Tips and Vauxhall

Thursday April 14th was such a nice day I might have gone out taking pictures just for the joy of a walk in fine spring weather, or perhaps simply enjoyed a bike ride around some of the outskirts of London. But in my diary was a protest by the Unite Hotel Workers outside the Dept of Business, Innovation & Skills which meant a trip into London.

I’m not in favour of tipping. I’m happy to pay the rate for services that others provide, and when I’m providing services for others expect to perform to the best of my ability. Tipping is something which I think demeans those who depend on it and a practice I’d like to see outlawed. Just like other forms of bribery.

But while it – and ‘service charges’ still exist then these monies should go to the people who provide the service, and not simply as just more cash to the employers.  And this is what minister Sajid Javid promised, mandatory rules on tipping in hotels and restuarants that give 100% of tips to staff. The protest was taking place to remind him of that promise, which he has failed to implement.

I like the picture above partly because it has everything in it – the minister’s picture with a statement of his promise, the sign at right that shows where the protest was taking place and the Unite flag.  I like too hte dynamism of the flag – and the hair of the Unite activist at the centre of the image.  It isn’t perfect by any means (and I don’t like ‘perfect’ pictures) but a scene where I realised the possibilities and then spent several minutes and rather a lot of exposures to get a picture that worked, at least for me. You can see a few of my other images at Make Tips Fair.

Since I was coming to London for just one fairly short protest it was an opportunity to do something else I’d been meaning to photograph for a while, in a walk around London’s largest current development area, Vauxhall/Nine Elms/Battersea, indentified back when Ken Livingstone was Mayor as a major ‘opportunity area’.

Progress on its development was slow for some years thanks to the financial crash, but for some time I’d been watching the site and taking occasional pictures, particularly of the new US embassy being built there, as my train took me past on the way to Waterloo.

When I’d walked past on my way along the Thames path back at the start of 2014, there was relatively little to be seen happening apart from a few blocks of new riverside flats, but two years later it was very different. There were now people living in some of those flats, and more new blocks were going up.

Vauxhall seems always to have been a location that has attracted some particularly poor architecture, with the 1960s drab blocks built despite their prominent position on the river not far from Parliament and contirbuting to the Duchy of Cornwall’s coffers.

I’m no great fan of the MI6 building either, though it does have a certain appealing inappropriate oddity.  I’ve always suspected the architect had prepared the initial drawings as a joke and that no-one was more surprised than Terry Farrell when they were given the go-ahead.

And on the other side of the road is St George Wharf, with the distinction of having twice won the Architects’ Journal’s ‘Worst building in the world’ award.

At least the new US Embassy building – in an unfinished state – looks to be less of an eyesore than the current fortress in Grosvenor Square, surely one of London’s uglier buildings despite its distinguished architect. And perhaps by having a moat will be able to avoid the heavy secuirty fence, though doubtless there will still be the armed patrols. It will be a little handier for me to photograph the many protests it will continue to attract, just an easy walk from Vauxhall Station.

The largest part of the development is still inaccessible to the public and to the passing photographer, but generally appears to be fairly mediocre in design. It will I suspect on completion also be a large addition to London’s growing private public space where photography is not allowed.

Vauxhall and Nine Elms



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