Picture Research with the SMJ’s 2

For the past couple of weeks the SMJ’s and I have been looking for images to include in The Freeword Centre’s forthcoming exhibition on Politics and the Olympics. We have been briefed to look for two things: (a) images that reflect some of the controversy surrounding the development of the Lower Lea Valley and (b) images that illustrate how Londoners often identify with more than one nation.

I found (b) harder than (a). I feel like maybe (b) is more of a brief for taking photographs, rather than finding them. It’s easy to find images of ‘multiculture’ in London – but harder to show what multi-culture means for people’s sense of belonging and national identity. How do you show that in a photo? Tough.

Here’s what I managed:

More Iranian Caviar

Credit: Hottwist

For the images surrounding the ‘regeneration’ of the Lower Lea Valley I found myself drawn to the work of many of the artists and photographers who have responded to and documented the process of change around Stratford and Hackney Wick since London was awarded the Games in 2005. For this I was helped greatly by the See Studios Exhibition list [Check out Giles Price recent amazing photos of The Olympic Park, and Jim Woodall’s Olympic State which turned the CCTV back on the park]  the work of Hilary Powell, Isaac Morrero  and the links provided by the London 2012 pressure group Games Monitor.

I was struck by the similarity of these two images. The first is a still from Hilary Powell’s film The Games, and the second is from Alberto Duman’s series We Sell Boxes, We Buy Gold.




By absurdly juxtapositioning perfect flesh, with industrial grot they remind us that change and transformation is a hard & messy business. Although it’s a seductive idea, that politicians are so keen to sell us, the past cannot be conjured away and our current circumstances cannot be transformed easily. Maybe I’m reading too much into these images, but I think they’re also about people being ‘distracted’ from where power really lies in big events-led, regeneration. Critics would say that big events appeal to lots of people – but they benefit big business.

There’s definitely something similar about the way the Velodrome rises up in this picture that Sam took on his walk around the park.

I really like Gesche Wuerfel’s ‘Go For Gold’ series. I guess these photos are important because they show that the Lower Lea Valley had some charm – it wasn’t just a wasteland. But then again – in the same way that (i think) we have been lead to believe that there is alot more ‘park’ in the Olympic Park than there actually is, these photos are also a propaganda of their own kind – there was a whole load of junk, grime around too. Which is romanticized in some of these photos by Alessandra Chila – the one with the children in the sun-bleached grass looks positively pastoral. Stephen Gill’s project ‘Archaeology in Reverse’ is worth a look too. Look out for the the fish.

For more straight up documentary see: Chris Dorley-Brown. I like his series that compares Lea Valley vistas old and new. This one makes these new flats by the Lea Navigation appear positively monstrous compared to what was there before.

canal corner, hackney wick 1999-2011

Then there’s Peter Marshall who has documented the Lower Lea Valley since the early 1980s – lot’s of skank here. I also really like Diamond Geezer’s comprehensive photo-linked walks which give you a step by step feel for what this place used to be like.

Hmm. So that’s my lot. For (a) I think I’d probably pick Alberto Duman’s picture for the show. Maybe alongside Sam’s photo of the velodrome rising up behind the motorway. For (b) I guess I’m probably stuck with the flags.

Hopefully the rest of the SMJs have come up with something a bit more inspiring.

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