#903. Living in an un-destination part 2

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Sep 16

Your response to part 1 surprised me. I really hadn’t anticipated the kind of feedback the article got and it encouraged me to move up my publishing efforts, wanting to meet a deadline sometime late in September, rather than perhaps never, which I was feeling I might easily justify.

Fire escape – Hackney Wick

No. It’s sooner rather than later.

Sunny morning – Hackney
Plumage House

Aside from summer segueing into autumn and just around the corner, a snap into winter, little has changed. My mobile studio continues to delight and take me to any number of interesting lanes, corners, highways and byways.

On a whim, I remembered the term Industrial Archaeology the other day. It fits pretty well with what is interesting me just now. East London has other ideas. After being the working class area of the city; plagued with smoke and worse, driven from more affluent chimneys by the prevailing westerly wind, the East is now where just about everyone wants to live.

Untitled – Hackney Wick
No parking – Hackney
Shop 81
But I don’t ant a £10 puncture!

Bombing in WW2 and a shift from sea-borne freight to containerisation, left huge areas around Bow, Wapping, Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs unused and derelict. Formerly, the jewel in London’s dockland crown, these massive sites, joined by thousands of neglected and no longer viable homes, many two centuries old, have formed the foundation for what is now within reaching distance of being a completely new city. In its midst, the financial massiveness of Canary Wharf rises from the ruins of Millwall and the Isle of Dogs.

Starting afresh, sweeping away decades of neglect has taken almost every vestige of what was once the architecture and infrastructure that held everything together – such as it was.

The Bricklayers’ Arms
Locked – Hackney
The Bricklayers’ Arms

What’s left? The occasional memorial. A tiny stub of ripped up railway track, too difficult to remove and left for someone else to deal with. Just about every dock and warehouse has gone. Of Europe’s largest railway works at Stratford, where thousands of steam and diesel locomotives, carriages and goods wagons were built, there is nothing left, save a tiny plaque at one entrance into the Westgate shopping centre which has replaced it. Everything else has gone. Adjoining Westfield is London’s Olympic Park and its parkland. Clean, planned and manicured its Olympic Stadium now home to West Ham FC.

No-one in their right mind would ever want to have to lived in 19th and early 20th century East London. My surprise is that it has been eradicated so surgically.

So too, almost every other city. The standard of living of all 60-odd million people on this (relatively) tiny island has been drastically improved in recent times. The pendulum then swung back, sweeping away just about every artifact of life as it was.

Hitler’s Revenge. Still dangerous.
Dark graf
Purple upwards

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a link to the BBC Web site and a documentary page about the Hanseatic League.

“Thousands of commuters pass through London’s Cannon Street station every day. But only a few may be aware that this site once housed one of the most important trading centres in medieval Europe.”

“Behind the station on the banks of the River Thames, a street sign – Hanseatic Walk – gives a clue to the wealthy merchants who once dominated the area.”

Must be after 5…
After work in the pub

And there lies the rub. The page goes on to investigate similar historical sites in Visby (Sweden) and Bergen (Norway). There well marked, the buildings are recognised and have been preserved. London’s contribution? A street name, the rest inconveniently close to new development plans and perhaps swept away in the name of progress.

So. Industrial Archaeology. Not as easy to find as I’d imagined. I’ll keep looking. The photographic landscape isn’t as rich and varied as I might have hoped and I’m now thinking that I should perhaps develop a taste for graffiti…


Assembling these. images, I’m struck by how dark they look. They aren’t and if anything interests you in particular, let me know and I’ll send you a copy which will hopefully display more like the original.

Modern day snakes and ladders
Abstract – Hackney
C’mon in

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  • pascaljappy says:

    About bloody time! What took you so long? 😀

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Ignore the other guy – he’s just trying to wind you up, Paul. 🙂
    I suppose pub life is very english. You seem to have a fondness for it, and a friend of mine who’s been living in East Croydon for the past half century just sent me half a dozen shots of his 50th wedding anniversary party – held in a pub!
    Growing up in Australia, I was taught to loathe english beer before I ever went to England, on the grounds that it was both lukewarm & flat – instead of being chilled and frothy, like beer should be (if you’re a “skippy”!) But then I grew up with a father who was a winemaker, so beer of any kind is something I prefer to avoid.
    You say the area around Hackney and into the east docks is gentrified and rebuilt – there’s little or no sign of it in either of these two articles – and the overall impression is sombre – closed up – abandoned – graffiti-ed (generally rather poorly) – and neglected.
    “Purple upwards” is one new addition – then there’s a new brass padlock in another photo – and “106B Shepherdess Walk” hints at something inside the building.
    One thing I definitely agree – for me, it’s definitely a tourist un-destination, unless these photos are unrepresentative. And if there is a large section beyond these shots that has been rebuilt and gentrified over the past decade or so, I imagine it is lacklustre modern apartment style living? Replete with shops, the occasional bar, and compulsory greens?

