Auggie Wren’s Hackney Story

‘If you don’t take the time to look, you’ll never manage to see anything’

Okay so I didn’t see much. Not much that will set the rapidly morphing world of photo journalism ablaze anyway. Taking one photo of Hackney Central every minute for twelve minutes probably didn’t leave enough freedom to capture any but the most fortunate ‘decisive moments‘. But the above axiom – a quote from Paul Auster’s tale, ‘Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story’ – still stands. In the short story, based on true events allegedly, a cigar-selling protagonist – Auggie – describes how he has taken a photo of the same spot on the same street at the same time every day for twelve years. Auggie has collected every photo, shot daily at seven in the morning, into one album for every one of the twelve years he has been snapping.

This is where I took my inspiration. Hackney Central was to be my street corner. It is an oppressed nerve-jangled melting pot bustling with evacuation shuttles and ridden with the unlucky, waiting only it seems to pass through. It is at once open – St John at Hackney Church giving way to it’s cemetery – and claustrophobic, the narrow space like a jam jar of buses, trains and people. Yet it seems to relish its work and performs all that is asked of it. If I had nothing else on in life then I sincerely think it would be a street corner worthy of twelve years of ebbing and tiding photography. As it was I had a day. My day off. A really cold day at that. A day to stand outside and capture this frenetic amalgam. I’d planned on an hour. One hour of a photo every minute. I set out with borrowed big camera (for today I was a serious photographer and the world should know) and a makeshift mono-pod – born a poster tube to die a poster tube but for one day it glimpsed a Blow-Up existence.

After wandering Hackney Central for my gaze – outside Pizza Hut? Nah. Too far away from all the action and reaction. Near the Church? Yeah, near the Church, I can tie that in to Walter Benjamin’s recently read theories on ritual values of art if these pic’s turn out to be  supremely dull – I found my spot. So it began. Snap One. Idiot. Forgotten my watch. Oh it’s okay I have my phone. Snap Two. The sky is looking sweet today. Snap Three. Wow its cold, one hour here you say? Snap Four. Why did I choose an hour? Where did I pluck that from again? Snap Five. I’m hungry and I need a wee. Snap Six. If Auggie took photo’s for twelve years couldn’t I take them for twelve minutes? Snap Seven. Genius. Snap Eight, Nine, Ten. Do I go to Marks & Sparks or McDonalds for lunch? Good or Evil? Snap Eleven. All this wool I have on is doing nothing. Snap Twelve. Done, right I’ll go to Marks and Sparks for a smoothie, that’s one of my five, and McDonalds for fries and cheeseburger. £2, bargain. It’s fine I’ve been to the gym today, I deserve it, it’s cold. Plus they have a toilet. Great.

For artistic suffering I took three sets of twelve that afternoon, scouring the narrow way for vantage points, and hoping for odd folk and incident. Then I remembered incident wasn’t really the point. In the story Auggie invites Auster to look at his work. Auster is initially underwhelmed, ”All the pictures were the same. The whole project was a numbing onslaught of repetition”. After a few minutes of feigned appreciation, Auggie blurts, ‘You’re going too fast, you’ll never get it if you don’t slow down’. Only then does Auster begin to realise the hidden beauty in Auggie’s photography, and I’ll leave you with his wondrous moment of enlightenment…

‘And then little by little, I began to recognize the faces of the people in the background, the passers-by on their way to work, the same people in the same spot every morning, living an instant of their lives in the field of Auggie’s camera. Once I got to know them, I began to study their postures, the way they carried themselves from one morning to the next, trying to discover their moods from those surface indications, as if I could imagine stories for them, as if I could penetrate the invisible dramas locked inside their bodies. I picked up another album. I was no longer bored, no longer puzzled as I had been at first. Auggie was photographing time, I realized, both natural time and human time, and he was doing it by planting himself  in one tiny corner of the world and willing it to be his own, by standing guard in the space he had chosen for himself’.

Check my slideshow over on Flickr

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