Researching Gentrification in Deptford

Different boroughs in London begin the gentrification process at different times with Deptford beginning the process later on than most. Therefore perhaps less information concerning gentrification would be available than other areas. I decided I would research gentrification in the Deptford area specifically in order to get a better idea of how and why it was occurring. A search of ‘Gentrification in Deptford’ on the internet yielded some varied and informative results.

First I looked at a history of old Deptford. The name Deptford was derived from a ‘deep ford’ which ‘crossed what is now Deptford Creek, at the mouth of the river Ravensbourne.’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This is also ‘where Deptford Bridge DLR station is now located.’ – (Calafate-Faria, n.d.). It was first mentioned as ‘Depeford’ in 1293. The main influx of wealth came when Henry VIII ‘founded a naval dockyard … in 1513 and within a century Deptford had become one of the leading ports and a major industrial suburb.’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This prosperous dockyard lasted for many years but in 1869 it closed ‘due to the silting of the Thames. Its use was restricted to shipbuilding and distributing stores to other yards and fleets abroad.’ – (Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, n.d.).

Despite the docks being replaced by a cattle market which subsequently closed in 1913, ‘Deptford suffered a long and damaging period of deterioration’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This occurred because of Second World War bombing and postwar industrial decline. ‘Many of the large firms in Deptford closed down in the late 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in a high level of unemployment in the area. The history of the 21st century will be about economic recovery and urban regeneration.’ – (Deptford.towntalk.co.uk, n.d.). This last quote proves that Deptford was still a relatively poor area until the turn of the century (20th-21st).

Admittedly I was more interested in the history of Deptford from the 1980s to the start of the 21st century because it shaped gentrification in conjunction with the old Deptford. However, there was limited history from then on, perhaps because the changes had been not well documented? So I collected tidbits from the various sources I could find. One useful source stated that: ‘As a result of economical decline and redundancy, the Creek and Thames waterfront saw much of their industrial heritage demolished to make way for new development, notably the clearance of the Royal Dockyards (to make way for Convoys Wharf – in use until 2002)’ – (Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal, 2012). This suggested that Deptford was undergoing a period of transition from the 1970s to the turn of the 21st century and beyond.

During this period, ‘When Lewisham Council changed its housing policy for the estate in the late 1970s – giving priority to young single professionals – it gave impetus to the development of a radical arts and music scene that gained Deptford an almost legendary status in the 1970s and 80s.’ – (Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal, 2012). This showed Deptford’s art and culture based heritage which was important to Deptford’s identity. This could be the first signs of gentrification but a much larger sign happened later with the regeneration of Deptford’s high street since 2008 – along with a £2.1 million refurbishment to the high street: ‘The town centre’s image has been further enhanced by its contemporary new station building with its steel framework and glass facades.’ – (lewisham.gov.uk, n.d.).

Then later on in 2014, ‘The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson yesterday (Monday, March 31) approved plans to build up to 3,500 new homes and create over 2,000 new jobs on a site in Deptford that has been derelict for 14 years.’ – (london.gov.uk, 2014). The decision to develop Convoys Wharf (the development in question), ‘was taken against the will of the local council of Lewisham.’ – (Calafate-Faria, n.d.). This perhaps suggested the flats would be out of budget for many local residents and gentrification would occur.

 

A few of the results showed photographers’ projects. In particular one project which stood out to me was Gill Golding’s ongoing project: Deptford: A Town in Transition. She too used colour landscapes to document a changing Deptford and the gentrification taking place. I liked looking at her photographs because they were clear, colourful and juxtaposed the new with the old Deptford well. I felt they offered a good insight into the changes and conflicts arising in Deptford as regeneration progresses and gentrification becomes more prevalent.

References:

Calafate-Faria, F. (n.d.). Urban ‘regeneration’ in Deptford. [online] Goldsmiths, University of London. Available at: http://www.gold.ac.uk/news/comment-urban-regeneration-in-deptford/ [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal. (2012). [ebook] London: lewisham.gov.uk. Available at: https://www.lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/planning/conservation/conservation-areas/Documents/Deptford%20Creekside%20Conservation%20Area%20Appraisal.pdf [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Deptford.towntalk.co.uk. (n.d.). About Deptford Town Centre & Historical Information – Deptford TownTalk. [online] Available at: http://www.deptford.towntalk.co.uk/local/history [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Golding, G. (n.d.). Deptford: A Town in Transition. [online] Gill Golding / Photographer. Available at: http://www.gillgoldingphotography.com/deptford [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). Deptford – Hidden London. [online] Available at: http://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/deptford/ [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

lewisham.gov.uk. (n.d.). Deptford town centre regeneration. [online] Available at: http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/regeneration/deptford/deptford-centre/Pages/default.aspx [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

london.gov.uk. (2014). Mayor approves plans for major new development at Convoys Wharf. [online] Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/development-at-convoys-wharf [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London. (n.d.). Royal Naval Dockyards. [online] Available at: http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/royal-naval-dockyards [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

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The Photograph Manipulated – Chapter 10 – The Photograph – Graham Clarke (1997)

I have been reading through parts of Graham Clarke’s The Photograph (1997) – in particular a section which caught my eye was ‘The Photograph Manipulated’ (Pages 187-205). Usually I would skip by chapters such as this as I have in the past preferred to keep my photos in general realistic and so I would be less interested in a chapter of this nature.

