Pure Genius – Only 13 Years One Month late

I’m not sure now why the virtually only pictures I took at the ‘Pure Genius’ land occupation in 1996 were made on a swing lens panoramic camera. Perhaps there was something about the open spaces of that site – now occupied by tall luxury riverside flats – that made me want to think panoramic.  But I exposed two complete rolls of film in the Horizon – 42 exposures, and just 5 black and white images, I think on a Leica.

© 1996 Peter Marshall
‘Pure Genius’ site, May 1996

The site was a large one, 13 acres, and by the time I took these pictures on May 6 the activists from ‘The Land is Ours‘ had already begun to transform the site, erecting buildings and preparing the land to grow crops.

I was reminded of this 13 years on by the news that a group inspired by this earlier ‘The Land is Ours’ action had occupied a long empty and overgrown site next to Kew Bridge as the Kew Eco-Village.  I took a little detour to walk past there and take a look on my way home on Sunday but as nothing much seemed to be happening and I didn’t want to miss my train home (only hourly on Sundays) I didn’t try to make contact. Perhaps I’ll return another time when more is happening.

You can watch a video of the occupation, look at a local blog, Here Be Dragons (I met The Dragon – and Green Dragon Lane is just a few yards away)  and follow KewEcoVillage on Twitter and there is a Facebook group too.

I made some quick scans from the 1996 pictures and have put nine of them on My London Diary . They aren’t great scans, as I made them like contact sheets, with the negs still in their filing sheets, so they are a bit dusty and a few of the negs were not quite flat…  And using the Epson V750, some of these colour negs are a little too dense to give good scans,  correct colour balance is murder, and you get some light leakage around the edges… Considering everything they are not bad at all on screen.

The Wandsworth/Battersea Guinness site remained empty for years after the TLIO occupation was ended forcibly after five and a half months. Eight years later, in June 2004, I returned and took this picture of the new flats that were going up, and work was still going on on the last block on the site last year.

© 2004 Peter Marshall
Former ‘Pure Genius’ site, June 2004

The 1.8 acre site next to Kew Bridge has been empty and awaiting development since it was cleared in 1992. It should be a local scandal given the housing shortages (and high prices) in the area that the local council hasn’t stepped in at some point and taken over the land for social housing. Given the current economic climate, it seems unlikely that the current owners, St George West London Ltd, who bought the site in 2003, will be able to start  building in the near future.

Their first planning application was turned down, and their second made last year for a 2 acre site including the next door pub includes a new pub, shops, offices and 170 residential units has not yet been approved. You can read more about the proposed development and its problems on the Strand on the Green site.

The Horizon that I bought cheaply around 1996 produces negatives around 56x24mm and they have a horizontal angle of view of approximately 120 degrees. The rotating lens produces what I think is called a cylindrical perspective. It has a nice clear viewfinder that is not 100% accurate but pretty good for it’s type and very bright. The built-in spirit level appears in the viewfinder making it easy to use this camera hand-held – for many pictures getting the camera level is essential, as otherwise the horizon will be nicely curved. When the camera is used upright, all vertical lines remain straight, but any non-verticals that do not pass through the centre of the image will be curved.

Incidentally you can still buy a very slightly updated version of the Horizon, the Horizon 202 (there are other models too) either under its own name or marketed as a Lomo. The difference is in the price – and possibly the guarantee – and of course you don’t get to call your pictures Lomographs, which may be an advantage.

I bought a replacement Horizon on eBay a couple of years ago for about half the cost of the equivalent Lomo in the bookshop of a well-known London gallery. The first lasted me around ten years of fairly regular use – several hundred films at least, though it had needed some minor repairs that I’d been able to make myself. Not bad value for a panoramic camera costing well under under £200 (now just slight over since the pound has gone down.)

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