Here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago as part of a public art project funded by the arts council. We started with the question of ‘what makes a place’ in response to a massive shopping centre being built in our home town, then headed off on a series of psychogeographically inspired derives over the course of 18 months.
Went walking with Nick Papadimitriou on Saturday along the Southern Outfall Sewer for our radio show on Resonance fm. Shot this near Thamesmead Estate when Nick was dreaming that somewhere up in one of the tower blocks dwelt a fellow deep topographer chronicling the local landscape and lore.
What a life W. G. Moore led. What a hero. This biography comes from A Dictionary of Geography, published by Penguin in 1949. From teaching to writing a Geography of Capitalism in 1938, when such a concept would have been radical but without the kudos it would attract today. Founder of the meteorological service for Persia – maybe I’m drawn to this as it sounds exotic, but here is a man who started life at the Grammar School in Burton-on-Trent. He was not a man to rest on his laurels as he then went on to write such essential tomes as The World’s Wealth, The Soil We Live On, and Adventures in Geography.
We don’t know whether he preferred gin or scotch, but we can guess that he would have donned a tweed in the English winter and tropical khaki in Persia. We salute you and your uncelebrated endeavours.
I like to imagine there is a spirit that guides my fugues at times – that rewards me for surrendering to its lure. The rewards come in the shape of stumbling into unexpected corners of the city at the end of unpromising schleps. But sometimes they come in the form of books. Today I succumbed to the fugue and found these four books virtually side by side on the same charity shop shelf.
Rising in the East (1996) unlocked the door. A book of essays on East End regeneration written in a pre-Cool Britannia London – when to talk of a renaissance of the East may still have sounded optimistic or opportunistic. The first eager read turned up an essay on the importance of the North London Line Overground train at a time when it was fighting for its life. I skimmed the first few pages of this thesis as I glided eastwards from Haringey to Leyton on one of the brand new trains running on the 160- year old line. ‘Traversing the Great Divide: The North London Line and East London’ the essay is grandly titled, by Bruce Jerram and Richard Wells, and such is their passion apparent for the NLL that they produced this brilliant diagram demonstrating how it arcs West – East across the capital, or as it was viewed at the time from “a rich desirable west to a poor, dull, possibly dangerous east”. With the stations being upgraded, gleaming pre-graffiti trains and the East London Olympics at the end of the North London Line, it looks like they won their argument.
The Romance of London from 1910. The first pages pouring cold water of talk of the myth of King Lud but all the same acknowledging Tacitus’s observations that in AD61 he finds London “celebrated for the gathering of dealers and commodities”. A Roman refuting the idea that the Romans founded our city.
A guide to Camden written at the height of Britpop and an archeological examination of the relationship between town and country in Roman Britain (wonder whether urban sprawl was an issue back then?)
I saw some of the brilliant photos from this book when Peter Marshall did a presentation at Invisible Cities. They really resonated with me as that was the year I first moved to London as a scruff-bag student.
Here’s the blurb for the book:
‘1989’ claims to be Chapter 1 of a book based on the notes made by the photographer on a walk through the streets of northeast London with a well-known author of ‘psycho-geographical’ works.
But the author is entirely fictional, and the notes, written in 2005, after his death and sixteen years after the pictures were taken are in part a gentle spoof on psycho-geography but more importantly a reflection on photography and the documentary process.
Peter Marshall has been photographing London since the 1970s and had his first one-person museum show more than 25 years ago. His work is in various collections including the Museum of London.
From 1999-2007 he became known around the world for his critical writing about photography as the ‘About.com’ Photography guide.
He set up his first web site in 1995 and has continued to have a high profile with web sites of his work on the ‘Lea Valley’, ‘London’s Industrial Heritage’, ‘The Buildings of London’ and ‘My London Diary’ as well as the ‘>Re:PHOTO’ blog.