This was slightly narrow-minded as I usually post-process my photographs so they are manipulated to a degree either way (just not in content usually). However, I decided I would try out reading this chapter because I was enjoying the parts of the book and I perhaps thought in my mind reading a chapter of this nature might prove to be more useful than I previously imagined.

The chapter immediately grasped my attention when it began with a statement concerning ‘pure’ photography. ‘Pure’ photography postulated an ideal image which transcended the everyday world.’ – (Clarke, 1997). I had come across ‘pure’ photography in landscape photography along with ‘straight’ photography. Much of my photography to date has been these kinds of photography.

(Clarke, 1997) goes on to say: ‘From the 1900s onwards we can chart a series of photographic responses [to ‘pure’ photography] that seek to recast the photographic act in the new language of modernism. Such photography sought to manipulate the image’. The fact that image manipulation in the language of modernism subverted a lot of the kind of photography I had been practising so far made me interested to see what these ‘photographic responses’ looked like aesthetically and semantically.

The Constructor - El Lissitzky - 1924
The Constructor – El Lissitzky – 1924

The first work that struck me was by El Lissitzky called The Constructor (1924) and this was because his self-portrait held a lot of narrative to it by use of unusual composition combined with the juxtaposition of hand and eye. This composition and juxtaposition suggested to me the meaning that as constructor, the hand and eye work together mutually and accurately. The meaning was quite rigid rather than inferred. Part of this reason was that the image was obviously manipulated which allowed meaning to be more easily invoked.

Although Clarke deduced a rather wider meaning than mine from The Constructor (1924), parts of the meaning deduced was similar. He also raises an important point: ‘this is literally a manifesto on the way we do not interpret our world so much as construct it (or have it constructed for us).’ – (Clarke, 1997). I had begun to come to terms with such a point in my own work for Assignment 3 where using images in combination with each other, I was able to construct a story.

Object (or Complicated Imagination) - Gingo Hanawa - 1938
Object (or Complicated Imagination) – Gingo Hanawa – 1938

Further along in the chapter, I looked at montages and in particular Gingo Hanawa’s Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938). One reason I had shied away from image manipulation (of contents) in the past was down to the unrealism of montages or collages. This image however, seemed to address the very nature of montages or photographs by playing on what constitutes an object. It used multiple objects juxtaposed to make one object and it was this juxtaposition of objects that created meaning.

Although the meaning was obscure and the image was unrealistic, when meaning was inferred from the image this negated the unrealism. This was because ‘Object is this a play on the nature of the object and meaning, … Object moves us back into the three-dimensional world and recalls us to the play between image and photograph which is the basis of the photograph.’ – (Clarke, 1997). The image Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938) in my opinion was ahead of its time because it addressed itself.

Office at Night No.1 - Victor Burgin - 1986
Office at Night No.1 – Victor Burgin – 1986

Lastly I looked at the work of Victor Burgin in Clarke’s book, specifically: Office at Night, No. 1 (1986). Like Hawana’s Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938), it was a montage, however it used a variety of media including photography, painting and typology. This postmodern approach for me explained the image within itself well by drawing on these various forms.

It was interesting how the image of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the left was a painting (from the painting Office at Night (1940) by Edward Hopper) and yet this was mirrored by the photograph of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the right in pose. This mirroring in my eyes signified the questioning of reproducibltiy which was further magnified when I realised the image of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the left was a painting. This was because if read from left to right across then the photograph mirrored the painting; perhaps suggesting while photographs were inherently reproducible, paintings were not.

All of these works made me wonder whether I could somehow incorporate image manipulation into my own work and I was glad I read the chapter after all.

References:

Burgin, V. (1986). Office at Night No.1. [Photograph] New York: John Weber Gallery.

Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.187-205.

Hanawa, G. (1938). Object (or Complicated Imagination). [Photograph] Osaka: Sanya Nakamori Collection.

Hopper, E. (1940). Office at Night. [Oil on Canvas] Minneapolis: Walker Art Center.

Lissitzky, E. (1924). The Constructor. [Photograph] London: David King Collection.

Imaginary Documents

Wandering around Deptford for my upcoming Assignment 3, I realised I wasn’t going to have a story suddenly jump out at me from the blue; I had to make the story arise. This was due to the apparent bleakness of much of Deptford apart from the high street. It was what my eyes showed me and was obvious too in the snapshots I was producing. This bleak appearance was however, a blessing in disguise as it made me start actively thinking for the first time what stories I could begin to put together and therefore what imaginary set of documents I could construe.

