Thursday, 10 January 2008
Following on from the US, China and Indonesia, it's only fair to move on to London - a city where the living environment is being destroyed in the name of development, progress and the Olympics.
Stephen Gill is incredibly productive and has a huge body of work, using a wide range of strategies - toy cameras, collage, rephotography, burying his pictures - to make his work. I'm not always convinced by what he does, but when I am, as in Hackney Flowers for example, it is amazingly fresh, original and beautiful.
It also provides a new perspective on London and captures the soul of a place that is unloved but beautiful and lived in, a counterpoint to the soulless, materialist facadism of the London of the 2012 Olympics, and a reminder that the heart and culture of a city can belong outside the visible and accepted spaces.
As Gill says on his website, "Hackney Wick sits in east London between the Grand Union Canal, the River Lea and the Eastway A106. I first came across the area at the end of 2002 when I was photographing the back of advertising billboards. Although I had lived in London for nine years and thought I knew East London well, Hackney Wick threw me; it completely changed my mental map of this part of London.
My first visit was on a Sunday, to the market which used to take place in the old greyhound/speedway stadium. The vast market was like no other I had seen before. At first glance, apart from few pot plants, most of the items on sale looked like scrap. It was not a market for luxury goods; it seemed to exist for people who were struggling to keep afloat themselves: exhausted white goods, mountains of washing machines and fridges, copper wire and other scrap metals stripped from derelict buildings; piles of old VHS videos which had been forced out of people’s homes to make way for DVDs.
That day I bought a plastic camera at the market for 50p; it had a plastic lens with no focus or exposure controls. I started making pictures with it at once. Over the next two years I visited Hackney Wick again and again. Hackney has long provided a refuge for immigrants and asylum seekers from all over the world and for me Hackney Wick especially reflects the great diversity of London.
The market closed on 13th July, 2003; it had been going for seven years. According to the Trading Standards inspectors it had been swamped with stolen and counterfeit goods. The remains of the old stadium were demolished weeks after the closure as part of the preparations for London’s bid for the 2012 games. The games which will bring many good things to the area: new transport links and much needed infrastructure. But there will be losses, too. There is another side to Hackney Wick. Away from the noise and chaos nature has somehow managed to find and keep a place for itself. The canals and rivers and secret allotments (known only to their dedicated gardeners) are home to many birds and animals. These hidden paradises have a vibrancy of their own which will soon be muted by the dust that will cover them."