London 1979 (4)

Continuing the series of posts showing work taken in London in 1979 as posted to Facebook with comments an image at a time in the first half of 2018.

Previous post in London 1979 series

London Photographs 1979 – Peter Marshall

Wembley Stadium, Brent, 1979
19g-46: tree, sign, railing

Although I went to Wembley Stadium in 1979, I found little or nothing the the actual stadium area that interested me, making a few pictures of steps, shadows, sheds and signs, but really nothing of the actual stadium. I suspect I felt too many pictures had already been taken of it.

Palaces of Industry, British Empire Exhibition site, Wembley, Brent, 1979
19g-52: building, concrete, reinforced, derelict

I had come to Wembley to try photograph these derelict buildings which were built in 1922 and 1923 for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 -25, probably because some of them were about to be demolished shortly I’m not quite sure exactly which buildings I photographed, and although some were demolished in 1980, the last only went in 2013.

Although they had been built for the temporary exhibition, their reinforced concrete made them difficult to demolish, and they had only remained there so long because it would have been expensive to get rid of them. I think this is one of the buildings that was still standing and being renovated when I returned three years later and took some more pictures on Engineers Way.

The Empire exhibition was important in accelerating the development of the surrounding areas of north-west London, much of which soon became covered with suburban housing in the years up to the second war.

The area is I think totally unrecognisable now, with about the only remaining building being the 1934 Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena), which I think I photographed a few years later.

Palaces of Industry, British Empire Exhibition site, Wembley, Brent, 1979
19g-64: building, concrete, reinforced, derelict,

A second picture of the derelict concrete buildings, apparently left standing after the exhibition as it was too expensive to demolish them.

I think I probably took rather more than the handful of pictures in the area during this visit than have survived, and suspect that one of the films that I took may have been ruined by a camera or cassette fault or in processing. Although it is possible to lose digital images though card or hard disk problems – and to delete them by human error, digital is in many ways more reliable than film, not least because you can see some or your mistakes on the back of the camera.

In the 70s and 80s I was always short of cash, and loaded almost all the film I used into cassettes from bulk 100 ft lengths. I used a ‘daylight loader’ which mean that a short length at the end of each film was exposed in attaching it to the cassette spool, though later I learnt to do this part of the procedure in total darkness to avoid this. Re-using cassettes led to occasional problems with light leaks. Sometimes I used plastic bodied cassettes made for reloading – and these had caps which were quite easy to twist off – sometimes too easy. The metal bodies used by Ilford and most other films had ends which popped off when you squeezed the cassettes and could be re-used but could get too easy to remove with repeated use. (Kodak’s were crimped on and needed a can opener to remove and were not re-usable.)

All normal cassettes used felt light-traps on the opening where film emerged and films might be ruined by scratches if grit was caught in these from loading the camera in a dusty place, and we had to try hard to keep them clean when reloading them. Those fabric light traps were not intended for repeated use and this sometimes led to leaks. Leica used to have their own metal re-usable cassette which worked without a light trap, the with a slot opening up inside the camera, but it was hardly practical.

Processing too had its traps. Developers not stored in air-tight containers could react with oxygen in the air and become less active or even entirely useless (though normally they went brown to show this.) Some were meant to be re-used, and careful counting of the number of films developed was necessary to avoid them becoming too weak. As mentioned in a previous post I had to abandon some developers as simply too unpredictable.

One of my late friends, a professional photographer who did a number of jobs for a leading oil company magazine, was flown out by helicopter by them to photograph their North Sea Oil rigs. It was an extremely long and tiring day, and on reaching home she loaded the films into a multiple tank to develop them. After she poured the first chemical into the tank she realised she had poured in the fixer rather than developer. (Fixer is the chemical used to dissolve the undeveloped silver halides from films after development as most photographers will know.) The films were ruined, and she had to go in the next day and confess to her client. Fortunately for her, she had worked for them on many previous assignments and they appreciated her work, and they arranged another helicopter to take her out and make the pictures again. That time she made sure she got the processing right.

22 St Agnes’s Place, Kennington, Lambeth, 1979
19h-22: house, decoration,

Friends of mine lived in a council flat a few minutes walk across Kennington Park from St Agnes Place. Lambeth Council had wanted to demolish the street to extend the already large park in 1969, but the properties were squatted and the demolition stopped. The council again tried to demolish them in 1977 but the residents resisted. There was considerable national publicity and a High Court injunction stopped the demolition, and the fight led to the defeat of the Conservative Lambeth Council and the resignation of its leader.

Some properties had been demolished, but the core of the street remained, with many of the houses having been renovated by the squatters. The area had become well known for its Rastafarian community and Bob Marley stayed there several times in the 1970s. Despite some local rumours, spread by some councillors, it always seemed a safe place when I was there, and a haven for many homeless and was a lively cultural centre, though I never attended any of the many free parties there or photographed other activities. It housed a Rastafarian temple and at least in later years it was the home of pirate radio stations Wireless FM and Rasta FM.