    • Paul Perton says:


      I need hardly tell you that this is a huge city – not Mexico City, but definitely moving in that direction. That means road upon road of terraced pre- and post-war housing, masses of council flat developments and most recently, lots of steel, chrome and glass. I rarely photograph housing ‘cos it’s just uninteresting (Purple upward excepted). I’d rather find the odd corner, strange view, interesting reflection.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Hmm – sounds horribly familiar. All over Europe, the larger towns/cities are mostly “old town” surrounded by what’s been built since.
        Masses of “much the same”, and hopefully a step ahead of the “housing estates” built all over the place in the wake of World War 2. Some are actually pleasant enough places to live – but not really “interesting”, from the point of view of photography. Ming manages to get studies of light & shade out of them – he’s probably prepared to try harder than I am, I like something that “speaks to me”.
        “Modern architecture” does – actually, ALL architecture was modern once – but pistache and “boring” NEVER make the cut. I’d rather walk the dog!

  • Sean says:

    Well Paul,
    First. I do like how you handle a colour palette, with respect to a subject in each image image you’ve photographed. I appreciate how you’ve winkled out the significant colours so as to project what you’ve seen and projected within the borders and dimensions of an image. Second. You’ve alluded to an important point, and I’ll quote you “… feedback … encouraged me to move up my publishing efforts …”. I’ll leave it at that regarding my positive snipped of feedback, for you to … well, you know, keep on with the good work, in a timely manner 🙂 …

    • Paul Perton says:


      Somewhere back when Lightroom was a grudge use (I got kicked-off Aperture like so many others), I acquired a plug in that properly controlled, does really interesting things with colour and contrast. That’s where many of these images start. Others get almost no post processing love.

      I still dislike LR intensely, but feel the time to change once more is not now.

      If you’d like a copy, I can’t dissemble the plug in code, but can send you a series of screen grabs that I’ve used to re-create 99% of the effect(s) for myself. Let me know?


      • Sean says:

        Hi Paul,
        That’s a very generous and kind offer. Unfortunately I don’t use LR, and never will – I don’t like the business model. I too, was “… kicked-off Aperture …” as you put it, when Aperture met its end-of-life. However, former Aperture developers went onto make the “RAW Power® for iOS” that continues to use Apple’s RAW Engine – worth a look-see, if you use a Mac.
        So, thanks again Paul, for your offer, but I wouldn’t be able to put it to use. Regards. Sean

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Like Sean, I don’t like Adobe’s business model. In any case, I’ve discovered some/many/most of their algorithms are outdated. And apart from that, LR they sold me is flaky – it keeps disappearing on me, just when I DO want to use it. It’s occasionally very handy for things like gradient masks – but sadly, overtaken in most areas, by more recent competitors.
        PS is a bit more useful – mostly for cropping/image sizing, but also (surprisingly) for a few light finishing touches. Because (sadly – once again! – LOL) most of the more recent programs don’t have very good colour gamut in their screen images, so it’s too harder to fine tune outside PS (and MAYBE! – VERY occasionally!) LR.
        But of course “justitia suum cuique distribuit” – to each, his own!

  • Frank says:

    Even better than the first set. Wonderful use of color and each image has multiple stories, I’m sure, if we could only find and talk with the people who once inhabited these streets. Most images are absent people and I think that simply builds the story of abandonment. As you allude, we must remember that material like this is transient, if even on an extended time scale. It will disappear at some point. Now is the time to be out with the camera. I see these posts as I start my week on Monday mornings (in California) and they help to start the week the right way.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    I’m so glad that you’re documenting, in a wonderfully artistic way, the remaining rough and tumble areas of East London. It’s always sad to see these places disappear – for photographers of urban/ industrial, at least. You’re wise to make it a project and to see it through. I especially liked “Plumage House” And “Hitler’s Revenge” for very different reasons. “Plumage” for its lovely color which is very reminiscent of bird feathers, and “Hitler’s” for its mysterious and very evocative peek into the past. All the images with graffiti are fab too – an artist (you) capturing the graffiti artists’ work is my idea of a great way to spend the day. Kudos, Paul!

  • Christopher says:

    What a wonderful set of images, particular the first one and the stairs in the Pub.
    All the images are worth more that one look as one reads though the article and which for me makes them worth…sorry worth’s…putting in my reading list.

  • Alan says:

    All wonderful and my cuppa tea. Especially but not limited to snakes & ladders. The rich colours are extraordinary. Thanks!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    a wonderful documentation in photos and text and some great compositions,

    especially (to my taste)
    “The Bricklayers’ Arms” (stairs),
    “Purple upwards”,
    ( – but I wouldn’t want to live there!),
    and “Abstract – Hackney”.

    And a couple of very enjoyable “portraits”,
    “The Bricklayers’ Arms” (man), and
    “After work in the pub”.

    I really like that Bug photo (“Hitler’s Revenge. Still dangerous.”)!

  • John Wilson says:

    WOW!!! The first set was interesting. This one is stunning enough to make me want to move to foggy damp England. There are so many that would be a credit to the walls of any gallery, but my favourite is the Beetle in the overgrown garage … what a find. And the last image looks like something from a Basquiat exhibition (have you considered Sotherby’s? They could probably get you a million or two for it.)

    Very Impressive.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks for the kind words, John. I spotted “Hitler’s Revenge” in a tidy suburb full of terraced homes, close to the Olympic Park. It was just a glimpse, so I had to stop, turn the bike around and go back for a second glance and there it was.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Fantastic set, Paul…
    Personally, I don’t find them too dark, just dense in a way I really like!
    You capture “the mood”… what I find essential.
    And yes, I would be interested to get your settings; I know I won’t probably be able to reproduce your look (and surely not your colours :D) from my Oly and Sony’s, but I spent way too much time playing with “blacks”… and yours never fail to fascinate me, honest!

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