Overheard pub conversation:
Everyone’s got an uncle Bill. And everyone’s got just one picture of him. Uncle Bill died before you were born. The photo is your mum’s, taken on a trip to Hayling Island when she was a girl. And she shows you this photo, a tear at the corner of her eye, ‘That’s your Uncle Bill’ she says. And she hands you a tiny black and white picture of a man in a suit standing in the middle of a field. That’s your Uncle Bill. Well, it was my Uncle Bill. Who was called Norman. Your Uncle Bill was probably called Cliff. Or Lance.
In the final of the series of Dave Hendley’s rediscovered 1970s photos, this image shows an elderly couple outside their house in Fulham; they were facing eviction from their home after living there for decades. That is as much as I can tell you about the facts of the picture; Dave doesn’t know what became of them or the house itself (if it wasn’t flattened for redevelopment, it is probably now one of those candy-coloured terraced houses that go for over a million pounds). I’d like to know the full story, but perhaps it’s as well I don’t. I imagine the outcome was shabby and depressing: the early 1970s was not a glorious era for social housing in London.
Dave’s photographs this week are fragments of a lost career, and these pictures only exist because he left some old prints at his mother’s house. I don’t know why Dave felt compelled to chuck his old negatives, but he was young when he did it and perhaps didn’t reckon on their value as a permanent record. Now that almost all photographs exist as pixellated images that never get preserved as hard copy, it is sobering to consider the implications for the future. Dave ditched his negatives and got old enough to regret it, but fine prints were (accidentally) preserved. Today’s toy-like cameras make images that are no more durable than an ice sculpture. Photography is becoming utterly ephemeral: you aren’t creating a graven image, you are generating a string of code. Then, a bit later, maybe you get short of space on a memory card so you ditch a few images you don’t think you’ll need, or you forget to back them up, or the hard drive they were on went down … you won’t recover those pictures in anyone’s attic, they are gone. The future is bright and shiny and cares not for the past. Even those of us still using film wince at the price of ‘traditional’ materials: posterity carries a premium. What did Uncle Bill look like again?
St. James’s Park. © Dave Hendley 1973.
Photography is concerned with appearance rather than truth, and occasionally, one comes across a photograph so mysterious that one is stumped for any sort of comment. One thinks of the Andre Kertesz photo of a shadow behind glass on a balcony in Martinique; of Robert Frank’s picture of a girl running past a hearse and a street sweeper on a drab London street; or Elliott Erwitt’s shot of tourists in a Mexican charnel house, all acknowledged masterpieces. I think the above photo by Dave Hendley has a similar power. Dave offers no insight: he shot it quickly with his Leica as he walked past the men, then moved along before they had time to register that he had taken their photo (‘I was more ruthless back then, I don’t stick my camera in people’s faces any more’.) But it invites speculation, so I am going to offer mine.
There are few clues in Dave’s photo as to the exact period, but somehow we know it belongs to the past: in fact, it is the early 1970s – but it evokes a time slightly earlier than that. I am reminded of the ‘black and white’ 1960s, the lost era of Victim, Pinter’s The Servant, and, especially, Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mister Sloane: a world of furtive encounters afforded a desperately genteel gloss (“the air round Twickenham was like wine”). But I don’t know whether my interpretation is correct and it probably isn’t. More than one photographer has got into trouble because a photo suggested something about its subjects that was misleading or even libellous. Whatever the reality, the picture is simultaneously comic, poignant and slightly disturbing. The sharply assessing gaze of the man on the left is unnerving enough, but I find myself worried by the man on the right, his too-tight tie and his inscrutable smile somehow just wrong. (I am also reminded of this painting.)
As with the photo we ran yesterday, this photograph is a precious survivor of a cull of Dave’s early work which the photographer carried out with youthful ruthlessness. That was many years ago and, needless to say, Dave now regrets this; fortunately, this image survived as a print which Dave recently discovered in his mum’s attic.
… for The London Column.
The Security Shop, Junction Rd., Archway. © Dylan Collard.
The Security Shop is, as you would expect, a local locksmiths and one that only opens when the owner fancies opening up. He doesn’t really open in the winter because it’s too cold just to sit in the store … The store is opposite the Wedding Shop and the Blue Carbuncle both of which feature in the series, but that have now both been forced to close. Unlike the other shopkeepers on the road, the owner here is hoping for the arrival of a Tesco’s as it will bring in more customers.
Up My Street is Dylan Collard‘s project documenting shops between Kentish Town and Archway. His exhibition The Twelfth Man is currently showing at Exposure Gallery, 22-23 Little Portland Street, London W1. Dylan is represented by the Vue agency.
Laurence Evans, Second Chance, Archway Roundabout. © Dylan Collard.
From Born and Bred – Stories of Holloway Road:
Laurence Evans was born in Whittington Hospital in 1952. He lived first in Poynings Road and then moved to Caledonian Road where he has lived since 1962. He has volunteered at Second Chance charity shop at 7-9 St John’s Way, in the middle of Archway roundabout, since 2008.
“We’ve got a couple of customers, like a lady called Jenny who comes in and has a cup of tea or coffee and a couple of biscuits, she comes maybe three times a week and there’s a couple of other people who just come in for a cup of tea and they just like the atmosphere and the service.”
“Barry [the manager] and one of our volunteers Basil, they do all of the window displays and a lot of people have commented that the windows are very nice, and ask ‘do you have a professional come in?’ and no it’s just done by volunteers who have a knack for doing window displays. I don’t think I could do that. After Christmas we just did a purely black and white window and people commented that it was a very nice difference. A lot of people say ‘Oh I like that in the window, is it for sale? We don’t want to disturb your window display’ and I say ‘No, everything in the window is for sale’. So you have to take it out of the window and sell it to the customer and then try and find something to replace it.”
The above interview is taken from Born and Bred, an oral history project by Rowan Arts documenting the life of the Holloway Road. You can hear more at www.storiesofhollowayroad.com. Up My Street is Dylan Collard‘s own project documenting shops between Kentish Town and Archway. His exhibition The Twelfth Man is currently showing at Exposure Gallery, 22-23 Little Portland Street, London W1. Dylan is represented by the Vue agency.