At first I was a bit tentative about creating an at least partly fictional story as most of what I had learnt about documentary photography so far seemed to veer towards the factual. I decided actually, after all, a lot of documentary is constructed on the most basic level of selection and framing anyway. Therefore, how much of what is selected and framed by the photographer is objective, factual documentary and how much of it is subjective?

Having said all of this, I selected a story which very much had its roots in the notion of this bleakness in Deptford which in my mind was quite factual. I thought I would contrast this with the hubbub of the market on Deptford High Street on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday.

As I was having the realisation that most documents are on some level subjective and so pulling a story from it was acceptable, I came across some text in my course. This text effectively mirrored what I was thinking but was written more eloquently. Here Jose Navarro, the course author, wrote:

Traditional thinking documentary photography supports the idea that the photographic document is evidence of something that happened out there, something that occurred without being choreographed or prompted by the photographer. Which is precisely what Mohamed Bourouissa doesn’t do. – Navarro (2012)

'la main' - périphérique - Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)
‘la main’ – périphérique – Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)

Bourouissa’s work intrigued me because it featured a style where a story was ‘pulled’ from reality but was done in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether the scenes had been staged. The work I looked at was: périphérique (2005-2009) and in particular la main (the hand) and la rencontre (the encounter); a couple of a series of edgy, unrestful images where the viewer was unsure of the authenticity of the scenes. I looked at these for a while and I’m still not sure whether they were staged or not. This was because it was hard to imagine the photographs being taken without being staged but the actor’s faces were so convincing and the snapshot framing was so dysfunctional that the scenes were believable.

I envisaged a landscape/documentary approach for photographing Deptford, which would mainly rely on found scenes. This would function quite differently as the scenes wouldn’t be staged but as a set I would be creating a narrative within which these found scenes fit in.

'la rencontre' - périphérique - Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)
‘la rencontre’ – périphérique – Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)

One other realisation about tendencies for my own documentary practice was that I invariably seemed to want to try to create single-image narratives. Whether this was down to Assignment 2 – Documentary where I was asked to try to produce single-image narratives I was not sure. Either way I realised I was attempting to complete the assignments in single shots rather than thinking about how multiple photographs could relate to one another.

One possible solution I could foresee would be to focus on creating numerous images which, while quite possibly not depicting single-image narratives, when edited down and then put together produce a more telling narrative than singularly. Bourouissa’s series: périphérique (2005-2009) certainly worked as single-image narratives and together as a series, proving that both approaches could exist in tandem. However, I wanted to concentrate on looking at how multiple photographs could relate to one another in a series.

References:

Bourouissa, M. (2005-2009). périphérique [online] mohamedbourouissa.com Available at: http://www.mohamedbourouissa.com/peripherique/ [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017]

Navarro, J. (2012). OCA Documentary Course.

Study Hangout (30/7/2017)

Today I attended a study hangout with some of my fellow students to discuss our respective progression on the course and ideas about documentary. It has been around the 6th time I’ve attended a study hangout and I have found each one useful and rewarding. The first few I got to know my fellow students on the course and learn how to use the features of the Google Hangouts environment. Once we got through the technicalities of the hangouts the discussions quickly became a lot more in depth with questions like ethics of documentary genre and authenticity of the documentary genre being raised.

Topics discussed in this hangout were typically quite in depth and included Bryn discussing how the presentation of images in spaces other than the conventional (and for documentary at least ethically questionable) ‘white cube’ might be implemented. Bryn suggested a kind of real-time presentation where the work was interactively changed. I envisaged the body of images being on a smartphone for example where there was an update of the image by the author to the work which in turn changed on the smartphones of those people viewing the body of work.

Also concerning authorship of images, Michael another of the regular attendees at the hangouts, was planning on exploring issues of authorship of images when the photographer may not have much, if any intention of using their work in the context it was eventually displayed in.

Finally we discussed the use of advertising in modern society and how prevalent it is and how potentially invasive it can be. Pulling it back into the documentary practice we speculated how billboards for example could include typical subconscious directives and how the notion of this concept could be flipped on its head so that something totally unexpected was shown on the billboard instead.

 

For myself we conversed about how my Assignment 3 was going. Since the hangout and because of some interactions with my tutor as well I would say I’m a bit clearer on where it is heading. My plan initially was to show the story of gentrification in my local area. The theme would be examples of gentrification in Deptford, the complications would be that there is still poverty evident as well as high-rise buildings being built rapidly which don’t necessarily conform to the middle-class image. The resolution or non-resolution could be a sense of the new being mixed with the old.

I still have intentions of doing this but not necessarily in the way I had envisaged before these interactions with fellow students and tutor. For example instead of attempting to formulate a clear set plan of photographs of gentrification in Deptford, I would start photographing the area anyway and see if any potential other themes arise from the shooting experience. Then I could start to describe the process of gentrification there while implementing any new ideas I might have gathered from the practise of photographing in the area. Lastly, I liked the idea of challenging the accepted advertising billboards’ manipulative techniques and replacing them with something more constructive.