Culture Calls

Looking back at around 15 years of My London Diary I’m very much aware that the main focus of my photographic work has shifted from a broader cultural perspective towards the more narrowly political. In part the reasons for this have to do with changes in society and the outside pressures and the great increase in grass roots political activity over those years, and in part they reflect changes in my own political perceptions.

First there was the increasing frustration with the failure of a Labour government to put forward Labour policies, continuing basically Thatcherite policies under Blair and then Brown. Then we had the remorseless austerity of the coalition and and Cameron years, before the national interest was sacrificed to Tory in-fighting with the Brexit referendum. Now we see a weak and failing adminstration dedicated to following not the will but the whim of the British people who voted on the promise of the unobtainable .

Of course it isn’t only British issues. The UK and London in particular has always provide a stage for protests for and by the world, in part because of the involvement of this country around the world, probably greater than ever in these post-Empire and post-Colonial days thanks to the devious antics of the City and companies based here.

And thinking about some of the events I used to photograph I perhaps feel I’ve said all I have to say about them. Delightful though it is to photograph – for example – Vaisakhi, I rather feel I’ve taken enough pictures and covered enough of what is essentially the same festival every year. But whatever the reasons, these days I seldom cover the religious and other cultural events which once took up much of my time.

I wouldn’t have bothered to cover the Willesden Green Wassail if I hadn’t had a message from the organiser inviting me to do so.  I’d enjoyed photographing it back in 2014,  and had nothing essential in my diary for that day, so decided to make the journey to photograph it another time. And I enjoyed it again.

Willesden is an interesting area, a part of London that seems very happy with being multicultural, with a borough, Brent, which until hit by the cuts was very intent on celebrating the various festivals of its different groups.

It’s also an area served by a great number of small shops, helped by lower rents than in many areas of London – though this is beginning to change as gentrification creeps in, if more slowly here than in much of London.

A couple of days later came a more political event around culture, organised as a part of a week of actions by trade unions and celebrating some of our cultural institutions and those union members who work in them.

Although our culture celebrates the stars – and rewards them with often astronomical salaries for doing usually what they love to do – and a few months later the BBC was forced to reveal how much it pays its highly paid staff, some of whom clearly don’t deserve it – these stars depend on many others who work in the industry, including some on or close to the minimum wage, and in London in particular below the living wage.

Our tour reminded us of some of these, particularly the workers for Picturehouse, and the continuing fight by those at the Ritzy, in Hackney and elsewhere who are still fighting for a living wage in an industry that makes billions and rewards the stars extravagantly. And in our great public galleries staff are increasingly being replaced by out-sourced workers on low pay, minimal conditions of service and little or no job security. Management are pinching pennies from those who can least afford them, while those at the top get fat salaries – and yachts as leaving presents.

Show Culture some Love
Willesden Green Wassail


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

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