Grenfell – 18 months

Eighteen months after the terrible fire so little seems to have been done. No real changes to the systems that made it possible. No prosecutions of those responsible for making the tower into a fire-trap and for ignoring or taking steps to silence residents who pointed out the problems. A council that still seems to be failing its duty of care towards the local community, particularly those still in temporary accomodation. None of the government promises kept. No one held to account.

The inquiry has revealed some horrific details, but also seems to have been used to try to push blame onto the firefighters, who made heroic efforts at the scene of the crime, and is widely seen as trying to push any real action longer and longer into the future, hoping that people will forget. Which is why these monthly marches really matter, with thousands marching through the streets carrying green candles, green Grenfell hearts and wearing green scarves to keep the memory alight

But while of course many still suffer the trauma and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives, perhaps the response is now too passive and it’s time to make a lot more noise than this monthly silent walk.  Some feel their real purpose is to divert people from more active resistance.

It isn’t an easy event to photograph. This walk started at Kensington Town Hall, where the yard is at best gloomy. A few people have a very negative attitude to the media and one man followed me for some time telling me I shouldn’t be taking pictures. It remains a rather emotional event, and I try hard not to aggravate anyone’s distress, but it’s hard not to be affected. None of my friends died in Grenfell, but I meet a number of people I know who were friends of some of the victims, and sometimes find my eyes full of tears as I try to frame an image.

It gets a little easier once the walk starts, not least because there is more light on the streets. Most of these pictures were taken with the lenses wide open at around f4, with shutter speeds varying from around 1/8 to 1/50th at ISO 6400. Some in the council yard are still several stops underexposed and require considerable help from Lightroom.

On the walk I still try to be as unobtrusive as possible. There is the added complication of movement, but progess is deliberately slow with many halts. The lighting changes as people go along the street, from lamp post to lamp post, coming into the light then moving back into shadow. The major routes are of course considerably brighter than the side streets, and I made more pictures on them, particularly at Notting Hill Gate, where the walk took a long rest and more walkers joined. In places there was enough light to make using longer focal lengths possible, with shutter speeds up to around 1/100th.

As the march turned off to go towards Grenfell, I made my way to the Underground for the journey home. I’d been on my feet long enough and was cold – and the streets get darker as you go north.

Grenfell silent walk – 18 months on

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