The residents formed a housing cooperative and paid their utility bills but Lambeth Council continued to try to evict them, obtaining a possession order in 2003 but failing to enforce it when the residents put up barricades. Two years later the council came back with a High Court order, which meant they could bring in the riot police; this time the residents who had decided only to put up a token show of resistance left peacefully. Most of the street was demolished, with just one property, the Rastafarian temple, remaining for a couple of years until police raided it for drugs and the occupiers were evicted. The council had said they would come to some kind of agreement with the temple occupiers, but reneged on that promise and the demolition was completed in July 2007. The drugs trial collapsed with all defendants being found not guilty.

Just two of the original 3-storey and basement terrace houses remain on the street, still joined to four smaller terraced properties of a similar age on one side,. Further down the street where the properties I photographed were are some newer properties, with more building still taking place. The site of the Rastafarian temple was at one time marked by some decorative paint on the railings, but I think these have now been painted over by the council, but the street no longer runs along quite the same route as it did.

The 12 Tribes of Israel, St Agnes’s Place, Kennington, Lambeth, 1979
19h-23: house, decoration,

The houses at 28-34 St Agnes Place were occupied by different groups from the Rastafari community for over 30 years. A thriving hub for the Rastafari community it became recognised as the Rasta International Headquarters.

First squatted in 1969, the remaining premises were closed after a police drugs raid in 2007, where the police made several arrests, but all were found not guilty as the case against them collapsed in court. Some people said that the drugs raid came after a dispute between residents that led to some giving false stories that crack cocaine dealing was taking place. Cannabis use plays an important role in Ratafarian religious ceremonies, used to enhance spirituality and promote unity. They interpret various Biblical references to the ‘herb of the field’, the ‘herb of the land’ and ‘The tree of life’ as meaning ganja (marijuana) and regard the prohibition of its use as an attempt by Babylon to impose an improper restriction on people’s religious freedom. Not all Rastas use ganja, and many condemn its irresponsible use simply to get high.

For those of you who don’t have your Bible at your side, Genesis 49 is where Jacob brings together his sons before his death and blesses them, giving instructions for his funeral, and in verse 28 in the King James version reads:

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.

Symbols, St Agnes’s Place, Kennington, Lambeth, 1979
19h-24: house, decoration,

It’s a shame that this photograph was not taken in colour, and much as I loved black and white photography and its ability to abstract, to render light and shade, express through form and line with a clarity that usually evades colour photographs, I often think that black and white was something of an aberration, an artifact resulting from the scientific basis of photography. If the efforts of Talbot and Daguerre had resulted in colour images, would anyone ever have bothered to invent black and white photography?

There were people in the 1840s who claimed to produce colour images – and did, but any relationship between the colours in their images and those of the subject was purely accidental, the colours being random freaks of chemistry and physics. Since all early photographic processes were only sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum, producing realistic colour was impossible. Though prints could be and were made in almost every colour though were seldom if ever black and white. Hand-colouring too dates back to the early years of photography, and particularly with the aid of computer technology can look very realistic, but is never authentic.

You can of course convert colour images to black and white, and there have been a few occasions when I have done so, realising at the time of taking or afterwards that a particular image would be stronger in b/w. Back in the darkroom days there was even special panchromatic printing paper made for the purpose, as normal black and white photographic paper is only sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum; printing from colour negatives on it needed lengthy exposures and gave rather odd tonal results.

Once we could scan negatives or transparencies it became much easier, and various software emerged, often as Photoshop plugins, which could make the conversion to black and white resemble more closely the tonalities of b/w film. With digital cameras it became simpler still, and with my Fuji cameras I can now – should I want to – actually view the world in black and white as I take pictures, with the Acros film simulation providing me with a truly filmic view and enabling me to digitally apply yellow, red or green filters.

Under extreme low light conditions or when my finger twiddling has led accidentally to seven stops of underexposure I’ve occasionally had to convert to b/w to get usable images, but otherwise it’s not a feature I’ve yet taken advantage of. And I find it intensely annoying when some younger photographers who have never learnt to use b/w convert their colour images in the hope that it somehow makes them more seriously documentary.

The Star of David would I think almost certainly have looked better in colour, and also those stripes and the door frame.

Writing by window, St Agnes’s Place, Kennington, Lambeth, 1979
19h-25: house, decoration, writing,

There was a great deal of writing on the walls here, and much of it – as in this picture – is misogynistic. It’s perhaps best that you can read only a little in this small reproduction, though enough is legible to get the general drift and of course it is clear on the larger original.

One of the more polite texts about women reads ‘Blessed is the man who can terrorise a woman with a look’, but there are also other subjects. One that rather appeals to me states ‘If there was anything in the world worth having – I would not want it’.

Doorway, St Agnes’s Place, Kennington, Lambeth, 1979
19h-34: house, decoration, writing, Rastafarian,

A wider view of the doorway to 28 St Agnes’s Place, the Rastafarian temple and Rasta International Headquarters (which included three houses, 24-28.)

As so often I ask myself why I did not take more pictures of the street, which I often walked through.

More to follow shortly

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