Projects  » LIVE LAB (LONDON)

LiveLab2017 featured three photographers - Olivia Arthur, Carl de Keyzer and myself. The premise was a simple one; using the Magnum (London) office in Clerkenwell each of us would explore the local area, keeping within the boundaries of a map drawn by Anna Sparham, Curator of Photographs at the nearby Museum of London.

I was particularly drawn to this part of Anna's introductory text: "Surface has a significance here. The surface of made objects, the surface of the print, the surface of the myriad architecture and the surface of the land. Here lies one foremost curiosity – a sense of layering. The area invites a consciousness of the layers of time, past and present, but also the physical layers above and below ground".

If one thread might be said to run through my work over the past two decades it must surely be the idea of layers... layers of history, layers of information, layers of meaning. "London", Anna continues, "is a city of contrasts, but this appears overwhelmingly heightened in Clerkenwell and its immediate neighbourhoods, especially as it meets the fringes of the City of London, Old Street, Camden and Islington. A stroll around immediately provokes you to look in all directions, up and down, engaging with an environment which can feel acutely sensory and tactile. Indeed, a connection with looking, observing and image-making is long-standing in the area. Kodak had a camera factory and store in Clerkenwell Road. The press industry and its associated imagery had thrived, from the Industrial Revolution engravings through to photojournalism in newspapers and picture agencies. Magnum itself moved into its current home in Gee street in 1992; the building previously occupied by British Petroleum and used as their printing works". 

In the lead-up to LiveLab I read two novels set in the area: Peter Ackroyd's The Clerkenwell Tales, in which the celebrated historian paints a vivid picture of medieval London, and George Gissing's complex tale, The Nether World, set in the Victorian era. I've used literature as inspiration before, most recently in America when I followed the route of the Joad family - the tragic heroes of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath - through Oklahoma and into California. The Genius Loci evoked by good novels can be fascinating when one finds oneself in the contemporary version of the same place. With images of both 14th and 19th century Clerkenwell in my mind I became more acutely aware of the subtle layers of time already so evident in that part of London.

Each day, having returned to the office with our spoils, we would edit, make work prints and attach them to the wall with BluTack. Gradually our individual projects grew, before Anna was left with the tricky task of bringing them all together. Throughout the entire process the public had access to the 'Lab' to observe the creative process before the final exhibition opened just two weeks after LiveLab begun. It continues at the Magnum Gallery, 63 Gee Street, London, until the end of July. 

Here is a selection of the pictures I made over that intensive ten-day period.