Saturday, 8 May 2010

Doing as I'm told

Doing as I'm told has never come naturally to me.  The minute someone tells me what to do, some recalcitrant part of my brain kicks in and my natural impulse is to do the opposite.  I only have to see a sign saying No Entry, Keep Off The Grass or 50 mph, and I'm ready to break the rules.  My next text message came through and I was all set to mutiny, and it wasn't even lunchtime yet!  Go to Upton Park and visit Queen's Market.....with an internal sigh, I turned away from the prospect of exploring Greenwich Park and set off on my journey to Upton Park in East London - they might sound similar but the word park is about all they have in common!

Some observations on the way.....

Overheard on the train - Ticket inspector to smartly dressed young Asian man caught fare-dodging: What's your Christian name? - Mohammed. And your last name? - Ali.

Going through the ticket hall at Bow Road tube station, I witnessed a group of 6 ticket inspectors going through the turnstiles - one of them had his Oyster card refused. I wondered idly what the collective noun for a group of ticket inspectors would be. A dodge, perhaps?

Climbing the stairs at Upton Park tube, the home of West Ham football ground, I was met with the incongruous sound of soothing Classical piano music coming from the loudspeakers in the entrance hall.  It doesn't do to have preconceived ideas about a place - life is full of surprises.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Following instructions

With the time for my final journey approaching, I felt a mixture of relief and regret - relief that my task would soon be completed but also regret as these trips have become part of my routine and I shall miss them.  Still, all good things must come to an end and if I were to continue them too long, the idea would become overworked and the novelty pall. 

As it was the last remaining dice option, it obviously wasn't a surprise but out of all of them, this was probably the one over which I had least control.  This journey was to be under the influence of another person - by handing over my will for the day and following a set of text instructions sent by my good friend Chad, I attempted to put myself in the position of ‘going with the flow', allowing whatever would happen to happen. I had no idea what to expect - the only proviso that I had made was that the tasks were not to be illegal or put me in any physical danger.

Following a set of instructions can be viewed as yet another kind of game-play and a further strategy for laying oneself open to chance encounters.  Even though, as a participant in this game, I am obliged to lay aside my free will, I still need to find a response which is 'free within the limits set by the rules' (Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games).  This doesn't come easy to me, being the sort of person who doesn't like being told what to do!   Although not spontaneous in the true sense of the word, as someone else had already planned the day’s itinerary, it provoked unplanned reactions and serendipitous occurrences.  As ever, I had thought that the day's photographs were a motley bunch of unrelated incidents but on returning home and sorting through them, the usual connections and patterns began to assert themselves.

My first instruction - go to island gardens and walk through the thames tunnel.......

My task completed, I texted back for further instructions.  I had naturally assumed that as I had come so far and was on the Greenwich side of the river, that I would be sent up the hill to investigate the Meridian and the Observatory and experienced a frisson of disappointment when my next instructions came through.  I was briefly tempted to rebel but then decided I must stick to the rules and be obedient for once in my life.... 

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Opinions with balls

I wonder how much attention we normally pay to the forest of words we encounter as we go about our business in the city.  It was only when I started looking closely that I became aware of the way words insinuate themselves into our consciousness, sometimes with shock tactics, sometimes more subtly....

With so many claims on my attention, my senses become overloaded and I become deaf to their pleas and suspicious of their claims.  It is with relief that I head homewards, settling myself on my train and looking forward to a quiet hour. But my peace is soon disturbed by the man sitting next to me who opens up his laptop and taps away furiously for the entire journey - a sea of words floating on his screen, a cacophany of distorted words emanating from his iPod headphones.  With a sigh, I pull out my book - if you can't beat them....

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Say hello to a new you

I have already written about the idea of reading the city in a previous post and this particular journey involved a literal 'reading of the city'.  The city streets can be thought of as a text to be read, each road forming a sentence in the script. As we wander the city our eyes are bombarded with words at every turn - shops displaying their wares, signs giving us information, the arcane language of graffiti, newspapers shouting their headlines, and advertisements exhorting us to buy this, try that, change our lives. We might live in a visual society but words are the glue that holds it together. Words guide and advise, entertain and inform, challenge and tempt, prohibit and order us. As we walk through the city, they provide a running commentary to our day and by combining and sequencing images certain themes have emerged....

