London Dérives

Just published today, after much gnashing of my few remaining teeth, is a book of pictures taken on my rather aimless wanderings around London in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Well, not exactly aimless, but mainly walked with no particular destination in mind.

In those days, before the Travelcard, most of my walks were circular in nature, starting and finishing at the same station, and these starting points were also largely determined by those places to which it was possible to book a ticket from my closest station. When I did venture further it was a matter of buying two or three  or more separate tickets in the course of the journey.

London Dérives (or as Blurb will have it, being a US based company ‘London Derives’) ISBN 978-1-909363-08-3 contains 73 of my black and white pictures and the best way to buy it is to download the PDF version which is currently only £4.00, less than my usual price. You can of course see the preview and at the moment a full preview is on-line, though I may cut down the number  of pages visible in a few days. Viewed full-screen it is almost as good as the PDF, although I hope some readers will download this as it does make a donation to keeping this site running as well as to Blurb – and they take Paypal as well as plastic.

For most of the 1960s I was a student, and very much involved in the events of 1968, although things were a little quieter in Manchester than in Paris. But among our bedside reading at that time was ‘The Society of the Spectacle‘, a translation of Guy Debord’s 1967 La Société du spectacle.  When a few years later I had the time and money to start taking photographs, this was one of my text books for how to approach contemporary life with a camera. Twelve years earlier Debord had written ‘Introduction a une critique de la geographie urbaine‘ and in the main text of London Dérives I quote from this and his Theory of the Dérive.

One problem with Debord is that his thought was very French, and translations into English often lose the struggle, ending up with something that is in English but make little sense. London Dérives has a new translation of one often quoted key passage from his ‘urban geography’ that talks about his idea of the dérive (it’s sometimes useful being married to a linguist, though any mistakes are almost certainly mine.)  Like the published works of the Situationists, this short translation (but certainly not the rest of the book) is issued with an ‘anti-copyright’ message – it can be shared freely and without any need to attribute. Here it is:

The sudden change of mood in a street over only a few metres;
the obvious division of a city into clear-cut areas of mental
climate; the steepest slope – in no way connected to the
contours – down which aimless strolling will be led; the
captivating or repellent nature of certain places, all this seems
to be neglected. Or at any rate never considered as depending
on reasons that can be brought to light by a thorough analysis
and turned to advantage. People are aware that there are
gloomy districts and others that are pleasant. But they usually
convince themselves that the elegant streets give a sense of
satisfaction and that the poor ones depress, hardly any more
nuanced than that. In fact, the variety of possible combinations
of moods, just like the solution of chemical substances
into an infinite number of mixtures, leads to feelings as diverse
and as complex as those brought on by any other type of
spectacle. And even the most basic objective scrutiny shows
the impossibility of formulating a qualitative or quantitative
distinction between the influences of the diverse built
environments in a city based solely on the period or style of
architecture, much less on the living conditions.

Introduction à une critique de la géographie urbaine
Guy Debord, 1955

It took many hours of work to get the pictures ready, with some images needing around an hour and a half of detailed retouching, thanks to my negative files having been infested by tiny insects some years ago. Too small to see clearly with the naked eye, the remains of these insects and  the tracks they left chewing up the gelatin are only too obvious in enlargements. Fortunately after retouching they are generally not visible in the images in the book. It was also an opportunity to remove some of the other oddities we often got with film, and in most cases the images in the book are the best I have ever made from these negatives.

In the period covered by this book I made approximately 30,000 negatives, mainly in London. Some of these were on projects which are the subject of other books – such as ‘Before the Olympics’ on the Lea Valley and forthcoming volumes on Docklands, the River Thames, post-industrial London etc, and I have not included pictures from these areas in this work. As well as the 73 images that made it to the book, there are roughly twice as many that I scanned but were not selected. I’m thinking about making a set of the best of these these available to purchasers of the book (print or PDF) as a low cost supplement.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


2 Responses to “London Dérives”

  1. I think more likely I’ll put a web site up with more pictures than the book when I have time.

  2. […] from film, but a few months ago changed over to using Lightroom. Both my two most recent books, London Dérives and City to Blackwall, have been made from a Lightroom catalogue containing my 16bit archive […]

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