Category Archives: Psycho-geography

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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London Loves

London Loves is a blog about what London Loves from Josh Surtees. I have written a piece about one of the things I love about London. The Night. Here is how it starts…

“Beasts of prey and great cities alone in nature remain awake when darkness comes; the one in search of death, the other in search of an extra hour of life” HV Morton

London wears winter well. Why? London loves darkness is why. This sprawl of space and ideas comes to shuddering go when the sun packs up and heads south. In London the stars don’t come out at night in the sky, they come out down here – in the wonder of possibilities. We’ve given up our view of the heavens to look for them in this City. This city that can give or take a night’s sleep. London loves the night as it desires to extract just a little more from life than Nature intended.

The daylight hive of the capital, The Square Mile, dies a lonely nocturnal death – save a few bankers wasting electricity under motion-sensitive lights contemplating deficits/bonuses and probably China – as vitality courses into the surrounding streets of London. From the gaudy doorways of Soho, the thunder-dome of Camden, the meta-hip of Dalston, the unapologetic trash of Shoreditch to the celebs, paps and wannabe-papped of Mayfair, South Ken and Notting Hill, London is, in Ginsberg’s words, ‘’burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night’’.

Read the rest on London Loves

Dérive

To some – call them capitalists, call them the driven, call them names – drifting is a plague. Something to be avoided. Health is motivation and direction. From this we progress. Drifters have holes is the wrong places. To be set adrift; just the phrase is like an unwelcome tickle to the soul. Schoolteachers and mothers are always plotting against the drifters.

Psycho-geographical drift is culturally heralded. Physical and mental wandering reveal that which may otherwise remain hidden, or rather buried beneath the white noise of life’s competing stimulants. Drift denies us the life-defying formulaic narrative of pop culture. Instead it gives us the the dream-like narrative that is a clearer reflection of our reality –  beginnings and ends fade and blend into a fraying yet seamless tapestry. When you drift there is no destination but location is crucial. You may reach states or places that planning and structure will never find. Incremental moments long since greying are as relevant as any occupying rush of the present. Insignificant glimpses of your past appear as bursts of colour; forgotten clips re-appear as fireworks in your mind having gathered no dust in storage. Illumination bleaches your being before it too fades.

Drifting is calmness but drifting can be sadness. At once detached from the self and consumed by it, your insignificance is clearer as the existence of everything ever, both past and present, muddies egotistical belief.

Patrick Keiller’s film ‘London‘ brought this on.

Keiller’s film follows an imaginary protagonist, Robinson, around the capital in the early 90’s. Blurring documentary with fiction, the miserablist London on show here is almost unimaginable to any contemporary inhabitant. 1992, the Tories win again; London seems set for further decline. The invocation of dead French poets lend a mournful context to the city’s hopeless state. IRA bombs wreck the Thatcherite financial utopia – The City – in a flash, whilst socialist dreams of harmony tune out more gradually. Faded grandeur and the charm of decay strike tenderly through the gloom but this is a beautifully pessimistic series of walks through LDN. Recommended.

Keiller held a Q&A session at The Barbican after the screening last week. I really wanted to ask him what his favourite walk through London was. Sadly the director’s ability to answer a question is in tune with his meandering films. Only a few questions were put to him before our time was up and the moment was lost.

So what are your favourite walks in London? Or bus routes? Or cycle rides? Or vantage points ? For me you can’t beat a bridge at night on a bicycle. Let me know yours, I’d like to see for myself.