east of Brixton, initially looked uninspiring. How wrong could I be! A few highlights…
I found James at JB Cabs, in Padfield Road, relaxing outside his arch at the end of a hard week’s work. Click! One of my best images so far.
Then, hidden away down an alley, Miguel’s Boxing Gym; a ring backlit by an arch-wide window; low light, moving boxers, fast film – a challenge!
Next, a meeting with Anne at Meanwhile Space CIC, where I discovered another facet to London’s Railway Arches. CIC? Community Interest Company. They are working at Loughborough Junction to ‘activate empty spaces while they wait to fulfil their longer term purpose’, thus providing a very useful first-home to start-up companies. Visited a few… The Edible Bus Stop organisation ‘transforms neglected sites across the UK’s transport hubs into valuable community growing spaces’. Their arch was jammed full of plants… however, my shots didn’t quite work, so another addition to the re-visit list.
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…
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.
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…
A Shot in the Dark…
My A5 Calling Card
By April, this project was gaining momentum and my experiences so far made me decide to produce an A5 flyer on Under Tracks, that could be my ‘calling card’. I would hand it out to everyone I approached.
It’s turned out to be a brilliant idea, as I feel it immediately puts me in a positive position. It explains it all… and they can keep it to check out the project and me. People have even looked at the thumbnails of the shots taken so far and recognised the locations.
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.
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.
Racked with Grief…
On the first clear Friday in February 2015, I started the long walk beneath the railway tracks from Liverpool Street, east to Bethnal Green, then north through London Fields to Hackney Downs – my first outing on my new Under Tracks project.
And an interesting journey it was… I didn’t think it would be easy, but I didn’t quite expect the flack I got for taking photographs at a few of the arch businesses in the dodgier parts of Bethnal Green. I had not thought it through, but this is the turf where the ‘underworld’ may work? The guys (and dolls?) who maybe shouldn’t be working in the UK at all? On the journey home, I did seriously think about whether this was going to be a worthwhile photographic project.
However, it wasn’t a fruitless exercise, as from this one trip I did capture one lovely image – Wilco Engineering in Cambridge Heath Road – and several others that looked pretty good.