Our senses are subjected to these insidious slogans on a daily basis, undermining our confidence in the status quo, challenging us to improve our lifestyles.   Is it any wonder that many of us are a mass of insecurities or dissatisfied with our lives?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Read all about it

On my penultimate London journey only two dice options remained and this time my journey turned out to be under the influence of words...

The Rules
- Select a word from the day's newspaper headline
- Visit tube stations beginning with each letter of the word
- Each tube station visited to be on a different line
- Spend a maximum of half an hour in the area taking photographs
- The theme of the photographs is to be words

On looking at the headline of my copy of the Guardian there was no doubt in my mind which word to choose - parole, which of course means word in French.  I need no more convincing of the role of serendipity in the ways of the world!

I had my work cut out for me - six letters meant six stations to be visited, all of which had to be on a different line.  There was no special criteria involved in choosing the stations, other than that the route had to be realistic and completed within the day.  This involved a little planning - I tried to choose stations which I wasn't familiar with in areas that haven't been covered on previous journeys.  

The amount of ground to be covered and the limited time to complete the task meant that this journey had a completely different flavour to the more leisurely and unhurried ambling of previous journeys.  This was travelling with a destination and an agenda in mind.....

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Blue is the new red

I have been thinking a lot recently about whether the themes that emerge during my journeys are a result of a happy synchronicity or whether there is some subconscious impulse which drives me to photograph certain subjects.  Photographer Stephen Shore talks about a state of conscious attention which he describes as:

" a condition of seeing the world in a heightened state of awareness... where everything may look brighter or more vivid, or space and time feels more tangible, things seem more real."

This sounds similar to that special awareness experienced during gameplay, where a different reality suspends the normal rules of everyday life.  It is quite possible that this increased awareness leads to a perception of currents below the surface which may manifest themselves as connections. Whatever the reason, my eye seems to have been drawn to the colour blue on this trip, a change from my normal fascination with red.....

To bring this current journey to a close, I thought the following photograph summed up the day's mood in a nutshell - travelling without a purpose or goal is a bit like travelling blind.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Monochrome lives

As my London journeys progress, it becomes increasingly evident to me that each trip seems to develop its own themes contrary to any conscious intention of mine.  This could be an effect of the particular terrain covered on the day or external factors such as weather, time of day etc, or it could be due entirely to chance.  Whatever the reason, I find that certain connections seem to form before my very eyes - as Peter Ackroyd wrote in the introduction to Faux Amis "We know everything in the city connects.  Nothing possesses a single or exclusive life."

I have already identified a sporting theme in this journey but running alongside this is a darker narrative dealing with remembrance and death.  At the entrance to a small park, I chance upon a war memorial laden with poppy wreaths.  Turning onto the main road shortly afterwards I come across a mountain of floral tributes heaped at the side of the road - the site of some unknown traffic accident involving a lover of Carlsberg lager.  Moments later I look up and spot a sign for a funeral director.....

Working my way up the map, at the top of the hill I turn off the road into Chingford Mount Cemetery, a gloriously over-the-top resting place for the dead of the parish, the serried rows of graves decked out in a riot of flowers, stuffed toys and associated memorabilia.  Many of the graves sport photographs of the dead, forever suspended in some moment from happier days, looking out accusingly at the living.  The whole effect is one of rampant sentimentality, touching at first - all those lives snuffed out or cut tragically short, still mourned.  All the outpouring of grief made concrete in words and objects.  But after a while, I begin to feel slightly uneasy, as though I am intruding on some private moment of grief, like a stranger at a funeral.

When I get home, I remember having read about this place before. In Lights Out for the Territory, Iain Sinclair's multi-layered, psychogeographic narrative of walking the streets of London, there is a chapter about the funeral of gangster Ronnie Kray and his subsequent burial in this very cemetery, accompanied by a grotesquely overblown and sentimental display of mourning

 "the sacrifice of thousands of carnations, pink and white and sclerotic.  Puce roses sweating with shame.  Eggy bundles of lilies, pinched at the waists by purple ribbons.  Wreaths like the wheels of articulated lorries.  Hearts and hoops and American flags....Monochrome lives recalled in hot flushes of colour"   

It was a relief to leave the cemetery and head back into the suburban streets, turning my gaze upwards for a change to take in the cleansing expanse of the sky......