London


London was where I first bought a camera, and where I first took photos to show people what I was seeing rather than what I was doing. It was where I first self-consciously tramped around with a camera, taking photos that weren't snapshots. It was something of a self-reinvention -- in Australia I'd been a musician and no one there (even today) thinks of me as a photographer. The photo at left is a personal favourite, probably the first I ever took in London. It's the view from the back of the block of flats I lived in on the roundabout in Muswell Hill (Kinks territory!). As always, the chair was just there, I didn't stage it.

Chip Something about the shabbiness of London -- the shit-coloured bricks, the peeling cement, the stained concrete, and the dystopian housing estates -- brought out a sort of aesthetic evangelism in me. This was a world I hadn't really imagined back in Sydney, where even poverty seemed sunnier, and brighter, and decay was part of a natural cycle rather than the tired greying-out of London's physical ambience. I felt like a reporter for the first time -- I wanted to show people back in Sydney how it was out here (London), and show the complacent Londoners how things really were during the mid-Thatcher Years Of Greed. I was arrogant and naive as hell, but naiveity opens a lot of doors.... CND

Most of the photos from that time are in storage somewhere (and are technically pretty poor -- I rue the fact that I never took lessons), and most of the reporting was in words rather than images. However "Chip" (right) and the photo on the left still survive. I'd seen these two guys around a lot on Hungerford Bridge, begging from the tourists and the theatre-goers crossing the river. The guy on the right ("Jimmy") had been chatting with me for a few minutes about Ireland and Australia and how he'd ended up begging (a long story I've told elsewhere) when he saw my camera. He made me take this picture of them so that "the workers in Australia know what Thatcherism is really like". I'm always nervous about taking photos like this, but I did it anyway. I don't feel comfortable aestheticising other people's suffering, and so far this is the only real example I have. I never saw "Jimmy" again; the man on the left (a homeless deaf mute) was still around the following year, but I lost track of him after that.


I used to haunt the tourist places like Picadilly, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden, hoping to see some really interesting tourists or alien lifeforms (aging Yanks from Iowa in tartan pants, for example). The only times I ever did see them I didn't have my camera (of course). This shot is one of the few "nice" photos of tourist London I managed to take; nothing special, just one of those moments....


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