Scanning London

TQ1985

A few months back I was lying prone inside a giant metal tube on a flat bed which moved me slowly backwards as successive slices across my body were scanned for the purposes of research, and the CT scan reminded me of a project on London which I began in the 1980s.

Nowadays we are all familiar with the idea of geotagging and some cameras can add geotags to the Exif date as you photograph, while gadgets can be fixed onto other cameras to add the data. Smartphones do the same, as they always track you position. The web site https://www.geograph.org.uk Geograph was set up in 2005 to “collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland” and so far 13,114 contributors have submitted 6,397,064 images covering 280,384 of the 1km grid squares, still leaving around 15% should you wish to strike new ground.

TQ2083

I’ve occasionally added geotags to my own landscape pictures in Lightroom, using a free little phone app by one of my sons, ‘Easy GPS Logger’ which records GPS location and time data to a file. You load this into LR along with the pictures, match up any one of them with a particular place on a map and LR then uses the file to add the information to the other pictures. There are only two problems – remembering to turn on the logger at the start of your walk, and secondly to turn it off when you finish!

TQ1982

Back in 1986, the only way to add location data to your photographs was by hand, using a map to find the grid reference. Of course you had to know where you were to do so. I had the idea of doing a series of South to North cross-sections of London based on the Eastings and Northings of the National Grid using colour negative film.

Rather than attempting a series of south-north walks, I simply took a camera with colour negative film on more normal walks while I was photographing London in black and white, then sent the films for processing and printing 6×4″ enprints. When these came back from processing I’d sort out those I wanted to keep and use a map to find the grid references and add these and the date with a technical pen along the lower edge of the print. The date meant (at least in theory) I could find the negatives in my files.

TQ1683

At first I glued the prints onto card sheets to file them under the grid reference in a set of A4 files, but this soon became tedious and I bought filing sheets which held 8 prints, four on each side. Each of the kilometre grid squares had its own filing sheet, and some soon had several, with the series expanding to fill around a dozen A4 files. Each file holds around 50 double-sided sheets and so could hold around 400 prints, though many sheets are not full, so the project probably has around 3,000 or 4,000 prints.

TQ1978

Of course what was more important were the scenes I chose to photograph. I carried in my wallet a reminder of things I was interested in photographing (an idea picked up from reading a list made by Walker Evans), in a small zipped pocket together with a folded £20 note for emergencies. Of course colour was important, not just for itself, but as an illustration of how and why colour was used, and I had a great interest in representations of people and things, in ethnic differences and in the evolution and fashion of colour.

I can’t remember exactly when I ended the project, though it certainly continued well into the 1990s. But at some point I stopped sending colour negative film to be processed and began developing it myself, and producing enprints wasn’t really an option. Instead I made 8×10″ contact prints and worked from these, producing very many fewer but larger prints.

TQ2080

Over the years I’ve probably published or shown only around a hundred of these pictures, the largest group from 1986-90 in the book dummy and web site ‘Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise

As with my black and white images of London, this is a body of work which I think has a great deal of historical interest as well as some photographic interest and it would be good to see it in some permanent museum or similar collection rather than simply gathering dust on my shelves.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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