Friday, 23 May 2008

The Cement Factory

The Greenway (for anyone not familiar with the area) is a walkway atop a raised embankment which runs from Hackney through Stratford south east to Beckton and beyond. It is one of those marvels of London life that such a vast stretch of (regularly interrupted) purely pedestrian access even exists, and it's all thanks to an enormous sewer which runs beneath it carrying East London's faeces seaward, or wherever it goes. It is a popular hangout for young moped-theiving joyriders, and the carcass of a torched bike is all too common a sight.

It borders the Olympic Site on the west, and now serves as the best vantage point from which to view the development progress. I have wandered this small stretch numerous times in making this project. The first expedition on the Greenway had a specific and simple goal: to hug the diggers in the rubble sorting area in much the same way as seen in the Old Arsenal Stadium below. Access was easy, you could just veer off the Greenway through its overgrown border and straight across the mounds of broken bricks. Diggers and sorters punctuated the landscape like dormant dinosaurs. I spent a while clambering on them smudging my clothes with clots of engine grease and posing for the camera until I swung the lens around and took one shot in the background of which loomed an impressive white building, lit-up as if fully functional.

Two conveyor belts stretched in or out of it and in this remarkably un-built-up area it rose above most of the surroundings. I was enchanted instantly, and fast getting bored of the (probably neddless) repetition of the JCB hug, made it my target. Getting in was easy once again: tread lightly across a flat roof and lower yourself down the plywood fence. A gangway ran alongside the conveyor belts straight into the hull of this bizarre vessel. Inside I quickly began to feel like a post-industrial archaeologist, the function of the heavily corroded installations were a mystery, puddles of pink covered the lowest floor and a thick layer of grey-green dust shrouded the imposing metal structures. This was not a space for people, narrow vertical ladders and meshed platforms provided access, but it was a claustrophobe's nightmare and very difficult to get enough distance between myself and the camera for a satisfying shot.

I climbed through the structure stopping in each level for a photo, until my route led me to through a door to the outdoors, at this height the wind was suddenly chilling and my muscles beginning to ache from the exertions. Climbing the final ladders to the roof I began to envisage disaster, what if I fell? The idea of spending the night with a broken leg up here, to be found by the workers the next morning did not appeal and I tried to put it from my mind. When I reached to the top, all such thoughts had vanished, and I was awed like a tourist who had never before seen the London skyline. The night sky stretched into the distance, tower block fluorescence still burning bright. I took one final shot, aping the tourist in front of the camera, only turning my back (at this stage I was still concerned with shielding my appearance) and spent a few special minutes just gazing at it all.

On my ride home I passed the dump mentioned below and realised the dreaded dog had finally gone to sleep. Slightly shocked at my own tenacity in the face of exhaustion I u-turned and parked up again. The dump was easy to get into, I had been planning this particular incursion for months, and soon I was stood at the bottom of the junk pile, looking up at the digger perched on top. The ten second maximum time delay that my camera has proved difficult here, and it took several attempts running up the mound of rubbish to learn the fast and secure footholds that would get me to the JCB in time, but finally I succeeded and, my clothes still broadly smeared in cement dust from the night's escapades, the roof slats flapping loudly in the wind, I got the shot I had been wanting since I first scouted this location.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Highbury Digger Hugger

This episode in pictures: I tried to cuddle every bit of 'plant' on the site of the old Arsenal Stadium, I failed.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Trespassing Bristol

I have, as usual, rushed into things and need to take a quick achronological detour before returning to the Olympic Site. The first stop on this quick backtrack is Bristol.

Bristol, Horfield to be precise, was the second stop in developing the trespassing practice. I was spending a weekend with old friends and thought I would take advantage of the city-break to test my trespassing mettle against a less hostile metropolis. I had researched (google earth again) two convenient locations: the substation and water plant local to my friends' house (I was at the time a little obsessed with energy politics) and even 'drawn' a little map of my intentions. Walking through Bristol, however, I passed the site of a recent demolition, nothing epic, probably a housing development. The benefits of doing research on foot rather than from a virtual bird's eye became immediately apparent (and I have stuck to this strategy since).

I returned after dark, and getting in was easy, squeezing between the ill-conceived corner fencing and hopping over a stone wall. Mud and rubble everywhere churned and piled by the ubiquitous yellow diggers that punctuated the landscape. This trip was instrumental in setting a couple of standards for many of the later trespasses. Firstly some aesthetics: desolation, street lighting (and the myriad of unreal colours that it conjures in what is grey-dull-brown by daylight) and the sense of vast landscape (peaks, valleys, lakes) in a small area. Secondly an action which recurs frequently in the following months: the HUG. Cuddling JCBs, snuggling up to rubble, a few industrial leg-overs. I guess on hindsight this oddity was initially a compositional choice, I wanted to put the digger in central frame and had, therefore, to place myself in relation to it.

There's a bit of an ideological duality which, in the adrenalin of the illegal moment I am sure did not occur to me but which, in hindsight seems fairly apt. The images are reminiscent of Swampy era anti-road protests (ironically I was nicknamed Swampy on one job a couple of years earlier) all that's missing are the slogans and the chain. But where the 'hugness' of the action comes across I am seen embracing the vehicle of change. It is this lack of a single clear ideological position which, for me, makes the action interesting in itself. Even if my ideological position in the eventual Olympic project is all too apparent, I am trying to actively and critically engage with this process of development which is so universally heralded as a benefit by our politicians, rather than simply damning it from the sidelines.

The Bristol trespass was a success, not least in the quality of the images that I captured on my first night-outing, time for the capital.