Wall – the words

Here’s the text of my photo book, there’s a gallery of most of the images from my book here.

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introduction

This book is about a wall. It’s about a wall by a canal in a seldom visited part of east London. This wall, located near a few hundred artist studios, is a battleground for graffiti artists. It’s a place of creative conflict, the scene of a lively tussle between street artists, taggers and the authorities. It’s a place I visit regularly, to admire and photograph the latest work. This book is a record of the artworks painted on this wall over a three year period and a tribute to their creators.

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the location

The Hertford Union Canal borders the southern edge of Victoria Park in Bow. It is London’s shortest canal and connects the Regent’s Canal to the Lee Navigation. On this canal there is a single flight of three locks. These locks are named Top Lock, Middle Lock and Bottom Lock. Bottom Lock is at the eastern end of the canal, close to where it joins the Lee Navigation, not far from the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Here, on the lock’s northern bank there is a brick wall measuring 70 metres wide by 6.5 metres high, separating the canal from a neighbouring industrial estate. This wall is the subject of this book.

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the artists of Fish Island

This part of London is quiet, few outsiders come here. Even now, with the 2012 games in full swing, you won’t see many people here. It’s a pretty isolated spot, even though the area is crisscrossed with transport links. The wall is only ever seen by the few passers-by; joggers, narrowboaters, cyclists, dog-walkers and the occasional tourist. The relative isolation of this spot is, perhaps, one of the reasons why this wall is the focus of so much artistic attention. The wall is in the heart of Fish Island, a Victorian industrial estate, which now contains over six hundred artist studios. That’s a lot of creative talent and energy concentrated in a very small area. I know little about the people who create these works and this is intentional. I prefer to view the works on their individual merits and not to cloud my consideration with background knowledge of some of the artists who work here. This way, I believe every artwork can be judged equally. In some respects, it’s more intriguing to speculate on the purpose, motivation and intent of the artist behind a particular work, without any background information. There are occasions when I’ve stood and admired a newly painted artwork for far longer than I’ve considered curated pieces in art galleries, some of this work merits serious attention. You may feel I’m overstating the significance of the artwork that appears on the wall. I disagree – take a look at the work in this book.

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finding out more

If you want to find out more about the people who create these works, there are a number of web sites dedicated to street art. Street Art London [http://streetartlondon.co.uk/] is one of the best and there’s an app you can download from the site. Better still, visit Fish Island and see for yourself. At the time of writing (August 2012), there are plans to develop the area. So, if you want to see a unique part of old London, before unimaginative planners and greedy developers change it, you’d better get to Fish Island soon.

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backstory

I’ve lived in the East End for more than three decades and know the area very well. The wall at Bottom Lock is less than one kilometre from my house and I’ve watched, with interest, what’s been happening here over the years. It was on the last weekend of June 2006 that I truly started to pay attention to what was going on in this part of the East End. That weekend, I visited the area around Bow Back Rivers and the River Lea with a group of friends, to photograph this location one final time. This was the day before the area was to be closed to the public, in order for the land to be cleared to make way for the Olympic Park. On that trip, I merely wanted to record how the area looked, before the contractors moved in. However, walking around and taking photos on that final weekend, I became aware of the amount and variety of street art adorning the walls, bridges, industrial tanks and factory sheds in the area. Viewing the images I downloaded from my camera after the trip, I realised something interesting had been going on around here. I decided on future walks that I would record more of the graffiti I encountered. To start with, I had no real plan. My intention was simply to photograph any street art that piqued my interest when I was out and about. To record graffiti before it was removed or replaced, focusing mainly, but not exclusively, on the area around where I lived.

Over time, I could see that the wall at Bottom Lock was something special, a place where a significant number of street artists posted work and I found myself visiting this spot more often. In 2010 I started a project; to produce a one-photo-per-day photographic journal, works from the wall featured several times in the final album. On reviewing these images, I realised this wall could itself become the subject of a photographic project. I resolved to visit Bottom Lock more regularly, to document more systematically what was going on. The last few years have been interesting, with a large number of artworks being created and subsequently overpainted or destroyed. During this time, the wall has been the focus of some feverish artistic activity and this book sets out to document some of that activity. I want to bring these artworks to a broader audience and create a record of what has appeared here. This book is a tribute to the creativity of the artists who have placed their work here.